Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2015-2016
In what looks like the establishment of state religion, government-funded monuments to nuclear weapons are popping up all over the country, and Minuteman missile sites are part of the scam.
Hoping perhaps to enshrine the myth that the “god of the underworld,” after which plutonium was named, can be transformed from a vengeful, self-destructive, nightmare demon, into a benign, peace-loving, fairy-tale prince, nuclear propagandists and their friends in Congress are establishing nuclear war theme parks—without the uncomfortable taint of mass destruction or Cold War hatreds—at former bomb factories and nuclear weapons launch pads.
- Tours are being offered at the “B Reactor,” on the Hanford Reservation in Washington State which in 2008 was declared a National Historic Landmark. Plutonium production reactors for the nuclear arsenal were for decades sloppily operated there, releasing large amounts of airborne radioactive fallout and causing long-term pollution of groundwater which threatens the Columbia River.
- A National Wildlife Refuge has been established at Rocky Flats, Colorado, outside Denver, where the machining of plutonium for nuclear bomb cores has poisoned dozens of square miles.
- Near Fargo, North Dakota, the State Historical Society owns a deactivated Minuteman missile launch control center, dubbed “Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site,” and has opened it to tourism.
- In South Dakota, the retired launch control center formerly named D-1 is now called the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and is run by the National Park Service. Visitors may go underground and personally simulate a nuclear missile launch.
- Outside Tucson, Arizona, you can tour the Titan Missile Museum which opened in 1986 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994.
- At White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, six hours from Washington, DC, the Greenbrier hideaway was built by the Dwight Eisenhower administration as a nuclear war fallout shelter for 1,000 people—including members of Congress and their families. The bunker came with a power generator, a 60-day supply of packaged food, a hospital, kitchen, dining room, waste disposal, and a dental operating room. However, a nuclear attack on the capital would have rendered evacuation impossible, the airport a smoldering ruin, and the trains unworkable. Today, deactivated and restored, the site is making money by charging visitors for tours.
- This November, the Energy and Interior Departments launched a three-site National Historic Park named for the Manhattan Project—the secret World War II program that built atomic bombs that killed 140,000 people at Hiroshima and 70,000 at Nagasaki. National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said in a 2011 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 insults our intelligence by denying or feigning ignorance of the vast literature concerning the development and promotion of nuclear weapons. Available from any good library, histories by Robert Lifton and Greg Mitchell (Hiroshima in America), Ward Wilson (Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons), and Gar Alperovitz (The Decision to us the Atomic Bomb) debunk the official white wash of the massacres at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (that incinerating cities “saved lives”). All these studies are informed by thorough consideration of formerly classified documents regarding use of the bomb, the threat to use it, and its long-term physiological, psychological, and ecological effects.
But the government wants us to forget this down-side, and at least two motives are at work.
First, by treating nuclear weapons nostalgically, the centers teach the sham lesson that H-bombs are a thing of the past. South Dakota’s park service website says about the doomsday tour: “At Minuteman Missile NHS, it is possible to learn how the threat of nuclear war came to haunt the world”—as if the Air Force’s 450 city-busting Minuteman III missiles aren’t still on alert, ready to attack, haunting the world. Further, the H-bomb monuments are often given the deceptively sly name of “Cold War memorials,” again treating the nuclear arsenal as a thing of the past, implying that the country’s 7,000 to 10,000 nuclear weapons have gone the way of the Berlin Wall.
Second, official memorials devoted to nuclear weapons self-consciously deny or rewrite the disastrously pollution-intensive and long-lived effects of foisting the Nuclear Age upon the world. This “Columbus Day” style of American history—lionizing heroic efforts and ignoring terrible crimes committed by the hero—is the sort that is being rendered almost as artwork at these idol-worshiping military memorials.
At these shrines, nobody will learn that the Bomb was used unnecessarily against civilians without warning, and tested in the atmosphere hundreds of times in ways that caused at least 75,000 thyroid cancers in the United States alone, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Students will have to look elsewhere to learn that H-bombs have been condemned by every major religion on Earth and that in 1996 a majority of the International Court of Justice declared that the mere threat to use them in a sneak attack or first strike (the “alert” status of our land- and submarine-based missiles maintain this threat) violates International Humanitarian Law.
Neither do the monuments ever acknowledge the Bomb’s legacy of persistent radioactive contamination and the nuclear industry’s resulting worldwide epidemic of radiation-induced cancers. Neither do the memorials note that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are more controversial than any other historical crime of war.
Official US histories and wartime propaganda still claim that the two attacks “ended the war” by preventing a land invasion. This myth is referenced endlessly at the H-bomb monuments. Yet historical records unearthed since the bombings show that in August 1945, Japan was already defeated and, as the US Strategic Bombing Survey concluded in 1946, would have surrendered “certainly prior to 31 December and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945,” without the nuclear bombings, without a Soviet declaration of war, and without a US invasion. Indeed, the mass destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was known in advance not to be necessary, as historian Gar Alperovitz has found.
In his book Mandate for Change, President 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 chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman wrote in his 1950 memoir I Was There, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender….”
With the Obama Administration working now to complete three giant new nuclear weapon production facilities, we must also confront the utter uselessness of todays nuclear weapons. Even the late Paul Nitze, a founder of the anti-Soviet Committee on the Present Danger and former advisor to President Reagan did so. Writing in the New York Times long after the end of the Cold War, 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.”
These are words to carve in stone at any atom bomb theme park.
—This essay is excerpted from Nuclear Heartland, Revised, published this fall by Nukewatch