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by Bill Witherup

Sixty years after Trinity-Hiroshima-Nagasaki there is yet a high school in eastern Washington state that has for its sports teams mascot an atomic bomb. The high school is Richland High School, formerly Columbia High School, in Richland, Washington. In the early eighties Columbia High School fissioned into two high schools, the smaller of the two became Hanford High; Columbia morphed into Richland High. Hanford High School named its sports teams the Falcons. Richland High School retained the name of the Columbia High School teams - The Richland Bombers.

The lettering on the front of Richland High says RICHLAND at the top; HIGH SCHOOL, line 2, and, at the bottom line PROUD HOME OF THE BOMBERS. The school colors are green and gold. In the center of the gymnasium, in a circle, is a large letter "R" foregrounded over a mushroom cloud. Some letter sweaters, jackets and T-shirts also have the letter "R" with the mushroom cloud ikon, either on a gold or cream background. One of the t-shirts for sale at an online Bomber store has on the back side words "Nuke Um" superimposed over a nuclear cloud.

There is also an online chat room, the Alumni Sandstorm, delivered fresh to your computer every day, if you so desire. The Alumni Sandstorm is supposedly an open forum for all the graduates of Columbia and Richland high schools; that is, unless you want to challenge the mythology that Little Boy and Fat Man ended the war in the Pacific; or if you question the very choice of a nuclear weapon as a sports team mascot.

This writer, Class of '53, - I lettered in track and field my junior and senior years; this writer, co-editor of the 1953 yearbook, the Columbian, and also a staff member of the high school newspaper, The Sandstorm, is blackballed from contributing to its namesake, the Alumni Sandstorm. I am pissed off about this because I do not have a voice, a right to speak my opinion. The major newspaper in the Tri-Cities (Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco), The Tri-City Herald, is also conservative. So there is, then, no venue in southeastern Washington State to address a mythology that blurs the true history of atomic weaponry.

A social club, Club 40, it has a P.O. Box in Richland - ( named Club 40 because a graduate of the high school is eligible to join forty years after graduation) - sends out its own newsletter quarterly. The newsletter is titled The Bomber Dust Storm. Dust storms were big - and still are, to a certain extent - in the early history of Hanford construction. The eastern Washington and Oregon scablands, and the Columbia River Gorge itself, is a windy landscape. With the start of construction of the Hanford Engineering Works, bulldozers, loaders, backhoes, and steam shovels, kicked up even more volcanic dirt and sand. A local wit named these Termination Winds, because some construction workers and/or early Hanford employees decided eating dirt with their steak and apple pie was not worth the wages paid, and so packed up and left. After 1944, when B-reactor went online - and further construction was still going on- radio-isotopes mixed with the dust and wind. Families who weathered these dust storms took on something of an heroic aura - as in "We are all in this together to help win the war."

The Bomber Dust Storm promotes class reunions. Almost every year for I don't know how many years, two classes, not back to back classes, meet at the Shiloh Inn, a motel on the bank of the Columbia that has seen better days. I went to the Fiftieth Class Reunion, Class of 1953, in September of 2003. Because a classmate encouraged me to go, and because I was part of the program, I was on my best behavior, and took part, somewhat, in the bonhomie, back slapping and handshaking, fueled, granted, by a number of cocktails. I even sold at least a dozen copies of my last book, Down Wind, Down River: New and Selected Poems, and anyone who takes the time to read my collection can't help but notice many anti-nuke, anti-authoritarian, and anti-establishment poems.

But the ice sculpture, with the letter "R" coming out of a nuclear cloud, was surreal. A poem of Robert Frost's begins, if I remember correctly, "Some say the world will end in fire/some say in ice." Since there are Christians and Mormons among the graduates, prayers were said, before the dance for departed Bombers, and for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were no prayers for the people of Hiroshima or Nagasaki,living or dead.

And among the other Bomber memorabilia on sale at the reunion were Little Boy and Fat Man earrings.

In volume three of Industry and Empire, (1968) E.J. Hobsbawm writes that sports, especially football, (soccer) was a cultural means for the spread of the British empire. Workers, both at home and in colonial outposts, identified with the factory, or the company - sponsored sports team. Such identification and enthusiasm psychologically erases class differences. It is not much of a leap then for many people to take pride in being part of a nation state. The enemy may be equated with the visiting team, or the opposing team. There is not space enough in this essay to examine the terminologies shared by both sports teams and the militaries of the many nation states - you only need listen to the nightly news and the inarticulate garble of President George Bush, who, besides having owned an oil company, used to own the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Having lived in Richland from age nine to eighteen - 1944 - 1953, I, too, was brainwashed with the propaganda that the atomic bombs caused Americans to be victorious over the Japanese. The demonizing of Japanese was cranked up after VE Day. On posters and at the movies we saw the worst possible stereotypes of Japanese soldiers - buck-toothed, slant-eyed, and with babies or young children gored on the soldiers' bayonets. We now know that this propaganda was deliberate; that General Groves intended to use the new weapon on Japan no matter what, and since all the Japanese were, therefore, guilty of atrocities merely by being Japanese, we Americans were not to feel any sympathy for the a-bomb victims.

And there is now historical evidence that General Leslie Groves, the military head of the Manhattan Project, helped to suppress the eye-witness reporting of the Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett, who was the first to visit Hiroshima and some of its hospitals; and the first journalist to write about a-bomb disease, what we now know of as radioactive illness. Richard Tanter, in an August 2005 issue of does a thorough job of showing how Groves went about manipulating the truth in Tanter's essay "Voice and Silence in the First Nuclear War: Wilfred Burchett and Hiroshima."

General Groves' warped history in two ways: (a) leading both soldiers and civilians to believe that dropping the a-bombs would save many lives, because US forces would not have to invade the Japanese mainland. A-bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, if you believe Groves' propaganda, also saved Japanese lives! (b) that the destructive force of the atomic bombs were the result only of blast and fire. News of the horrors of radioactive illness was totally suppressed and invisible to the American public. But (b) also had the effect of dismissing the very idea of radioactivity itself; that is, working in the nuclear industry was "safe". The number of scientists and health physicists who lined up behind Groves is appalling. Even today you find these so-called educated lackeys working in the nuclear industry and in the clean-up business, and spinning the data so they can continue to draw their fat paychecks. For a sobering article on the nuclear threat to workers in the industry, I refer the reader to Arjun Mahkijani's "A Readiness to Harm: The Health Effects of Nuclear Weapons Complexes" in Arms Control Today, Volume 35 (6) July/August 2005.

At this writing the NCAA has been questioning some college sports teams for use of Native American icons, or symbols, as the name of the team mascot. How is it, then, that a high school athletic team, in 2005, gets away with having the atomic bomb as a mascot? Where is the National Federation of State High School Associations here? Though there are seventeen other high schools through the United States that have Bombers as their sports team logos, only Richland High School is proud of having a bomb and a mushroom cloud as their team logo.

The only way I might express disgust at my old high school still calling itself the Richland Bombers, besides writing a letter to the principal of the high school and to the Richland school board, would be to go to Richland, stand on the steps of Richland High School, and be a Jeremiah with a bullhorn. The police would probably find my body the next day in an irrigation ditch, this is how hot the passions are when it comes to defending the nuclear symbol.

As a bumper sticker reads, and you can order this from the Bomber store: "Proud of the Cloud."

Or, "Go,Bombers, Go! Nuke um!"

byline: Bill Witherup's memoir -in -progress is Mother Witherup's Top Secret Cherry Pie.

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