10 April 2011

'i am become death, the destroyer of worlds.'

j. robert oppenheimer c. 1946 by Ed Westcott
i was nervous to visit trinity site. where the world's first atomic bomb was tested. not for the radiation. surprisingly, it would be minimal. less than a round-trip flight cross the us. less than i get living year-round in our adobe. surely less than my microwave pumps out when i nuke my tea.

maybe i shouldn't say nuke.

i was nervous because i didn't know how i'd react. i was compelled. am compelled. to visit sites of destruction. to remember. to reflect. it's why i went to oswiecim/auschwitz. it's why i went to minidoka. it's why i planned my sister's trip to nm solely around one of only two days trinity site is open every year.

my sister wanted to go because it was a vast achievement in science. i wanted to go because i thought i might cry.

i don't know much about wwii (or the great war, or the cold war, or vietnam, or anything really). i don't think many my age do. all my history classes seemed to stop just after the industrial revolution. you think i'm joking. one class covered them all. one. and with my memory that basically means i never heard it before.

then again. i never read anything on my own.

so i attempted 'the' history about the atomic bomb before we went to trinity. i failed. instead, i watched a bbc film on oppenheimer. my dad recommended it. my dad who worked at hanford. yes that hanford. no not then. it's a fine film. though seemed most of the actors were stage-trained. or the screenwriters were. i can't decide. and then there was sam waterston, who played oppie. aka that one guy from law & order. he was amazing.

and then there was that scene. that scene. july 16 1945. oppenheimer stands in the predawn, a distance from the test. as 'the gadget's' chain reaction produces light and heat equal to the sun, he recites from the bhagavad gita—


'now, i am become death, the destroyer of worlds.'

cinematographic finesse. i fell over five times.

and it all became a lot to think about. it's always been a lot to think about.

in the bbc film, it seems the manhattan project started out exciting. the scientists were creating what was once theory. forging new science. new science. fall over. then, as the war continued, it seems to hit them. this is what they're doing. wait. this is what they're doing. wait. this is what they've done.

the bomb was needed to end the war, this is what i hear. the second bomb was not needed to end the war, this is also what i hear.

trinity site obelisk national historic landmark by Samat Jain

scores of people were at trinity. just. scores. college students filming videos. babies in strollers. couples walking dogs. everyone searching for trinitite. everyone smiling for photos in front of the obelisk at ground zero. everyone buying shirts and bottles printed with that mushroom cloud. everyone eating lunch. everyone having a good time. everyone walking around like this wasn't something super super fall over important and shouldn't they be meditating anyway.

it was eery. it reminded me of when i was at auschwitz and schoolchildren were running around outside laughing. just steps from the work-will-make-you-free gate. i wanted to shake them all into solemnity.

and then i bought a patch. and then i posed in jumbo. and then i searched for trinitite. and then i smiled. and then i ate fruit leather. and then i was happy about something. probably about being in the desert in the sunshine.

what was wrong with me? why didn't someone shake me?

maybe i wanted some kind of ceremony. some kind of liturgy. some kind of wailing. some kind of promise. but it didn't happen.

but it. the creation of destruction.

but it did happen.

on bus to nearby schmidt/mcdonald ranch house, where the core was assembled