The Manhattan Project, the secret research mission to develop an atomic weapon ahead of Germany and bring an end to World War II, was one of the 20th century’s most ambitious feats of science and engineering. And, it also proved to be one of the darkest moments.
In many respects, the Manhattan Project ushered in the modern era of war. The creation and use of these early weapons of mass destruction raised profound ethical questions, which today remain as challenging and urgent as in 1945.
As a nation, we need to grapple openly and objectively with the Manhattan Project’s complex legacy.To do so, a place for reflection, education and interpretation is needed. Legislation before Congress would establish the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, an assembly of three locations central to the development of the atomic bomb: Hanford, Wash., site of the first full-scale nuclear reactor; Oak Ridge, Tenn., home to the first uranium enrichment plant; and the laboratory and related sites at Los Alamos, N.M. The Los Alamos site is now featured in the WGN America television drama “Manhattan.”
Some critics of this legislation have expressed concern that the creation of the Manhattan Project National Park would somehow inappropriately celebrate the atomic bomb and the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the close of World War II.
We believe the opposite to be true. Opening up and preserving these sites as a national park would provide an opportunity for Americans to consider the Manhattan Project in its full scope and complexity. It would encourage the sort of thoughtful reflection on the dangers of these weapons and consideration of the best way to avoid glorifying the bomb or using it in the future. Few events have affected as many aspects of American life as deeply as the Manhattan Project. It irrevocably altered the global standing of the United States and set the stage for the Cold War. It sparked innovations in medicine, science, and technology. And, of course, the deadly force of the atomic bomb humbled us all.
See also Preserving Manhattan Project Sites