Saturday, November 24, 2007

Oppenheimer

I've read (listened to) Oppenheimer: American Prometheus. Fine book, full of arresting details and clear characterizations. Oppenheimer comes off as a pretentious naif, but brilliant and admirable. Shameful how the McCarthyites came after him later on.

But Oppenheimer and other liberals wanted to share nuclear-bomb secrets with the Soviets. Today we know better than to think that Stalin could have been trusted. But was there any advantage in our getting nuclear weapons before the Soviets did? As for whether developing nuclear weapons was beneficial for humankind--granted, we had to get them before the Nazis did--we won't know the answer for many more years. Or centuries.

Why didn't we warn the Japanese about the bombs--so civilians could have left Hiroshima and other targets? Because, the Army said, the Japanese, forewarned, would have shot our bombers out of the sky. I don't know if that's a good enough excuse.

Another book I'm reading, about Alfred Loomis, who helped develop radar, seems to playsdown Oppenheimer's role in developing WW2 weaponry.

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