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<v Hans Bethe>[music plays] The first reaction which we had was one <v Hans Bethe>of fulfillment. <v Hans Bethe>Now it has been done. Now the work that we have been engaged <v Hans Bethe>in for so many years has contributed <v Hans Bethe>to the wall. <v Hans Bethe>The second reaction was of course, one of shock and awe. <v Hans Bethe>What have we done? <v Hans Bethe>What have we done? <v Hans Bethe>And the third reaction. <v Hans Bethe>It shouldn't be done again. <v Jane Wilson>You were very depressed. I came back from San Francisco and uh found <v Jane Wilson>you very depressed. You as as as a in opposition to your <v Jane Wilson>euphoria when the war, uh the at VE day <v Jane Wilson>when we had that very nice party and uh you started throwing the garbage cans <v Jane Wilson>around.
<v Jane Wilson>Uh you were uh very depressed and uh we didn't have a party. <v Jane Wilson>I think there was a party. I don't even know if we went. <v Narrator>Were you depressed? <v Robert Wilson>Oh, [Jane Wilson: yes, he was depressed] I remember being just ill. <v Robert Wilson>[Jane Wilson: just sick] um sick with a the the point that <v Robert Wilson>I thought would be [clears throat] you know, vomit. <v Robert Wilson>I was so uh overwhelmed when it happened. <v Robert Wilson>That that thing had happened. <v Robert Wilson>Still am. [laughs] <v Narrator>What was what was Robert's reaction to the news? <v Frank Oppenheimer>I th- I don't know I th- um. I, I can imagine that it was a very different. <v Frank Oppenheimer>A a feeling <v Frank Oppenheimer>that uh an initial feeling that thank God it wasn't a dud, and then <v Frank Oppenheimer>almost immediate horror of what had really happened. <v Man 1>It did bring home to one how powerful <v Man 1>this is. [music plays]?inaudible? Treated <v Man 1>humans as matter.
<v Narrator>Hiroshima, August 6th, 1945. The first uranium <v Narrator>bomb exploded with a light so bright it could have been seen from another planet. <v Narrator>More than 100,000 killed. <v Narrator>40,000 injured. 20,000 missing. <v Narrator>Burns, blindness, radiation sickness. <v Narrator>It took only nine seconds. <v Narrator>Today, even now, the victims still suffer and die. <v Narrator>Three days later, a second bomb, a plutonium bomb, dropped on Nagasaki. <v Narrator>80,000 dead. <v Narrator>In early September, a scientific team from Los Alamos was sent to Japan <v Narrator>to study the effects of the two bombs. <v Narrator>One member of the team was Robert Server. <v Robert Server>We- you know, everybody, we have defen- defense mechanisms of some <v Robert Server>kind that build up in uh un- under under any
<v Robert Server>uh under stresses of lifetime. Somehow [laughs] you uh you get hardened to <v Robert Server>it in a couple of days, no matter what you see. <v Robert Server>And you manage you managed to survive that way. <v Robert Server>I'm sure it happens to all soldiers in all wars. <v Robert Server>But the mean, the thing that was really astonishing about the whole thing <v Robert Server>that uh ?inaudible? and I wandered around Nagasaki and <v Robert Server>l-Hiroshima, you know, for several weeks. <v Robert Server>Uh complete- you know completely alone on our on our own. <v Robert Server>And there- we had no difficulty at all with the people, they were perfectly <v Robert Server>friendly. Not well wouldn't say really friendly, but but <v Robert Server>but there was no antagonism visible. <v Robert Server>We wandered around the ruins among people whose families had all been killed. <v Robert Server>We had no feeling of danger at all.
