• Fri. Dec 8th, 2023

J Robert Oppenheimer: Father of the Atom Bomb who found solace in the philosophy of the Gita

J Robert Oppenheimer: Father of the Atom Bomb who found solace in the philosophy of the Gita

OppenheimerBy Christopher Nolan The much awaited filmIt will be released on July 21. The film explores the life and personality of J. Robert Oppenheimer, an American theoretical physicist best known for his contributions to the creation of the atomic bomb.

As director of the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, Oppenheimer led the so-called ‘Manhattan Project’ – a group of scientists who worked to harness 20th-century advances in nuclear physics for the purposes of war.

However, after seeing firsthand the destructive potential of nuclear weapons, Oppenheimer became one of the strongest voices against their proliferation and the growing nuclear arms race between the United States and the (former) Soviet Union.

This is the story of how he became one of the most vocal advocates of nuclear non-proliferation, dubbed the ‘Father of the Atomic Bomb’.

Dawn of the Atomic Age

(History took a dramatic and important turn when the first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945, about 340 kilometers south of Los Alamos.‘Trinity Test’It was the culmination of years of work led by Oppenheimer’s group of scientists.

Within a month, the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japanese cities Hiroshima – August 6th and Nagasaki – August 9th. The bombs wreaked havoc, leveling both cities, and by the end of 1945 more than 200,000 people – mostly civilians – had been killed, including many who suffered for weeks and months. High levels of radiation exposure.

Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan on August 15, ending World War II in the Eastern Theater. Germany on May 8, and the surrender of Nazi forces on the Eastern European battlefields on May 10 and 11.)

J. A rare government photo of Nagasaki (shortly after the actual test) shows Robert Oppenheimer (in a light hat with his feet on the tower ruins), General Leslie Groves (the large man in military uniform to Oppenheimer’s left), and others at the Ground Zero site of the Trinity test after the bombing of Hiroshima. (Wikimedia Commons)

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain the only times nuclear weapons were used in military combat. But they set off a nuclear arms race that would change global geopolitics forever.

The Soviets tested their first atomic bomb in 1949, the British in 1952, the French in 1960, and the Chinese in 1964. Over time, bombs became larger and more destructive, and potential nuclear conflict offered only one: mutual reassurance. damn it

Oppenheimer and Bhagavad Gita

Despite the work he did, Robert Oppenheimer was always skeptical of “giving mankind a possible means of its extinction.” After witnessing the Trinity Test, his reservations increased manifold. Like many others, he sought the meaning of his actions in philosophy Bhagavad Gita.

In 1965, he quoted the Gita while talking about the first detonation of the atomic bomb. “Vishnu (Krishna) tries to persuade the prince (Arjuna) to do his duty, and to impress him (he) assumes his multifaceted form and says, ‘Now, I have become death, the destroyer of the world,'” Oppenheimer said.

Today, Oppenheimer’s quote “I have become death” is inextricably linked to the nuclear age, an apt description of the terrifying and terrifying destructive potential of nuclear weapons. It provides insight into how Oppenheimer understood the atomic bomb and his role in its creation.

In his essay ‘The Gita of J. Robert Oppenheimer’ (Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 2000), American historian James A. Hijia wrote that Oppenheimer used the Bhagavad Gita as “an anodyne for pangs of conscience”.

“Arjuna sets a good example for an uncertain soldier like Oppenheimer to fearlessly form his own atomic ‘arrow,'” Hijia wrote. “If it was right for Arjuna to kill his own friends and relatives in a dispute over the inheritance of the kingdom, how could it be wrong for Oppenheimer to build a weapon to kill the Germans and Japanese who were trying to conquer the world? ,” he wrote.

Advocate against nuclear weapons

President Harry S. Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, which had already “essentially failed,” and Oppenheimer was very upset. According to some reports, he told President Truman that he and the president had “blood on their hands.”

In a paper published in 1946, Oppenheimer would describe the atomic bomb as a “weapon for aggressors” with its “elements of surprise and terror…inherent”. “It is a practical matter to recognize the absolutely normal danger that nuclear weapons pose to the world, and to recognize that only a responsible society can have any hope of meeting the danger,” he would write.

This was the beginning of Oppenheimer’s active opposition to nuclear weapons and their uncontrolled proliferation.

Shortly after the end of the war, Oppenheimer became chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the newly created United States Atomic Energy Commission. During his presidency, he worked hard to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the US. In 1949, the United States had only about 30 atomic bombs.

Political persecution during the Cold War

All this changed after 1949 when the Soviet Union conducted its first successful test. The US now sought to build more bombs, but also a more powerful bomb – a “super” bomb, some called it.

Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer in a 1950 photo posing at the Institute for Advanced Study. (Wikimedia Commons)

This thermonuclear weapon, or hydrogen bomb, would have 1,000 times the power of the gun-type uranium bomb (nicknamed Little Boy) dropped on Hiroshima. Oppenheimer was convinced that an H-bomb had no real military purpose and was “morally repugnant” and a “weapon of genocide”. His opposition angered many in the American military establishment.

As a result, Oppenheimer would soon be accused of “helping the Communists.” He lost his security clearance after a high-profile trial in 1954. As he wrote and spoke out against nuclear weapons, he effectively lost political influence.

“Dr Oppenheimer’s opposition to the H-bomb, more than anything else, antagonized his opponents and fueled their doubts about his loyalty,” Jeff Bingaman, an academic and retired Democratic US senator from New Mexico, wrote in ‘Oppenheimer and the Manhattan. Project’ (ed. Cynthia C Kelly 2005).

It was only in 2022, 54 years after his death, that the US government reversed the 1954 decision and confirmed his allegiance. Jennifer M. Granholm, President Joe Biden’s energy secretary, said the decision to revoke Oppenheimer’s clearance was the result of a “flawed process” and that, over time, “more evidence of the bias and unfairness of the process Dr. Oppenheimer has been subject to has come to light only as evidence of his loyalty and patriotism has been further corroborated.”

Oppenheimer’s cautionary tale

So, how do we see Oppenheimer today?

For a long time, among the “Red Scare” in the US, Oppenheimer was seen as a divisive figure. Now, that has changed. Today he is seen – as he should have been – a great scientist, an inspirational leader, and a man who ultimately stood up to his own brilliant creation for the greater good of humanity.

Oppenheimer’s story remains a cautionary tale for scientists around the world.

“The message the state is sending to its scientists in the Oppenheimer case is, ‘We value your necessary inventions, but not your unnecessary advice,'” wrote American historian Greg Herken in ‘Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project’. Herken argues that Oppenheimer’s persecution ultimately dissuaded many scientists from working for the state and ended “the period when scientists were willing to blindly follow orders – even in wartime.”

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