The National Atomic Museum
‘Hiroshima bomb earrings for sale’
Katherine Butler and Fiona Bell, London: The Independent, 6 August, 1999
In the National Atomic Museum
At Albuquerque, New Mexico,
You can buy souvenirs of ‘Little Boy’,
The bomb that demolished Hiroshima,
And of ‘Fat Man’, named after the bomb
That destroyed Nagasaki three days later.
They come from what the Museum
Calls its “Exclusive” collection:
‘Little Boy’ earrings in sterling silver
Cost twenty-four dollars for the pair;
And ‘Fat Man’, the counter clerk says,
“Comes in at thirty dollars” as
“More precious metal is used.”
“They’re a great seller,” says the museum storekeeper,
Mike Romero, who assures enquirers,
“We don’t hold political opinions.
We only present the facts.
“If you go to a zoo you can buy a stuffed elephant.
We are the only atomic museum in the US
So we have to sell related merchandise.
I don’t think it’s tasteless. It was before my time
And it doesn’t strike at my heart at all.”
But the fact that the atomic “facts”
(Namely everything being obliterated
Within a three mile radius of the bombs) –
Doesn’t strike at his heart at all
Evokes D.H. Lawrence’s unforgiving view:
“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.
It has never yet melted” –
Written when Lawrence was living in New Mexico,
Later to become the bomb’s birthplace,
Where a global bully’s big stick
Designed to dish out mega-death
Was first tried out at the Alamagordo test range,
Sowing the seeds of an apocalyptically murderous meltdown –
A mad Empire’s bargaining chip in an unwinnable game.
The “facts” are also that to vaporise two Japanese cities
And to sneak new, distorted sicknesses into man’s DNA
Was the very lowest and most pointless point
In the entire history of humanity on earth:
For the Japanese had been seeking an honourable surrender
But US militarists, keen to stretch the war into World War Three,
Seized the moment to show Russian rivals who was the Alpha Male
And which of their misguided boffins was the best, ‘USA! USA!’ –
Bang went ‘Little Boy’. Bang went ‘Fat Man’, then their pandemics of pain
Launched radioactive waves of political paranoia:
Poison clouds, charged with madmen’s thoughts of life on earth being ended,
Hovered over foreign affairs like blood-sucking bats.
In the Cold War the US had bomb-casing arsenals in 27 countries
With the plutonium charges needed to render them nuclear
Hidden in 27 embassies and threatening a hundred holocausts.
The Atomic Museum was established by Congressional Charter
To indicate the pride the Empire took in its deadly heritage
Though, when the UK journalist James Cameron
Witnessed an atomic test on Bikini Atoll,
Which would turn the surrounding seas into a desert
(Now lovingly commemorated in the Museum
With “Authentic bomb blast goggles, as used in the Pacific
During nuclear testing” being available for purchase),
Cameron said he thought he could hear a door slam in hell.
The Museum’s entrance is guarded by phalanxes of missiles
Pointing, like admonitory fingers: ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid.’
Four California girls drift round the museum’s Heritage Park.
They paw at the bombs, and stroke the undercarriage of a B-29
Then emerge, giggling, from a mocked-up atomic shelter
To enter an area set aside by the Museum for more ‘Fun Stuff’.
And sprawl over its showcases sizing up the goods on offer.
There’s a ‘Fat Man’ shot glass, and a ‘Little Boy’ wine cork
Posters of mushroom clouds with palm-trees in the foreground;
Knick-knacks decorated with bombers and their waving crews;
Reprints of the Daily News, ‘ATOM BOMB ROCKS JAPS,’
A ‘Get a Half-Life’ mug for your favourite beverage;
Atomic hatpins; atomic tie-clips and nuclear golf balls.
The Museum once even had a line in Atomic Bomb perfume
Which reputedly smelled like the end of the world.
The laid-back visitors spot the Atomic Museum’s jewellery –
Miniature versions of the huge bombs they just strolled past,
Lying around the Heritage Park like bloated gravestones.
“Hey, guys. Cute!” One says, poring over the showcases,
“Yeah, gotta have them, dude; you think they come in gold?”
“What about platinum? Platinum would be dead cool.”
For a split second, the word sounds like ‘plutonium’ –
‘Plutonium would be dead cool’, one appears to have said.
Unfazed, with a numb, laconic smile, as if embodying death itself,
The clerk slides the triumphalist trophies and trinkets
Across the counter to satisfy their short attention spans.
All four then sidle out of the shop in the Atomic Museum,
With their bang bang bling now dangling from their ears
For Cameron to hear another door slam in the same place as before
As if, returning from one more mission to make fear-mongering fun,
The devil has now returned, perhaps to polish his Zyklon-B paperweight;
Or to buff up his ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ keyrings; gloat over Death’s Head kitsch
And tweak his software upgrade of Nazi Playstation 3.
Then he cackles, recalling Mary Meyer the Washington hostess
Who’d turned Kennedy onto marijuana and to coke-fuelled sex,
And who’d joked with him in a White House bedroom
About his being high when about to press the nuclear button.
So then the devil picks out a roach-end, a condom and a rolled-up bill
And covers them in gold-leaf before giving them pride of place
In one of the gleaming showcases of the Atomic Museum –
Amongst the other imperial souvenirs of nuclear folly.