<v Robert Server>Uh it's uh piece of the wall of a schoolhouse in <v Robert Server>school room in Hiroshima, which about half a mile <v Robert Server>from uh where the bomb went off and its flash burned <v Robert Server>and scarred by broken glass. <v Robert Server>We can see the shadows of the uh of the window <v Robert Server>sash and the and the uh, and the chord <v Robert Server>of the uh shade. <v Robert Server>And from the the angle of which this shadow <v Robert Server>was cast to we can m- we can measure the height at which the bomb <v Robert Server>went went off. And this was the evidence that it really went off at the height it was <v Robert Server>supposed to in Hiroshima. <v Freeman Dyson>After this was all over about two years later, Oppenheimer gave <v Freeman Dyson>a talk I think at M.I.T.
<v Freeman Dyson>It was then afterwards republished and quoted all over the world and became one of his <v Freeman Dyson>most famous utterances. And it said roughly, the physicists <v Freeman Dyson>have known sin. And this is a knowledge which they cannot lose. <v Freeman Dyson>And it became a kind of motif for <v Freeman Dyson>the for the for the for the whole community of <v Freeman Dyson>physicists. And there were violent arguments. <v Freeman Dyson>Many people who had been at Los Alamos were very angry. <v Freeman Dyson>They said Oppenheimer has no right to weep in public for us since what we were doing <v Freeman Dyson>was an honest piece of technical <v Freeman Dyson>work to win the war, we win no more guilty than anybody else who built weapons in order <v Freeman Dyson>to win the war. And he has no right to talk about our having sinned. <v Robert Wilson>At the end of the war then I gave up my uh clearance and I have not worked on <v Robert Wilson>didn't work on nuclear energy in any uh in any of its <v Robert Wilson>aspect on the development ?horror of? <v Robert Wilson>bombs.
<v Frank Oppenheimer>Uh I I know it's is <v Frank Oppenheimer>somehow um I can't feel that it was something that I should would not have <v Frank Oppenheimer>done. <v Frank Oppenheimer>Um or should not have done at the time that is that the um that the <v Frank Oppenheimer>reasons for doing that, the, the worry about fascism. <v Frank Oppenheimer>They were- were all quite valid in the sense that um there was almost <v Frank Oppenheimer>no way of stopping this from being done. <v Frank Oppenheimer>Um I think would have been good just to have stopped a little sooner, maybe after VE day. <v Frank Oppenheimer>I think it certainly would have been good never to have um used the thing on the city <v Frank Oppenheimer>and certainly never to have used twi- two of them. <v Robert Crohn>They were poised to land on the beaches of Japan and <v Robert Crohn>they knew that the number of casualties would be astronomical. <v Robert Crohn>Those people were happy for the bomb, believe me.
<v Robert Crohn>I was supposed to build some sample catching equipment to go on the third <v Robert Crohn>shot, which was to be dropped on Japan, and I was to go with it. <v Robert Crohn>However, as you know, Japan gave up before there was a third shot. <v Haakon Chevalier>Dear Haakon, your letter, your marvelous warm letter <v Haakon Chevalier>was one of the very few things that brought warmth to us over these troubled days. <v Haakon Chevalier>[crickets chirping] A few days after the surrender, we went over to our ranch for a <v Haakon Chevalier>little time of solitude, horses and the slow return to sanity. <v Haakon Chevalier>We are not sure we'll be coming back to Berkeley for permanent, despite the ties <v Haakon Chevalier>that make us want to. <v Haakon Chevalier>We are not too sure of anything personal. <v Haakon Chevalier>Longing both of us so much for stability. <v Haakon Chevalier>Yet knowing that we have been put in a time and the place <v Haakon Chevalier>where we may not be able in conscience to attain it.
