COMMENTARY: Massacre National Park, USA

By John LaForge

In what looks like the establishment of a state religion, federal- and state-funded monuments to nuclear weapons are popping up all over the country.


Hoping perhaps to enshrine the myth that the god of the underworld, after which Plutonium was named, can be transformed from a vengeful, bloodthirsty self-destructive nightmare demon, into a benign peace-loving fairytale prince, government propagandists are establishing nuclear war theme parks — but without the uncomfortable taint of mass murder or Cold War hatreds.


Tours recently began being offered at the “B Reactor” on the Hanford Reservation in Washington State where for decades plutonium for the nuclear arsenal was extracted in a way that permanently threatens the Columbia River. At Rocky Flats, Colorado, where the machining of plutonium poisoned tens of square miles, a National Wildlife Refuge has been established. Near Fargo, North Dakota, the State Historical Society now owns a deactivated intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch control center, has dubbed it “Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site” and opened it to tourism. In South Dakota, a disarmed ICBM launch center run by the National Park Service is called the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and you can go underground to personally simulate at attack that could murder multiple millions of people.


This summer, just in time for the 66th anniversary of the U.S. atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, August 6 and 9, 1945, Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar recommended to Congress that a national historic park be established to honor the Manhattan Project — the secret World War II program that built the bombs that massacred 140,000 people at Hiroshima and another 70,000 at Nagasaki.


National Park Director Jonathan Jarvis said in a July 17 Park Service press release, “Once a tightly guarded secret, the story of the atomic bomb’s creation needs to be shared with this and future generations.” Jarvis feigns ignorance of the vast literature on the Manhattan Project available from any good library, and his acting the dunce insults both the conscience of the living and the memory of the dead.


Richard Rhodes’s 1986 Pulitzer Prize winning “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” and his 1995 sequel to it, “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb,” Robert Lifton’s “Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial” (1995) or his 1982 study “Indefensible Weapons,” and Gar Alperovitz’s definitive 1995 history, “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb”— the product of 30 years of research into the subject — are all gripping and devastating in their treatment of the Bomb’s development, its  terroristic uses and its billion-year environmental consequences.


But the state wants us to forget this downside, and at least two agendas are at work. First, treating nuclear weapons nostalgically teaches the sham lesson that H-bombs are a thing of the past and not still in need of abolishing. South Dakota’s doomsday tour website says, “At Minuteman Missile NHS, it is possible to learn how the threat of nuclear war came to haunt the world” — as if 450 Minuteman ICBMs weren’t still set to launch on “alert” status and prepared to kill millions on 31 seconds notice.


Secondly, official memorials devoted to nuclear weapons self-consciously deny or rewrite the horrifying and persistent results of having brought the Nuclear Age upon the world. This “Columbus Day” style of American history — lionizing heroic efforts while ignoring the butchery and mass murder committed by the hero — is the sort that is being carved into stone at these government circuses.


Nobody will learn at these idol-worshiping places that the Bomb was borne of a will to death, used unnecessarily against Japanese civilians without warning, and tested in the atmosphere over 100 times in ways that caused at least 75,000 thyroid cancers among U.S. residents, according to the National Cancer Institute.


Students will have to look elsewhere to learn that the Bomb has been condemned by every major religion on Earth and that in 1996 the International Court of Justice declared that the mere threat to use it in a sneak attack (like keeping Minuteman and submarine missiles on “alert” status) is a violation of International Humanitarian Law forbidding the planning and preparation of massacres.


Today’s string of H-bomb monuments never acknowledge the weapon’s legacy of uncontrollable and persistent radiation poisoning and nuclear industry’s resulting plague of radiation-induced genetic damage and cancers the world over. Nor will the memorials note that in the annals of war and war crimes, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are more controversial than any other.


Official U.S. histories and wartime propaganda claim that the atomic attacks “ended the war” by preventing a land invasion, and this is repeated endlessly at these Bomb-loving churches. Yet historical facts unearthed since then show that in August 1945 Japan was already defeated, no invasion would ever have occurred even without the use of the Bomb, and, indeed, the mass murder at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not just unnecessary but “known in advance not to be necessary” ¾ as Alperovitz has found. President Dwight Eisenhower wrote, “First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” And Admiral William Leahy, wartime Chief of Staff to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, wrote in his book “I Was There,” that “I was not taught to make war in that fashion and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”


With the Obama Administration working now to build three giant new Bomb-building facilities, we should confront official myth-making and take a lesson from arch-Cold Warrior and former right-wing Reagan administration national security advisor Paul Nitze. Writing October 28, 1999, in the New York Times, Nitze said, “I see no compelling reason why we should not unilaterally get rid of our nuclear weapons. To maintain them … adds nothing to our security. I can think of no circumstances under which it would be wise for the United States to use nuclear weapons, even in retaliation for their prior use against us ....” Such are the words to carve into an atom bomb theme park.

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 John LaForge works for Nukewatch, the nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin and edits its quarterly newsletter.

This commentary was distributed by PeaceVoice, a program of  the Oregon Peace Institute, Portland;
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