In Photos: Harvard’s 373rd Commencement Exercises


Rabbi Zarchi Confronted Maria Ressa, Walked Off Stage Over Her Harvard Commencement Speech


Former Harvard President Bacow, Maria Ressa to Receive Honorary Degrees at Commencement


‘A’ Game: How Harvard Recruits its Student-Athletes


Interim Harvard President Alan Garber Takes the Political Battle to Washington

The Microwave War

The Zapping of America By Paul Brodeur 343 pp., $11.95

By David Dahlquist

IN HIS LATEST BOOK, The Zapping of America, Paul Brodeur relates a poignant experience during his Cape Cod vacation last June. He was reading the Provincetown Advocate and draped across the front page was the wary proviso: "TRURO RADAR COULD FRY HANG-GLIDERS."

The article went on to explain that the U.S. Air Force base at North Truro--where local hangliders fly into airspace around the base--operated on a peak power output of ten megawatts of microwave radiation. The Air Force itself drew an official danger zone within an 800-ft. radius of the three radomes--units which emit microwave radiation for radar beams.

The newspaper quoted one Air Force captain as saying, "Under the worst combination of circumstances, a man could fry in those things." Another officer added that the radiation could cause cataracts and sterility, and the symptoms may not show for two years. At the time, there were no signs indicating the radiation hazard to civilians.

So hang-gliders do not glide in the air-space around the North Truro base anymore, at least not without the knowledge that they may be fried like a leg of chicken, or poisoned by potentially fatal doses of microwave radiation. But for a few years, the happy-go-lucky vacationers and beach-combers around North Truro swam, flew, and enjoyed their summers unaware of the fact that intense beams of microwave radiation were travelling through their bodies, much the same way more concentrated microwave frequencies are projected through the food inside brand new microwave ovens...much the same way every American gets zapped with varying amounts of microwaves every day.

With The Zapping of America, Paul Brodeur has extended his reputation as a thorough and unrelenting science writer. But more than a science writer, Brodeur, a staff writer for The New Yorker, digs for the undisclosed hazards of microwave radiation. With amazing detail and research, Brodeur impresses upon the public its own very lethal ignorance of microwave radiation, and further divulges the secrets of microwave research hidden by the military and industrial powers around the world for nearly 30 years.

BRODEUR'S BOOK IS downright frightening. With a chilling absence of tone or bias, Brodeur shows that microwaves have occupied a place in American life since the beginning of the century, without commanding any kind of public awareness or concern about their effect on life or the environment.

Brodeur traces the growth of microwave technology from its inception as part of a burgeoning communications revolution which began with Thomas Alva Edison's electric light bulb. Radio wave communication became a reality in 1915 with the invention of wireless telegraphy or "radio," and since then, inventors and scientists and engineers have honed their skills in radio wave technology, eventually learning to cram waves into the smallest possible frequencies technology could manage.

By the '30s, after the Marconis and the Bell people and the Hertzes and the Maxwells raised their dust, and radiowaves with ultrahigh, superhigh or extremely high frequencies--those ranging in wavelength from 100 centimeters to a millimeter--became known as microwaves. These "microwaves" are very intense concentrations, "short-waves" of electromagnetic radiation focused into an intense beam. They travel through matter, can be reflected by electrical conductors, and can be directed accurately. Thus, microwaves revolutionized communication. They are responsible for television communications, radio (especially FM) broadcasts, CB radio, satellite communication, radar, sonar, and electric garage-door openers.

Because they heat animal tissue, medical science has found a place for microwaves in its grand scheme. Medicine uses microwaves for diathermy machines, which heat tumors. Medicine has also found that certain microwave frequencies cook mice. And since then, experience has taught us that microwaves are blinding, carcinogenic, and genetically damaging--to human beings.

The book is not an attack on microwaves; Brodeur carefully shows us that microwaves have many constructive uses. The hazards that have developed from the growth of microwave technology are due not to the microwaves, but to the people who have been in control of them and their careless tendency to classify the whole truth about microwaves as a state secret.

Brodeur writes:

By the late 1950's, virtually all the investigations into the biological effects of microwaves were being either conducted or financed by the Department of Defense, which had assigned the Air Force the responsibility of developing a program of coordinated research in the three branches of the armed services.

AND HEREIN LIES the rub: Brodeur shows us that much of modern microwave research and innovation has been intended for military electronic warfare, or for surveillance; and further, that the hazards of microwave radiation have been ignored and neglected in favor of progress and technological expediency.

Government officials, businessmen, "public servants," and even scientists have deliberately concealed the dangers of microwave radiation from the public and from further investigation for the sake of unimpeded development of microwave ovens, surveillance beams, telecommunication and a myriad of other inventions.

Brodeur argues:

The record thus far, regarding information about microwave and radio-frequency radiation, suggests that a lot of powerful people in this country are sufficiently caught up in considerations of national security and corporate profit so as to feel no urgency to settle the bio-hazard issues. Nor do they have much compunction about bringing economic and political pressure to bear upon anyone who might feel that urgency.

The microwave controversy exists on an international front as well, and Brodeur reveals a microwave race between this country and the Soviet Union that seems to generate as much energy and anxiety as the microwaves themselves.

Both sides have discovered that microwaves influence nervous system path-ways and consequently break down human judgment. American and Soviet military vessels are often equipped with microwave beams with which they can zap each other. The battle continues on land. Much of the national security paranoia in this country surrounding the release of microwave discoveries may be due to the fact that the Soviets beat us to the punch. Brodeur points out that the Kremlin was beaming microwaves on the U.S. Embassy in Moscow long before U.S. intelligence officials thought of harnessing microwaves and beaming them in the opposite direction.

In addition to the mind-control applications, microwaves are being harnessed for what Brodeur dubs "total electronic warfare." Both the United States and the USSR are rapidly learning how to use microwaves to inflict severe burns on humans, as well as refining their surveillance, radar and rocket-jamming techniques. The microwave race spirals endlessly, leaking more radiation into the environment and into our bodies.

THE MOST HORRIFYING part of the story is that, despite Brodeur's seemingly comprehensive research and documentation, he himself claims to know only the "tip of the iceberg." He does propose a solution, though it seems almost limp and pragmatically hopeless:

Should not the residents of Truro and North Truro insist that the Air Force operate its radars in a way to avoid irradiating the land mass around the station? And finally, these thousands of people should be joined by millions of Americans who live and work in the vicinity of radar stations, radio transmitters, and television transmitters all across the nation. Only in this way can the hazards described in this book be addressed, and the zapping of America, which now proceeds unabated, be brought under control.

Brodeur says he was fettered and harassed by the military establishment in his research, and he now proclaims that The Zapping of America has ended the microwave cover-up. The next and only step is to arrest the zapping, and Brodeur's concludes that only persistent and widespread public vigilance will stop the evil zappers. Surrounded by the military industrial maze which Brodeur vividly details, it is at least comforting to know that there may still be an escape from the microwave crossfire--thanks to a conscientious muckraker like Brodeur.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.