“We were all Cold War crusaders”, Ed Grothus remembers, “we did everything we could to build bombs bigger, better”. The year was 1949 when Ed, twenty-six years old, traveled to the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico to work in the remote, atomic hideaway of Los Alamos. Here, just a few short years before, the ‘Manhattan Project’ built ‘Fat Man’ and ‘Little Boy’ – the two A-bombs the US Air Force dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing some 200,000 Japanese civilians. Manhattan Project scientists, convinced that their labors had considerably hastened the war’s end, felt they deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Ed, too, was caught up in the atomic madness that swept the nation. Then, in 1969, profoundly shaken by the napalm and carpet-bombing of Vietnam, Ed quit his job at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to become an anti-nuclear activist and advocate for peace.
Today Ed tells us, »building nuclear bombs begets terrorists«, and warns of an impending nuclear holocaust. “I am the conscience of Los Alamos«, he says, »and sometimes I think that I’m the only one here who isn’t crazy”. Each week Ed writes letters to the editors of the region’s newspapers – “I call them epistles”, he says. In one recent epistle to the Sante Fe New Mexican, he wrote: ‘At Pearl Harbor 2,403 Americans died and 1,178 were wounded. As of the eighth of June, 2,482 Americans have died in Iraq and about five times that number have been wounded. Remember Pearl Harbor; forget Iraq.’
For a few years, Ed ran the Los Alamos hilltop Piggly-Wiggly. Now the aisles of his store are filled with the equipment LANL sets before the door – “the lab is so well funded, they’re on the cutting edge of technology, where they should be, but that means a lot of things are excess”. Ed calls the place the ‘Black Hole,’ because “everything goes in and nothing comes out”. Ed also acquired the church that shares the parking lot, which he promptly re-christened the ‘First Church of High Technology.’ Dressed up as a cardinal, Ed, or ‘Don Eduardo de Los Alamos,’ as he sometimes calls himself, holds on chosen Sundays a “critical mass or bomb unworship service where we change wine into water”.
“WELCOME TO LOS ALAMOS, NEW MEXICO, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, THE CITY OF FIRE.”
Back when Bill Clinton was in the White House, Ed mailed him for Christmas a can of ‘Organic Plutonium,’ the bogus label boasting: ‘cholesterol free, fat free, no artificial additives.’ A few days later the Secret Service showed up at the Black Hole, inquiring whether there was any history of mental illness in Ed’s family.
Los Alamos remains a one-employer town dedicated to the science of mass destruction (LANL is said to have the highest concentration of PhDs in the world). Ed dreams of a different Los Alamos: “We have so many brilliant minds here. And what do they do? They develop weapons of destruction. I want to see a think tank that works to save the world!” Ed’s gadfly brand of peace activism often galls the locals, many of whom are employed by an industry with a vested interest in heating up the nuclear arms race. Some flatly dismiss Ed as a crank ” still, plenty of outsiders do drop into the Black Hole (and yes, they once again emerge!), people who appreciate the sum and substance of Ed’s nuclear-free mindset.
Ed recently transported two stone obelisks weighing some 6400 pounds back from China, two ‘Rosetta Stones for the Nuclear Age.’ He would like to see them installed at the highway entrance to the city. In fifteen languages, the message engraved on these two stones begins: WELCOME TO LOS ALAMOS, NEW MEXICO, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, THE CITY OF FIRE. OUR FIRES ARE BRIGHTER THAN A THOUSAND SUNS. IT WAS ONCE BELIEVED THAT ONLY GOD COULD DESTROY THE WORLD, BUT SCIENTISTS WORKING IN LOS ALAMOS FIRST HARNESSED THE POWER OF THE ATOM. THE POWER RELEASED THROUGH FISSION AND FUSION GIVES MANY MEN THE ABILITY TO COMMENCE THE DESTRUCTION OF ALL LIFE ON EARTH… IT IS ONLY IN LOS ALAMOS THAT THE POTENTIALS FOR UNIMAGINED, FANTASTIC GOOD AND DEMONSTRATED, HORRENDOUS EVIL ARE PROXIMATE….