The Jewish Inventor of the Atomic Bomb


With all the recent bluster about nuclear armament, it might be wise to check in with the inventor of the bomb itself, the Jewish American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer, born in 1904 in New York to a wealthy textile importer and a painter, both secular German Jewish emigres, was proud of his invention—to a point. The first director of the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, Oppenheimer’s mission was to design and create the first atomic bomb. So that’s what he did.

On July 16, 1945, Oppenheimer and his crew traveled to New Mexico for the first test of the weapon, where, in the shadow of the mushroom cloud, he famously recalled a line from the Bhagavad Gita: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”—though to hear his brother, also a physicist, tell it, all JRO actually said was “It worked.”

Either way, the gravity of the weapon wasn’t lost on Oppenheimer. Though he cheered its tactical use on Hiroshima, Oppenheimer found its deployment on Nagasaki unnecessary and cruel.

Meeting with President Truman, Oppenheimer remarked that he felt he had “blood on his hands.”

That President’s response? He called him a “cry-baby scientist,” and said, “I don’t want to see that son-of-a-bitch in this office ever again.”

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