J. Robert Oppenheimer is one of Clay Jenkinson’s more recent characters. J. Robert Oppenheimer was the father of the atomic bomb. He was an enormously complex man. After making important contributions to the science of Quantum Physics, he was chosen by General Leslie Groves to head up the Manhattan Project in 1942. He performed this monumental task with great administrative genius. But the world’s first atomic detonation, at Trinity, New Mexico, on 16 July 1945 awakened in J. Robert Oppenheimer deep misgivings about his achievement, and about the marriage of physics and government. Because he was lukewarm on the development of the hydrogen bomb, and because of some questionable pre-war contacts with American members of the communist party, J. Robert Oppenheimer was destroyed by the Cold Warriors in 1954. His security clearance was revoked. He was accused wrongly with being a traitor. He was vindicated in 1963. Clay Jenkinson considers J. Robert J.Robert Oppenheimer the epitome of Twentieth Century Man.
Importance of J. Robert Oppenheimer
J. Robert Oppenheimer epitomizes the Twentieth Century. He represents the complete triumph of applied science over human affairs at the end of the Millennium. He was a brilliant theoretical physicist who was recruited to build the most destructive weapon in history. He did so with genius.
When he saw the results of his work, at the Trinity blast of July 16, 1945, at Alamogordo, New Mexico, he was horrified. Although he supported the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oppenheimer believed their development and use opened a new chapter in human history, that the world now had no choice but to invent mechanisms for international arbitration, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence.
He opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb because be was convinced that its only purpose was genocidal. He spent the rest of his life advocating a breakthrough in the human consciousness that would prevent a third world war. For this he was destroyed by the American jingoists of the Cold War. His security clearance was revoked in 1954. He was rehabilitated, after a fashion, in 1963 by the Kennedy/Johnson administration, but the message had clearly been sent that the modern industrial-warfare state would not tolerate a mature moral consciousness in one of its mandarins.
J. Robert Oppenheimer has the distinction of being one of the most destructive men who ever lived on earth, and yet one of the most highly evolved, cultured, and reflective.
In the words and costume of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Clay Jenkinson explores quantum mechanics, America’s breathtaking race to build an atomic weapon before Hitler, the world of Los Alamos, and the balance of science and human values in the industrial world. Although Clay is best known for his portrayals of Thomas Jefferson (“one of the most straightforward men who ever lived”), he believes that Oppenheimer is in some respects the most interesting character he has ever developed.
J. Robert Oppenheimer Notes & Quotations
Invited to go to Japan
Advised not to go
“I do not regret that I had something to do with the technical success of the atomic bomb. It’s isn’t that I don’t feel bad, it is that I don’t feel worse tonight than I did last night.”
Japanese Committee for Intellectual Exchange
December 2, 1963
President Lyndon Johnson
LBJ called it “one of President Kennedy’s most important acts”
Citation, medal, $50,000
“I think it is just possible, Mr. President, that it has taken some charity and some courage for you to make this award today. That would seem to me a good augury for all our futures.”
Afterwards, at reception, actually shook hands with Teller
“Up to now and even more in the days of my almost infinitely prolonged adolescence, I hardly took any action, hardly did anything, or failed to do anything, whether it was a paper on physics, or a lecture, or how I read a book, how I talked to a friend, how I loved, that did not arouse in me a very great sense of revulsion and of wrong.”
“It turned out to be impossible. . . for me to live with anybody else, without understanding that what I saw was only one part of the truth. . . and in an attempt to break out and be a reasonable man, I had to realize that my own worries about what I did were valid and were important, but that they were not the whole story, that there must be a complementary way of looking at them, because other people did not see them as I did. And I needed what they saw, needed them.”
Honorary degree at Princeton: citation: “physicist and sailor, philosopher and horseman, linguist and cook, lover of fine wine and better poetry.”
The Month-Long Hearing:
A: the problem of the differential between security clearances for the prosecution and the defense
B: adversarial nature of the hearing when it was supposed to be an investigation
C: wire-tapping of Oppie, including in conversations with his lawyers
D: Robb had access to reams of information that had not been made available to RO’s team (Garrison)
E: the clouding of the standards differential between 1939 and 1954
F: the pre-judging of the case
“If atomic bombs are to be added to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the name of Los Alamos and Hiroshima.
“The peoples of this world must unite, or they will perish. This war, that has ravaged so much of the earth, has written these words. The atomic bomb has spelled them out for all men to understand. Other men have spoken them, in other times, in other wars, or other weapons. They have not prevailed.
“There are some, misled by a false sense of human history, who hold that they will not prevail today. It is not for us to believe that. By our works we are committed, committed to a world united, before this common peril, in law and in humanity.”
October 16, 1945
J. Robert Oppenheimer Timeline
|J. Robert Oppenheimer Timeline|
|April 22, 1904||Born New York City|
|1921||Graduates from Ethical Culture School, New York|
|1922||First visit to the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico (Los Alamos)|
|1922||Enrolls in Harvard|
|1925||Graduates from Harvard with top honors|
|1925||Sails for England to work in the
Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge
|1926-27||Studies at Cambridge and University of Gottingen|
|1927||Ph.D. in physics from University of Gottingen|
|1929-1947||Professor at University of California at Berkeley and Cal. Tech|
|1930||Cockroft and Walton split the atom|
|1932||James Chadwick discovers the neutron|
|December 22, 1938||Hahn and Strassmann publish paper
describing atomic fission
|1939||Leo Szilard confirms that neutrons are produced and explosive chain reaction likely|
|1940||Marries Katherine Puening Harrison|
|1943-45||Director of the Manhattan Project, Los Alamos|
|1945||First atomic bomb explodes near
Alamogordo, New Mexico, at Trinity Test Site
|1946||Receives Presidential Medal of Merit
for work on Atomic Bomb
|1947||Becomes director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University|
|1947-1952||Chairman, General Advisory Committee,
Atomic Energy Commission
|1954||Suspended from General Advisory Committee, AEC|
|1963||Receives Enrico Fermi Award,
the AEC’s highest honor (rehabilitation)
|February 18, 1967||Dies, Princeton, New Jersey|
Bibliography for J. Robert Oppenheimer
NOTE: When books are in print and available, they will be highlighted, with a book icon when we have one, for you to check out at Amazon.com.
Peter Goodchild, J. Robert Oppenheimer: Shatterer of Worlds . New York, 1985. This is the best one-volume introduction to Oppenheimer, the development of the atomic bomb, and the tragic destruction of Oppenheimer by Cold War politicians — your cost at Amazon.com $13.56.
Stanley Blumberg and Louis Panos, Edward Teller: Giant of the Golden Age of Physics. New York, 1990. The best study of the father of the hydrogen bomb, and the chief villain of the J. Robert Oppenheimer story — unfortunately, out-of-print, but probably in your library.
Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution : Statecraft and the Prospect of Armageddon (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs). Cornell, 1989. This one raises provocative questions.
J.P. McEvoy and Oscar Zarate, Introducing Quantum Theory. New York, 1996. The new physics for dummies, including your Chautauquan.
John McPhee, The Curve of Binding Energy. New York, 1974. Excellent on Edward Teller’s “vision.”
K.D. Nichols, The Road to Trinity. New York, 1987 — check your library, out-of-print.
Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. New York, 1995. Excellent on the post-war ordeal of J. Robert Oppenheimer.
For the Young:
J. E. Driemen, Atomic Dawn: A Biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Minneapolis, 1989. Find it at your library.
Jack Rummel, J. Robert Oppenheimer: Dark Prince (Makers of Modern Science Series). New York, 1992