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Historians Propose National Park To Preserve Manhattan Project Sites 150

Posted by samzenpus
from the remember-this? dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "William J. Broad writes that a plan now before Congress would create a national park to protect the aging remnants of the atomic bomb project from World War II, including hundreds of buildings and artifacts scattered across New Mexico, Washington and Tennessee — among them the rustic Los Alamos home of Dr. Oppenheimer and his wife, Kitty, and a large Quonset hut, also in New Mexico, where scientists assembled components for the plutonium bomb dropped on Japan. 'It's a way to help educate the next generation,' says Cynthia C. Kelly, president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, a private group in Washington that helped develop the preservation plan. 'This is a major chapter of American and world history. We should preserve what's left.' Critics have faulted the plan as celebrating a weapon of mass destruction, and have argued that the government should avoid that kind of advocacy. 'At a time when we should be organizing the world toward abolishing nuclear weapons before they abolish us, we are instead indulging in admiration at our cleverness as a species,' says Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich. Historians and federal agencies reply that preservation does not imply moral endorsement, and that the remains of so monumental a project should be saved as a way to encourage comprehension and public discussion. A park would be a commemoration, not a celebration, says Heather McClenahan, director of the Los Alamos Historical Society pointing out there are national parks commemorating slavery, Civil War battles and American Indian massacres. 'It's a chance to say, "Why did we do this? What were the good things that happened? What were the bad? How do we learn lessons from the past? How do we not ever have to use an atomic bomb in warfare again?" '"
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Historians Propose National Park To Preserve Manhattan Project Sites

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  • by Trolan (42526) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @08:57PM (#42198957) Homepage

    But it all depends on the execution. As with any museum/park/etc. how you structure it sets the tone.

    Great example would be German museums dealing with the events surrounding their involvement in the World Wars and the Holocaust. You go into any of those, and while they talk a lot about the Nazi Party, National Socialism, Hitler and the rest, you would be hard pressed to say that anyone would think any of it is an endorsement. Everything I saw really had a tone of: "My God, we screwed the pooch BIGTIME. Let's put this all out here, so maybe people won't let it happen again"

    Granted, the atomic bomb isn't quite as clear of a moral area, since while it did kill many, many people, it also ended the war much earlier than was likely without it, and therefore all the casualties that would have entailed didn't occur. Instead of glorifying a WMD, it can help foster discussion about them, and past them.

  • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @09:03PM (#42199021)

    arc de triomphe, Trafalgar square, brandenburg gate, etc?

    Whatever you may think of the two bombings in particular lots of countries have killed a lot more people in their wars, and built varying types of monuments. Should the war museums in britain not have lancaster bombers given how they were used to obliterate cities? How about any monument to the royal navy which was basically built to starve continental adversaries into submission?

    For all it's faults the manhattan project was also one of the largest research projects in history, if not the largest, and I think it's important to remember just went into making it, how much money and resources can be spent testing ideas in a desperate hope to find one that works, and a tribute to the people who did the work to make it happen at all. It's important to recognize the consequences of that work too, but it really was tremendous work and genius to realize the potential of uranium and plutonium, good and bad.

  • by egcagrac0 (1410377) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @09:17PM (#42199131)

    It shortened the war by years, sparing millions of lives at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives.

    Also, there is a difference between honoring something like this and remembering something like this.

    Go to Dachau, take the tour - the difference between honoring and remembering becomes obvious.

  • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:01PM (#42199465) Homepage

    The sooner the Americans come, the better...One hundred million die proudly.
    -- Japanese slogan in the summer of 1945.

