Oppenheimer, destroyer of worlds

On this day 78 years ago — July 16, 1945 — the first atomic bomb was tested. It was the world’s first nuclear explosion, and a few weeks later the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, ending World War II.

Readers too young or too oblivious to appreciate the history should see the new Hollywood film Oppenheimer, premiering July 21. The big-screen presentation will no doubt be impressive. But perhaps better, watch the documentary To End All War: Oppenheimer & the Atomic Bomb, currently streaming on Hulu and Peacock. While the movie is still an unknown, the documentary is interesting, coldly factual, and extremely sobering — as it should be.

Those first bombs were detonated almost eight decades ago, and no nuclear weapons have been used since then. Which is a very good thing. Today’s weapons (up to 100 megatons) make the original bombs (15 and 20 kilotons, respectively) look like toys. For a comparison of then and now, see what these weapons could do to some of the world’s great cities.


Readers might also enjoy the New York Times essay “The Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.”

12 thoughts on “Oppenheimer, destroyer of worlds

  1. Cogitating upon how we might be living had there been no drop on Hiroshima or Nagasaki is useless, of course; and authors have long since written novels post-WWII after a win for the other side. But when faced with the obscenity of these nuclear bombs’ effects, we’re kind of obliged to wonder .. I believe ..

    1. You cogitate as did the folks who ultimately decided to drop those bombs. They figured the loss of life from the bombs (afterwards estimated between 129,000 and 226,000) would be less than the total losses if the war continued. We’ll never know if they were right.

    1. The movie may impress with its color and big screen presentation, but even “true” movies take liberties for dramatic effect. No liberties are necessary with this story. The facts alone, presented in black and white, need no enhancement.

  2. It is the potential of nuclear weapons and the ease of delivery that is so frightening, but there are other technologies of war of course. Even in WW II, the fire bombing of Tokyo surpassed the death toll of each of the atomic bombs. Makes me think of cruise missiles and cluster bombs. There’s no way to put the genie back in the bottle.

  3. Also on July 16, in 1969, Apollo 11 departed Earth for the moon landing.

    I’m looking forward to the new film too, as a fan of the actor playing Oppenheimer, and to see how Oppenheimer’s deep regrets afterward are portrayed.

    1. Oh, I hadn’t realized that. Such a momentous event.

      I’m crossing my fingers that the movie lives up to its potential and tells the story accurately.

  4. …when I was a kid, my mother was a leading member of ‘Operation Dismantle’, an organization that successfully argued at the Supreme Court of Canada for the banning of US cruise-missile testing over Canada. We were a big anti-nuke family, so I knew about Oppenheimer pretty early on. When I was 12- or 13-years old, I used to have this little chapbook called (I think) ‘This Is How The World Will End; This Is How You Will End… Unless’. And it was just a book of diagrams of how your city would ‘survive’ a nuclear strike of various sizes.

    For example, if someone dropped a 40Mt bomb on Ottawa, everything / one in the first circle would be turned to dust from the flash. Everything / one in the second circle would die from the blast… and so on, etc. The book gave estimates of casualties, and how people in each circle would die. The ‘NukeMap’ Website you linked to is very similar to the book.

    Hollywood tends to leave us out of movies like this, but there were several Canadians working on The Manhattan Project. In fact, Canada supplied the uranium oxide, heavy water, and polonium to the Manhattan Project.

    I plan on seeing the movie next week. I’d also like to see Barbie.

    1. I didn’t realize Canada had any involvement whatsoever. I hope the movie is accurate on that point. On every point, for that matter, given the exposure it will have. Now might be a particularly good time to remind the public what’s possibly at stake in Ukraine.

      1. Hey, thanks. That was very interesting. I can’t imagine how those workers felt, like Oppenheimer, knowing what they’d unleashed on the world. But if not them, then it would have been someone else. Interesting observation about the two halves and how, if the lower half was being raised instead of the upper half being lowered, a mistake would have caused them to separate rather than come together.

        I visited Los Alamos once when traveling in that area back in the ’60s or ’70s. My recollection is of a sleepy little town perched on top of a mesa with only one road in. Easy to secure and defend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *