A new ending for Oppenheimer A journalist who interviewed A-bomb scientists wonders if the Oscar favourite speaks to younger generations left to deliver the world from a nuclear wilderness.

In the summer movie season, when people seek escape with superhero sequels and action thrillers, I joined millions who flocked to theaters in 2023 for a deeply thoughtful history film that became a rare summer hit to go against the mould.

I watched Oppenheimer, the lead nominee for Oscars this month, with particular interest having interviewed two of the legendary physicists depicted in the movie about the US government’s secret creation of the atomic bomb during World War II.  After a journalism career covering defence and foreign policy since the 1970s, I wondered whether younger generations would take away any new understanding of the nuclear dilemma they have inherited in the post-Cold War world. Do they know we are still living through the early stages of a fate-determining epoch bequeathed to us by Albert Einstein and his successors? Einstein didn’t work on building the A-bomb but helped spark its development when he expressed a concern to President Franklin Roosevelt that the Germans might go nuclear after astonishing discoveries from 1934 to 1938 about the massive energy release from splitting the uranium atom.

The movie, which dominated the Golden Globe Awards in January and played in theaters around the world, magnifies the details of the Manhattan Project and the lives of lead scientist J Robert Oppenheimer and the circle of physicists who coalesced around him on a windy mesa at Los Alamos, New Mexico, to build the first atomic explosive, Trinity, which lit up the desert on 16 July 1945. Armed with that success, they fabricated two bombs that could fit in B-29 bombers and dropped them over Japan on 6 and 9 August, killing 110,000 to 210,000 people, most of them civilians.

Many of my generation are familiar with the story of Oppenheimer, known as the father of the atomic bomb, a title he both embraced and abhorred. In truth, he was one of many physicists pulled out of classrooms under wartime pressure to exploit atomic breakthroughs. They believed that whoever converted atom-splitting energy into bomb-making could defeat any army and that its catastrophic potential could frighten the world into peace.

They believed that whoever converted atom-splitting energy into bomb-making could defeat any army and that its catastrophic potential could frighten the world into peace.

After the news came over the radio that Hiroshima had been levelled, he led colleagues in a celebratory rally. Director Christopher Nolan shows Oppenheimer preening before the crowd, shouting that he wished they could have delivered the same surprise to Germany before it surrendered. It is an unsettling scene.

Yet it is also true that for most of the rest of his professional life, Oppenheimer worked assiduously to convince American presidents, Congress, the public, and western allies to put a lid on nuclear power by turning it into an international force for peace and economic development. He argued for strict international controls over the mining and enrichment of uranium and the production of plutonium, and he discouraged the development of the much more powerful hydrogen bomb. His opinions aroused suspicions and many questioned his loyalty to his country.


Still it is hard to judge where ­Oppenheimer’s moral contradictions end and his rank ambition begins. The film portrays him as a brilliant, depressive, chain-smoking set of walking contradictions, and Irish actor ­Cillian Murphy captures Oppenheimer’s flawed genius. We are always guessing about his character. He opposed the Nazi persecution of Jews in pre-World War II Germany and was drawn to the kind of intellectual salons frequented by Communist Party members. And of course, Oppenheimer endured a ­spectacular fall from prestige, stripped of his security clearance in a 1954 ­hearing during the McCarthy-era cleansing of purported communist infiltration in America.

Nolan, whose repertoire includes three Batman movies, indulges his love for dark superheroes by opening the film with an inscription laid across the big screen over a backdrop of nuclear fireball imagery: “Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. For this he was chained to a rock and tortured for eternity.”

He presents some of the backstories that shaped the nuclear arms race from the mid-20th century to the present, when Mother Earth hosts nine nuclear nations: China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

As I grew up, the subject of nuclear war was never remote. The panorama of ashes from Hiroshima to Nagasaki was familiar even to elementary school students who practised hiding under their desks during my childhood in the 1950s and ’60s just in case nuclear war came home. US college students, ambitious for government jobs, took Russian language courses and memorised the minute-by-minute sequence of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when the two superpowers came closest to nuclear confrontation.

As a young journalist, I arrived in Washington DC in the late 1970s, when President Jimmy Carter was in office. I covered the world of nuclear weapons and documented procurement troubles for the country’s nuclear submarine programme. It was a world where legions of secretive military technicians stood guard over tens of thousands of atomic bombs in the arsenals of the United States and the then Soviet Union. Soon President Ronald Reagan was promising to use “Star Wars” technology to shoot down incoming Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, in any nuclear war. Around this time, I interviewed two members of the Manhattan Project, Hans Bethe, head of theoretical physics, and Edward Teller, the brilliant Hungarian-born physicist working under Bethe who pushed a design concept that became the hydrogen bomb.

As the movie depicts, ­Oppenheimer dismissed Teller’s plea to focus resources on the “Super” bomb. After the war, as Oppenheimer advocated against US progression on nuclear weapons, Teller testified against him in the closed hearing that sealed ­Oppenheimer’s fate.

By the time I met Teller during the Reagan administration, he was a frequent White House visitor as a proponent of the “Star Wars” systems that never panned out. In 2022, the Biden administration posthumously restored Oppenheimer’s security clearance, proclaiming that the 1954 decision was based on a “flawed process” against a loyal American.

