In the early New Mexico light, I visited The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. Cold, clear day. Vapor streams from my warm breath. Bundled in multiple sweat shirts and jackets. Inside was warm. The museum guide is bright and cheery. The floors polished. Once section gleamed with a giant sized Periodic Table of Elements.
Then I came to the “gadget.”
What do I see? Do I see the ingenuity to create this complex device, the first of its kind? The men and women of the secret Manhattan Project sweat in the mountains of Los Alamos, tweaking the boundaries of physics to liberate tremendous energy by an impossible deadline. Do I hear the goosesteps across the Atlantic in Nazi Germany’s fortress Europe, developing their own atomic program? Do I hear Einstein drafting a letter, scratch of pen to paper, to President Roosevelt warning of the potential energy contained in the atom for use as a weapon?
Do I hear the shriek of air as the “gadget’s” cousin, Fat Man, plummets toward Nagasaki? The flash, heat and blast. Flesh incinerated. Ash falling. Twisted screams. Sizzling metal. The stink of putrefaction. The cries of widows, orphans and the surrendering voice of Japan’s Emperor.
Do you hear me go “Gee Whiz! It’s the gadget! I read all about it in history books.” Meanwhile, my stomach cramps, sour taste in my mouth at the sight of this bomb.
What am I to think? As a writer, I’m fascinated by the creation and the destruction. The use and abuse. As a citizen, imagine seeing a mushroom cloud on TV and hope fall like burnt leaves as I shake my head, thinking “all is lost.”
Perhaps I should see further.
I’m one hundred and two and visit a museum – virtual, nano-size, who knows – and see children cluster around metallic curiosities. “These were weapons we used to hurt each other.” My breath smells like used wax paper. “These things we feared and we idolized at the same time.”
The mouths yawn. Eyes are rubbed. Somebody shoves somebody. A quiet protest of quit it.
Finally, an eye roll. “Well, that’s just stupid.”
And on to the next exhibit.
So what, oh see do you?