In the Matter (Again) of J. Robert Oppenheimer
The Oppenheimer question is back—not that it ever went away. Famous initially as the “father of the atomic bomb,” the scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) is more commonly remembered today as, at once, a far-sighted critic of U.S. nuclear policies and a victim of anti-Communist hysteria, a man unjustly tarred as a security risk in a case said to be full of significance for our own security-conscious times.
To summarize Oppenheimer’s story in this way is, however, radically to oversimplify it. In understanding both him and what happened to him, it is best to begin with the man himself. We are helped in this endeavor by a huge new biography, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. Much of the information that follows is drawn from their impressively comprehensive research, which is regrettably in the service of a highly tendentious interpretation.
About the Author
James Nuechterlein, a former professor of American studies and political thought at Valparaiso University, is a senior fellow of the Institute on Religion and Public Life.