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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 xevioso (598654) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @08:46PM (#42198865)

    It's Christmas at ground zero
    There's music in the air
    The sleigh bells are ringing and the carolers are singing
    While the air raid sirens blare

    It's Christmas at ground zero
    The button has been pressed
    The radio just let us know
    That this is not a test

    Everywhere the atom bombs are dropping
    It's the end of all humanity
    No more time for last-minute shopping
    It's time to face your final destiny

    It's Christmas at ground zero
    There's panic in the crowd
    We can dodge debris while we trim the tree
    Underneath the mushroom cloud

    Ronald Reagan:
    Well, the big day is only a few hours away now.
    I'm sure you're all looking forward to it
    as much as we are.

    You might hear some reindeer on your rooftop
    Or Jack Frost on your windowsill
    But if someone's climbing down your chimney
    You better load your gun and shoot to kill

    It's Christmas at ground zero
    And if the radiation level's okay
    I'll go out with you and see all the new
    Mutations on New Year's Day

    It's Christmas at ground zero
    Just seconds left to go
    I'll duck and cover with my Yuletide lover
    Underneath the mistletoe

    It's Christmas at ground zero
    Now the missiles are on their way
    What a crazy fluke, we're gonna get nuked
    On this jolly holiday

    What a crazy fluke, we're gonna get nuked
    On this jolly holiday!

    --Wierd Al Yankovic
    Christmas At Ground Zero

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Party at ground zero Every movie starring you And the world will turn to flowing Pink vapor stew
      Please do not fear 'cause Fishbone is here to say Just have a good time, the stop sign is far away The toilet has flushed and green lights are a ghost And drop drills will be extinct
      Speed racer cloud has come They know not what they've done Sin has just won The planet is a crumb
      Johnny, go get your gun For the commies are in our hemisphere today Ivan, go fly your MIG For the Yankee imperialists have come to play
      Jo

  • by stox (131684)

    are condemned to repeat it. This is one piece of history that no one wishes to see repeated.

  • 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 Deadstick (535032) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @09:10PM (#42199069)

      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"

      Indeed. I was quite surprised to hear the tour guide at Hitler's mountain chalet above Berchtesgaden...she told it like it was, no beating about the bush. Her sentiment was clearly Nie wieder.

    • by ganjadude (952775) <pmalloy4391.gmail@com> on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @09:21PM (#42199155) Homepage
      This is very true. When I was in Germany I went to the dachau camp. It was a very somber experience. There was plenty explaining exactly what happened on the grounds. It was preserved and rebuilt in some ways, but it was never "endorsed"

      As long as this memorial is done in a way that explains the things that happened, and why they were done, without claiming that "the japz are teh badz" than I think it is a good thing
      • by Trolan (42526) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @09:33PM (#42199239) Homepage

        Unfortunately when I was there, we didn't have a chance to get out to Dachau, but did go through the Documentation Center in Nuremburg. Exact same thing. No punches pulled, just straight up "Here's what happened, why it happened, and why it should never be allowed to occur again." I was kind of surprised, and very glad to see it just laid out like that. A dark period of human history, and the best way to deal with it is to let it stand on its own.

      • This is very true. When I was in Germany I went to the dachau camp. It was a very somber experience. There was plenty explaining exactly what happened on the grounds. It was preserved and rebuilt in some ways, but it was never "endorsed"

        I felt some pride at the gate looking at the plaques commemorating the U.S. 20th Armored Division and U.S. 42nd Infantry Division, they liberated the camp. A member of my family was in the U.S. 101st Airborne Division and they liberated of one of the sub-camps nearby. I was proud of the guys who shut down these camps and destroyed the government that created them.

        But, yeah, once my eyes moved from the plaques to the original motto on the gate things became quite somber.

    • by icebike (68054) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:21PM (#42199641)

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

      Well, it seems unlikely we could ever agree on the tone to be set.
      Let alone how to present it. (see my post upthread about my annoyance with chirpy park service interpreters).

