THE MANHATTAN Project that created the first atomic bomb was a great success — and, in the eyes of many, a cautionary tale about the dangers of technological proliferation. The best way to forget such complicated lessons of the past is to pretend they never happened. Members of the US House of Representatives who voted down a proposed national park that would preserve and link together sites in three states involved with creating the atomic bomb ought not to forget that insight.
Representative Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat, and others argued that any official recognition of the places where the Manhattan Project did its work would be celebrating violence and nuclear destruction. But this argument is shortsighted. Many advances in science and technology have deadly uses as well as peaceful ones, and sometimes the deadly ones help to keep the peace. The questions that could be raised at the proposed Manhattan Project National Park are exactly the ethical quandaries that contemporary students — and lawmakers — should be confronting.
Heather McClenahan, director of the Los Alamos Historical Society, explained in a recent interview with National Public Radio that, far from a celebration, information at the proposed park would be organized to ask questions: “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?”
Proponents of the bill intend to bring it up for a vote again, maybe even by the end of the year. They should, and the House shouldn’t make the same mistake twice.