<v Haakon Chevalier>The circumstances are heavy with misgiving and far, far <v Haakon Chevalier>more difficult than they should be that we power to remake the world, to be <v Haakon Chevalier>as we think it. [cheering] <v Narrator>The veil of secrecy was lifted, and most Americans believed the atomic bomb <v Narrator>had played a decisive role in ending the war. <v Narrator>The scholarly professor, the unworldly student of metaphysical poetry, <v Narrator>the former leftist, was suddenly a national hero. <v Narrator>A celebrity, father of the atomic bomb. <v Narrator>In 1947, he was appointed director of the prestigious Institute for Advanced <v Narrator>Studies in Princeton. He was Einstein's boss. <v Narrator>But much of his time in the postwar years was spent in Washington, where his council
<v Narrator>was eagerly sought at the highest levels of government. <v Narrator>He served on two dozen committees, testified frequently before Congress and <v Narrator>was even asked to run for public office, although he advised the government on its <v Narrator>atomic arsenal. He argued adamantly and publicly for the international control <v Narrator>of atomic weapons. <v Frank Oppenheimer>And his sense of what he wanted to accomplish when he was in the government <v Frank Oppenheimer>had less to do with physics than it had to do with, uh, with the with <v Frank Oppenheimer>the um sensible use <v Frank Oppenheimer>of the of this awful instrument that we made. <v Robert Oppenheimer>I have been asked whether in the years to come, it will be possible to kill <v Robert Oppenheimer>40 million American people in the 20 largest American towns <v Robert Oppenheimer>by the use of atomic bombs in a single night. <v Robert Oppenheimer>I am afraid that the answer to that question is yes.
<v Robert Oppenheimer>I have been asked by- [audio fades out] <v Freeman Dyson>Oppenheimer tried to maintain control of the atomic energy <v Freeman Dyson>enterprise to prevent the Air Force from abusing the weapons that he had <v Freeman Dyson>created. <v Robert Oppenheimer>I think the only hope for our future safety must lie in <v Robert Oppenheimer>a collaboration based on confidence and good faith with the other <v Robert Oppenheimer>peoples of the world. <v Frank Oppenheimer>I think he felt that he wanted to make a big difference. <v Frank Oppenheimer>Um I would arg- I argued with him quite a lot after the war. <v Frank Oppenheimer>Um I felt that the um the kind of big difference would <v Frank Oppenheimer>happen if one really taught people a lot about the the <v Frank Oppenheimer>dangers of the bomb, about the possibilities of cooperation. <v Frank Oppenheimer>He said there wasn't time for this. He'd been in the Washington scene. <v Frank Oppenheimer>He saw that everything was moving. <v Frank Oppenheimer>He felt that he had to change things um from within. <v Robert Oppenheimer>History again and again shows that we have no monopoly on ideas, <v Robert Oppenheimer>but we do better with them than most other countries.
<v Freeman Dyson>He was a philosopher king in his own mind, a man of wisdom who could <v Freeman Dyson>get along with other men of wisdom, who also had power. <v Freeman Dyson>He had the way of impressing himself very strongly as a wise man <v Freeman Dyson>on people who were influential. <v Robert Oppenheimer>But it is certainly not possible to take the definition of atomic energy and <v Robert Oppenheimer>the prohibition against indus- helping other nations industrially, literally. <v Robert Oppenheimer>And it is certainly not possible to do that, Mr. Senator, because everything we <v Robert Oppenheimer>do is contrary to it, [Senator: Everything is what?] contrary to it. <v Narrator>It was a different world after the war. <v Narrator>Americans perceived a new threat. <v Narrator>Russian and Chinese communism. <v Narrator>Arms control was an unpopular idea even before the Russians shocked America <v Narrator>by exploding their own atomic bomb in 1949, far sooner than <v Narrator>anyone expected. [whistle blowing] The arms race
