comic | episodes & e-books | store | about
< previous post | next post > | all news from Aug. 2016 News archive | News search | RSS
 
  Oppenheimer's understandingAug 01, 2016 10:24 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:When I got to thinking of what to name the painting for today's page, this little explosion in a desert, somehow the quotation Manhattan Project scientific director J. Robert Oppenheimer said crept into his head upon seeing the successful culmination of his efforts in the horrifyingly beautiful fireball of the first man-made nuclear detonation at his "Trinity" test site in the New Mexico desert on July 16th, 1945, crept along into mine: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds"—that is Oppenheimer's own translation, anyway, from a Sanskrit verse in the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita.
 
According to contemporaries, Oppenheimer was relieved—even elated—by the success of the test. But he and others on the project were dismayed when the military dropped a second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, August 9th of that same year, three days after they had already dropped the world's first nuclear weapon on Hiroshima; in their view, the use of the second bomb had had no military purpose. Oppenheimer traveled to Washington D.C., where eight days after Nagasaki he hand-delivered "a letter to US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson expressing his revulsion and his wish to see nuclear weapons banned"; in October, he managed to get in to see President Truman, telling him in person—to the President's disgust—that he felt he had "blood on my hands."
 
Oppenheimer went back to teaching at Caltech for a few years, but in 1947 accepted the directorship of the Institute for Advanced Study, a private, inter-disciplinary research institute in Princeton, New Jersey that had boasted among its continuous body of 28 academics some of the most successful modern minds, including Einstein. Oppenheimer is still the Institute's longest-serving director, remaining in that capacity until 1966, the year before his death from throat cancer.
 
At the Institute, Oppenheimer gave a lengthy interview to broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, the televised version of which, originally broadcast on January 4th, 1955, you can watch on YouTube, here. By this time, Oppenheimer, having used his remaining official capacity to push for putting all nuclear research under a neutral, international body, had alienated the US government to the point where, in 1954, they revoked his security clearance; now outside the system, but still widely respected in the scientific community, when Murrow spoke to him he was beginning to push even harder for international cooperation, understanding, and learning. You can see his optimism in the interview, but also his caution, and you begin to get a glimpse not only of his complex relationship with the deadly power he had helped give to the world, but also of his fitful genius, as he frequently checks and corrects himself, his mind roving through unpredictable byways.
 
My last clip of him comes ten years later, from the 1965 NBC documentary The Decision to Drop the Bomb; the brief clip shows a visibly older, haunted Oppenheimer describing that fateful day two decades earlier in New Mexico, and as he speaks aloud the full context of his famous thought from the Bhagavad Gita you can hear in his increasingly quivering voice, and see in his eyes, and the hand he briefly raises to his face, than in the ten years since his interview with Murrow he has had more than enough time to understand the full implication of the passage as he had invoked it in that weirdly glowing desert twenty years before.
 
May the sentiments he expresses so eloquently there last at least as long as his most famous invention.
 
 
 
 
·····
 
 
 
 
 
< previous post | next post > | all news from Aug. 2016 News archive | News search | RSS
 
Copyright 2019 Ben Chamberlain. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy