Then you inject seductive love into the heart of every creature that lives in the seas and mountains and river torrents and bird-haunted thickets, implanting in it the passionate urge to reproduce its kind. – Lucretius, De rerum natura
Clinamen – an unexpected, unpredictable movement of matter.
It is the year 1985 in New Zealand, an island nation roughly the length of Italy but with far, far fewer humans and an astonishing range of geologic and avian wonders. At this moment in time, New Zealand is on center stage as a leader of the global anti-nuclear movement and it is called Nucelar Free Pacific. Proximate to historic and active nuclear bombing blasts in the South Pacific, with historic cultural bonds to these sprawling island nations, New Zealand has had enough of the regional, environmental chaos brought down by Europe and America.
It is evening and a yacht idles off the North Island’s coast, preparing to launch French Navy divers towards land in small inflatable boats. Once they are on land, they will pose as Swiss tourists, driving by rental van to the city of Auckland. In Auckland, they will reunite with their comrades in arms, more French divers, including the woman who has been living and working alongside Greenpeace volunteers in a quiet Auckland suburb, furtively gathering information about the group. This is a highly trained group of military professionals on a carefully planned mission and what may or may not strike is the fact that New Zealand and France are allies. The French are about to enact terrorism on a largely demilitarized island nation halfway around the world from Paris.
The mission’s name? Almost unbelievably, Operation Satanique — (Operation: Satanic), as though they are screenwriters for a Bond film, writing the characters representing evil. Operation Satanique has one, banal (ie, the banality of evil), intention: To stop a group of environmental activists (yes, long and wild-haired men and women, yes, hippies on the high seas) from sailing to the Mururoa Atoll to protest French nuclear testing — to stop them from taking their bloody irritating photos of deformed children and frantic humans fleeing and sending these photos out to other humans around the world, inciting rage. And their satanique scheme? To blow up the aging fishing trawler called Rainbow Warrior moored in Auckland Harbor.
The trawler, Rainbow Warrior, has spent most of her life in the North Sea, hauling in nets of fish. Built in 1955 in Aberdeen, Scotland, Greenpeace acquired her in 1978. Greenpeace was then a largely ocean-based anti-nuclear, anti-whaling, anti-sealing eco-activist group. The name came from a book that Bob Hunter, a founder of Greenpeace, had read in the early days of the movement, a book that claimed to share stories of Native American peoples: The world is sick and dying and the people will rise up like warriors of the rainbow. After the coming environmental apocalypse, the skies will open and a Greenpeace will descend.
(The book had been a gift to this founder of Greenpeace, to this journalist Hunter. So. The ship was renamed based on a book, Warriors of the Rainbow, self published by a Californian evangelist in 1962. Warriors of the Rainbow is a book now pointed to as engaging in “fakelore” or the appropriation of Native cultures by white evangelicals and others. Is there a myth from any Native American culture with this language? If there is, no one has found it.)
What Operation Satanique is up to: Sinking her. The French want that ship on the bottom, out of commission, gone. Greenpeace has brought world attention to French nuclear bombings in the South Pacific and the world is now listening. One of the goals is to get images to the media — to get the world’s gaze on this devastation. This is trickier because it involves sneaking into the bombing site, imperiling Greenpeace crew with nuclear fall out, and possibly leading to arrest — or even death at the hands of the French naval war ships they encounter.
It is the year 1985 and the number-one pop song:
George Michael and Wham!, Careless Whisper.
Now that you’re gone
(Now that you’re gone) What I did’s so wrong, so wrong
That you had to leave me alone. **
Surely this song is on the radio in their cars, as they creep towards their target.
Maybe they all sing along, with French accent: Now zat you errrr gooonnne.
If all of this seems far-fetched, for President Mitterrand and the intelligence leaders in France to scheme to covertly send three teams of French divers to a sovereign nation to blow up a 30-year-old fishing trawler with a dubious name, you need to see the longer lineage of this highly contentious engagement.
