How Did J. Robert Oppenheimer Become The American Prometheus?


There was a constant fight between what J. Robert Oppenheimer knew and what he felt. He was conflicted since the time he realized the devastation an atomic bomb could have, but he closed his eyes, believing that the world also couldn’t see at. At times, he intentionally turned a deaf ear to the voice of his conscience, and at times, it haunted him so much that it became the reason for his miserable existence. When an individual is standing on the brink of making a decision, the impact of which would either make or break him, there is a moment when he knows exactly what he is doing. That is the moment of eternal truth where you see everything for what it is, but Oppenheimer disregarded it and made a choice by feeding his delusions.

There is a scene in the film where the Hungarian-American physicist Edward Teller asks Robert if they should just demonstrate the havoc that the atomic bomb would wreck because he was of the opinion that no human who had seen it explode before his own eyes would ever dare to let that happen again. But Robert literally made an excuse, saying that it was imperative that the Japanese surrender at all costs and it could only happen if they dropped the bomb. He and even Edward knew that they were letting it happen because they wanted to see what their creation was capable of. Scientists are people of passion, and they have this child-like enthusiasm and excitement to unwrap their toys and see for themselves what they could do, and Oppenheimer and his team at Los Alamos were no different.

Also, if it was not evident to Robert what the ramifications of his actions could be, then Niels Bohr, who had been a mentor to him, stated it explicitly to him. He came to the United States of America only to tell Robert that he was going to become the American Prometheus. He said that he was going to give the people the power to destroy themselves, and the irony was that the people were going to love him for that because they didn’t understand what he had actually done by making that bomb. Niels Bohr told Robert not to misconstrue what that applause meant since the people didn’t really know that it was not just a bomb but an assurance that the world they lived in would completely change.

Prometheus stole the fire from the Olympian gods and gave it to humanity so that they could flourish and expand their horizons. He was called the father of humanity, but also, in a way, he gave them the means to bring their own doom upon them. Robert Oppenheimer was going to do the same thing, and Niels Bohr felt that it was his responsibility to make him visualize the aftermath of his actions. Even Leo Szilard met him and asked him to come on board with the team of scientists who were making a petition to not drop that bomb on Japan. But Oppenheimer was too deep in the swamp to retract his footsteps. He was too involved to take a step back, and even when a part of him was constantly telling him that he was just fooling himself, he decided to go ahead with it.

Robert sat in the meeting when it was being discussed where they should drop the bomb, and it was probably the most inhumane conversation that one can ever imagine having. All they were doing in that meeting was trying to validate their own claims by saying that the bomb would save a lot of American lives. They were trying to ascertain where they should drop the bomb so that they could control the collateral damage, and that in itself told us how they were deceiving themselves.

By being the American Prometheus, Robert was supposed to be a beacon of hope for humanity, but when that blindfold was removed from his eyes, and he had the courage and honesty to face the truth, he knew that the world was never ready for his creation and maybe it never would be. After everything had happened and the world ceased to be the way it was once, Robert met Albert Einstein, who told him that the time had come when he had to deal with the consequences of his own achievement.

Well, how many times do you use the words “achievements” and “consequences” in the same sentence? Such was the paradox that Robert Oppenheimer faced in his life. He couldn’t stop himself from doing what he did, and when his work was done, he knew that the guilt and regret would eat him up alive. Yes, there are people who can easily brush off the responsibility and not have any kind of guilt, but Robert was not one of them. He told Albert Einstein that he had triggered a chain reaction much more devastating than the neutron split that he was scared of in the beginning. The world was not going to be the same after Little Boy and Fat Man kissed the surfaces of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And it was just the beginning, and greater beasts were about to be unleashed. It was the end of World War II and the beginning of a cold war between Russia and the United States of America. It was the beginning of an arms race in which, very soon, many other superpowers and developed and developing nations were going to take part. Some called it progress; some called it inevitable doom.

There was a point in Robert’s life when he was trying really hard to repent for his actions, but the destruction was so great that a single lifetime was too short a time to attain salvation. Kitty Oppenheimer didn’t shy away from telling him the truth, saying that he had blood on his hands, and he would never be able to wash it off. The administration sidelined him, and he knew that he couldn’t blame anybody but himself for it. Those visions, those cries, and those faces never stopped haunting the American Prometheus till the very end, and he realized that he had indeed become death, who had ravaged the world and changed it forever.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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