      When you look at the death tolls [wikipedia.org], the fire bombings of both Germany and Japan cities killed way more people.

      In March 1945, 334 B-29s took off to raid on the night of 9–10 March ("Operation Meetinghouse"), with 279 of them dropping around 1,700 tons of bombs. Fourteen B-29s were lost. Approximately 16 square miles (41 km2) of the city were destroyed and some 100,000 people are estimated to have died in the resulting firestorm, more immediate deaths than either of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

      • by SomePgmr (2021234)

        Well, it's not like this would be the only place we've ever presented historical places or material of controversial significance. Hell, I think the Smithsonian has the Enola Gay on display.

        It's pretty standard practice to preserve and present the history, and let people philosophize on the subject however they will. Just don't bulldoze major historical places because it has to do with a (maybe) touchy subject. That's juvenile at best, and you don't get to change your mind about it later.

        • by icebike (68054)

          True, but the Smithsonian doesn't try to guilt trip visitors to the Enola Gay, because its one display with lots of other aircraft.

          A park dedicated to the development of atomic bombs would almost certainly devolve to a perpetual guilt trip experience, like the German death camps,
          the theme of which would most likely be to convey the whole science is evil, and big science is big evil thing, and gee-wiz look how evil we were.

          The more I think about it, the less upside I see.

        • by alcourt (198386)

          Got moved to the annex. I'm told it was too controversial in the main smithsonian, hence the move. That's been turned into a decent size museum on its own.

    • by fermion (181285)
      It is a good idea period. As far as I am concerned those who are not wiling to put down a few bucks to help us learn from the past is simply playing a political game to accomplish two things.

      First is the realization that war and fighting is not a game. Some like it to be, especially conservatives, because they can con the American people into paying huge sums to watch the game. If we admit we occasionally cannot but war games, but occasionally have to go in solve problems, then people get squeamish. T

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      The atomic bombings are seen as a great tragedy in Japan, as were the fire bombings of other cities. Most of the people who died were not fighting in the war, although Japan was in total-war mode at the time so arguable they were contributing to the war effort. But most of them did not want the war and did not support it, so are considered victims.

      That is similar to the German attitude, except that the average person did perhaps bare a bit more responsibility since initially the Nazis did rise to power demo

      • by Zordak (123132)

        The atomic bombings are seen as a great tragedy in Japan, as were the fire bombings of other cities. ...

        The prevailing view in Japan seems to be that the bombings were a test of the technology. At that time no-one knew what the effects on people and a city would be, and the US realized that eventually other countries would develop their own atomic weapons so they needed to find out.

        I have two grandfathers who served in the Pacific theater. One is still alive, and the other lived to almost 90. They lived long, happy lives after the war ended. My grandmother is the kindest, sweetest, most thoroughly Christian old lady you have ever met in your life. I have literally never seen her raise her voice or get angry. Except once, when she was talking about 21st century revisionist history and how smarmy academics sit around pontificating about how evil the U.S. was for using those bombs and st

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          Did it ever occur to her that they could have bombed an uninhabited area first, then said "surrender or this happens to your cities"? They didn't even try, they just skipped ahead to bombing civilians.

          • by Zordak (123132)

            Bombing an uninhabited area first was considered and rejected because U.S. leaders believed it would simply look to the war-crazed Japanese that we had a superweapon but were too soft to use it. It would be a waste of a bomb, and those were already in short supply (so the thinking went). Turns out that was probably a spot-on analysis, because after Hiroshima, the Emporer (who had already been leaning toward a conditional surrender), was pretty much ready to toss in the towel. But the senior military leaders

    • by Nyder (754090)

      ...

      Granted, the atomic bomb isn't quite as clear of a moral area, since while it did kill many, many people, ....

      Atomic bombs don't kill people, people kill people.

  • "How do we not ever have to use an atomic bomb in warfare again?"

    Assad, Hamas and Iran know...Sarin is the neutron bomb of the 21st century. It destroys civilians without destroying the infrastructure so the attacker can just move in and get rid of the bodies and it has a ready made infrastructure in place to use to continue their conquest.

    I may sound "off topic" or "trolling" but Syria's activities today show the reality.

  • Why don't we just bulldoze concentration camps too? You know, just so we don't appear to be supporting the Holocaust.

    • by Nyder (754090)

      Why don't we just bulldoze concentration camps too? You know, just so we don't appear to be supporting the Holocaust.

      lol, who is going to want to build on the site? Who would want to live, or go there?

      The ground is spoiled now. Only good thing would to be a memorial to those who died and suffered there.

      I understand the point you are trying to make, but I think you have it mixed up. A monument to the camps, or say in Japan where the bombs fell is good. But a monument to the bomb is bad. Understand? It would be like making a monument to Hitler, or to the SS. In other words, a monument to the tragedy from some

    • You mean like supplying IBM Hollerith machines to concentration camps?
  • Humbling, troubling (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @09:06PM (#42199043)

    For those who've never visited, a tour of the museums at Los Alamos (the town) is incredibly humbling and thought-provoking. Except perhaps for psychopaths, there is nothing celebratory about it. On the contrary, the atmosphere is deeply troubling and anxiety producing. However, I for one would appreciate the opportunity to visit the lab grounds as a national park, to better understand how the Manhattan Project transpired. I believe this is important for humankind to grasp the darker sides of its nature.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      For those who've never visited, a tour of the museums at Los Alamos (the town) is incredibly humbling and thought-provoking. Except perhaps for psychopaths, there is nothing celebratory about it. On the contrary, the atmosphere is deeply troubling and anxiety producing. However, I for one would appreciate the opportunity to visit the lab grounds as a national park, to better understand how the Manhattan Project transpired. I believe this is important for humankind to grasp the darker sides of its nature.

      T

    • by icebike (68054)

      For those who've never visited, a tour of the museums at Los Alamos (the town) is incredibly humbling and thought-provoking. Except perhaps for psychopaths, there is nothing celebratory about it. On the contrary, the atmosphere is deeply troubling and anxiety producing.

      But you see, that is exactly what the debate will be about.

      It was a war, an all out war. And the Bombs shortened that war. They were far from the biggest death tolls in the war.

      So overwrought somberness might not be the best approach. All you do is guilt trip every visitor, and the science achievments and
      the historical context is lost.

      There might be differing opinions about better ways to present it.

      • It could be argued that simplistic demonization of nuclear weapons is actually a whitewash tactic.

        Yes, they are, by far, the most efficient examples of their genre; but the logic of "total war" had been grinding on with horrific civilian casualties for a few years by the time nukes were available. The people in charge of Allied air power(which, toward the end of WWII basically meant "American air power", since the US was the main allied nation not a smouldering heap of rubble) had already embraced the notio

        • The people in charge of Allied air power(which, toward the end of WWII basically meant "American air power", since the US was the main allied nation not a smouldering heap of rubble)

          UK was not a smoldering heap of rubble toward the end of WWII. And, while huge swaths of the USSR were, there were enough remaining for it to pump out combat planes like hot cakes (I mean, there's a reason why the most mass-produced combat airplane in history was Soviet IL-2, and that's not because it was cheap).

          US was an undeniable king of strategic bombing air power, though.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        I've visited war memorials and museums in many parts of the world, including the US, and neither the intention nor the result has been to guilt trip anyone.

        A generation of children has been born who don't remember the cold war, and a generation will soon be born who have had no contact with anyone who remembers the last world war.

        The manhattan project sites in particular are an important chance to say "this war happened. This was the price we paid to end it. Don't let it happen again."

        Generations who don't

        • by icebike (68054)

          The manhattan project sites in particular are an important chance to say "this war happened. This was the price we paid to end it. Don't let it happen again."

          So regardless of your first sentence, it is a guilt trip after all.

          Don't let it happen again? Are you serious? Did you really say that?

