According to a December 16 article in the New York Times, the Manhattan Project physicist has finally received some form of justice nearly 70 years after he was accused of being a Soviet spy. The Secretary of Energy declared that the decision that badly damaged the physicist's reputation was the result of a flawed process.
Alex Wellerstein is a science historian at Stevens Institute of Technology. He said that it doesn't go as far as the family would have liked. It goes a long way. This doesn't change the injustice done to Oppenheimer. Even if it's decades too late, it's nice to see some response.
Before earning his PhD from the University of Gottingen under Max Born, Oppenheimer studied physics at Cambridge, where he was born to German Jewish immigrants. He joined the faculty at Berkeley. The leader of the secret weapons laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, was chosen by the leader of the Manhattan Project, Major GeneralLeslie R.Groves. He had left-wing political views and hadn't won a prize. The physicist had the knowledge to bring together physicists, chemists, engineers, and metallurgists who would be crucial to the project's success.
The project went well. On July 16, 1945, a prototype nuclear bomb nicknamed "Gadget" was raised to the top of a tower and exploded. A mushroom cloud rose to more than 30,000 feet after the blast destroyed the steel tower. The sandy soil around the tower was melted by the heat from the explosion. 120 miles away, the shock wave broke windows. "Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds, that's what it reminded me of," said the man.
The consequences of the Trinity Test became clear on August 6, 1945, when a gun-triggered bomb dubbed "Little Boy" fell on Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands of people. The "Fat Man" was dropped on Nagasaki three days after the implosion. The United States won the war, but at a terrible price.Advertisement
The Physicists became national heroes. He was accused of treason in the security hearings of 1954. This was at the beginning of the McCarthy era and it focused on rooting outversives. A government employee's background had to be consistent with the interests of national security under a new policy unveiled by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
During a 1942 inquiry, he implicated some of his friends as Soviet agents, including his mistress, Jean Tatlock, who committed suicide in January 1944. He admitted that the testimony had been a lie. There was only one person who had been approached by the Berkeley professor at the dinner. The "Chevalier incident" was used as evidence against him during the hearings.
Edward Teller told the commission that he wanted to see the interests of the country in hands that he understood better. Teller was ostracized from their ranks because of this betrayal. He admitted to being a "fellow traveler" and agreeing with many of the Communist Party's goals.
He was found innocent of treason, but not reliable or trustworthy, and therefore should not have access to military secrets. His security clearance was revoked due to fundamental defects of character and for Communist associations that were far beyond the limits of self-restraint.
Commissioner Henry DeWolf Smyth was the only one of the members of the AEC who disagreed with the findings of the report. The physicist was an able, imaginative human with normal human weaknesses and flaws, and not a Communist, according to a physics professor at the university. The Federation of American Scientists protested the decision.
The damage had been done He was exiled from his former career in government and science policy after he lost his post-war position at the Institute for Advanced Study atPrinceton. He was a broken man after the hearings, but he had enough fire left to object to a 1964 play dramatizing the hearings.Advertisement
A partial rehabilitation of his reputation began when he was nominated for an award by Teller. Lyndon B. Johnson presented the award instead of President John F. Kennedy who was killed later that year. In 1967.
Science historians have argued that the security clearance revocation should be reversed. There was no incriminating evidence against the late physicist. The testimony exonerates him rather than exonerating him. Richard Polenberg told the New York Times that it was hard to understand why it was classified. It's hard to see a principle here, except that some of the testimony was sympathetic to the author.
Granholm's statement is a good one. The full statement can be found here.
Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer occupies a central role in our history for leading the nation’s atomic efforts during World War II and planting the seeds for the Department of Energy’s national laboratories—the crown jewels of the American research and innovation ecosystem.
In 1954, the Atomic Energy Commission revoked Dr. Oppenheimer’s security clearance through a flawed process that violated the Commission’s own regulations. As time has passed, more evidence has come to light of the bias and unfairness of the process that Dr. Oppenheimer was subjected to while the evidence of his loyalty and love of country have only been further affirmed. The Atomic Energy Commission even selected Dr. Oppenheimer in 1963 for its prestigious Enrico Fermi Award citing his “scientific and administrative leadership not only in the development of the atomic bomb, but also in establishing the groundwork for the many peaceful applications of atomic energy.”
The Department of Energy has previously recognized J. Robert Oppenheimer in other ways including the creation of the Oppenheimer Science and Energy Leadership Program in 2017 to support early and mid-career scientists and engineers to “carry on [Dr. Oppenheimer’s] legacy of science serving society.”
As a successor agency to the Atomic Energy Commission, the Department of Energy has been entrusted with the responsibility to correct the historical record and honor Dr. Oppenheimer’s profound contributions to our national defense and the scientific enterprise at large. Today, I am pleased to announce the Department of Energy has vacated the Atomic Energy Commission’s 1954 decision In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Kai Bird told the New York Times that he was overwhelmed with emotion. Students of American history will be able to read the last chapter and see that what happened to Oppenheimer was not the end of the story.
The first trailer for Christopher Nolan's movie, based on American Prometheus, was released the day after Granholm's announcement. Cillian Murphy is flanked by an all-star cast that includes Emily Blunt, Matthew Modine, and Robert Downey, Jr.