Normally my historical interests lie on the far side of 1865. After that date, we start moving into the treacherous realm of recent memory. But here’s a controversial issue that hits surprisingly close to home, at least in the literal, geographic sense.
Today, of course, is the 63rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Some of the uranium inside that bomb came from the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, about ninety minutes’ drive from my hometown. Good power sources, sparse settlement, and cheap labor drew the government to the site, along with a series of ridges and valleys to isolate and contain any accidents.
Today, Oak Ridge’s Y-12 National Security Complex still manufactures bomb components, and holds more weapons-grade uranium than any site in the world. This combination of past and present purpose results in some uproar every August. Here’s an article from the Knoxville paper detailing this year’s protests and counter-protests. I hasten to point out that I mention this neither to condmen nor laud what happened at Oak Ridge sixty years ago.
The force unleashed in 1945 was awesome, but I am more awed by the past itself, a force that can instantly erase the present-day distance between the mountains of East Tennessee and the skies over Japan.