A Strangelovian Relic
April 7, 2001
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An article in this morning's New York Times reports on federal efforts to preserve for history's sake the sites where America developed the atom bomb.
The article takes a markedly hostile view toward nuclear weaponry. The Times reports, "Nations traditionally make monuments of their grandest and most glorious places. The campaign for B Reactor, which opened in 1944 under the supervision of the physicist Enrico Fermi, reflects a growing willingness to also protect historic sites that evoke unpleasant and painful memories, and in some cases are actually hazardous."
Those two sentences seem to be the Times news department asserting its opinion that the development of the atom bomb was not a grand or glorious achievement of American science in the war for freedom against fascism, but rather "unpleasant" and "painful." Surely, the use of nuclear weapons and some aspects of the development of them were unpleasant and painful, but probably less so than the alternative, which might have been an American defeat in World War II or at the very least more extensive American casualties in conventional warfare. Or consider what might have happened had America not developed the atom bomb, and instead waited for the Soviet Union to do so.
The "no nukes" tone of the article is confirmed by one of the first quotes, from Senator Murray of Washington. The Times tells us she envisions a place "kind of like the Holocaust Museum," she said. "It's not a place to enjoy a day, but where you learn what can happen."
As Senator Murray must understand, to compare the American development of the atomic bomb to the Nazi Holocaust is just a stunning example of moral equivalency. The atom bomb was developed to defend the free world against the Nazis. Its development probably had the effect of saving lives -- unlike the Holocaust, which was a calculated effort to take lives for no good reason.
The Times article goes on to report that "at the Greenbrier Resort in Warm Springs, W.Va., nearly 200,000 visitors have paid up to $25 to tour the ultimate Strangelovian relic: the cavernous cold war bunker built to shelter members of Congress from a nuclear attack."
It's just unseemly of the Times in a news story to mock a reasonable civil defense measure as "the ultimate Strangelovian relic." For one thing, the idea of "Dr. Strangelove" was that the military and mad scientists were usurping the rightful roles of the civilian political authorities. The idea of putting Congress in a bunker in the event of a nuclear attack runs counter to that concept, because it suggests that even in the event of a nuclear war, the constitutional system of checks and balances, complete with separate executive, legislative and judicial branches, would remain intact.
Finally, it's a breathtaking oversight that an entire article could be devoted to the sites where the atom bomb was developed without mentioning what is probably the most important site of all. That is in Chicago, where, in a commandeered squash court under the grandstands of the University of Chicago's Stagg Field, Enrico Fermi and his colleagues on December 2, 1942, achieved the first self-sustaining controlled release of nuclear energy. The site of Chicago Pile No. 1 was designated a national historic landmark in 1965 and marked with a Henry Moore sculpture in 1967. It's just weird that the Times could write this whole article on historic sites related to the atom bomb without mentioning the word "Chicago."
Take Your Pick: The metro section of today's Times runs an Associated Press dispatch reporting that "Twenty-one cases of pneumonia in college-age students have been identified in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Broome Counties and in the Bronx, and officials believe the students were infected during spring break vacations in Acapulco, Mexico." The same item reports that "Nationwide, more than 100 cases have been discovered among people who stayed at the Calinda Beach Resort Hotel in Acapulco in the first weeks of March."
An item in the national section of the Times, also from the AP, reports, "At least 100 college students nationwide have contracted a respiratory disease while on spring break in Acapulco, Mexico, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported today. All the students spent time at the Calinda Beach Hotel and reported getting sick about 10 days after returning home. Officials from the health agency said they believed the disease might be histoplasmosis, a fungal infection that typically is easily treatable."
Do the students have pneumonia or histoplasmosis? The metro section says one; the national section says the other. What's a reader to do? It would be nice if the editors at the Times were able to detect these inconsistencies before inflicting them on the paper's readers.
New in "Letters about Smartertimes": New Haven defends itself, sort of.
Note: Smartertimes.com is in Massachusetts and operating this morning off the online edition of the New York Times.
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