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"Forget the Rest" blog

SFNM

Manhattan Project park should be shelved

By | The New Mexican

7/24/2011

Historic preservation is a Northern New Mexican hallmark, and Santa Fe's reputation for carrying it out has lots to do with our community's popularity as a place to visit. Given our 400-year history, there has been plenty to preserve and commemorate; scenes grand and humble, public and private, civilian and military.

So are the editorial "we" being shortsighted when, as we're about to, we raise our eyebrows over the notion of establishing national parks at three locations crucial to development of nuclear weapons?

Los Alamos, of course, is one of them. Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Hanford, Wash., are the other two places Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently promoted as components of a national historical park in honor of the atomic bomb.

This wasn't new: New Mexico's Sen. Jeff Bingaman sponsored the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Study Act back in 2004. In the House of Representatives, Northern New Mexico's Tom Udall was a co-sponsor of the bill. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

But with Secretary Salazar's appearance at the three sites in recent days, the idea gained new traction. Opponents to development of nuclear anything, especially bombs, went predictably ballistic:

The Los Alamos Study Group's Greg Mello, in prose overwrought enough to make even this paper's purple-prose scribbler blush, rhetorically asked, "Are we really poised to make a national park out of a few shabby ruins where we built instruments of mass murder, delivered to statesmen the instruments of universal destruction, and destroyed the marriage between science and human values?"

Bingaman and Udall are sticking to their guns, or bombs: They're behind legislation Bingaman is drafting to follow up the park-study measure with a bill to make the park(s) a reality.

Bingaman says it's important for us to acknowledge the legacy of the Manhattan Project, which he characterizes as "one of the most important events in our nation's history." Udall pronounced himself "pleased that we are no taking the next important step toward preserving this history for future generations."

There's no denying the importance of the Manhattan Project — and if it saved so much as one American life among the many that surely would have been lost if we'd invaded the Japanese mainland in 1945, we applaud its original goal. But it brought instant death and long-term suffering to tens of thousands of Japanese civilians. And it also opened a Pandora's box of evil in the wrong hands, where some soon landed — or maybe even in the right ones; nearly seven decades of global undiplomacy, and conventional wars touted as better than nuclear ones, are only part of the project's horrific legacy.

Thus the hand-wringing by the anti-nuke activists around here. And thus the vast public-relations challenge facing the national-park proposal.

B-b-but what about Gettysburg? Pearl Harbor? Ford's Theater? They're part of our history, and part of our historical-park system, come arguments from the National Parks Service.

True — but folks interested in the Manhattan Project already may visit the excellent Bradbury Museum on "the Hill."

Besides, there's no money for such a new project — and if there were, it should be put to use maintaining our many down-at-the-heels national parks.

Our senators cite "strong public support" that emerged in favor of their proposal. Maybe there was some in 2004 — but that was when the country still enjoyed a bit of prosperity; today, our government has warred and tax-cut its way to the brink of financial disaster, if not further.

Whatever the merits of this tri-state project may be, it belongs on the shelf.


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