The House on September 20 blocked bipartisan legislation to establish Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Leading the opposition was Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who said the park would "celebrate" nuclear weapons.
Such a claim is ideological posturing run amok. National historical parks are opportunities for education. Kucinich's statement insulted the dedicated professionals in the National Park Service who responsibly interpret the events that shaped our country's history.
The historical significance of the Manhattan Project is beyond question, and that is the essence of why Congress should authorize a national historical park to commemorate and interpret the project. Kucinich's personal views on the development and use of the atomic bomb are irrelevant to the project's importance to American history.
In 2001, the President's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation called the development of the atomic bomb and its use at the end of World War II "the single most significant event of the 20th century."
Under the pressures and contingencies of a global conflict in which the future of Western civilization hung in the balance, the federal government undertook a crash program to develop the atomic bomb. Indications at the time that Nazi Germany was pursuing such a weapon spurred the launch of the Manhattan Project.
For decades, historians have debated questions about the bomb's use.
In his statement opposing the park legislation, Kucinich quoted the "grave misgivings" of General Dwight D. Eisenhower about using the bomb and quoted other World War II-era military leaders questioning the idea dropping the bomb was necessary to force Japan's surrender and end the war.
In his six-volume history of the war, Winston Churchill wrote of his belief that using the bomb averted "a vast, indefinite butchery" that would have ensued as a result of Operation Downfall, the planned Allied invasion of Japan's home islands.
In interpreting the Manhattan Project and its legacy, the Park Service would be responsible for shedding light on this and the many other military, technological, geopolitical, and ethical dimensions of the Manhattan Project, even if the story tells people things they would rather not hear.
The Park Service isn't in the propaganda business, as Kucinich seems to believe. The service has capably interpreted many of the difficult and tragic episodes of America's history that are commemorated at national parks and historical sites: slavery, racial segregation, the Trail of Tears, and the forced wartime internment of Japanese-Americans, to name several. Park exhibits help modern Americans come to grips with our history and reflect on the meaning of events that tell our country's story.
Kucinich wants the Manhattan Project interpreted according to the way he sees the world. His perspective is worth hearing, but it is not the only voice that should be heard. That's why we don't let congressmen handle historical interpretation in our national parks, a job they surely would corrupt with ideological posturing and bumper sticker politicking.
Imagine the damage our national park system would suffer if we allowed ideologues to interfere with responsible interpretation of our history in order to conform to this or that notion of political correctness.
The Manhattan Project is a compelling and complex story that surely rises to the level of commemoration and interpretation as a national park. Congress should pass the park authorizing legislation, then get out of the way and let the National Park Service do the interpretation job it does so well.
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