Having worked in the field of Los Alamos history for a decade, I have never had a fear that our history would be lost or forgotten. It’s too important, it affected too many people, and WWII was the greatest tragedy in history. There’s no way it can ever be disregarded, I thought. Until today.
World War II ended on Aug. 14, 1945 (in the U.S., Aug. 15 on the other side of the international dateline). The end of WWII meant millions of American “boys” would return home and be reunited with their families. It meant Europe and Asia could begin, with U.S. help, rebuilding. Life could return to a new normal. The celebrations went on for days. Or, as my grandfather wrote in his diary from the Philippines, “It was drunk out!” and the next day, “Several headaches this morn.”
Yet in the United States today, the media has hardly whispered a word. Yes, they covered the speech of Japanese Prime Minister Abe, but that focused on Korea and China. Over the last month or so, we have seen hours of documentaries and read thousands of words about the 70th anniversary of Trinity and of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Here are just a few of the CNN headlines: “Why We Must Never Forget Hiroshima”; “Grief, Horror of Atomic Bomb Remembered 70 Years Later”; “Have the Ashes of Hiroshima Taught the World Anything”; and “Atomic Bomb Site Now One of Japan’s Most Popular Attractions.”
Where are the stories about the American ships in the Pacific that turned around? Where are the stories about the POWs who were freed or the stories of military men and women thanking those who wore a Manhattan Project patch on their uniforms? Where are the pictures of the celebrations and big newspaper headlines? These also happened 70 years ago and affected millions of people.
It is not my fear that what happened in Los Alamos will be lost or forgotten. As of today, I fear we will lose the context for understanding WHY what happened in Los Alamos happened. The horrors and deprivations of the war, the slogs through Europe and the Pacific islands that cost so many, the overwhelming desire for peace, and yes, even a bit of revenge for Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March. From our comfortable, 21st century armchairs, do we really have an understanding of what the “Greatest Generation” endured?
Whether or not we should have dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, whether or not we would have had to invade Japan, and how many people on both sides would have died if we did have to invade is, for this discussion, completely irrelevant. What is relevant is that the war was over.
The war was over. That is a big deal. We should remember it.
Note: The views expressed in this letter are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Los Alamos Historical Society.