Oppenheimer and the Atom-Bomb: Part 2

by on August 7, 2023 · 7 comments

in History, Ocean Beach

By Colleen O’Connor

Part 1 of this series addressed the popularity and the consequences of the two iconic figures featured in the two movies: “Barbie” (a plastic doll) and “Oppenheimer” (physicist and “Father of the A-Bomb).

“One movie hilarious and fun while being cartoonishly clever (Barbie).  The other darker, more deadly, but equally as relevant today.  Both popular.

And remain so.  Barbie crossed the $1 billion box office mark over the weekend.  Still #1.  While Oppenheimer fights to hold second place.

Both characters are tripped up by generation changes and confused about their own damaging contributions to humanity.  Neither comprehended the extent of that damage until too late, yet both tried to limit it. For more.

In a way, Barbie and Oppie are diabolical twins.

Part 1 concentrated on Barbie.  Part 2 tackles Director, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.

Described variously as a “a supersize masterpiece,” (Ann Hornaday, Washington Post); “infernally beautiful to behold,” (Anthony Lane, The New Yorker) and “Pure Visual Poetry,” (Jennifer Ouellette, ArsTechnica), this three-hour biopic, brings some to tears, some to terror, some to “never again.”

It is also great way to teach history’s past, present, and a future still unfolding.  The creation and use of the A-Bomb; the next generation fight over the H-Bomb; the McCarthy anti-Communist era when Oppenheimer is stripped of his security clearance; the advance of tactical nuclear weapons; and the generational contemporary never-ending “fallouts” (literally) from the blast sites.

To comprehend the gravity of nuclear weapons (if not the actual physics), think of the power of unstoppable chain reactions.  Environmental collapse.  Generational cancers. Ask the “downwinders” near the Alamogordo Trinity tests now fighting for recognition. And the cosmic nightmares still unfolding.

“A new study, released Thursday before submission to a scientific journal for peer review, shows that the cloud and its fallout went farther than anyone in the Manhattan Project had imagined in 1945.

“Using state-of-the-art modeling software and recently uncovered historical weather data, the study’s authors say that radioactive fallout from the Trinity test reached 46 states, Canada and Mexico within 10 days of detonation.” New York Times July 20, 2023

“The bombs later dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki exploded with the yield of 15 kilotons and 20 kilotons of TNT, respectively, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“In contrast, the first test of a thermonuclear weapon, or hydrogen bomb, in the United States in November 1952 yielded an explosion on the order of 10,000 kilotons of TNT.

Now, with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, more unknowable consequences, only intensifies the nightmare. Politico

As Rep. Helen Gahagan Douglas, warned in the late 40s, while advocating for civilian, not military, control of nuclear weapons, “Imagine the Unimaginable.”  Few could.

Read the American Prometheus on which the Oppenheimer film is based.  Prometheus’ crime, defying the Olympian gods by stealing fire from them and giving it to humanity in the form of technology, knowledge.

The second iteration of the myth, Frankenstein (1818), a novel by Mary Shelley (also based on Prometheus), where Baron Frankenstein, a scientist who creates and brings to life a manlike monster that eventually turns on him and destroys him.

That time has arrived.

Dmitry Medvedev, “a former Russian president and Putin ally, has warned there is ‘simply no other way out. Ukraine should ‘pray that they do not ‘allow the global nuclear fire to flare up.”

Add to this the recent Russian-Chinese strafes off the Alaskan coast; the war in Ukraine; vulnerable nuclear power plants (think Chernobyl); the recent Russian move to store nuclear weapons in Belarus; and the escalating threats to deploy them.

The key moment in the film, as described by Nolan, strikes the dark note that the film closes on.

“As Einstein (a pacifist) turns to leave, Oppenheimer reminds him of an earlier conversation they had before the testing of the first atom bomb, when the Manhattan Project physicists were worried that the chain reaction caused by the atomic bomb might never end — that it could proceed to ignite the Earth’s atmosphere and destroy the planet. (Embellished)

“When I came to you with those calculations,” Oppenheimer tells Einstein, “we thought we might start a chain reaction that might destroy the entire world.”

“What of it?” Einstein asks.

