What More Do You Want from Dr. Oppenheimer?

Robert Oppenheimer testifies before the House Un-American Activities Committee, 1949.

Robert Oppenheimer was predictably devastated by the withdrawal of his [security] clearance. “I think it broke his spirit, really,” [Robert] Serber reflects. “He had spent the years after the war being an adviser, being in high places, knowing what was going on. To be in on things gave him a sense of importance. That became his whole life. As [I.I.] Rabi said, he could run the Institute [for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey] with his left hand. And now he really didn’t have anything to do.” [Hans] Bethe felt “he was not the same person afterward.”

Of the hearing and its consequences for Robert Oppenheimer, Rabi had much to say. During the hearing itself, near the end of his hearing testimony, angrily, he put the government’s narrow focus on Oppenheimer’s early associations and contradictions in sane perspective:

I never hid my opinion from Mr. [Lewis] Strauss that I thought that… the suspension of the clearance of Dr. Oppenheimer was a very unfortunate thing and should not have been done. In other words, there he was; he is a consultant, and if you don’t want to consult the guy, you don’t consult him, period. Why you have to then proceed to suspend clearance and go through all this sort of thing- he is only there when called, and that is all there was to it. So it didn’t seem to me the sort of thing that called for this kind of proceeding at all against a man who had accomplished what Dr. Oppenheimer has accomplished. There is a real positive record, the way I expressed it to a friend of mine. We have an A-bomb, and a whole series of it, [deleted] and what more do you want, mermaids?

Part 3, Chapter 26

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