Sunday, April 10, 2011

What You Can Learn on the Road

Saturday morning, I took a walk up the street to the Atomic Testing Museum. Why? Because the NAB schedule didn't start until 1 p.m. And when else would I have the chance, particularly when I discovered it was a short one mile walk straight down the street of my hotel.

The neighborhood looked familiar because it's was - turns out the museum is located right behind the UNLV softball stadium, on the corner of the campus. Yet another reason why you as the traveling SID has no excuse to miss an place like this.

You might say, but my politics, beliefs, lack of caring about history - I don't want to go to "fill-in-the-blank" museum. OK, I get that, but let's walk through this example, arguably the most extreme of all.  After all, short of being Edward Teller's grandkids or a devotee of Curtis LeMay, why would any average person want to see a presentation of how one of the most horrific weapons developed in the history of man is tested.  Think about it - I'm not in Alamorgordo, N.M., where the National Atomic Museum looks at the creation of the bomb. This is about TESTING it.

The way the museum got creative with a dry subject was important.  Again, even if you are only mildly interested in a subject, study how they present the subject.  What fonts on signs? How consistent is the color scheme? How good was the branding? Can you tell, I've spent a little too much time in museum construction in the past - can't walk into one any more without trying to figure out mounting systems they used for AV.  

Counter argument: But I can see that by looking at the museums and displays of the teams we play in the lobbies of their facilities without taking time to go off the itinerary  of the team on my own.

Where do you think those looks come from? The design companies that build recruiting presentations, er, um, ah, athletic museums are the same ones making these high level museums. And if they aren't, they are the companies that the ones you are using are stealing their ideas.

Again, why? Because you never know what your are going to learn until you learn it.

This is going to be a long set-up, stay with me, it's worth it. In my history class at NWACC, one of the things I spend a little extra time on is the end of the Second World War, the start of the Cold War and how the collective "we" didn't always understand the long-range impacts of decisions. Obviously, one of those was dropping the atomic bombs. I help frame it with a personal story, and the experiences of Japanese civilians who have suffered the tremendous fire-bombings that preceded the atomic weapons.

Some of the things that we did with early nuclear in the opening of the Cold War today is purely barbaric. We made FiestaWare - extraordinarily colorful kitchen crockery painted with uranium paint - or create home chemistry kits with radioactive elements - out of ignorance.  Does fracking for natural gas bother you today? How about nuclear devices to shake loose the gas - as Robert Wuhl would say, I shhhhh out not. Learned it in the museum.

The testing of these unusual devices - atomic jets, atomic rocket motors, nuclear demolition for road projects and tunnels - gave me a series of new things to illustrate the point that until you learn about how dangerous this new technology was you can't understand the full nature of the impact.

That's all well and good. Then I stumble upon it. One of the two retired engineers of the Nevada Test Site that has been in several of the videos drops his own bomb.  In talking about the future of the test site, he makes this little plea. One day in the not so distant future, there may not be anyone left alive that has actually experienced a real test - above or below ground.

Here is this genuine cold warrior, and you can see it in his face, almost sense it in his voice. The fear.  The awe-inspired respect, but the fear of the power of the devices. It changed him, and no amount of explaining it, showing the gruesome images of Hiroshima or Nagasaki is going to convey what he knew in his soul.

This is what I'll use, both as a motivation in class and an example. Relating it back to Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, which became oh so eager to spoil for a "good fight" and a year later found itself in the meat grinder and epic generation changing First World War.  The same young men who wanted to prove themselves became the broken older politicians who after seeing the horror of the trench did anything in their power to avoid another war, including appeasing a madman.

Why? Because they had experienced it.  It remained a living memory. When the living memory fades, the unreasonable becomes plausible.

And now I have the other half of my lecture for next week, reminding the class that sometimes we do things we have to do but we must never forget the awesome burdens that come with, as Harry S Truman said, an Awesome Power.

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