Richland, WA, and the Bomb

When 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 Terminator, Wargames, Dr. Strangelove, 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.

So, 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:

Farming 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. – Richland Chamber of Commerce – WELCOME TO RICHLAND.

After 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 here: BEAVERS – ATOMS – BOMBERS RESEARCH PROJECT. I’ll note that the sentiment, which is what I think matters, is neatly summed up in the article:

Plane 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.

“Let’s 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)

The 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. – “Let’s Not Talk About the Bad Things.”

“Proud 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. – Beyond Despair: An Imaginal Odyssey Into the Soul of Hiroshima

The 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:

When 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. – “Let’s Not Talk About the Bad Things”

Once 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.

July 25, 2003