We are studying the Cold War in my Socratic Seminar.
We discuss the Manhattan Project and the intriguing details, and especially that the USSR infiltrated Los Alamos on three different occasions. At the Potsdam conference in Germany, July 1945,when President Truman notified Stalin the US had created the atom bomb, he nodded nonchalantly and thanked Truman for the news. What Truman didn't know, was that Stalin had known about the A-bomb before he did.
One student's grandfather had worked on the Manhattan project in Kansas. He tells us stories of his grandfather leaving and entering the project compound and having his car searched with mirrors.
After the atom bomb, between the years of 1946 and 48, the United States tested 23 nuclear weapons. The testing took place in the Marshall Islands. We scurry to youtube to find real footage of the Bikini Atoll bombing--literally mind blowing.
In 1949, planes flying over Kazakhstan detect high levels of radiation. The USSR had detonated their first atom bomb. President Truman makes the announcement to the citizens of the United States. Another beginning to many beginnings of the Cold War.
A student finds footage of the largest hydrogen bomb ever tested by the Soviet Union--the Tzar.
Most students seem interested in the arms race and the creation of bombs. I remember that my 79 year old mother in law graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and physics and that she used to test bombs. Hmmm, I wonder if she would speak to us and let the students ask questions.
She's happy to look back into her memories of bomb testing and happy to speak to the students.
I make the first call at 8:00 a.m and hook up another "Mrs. Martinez," to the audio speaker. She tells her story: college, family, values, bomb testing.
"Did you know Oppenheimer?" A student asks. Oppenheimer headed the Manhatten Project in the 1940s.
"No, I didn't know Oppenheimer, but I did meet and work with some his colleagues," Grandma M answers.
Wow, I think to myself. That's a cool piece of history.
When students ask her details about lithium based H bombs she responds, "I can't answer." Students believe she can't answer for security reasons; I assume she just can't know everything. Later my husband reminds me that she forewarned us she wouldn't be able to talk about everything and in fact, his mother knows plenty about lithium.
My daughters' grandmother, my husband's mother, has been working for five months on a bomb testing project she is in charge of, when a treaty banning nuclear testing goes into effect. Millions of dollars, time and effort is canceled. She is sad, but thankful for the change--yet, she firmly believes in the importance of nuclear weapons, testing, and that it brought peace to a nation threatened by communist ideology and aggression. She makes an analogy to the bully on the block--if one stays strong, the bully will leave one alone.
"Were you ever fearful during the Cold War?" a student asks.
"No, because we always had a plan. If a bomb dropped, we knew what to do."
When the conversation reaches its end, I ask Mrs. Martinez, aka, mother in law, from all her experience in life, what kind of advice would she give to a sharp group of 17-18 year old students about to graduate.
"Get your education so you can serve your family and all mankind. Bring love and kindness to the world."
Advice that makes me proud to bear the name of Mrs. Martinez.