„It's not that I don't feel bad about it. It's just that I don't feel worse today than what I felt yesterday.“
Response to question on his feelings about the atomic bombings, while visiting Japan in 1960.
Birthdate: 22. April 1904
Date of death: 18. February 1967
Other names: Julius Robert Oppenheimer
Julius Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist and professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Oppenheimer was the wartime head of the Los Alamos Laboratory and is among those who are credited with being the "father of the atomic bomb" for their role in the Manhattan Project, the World War II undertaking that developed the first nuclear weapons. The first atomic bomb was successfully detonated on July 16, 1945, in the Trinity test in New Mexico. Oppenheimer later remarked that it brought to mind words from the Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." In August 1945, the weapons were used in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After the war ended, Oppenheimer became chairman of the influential General Advisory Committee of the newly created United States Atomic Energy Commission. He used that position to lobby for international control of nuclear power to avert nuclear proliferation and a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. After provoking the ire of many politicians with his outspoken opinions during the Second Red Scare, he suffered the revocation of his security clearance in a much-publicized hearing in 1954, and was effectively stripped of his direct political influence; he continued to lecture, write and work in physics. Nine years later, President John F. Kennedy awarded him with the Enrico Fermi Award as a gesture of political rehabilitation.
Oppenheimer's achievements in physics included the Born–Oppenheimer approximation for molecular wave functions, work on the theory of electrons and positrons, the Oppenheimer–Phillips process in nuclear fusion, and the first prediction of quantum tunneling. With his students he also made important contributions to the modern theory of neutron stars and black holes, as well as to quantum mechanics, quantum field theory, and the interactions of cosmic rays. As a teacher and promoter of science, he is remembered as a founding father of the American school of theoretical physics that gained world prominence in the 1930s. After World War II, he became director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Wikipedia
Response to question on his feelings about the atomic bombings, while visiting Japan in 1960.
Oppenheimer testifying in his defense in his 1954 security hearings, discussing the American reaction to the first successful Russian test of an atomic bomb and the debate whether to develop the "super" hydrogen bombs with vastly higher explosive power; from volume II of the Oppenheimer hearing transcripts http://www.osti.gov/includes/opennet/includes/Oppenheimer%20hearings/Vol%20II%20Oppenheimer.pdf, pg 95/266 (emphasis added)
This is derived from a statement of James Branch Cabell, in The Silver Stallion (1926) : The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.
Variant: The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.
Acceptance Speech, Army-Navy "Excellence" Award (16 November 1945)
Context: It is with appreciation and gratefulness that I accept from you this scroll for the Los Alamos Laboratory, and for the men and women whose work and whose hearts have made it. It is our hope that in years to come we may look at the scroll and all that it signifies, with pride. Today that pride must be tempered by a profound concern. If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of the nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima. The people of this world must unite or they will perish. This war that has ravaged so much of the earth, has written these words. The atomic bomb has spelled them out for all men to understand. Other men have spoken them in other times, and of other wars, of other weapons. They have not prevailed. There are some misled by a false sense of human history, who hold that they will not prevail today. It is not for us to believe that. By our minds we are committed, committed to a world united, before the common peril, in law and in humanity.
Letter to his brother Frank (14 October 1929), published in Robert Oppenheimer : Letters and Recollections (1995) edited by Alice Kimball Smith, p. 136
Context: Everyone wants rather to be pleasing to women and that desire is not altogether, though it is very largely, a manifestation of vanity. But one cannot aim to be pleasing to women any more than one can aim to have taste, or beauty of expression, or happiness; for these things are not specific aims which one may learn to attain; they are descriptions of the adequacy of one's living. To try to be happy is to try to build a machine with no other specification than that it shall run noiselessly.
As quoted in "J. Robert Oppenheimer" by L. Barnett, in Life, Vol. 7, No. 9, International Edition (24 October 1949), p. 58; sometimes a partial version (the final sentence) is misattributed to Marcel Proust.
Context: There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry … There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.
Letter to his brother Frank (12 March 1932), published in Robert Oppenheimer : Letters and Recollections (1995) edited by Alice Kimball Smith, p. 155
Context: I believe that through discipline, though not through discipline alone, we can achieve serenity, and a certain small but precious measure of the freedom from the accidents of incarnation, and charity, and that detachment which preserves the world which it renounces. I believe that through discipline we can learn to preserve what is essential to our happiness in more and more adverse circumstances, and to abandon with simplicity what would else have seemed to us indispensable; that we come a little to see the world without the gross distortion of personal desire, and in seeing it so, accept more easily our earthly privation and its earthly horror — But because I believe that the reward of discipline is greater than its immediate objective, I would not have you think that discipline without objective is possible: in its nature discipline involves the subjection of the soul to some perhaps minor end; and that end must be real, if the discipline is not to be factitious. Therefore I think that all things which evoke discipline: study, and our duties to men and to the commonwealth, war, and personal hardship, and even the need for subsistence, ought to be greeted by us with profound gratitude, for only through them can we attain to the least detachment; and only so can we know peace.
"Encouragement of Science" (Address at Science Talent Institute, 6 Mar 1950), Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, v.7, #1 (Jan 1951) p. 6-8
Context: We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to enquire. We know that the wages of secrecy are corruption. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert.
Physics in the Contemporary World, Arthur D. Little Memorial Lecture at M.I.T. (25 November 1947)
Context: Despite the vision and farseeing wisdom of our wartime heads of state, the physicists have felt the peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons. Nor can we forget that these weapons, as they were in fact used, dramatized so mercilessly the inhumanity and evil of modern war. In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.
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As quoted in Play to Live (1982) by Alan Watts
Quoted at Vision '65 "New Challenges for Human Communications" (21-23 October 1965) and published in v 65: New Challenges for human communications, Volume 4, International Center for the Typographic Arts, Southern Illinois University (1965), p. 221
I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.
Interview about the Trinity explosion, first broadcast as part of the television documentary The Decision to Drop the Bomb (1965), produced by Fred Freed, NBC White Paper; the translation is his own. online video at atomicarchive.com http://www.atomicarchive.com/Movies/Movie8.shtml
It is possible that Oppenheimer is referring to Bhagavad-Gita xi:32: श्रीभगवानुवाच | कालोऽस्मि लोकक्षयकृत्प्रवृद्धो लोकान्समाहर्तुमिह प्रवृत्त: (śrī-bhagavān uvāca kālo 'smi loka-kṣaya-kṛt pravṛddho lokān samāhartum iha pravṛttaḥ) ("The blessed one [Krishna] said: I am the full-grown [or mighty] world-destroying Time [or Death], now engaged in destroying the worlds").
Quoted from F. Capra, The Tao of Physics.
"Crossing" describing memories of New Mexico in Hound and Horn (June 1928)
Last published words With Oppenheimer on an Autumn Day, Look, Vol. 30, No. 26 (19 December 1966)
Science and the Common Understanding (1954); based on 1953 Reith lectures.
Letter to his brother Frank Oppenheimer (14 October 1929), published in Robert Oppenheimer : Letters and Recollections (1995) edited by Alice Kimball Smith, p. 135