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Peter W. Singer: Lecture on April 11, 2016

By Peter Tschirhart on March 8, 2016

Singer - NextWar Poster jpeg

TBS Abroad Week 10: Weather

By Evie Lawson on April 5, 2016

20 - Weather

Week 10 Prompt: Weather

In the film-musical My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle’s companions at Ascot were warned to limit their conversation to “the weather and everybody’s health.” While Prof. Higgins had ulterior reasons for making this suggestion, it remains true that the weather often drives small talk and casual chit-chat. Both generic and intangible, the weather unites us with our neighbors in lived experience. We all have something to say about it, because it impacts each of us in our own way: from flooded lawns, to flowers that need watering; from garden vegetables wilting in the heat, to seemingly unshakable winter temperatures. This week, pay attention to the weather — both as a meteorological phenomenon and as an object of common discourse. Take a picture of the sky on (what feels like) a typical day. Then, tell us how people treat the weather. Is it a topic of common conversation? Do people often complain about it, or is the weather loved and celebrated?

Ryan Hildebrandt

The weather in Japan varies widely by region, from the tropical islands in the south to the snowy mountains in the north. But no matter where in Japan you find yourself, the weather plays a very important and perhaps unexpected role. Talking about the weather in Japan is similar to how it’s talked about in the West; small talk, ice breakers, pleasant observations. But in Japan, this is taken a step further, with written letters to anyone often opened and concluded with an inquiry about the weather (more taken as a sign of seasonal change than the particular day). Weather finds itself into all sorts of Japanese poetry, literature, artwork, folk stories, and proverbs. Weather also can be fond in Japanese religion, namely in Shinto, where the weather can be thought of as being in tha hands of the gods as well as out of their control, and sometimes just the work of mischievous spirits. But many days I spent in Kyoto looked like the photo here, clear and sunny with just enough shade to stay comfortable.


Allison Zengilowski

Currently, it is summer in Australia. The weather has been between low 70’s to upper 80’s almost every day, making for an enjoyable beginning to what is typically a rather cold semester.

Australia is a rather outdoor-centric country, thus, the weather is an important aspect of daily life. When speaking with my American friends, the conversations regarding the weather tend to be centered around what we should wear (we’ve never had this warm of weather in February and March!) or how bizarre it is to be sweating just walking outside in what is typically our winter. However, many of my Australian peers are avid surfers, a perk of living in the residence hall with a five-minute walk to the beach. When speaking with them about their days or their surfing endeavors, they will almost always determine a surf to be good or bad based on the weather. Temperature aside, the wind is a strong indicator of how their outings go. For if the wind is too strong, it will make the waves strong and surfing difficult; however, if the wind is weak, the waves will not be large enough to facilitate a good ride.Allison 6

Perhaps due to the fact that I do not participate in sports that are weather-dependent, my main view of meteorology is centered around what I’ll be wearing or what I’ll be doing that day. For many of my friends in Australia, the weather is not just a side note, but rather, it is a key player in their daily activities.

TBS Abroad Week 9: Architecture

By Evie Lawson on April 1, 2016

19 - Architecture

Week 9 Prompt: Architecture

Every city has notable architecture. Global cities, like New York, are made famous by their skyscrapers: the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, or One World Trade Center. Small towns and villages, like Hamilton, NY, have their own notable buildings, just on a much more limited scale: the Colgate chapel or bookstore. Architecture can be famous or notorious, beautiful or ugly. The White House may symbolize global power, while Alcatraz brings to mind the high-profile criminals it once housed. Antoni Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia is recognizable for its fairy tale-like eccentricity, while Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building exhibits a thoughtful simplicity. This week, observe the architecture in your local community. Are there any memorable buildings? Are any wrapped-up in local history? Why? What’s the story? Take a picture of one notable building, then explain why it stands out.

Ryan Hildebrandt

The architecture of Kanazawa Station (in Kanazawa, Japan) embodies a number of notable features of traditional Japanese architecture and how that tradition has been modernized and incorporated into modern cities. The most notable feature of the entry to the station is the massive torii (Shinto gate). The torii itself is a common structure used in Japanese architecture, and it traditionally marks the entry into a dwelling of the gods, or some holy site. You’ll find these at every Shinto shrine across the nation, and the torii has unsurprisingly become a symbol frequently associated with Japan. The torii that stands over Kanazawa station is at first glance much less traditional than any you are likely to see at a shrine, but it retains several key elements of traditional architecture, such as the reliance on large, continuous timbers, the natural color of the wood, and the balance between the straight lines of the timbers and the curves of the top beam. These elements have been incorporated into a distinctly modern interpretation of the torii. Another architectural element is the building behind the torii, which is the station building itself. The stark contrast between the natural, earthy tones of the torii and the sharp, modern lines of the glass and steel behind it make for another commonly seen Japanese architectural element, which is the balance of seemingly opposing designs into one final composition. Finally, the layout of the courtyard around the torii is very important to the architecture of the entire building. The use of trees and stone also remind one of nature and the interplay of natural structures and man-made buildings, which as a motif can also be seen all over the country.


TBS Abroad Week 8: Flowers

By Evie Lawson on March 23, 2016

15 - Flowers - Field of Bluebonnets with Trees by Julian Onderdonk

Week 8 Prompt: Flowers

Flowers look beautiful and have a wonderful smell, but they have a steep environmental cost. Cut flowers — the kind given at holidays, birthdays, funerals, and dinner parties — are often grown in countries where the climate is warm all year. Kenya sends roses to Europe; Equador supplies them to the United States. At the same time, labor practices can be exploitative, and lax environmental regulations mean flower-bearing plants can be treated with harmful chemicals. In that sense, perhaps the best and most beautiful flowers are those that grow locally: as “weeds,” in flowerpots, on trees, in bushes. This week, as spring begins to bloom in the northern hemisphere, look at the flowers blooming in your area. Are they native? Do they grow on their own, or are they actively cultivated? Take a picture of some flowers, then tell us where they’re grown and who (if anyone) is responsible for them.

Ryan Hildebrandt

Flowers are everywhere in Kyoto, as they are in much of Japan. Flowers are found in many aspects of Japanese culture and have a much stronger symbolism in Japan than they do in America. Most flowers have a strong connotation and symbolism associated with them, and they are accordingly used much more extensively in literature, art, and storytelling than in other cultures. Most of what you’ll see in Kyoto, however, are wildflowers or flowers growing in people’s gardens just next to the sidewalk. Many homes and apartments have small flower gardens or boxes in the front, and throughout my time in Japan I took many many photos of these streetside flowers.

benton ryan flowers

Zachary Weaver

Flowers have special meaning here in Wales. Two of the most well known symbols of Wales are plants – the leek and the daffodil. Naturally, one may ask how leeks and daffodils, two very different flowers, came to represent Wales in addition to the Welsh Dragon. The root of the issue comes in the form of the Welsh Language.

In ancient times, there was a large battle for Wales in which Welsh archers were firing at their enemies from the top of a hill. The plants that covered that hill? The leek – or cenhinen in Welsh. While the authenticity of the story has been called into question, the leek has historically been the main plant of Wales. However, in the 19th century, there was a large push for a more romanticized version of Welsh history, changing the national costume and history to bring a “better” version of Wales to the modern world. A politician named David Lloyd George championed the adoption of a national plant. In a mistranslation (which may or may not have been on purpose), George accidentally translated cenhinen Bedr as the national flower, instead of cenhinen­. In Welsh, cenhinen Bedr stands for St. Peter’s Leek, which is known today as the daffodil.

Next to Cardiff Castle are many beds of flowers, such as this bed, that are grown in the form of another national symbol of Wales: The Welsh Crest.

Next to Cardiff Castle are many beds of flowers, such as this bed, that are grown in the form of another national symbol of Wales: The Welsh Crest.