“I believe we did,” Oppenheimer says.”

Nolan: gets the last word: “The whole film is about consequences. The delayed onset of consequences that people often forget.”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Gravitas August 7, 2023 at 3:09 pm

H-Bomb 1,000 more powerful than A-Bomb.


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman August 8, 2023 at 12:07 pm

The pairing of films “Barbie”and “Oppenheimer” is pure obscene Hollywood commercialism. The movie industry’s handmaid Los Angeles Times newspaper didn’t review either film until two weeks after Mattel’s “Barbie” had scored securely over $2 billion and “Oppenheimer” came in a profitable second place.

The faltering newspaper belatedly mentioned yesterday that no images of Japanese victims were ever portrayed in the “Oppenheimer” story about our developing and dropping the first nuclear bomb — not once, but two times.

Time to break out that old poster, “War Is Not Good for Children and Other Living Things.”


Gravitas August 8, 2023 at 4:11 pm

Lots of other errors as well.


Karen August 8, 2023 at 5:36 pm

Colleen knows her stuff. What a horrific situation. Take a trip to Los Alamos, New Mexico to view exhibits of the work that had built the A-bomb and you’ll wonder again why people just can’t get along. Why leaders of nations take power so seriously. They’ll do most anything to grab, maintain, and keep. It’s sickening. Imagine a world where equality is practiced. Colleen, thanks for your eye-opening reminder of what a bright brain can conceive. This is a good article.


Gravitas August 9, 2023 at 8:25 am

“The Past Isn’t Dead. It Isn’t Even Past”…William Faulkner
Great lesson for both Barbie and Oppenheimer.


sealintheSelkirks August 9, 2023 at 1:30 pm

And while people are at in learning mode, they should read the horrific book ‘Atomic Days’ by Joshua Frank about the ticking time bomb of the MOST TOXIC place in this country; Hanford. It’s in Washington State where all this crap was made that sits on the Columbia River. I’m in the NE corner of the third ‘fallout circle’ of radiation exposure when the lackadaisical clean-up going on finally fails…and the whistleblower engineers keep getting brushed off and not listened to about the corporate malfeasance going on that site. Oh my, none of it is good.
Yes Gravitas, Thermonuclear Hydrogen Bombs make the tiny firecrackers of Hiroshima & Nagasaki look like…tiny firecrackers. A 10 or 20MT on a city is literally unimaginable. Literally. We cannot fathom what will happen in our worst nightmares.

And I’ll agree, the past isn’t past it’s hanging above our heads ever-present in the now…



sealintheSelkirks August 11, 2023 at 10:56 am

For your weekend, more reality about Oppenhiemer AND this free movie to watch instead of this sanitized version of unreality.

“This is the story of Joseph Rotblat, the only nuclear scientist to leave the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government’s secret program to build the first atomic bomb. His was a decision based on moral grounds.”

A trove of newly disclosed documents show how Robert Oppenheimer’s boss, the imperious Gen. Lesley Groves, repeatedly downplayed the risk of radiation exposure from atomic testing and the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki themselves. Groves claimed those hit with lethal doses of radiation would die “without undue suffering. In fact, they say it is a very pleasant way to die.” It turns out that Oppenheimer himself was intimately aware of Groves’ deceptions about the dangers of radioactive fallout. But even after leaving the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer kept quiet about the grotesque consequences of Groves’ lies.

Forget going to see Christopher Nolan’s bloated exercise in sanitized nuclear hagiography and instead watch The Strangest Dream, Eric Bednarski’s compelling 2008 documentary on Joseph Rotblat, the Polish physicist, who resigned from the Manhattan Project in protest after it became clear that Nazi Germany had ended its nuclear weapons research program. Rotblat was a driving force behind the 1955 Albert Einstein-Bertrand Russell Manifesto, which called for nuclear disarmament and a negotiated end to the escalating Cold War. Rotblat went on to co-found the anti-nuclear Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, with whom he shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 “for efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international affairs and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms.” Rotblat, along with Leo Szilard and Joseph Franck, was a consistent voice of sanity amid a throng of mad scientists. The film can be viewed here online courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada.


1 hour 30 minutes of insanity, and sanity.



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