The Manhattan Project is one of the most significant events in American history, and according to some historians, it is the single most significant event of the 20th Century.
In 2004, I joined Sen. Jeff Bingaman as a cosponsor of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Study Act, which directed the Department of Interior to conduct a study of the Manhattan Project sites to determine the feasibility of including the sites in the National Park System.
In 2011, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, recommended the creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park with units at Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Los Alamos, N.M., and Hanford, Wash. According to Secretary Salazar, “The Manhattan Project ushered in the Atomic Age, changed the role of the United States in the world community, and set the stage for the Cold War.”
Support for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act is bipartisan, bicameral, and has the strong support of the Energy Communities Alliance and preservation organizations, including the National Parks Conservation Association.
Today, it is impossible to imagine that in September 1942, in a valley in East Tennessee, 3,000 farmers and their families were told to leave their homes to make way for a “secret city” that would bring 100,000 men and women together to help end World War II and forever change the course of human history. The story of the Manhattan Project is not only about World War II, it is about the people who lived and worked at these sites, the scientific achievements they made, and the impact of their work on our nation’s history.
I have long supported establishing a national historic park to protect the Manhattan Project sites because of the project’s important role in our history, but also because of its importance to the history and people of Tennessee.
Many have asked how a valley in East Tennessee became the first Manhattan Project site. Ray Smith, Y-12 National Security Complex historian, has reason to believe politics might have played a role.
According to Mr. Smith, President Roosevelt needed to convince Congress to spend a large amount of money without knowing what is was going to be used for. President Roosevelt asked Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kenneth Douglas McKellar, a Democrat from Tennessee, if this could be done. Senator McKellar is said to have replied, “Yes, Mr. President, I can do that for you … now just where in Tennessee are you going to put that thang?”
Senator McKellar’s decision to get President Roosevelt to locate the project in Tennessee was not welcome news to everyone.
John Rice Irwin’s family lived on a farm in the 59,000-acre area that would soon only be known as the Clinton Engineer Works. John said that one day the family came home from Nash Copeland’s general store, and on the screen door on their front porch was a notice from the War Department. John kept a copy of one of the notices from the War Department that was posted on his neighbor’s door. The notice, dated Nov. 11, 1942, said, “The War Department intends to take possession of your farm on December 1, 1942. It will be necessary for you to move not later than that date.”
Wilma Brooks’ family found a similar notice, and her family only had 18 days to leave a farm they had lived and worked on for 200 years.
Oak Ridge, which was not listed on a map until 1949, became the home for 100,000 scientists, engineers, machinists, operators and construction workers.
Very few of the scientists knew what they were working on, and even fewer knew anything about uranium. Bill Wilcox, a young chemist tells the story of going to work for Eastman Kodak to do “war work,” and only later learning that he would be working to produce uranium, which he was never allowed to call by its name.
Today, Mr. Wilcox is the City of Oak Ridge’s historian and a tireless advocate for the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Harvey Kite, another chemist who came to work at Y-12 in 1944, recalled that he and some of his co-workers suspected that the uranium was for a nuclear weapon, but they did not know for sure until the atomic bomb was first used.
Gladys Owens, a “Calutron Girl,” worked for eight months operating the massive electromagnetic separation machines in “Beta 2” of Y-12 without knowing anything about her work. All Ms. Owens knew was that if she wore pins in her hair, the machines she operated would pull them out and stick them like glue to any metal surface she came near.
The X-10 Graphite Reactor, located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor. X-10 not only produced plutonium, it was also the first reactor used to produce radioactive isotopes for medical therapy which marked the birth of modern nuclear medicine which has saved countless lives.
The X-10 Graphite Reactor has been preserved as a National Historical Landmark since 1966, and exists today in virtually the same condition as it did in 1943, when the reactor first achieved criticality.
These are stories of our nation’s history, and what is remarkable is that the facilities used by workers like Gladys Owens have been preserved and exist today almost exactly as they did so many years ago. I am proud of the Department of Energy for investing in our history and preserving these one-of-a-kind facilities. The Department has also worked closely with the National Park Service and local communities to make this unique national park model a reality.
As Americans, we have a special obligation to preserve and protect our heritage, and the Manhattan Project National Historical Park will ensure that all Americans learn about the significance of the Manhattan Project and how it continues to shape our history.
Tom Beehan, the mayor of the City of Oak Ridge, who testified on behalf of the Energy Communities Alliance, made several recommendations which I hope the Committee will consider.
I look forward to working with the Committee to address these recommendations, and to make sure that there is enough flexibility in the legislation so that communities can work with the National Park Service and the Department of Energy to protect nationally significant sites that are critical to understanding the role the Manhattan Project played in our nation’s history.
Sen. Alexander submitted this statement to the Senate’s Subcommittee on National Parks in support of a bill he co-sponsored, S. 3300, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act. Beehan and Smith testified before Congress in support of the bill last week.
T J says
Alexander and Corker also suport the LOST Treaty. This from the June 12 LA Times:
The man who tried to renegotiate the treaty was Ambassador James Malone. In 1984, he explained why Reagan considered LOST to be unacceptable: “The treaty’s provisions were intentionally designed to promote a new world order — a form of global collectivism … that seeks ultimately the redistribution of the world’s wealth through a complex system of manipulative central economic planning and bureaucratic coercion.”
John Huotari says
I hadn’t heard of the LOST Treaty.
T J says
Donald Rumsfeld, who is five times more persuasive than these former secretaries of state, opposes LOST because it “remains a sweeping power grab that could prove to be the largest mechanism for the worldwide redistribution of wealth in human history.” It “would regulate American citizens and businesses without being accountable politically to the American people.” Which makes it shameful that the Chamber of Commerce is campaigning for LOST through an organization with the Orwellian name The American Sovereignty Campaign.
If the Navy supports LOST because the civilian leadership does, fine. But if the Navy thinks it cannot operate well without LOST, we need better admirals not better treaties. Here is an alternative proposal for enhancing the lawfulness of the seas: Keep the money LOST would transfer to ISA and use it to enlarge the UN powers.
George Will’s email address is [email protected].
Susie Williams Taylor says
Interesting comments to say the least…LOST?? Never heard of this treaty either. Now I really need a conversation with someone with a History background…John H, have you looked into LOST yet??
Charles Samuels says
LOST means “Law of the Sea Treaty”. The official name is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The treaty defines the rights and responsibilities of nation regarding the use [interpret in its broadest sense] of the earth’s oceans. Whether or not one supports or opposes UNCLOS depends on individual/national philosophies and priorities. UNCLOS is technical and difficult to read…not suggested for bedtime reading.—Since many treaties involve some kind of compromise of a signatory’s sovereignty, I recommend that you make an informed decision based on considered thought, your individual philosophy and innate good sense