THE famous statement of Oppenheimer that Senator Robert Kennedy’s proposal to President Johnson for working with the Soviet Union to stop proliferation should have been initiated 20 years ago just after the Trinity’s test is a testimony that he had sympathy for the Soviet Union from the very beginning. A pro-Soviet sympathiser with an anti-American establishment image was greatly respected in India.
This is a different issue that in the same 1980s, the same section was highly critical of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, promoted by the US and the Soviet Union both. Even the idea of international control of atomic minerals, in which Oppenheimer was involved, was not taken positively by the same section.
Third, our Professor painted a highly liberal and humane picture of Oppenheimer as a man who was disturbed over his own creation. As the film also portrays, Edward Teller was an opponent of Oppenheimer.
Zuberi was an admirer of Oppenheimer but a great critic of Edward Teller, the supposed father of the American hydrogen bomb or the thermonuclear device. He held the view that the military-industrialscientific complex of the US did not allow the guilt of Oppenheimer to reach a logical conclusion in nuclear disarmament. Oppenheimer as an antagonist of hydrogen bomb and the vertical proliferation which led to the qualitative development of nuclear weapons helped create a positive image for him in India.
Fourth, Oppenheimer was also considered a strong supporter of peaceful nuclear uses. Since 1947, in different meetings, he promoted the role of nuclear energy in generating electricity.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) maintains that Oppenheimer’s forecast of a largescale expansion of nuclear power plants has amazingly become a reality, although Oppenheimer’s initial thought of the large-scale development of nuclear power plants was set in the context of the industrialised countries. However, Oppenheimer and Bhabha had a very good equation on many of the nuclear issues. Both had worked together to promote peaceful uses of nuclear science at the IAEA and outside.
Fifth, Oppenheimer’s philosophy on science and the society resonated the dominant Indian thinking of the relationship between science and mankind. Zuberi brought his tape recorder and played Oppenheimer’s famous lecture ‘The Sciences and Man’s Community’ in which Oppenheimer insisted on the role of open society in promoting science.
He talked about “a vast, complex, evergrowing, ever-changing, ever more specialised and expert technological world” in the context of a ‘world of humanity’. Oppenheimer opined that “We, like all men, are among those who bring a little light to the vast unending darkness of man’s life and world. For us, as for all men, change and eternity, specialisation and unity, instrument and final purpose, community and individual man alone, complementary each to the other, both require and define our bonds and our freedom.”
The forgotten Oppenheimer with all the flaws in him and in the film has brought the nuclear weapon in the global nuclear discourse. As the film does not seem to have any agenda to push any particular nuclear policy, including nuclear disarmament, it may not result in any drastic global nuclear result. For sure, it has sensitised the human psyche about the devastating nature of science.
The sense of responsibility of 21st century’s advanced sciences and the scientific inventions ought to lie on inventors and their sponsors as well. In India, Oppenheimer had a positive image and narrative built on select facts. A revisiting of the old and new facts may provide a better picture of Oppenheimer and his worldview.