From the archives: Robert Oppenheimer in 1965 on if the bomb was necessaryJul 22, 2023
Looking back now, do you believe our country's use of the
necessary? I think the opinion that I learned from many, but especially from General Marshall and Colonel Stimson, the Secretary of War, the opinion that they had that we would have to fight our way to the main islands and that it would involve a massacre of Americans and Japanese at massive scale was then arrived at in good faith with regret and with the best evidence they then had for that alternative. I think the
bombwas a huge relief. The room began in '39. That seemed like the death of tens of millions who saw the brutality and degradation that did not take place in the mid-20th century and the end of the war by this certainly cruel means.
It wasn't taken lightly, but I'm not. To this day I am sure that there was a better way then. I don't have a very good answer to this, Dr. Oppenheimer, however, with all the rationalization and all the inevitability of the decision that history demonstrates to you and many like you who created the bomb. He still seemed to suffer, can I say that I have a bad conscience? It's true, sir, well, I don't want to speak for others because we are all different. I think that when you play a significant role and cause the deaths of over a hundred thousand people and the injuries of a comparable number, you naturally don't think about it as easily.
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from the archives robert oppenheimer in 1965 on if the bomb was necessary...
I think we had a great cause for doing this, but I don't think our consciences should be completely clear by going out of line. to study nature and learn the truth about it to change the course of human history a long time ago I once said that in a crude sense that you know, vulgarity and no humor could completely erase physicists had known sin and did not By that I mean deaths. that were caused as a result of our work, I meant that we had known the sin of pride which we had turned into effect in what turned out to be an important way in the course of man's history, we had the pride to think that we knew what which was good for man. and I think this is evident in many of those who participated responsibly.
This is not the natural task of a scientist. You know that in the first days after Hiroshima you pointed out that the scientists who built the bomb had fostered hope. Nuclear weapons, as you say, would lead to new patterns of behavior. Well, why hasn't that hope been realized? Well, look. I think I might have said that. I think I wrote it recently. I said two things. New patterns of behavior and new institutions. I think that when we remember the manifest causes of the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States that have plagued us for 20 years and that have in no way been resolved in any conventional sense; when we remember the ideological ferocity that animated the postwar communists and that we now see in the unsilenced Chinese version, you think of the anti-communist ferocity with which we confront this, the notion that there is a telephone communication between the White House and the Kremlin to ensure that misunderstandings about rent are a damn new pattern of behavior.
I think it is something that is almost unprecedented in wars that in conflicts that are as total in character as that between the communists and the free world has tended to have, I think, the notion that the United States should be arranging its power to fight confrontations limited on the ground and in the air with antiquated weapons that we hope are a little better than they used to be, not as a step to conquer the world but as a step to give the opportunity to think, pause to discuss and persuade before a holocaust is a pattern that I think is also unfamiliar when you consider that for years Russian intellectuals were interested in France and the United Kingdom and the United States have met to talk among themselves about weapons problems. and the problems of the application of science and the problems of maintaining peace this is also not something we are familiar with the institutions do not exist the patterns are defective fragile very vulnerable but there is a wind that blows Dr.
Oppenheimer for everything you have saying It seems that when you contemplate the future it is more with hope than with pessimism uh well, or is that an oversimplification, yes, I have tried to talk about the hopeful things that jump to the minds of everyone who is hopeless, will the Chinese change his views on human destiny? and the relations between them and us before or after they have the power to provoke a major nuclear war, no one knows whether the detonation between the Russians and the West will survive the tensions of this time, whether they will survive what is happening today in Asia.
I don't know that there are hundreds of reasons not to see any hope, and I assume that everyone can think of them without being reminded that it is harder to think of anything on the other side of what I have tried to say, however fragile and hesitant it may be. be. and however limited they may be, they seem to me to be a bridgehead towards a livable future, but not without work.
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