J. Robert Oppenheimer, the enigmatic and highly intelligent physicist who spearheaded the development of the atomic bomb, has always struck me as a fascinating embodiment of a perplexing contradiction. It is widely acknowledged that his groundbreaking efforts, brilliantly portrayed in director Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film “Oppenheimer,” resulted in the instantaneous vaporization of tens of thousands of Japanese civilians and the infliction of unimaginable suffering through various harrowing means, including radiation exposure. Paradoxically, those very same two atomic bomb detonations also brought about the rapid conclusion of World War II, ultimately saving countless more lives.
If there ever was a life that demanded a profound examination of the intricate relationship between ends and means, it was that of the scientist who unleashed the power of the atomic bomb. This scientist, the director of the Los Alamos laboratory, found himself pondering the words of the Bhagavad-Gita when witnessing the first successful test of the bomb in July 1945. It is said that J. Robert Oppenheimer, with a heavy heart, muttered to himself, “Now I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
The upcoming biopic “To End All War: Oppenheimer & the Atomic Bomb,” directed by Christopher Nolan and featuring Cillian Murphy in the lead role, has already garnered extraordinary acclaim in its early reviews. With a runtime of three hours, the film is being hailed as Nolan’s most remarkable work to date. As one of the most eagerly anticipated movies of the summer, it is worth noting that Nolan also provides his insights in a recently released NBC News Studios documentary on Oppenheimer. In my opinion, this documentary serves as a perfect complement to Nolan’s film, further enriching the exploration of Oppenheimer’s life and legacy.
“To End All War:
Oppenheimer & The Atomic Bomb” is currently available for streaming on Peacock and Hulu, and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of it. The documentary skillfully incorporates captivating audio and video footage of Oppenheimer, accompanied by exceptional animation and visual effects. What impressed me, even more, was the inclusion of insightful commentary from scientists who explained the physics and technical complexities of the covert Manhattan Project in a way that laypeople can easily comprehend.
In addition, this release from NBC News Studios filled in some significant gaps in my understanding of Oppenheimer’s life. It shed light on how the man who played a crucial role in securing victory in World War II later became the target of Senator Joe McCarthy’s accusations during the notorious Red Scare. I highly recommend checking out this documentary if you have the opportunity, particularly before heading to the cinema to watch Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” It provides valuable context and enhances the overall experience of delving into Oppenheimer’s story.
The decision to drop the atomic bombs during World War II raises complex moral and ethical questions that have been debated for decades. It is true that the United States has not faced legal consequences for the bombings, while former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara suggests that if the outcome of the war had been different, there might have been repercussions for those involved. This discrepancy highlights a subjective aspect of historical judgment based on the outcome of events.
One of the most haunting revelations in “The Fog of War,” which received an Academy Award for Best Documentary, is McNamara’s reflection on Oppenheimer’s work. McNamara emphasizes the importance of learning from mistakes and avoiding repetition. However, the creation of the atomic bomb eliminates the possibility of a second chance or a lesson learned. Once the bomb is dropped, there is no opportunity to undo the consequences. It presents a chilling reminder of the irreversible nature of the weapon and the high stakes involved.
These observations underscore the complexities of ethical decision-making during wartime and the long-lasting impact of such decisions. The debate over the justification of the bombings continues, and examining the perspectives and consequences presented in documentaries like “The Fog of War” prompts us to reflect on the profound implications of our actions in the face of extreme circumstances.