Trinity site offers visitors a reminder of the horrors of war

Copyright 2016 (all rights reserved)

By Rudy Apodaca

(published as an opinion/commentary on December 28, 2016
in the on-line edition of the Austin American-Statesman)

     Hiroshima. Nagasaki. For even those with only a scant knowledge of history, those words conjure up the horrific image of a mushrooming cloud rising skyward, leaving below obliterated human life and a devastation never imagined.

     Our country’s military dropped the first of two atomic bombs on August 6, 1945 in Hiroshima, Japan, followed by the second at Nagasaki on August 9. Japan surrendered on August 15.

     While visiting my native New Mexico in early fall, I learned by chance that a group of technical personnel from Japan was testing its missile and rocket technology at White Sands Missile Range. White Sands is a U. S. Army base where testing of missiles and rockets has taken place since the early 1940s.

     Located near the northern edge of White Sands, the Trinity Site—Trinity was the code name of the first detonation of a nuclear weapon—marks where the nuclear age had its beginning, making possible the eventual nuclear blasts that annihilated Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

     From the range’s Public Affairs office, I learned that Japanese engineers have little space overland to test missiles, so their experiments take place over the sea, making equipment recovery impossible.  Our army contracts with foreign countries and other contractors to use White Sands for such testing.

     I’ve since learned that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings had a profound effect on the Japanese, who today are strong pacifists. In fact, under Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, the government is prohibited from declaring war, though Japan can maintain a military force for self-defense.

     Returning to my visit, I was particularly interested when learning from a source with first-hand knowledge that several Japanese technicians showed an interest in visiting the Trinity Site. During their visit to the site, which lasted about 15 to 20 minutes, the Japanese took several minutes to bow and chant, as if in prayer, while standing before a monument erected at “Ground Zero”, the precise center of the blast.

     For hundreds and even thousands of years, Asian culture has held firm to a strong spiritual discipline in their dealings among themselves and others.  I’ve always respected that aspect of Japanese culture. So I wasn’t surprised that I was moved by this small group reflecting on the horrors of war at a place that to them was hallowed, and knowing that the seed giving rise to the bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki germinated at this site where they chanted in reverence.

     No matter our opinion on the bombings, right or wrong, they happened. This writing’s purpose isn’t to debate whether they were necessary to end the war or a mistake. Despite the debates during the past 71 years, some believe that most historians agree today that thousands of lives were saved by the bombings, even considering the terrible loss of civilian life in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

     In my search to find out how the Japanese today might view war generally and specifically the use of nuclear weapons, I came across an article entitled Trinity: 70 Years Later, written by Margaret Wright in the New Mexican, Santa Fe’s daily newspaper, on July 14, 2015.

     Wright wrote of the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, where the nuclear device detonated at the Trinity Site was developed. She examined a ledger used by guests visiting the museum to record their views on the museum’s exhibits. In there, she found the comments of a “Fumiko A.”, entered in August 1995, just days after the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. Fumiko, Wright noted, “wrote that she was a 14-year-old resident of Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on that city.

“[Fumiko] wrote that she knew Japan had committed crimes in Asia and across the Pacific, including the surprise attack . . . at Pearl Harbor.

     “‘Ever since I realized what war really is [murder], I have also seen the faces of the people who suffered at the hands of the Japanese,’ she wrote. ‘There is no holy war, no matter what kind of war it is or what kinds of weapons are used. As long as nuclear weapons exist, there is no future for humanity. This exhibit has made me believe that even more. Science must be used for useful purposes. We must never in the future, nor continue now, to be slaves to the bomb.’”