<v Narrator>began in earnest, and Oppenheimer's Council for International Collaboration <v Narrator>was now less attractive to policymakers than the advice of his fellow scientist, <v Narrator>Edward Teller. Even during the war years at Los Alamos, Teller had <v Narrator>urged the development of a secret weapon radically different and radically more <v Narrator>destructive than the atom bomb. <v Narrator>The hydrogen bomb. <v Narrator>[typing] The general advisory committee to the Atomic Energy Commission, chaired by <v Narrator>Oppenheimer, issued a secret report opposing immediate development of the hydrogen <v Narrator>bomb on both technical and moral grounds. <v Man 2>I'm sure he thought that there was absolutely no need for <v Man 2>an- a hydrogen bomb. That there was no need really for any of these bombs. <v Man 2>And he felt that way even though he had worked on on the arsenal of <v Man 2>of fission bomb. <v Narrator>Despite the committee's advice, President Truman initiated a program to develop the <v Narrator>hydrogen bomb. And scientists at Los Alamos began to design the new
<v Narrator>device. Robert Oppenheimer was not among them. <v Narrator>[explosion] This <v Narrator>is an atomic bomb about the size of the one that devastated Hiroshima. <v Narrator>By 1950, it was considered too small for our defense. <v Narrator>The hydrogen bomb being developed would have 1000 times the destructive force. <v Narrator>One morning in November of 1952, the Pacific island of ?Elu Gallup? <v Narrator>was vaporized by the first hydrogen blast. <v Narrator>All that remained was a mile wide crater on the ocean floor. <v Narrator>[explosions] A <v Narrator>disbelieving America saw the Russians explode a hydrogen bomb within the same year.
<v Senator Joseph McCarthy>There are no secrets uh in so far as atomic and hydrogen bomb <v Senator Joseph McCarthy>developments is concerned from the communists. <v Senator Joseph McCarthy>I think- ?inaudible? I don't think we have any secrets from them at all. <v Narrator>Senator McCarthy's anticommunism dominated the 1950s. <v Narrator>When he mentioned Oppenheimer's left wing past publicly, it meant to some that <v Narrator>Oppenheimer was fair game. <v Senator Joseph McCarthy>Affidavits to the effect that he had been a member of the party that he had recommended <v Senator Joseph McCarthy>uh communist or work in the A bomb H bomb plants <v Senator Joseph McCarthy>uh ?inaudible? of course communist. That doesn't it doesn't make him a communist, but his <v Senator Joseph McCarthy>wife, admittedly, was a a the wife <v Senator Joseph McCarthy>of uh official of the Communist Party uh brother, a very <v Senator Joseph McCarthy>active man. <v Narrator>McCarthy did not attack Oppenheimer directly, but he had helped create the climate that <v Narrator>prompted President Eisenhower to seriously consider a letter from a former congressional <v Narrator>aide charging that Oppenheimer was a Russian spy.
<v Narrator>13 years of surveillance by campus police, the FBI, military intelligence. <v Narrator>Wiretaps. Reports from informants. <v Narrator>As many as five agents shadowed him in a single day. <v Narrator>Most of it was old news material disregarded in the past by General Groves <v Narrator>and others. When Oppenheimer was considered essential. <v Narrator>But in 1953, when presented with a thick dossier, Eisenhower immediately <v Narrator>ordered Oppenheimer's clearance suspended pending a hearing. <v Hans Bethe>He had very much the feeling that he was giving the best to the United States <v Hans Bethe>in the years during the war and after the war. <v Hans Bethe>In my personal opinion, he did, but uh others did <v Hans Bethe>not agree.