The handful of scrappy sea-going activists out in the Pacific telling the French navy to go fuck themselves were interfering in something much more complex. The possibility that there would be cameras rolling and documentation for the whole world to see: Then the possibility that the nuclear bombing would have to stop. You can imagine how this could get under the skin of certain types of the white patriarchy back in Paris, les gens who believe it’s OK to blow up entire islands and ecosystems in the interest of national and global security.
So let’s take a little look at this history, which, by the way, is deliberately cursory because we don’t need to free-fall down this rabbit hole. We just need enough to understand some nuance and depth to fully get our heads around atom bombs and blowing up islands.
This was the scene: The US, Britain, and France had varied sites for nuclear bombing after 1945.
“We located the one spot on Earth that hadn’t been touched by the war and blew it to hell,” Bob Hope, the comedian, is quoted as stating.
(I refuse to deploy the term “test” as these governments do — even though its etymology makes it perfect, from the French, an earthen pot used for assaying metals — to which we have to say of the post-1945 atomic bombing usage — guess we doubled the fuck down on that definition! — to define what these humans were inflicting on the humans native to these islands, these arid deserts, the people who were not asked, were not helped to get away. It is chilling to imagine the evil minds of the men who decided to do this.)
This was a time on Earth where many humans were engaged in blowing up non-wartime nuclear bombs. The British blew up bombs on Christmas Island and in the Australian Outback. The US blew up bombs on the Marshall Islands. The French blew bombs Algeria in 1960, lighting up the Sahara with one bomb, Gerboise Bleu, triple the size of Fat Man, a 21 kiloton bomb, which was used by the US to blow up and flatten the city of Nagasaki, a city of 250,000 humans of which it is estimated 80,000 were killed. When news of the Gerboise Bleu bombing was reported in France, President De Gaulle was quoted as saying, Hourra pour la France ! Depuis ce matin, elle est plus forte et plus fière.
But the French have another situation in Algeria at the same time, a civil war that would end their work as colonial overlords. There were fears that the materials for atomic weapons in Algeria could fall into the so-called wrong hands. In 1966, they shifted their bombing to French Polynesia, where they would continue for the next 30 years.
How did these bombings work? First, nuclear devices were attached to balloons, shot up into the atmosphere, and then kaboom. Then scientists took measurements. In those days, there was an interest in seeing the effect of nuclear bombs on places and people, on humans and non-humans (Hiroshima and Nagasaki apparently not offering enough of a horror show of human death and suffering, not enough of a test kitchen from which to extrapolate what even bigger bombs would do — questions arose, what if the bombs were even bigger? What would those big bombs make happen?) and so people who lived there were not told what was about to happen.
On the Marshall Islands, the US blew up one bomb 1300-times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. From The Washington Post: “From 1946 to 1958, the United States conducted 67 tests in the Marshall Islands. If their combined explosive power was parceled evenly over that 12-year period, it would equal 1.6 Hiroshima-size explosions per day.”
After the shower of nuclear fall out, women miscarried their babies at a much higher rate than the norm and babies who survived? The reports of human suffering are hideous: “jellyfish babies” — babies born with no skeletons or eyes, with transparent skin, two headed babies, babies that would live for one day and then stop breathing. I have read the women of the Marshall Islands held these stories close because deformed babies are culturally thought to be a sign a woman has been unfaithful. The women of the Marshall Islands, forced to hold this horror close. Burying baby corpses and keeping a straight face about it. Imagine that as part of your life. Imagine that. Bombs destroy in myriad ways.
By the 1960s in the US and Britain, “evidence fuelled public outrage” and drove governments to bombing bans. But the French stayed their course.
One of the complications of protesting bombings in the vast Pacific Ocean is the extraordinary territory to cover. For instance, the Marshall Islands consists of 29 atolls spread across a sea area of more than 700,000 nautical square miles. The total land area is about the size of Washington, D.C. The islands of French Polynesia are spread over 1200 miles of ocean and include both groups of islands and atolls. One of them is called Mururoa. Look at images of Muroroa, its white sands, its palms, its intensively cerulean seas: It gives you pause.
