On Contact: Oppenheimer & the bomb culture
On the show, Chris Hedges discusses J. Robert Oppenheimer and the making of the bomb with author Kai Bird.
J. Robert Oppenheimer, “the father of the atomic bomb,” was by the end of World War II one of the most celebrated men in America. He was instrumental, as one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists, in the massive government effort to build the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But in the post-war anti-communist hysteria he was declared a security risk because of his warnings about the use of atomic weapons and his opposition to the development of the hydrogen bomb as well as the Air Force’s plans for massive strategic bombing with nuclear weapons – plans he condemned as genocidal. He was hauled before Red-baiting congressional investigative committees, the FBI tapped his home and office phones and put him under surveillance. Scurrilous stories about his political past were planted in the press and he was put on trial, becoming America’s most prominent victim of the post-war anti-communist witch hunts. Oppenheimer was a central figure in the greatest struggles and triumphs faced by the United States in war, science, social justice, and ultimately the Cold War. He oversaw the development of the most devastating weapon in human history and then spent the rest of his life warning that this weapon of indiscriminate terror did not make us safer but more vulnerable. The only effective defense against the nuclear nightmare, he said, was the elimination of nuclear weapons. For this warning he was ruthlessly silenced. “We have had the bomb on our minds since 1945,” E.L. Doctorow observed. “It was first our weaponry and then our diplomacy, and now it’s our economy. How can we suppose that something so monstrously powerful would not, after forty years, compose our identity?” The great golem we have made against our enemies is our culture – its logic, its faith, its vision.”
Kai Bird, along with Martin J. Sherwin, wrote the Pulitzer-prize winning biography ‘American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer’.
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