On April 12, 1954, the nation was astonished to learn that scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer faced charges of violating national security. The hearing was a tragedy for everyone involved. But its key outcome was the destruction of Oppenheimer and the marginalization of scientists who had urged restraint.
Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer was the head of the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in 1945, helping to speed the end of World War Two. Acclaimed as a national hero, he became the US government's chief advisor on nuclear policy after the war.
On April 12, 1954, at the height at the McCarthy era, the country was surprised to learn that Oppenheimer was accused of being a security risk and faced withdrawal of his top-secret security clearance. Within weeks, he was permanently barred from access to the nation's nuclear secrets. Why had the charismatic leader of the Manhattan Project been cast into overnight disgrace?
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 steer US weapons policy toward reliance on larger and more deadly nuclear weapons.
The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer tells the inside story of events that led to the hearing. It provides a colorful account of the scientists at Los Alamos who were actually designing the H-bomb, and of Teller's self-serving attempts in Washington to discredit his colleagues. Finally it shows how Lewis Strauss, head of the Atomic Energy Commission, plotted the attack on Oppenheimer and attempted to anoint Teller as leader of the U.S. scientific community.
The hearing was a tragedy for everyone involved. But its key outcome was the destruction of Oppenheimer and the marginalizing of scientists who had urged restraint.
This riveting narrative draws upon in-depth interviews, the private papers of participants and newly declassified U.S. government documents to show how critics of military policy and military secrecy were silenced at the height of the Cold War, allowing the arms race to proceed unchecked, and creating dangers that still haunt us today.