Talk:J. Robert Oppenheimer

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General Discussion

Citations needed for the assertion that he did not contribute much to the Manhattan Project beyond management and that he associated with communists, as well as about the relativity stuff.--John 13:22, 5 March 2007 (EST)

Sources would be nice.
This article is about as extreme an example of spin as I can imagine, but it looks to me like facts seen in a funhouse mirror... but facts.
The association with Communists is true enough, I think; Jean Tatlock in particular. That can probably be sourced to Findings and Recommendations of the Personnel Security Board in the Matter of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. I don't think Oppenheimer denied associating with Communists. The security report says
Dr. Oppenheimer in his testimony before this Board admitted having associated with Jean Tatlock from 1936 until 1943. He stated that he saw her only rarely between 1939 and 1943, but admitted that the association was intimate. He admitted having seen Jean Tatlock under most intimate circumstances in June or July of 1943, during the time when he was Director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, and admitted that he knew she had been a Communist and that there was not any reason for him to believe that she was not at that time still a Communist. He named several Communists, Communist functionaries or Communist sympathizers whom he had met through Jean Tatlock, or as a result of his association with her.
I assume that that Oppenheimer really did say what the report says he said. Whether he was disloyal or a security risk a very, very different matter.
"high-level manager" is interesting, too. It's been a while since I've read a biography of Oppenheimer, but I would have thought "charismatic leader who was able to recruit stellar scientific talent through scientists' personal confidence in him" and "kept a herd of independent-minded academics focussed, on track, and got them to actually deliver working weapons, unlike Heisenberg in Germany" would be more like it. But "did little of the theoretical or actual experimental work" sounds reasonable.
I don't know if it's fair to call him "the man who built the atomic bomb," and in fact I'd like to see a source for that characterization. If you had to pick one person to fit that phrase, I'd have thought it would have been General Leslie Groves. But I don't believe for a moment that the U. S. would have built the bomb without both of them. And I think that afterwards the nation was shockingly ungrateful to both of them. Dpbsmith 14:28, 5 March 2007 (EST)
Yes, the article needs a little more balance. I don't think that there is any doubt that Oppenheimer's strong communist connections made him a security risk. Whether or not he was actually a Soviet spy is a matter of some debate. Some stuff should be moved to a separate article on the atomic bomb. RSchlafly 15:16, 5 March 2007 (EST)
 !!! Who has ever suggested that he was a Soviet spy? Dpbsmith 16:07, 5 March 2007 (EST)
Apparently Lewis Strauss thought he was, but he was wrong:
"It was clear to Strauss that there must have been someone else at Los Alamos during the war passing secrets, besides Klaus Fuchs. And indeed there was: a young physicist named Theodore Hall, an American physicist. But Strauss didn't know about Hall at that point, and he thought it must have been Oppenheimer." [1] Dpbsmith 16:36, 5 March 2007 (EST)
REPLY: Observations of lack of accomplishment do not need a citation. For example, "Bill Clinton did not advance the field of physics." No citation is possible or necessary for that. Ditto for similar observations about Oppenheimer on this content page.
By the way, the editors at Wikipedia misunderstand and misuse citations. It adds nothing to cite the opinion of a journalist, for example. That's not an authority in any meaningful sense, and the journalist would be the first to admit it. Yet most citations on Wikipedia, including its entry about Conservapedia, are to journalist opinions.--Aschlafly 17:12, 5 March 2007 (EST)
I'm not going to deal with the comment about journalists (I think it's wrong but that's not germane to this discussion), but while I agree that about the Clinton reference there is a major difference- this was Oppenheimer's area of work. To say that someone in physics did little physics work needs a citation, just as if one said that Clinton did little to advance foreign policy one would need a citation. JoshuaZ 17:28, 5 March 2007 (EST)
Suggestion that JRO was a Soviet spy? There was a book by a Russian named Sudoplatov in the 1990s that claimed JRO was a spy. The Venona papers describe a high-level Manhattan Project atomic spy (besides Fuchs and Hall) who has never been identified. Some people suggest JRO. JRO has been shown to have Communist connection over and above what was revealed in his security clearance hearings. A collaborator of his published a book a few years ago saying that JRO was secretly a member of the Communist Party while at Berkeley, and even ghost-wrote some articles for the Party. JRO's anti-American behavior and politics were also very suspicious. I am basing this on memory, so some details may not be right. Maybe the article should just give both views -- that JRO was a genius and hero to the Left, and he was an overrated physicist wannabe and no-good Commie fellow traveler. RSchlafly 17:34, 5 March 2007 (EST)
This is precisely the sort of dichotmous thinking that Conservapedia has been criticized for, it is possible to see Oppenheimer as something other than a "genius and hero" and "an overrated physicist wannabe and no-good Commie fellow traveler" there exists views in between. Furthermore, the level of accomplishment is orthogonal to the matter of how much he sympathized with the communists. He could have been a communist and a genius or could have been a management hack who was falsely accused of communist sympathies. Incidentally, there are many sources against the view that he was just a manager with little in the way of actual physics contributions. For example, quoting from [2]"He did not direct from the head office. He was intellectually and even physically present at each decisive step. He was present in the laboratory or in the seminar rooms, when a new effect was measured, when a new idea was conceived. It was not that he contributed so many ideas or suggestions; he did so sometimes, but his main influence came from something else. It was his continuous and intense presence, which produced a sense of direct participation in all of us; it created that unique atmosphere of enthusiasm and challenge that pervaded the place throughout its time" at minimum thus a citation claiming his lack of influence is sorely needed. JoshuaZ 17:49, 5 March 2007 (EST)
Here is the document from Russian Archives, Letter from Boris Merkulov (USSR People’s Commissar for State Security) to Lavrenty Beria (USSR People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs), 10/02/1944, excerpted,
In 1942 one of the leaders of scientific work on [uranium] in the USA, Professor Oppenheimer while being an unlisted (nglastny) member of the apparat of Comrade Browder] [handwritten] informed us about the beginning of work.
"informed us". The arguement was, and will remain "wittingly or unwittingly"? I could define "unlisted" more precisely, but I suggest this is valid material for direct inclusion without comment or judgement on the question of "wittingly or unwittingly", as that can be handled later with a disclaimer when the question arises. RobS 21:29, 9 March 2007 (EST)
Joshua, Oppenheimer was a high-level manager of the project. I don't care how many labs he was in, or how "continuous and intense" his "presence" was, he was still a manager.
By the way, with 3-4 communist spies leaking secrets from the place, your argument about Oppy's "continuous and intense presence" doesn't help his defense that somehow he didn't know!--Aschlafly 21:00, 5 March 2007 (EST)
Really? I think you a) don't appreciate how many concerns there were directly during World War II other than dealing with communist spies. Heck for most of the time during the Manhattan project, we were allies with the Germans. Also, there was little to know restriction on what the scientists were allowed to do- security was mainly in the military hands not Oppenheimer's and the security that did exist often resembled something out of Catch 22. You should read what Feynman wrote about his time in the project. JoshuaZ 21:04, 5 March 2007 (EST)

