The Normalization of Deviance

I have been reading a book the last few days titled At Work in the Atomic City, A Labor and Social History of Oak Ridge, Tennessee by Russell Olwell, published by the University of Tennessee Press.

Olwell suggests that the very hazards of the work in the Atomic City (exposure to fluorine gas, transuranics, uranium, plutonium, mercury, byrellium, strontium, and a host of other toxic substances as well as heat and fire hazard in the work places) gave rise to a culture of what sociologist Diane Vaughn called the 'normalization of deviance' in which 'decisions about safety become embedded in a bureaucratic system that defines risk as acceptable.' Hazards were kept hidden because of production expectations during both WWII and the Cold War.

I write as one who has been in Oak Ridge a very long time and has seen hundreds of people either killed or made very sick by work place hazards at the federal plants. I remember the stunning revelation that over the years, millions of pounds of mercury were intentionally released into the Oak Ridge environment; I recall, under Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary, the anecdotal release of information about the way in which a number of cancer patients in Oak Ridge were treated like lab rats in radiation experiments, experiments which Senator John Glenn, lead Senate investigator, likened to the medical atrocities of the Nazis.  



October 4, 1995, Marlene Cimons, Los Angeles Times 

WASHINGTON — President Clinton apologized Tuesday to the survivors and families of those who unknowingly were subjects of government-sponsored radiation experiments, and ordered his Cabinet to devise a system of relief--including financial compensation.

"When the government does wrong, we have a moral responsibility to admit it," Clinton said. "The duty we owe to one another to tell the truth and to protect our fellow citizens from excesses like these is one we can never walk away from."

Saying "our government failed in that duty," he apologized "to all the American people who must be able to rely upon the United States to keep its word to tell the truth and to do the right thing."

Clinton made the remarks as he accepted the recommendations of an advisory committee he appointed to study the secret experiments, which began in 1944 and continued for three decades.


There have been and still are way too many secrets in the Secret City.  Secrets are, in my opinion, poison.  Why?  Because they are lies: lies of omission.  

But of course, our business, our bread and butter in the Secret City is and always has been poison, i.e. weapons of mass destruction, atomic bombs, in short, industrialized death.  I suppose that kind of enterprise does eventually have a dulling effect on the consciousness and consciences of a city as a whole as well as its individual citizens. And besides, as Plowshares Peace Activist Sister Megan Rice said in Court after breaking into Y-12, some people are making an awful lot of money in Oak Ridge from manufacturing atomic bombs.


 I suspect Sister Rice is correct and a fair amount of the most closely guarded secrets in Oak Ridge have to do with money and the identities of the fattest pigs feeding at the vast federal trough.  

As I watch the botched and drawn out so called investigation of our Oak Ridge Police Department play out in real time and the anonymous attempts at intimidation on an anonymous website, I can't help but wonder if the culture of secrecy and outright dishonesty, the so called 'normalization of deviance' at the federal facilities in Oak Ridge, might have infected our city politics as well.   

Local politics is sure looking deviant to me.  And it seems that anonymous slurs and inuendo are the new normal in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.


 And so it goes in 'The Secret City.'

My opinion.  Take what you like, leave the rest.  Be Well and Good Luck,

Martha Maria 

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