At the end of the movie, I considered whether it speaks to younger people left to face the nuclear dilemma. To me, many people seem unaware that the threat from nuclear weapons still exists, invisibly to most of us, but the weapons are there, fewer of them to be sure, yet thousands spread across the planet and someday, perhaps, in space.

Teen Vogue educates its readers about the symbolic Doomsday Clock, maintained by a board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, that represents how close we are to a human-made end of the world. The clock stands at 90 seconds to midnight. Yet today’s youth didn’t grow up with ingrained worries about possible nuclear disaster, as much as they have with fears of global warming and incessant conflicts.

Over the past decade, the US has allocated hundreds of billions of dollars to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. The worldwide nuclear chain of command is connected by an invisible electronic web of hair triggers. And the only thing restraining the nuclear powers from unleashing a potentially planet-­incinerating conflagration is a simple but dreadful theory that is as timeworn as many of the weapons gathering dust in their bunkers: Such a clash would result in the destruction of life as we know it.

I discussed the movie with Dennis Wong, co-founder of the Rotary Action Group for Peace, which advocates for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Wong was impressed with how Nolan parsed the stages of morality that we witness in the film. “Most of those scientists thought that nobody would use these weapons to destroy the world,” he says. “The bomb just might be a saviour — a deterrent in neutral hands to be employed to prevent conflict and end wars.”

Once the bomb’s power had been demonstrated, the physicists returned to their universities and began talking about how to convert this devastating technology into a force for good, like building nuclear-powered generators to produce cheap electricity across the globe.

“If you are looking for security, if your goal is the prevention of conflict with a kind of mutual assured security, they had to design some way to build goodwill and friendships by sharing nuclear power,” Wong says. The tragedy, he adds, is that the technology moved quickly in another direction. “Nuclear weapons are about power — power to stay in office and power to stay relevant,” he explains.

Oppenheimer’s life, and the scientific establishment he briefly governed, showed how geopolitical realities can pervert a great scientific achievement. One has to wonder what Oppenheimer would say about today’s nuclear conundrum: Russia has invaded Ukraine in the centre of Europe and threatened America and the NATO alliance with nuclear fire if they intervene. Israel engaged in a war in Gaza after a terrorising surprise attack by Hamas. Israel has a broad arsenal of nuclear weapons that experts believe it could employ against any state that threatens Israel’s existence. Iran, another aspiring nuclear power, stands as Israel’s most pernicious antagonist. North Korea is the most recent nuclear power, whose actions are impossible to predict. Meanwhile, China has significantly expanded its nuclear arsenal in the past few years as Sino-US rivalry intensifies.

Cinema shapes the narrative of history, but even Nolan’s important film does not help us through the nuclear wilderness in which we still find ourselves. We are in dire need of a thoughtful closing to the Oppenheimer era about how to construct a safe path forward, for a pandemic or climate change might deliver Earth a terrible blow, but nuclear war is in a league of its own, kind of like the arrival of the asteroid 66 million years ago — only now, we are the dinosaurs.

The writer is an author and former chief correspondent for The New York Times. His books include ­Running Critical, about the US nuclear ­submarine programme; A World of Trouble, a history of US Middle East policy; and Fortress Israel, about ­Israel’s leadership since 1948

Illustrations by Chiara Vercesi



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

kenslot kenslot kenslot slot thailand https://kenslot.mip.co.id/ https://lahoradelpintxo.com/ https://heylink.me/kenslot/ https://slot-demo.mip.co.id/ https://hk-pools.mip.co.id/ https://macaupools.mip.co.id/ kenslot https://bsi.umsu.ac.id/data-macau/ https://bsi.umsu.ac.id/slot-thailand/ asia99 kenslot https://slot88.fluidco.id/ pragmatic88 https://ladangtoto.mip.co.id/ https://bsi.umsu.ac.id/ladangtoto/ https://hongkongpools.fluidco.id/ https://bsi.umsu.ac.id/hongkongpools/ pragmatic88 https://ladangtoto.fluidco.id/ https://sruti.unhi.ac.id/assets/slot-thailand/ https://sruti.unhi.ac.id/assets/slot-kamboja/ asia99 slot thailand kenslot kenslot kenslot eslot gb777 https://kenslot.kenzieadiwangsa.co.id/ https://kenslot.petrodrill.co.id/ https://kenslot.timbis.com/ https://kenslot.lavenderbali.com/ https://pisangtoto.cakrawalabalifurniture.co.id/ https://obcbet.ekaprinting.com/ https://obctop.ekaprinting.com/ https://pisangbet.ekaprinting.com/ https://totokl.ekaprinting.com/ https://pisangbet.danaswari.com/ https://obctop.topkomodotour.com/ https://obcbet.kimmybalioutcallmassage.com/ https://obcbet.abhijayaelectric.com/ https://pisangbet.danaswari.com/ https://products.asahimas.co.id/ https://bo.asahimas.co.id/ https://lppm.usp.ac.id/ https://main.usp.ac.id/store/ https://saa.unida.gontor.ac.id/products/ https://sibahumas.pekalongankab.go.id/upload/admin/ https://efast.uki.ac.id/main/ https://library.stikesbpi.ac.id/ https://teknikinformatika.matanauniversity.ac.id/ https://hospar.matanauniversity.ac.id/main/ https://digilib.stikes-ranahminang.ac.id/bo/ https://apikui.asia.ac.id/upload/ https://bkd-ppid.wonosobokab.go.id/
Message Us