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J. Robert Oppenheimer: Genius, Tragedy, Ethics, and the First Atomic Bomb

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, April 11, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0350
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J. Robert Oppenheimer

Robert Oppenheimer never really thought about the ethics of the atomic bomb until the successful test of a plutonium device at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. Then, one of the most highly educated men of the 20th century felt an inrush of ethical anguish.

Oppenheimer spent the rest of his life trying to come to terms with what he, what America, and what humankind had done. "I a.m. become death," he quoted from the Bhagavad Gita, "shatterer of worlds." Because of his ethical sensitivities, the hardened geopoliticians of the Cold War did what they could to destroy Oppenheimer, principally because he expressed his misgivings about the United States' creation of the vastly more destructive hydrogen fusion device.

Join award-winning historian and public humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson as he examines the gated world of Los Alamos, Oppenheimer’s ethical quandry about nuclear warfare, and the race to build the bomb. He also looks at Harry S. Truman's decision to use it to hasten the end of World War II in the Pacific; Oppenheimer’s fall after his 1954 security hearing by the United States Atomic Energy Commission; and his partial rehabilitation in 1963. Oppenheimer’s story may sound like a macabre topic, says Jenkinson, but it’s fascinating, engrossing, and (unfortunately) relevant.

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