The Hanford Site in southeast Washington and Nagasaki are bound by a fate and lesson captured in a phrase from another event at the time, “Let It Not Happen Again.”

Share story

THE creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park offers a sobering package of technological achievement, historical perspective and harsh lessons learned.

The historic B Reactor on the Hanford nuclear site shares in the legacy of efforts undertaken by a reeling nation drawn into a world war by a surprise Japanese attack.

Times reporter Hal Bernton explores a question raised by the shock waves of history: Will the story of Nagasaki’s devastation by an atomic bomb with plutonium made at Hanford be told at the park site?

Certainly, it must. The capacity of nuclear weapons to slaughter thousands and erase cities is the grim reality of the scientific breakthroughs.

Hanford shares that history with Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, culminating in the United States ending a war it did not start. Japan launched a bloody war in the Pacific and, four years later, weapons that had not existed brought the conflict to an abrupt halt.

In 1945, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima Aug. 6, and on Nagasaki three days later, killed tens of thousands of people, and, perhaps, spared millions more. The gruesome effectiveness of these weapons has chastened extreme political behavior for decades.

An elemental lesson learned is captured by a message on Bainbridge Island at the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial: “Nidoto Nai Yoni, Let It Not Happen Again.” Decades later, the exiling of these citizens to remote internment camps is a source of embarrassment.

America dropped the atomic bomb in lieu of its expected invasion of the Japanese mainland. After the bloody battle on Okinawa, U.S. forces rightfully feared taking on the Japanese military for a literal fight to the end.

Spurning surrender, Japanese leaders witnessed the devastation of Hiroshima and were silent for three days. Befitting the cruelty of war, Nagasaki became the default target for a second bomb after clouds and smoke covered the primary site, the city of Kokura.

Ultimately the 73,000 who perished in Nagasaki were the unfortunate casualties of their own political and military leaders. Their lethal arrogance launched a bloody reign of aggrandizing terror that caught up millions of innocent lives at home and abroad.

The atomic bomb is an outward and visible sign of the destructive power that can be wielded with catastrophic effect.

The atomic bomb cast a mushroom-cloud shadow over the horrific legacy of the firebombing of Dresden, months of the Blitz on London and other English cities, and the firebombing of Tokyo, their brutal toll vastly outstripping Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities brought an abrupt end to the war, and set the stage for events on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri.

Hanford and Richland, the closest settlement, had their duties thrust upon them, and they responded to the challenge. The role of producing a weapon that ended World War II is part of the story.

So, indeed, are the residual effects of plutonium production, and the physical consequences for human life and the environment that continue to this moment.

Our national leaders have repeatedly failed to honor and respect the contributions and sacrifices made at Hanford. The region lives with the hazards of waste and debris that have been shamelessly and ineffectively dealt with.

Tell the full story at the Hanford Park and the other sites. Those operations and the communities took on an epic mission and completed it, a distinct role outside of events and decisions made in other venues.

The enduring lesson remains: Let It Not Happen Again.