    Japan was finished as a warmaking nation, in spite of its four million men still under arms. But...Japan was not going to quit. Despite the fact that she was militarily finished, Japan's leaders were going to fight right on. To not lose "face" was more important than hundreds and hundreds of thousands of lives. And the people concurred, in silence, without protest. To continue was no longer a question of Japanese military thinking, it was an aspect of Japanese culture and psychology.
    -- James Jones, WWII

    We will prepare 10,000 planes to meet the landing of the enemy. We will mobilize every aircraft possible, both training and "special attack" (kamikaze) planes. We will smash one third of the enemy's war potential with this air force at sea. Another third will also be smashed at sea by our warships, human torpedoes and other special weapons. Furthermore, when the enemy actually lands, if we are ready to sacrifice a million men we will be able to inflict an equal number of casualties upon them. If the enemy loses a million men, then the public opinion in America will become inclined towards peace, and Japan will be able to gain peace with comparatively advantageous conditions.
    -- Imperial General HQ army staff officer in July 1945, from Weintraub's "The Last Great Victory"

    "We hated the Japs but nobody had the slightest desire to go there and fight them because the one thing we knew was that we'd all be killed. I mean we really knew it. I never used to think that, I used to say the Japs would never get me. But there was no question about the mainland. How the hell are you going to storm a country where women and children, everybody would be fighting you? Of course we'd have won eventually but I don't think anybody who hasn't actually seen the Japanese fight can have any idea of what it would have cost."
    -- Austin Aria, veteran of the Okinawa campaign

  • by murdocj (543661) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:58PM (#42199927)

    I think the reality would have been that that USA would have used conventional weapons to firebomb Japanese cities, getting to the same result as nuclear weapons but more slowly. The "shock & awe" of nuclear weapons made it clear that Japan didn't have a choice... they could surrender, or be annihilated.

  • by jtownatpunk.net (245670) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:59PM (#42199929)

    I've toured several sites on the "Atomic Tourist" list and seeing this places in person is much different than looking at pictures in a book. And, at several places, I had tour guides who had actually been posted at the locations in pretty senior positions. That's something that even a museum won't be able to replicate and, quite frankly, those people aren't going to be around much longer. If you ever want to have a full day to bend the ear of someone in the heart of nuclear weapons development, take the public tour at the Nevada National Security Site (nee: Nevada Test Site). I can't recommend it enough and it's free. It's booked well in advance but a few people can usually get on standby because there are usually a few open seats.

    The guys conducting those tours are the real deal. They're the ones who were working on the base when they were lighting off nuclear explosions, lighting off even bigger ones out on the pacific atolls, and may or may not have worked at Area 51. If you want to understand the mentality of that era, these are the guys to talk to. One thing I wish was on the regular NNSS tour is a walk through the Ice Cap building. Seeing the instrument rig of the last scheduled full scale test hanging over that hole really drives home the scale of what went on there. (Yeah, I pushed it and watched it swing.)

    I've also had a tour of a Titan Missile silo from a man who was stationed in that very silo. Again, he was able to give insights to that experience that no book will ever capture. Half a day exploring every nook and cranny of that place with someone able to explain exactly what everything did and provide anecdotes about living in a silo.

    I've been to the Trinity site and that just wasn't the same experience. Informational signs, a short presentation, exhibits at the McDonald Ranch. But there was nobody there who could provide a first-hand account of the spirit of what occurred there. Nobody to look you in the eye and explain how it felt to be part of that event. But being able to go there and see the site was still pretty meaningful. I'm glad I had the chance to see it. Another decade or two and the previous two sites will be the same. Second and third hand accounts.

    My most recent nuclear explosion site visit was Project Faultless. That's the only test site I've been to with absolutely no access controls. Just a single plaque and some graffiti.

  • by khallow (566160) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @12:18AM (#42200513)

    The Japanese have already agreed to capitulate

    No, they didn't. What had happened is that some Japanese had decided to seek surrender through odd channels (such as via the USSR), but there's no indication either that the ones seeking surrender had the authority to do so or that the US knew that status either.

    I see no reason stemming from those diplomatic activities to question the use of the atomic bombs or the allegation that the war would have continued otherwise and resulted in hundreds of thousands of allied deaths and millions of Japanese deaths.

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