Having seen just the movie Oppenheimer, I was delighted to read PAW’s interview with Alexander Glaser, co-director of the Princeton University Program on Science and Global Security (“PAW Goes to the Movies,” published online Aug. 4). To me, the film brought back memories. It was 1955 when I first came to Princeton as a physics student, having worked in Geneva at the first United Nations “Atoms for Peace” conference in August.
I agree with Professor Glaser that the movie had “stunning visuals, a powerful story, and compelling characters” and that physicists like Oppenheimer were placed in a terrible situation once Brig. Gen. Leslie Groves, who headed the military and engineering aspects of the Manhattan Project, told scientists on the project that the real purpose of the bomb was to subdue Russia.
Only one scientist, on learning that the bomb was not to be used against Hitler, quit.
That was Joseph Rotblat, who, unlike Oppenheimer, felt he could not continue for moral reasons. For him the idea of sacrificing hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians for the sole purpose of intimidating Russians was intolerable.
Rotblat went on to devote his life to the pursuit of peace, winning the Nobel Prize in 1995, shared with the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, of which he was a founder. A documentary movie, The Strangest Dream, made by the National Film Board of Canada in 2008, tells his story. It allows for more thinking, uninterrupted by musical crescendos and other distractions. Given our times it is a much-needed antidote to the morally deficient Oppenheimer.