<v Hans Bethe>And in 1954, he was hauled before <v Hans Bethe>the tribune and accused <v Hans Bethe>of being a security risk, a risk through the United States. <v Hans Bethe>Risk to betray secrets. <v Narrator>The proceedings were conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission in secret. <v Narrator>There were no photographers, no reporters, no television, even Oppenheimer's attorneys <v Narrator>were excluded when classified material was discussed. <v Narrator>At issue was whether Robert Oppenheimer, a principal architect of the atomic bomb, could <v Narrator>be trusted with state secrets. <v Narrator>Along with numerous accusations relating to his Left-Wing past, Oppenheimer was <v Narrator>specifically accused of opposing the hydrogen bomb on technical, political and moral <v Narrator>grounds. And of having misled security officers in matters <v Narrator>relating to his old friend Haakon Chevalier. <v Narrator>During the war, Oppenheimer had reported George Eltonton's attempts to share secrets
<v Narrator>with the Russians. He told a story in such an ambiguous way that intelligence <v Narrator>officers were left with the impression that Haakon Chevalier was the center of a spy <v Narrator>ring and that he had contacted several physicists. <v Narrator>This mysterious fabrication was to cost the unwitting Chevalier his job and <v Narrator>was the most damaging evidence presented at Oppenheimer's hearing. <v Haakon Chevalier>This friend of mine who was the closest human being to me really <v Haakon Chevalier>uh at that time, that he had betrayed me in this way and told about <v Haakon Chevalier>me a lie which uh constituted <v Haakon Chevalier>if this had been true, it would have been a criminal conspiracy for which I would have <v Haakon Chevalier>been I could have been sentenced to a ?pretty long? <v Haakon Chevalier>prison term. <v Narrator>Oppenheimer never explained to Chevalier, nor to anyone else, why he had for 13 <v Narrator>years failed to undo the lie. <v Narrator>Also damaging to Oppenheimer was the testimony of his former Los Alamos colleague,
<v Narrator>Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, had previously complained to <v Narrator>government attorneys that Oppenheimer was a complex and vain man who had, <v Narrator>for moral reasons, impeded development of the hydrogen bomb. <v Narrator>Teller was somewhat more restrained at the hearing, but he did testify that Oppenheimer <v Narrator>should not be granted clearance. <v Narrator>Although the majority of witnesses, Nobel laureates, government advisers, <v Narrator>even General Groves, came to Oppenheimer's defense, it was to no avail. <v Narrator>The Atomic Energy Commission found that Oppenheimer was a security risk and his <v Narrator>clearance was never restored. <v Narrator>He was never again asked to advise the government of the United States, and he never <v Narrator>again worked in nuclear energy. [music plays] <v Hans Bethe>He was not the same person afterwards. <v Frank Oppenheimer>I think it really knocked him for a loop.
<v Frank Oppenheimer>Uh he wou- he he felt frustrated in accomplishing what he hoped to <v Frank Oppenheimer>do in the way of of getting peace. <v Frank Oppenheimer>He felt um really injured <v Frank Oppenheimer>by not being part of the of the by not being respected in government <v Frank Oppenheimer>in official circles. He wanted to get back into that, I think. <v Frank Oppenheimer>Um I don't know why, but I but I I think it's one of these things where there's a- when <v Frank Oppenheimer>you get the taste of it, it's hard to to not want it. <v Man 1>I think to a certain extent it actually almost killed him <v Man 1>spiritually. Yes. <v Man 1>It it achieved just what its opponents wanted to achieve. <v Man 1>Destroyed him. <v Man 3>Uh Mr. Oppenheimer could you tell us uh what your thoughts are about <v Man 3>what our atomic policy should be?
<v Robert Oppenheimer>No, I I I can't do that. <v Robert Oppenheimer>I'm not not close enough to the facts. <v Robert Oppenheimer>I'm I'm not close enough to the to the thoughts of those who <v Robert Oppenheimer>are worrying about. <v Man 3>What your thoughts are about the uh proposal of Senator Robert Kennedy <v Man 3>that uh President Johnson uh initiate talks <v Man 3>with a view to halt the spread of nuclear weapons? <v Robert Oppenheimer>It's 20 years too late. <v Robert Oppenheimer>It should have been done the day after Trinity. <v Robert Oppenheimer>[explosion] <v Narrator>The atomic bomb Robert Oppenheimer built and the hydrogen bomb he hoped could <v Narrator>never be built are now facts of life.
