Richland, WA, and the Bomb

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I was a child, it was made clear to me that the Atomic Bomb was,
at best, a necessary evil. While the old excuse for dropping them
on the children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was usually trotted out,
“It saved thousands of American soldiers,”1
the fact is once the Soviet Union had them, it became a universally
hated icon. The Atom Bomb was the ultimate menace behind such films
as The
, Wargames,
, Planet
of the Apes
, and The
Day After
. A soulless monster that was out to destroy not
only all humanity but possibly all life on earth.

it should not surprise anyone that people somewhere worship this
thing, which gibbers madly in the collective unconscious like H.P.
Lovecraft’s mad, blind, idiot god Azathoth. The town of Richland,
WA, is where this worship takes place. Richland is a town whose
prosperity rests on an atom bomb factory, a plant for creating plutonium.2
A quote from the Richland Chamber of Commerce Web site:

remained the prime industry until World War II when government
surveyors arrived and announced that the federal government was
assuming ownership of the area. By 1943, the Manhattan District
of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had acquired the towns of
Richland, Hanford and White Bluffs, designated the area as the
Hanford Atomic Works, and began the development of the atomic
bomb. In 1944, the first reactor began operation at the Hanford
Project. Camp Hanford's population peaked at 51,000, and spanned
not quite two years until its abandonment in February 1945.
Chamber of Commerce – WELCOME TO RICHLAND.

the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the people of Richland decided
to show their pride in what they had helped to create. The new symbol
of the football team, the Richland Bombers, became the mushroom
cloud. Whether the name of the team came from the Nagasaki Bomb
or from another source seems to be open to debate, see discussion
. I’ll note that
the sentiment, which is what I think matters, is neatly summed up
in the article:

or Bomb? Really what difference does is make? We’re all Bombers
and proud of our connection to the atomic bomb, and also proud
of Day’s Pay. I conclude with a quote from a bomber grad who also
expresses my feelings.

stop the thing about where the name “Bombers” came from be proud
whether it was “Day’s Pay” or the A-bomb, I am proud of either
and/or both” Bud Row (47), (33)

town of Richland has stubbornly stuck to their pride in this symbol.
No appeal has made a dent in it. Peace activists both local and
Japanese, have made suggestions that it might be insensitive to
celebrate such an act of destruction:

Some students
did try to change the high school emblem in the sixties, at the
height of Vietnam-era protests. Peers called them names. Teachers
questioned their patriotism. Anonymous callers left threats. In
1988 a handful of teachers and students tried again to change
the logo. Again, the Hanford community closed ranks and said the
mushroom cloud was a symbol of pride, and that to change it would
betray local tradition. Some 90 percent of students and 75 percent
of the staff voted to retain it. When a visiting group of bomb
survivors from Japan asked them to reconsider, the principal responded,
“We did not start that war,” and abruptly walked out of the room.
Not Talk About the Bad Things.”

of the Cloud,” written on a mushroom cloud symbol, is what it says
on Bomber Booster’s memorabilia, which can be purchased online at:
RHS Bomber Boosters Memorabilia.
I find it somewhat comical that this symbol is portrayed prominently
on the Richland High Web site (Richland
High School: Home of the Bombers
), while the dresscode on that
same site forbids offensive symbols, including symbols of violence.
Of course, the pride Richland has in the bomb may have its price,
as there may be consequences for a town which has worked with radioactive
poisons since 1944.3 I
direct attention to the following article:

My relationship
to the bomb as image begins with my birth in Richland, Washington,
in 1950, home of the Richland High School Bombers, where pretty
cheerleaders still wear the logo of a mushroom cloud across their
bosoms. There I grew up among my friends and their parents, workers
at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the birthplace of the plutonium
bomb later dropped upon the city of Nagasaki, Japan, an incendiary
device which killed 70,000 human beings. It never occurred to
any of us that by virtue of living in this stark desert land by
the mighty Columbia River we were becoming “down-winders,” passive
recipients of massive radiation leaks from the Hanford Reservation.
Despair: An Imaginal Odyssey Into the Soul of Hiroshima

Atom Bomb cannot distinguish its worshipers from its opponents,
and does not care about their worship. The title of an article previously
cited here refers to the following quote:

workers did have qualms, they deferred to those they called “The
Men Who Know Best,” the people in Congress and the Pentagon who
gave the directives to make the weapons they fueled. One night,
at a bridge club, I asked the women what their husbands did and
did not tell them about workplace accidents. One participant exclaimed,
“Let’s not talk about the bad things,” then changed the subject
to presidents who had visited the site and a local graduate who
played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The shift in topic was near-automatic,
like a switch shunting a train onto a different track. –
Not Talk About the Bad Things”

again, I am reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s great film, Dr. Strangelove,
and especially it’s subtitle, “Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying
and Love the Bomb.” The good doctor would feel quite at home in
Richland. Especially now that the George W. Bush administration
has decided to create “kinder, gentler” nukes, that the squeamish
public presumably won’t object to being used against non-nuclear
armed foes like Iraq. (See Fallout
from Bush’s Tactical Nukes on the American West


  1. In my opinion,
    I cannot do a better debunking of this argument than Joseph R.
    Stromberg does here on The
    Old Cause: The Bombs of August.
  2. This article
    refers to Richland as a replacement for the Atomic Boom Town of
    Hanford: Hanford:
    Boomtown of the atomic frontier
  3. For more
    information on this, the
    Web site has been set up.

25, 2003

W. Shuster [send him mail]
is a programmer analyst in Tampa, Florida.


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