AUGUST 7, 2015
"Peace Activists Descend on Los Alamos"
BY JOHN DEAR
By FERNANDA SANTOS
AUGUST 7, 2015
Rev. James Lawson addressed a
peace rally in Los Alamos, N.M., on Thursday, 70 years after an atomic
bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
Mark Holm for The New York Times
ALAMOS, N.M. — Ellie Voutselas, 78, pulled from a cardboard box the
sacks she had fashioned into ponchos, slicing holes in the burlap for
the head and arms. Cayla Turain, 22, grabbed hers, smudged ashes on her
face, and joined a silent march for peace.
On Aug. 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb
over Hiroshima, Japan, incinerating tens of thousands on the ground.
Seventy years later, Ms. Voutselas, Ms. Turain and about  others
marched toward the secured entrance to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the bombs that ravaged Hiroshima and, three days later, Nagasaki, had been conceived.
generation might be the one that's going to have to grapple with the
question, to nuke or not to nuke?" Ms. Turain, a graduate student from
Fort Collins, Colo., said Thursday. "I came here looking for answers."
a stage at the Ashley Pond Park, Rev. John Dear, the Catholic
priest who organized the protest and a self-described "nonviolent
troublemaker" — he says he has been arrested 75 times in acts of civil
disobedience against war and was once convicted of striking an F-15E fighter-bomber with a hammer inside a military base - offered his answers.
roads lead to Los Alamos," Father John Dear said. "This is the place that
taught us that we can destroy one another, destroy the world, and it's
really important for us to understand how our history feeds our
residents here seemed to understand, and tolerate, the protest, none of
them joined. Some watched with indifferent curiosity, ignoring the
message even as it condemned the laboratory that is their town's
lifeblood - and where research today reaches far beyond nuclear weapons, into fields like climate change, geothermal energies and cancer treatment.
the protesters sat Margie Lane, 89, who vividly recalled the news of
the bombings and "that feeling," she said, "that the world was no longer
perspective on Los Alamos and its laboratory was decidedly benign. Mrs.
Lane has lived here for 38 years and her husband, now dead, worked as a
mechanical engineer at the lab, a job that paid the bills and gave him
purpose. "He built the gadgets the scientists conceived," she said.
Casados, 65, a lifelong resident, said his father was one of the lab's
early scientists, doing some type of classified work, and he worked
there too, on an accelerator of subatomic particles used in certain
forms of cancer therapy. He said it was easy to condemn the lab when all
one knows about it is its "crazy history."
not all pro-nukes and pro-bombs," said Mr. Casados, who retired two
years ago and had come to observe the protest. "I worked to save lives,
and I'm very proud of that."
days, the laboratory is a place of contrasts, much like its hometown.
Perched on a plateau on the Jemez Mountains, Los Alamos offers stunning
panoramas - mountains chiseled by volcanic eruptions on one side,
hillsides speckled with pine trees on the other, the ground still
scarred by wildfires that have come close to burning the town. With its
strong public school system, an overwhelming number of residents with
doctoral degrees and one of the nation's highest concentration of millionaires, Los Alamos is rich and highly educated, an anomaly in the state.
Mexico, one of the poorest states in the country, is heavily reliant on
its military bases and government research centers. Los Alamos and the
Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque are among the top 10 employers in the state, which received $27.5 billion in federal money in 2013, according to a recent report
by the Pew Charitable Trusts. About a quarter of the money paid for
contracts, many of them for defense work developed at the labs.
But the relationship has come at a price. For years, lab workers used bunkers and canyons
around Los Alamos as dumping grounds for radioactive materials - and
trace amounts are still embedded in rocks and soil despite millions of
dollars in cleanups.
The marchers in Los Alamos on Thursday.
Mark Holm for The New York Times
year, plutonium waste leaked from a drum stored at the laboratory. In
April, the federal Energy Department agreed to spend $73 million to
improve transportation of nuclear waste from Los Alamos to the nation's
only permanent underground repository for such materials, in
southeastern New Mexico, where a leak exposed 17 employees to radiation.
In announcing the agreement, Gov. Susana Martinez described Los Alamos and the repository known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant as "critical assets to our nation's security, our state's economy, and the communities in which they operate."
For the protesters, though, they are reminders of the past and worrisome signs of what the future may hold.
would they do this?" Kaitlyn Altizer, 12, asked her parents, Mary and
Don Heath, pastors at Trinity Christian Church in Edmond, Okla., after
she learned about the bombs for the first time. The family was in New
Mexico for a four-day peace conference, which begins and ends with protests here, to mark the dropping of the bombs over Japan.
march led with banner that read, "1 Hiroshima = 100 Auschwitz." The
group walked west on Trinity Drive, named after the bombs' test site,
about 200 miles south of Los Alamos; crossed Oppenheimer Drive, named
after J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who led the bomb's development; and passed the Richard P. Feynman Center for Innovation, which honors a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, the atomic bombs' classified program.
protesters paused for 15 minutes of silence along the walk. A man sat
in a lotus position under the shade of a tree, his eyes closed in
at the park, they spread out on the lawn to hear Rev. James Lawson,
the mastermind of lunch-counter sit-ins in Nashville in 1960 and other
demonstrations during the Civil Rights era. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr., a close friend, described him as "the leading theorist and
strategist of nonviolence in the world."
Lawson was 17 when the bombs fell in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a rising
high school senior in Massillon, Ohio, and a member of the speech and
debate team, whose question that year was, "Does the atomic bomb make
mass armies obsolete?"
to Los Alamos with Father John Dear, who has been nominated multiple times
for the Nobel Peace Prize, Rev. Lawson said, "Today's weapons of mass
destruction are nothing but the evolution of our understanding of
"What do you mean by that?" Father John Dear asked.
Rev. Lawson answered, "The bomb has given the human race the power to annihilate itself." Evoking last year's killings of Tamir Rice, 12, in Cleveland and Michael Brown, 18,
in Ferguson, Mo., he added, "The police officer who shoots an unarmed
boy or sees a young man as a demon rushing at him represents the same
lost regard for human life we learned with the bomb."
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