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HomeLanguageEnglish“Oppenheimer” Brings the Harsh Reality of Nuclear Doomsday, Warns UN Chief

“Oppenheimer” Brings the Harsh Reality of Nuclear Doomsday, Warns UN Chief


By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IDN)— The award-winning movie “Oppenheimer”, based on the life of Robert Oppenheimer, credited with having helped the creation of the atomic bomb, has once again turned the spotlight on the longstanding campaign for nuclear disarmament—and the deaths and devastation caused by one of the world’s most destructive weapons. (P33)  ITALIAN | JAPANESE | KOREAN| SPANISH

When the US dropped two bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the world had never experienced such a monumental human disaster.

And it claimed the lives of an estimated 140,000-226,000 people.

After seeing the movie, Jonathan Granoff, a Trustee of the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS), and President of the Global Security Institute, told IDN the magnitude of devastation today’s thousands of nuclear weapons present dwarfs our powers of imagination.

“The film, by focusing on an individual human being’s agency in its creation, reminds us that just as it was in human hands to create these devices, it remains in our hands to eliminate them. It remains in our consciences whether we will ignore or take up the task,” he said.

“The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

Thus, he, along with Bertrand Russell and nine other distinguished scientists in 1955, released a powerful manifesto that ended with a clear choice: “There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death because we cannot forget our quarrels?

We appeal, as human beings, to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”

One of modernity’s great heroes, Dr. Joseph Rotblat

The film, Granoff pointed out, overlooks one of modernity’s great heroes, Dr. Joseph Rotblat, a signatory to the Manifesto, who had walked off the Manhattan Project when it was clear that the Nazis could not build an atomic bomb.

He told General Groves, the military leader of the Manhattan Project, of this fact, but discovered that the bomb was being built, not just to deter the Nazis but also to challenge the power of the Soviet Union.

Rotblatt saw the danger of an arms race if the US built and used the device, said Granoff. He helped found the Pugwash Conferences of scientists and received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.

Oppenheimer similarly saw the dangers of the arms race and argued against building the ultra-destructive hydrogen bomb and, instead, pursuing diplomacy, law, and cooperation at an international level to constrain the dangers of nuclear weapons.

He was persecuted and stripped of his security clearances because of his advocacy. The movie places a distorted emphasis on interpersonal animosity when principles were actually at issue, said Granoff.

The World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS)

Oppenheimer, Rotblat and Russell ultimately helped form a prestigious organization, The World Academy of Art and Science, in 1960 to help rid the world of nuclear weapons threats and guide the modern venture and powers of science more broadly to be used to enhance rather than destroy life.

WAAS continues this heritage to this day, working to achieve the promise of “continued progress” and, ultimately, human security.

Addressing the UN Security Council on March 18, Secretary-General António Guterres referred to the movie, which won seven Oscars at the Hollywood Academy Awards ceremony on March 10, including the four major awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.

“The Doomsday Clock is ticking loudly enough for all to hear. From academics and civil society groups, calling for an end to the nuclear madness,” he said.

“To Pope Francis, who calls the possession of nuclear arms ‘immoral’. To young people across the globe worried about their future, demanding change. To the Hibakusha, the brave survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—among our greatest living examples of speaking truth to power—delivering their timeless message of peace.”

And to Hollywood, “where Oppenheimer brought the harsh reality of nuclear doomsday to vivid life for millions around the world,” Guterres declared.

Dr M.V. Ramana, Professor and Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, told IDN that the movie Oppenheimer “reminds us of how much the world was changed by the invention and use of atomic weapons that were more destructive than any of the weapons seen until then.”

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Since Oppenheimer oversaw the creation of the bombs that demolished Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the 1940s, the destructive power of nuclear weapons has grown immensely.

He said that ways of delivering these weapons on people and cities have grown enormously in range, sophistication, and numbers.

“Driven by endless competition for resources and power, countries that possess these nuclear weapons have routinely engaged in unilaterally using military force to attack other peoples.”

Russia’s attack on Ukraine and Israel’s wholesale bombardment of Gaza, said Dr Ramana, are only the latest examples.

The United States has led the world in military attacks on countries as far removed as Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, killing untold millions, he noted.

“As the climate crisis intensifies and blood and soil nationalist movements grow in multiple countries, the danger of armed confrontation is intensifying and the risk that nuclear weapons will be used somewhere or the other is escalating,” said Dr Ramana.

“It is now more important than ever that we not only urgently eliminate nuclear weapons but that we also reconsider seriously another idea that animated people like Robert Oppenheimer and, especially, Albert Einstein: the idea that we have to get past the “outmoded concept of narrow nationalisms” (to use Einstein’s evocative phrase) to move to “One World”, declared Dr Ramana. [INPS Japan/ IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: UN Secretary-General António Guterres (centre right) attended a Security Council meeting on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation on 18 March 2024. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Related article: What the movie Oppenheimer missed

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