Greenpeace has been quoted as stating that the explosion sucked all the water from the lagoon,
“raining dead fish and mollusks down on the atoll,” and that it spread contamination across the Pacific as far as Peru and New Zealand
In 1972, Greenpeace did a very brave thing and sent its small yacht Vega to the Mururoa Atoll, by then one of the French bombing sites — to stop bombing by physical presence. The Vega entered the forbidden zone and was rammed by a French naval ship. The crew were arrested and the test proceeded but Greenpeace got what it came for: A large, global gaze on the bombing.
So Greenpeace as instigator, as a group blocking France’s ability to maintain national security through bombs, occupied many minds in the French government, including the president, Francois Mitterand.
Guilty feet ain’t got no rhythm.
And so we arrive at Operation Satanique.
The plan went like this: Get three teams of divers into the country posing as tourists. Also add a spy to the Greenpeace volunteer rolls in Auckland. Spy gets information about actions planned in Mururoa. Diving team sets charges on the hull. Blow two holes in sequence in the hull. Do it in the harbor and no one dies — this was actually stated after the fact. That this was the way to destroy the ship with no one getting hurt.
*This last bit is the piece that strikes as dishonest. Bombs are designed to maim and kill and fuck shit up. So.
So. It has been reported that the French strategy to bomb the Rainbow Warrior after midnight was designed so there was less chance some human would die. What I feel the actual story is, the story that is not written up nor stated but one I have heard whispered and that I believe to be true: They wanted us all dead. The French wanted to bomb that ship at night with two powerful devices designed to kill not just one or two people, but everyone on board. If they had only wanted to sink the ship, one bomb would have been enough. But they did not use one bomb. They used two. And they killed the ship’s photographer Fernando Pereira, who drowned alone in the dark, trapped after he ran back on board to fetch his cameras. There was a pause between bomb one and bomb two and in that pause Fernando ran back to get his gear. Then he got hung up in the rapidly sinking ship, in the dark. It is a horrible story as is and even worse when I add this speculation. Speculation on such things is considered a bad idea, it reveals paranoia and annoying scenarios that are fantasies not grounded in fact. (But speculation is also crucial to creating knowledge, through imagining how the world might be or might have been. Speculation is an important tool when it comes to disaster scenarios. We do it all the time on airplanes, everytime the plane takes off we all engage in a collective, shared speculation about how we will survive the unlikely event of a crash. How we will all get to the nearest exit, leaving behind carry-on bags, following the exit lights on the carpeted floor. And so we might want to up our speculation game in general, given that we are guaranteed to face down some very strange weather and other atmospheric shifts in the years ahead.)
It is 1985 in New Zealand and news that Rainbow Warrior was bombed and sunk lit up the country. New Zealand had already established itself as a Nuclear Free Zone and did not allow nuclear-powered submarines to call in their ports. They stood alone in this; Australia was in the back pocket of the Brits, loaning their Outback as a site for bombings over many decades. New Zealand had taken this scrappy, it’s-not-yours-for-the-taking stand. New Zealand, of course, has particular relationships with Pacific Island nations, identifying with them as fellow inhabitants of that large blue ocean. Currency, legal structure, immigration rights: New Zealand and the Pacific Islands nations have long been in lockstep.
In 1985, 3.247 million people live in New Zealand (compared to 237 million in the US.) So when the investigation into the bombing began and people were asked if they had seen anything unusual, reports came in quickly. This is the thing about New Zealand: There are not so many humans there and it’s not terribly transitory — that is, people tend to stay close to where they are from. There was the group of French tourists who had been on the far end of the North Island. There was the French volunteer in the Greenpeace office. French people were high on the list of suspects given the context of the Nuclear Free Pacific and serving as harbor for boats heading out to protest French nuclear bombings.