As such, these two plants are seen growing everywhere in Wales. It is quite common for households to have pots of daffodils growing in pots outside their house or in their garden. Many national buildings and sights, such as Cardiff Castle, grow beds of leeks and daffodils to promote national pride.

However, other flowers are often grown in Wales. Many large estates have very intricate and beautiful gardens filled with flowers both foreign and native to Wales and the United Kingdom as a whole. Going to national gardens in the UK is a favorite pastime of many people, and many residents have their own miniature gardens where tulips and roses are grown in addition to many different forms of vegetables.


TBS in the Southwest: Los Alamos and Individual Responsibility

By bkelsey on March 19, 2016

I have spoken before of secrecy, but today (Friday) really took the fenced-in cake, for today was the day of our visit to the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory. I don’t dare share of its secrets, but it brought to mind a question that still perplexes me, because it has broad implications as well as narrow  applications.

That question, to put it briefly, is: To what extent do individuals have a responsibility for the ultimate effects of their actions, and can this responsibility be renounced, deferred, or delegated to someone else? What brought this question to my mind was our tour guide’s statement that – and I’m paraphrasing here – the staff at Los Alamos is responsible only for finding the truth and communicating it accurately and effectively to those policy makers who use it; Los Alamos is not responsible for policy, and its collective job consists in carrying out the policy without regard to opinion or belief of any personal kind.

That is not, of course, to say that no one at Los Alamos feels any sense of responsibility. I am sure that many of the scientists and other staff members who work there feel a deep and compelling sense that they are responsible for carrying out their jobs effectively, and potentially even a sense of duty to contribute towards the safety/well-being/knowledge/etc. of their country (assuming, of course, that they feel as though their work does contribute in these ways). What I wish to bring to the surface is merely the official stated position of the Lab as I understand it.

So, then, what might be the answer to my question? Speaking only for myself, and not in any way for the Benton group as a whole, I have to believe that each individual must have some responsibility for his or her actions. One cannot simply act without thought or care for the effects of that act on others and claim total ignorance, lack of intent, or lack of authority as a defense (lack of authority referring to the “delegation,” if you will, of responsibility to policy makers). The argument that seemed to be central to the Lab’s explanation of this sense of lack of responsibility is that said responsibility lies with elected or appointed policy makers: therefore, the moral/ethical/practical implications of what goes on in and as a result of the lab are placed on the shoulders of others. They do not cease to exist, but are transferred. This concept sounds reasonable, and indeed it seems to be a core part of the U.S. government’s legitimacy. Leaders are elected or appointed to represent the populace, and thus they take some of the responsibility onto themselves when they act on behalf of the populace. The moral act, then, is not in the decision of whether or not to follow orders, but rather in the act of choosing who will give the orders. And yet, I find it hard to justify such complete detachment from morality and ethics. A system of morality that promotes a common good must surely place responsibility for realizing that common good in each individual; one cannot refuse it. Equally, a system that promotes acting purely on what is in the interest of each individual must surely compel that individual to act on his or her own behalf without conscious or voluntary decision-making, seemingly making it impossible to deny moral responsibility and act in the absence of it. Thus I fail to see how it might be possible to exist as an individual entirely separately from any external concerns, and I fail to see how Los Alamos can fully detach itself from such concerns.

Of course, this lack of responsibility goes the other way, as well: if they have no responsibility for policy, then the staff at Los Alamos also ostensibly have no power over policy. Indeed, it is perhaps because they have no power that they can claim no responsibility. If their job is only to provide information, and if they never influence policy, then surely they cannot possibly be responsible for policy. Firstly, I would point out that the creation and the carrying out of policy are entirely separate: while it may be true that they cannot control the order given to them, they can control whether or not they carry out those orders. Furthermore, I would suggest that they do in fact have power because it is impossible to separate supposed truth from ideology and bias. Los Alamos may seek to present only the pure data without the varnish of political or ideological concerns, but even the way in which the data is presented can reflect these. For example, the decision on what data to present is inherently subjective; assuming that a policy maker is not shown every number ever recorded, the selection or synthesis process must, even unconsciously, bear the taint of human judgment. Thus there is in fact not a lack of power as I see it.