          Did the US have vote about whether Pearl Harbor should be bombed?
          Did the US have a choice but to go to war with Japan after Pearl Harbor, other than immediate surrender of the western half of the US to Japan?

          "Don't let it happen again" can just as well be used to justify preventive strikes on other countries, as well as any thing else.
          Should we "Not let it happen again" b

          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            Wow. Are you feeling a little defensive about something? You just took that ball and ran straight to crazy town.

            No, what I said is not a guilt trip. Try this one: "I bought a car from Joe. He ripped me off. Don't buy a car from Joe." Do you feel guilty? Everything is not about you.

            "Don't let it happen again" also doesn't mean that anybody in particular was to blame for the world wars, or that anybody should scrap their navy or anything else. The wars happened, and escalated, because of shortsightedn

    • 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 HockeyPuck (141947) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @09:10PM (#42199077)

    Critics have faulted the plan as celebrating a weapon of mass destruction, and have argued that the government should avoid that kind of advocacy.

    I've been to plenty of Holocaust museums and memorials and I don't recall any of them focusing on a celebration but rather the educational aspect.

    • Critics have faulted the plan as celebrating a weapon of mass destruction, and have argued that the government should avoid that kind of advocacy.

      I've been to plenty of Holocaust museums and memorials and I don't recall any of them focusing on a celebration but rather the educational aspect.

      Exactly. I remember going to the Hiroshima memorial and museum during a visit to Japan when I was only 10 or 11 years old. It has stuck with me probably more than any other museum experience before I became an adult.

      I remember a few years later debating issues of the use of nuclear weapons in WWII in my American history class in high school, and I had a completely different perspective on it compared to many of my classmates.*

      Whatever side of the nuclear debate you fall on, it's better to remember and

  • by edibobb (113989) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @09:22PM (#42199167) Homepage
    There is a difference between a National Park and a National Historic Park. The proposed "National Park" is a National Historic Park, about 3 notches below a National Park in terms of visitors, staff, and funding.
    • by icebike (68054)

      There is a difference between a National Park and a National Historic Park. The proposed "National Park" is a National Historic Park, about 3 notches below a National Park in terms of visitors, staff, and funding.

      But perhaps National Monument status would be more appropriate. Somebody to mow the grass every other week, and pick up the trash daily.

  • Given the, um, totally excellent, standards for handling of radioactive goodies that were adhered to by unpracticed people rushing like crazy and shielded by secrecy, declaring the whole thing a "national park" and forgetting about it is probably cheaper than rehabilitating the place....

  • How do we not ever have to use an atomic bomb in warfare again?

    Well, one obvious solution is to kill everyone with some other superweapon so nobody is around to use atomic bombs in warfare. Otherwise, I think sooner or later atomic bombs will be used again. There are huge disincentives to using them, but there's no reason to expect those disincentives to always be good enough.

    Consider for example, Syria's situation in the Middle East. The current government is facing its doom by a massive rebellion. But it might be able to hold on by using sarin nerve gas on the reb

  • Why are these weapons so different, in that "we must never use them again"? No one ever says that about, say, TNT, or even bullets.
    Somehow it is accepted in war that we can shoot, blow up, stab, bludgeon, or strangle the enemy, but using an A-bomb is immoral.
    Maybe what we should be concerned about is war itself.

    I can't confirm it, but I think it was Sir Arthur Harris [wikipedia.org] who said something like "Tell me one thing that is moral in war. Is sticking a bayonet in a man's belly moral?"

  • How is this different than if Russia set up a set of historical preservation sites of the nuclear facilities leading to its first nuclear bomb? Or China?

    You may not have approved, but it IS history.

    Else, you might as well be saying to demolish anything that reminds you of something negative.

    Perhaps you'd like to see the Peenemunde Historical Technical Museum in Germany razed and forgotten?

    How is your position any different than others who have tried to erase "inconvenient" histories?

  • '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.

    That's the sort of thing that you people elect to represent you. Wow.

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