Thursday, April 21, 2005

Robert Oppenheimer, the Bomb, and Nuclear Insecurity

A Japan Focus article on early attempts to prevent proliferation:

Robert Oppenheimer, the Bomb, and Nuclear Insecurity

by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin

In his interviews and writings over the past decade, Osama bin Laden has repeatedly talked about America's atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He believes (incorrectly) that it was the atomic bombings that shocked the Japanese imperial government into an early surrender -- and, he says, he is planning an atomic attack on America that will shock us into retreating from the Middle East.


There were alternative policies at the beginning of the nuclear age that our government could have followed -- and could still promote -- that would have mitigated the dangers we face today. There were people then, as now, who recognized that the knowledge of how to construct and deploy atomic bombs could not be kept secret for long. And there were people then, as now, who recognized that such bombs could be smuggled into major urban areas -- meaning there is no defense against nuclear terrorism. Chief among those who clearly saw the nuclear future -- as we have lived and are living it -- was the "father of the atomic bomb," J. Robert Oppenheimer, who developed a plan for a nuclear-free world and did his best to promote this alternative path.

The history of Oppenheimer's failure to contain the nuclear genie makes clear that unilateralism and hubris are hardly unique to the Bush Administration; they have been a recurrent characteristic of US decision-making ever since the latter years of World War II. America's nuclear monopoly was "the great equalizer," Secretary of War Henry Stimson triumphantly declared in July 1945 at the Potsdam conference upon learning of the success of the atomic bomb test at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The bomb was our "trump card," our "ace in the hole," President Truman and his closest advisers believed. But others, more informed and more thoughtful, like Oppenheimer, realized that the bomb was a Trojan horse that would soon threaten our own security as much as it threatened the security of others. Oppenheimer's efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons at the beginning of the atomic age are as applicable today as they were then.

Read the complete article

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