Another concern

Related to the dichotomy issue above, this wasn't a liberal v. conservative split over Teller's testimony. It was a much more complicated breakdown and calling it liberal v. conservative is a gross oversimplication. JoshuaZ 17:52, 5 March 2007 (EST)

Yes, it was loyal Americans v Commie fellow travelers. Are there any non-commies who think that the case against JRO was insufficient to revoke his security clearance? There are liberals who sympathized with JRO. Not many really defended JRO, but a lot attacked Teller. I think that the article is correct that a lot held a grudge against Teller. RSchlafly 20:54, 5 March 2007 (EST)
Ok, to the first point, whether there were "non-commies" who thought that Oppenheimer should have kept his security clearance, yes. To the second point, what you said above all the more helps demonstrate the complexity of the situation. Some people attacked Teller for reasons that were only peripherally related to the Oppenheimer matter. JoshuaZ 21:04, 5 March 2007 (EST)
Back then, Joshua, conservatives were anti-communists and liberals were not. The simplification is quite accurate. Conservatives backed Teller; liberals backed Oppy. Conservatives revoked Oppy's security clearance; liberals restored it.--Aschlafly 21:00, 5 March 2007 (EST)
Again, inaccurate for a variety of reasons. Especially if you look at the political views of the scientists who actually spoke up. JoshuaZ 21:04, 5 March 2007 (EST)
Also, a lot of the treatement of Oppenheimer had nothing to do with communism, communism was an excuse by a number of people who didn't like him. I strongly recommend that anyone who hasn't done so read Priscilla McMilla's "The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer And the Birth of the Modern Arms Race" JoshuaZ 22:00, 5 March 2007 (EST)
I just looked at the WP article on Teller [3], and it has stuff like this:
The most damning piece of testimony, as seen by contemporaries and later historians, was his statement that: "If it is a question of wisdom and judgment, as demonstrated by actions since 1945, then I would say one would be wiser not to grant clearance."
I don't know what would be "damning" about that; JRO had his hearing and the authorities ended up agreeing with Teller. This is another example of WP bias that it uses unnamed sources like this to damn Teller. If there are people who really say that someone could dishonestly maintain commie connections (as JRO did) and still keep a security clearance, then they should be named. RSchlafly 23:04, 5 March 2007 (EST)
Actually, it was pretty daming because it showed how Teller didn't care much about whether or not Oppenheimer had done anything, all that mattered was his belief that Oppenheimer lacked sufficient "wisdom" (whatever that meant). In any event, "damining" is not NPOV, so I've replaced that. Now, it would very much help matters if instead of attacking problems on Wikipedia you addressed the concerns brought up here. The Wikipedia article could claim that Teller was an alien nazi from a moon of Saturn and it wouldn't alter in the slightest what our article here should have. JoshuaZ 23:10, 5 March 2007 (EST)
I read that as Teller referring to the "wisdom" of the authorities, not Teller.
I am not an expert on this. It sure seems to me that there was ample evidence against JRO. But it doesn't matter what I think. If there are really noteworthy people who thought that people like JRO should have had security clearances, then go ahead and cite them and their reasoning. RSchlafly 01:09, 6 March 2007 (EST)
Teller was not even cited in the decision to revoke Oppy's clearance. The real reason that liberals loathed Teller went beyond what he said at Oppy's congressional hearings. I think other witnesses and congressmen said worse. The real reason for ostracizing Teller is that he was ... a conservative. Teller supported the H-bomb. Wikipedia overplays the congressional hearins as the sole basis for ostracizing Teller.--Aschlafly 01:14, 6 March 2007 (EST)
Does McMilla argue that JRO was improperly stripped of his security clearance? If so, on what grounds? If not, how is her book relevant? If JoshuaZ wants to write a paragraph on why McMilla thought that lying commie fellow travelers should have security clearances, go ahead. I'd be interested. RSchlafly 02:33, 6 March 2007 (EST)