1985: Compact disc technology is introduced. New Coke comes to market.
The unabomber kills his first victim.
The Titanic is located on the floor of the North Atlantic.
TWA 847 is high-jacked.
Blood donations around the world are screened for AIDS.
We Are the World is released as part of Live Aid for Africa.
Research from the archives at the Christchurch Public Library:
Just before midnight on 10 July 1985, two explosions rocked the harbour, sinking the 40-metre Rainbow Warrior.
On the night of the explosions, a man is seen wearing scuba-diving gear in an inflatable dinghy in Auckland harbor. After coming ashore and tying up the dinghy, he drove away in a van. Members of a local boating club became suspicious and took note of the registration number of the vehicle. The police were able to trace the van through a hire firm to a Swiss couple using the name “Turenge.” Within 30 hours of the bombing, the “Turenges” were interviewed by the police and then charged. In the meantime, forestry workers had reported a suspicious meeting between occupants of the van and a station wagon, which was later linked to a charter yacht, the Ouvea. (**This is where the smallness of New Zealand comes into play. They know their land, their coasts, their people. In Paris this was not comprehensible. It was not factored in, apparently. So.)
Warrants were issued for the crew of the yacht Ouvea, which had been used to bring the explosives and other equipment into New Zealand, but no trace of the yacht or crew could be found.
A month after the bombing, it was revealed that the “Turenges” were Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, agents of the French Secret Service, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DSGE). Police later discovered that up to eleven French agents had entered New Zealand as part of the Rainbow Warrior operation. A French report came out admitting that French agents had been in New Zealand, but denied they had carried out the bombing. This report resulted in so much outcry that the French Prime Minister admitted that French agents had been responsible. He claimed that because they were members of the military and had acted under orders, they could not be held responsible for their actions.
On 4 November, 1985, these two agents, Mafart and Prieur, appeared in an Auckland court where they pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter and willful damage and were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. They were sent to a French military facility on Hao, an island in the South Pacific. By mid-1988, both were back in France and free; Mafart sent back to Paris because of stomach ailments; Prieur soon after because she was expecting a child; her husband, who was also in the French military, had been posted to Hao. While the bombing was a fiasco for the French government, the agents were celebrated as heroes at home.
Here is the news, two years later, reported in The New York Times, on Saturday, October 3, 1987, a small story on page 2, next to an advertisement for a leather sectional sofa, and under the fold. (On the front page? A story about the US Immigration Service clamping down on illegal aliens.)
“A three-man tribunal in Geneva awarded Greenpeace $5 million to pay for the loss of the Rainbow Warrior and an additional $1.2 million for aggravated damages, plus expenses, interest and legal fees. France had agreed to binding arbitration after Greenpeace threatened to sue the French Government in a New Zealand court. Lloyd Cutler, a Washington lawyer who represented the environmental group in the arbitration, said that as far as he knew this was the first time that an international damages case had been arbitrated by agreement between a sovereign nation and a private organization.”
This is how Greenpeace went to Antarctica, on the flood of international donations to the group, and on this French blood money. Out of such horror, the hope of looking southward to Antarctica, a place called the world’s last great wilderness. In two years they would have constructed a base at Cape Evans and in three years I would join the story, reporting on their efforts to bring world attention to the importance of Antarctica for all, a wilderness for the people of Earth, this 26-million gigaton load of ice, driver of global weather.
In 2015, one of the bombers went on NZ television to apologize and talk about his guilt. We live in those kinds of times, don’t we? When a white terrorist gets a TV spot?
George Michael, over to you.
(The 1985 music video starts with a nightscape — what?
Could it be Auckland as the divers descended to sink and kill?
Is he writing a song for the fucking French liars to sing:
Now that you’re gone
(Now that you’re gone)
What I did’s so wrong, so wrong
To live in a nuclear-bombed ecosystem of Pacific atolls and islands: From the time we are born we are already dead.