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Should the Manhattan Project that produced the world’s first atomic bomb be made part of the U.S. national park system?
The answer in most of the country is disbelief that our proud nation has taken over 60 years to get anywhere close to recognizing its role in the birth of the Atomic Age.
But the answer in much of Santa Fe and its surroundings is how dare they honor an instrument of mass murder and universal destruction.
Opposition of the moralistic handwringers has not been much of an impediment to establishing a historical park, however.
Very soon after the explosion of the first atomic bomb at Trinity Site, in 1945, the National Park Service began talking with the Army about making the site, in a corner of what is now White Sands Missile Range, part of the park system.
But the Army was intransigent. It had taken that land from area ranchers and it wasn’t going to share it with anyone. Concerns for safety and obsession with secrecy were its major concerns.
Something could fall off a rocket being tested 85 miles to the south — but then lightening could strike also. The missile range is 3,200 square miles, by far the biggest military installation in the nation.
Without the most popular and logical site to recognize the birth of the atomic age, the Park Service put future plans on hold for 15 years or so. In the 1960s, it asked the history office of the Atomic Energy Commission to suggest sites significant to the birth of the Atomic Age.
The AEC was regarded as having superior understanding of the subject. But it bowed to political pressures to recognize many sites of marginal significance as historic landmarks. That essentially was the AEC’s contribution.
The latest effort to establish a park site came in 2003 when Sen. Jeff Bingaman introduced legislation requesting the National Park Service to study the feasibility of including Manhattan Project sites in the park system.
In 2009, the NPS issued a report recommending a site in Los Alamos. Other sites had made their cases but the NPS concluded that size, ownership and management issues made locations in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Hanford, Wash., and Dayton, Ohio unfeasible.
Last week, however, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recommended a Manhattan Project National Historical Park with units in Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Hanford.
Salazar’s proposal has the support of the White House and will be sent to Congress. Then politicos from every state with even the slightest connection to nuclear energy will attempt to get their locations added.
Advance information indicates that the two buildings where Fat Man and Little Boy were developed will be part of the park, along with Fuller Lodge, the social center for the lab, and the Bathtub Row homes where the top managers lived.
Los Alamos already has two museums recounting the lab’s efforts. The Bradbury Museum, 1350 Central Ave., is run by the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The Los Alamos Historical Society has a museum at 1050 Bathtub Row that depicts the fascinating life employees led during the period from December 1942 to September 1945.
The chances of Los Alamos becoming part of the National Park System may not be good with Congress in a budget cutting mood. And you can bet groups from Santa Fe will be there opposing it.
Leaders of the group claim the National Park Service’s reputation would be damaged by honoring the bomb. But this isn’t about the bomb and it isn’t about honoring the Manhattan Project. It is about the incredible effort our country put forth to remain free and the scientific advances made by unlocking the secrets of nuclear energy.
Scientists and policymakers were well aware that they were unleashing a dreadful power. But if we didn’t, an enemy would. The result has been 66 years without any more world wars.
NPS sites already include recognition of slavery, treatment of Indians and Japanese internment camps. History happens. Get over it.