J. Robert Oppenheimer was born on April 22, 1904. While Oppenheimer often claimed the "J" stood for nothing, his birth certificate shows it to stand for Julius (his father's first name). Oppenhimer's brother, Frank, thought his parents did not want J. Robert to be known as a "junior".
Oppenheimer became officially involved in the atomic bomb project in Oct. 1941. This would come to be known as the Manhattan Engineer District Project. In Nov. 1942 he was appointed Director of what was to become the Los Alamos Laboratory, which would design and construct the atomic bomb. General Leslie Groves selected him in spite of Oppenheimer's past associations with left wing organizations. Oppenheimer was an effective organizer at Los Alamos due to his ability to quickly understand scientific ideas and for his personal charisma.
Oppenheimer welcomed the chance to support the war effort and to finally play a major role in the scientific world. And he found the project "technically sweet".
People marveled at how he seemed to understand any concept instantly. Almost everyone considered him to be their intellectual superior. He had the greatest memory anyone had ever seen. He seemed to keep all aspects of the Manhattan Project in his head, along with an impressive knowledge of the arts and literature.
Oppenheimer was also an advisor to the Target Committee, which recommended Japanese targets for the atomic bombs.
Oppenheimer headed the Scientific Panel which advised the Interim Committee to use the atomic bomb on Japan. Later he explained of the Committee, "We didn't know beans about the military situation in Japan. We didn't know whether they could be caused to surrender by other means or whether the invasion was really inevitable." (U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, "In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer", pg. 34).
The Scientific Panel also recommended, for the sake of good international relations, that Russia should be told of the atomic bomb before it was used on Japan. To Oppenheimer's disappointment, this advice was not taken.
Near the end of his life, Oppenheimer expressed mixed feelings about the atomic bombings:
- Doug Long
For further information:
Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tregedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, 2005, [This is the definitive biography of Oppenheimer, and a very interesting read]
Nuel Pharr Davis, Lawrence & Oppenheimer
Peter Goodchild, J. Robert Oppenheimer: Shatterer of Worlds
Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Alice Kimball Smith and Charles Weiner, editors, Robert Oppenheimer: Letters and Recollections
Peter Wyden, Day One: Before Hiroshima and After
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