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Quotes from: Rosenthal, Debra. At the Heart of the Bomb: The Dangerous Allure of Weapons Work (Reading MA: Addison-Wesley, 1990)

All problems have a technological fix

"The cadre of dedicated and energetic atomic scientists committed to a single monumental task of profound import [at Los Alamos National Laboratory] is gone, too, dead or in retirement. Newer residents show little interest in the history of Los Alamos. Public talks by the older generation about the war years draw dwindling crowds. That old reality is now an origin myth. It no longer has a tangible form on the mesa.

"After convincing you that Los Alamos is a normal sort of place, people feel free to complicate the story. The Unitarian minister strenuously defended his contention that the town is typical. But after an hour Arnink began to consider the subjective consequences of those objectively peculiar facts about Los Alamos. By genetic predisposition, early childhood experience, or subsequent training, he said, most people in Los Alamos believe the scientific method is the best way to approach problems. Shifting in his chair, he summarized their simple faith: 'All problems have a technological fix.' Then he laughed.

"The belief that all problems can be clearly defined, systematically analyzed, and rationally resolved makes his marriage counseling sessions a real chore. In a bemused tone Arnink reconstructed the familiar scene. The unhappy couple comes into his cluttered study for a talk. They need help. The husband is a scientist at the lab. The wife is angry and frustrated. The scientist suggests they follow a rational procedure. First they should define the problem. Then they'll analyze it. Then they'll fix it. Arnink suddenly looked weary. He has to explain empathy to these men. (Rosenthal, At the Heart of the Bomb, pp. 33-34)

I'm like a zombie here

"People in Los Alamos have good manners. They don't try to cut into the cashier's line at the grocery store. They rarely settle disagreements with fistfights. They keep their stereos low and brake for pedestrians.

"Many technicians resent the hegemony of upper-middle-class values, the rarefied atmosphere of reason and order. One motorcycle buff, in constant trouble with the 'Gestapo police force' that issues tickets if you go five miles over the speed limit, called it 'class consciousness.' The wives of staff members at the Lab introduce themselves as 'Mrs. Doctor So-and-So,' he claimed, as a put-down to lowly techs.

" 'Things are breaking down, though,' he reported with satisfaction. 'We've got a Sonic [drive-through hamburger stand], a McDonald's, and they don't control the radio station anymore. It used to be all long-haired operatic-type music.'

"But a young physicist doubted the breakdown. The pace of change seemed snail-like to him, diversity nonexistent. 'I'm like a zombie here,' he complained. Life had become too predictable, imagination and zest overcome by the deadly routine. Rumors kept hope alive. 'There's lots of gossip-if it were true it'd be interesting.' But then he sighted. 'It's not true.'

"Adding cruel detail to the stereotype, he described domestic and social life in Los Alamos. During the week, the scientists will calculate how many drinks you can get out of a bottle of liquor. They compare the price of a bottle to the price of a drink at the Los Alamos Inn, and conclude that drinking at home is cheaper. Friday night they go to the grocery store and buy two bottles of gin. Saturday morning they mow their lawns. 'They take care of their lawns a lot,' he said in despair. They go to church on Sunday, even the atheists.

"Supposedly religion competes with science for authority on cosmological matters, but you wouldn't know it by the herds of neatly dressed family units walking to church on Sunday mornings. Maybe the scientists are hedging their bets. More likely they are bored. People search desperately for amusement in Los Alamos, and have created distractions in the form of roughly 250 voluntary organizations for everything from astronomy to coupon clipping to folk dancing to chess. Church gets you out of the house. And in a town described by a counselor as 'full of workaholics,' it provides an intelligent distraction from the problems of office and laboratory." (Rosenthal, At the Heart of the Bomb, pp. 36-37)


Los Alamos Study Group • 2901 Summit Place NE • Albuquerque, NM 87106 • ph 505-265-1200

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