This is only a broad and shallow treatment of my above question, and one that I will admit is imperfect and altogether biased. I do not pretend to have answered the question definitively, but I have given my thoughts on it to the best of my ability. And yet, it is still not answered. The further question is: If it is not possible to entirely rid oneself of responsibility, is it possible to rid oneself of merely some responsibility? That is a question to which I have no answer at the moment, and I have already spoken for long enough. I leave it to you, humble reader, to ponder on this question and decide for yourself.

Again, I would like to stress that these opinions and thoughts are purely my own, and that I do not wish to denounce or condemn the individuals at the Los Alamos lab. I am merely using their example as an impetus for a broader and more general discussion.

TBS Abroad Week 7: Animals

By Evie Lawson on March 17, 2016

Week 7

Week 7 Prompt: Animals

Non-human animals are often deeply integrated into human societies. Cats have guarded our homes for well over 12,000 years; and in many Western societies, dogs are treated like human children (perhaps for good reason). At the same time, the lines we draw to delimit animal-human interactions are uneven when not more simply unconsidered. Pigs, which are more intelligent than dogs, are seldom welcomed into polite society — except on dinner plates; and guinea pigs — a “fine and valuable food” in Central and South America — are popular childhood pets here in North America. This week, pay attention to animals. Which species are commonly kept as pets? Are dogs and cats protectors and companions? How and where do human and non-human animals commonly interact? (Parks? Zoos? Restaurants?) Take a picture of a place (or an animal) you believe is typical for your local area.

Zachary Weaver

Cardiff is similar to most other cities that I have been to in regards to the wildlife commonly seen in the city: pigeons, seagulls, and ravens are common sights flying through the sky (or waking students up early in the morning), while often times someone is walking their dog down the road or in the park.

In actuality, it is very common to see people bringing their dog down to the park for a bit of playtime. Every time I’ve been in a park playing soccer or walking by one on the way to class, there are always people and their dogs throwing balls, running around, or just playing in the mud. The Taff River runs through the center of the main park in the city, and in many places it is accessible from the walking and running trails weaving through the park. So, many people bring their dogs down to wade in the water, or maybe to clean them from all the mud that is present in the city).

Other wildlife in the city is relatively rare, with the exception of the ever-present city rat. However, those mostly stay hidden during the day. I’ve only seen one rat out during the day, and unfortunately that day it decided to dart across the sidewalk where we were walking to class and ended up getting stepped on (but not hurt!) but one of the people on the path.

As for the rest of Wales, the most common animal to see is the Welsh Dragon. Okay, it’s not a real animal, but it is one of few national flags with an animal prominently displayed, and the Welsh flag is everywhere! In actuality, the most common (real) animal to see is much more mundane than a dragon – sheep. Since Wales is a mostly rural country, sheep farming makes up most of the economy. One of my favorite parts of the Welsh countryside is driving through common pastures. Many farmers will collectively own land, so their flocks share large, open pastures. These pastures cross roads, and the entrances to these areas feature grates on the road that have slits that are spaced just far apart enough so that livestock can’t escape. Also, farmers will spray paint parts of the livestock so they can distinguish which livestock belong to which farmer! It makes it fun when you’re just driving along and all of the sudden you have to stop because there are sheep in the middle of the road!

Grace Western

When I tell people that I am in Cameroon, West Africa, many people picture giraffes, lions, and elephants as my everyday scenery. However, I have yet to see any. Yaoundé, where I am currently living, is one of the largest cities in Cameroon with 3 million inhabitants. When we were living in Kribi, a coastal town, we were told that elephants once resided in the neighboring rainforest, but were driven away by development. Yet, Cameroon claims the title “Africa in Miniature” so they do have what many equate with Africa: animals. In the northern region, specifically in the city of Ngaoundéré, there are safaris to see these animals. This is a popular tourist attraction but as of late is not the safest due to Boko Haram. However, there is an animal I did not expect to see nearly as frequently as I do: lizards! They are everywhere and in every color. They are equivalent to mice in the U.S. but evidently are far less terrifying and more beautiful. Plus, you look up at the ceiling and watch them in their rainbow scales walk upside down and you can’t help but be impressed. Children even begin to consider some lizards pets, though not nearly in the same way we do in the U.S. The concept of pets here is quite different. As a self-proclaimed dog lover, I was ecstatic to hear that my host family in Yaoundé had a dog. However, the family dog lives outside and only gets attention at meal time. It seems the purpose of family dogs here is more of a security precaution. Additionally, there are stray dogs that just roam the street with no owners and just keep to themselves. Here, it seems, there are no pets, just animals.

TBS in the Southwest: Trinity Test Site and Very Large Array

By bkelsey on March 17, 2016

If I told you where we spent our morning today, I might have to kill you.

We visited the White Sands Missile Range, specifically the site of the Trinity Test. We were granted special access to the site; usually tours are only given once or twice a year on specific dates, with as many as 5000 people attending. After a photography-prohibited ride, we arrived at a circular fenced-off area. A lone black obsidian pillar towers out of the sun-parched sand as a testament to the significance of the event that took place little more than 100 feet above it. The dark shadow it casts seems all the more imposing in its contrast with the blinding light the plutonium bomb produced more than 70 years ago. At the far side of the fence is a line of photographs taken during and after the test. A low building shelters a collection of Trinitite, the greenish crystalline chunks that formed when the bomb drew sand into its vacuum, superheated it, and ejected it out around the site. Though pieces of Trinitite are not difficult to find, it is a federal offense to remove them.

After a quick lunch, we went to the Very Large Array, a series of antennae used to study space through radio waves. Our tour guide just so happened to be a Colgate alumnus, so we got a thorough tour. After looking through the control centre, we climbed into the dish of one of the antennae. Prior to this, we had been told that a single piece of electronics on the antennae cost $30,000. You can, I’m sure, understand the sense of disbelief we felt while standing on the edge of such a structure, looking out across the open plain dotted with measuring equipment. It was, to say the least, a unique experience, and a few among us also bonded over talk of astronomy professors with our host.

Our day was a mystifying mix of the feeling of being somewhere that few people would ever see, and certainly not with the intimacy with which we did, and the feeling of doing the kind of thing that you always want to but feel as though it would never be allowed. Today was very different from the untouched wilds we visited yesterday, but it was imposing in its own way. Truly, this is why we are here: to see things that cannot be seen elsewhere, things that we imagined we would never see, and things that we are very glad we did see.

TBS in the Southwest: In the Shadow of the Valley

By bkelsey on March 16, 2016

Wide, open spaces. Volcanic rock deposits. Petrified wood. These are just a few of the sights you can see in the sunny Southwest!

The Southwest, being composed of vast spaces seemingly untouched by humans, seems an optimal place for National Parks and such locations, and indeed it boasts many. One such park contains a field of volcanic cones surrounded by the basalt and other rocks deposited by the volcanic activity there. Aside from being a beautiful example of nature’s ability to create unusual and fascinating landscapes, this park serves as a reminder of the potential force of nature, and just how small the span of human time is in comparison with the timeline of our planet. Perhaps one could seem to grow tired of being reminded of the power of nature in a setting such as this, but I, for one, quite enjoy it.

The Petrified Forest National Park is a similarly awe-inspiring sight, though perhaps more because of its wider landscape than for the petrified wood itself. Vast plains of sand, clay, and rock stretch out as far as the eye can see, and one cannot help but imagine them stretching on forever, layered with reds, whites, greys, pinks, and everything in between.

I have no wider thought-provoking agenda in this particular post. I think the majesty of the sights speaks for itself. It would be impossible to communicate the effect of these locations through my own humble writing, so I’ll leave it at what I have so far. Suffice it to say that I think we all shared an unspoken sense of amazement upon filing out of our van and looking out over the cliffs and across the plains. Of course, pictures aplenty were taken, but they cannot hope to capture the feeling of witnessing that sight (but I’ve already spoken enough on that topic).

