It is a very strange feeling to be from a town that changed the world. A town that had only one purpose. A town chosen as the place for America’s most top-secret project in history by the most famous physicist in the world. A brilliant scientist that no one under the age of 50 has ever heard of. A town most people have never heard of, people who live across the world, the next state over or just a couple of hundred miles away. A man and a town that built the worlds first Atomic Bombs.
I grew up in Los Alamos New Mexico. I still think it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It is the most spiritual place I have been. It is the most surreal place I have ever been. It is the most unheard of place I have ever known.
In 1941 J. Robert Oppenheimer was appointed by General Leslie R. Groves to head a top-secret project called The Manhattan Project. One of the few locations of this project, chosen by Oppie, as we locals call Oppenheimer, was in the Jemez Mountains of Northern New Mexico where a boys ranch was. Los Alamos.
This small town that was a secret town until 1968 when it finally became public.
I am constantly amazed at how few people from the state of New Mexico know of it and how few people anywhere else in the United States have even heard of it. Having grown up there I have a sense of pride and of Global fame if you will for my home town. I have a very keen sense that my hometown forever changed the world, for better or for worse. As I grow older I also have a sense of guilt for what happened to the 10’s of thousands of Japanese in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the US dropped the worlds first atomic bombs Fat Man and Little Boy. I have always had a sense of pride mixed with guilt about killing all those civilians. It is a feeling only those of us from Los Alamos have. No one else can possibly understand. As deep as these feelings are I know even I will never know the feeling of responsibility that the elite group of scientists who built those weapons of mass destruction are burdened with. Especially J. Robert Oppenheimer, whom we locals lovingly call Oppie.
Oppie spent the years following WWII defending his patriotism. He was found guilty of being a National Security Risk by The Atomic Energy Commission and was humiliated by President Truman for speaking out against his policies against sharing the knowledge Oppie his team at the Manhattan Project had concerning nuclear weapons. He openly opposed further development of the Hydrogen Bomb that Edward Teller was developing with the support of President Truman. This opposition cost him everything.
There are such controversial health, economic, environmental and social issues surrounding Los Alamos to this day that it makes it even harder to be proud of where I am from. The careless handling of nuclear waste during those early years is responsible for the failing health of residents who are stricken with unknown types of cancers and numerous other diseases. The town and immediate surrounding areas are so contaminated with radiation much of it is unfit for human habitation. The countless testing of explosives and weapons that was done during the 1940’s has damaged the environment in ways that they didn’t imagine and still do not know the extent of. Los Alamos is our Nations home for nuclear weapons stockpile and home to the worlds plutonium supply.
All that aside, it is to me as it is to everyone I know who grew up there, home.