Our Nuclear Past and Present

As we leave Super Tuesday behind and the presidential race narrows, candidates' positions on US nuclear policy are bound to receive closer scrutiny. Prior candidates positions on nuclear policy have affected every presidential since the first atomic bomb burst in 1945. For that reason, it is important to remember the days when nuclear policy was first brought to national attention, by the very scientists who created nuclear weapons. My book and my new Web site, The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer, tell the inside story of events that led to Oppenheimer’s security revocation hearing. The hearing in April and May of 1954 was the culmination of a lengthy campaign by a cabal of hard-line air force officials, anti-Communist politicians, and rival scientists such as Edward Teller to discredit Oppenheimer and steer US weapons policy toward reliance on larger and more deadly nuclear weapons. The hearing was a tragedy for everyone involved. But its key outcomes were the destruction of Oppenheimer and the marginalizing of scientists who had urged restraint in the expansion of nuclear armaments. I’ve created a new Web site, to be released Friday, that will explore the case of Oppenheimer’s security revocation, how it relates to the arms race, and how research into this historic incident is being conducted today. The Web site will include newly released original documents to help scholars, teachers and students study this important historic incident, and connect it to what is happening with nuclear policy, government secrecy, and civil liberties today. As Santayana reminds us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Stay tuned for more Web site information!

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