I leave you therefore with but a humble drawing in the form of my words. Take it for what you can. I can ask no more.

TBS in the Southwest: For Your Eyes Only

By bkelsey on March 16, 2016

There’s something inherently interesting about a secret. If someone goes to the trouble of hiding something, chances are that something is worth knowing. The Southwest is, of course, a place of many secrets, from the famous Area 51 to less secretive but lesser known testing sites for nuclear weapons. We managed to organize a visit to one such site, the Nuclear National Security Site, formerly known as the Nuclear Test Site.

Without giving away any sensitive details (for I fear they might otherwise have to make me disappear), the site is pretty much what you would expect and what’s displayed in the museum dedicated to it in Las Vegas. The area occupied by the site is littered with craters from underground nuclear tests, shells of damaged buildings and simulated infrastructure, and buildings housing various organizations and facilities for testing. Today no more nuclear weapons are tested there, but they still carry out tests on the cleanup of hazardous materials and serve as a location for testing by other organizations.

The site has an historic purpose, of course, and played a significant role in the development of nuclear weapons and our current knowledge of them, but it is equally interesting for its secretive nature. While I won’t get into discussions of how much right the government may or may not have to withhold information from its population, it cannot be denied that there’s a certain allure to that which we cannot know. Examples such as Area 51 are obvious, but there are subtler ones, as well. Scientific pursuits are, in a way, attempts to delve into what we humans do not understand and what piques our interest. Literature, both in the writing and in the reading, often seeks to communicate or reveal truths about humanity, inform the world on issues that are not at the surface of public discourse, or simply tell a story that intrigues and mystifies.

In a way, I suppose, this trip is intended to educate in an effort to reveal knowledge. In addition to the historically significant sites, even the landscape of the Southwest speaks to truths that lie just below the surface of the desert. We may not end up enlightened, but I think we will all walk away with a little more depth under our belts than we began with. All we have to do is look beyond the veils of time and sand.

TBS in the Southwest: Hoover Dam and Human Striving

By bkelsey on March 15, 2016

The land around Las Vegas is a place of harsh landscapes and inescapable nature. Dry brown dirt peppered with dark brown shrubberies serves as a constant reminder that this is not a place where the forces of nature are to be taken lightly. Looking out of the window of our Benton van, I am forced to imagine how little chance I would have of surviving out here were it not for the efforts of the people who wrangled the arid wasteland and decked it out in lights and roads and secretive government testing sites. On the subject of wrangling of the forces of nature to bend them to the needs of humans, enter the Hoover Dam.

The Hoover Dam is, it has to be said, an awe-inspiring sight. It is a hulking mass of concrete crowned with Art Deco architecture and a hint of that good old public works flair of steel and glass. It may not be the most logistically noteworthy or artistically interest-piquing construction in the world, but it’s certainly impressive enough to be worth a visit.

I suppose that a common thread running through this trip is that of humans harnessing natural forces to various ends. Be it destruction in the form of nuclear weapons or power generation in the form of dams, it strikes me as interesting that, in this inhospitable place of such severe nature, there would be so much effort to exploit them. Perhaps it’s a reflection on the kind of person who is attracted to this environment, or perhaps it’s a matter of harnessing forces being all the more productive if those forces are strong, but raw power seems to emanate from the very ground here.

If nothing else, Hoover Dam is a testament to the capacity of humans to follow through on ambitious aspirations. Maybe part of the reason for visiting it is that it’s reassuring to see something that was built by human hands holding back something so persistent and massive as a river. In times where we feel as though life is difficult and progress seems like a mirage in the ever-farther distance of a desert, maybe it’s comforting to be reminded that we can accomplish things. And yet, perhaps it’s telling that we are able to construct walls of concrete to hold back the tides of the Colorado River but still struggle to achieve tangible and significant-feeling results in the fight against some global and social issues. Concrete and duct tape can only do so much, after all.

