Saturday, 24 March 2012 10:08

Robert Openheimer: Men of Ideas

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Robert Oppenheim (1904-1967) was an American theoretical physicist who is best known for heading the scientific aspect of the Manhattan Project (Leslie Groves led the overall project), the effort to develop the first atomic weapon. He and his group of top notch scientists managed to develop the first atomic bomb and eventually those bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The devastation they wrought convinced the Japanese empire to end the war in August of 1945.

Openheimer is known for been the founder of theoretical physics at the University of California, Berkeley, at a time American science was at best crude if not non-existent. Until the post Second World War world, America was not a player in theoretical physics.

The Nazi persecution of Jews led top notch German and other European theoretical physicists and other scientists in Germany to come to America and transform the then American universities, provincial affairs, waste land, to world class universities able to compete with European universities and later overshadow them in the production of top scientists.

Albert Einstein and other European physicists who fled Nazi Germany urged the American President, Franklyn Delano Roosevelt, to try to beat Hitler to the development of the atomic weapon, in light of what Hitler would do with such weapons, and Roosevelt put together the Manhattan Project that brought imported and local scientists together with the goal of developing nuclear weapons. A military general was appointed the overall director of the project but the scientific portion of it was directed by Robert Oppenheimer.

Openheimer was largely responsible for moving the team to New Mexico where they worked near his ranch and eventually tested the first nuclear weapon in 1945.

Apparently, Harry Truman, who had replaced Roosevelt as the President, was persuaded that it would cost millions of American soldiers lives were Americans to invade Japan and defeat her but that the better option was to drop nuclear weapons on major cities of Japan. Thus, in August of 1945 America, in quick succession, dropped two nuclear devices on two Japanese cities and the devastation was such that Japan sued for peace.

Japan surrendered unconditionally and the American general McArthur was appointed the military commander of Japan and he helped write a democratic constitution for Japan hence transformed a war like tribe into the modern nation of Japan, as we now know it.

Openbheimer’s credit was in making otherwise independent minded scientists to work as a team and accomplish a practical goal, developing the atomic weapon.

Here is not the place to talk about the specifics of nuclear weapons; we are merely interested in knowing when it was developed and who led the effort to do so.

Having led the development of nuclear weapons Oppenheimer recognized that the world has changed forever. Man has acquired the means to end his miserable sojourn on planet earth.

At first Openheimer advised ending nuclear technology but, alas, the genie was out of the bottle. He then advised sharing that technology with other powers, such as Russia. For making such seeming outrageous suggestion, Openheimer’s patriotism was doubted and he became public enemy number one. His clearance to be around nuclear facilities was removed.

America was surprised when Russia exploded nuclear devices and the race to come up with better ones, to guarantee the ability to kill the other more efficiently began. By the 1960s both America and Russia had mutually assured ability to destroy each other if not the world. That is where things now stand.

Efforts are made to prevent nuclear proliferation. Of course, those countries that do not have nuclear weapons want to have them, for otherwise they feel intimidated by those that have them, no one likes to be hold hostage by the bullies with nuclear weapons.

Towards the end of his life Openheimer, an avid student of Hinduism (Vedanta), was noted for quoting passages from Hindu scriptures.  Here is a man who worked with great enthusiasm to discover the means to end all mankind who is now talking about the mistake of doing what he did.

Oppenheimer has been compared to Goethe’s Faust, the evil scientist who sought ways to destroy the world all in an effort to gratify his egoism.

Of course there is no use blaming Openheimer or any member of his macabre team for they are merely doing what a macabre world does.

Nuclear explosion takes place in nature, certainly in the stars to produce our light energy. Nature creates and nature destroys so what is the fuzz all about?

God creates us and God destroys us, so what is the world all about? The world is meaningless and purposeless; a meaningless and purposeless world, no doubt, would eventually be destroyed by either man or natural forces.

We are born and we must die; the world is born and must die. That is the way it is. No regrets. God the creator of the world is also God the destroyer of the world, a Hindu scripture says. Glory be to God the creator and destroyer of worlds; he is all powerful, all insane.


Robert Oppenheim. Atom and Void: Essays on science and the community. (1989)

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176