Theory of Fielding

I have recovered the Theory of Fielding from the WaybackMachine Theory of Fielding - Set O - Oppenheimer and sent HB Laes, its author an email to see if its still available on the web or if he would like to contribute. Here's a litle bit about Laes. [4] Paval Sudaplatov and Herbert Romerstein are also two other excellent sources for this and a few other articles. RobS 15:42, 9 March 2007 (EST)


Here is the actual text from p. 172 of Paval Sudaplatov's Special Tasks:

"Oppenheimer, Fermi, Szilard, and Szilard's secretary were often quoted in the NKVD files from 1942 to 1945 as sources for information on the development of the first American atomic bomb. It is in the record that on several occasions they agreed to share information on nuclear weapons with Soviet scientists. At first they were motivated by fear of Hitler; they believed that the Germans might produce the first atomic bomb. Then the Danish physicist Niels Bohr helped strengthen their own inclinations to share nuclear secrets with the world academic community. By sharing their knowledge with the Soviet Union, the chance of beating the Germans to the bomb would be increased.

Analyzing the evidence

Analyzing the Borden to Hoover, 2 November 1953 Memo, where the chief investigator was tasked to make a judgement and recommendation regarding Oppenheimers witting complicity with Soviet espionage, let's examine what Borden said.

After weighing all factors and evidence, this excerpt from the text appears to tip the scale, in Borden's mind, of complicity,

  • He was a vigorous supporter of the H-bomb program until August 6, 1945, (Hiroshima), on which day he personally urged each senior individual working in this field to desist;

Such an action appears to be more of implenting a policy directive than just a personal whim of Oppenheimers. Just 5 months before this memo the Rosenbergs had gone to the electric chair, as was known at the time, as willing scapegoats for higher-ups who passed more valuable information than they were able to get thier hands on. Thus, while Borden appears convinced in his mind of Oppenheimer's complicity, he still disclaims the findings with "more probably than not",

  • whether he became an actual espionage and policy instrument of the Soviets. Thus, as to this central problem, my opinion is that, more probably than not, the worst is in fact truth. RobS 17:48, 27 March 2007 (EDT)

These spies have never been identified, and one could have been Oppenheimer himself

Regarding These spies have never been identified, and one could have been Oppenheimer himself, I agree that this is true. But it needs better sourcing. The sources right now leave it to the reader to guess this (and I suspect Oppenheimer was a spy, with FDR cozying up to "Uncle Joe", and for other reasons not yet included in this article).

That being said, this sentence is original research as it is now, and not even very good original research. It is fine for a conversation between friends, but not on an Encyclopedia.

I have left the sentence in for the time being, in the hopes that I can find some credible second party source who has made such a connection. But if I cannot find it, we need to think about how to reword it while leaving it to the reader to decide if Oppenheimer was spilling the most sensitive of state secrets to the communists. HeartOfGold 02:16, 18 May 2007 (EDT)

Also, the sources I have looked at tonight do not mention "quantum" (code name)... HeartOfGold 02:18, 18 May 2007 (EDT)
I included two sources. Romerstein says point blank Oppenheimer was a traitor. The Sudaplatov material is very interesting, but controversial. I've included the Theory of Fielding link where HB Laes theorizes Oppenheimer is unidentified code name "Fielding" recruited by Morris Cohen circa 1938; Morris's wife, Lona Cohen was the actual currier who transported the details of the inner workings of the bomb from Los Alamos to New York & the KGB (not the David Greenglass - Harry Gold - Julius Rosenberg route which was believed for about 50 the bomb). I can assist with the sourcing if you wish to work on this, as I'm well aquainted with Venona materials and other sources. RobS 10:53, 18 May 2007 (EDT)
Sure, sounds good. HeartOfGoldtalk 00:28, 19 May 2007 (EDT)

I notice the cite provided for Sudaplatov does not address Sudaplatov at all. It refers to the PSI's Executive Transcripts. I have changed the text to quote directly from the transcritps, and inserted the direct citation to the PSI transcritps. RobS 15:02, 19 May 2007 (EDT)

Sounds good again. This is an interesting article, and I plan to do some better research to help improve it. HeartOfGoldtalk 13:00, 20 May 2007 (EDT)
I think we need some direct language from Rommerstein & Breindel. RobS 16:37, 20 May 2007 (EDT)