|"Forget the Rest" blog|
Los Alamos team visits Japan to gain perspective on atomic bombings
Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2016 10:55 pm | Updated: 12:15 am, Fri Mar 25, 2016.
By Rebecca Moss
On Aug. 7, 1945, the day after the U.S. dropped the an atomic bomb on Japan, The New York Times ran side-by-side stories on its front page that described the cities most impacted by nuclear warfare: Hiroshima on one end of the world, and on the other, the “hidden cities” across America where the bombs had been built in secrecy.
“None of these people … had the slightest idea of what they were making,” the Times article said about Manhattan Project workers in those towns, including little-known Los Alamos, population 7,000, on top of a New Mexico mesa.
Despite the shared history between Los Alamos and the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where another bomb was dropped on Aug. 9, 1945, New Mexico residents “don’t hear a lot about the Japanese perspective,” said Judith Stauber, director of the Los Alamos Historical Museum.
On Thursday, Stauber, museum registrar Stephanie Yeamans and 16-year-old student intern Kallie Funk of Los Alamos High School flew to Japan to conduct research for a new exhibit that will explore connections created through World War II and the Manhattan Project.
The group will travel to Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to meet with researchers, an atomic bomb survivor and the directors of both the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. “There is no precedent” for a trip like this, she said.
The idea for the trip, two years in the making, became a reality through a $10,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and has been supported by the New Mexico Japanese Citizens League. The exhibit, which will open in December, has a couple of working titles: Multiple Perspectives on the Atomic Bomb or New Mexican and Japanese Perspectives on the Atomic Bomb.
In addition to collecting data in Japan for the exhibit, Stauber plans to work with local Japanese-Americans to create a component exploring the internment camps in New Mexico during World War II, including one in Santa Fe. She plans to include oral histories and community art projects.
In Los Alamos, often referred to as the Atomic City and home of one of the nation’s largest science laboratories, colorful symbols of atomic energy adorn signs around town as proud reminders of the community’s roots in nuclear science. With an economy centered on Los Alamos National Laboratory, the community is one of the wealthiest in the nation.
In contrast, said Bo Jacobs, a researcher at the Hiroshima Peace Institute who plans to meet with Stauber and her team, the history of atomic energy is told in Japan through “people who were killed, who lost family members, who were injured.” The innovation of the bomb is expressed only in “its human toll” — at least 129,000 people and possibly more than 200,000.
Jacobs said in an email that for the U.S., the atomic bomb “is the story of scientific discovery, industrial development and great political and military decisions. … The Japanese are only statistics in the story.”
In the U.S. and in Japan, he said, stories of the war have been told in ways that downplay the horrific behaviors of both nations.
“In the Japanese story, it is often as if one day, a bomb drops,” he said.
News outlets in Japan reported after the first bomb dropped on Hiroshima that the nation was blindsided by the blast, saying leaflets dropped from the sky urging residents to “seek shelter” were insufficient warnings.
Americans, Jacob said, downplay “that we are talking about a war crime, an attack on a largely civilian population with a weapon of mass destruction.”
“The differences between the U.S. and the Japanese narratives of the attack — they couldn’t be more different,” Jacobs said.
Stauber said this gap in historical narratives is what she hopes the Los Alamos team can “start to process” through the upcoming exhibit at Fuller Lodge, a log-beam community hall once used to host guests during the Manhattan Project.
“What do we know, and how do we know it?” she said. “And how are we remembering?”