Biography: Robert Oppenheimer

The noise for the nuclear program of Iran and the possession of nuclear arms from Northern Korea, India and Pakistan, or the danger of “nuclear terrorism” in the after 9/11 era, make the attitude of the “father of atomic bomb”, Robert Oppenheimer, more topical than ever. A modern Prometheus, who gave the atomic fire to the humanity, but when he tried to control its dissemination, warning for the terrible dangers of its use, he provoked the anger of the status quo, which, as a modern Zeus, punished him in the beginning of Cold War.

Robert Oppenheimer had walked a fascinating path since his birth in New York in April 1904 until his death in Princeton in February 1967, with intermediary station Los Alamos, where during World War II he directed the Manhattan Project, the secret program of the manufacturing of the atomic bomb. This path brought him in the epicentre of major political conflicts and scientific achievements during the 20th century.

In the progressive climate of Berkeley, where in the 1930s he founded the most important centre of theoretical physics in America, his life was marked by the economic recession that affected America and the rise of fascism in Europe. With many left wingers friends he enlisted in the fight in favor of the social justice in the interior and against fascism abroad.

When later he saw the calamitous consequences of the weapon he had manufactured, he played a leading role in the movement for the control of nuclear equipment. With the deterioration of Soviet-American relations in the end of 1940s and the rise of the Republicans in power in 1953, his opposition in the manufacture of hydrogen bomb and the reject of mass nuclear retaliation caused the rage of the administration of National Security in Washington, which decided to neutralizes him. In the era of McCarthyism, the father of atomic bomb was considered a danger for the national security of America and in 1954 he was removed from the Committee of Atomic Energy, where he had been President of the Council of Experts since January 1947.

Oppenheimer was a talented and enigmatic personality, full of arrogance and insecurity, intelligence and naivety, courage and weaknesses, moral prestige and public conscience. Enchanting and furious smoker, tall and thin, expert of ancient Greek and Latin, friend of French and Russian literature and passionate with poetry, Oppenheimer studied chemistry in Harvard, but turned himself in the theoretical physics in Cambridge and Göttingen from where he received his doctorate in 1927. Upon his return to America he taught in the University of California, Berkeley. The centre of theoretical physics that he founded in Berkeley attracted a lot of brilliant physicians, who were later honoured with the Nobel Prize of Physics, a Prize for which Oppenheimer was never proposed.

In the 1930s, although he was never a member of the Communist Party, he contributed in many organizations that were controlled by the checked by the Communist Party of the United States. He believed that the Soviet Union constituted the dyke to the expansion of Nazism and Fascism in Europe. His first fiancée he was member of the Communist Party of the United States. His spouse, Kitty, his brother, Frank and his wife had been also members of the Communist Party. Oppenheimer was radical partisan of New Deal of Roosevelt, who in the 1930s came out in the Left Wing. Despite his offer to the American nation, the FBI watched him for 25 years.

Since February 1939, Oppenheimer and other American physicians knew that the manufacture of the atomic bomb was feasible. One month before the beginning of the war in Europe, in September 1939, Einstein sent a letter to President Roosevelt warning him that the Germans were planning an atomic bomb. A “Committee of Uranium” was recommended by Roosevelt, but for two years it was not functioning properly. In May 1942, after the clues for the progress of the nuclear program in Germany multiplied, the Committee assigned to the centre of Oppenheimer in Berkeley the research of rapid neutrons. The idea that an atomic bomb could stop the sovereignty of the forces of Axis in the world had matured.

Although his leading personality and his scientific fame placed Oppenheimer on the top of the candidates for the place of director of the secret program of the manufacture of atomic bomb, the American army showed unwillingness to grant him authorization of security. However, when General Groves undertook the monitoring of Manhattan Project, he assigned Oppenheimer to direct the secret nuclear laboratory in Los Alamos of New Mexico. At the age of 39, he coordinated the work of thousands of scientists and technicians for the manufacture of the atomic bomb, before the Nazis manufacture theirs. He was a charismatic leader and he gained the respect and the devotion of his collaborators, which worked day and night, unstoppably, for the manufacture of a weapon of mass destruction they hoped it would bring the defeat of Nazism.

However, when in May 1945 Germany surrendered, the reflections on the necessity of cast of the atomic bomb against Japan multiplied. With the trial of the atomic bomb on July 16, all the people, who had been involved in the manufacture, realized that the world had changed. The destruction from the bombs in Hiroshima and in Nagasaki in August 1945 convinced Oppenheimer that the atomic bomb should never be used again. In his meeting with President Truman, on October 25, 1945 in the White House, Oppenheimer said the eminent phrase: “Mr. President, I feel I have blood on my hands”.

The more the relations with the Soviet Union worsened after the end of war, the more important was the protection of “nuclear secrets” in the USA, the guarantee of American monopoly in the atomic weapons and consequently the protection of all the people, who had been involved in the nuclear research. Inevitably, Oppenheimer was found in the epicenter again, along with his friends and his collaborators, his family and his left winger past. The interrogations of Committee of Un-American Activities, which in spring 1949 held hearings in search of nuclear spies in the centre of Oppenheimer in Berkeley, exempted him from the suspicions, but he was forced to reveal the political preferences of some of his collaborators.

The explosion of first Soviet atomic bomb on August 29, 1949 restored Oppenheimer’s proposal for the need of international control of nuclear technology, but President Truman decided the increase of the nuclear arsenal of the USA and gave the green light for the manufacture of the hydrogen bomb. The bomb of Hiroshima allocated an explosive force of 15,000 tons of TNT, while the hydrogen bomb had a force of 100 millions of tons of TNT.

Taking advantage of his prestige and fame, Oppenheimer tried to influence the National Security as adviser of Committee of Atomic Energy and State Department. When his proposal for international control of nuclear weapons and his opposition in the manufacture of hydrogen bomb were rejected, he decided to increase his public criticism. With speeches and articles he recommended transparency and sincerity that would reveal to the American people the truth about the dangers from the use of nuclear weapons and would ensure the Soviet Union that America did not plan to use preventively any nuclear weapons against. With the rise of Republicans in power in 1953, the conservative forces of America decided to neutralize Oppenheimer. On May 23, 1954 the administrative council of Committee of Atomic Energy decided not to renew Oppenheimer’s authorisation of security. The proceedings of the secret hearing-trial were given to the Press and later they were published in a volume of 993 pages, forcing Einstein to declare disgusted that the Committee of Atomic Energy should have been renamed to Conspiracy of Atomic Extermination.

In his 50s, Oppenheimer looked older, but he continued his work and died in Princeton in February 1967 from cancer. His ashes were scattered in the island of Saint John of Caribbean, where he passed his summer time since 1954.

Christina Pomoni has acquired her MBA Finance from the American College of Greece. Her advanced familiarity with financial statement analysis, capital budgeting and market research has been acquired through her professional career at high-esteemed organizations. As part of her long journey, Christina has served as an Equity Research Associate at Telesis Securities (EFG Eurobank) and a Financial & Investment Advisor at ING Group. Besides, having lived at Chicago, IL, Boca Raton, FL and Paris, France has helped her, not only to be a successful professional, but mostly to see life under a more creative and innovative perspective.

Since 2005, Christina provides high quality writing services to numerous websites and research companies contributing her knowledge and expertise. Her areas of specialization are Business, Finance & Investment, Society, Politics & Culture. She also has a very good knowledge of Entertainment, Health & Fitness and Computers & Technology.

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