published Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Patriotic Oak Ridge scientists

It was tragically necessary for the United States to use atomic weapons to defeat Japan and end World War II. Even after Germany had surrendered, the Japanese were dug into their islands and prepared to sacrifice untold numbers of their own people, plus countless Allied soldiers who would have been needed for a full-scale invasion of Japan. Millions on both sides might have died.

But the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki three days later led to Japan’s swift surrender and saved untold lives.

Addressing the British House of Commons soon after the bombings, British wartime leader Winston Churchill declared, “There were those who considered that the atomic bomb should never have been used at all. I cannot associate myself with such ideas. ... I am surprised that very worthy people — but people who in most cases had no intention of proceeding to the Japanese front themselves — should adopt a position that rather than throw this bomb we should have sacrificed a million American and a quarter of a million British lives.”

Considering the massive losses if the United States had not dropped atomic weapons on Japan, we are grateful to the patriotic scientists at Oak Ridge, Tenn., as well as sites in New Mexico and Washington state, where nuclear weapons were first developed. And considering the historic importance of the sites to our country, it is well justified to establish national historical parks at those locations.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has recommended creating such parks at Oak Ridge and in Los Alamos, N.M., and Hanford, Wash. The plan faces opposition, though, from anti-nuclear activists who say it “glorifies” nuclear weapons.

We do not glorify nuclear weapons as such, and we have great concern about their possibly falling into the hands of terrorists. But preserving the memory of the important events at Oak Ridge and the other locations during World War II is a legitimate function of the federal government.

It is certainly reasonable to debate whether, in the current budget crisis, Washington can afford to be creating the parks. But at least in principle, these parks would be appropriate and constitutional.

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