<v Narrator>[explosion] Since <v Narrator>the Trinity blast in 1945, there have been more than 1200 nuclear explosions <v Narrator>on the face of the Earth, the largest has 4000 times the force of the bomb <v Narrator>that leveled Hiroshima. <v Freeman Dyson>I felt it myself. <v Freeman Dyson>The glitter of nuclear weapons. <v Freeman Dyson>It is irresistible if you come to them as a scientist. <v Freeman Dyson>To feel it's there in your hands, to release this energy that fuels the stars. <v Freeman Dyson>To let it do your bidding and to perform these miracles, <v Freeman Dyson>to lift a million tons of rock into the sky. <v Freeman Dyson>It is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable power. <v Freeman Dyson>And it is in some ways responsible for all our troubles I would say. <v Freeman Dyson>This what you might call technical arrogance that overcomes people when <v Freeman Dyson>they see what they can do with their minds.
<v Man 1>I expect the human race may live on for a while. <v Man 1>And the differences between us and any possible opponent <v Man 1>are not that great. <v Man 1>In fact, I don't know any part of history where it would be proper <v Man 1>to use one of those very powerful bombs. <v Frank Oppenheimer>Nothing turned out quite as well as one thought it would. <v Frank Oppenheimer>During the war, we all thought that with this um
<v Frank Oppenheimer>device, which was a thousand times more powerful than anything else, we could really <v Frank Oppenheimer>influence the way nations talked about war. <v Frank Oppenheimer>And this is what my brother was so involved with after the war, because there <v Frank Oppenheimer>was no there were no vested interests. <v Frank Oppenheimer>There were no manufacturers of atomic bombs. <v Frank Oppenheimer>Nobody knew about it. One said, here is a fresh start and <v Frank Oppenheimer>uh s- a weapon that you can't use for war. <v Frank Oppenheimer>Um we can it can produce a change. <v Frank Oppenheimer>But it didn't. Uh everybody regards the atomic bomb as just another weapon as <v Frank Oppenheimer>part of our security. <v Robert Oppenheimer>We knew the world would not be the same, a few <v Robert Oppenheimer>people laughed. <v Robert Oppenheimer>A few people cried. <v Robert Oppenheimer>Most people were silent. <v Robert Oppenheimer>I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad <v Robert Oppenheimer>Gita. Vishnu- is
<v Robert Oppenheimer>trying to persuade the prince that he <v Robert Oppenheimer>should do his duty and to impress him <v Robert Oppenheimer>takes on his multi armed form and says, <v Robert Oppenheimer>now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. <v Robert Oppenheimer>I suppose we all thought that one way or another. <v Robert Oppenheimer>[music plays] [PBS theme plays]
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The Day after Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb
Part 2
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The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
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Episode Description
THE DAY AFTER TRINITY: J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER AND THE ATOMIC BOMB -Unnoticed by anyone beyond a remote corner of New Mexico, there was a brief, irrevocable moment in the early morning of July 16, 1945, when mankind lost its nuclear innocence. THE DAY AFTER TRINITY tells the story of the man who brought us to that awesome microsecond in history. J. Robert Oppenheimer was a student of poetry, a linguist of six tongues, searcher for spiritual ideals, and father of the atomic bomb. He lived the life of a gentle and eloquent humanist and, perhaps to his own surprise, became the practical architect of the most savage weapon in history. This contradiction lies at the heart of his public and personal drama and is the central theme of THE DAY AFTER TRINITY. The film contains extraordinary new archive footage, much of it de-classified for the first time, woven together with the candid recollections of Oppenheimer's close friends, revealing a moving drama of moral and historical forces at work. --1981 Peabody Awards entry form.
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Moving Image
Producing Organization: KTEH
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The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia
Identifier: 87034dct-2-arch (Peabody Object Identifier)
Format: U-matic
Duration: 1:30:00
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Chicago: “The Day after Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb; Part 2,” The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 21, 2024,
MLA: “The Day after Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb; Part 2.” The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 21, 2024. <>.
APA: The Day after Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb; Part 2. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from