The introduction of the presence of nuclear weapons testing in the same setting into this line of thought is interesting. I will leave conclusions and statements to others, but I find it interesting to think of nuclear weapons as being, in a way, an attempt to make a foreign policy Hoover Dam, that is a project of massive scale, engineering, and power designed to hold back a force that both frightens and fascinates us. Make what you will of this thought, but it cannot be denied that the Southwest is a place in which human striving and natural forces mingle with results worthy and, indeed, demanding of our attention as spectators and participants in this world of ours.

TBS in the Southwest: The Beginning

By bkelsey on March 14, 2016

Meagre belongings packed into travel-sized bags: Check. Entertainment options for the trip: Check. Everything laid out ready for the morning: Check. Sense of adventure: Need it be said? Check.

As I prepare for my trip to the Southwest, I cannot help but wonder why exactly it is that I feel the need to go. I look forward to enjoying the company of my fellow Bentons, of course, but I can do that anywhere. Why go to all the trouble of travelling across the country? The question to which I seek an answer can be broadened to the following: Why is it that, despite knowing that things exist, despite having an idea of what they are, despite having seen and heard and read about them, we feel the need to actually go to them? What makes the experience so much more valuable?

I think that it is fair to say that I know more than most about the atomic bomb-related sites and sights to see in the south-western U.S. Having spent a semester becoming familiar – at times, perhaps, more familiar than I ever thought necessary – with the history and science of the first atomic bomb project, I know what to expect when it comes to testing sites and research facilities. You show me some radioactive material, and there’s a good chance I can tell you what shape it should be in to make it go boom. I’ve seen pictures of compounds, laboratories, tests, craters, and bombs. What more could there be to gain from seeing a large semi-circular hole in the ground in person than on film?

I’m no philosopher, nor am I a trained psychologist or sociologist, but I would hazard a guess that it has something to do with a feeling of history and tangibility. At the risk of sounding overly romantic, I think that there’s a sense you get when you’re in a place of what happened there that you simply cannot get from a photograph. We have all seen pictures of WWII battlefields, but it’s something entirely different to stand in the trenches, looking out over a dew-tipped field as grey light filters through the remaining wisps of cloud and the calls of birds are carried on the wind as they scour the mud for worms drawn out by the recent rain. In such a position, one can almost see through the eyes of a soldier as he squints into the distance, searching for the glint of a gun barrel across the field. Though it might not be as tense a situation or as striking a location, I suspect that there is a similar sense of seeing through the eyes of those who were at these tests and in these laboratories over 70 years ago as they turned blackboard scrawlings into the most destructive weapons the world had ever seen. It is also easy to forget that, for many of the scientists, engineers, and military personnel at these facilities, the development of nuclear weapons felt as much like a head-to-head battle against the forces of evil as it did for the soldiers on the front lines- in the sense that, for much of the period of the development of the first atomic bombs, the military and government were very much conscious that just such a development could be in progress in Germany or Japan. To be in the laboratories and to witness the craters, then, is to some extent to stand in their places and, if not to share their uncertainty of what its results would be, then at least to share their marvel at the power of this step in human capacity and knowledge.

There is also, I think,  a sense of a lack of scale inherent in photographs and written accounts. They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the Los Alamos facilities seemed to have been built just about that quickly (and, it seems relevant to point out, the technology that was unleashed in their rooms is capable of destroying Rome in mere fractions of a second). It is difficult to wrap one’s head around the real magnitude of certain things until one sees them. Just as a symphony cannot be described in mere words, a nuclear testing site cannot be described in mere images, and the magnitude of a nuclear detonation cannot be described in mere numbers. It is necessary to see in person to understand.

And so, in the interest of taking in all that the world and the wonders of human enterprise have to show us, no matter what form they may take, we adventurous folk set out for lands yet unknown to us. Some say that the journey is more important than the destination. With fourteen hours of bus and airplane travel ahead, I find it difficult to take that stance, but perhaps the expression refers rather to the journey of life as a whole. If that is the case, then I am certainly looking forward to my journey through the atomic history of the American Southwest.