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Tags: j. robert oppenheimer | communist | film | hollywood

Oppenheimer Film a Historical Travesty

j. robert oppenheimer
J. Robert Oppenheimer (Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 05 October 2023 12:50 PM EDT

Universal's summer blockbuster "Oppenheimer" has grossed just under a staggering $1 billion in global ticket sales, with over $300 million from North American theaters plus another $600 million internationally, far better than other films Hollywood was counting on to offset the devastating strike by the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA.

The bio of the father of the atomic bomb which won the war against the Japanese may well win Academy awards for many, including Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan, the director and Robert Downey, Jr., as Lewis Strauss, "Oppie's" allegedly vicious antagonist. (See John Gizzi's Aug. 29 column about how the filmmakers markedly wronged Strauss, a former Navy admiral and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.)

Leave it to Hollywood to falsely claim that the famed physicist was smeared by an hysterical anti-Communist community of lawmakers, federal bureaucrats, the FBI, President Dwight Eisenhower and even Oppenheimer's Communist friends who, in taped conversations by the Bureau, repeatedly acknowledged he was a secret party member who sided with Joseph Stalin over his own country.

Those who rely on the movie for why Oppenheimer was eventually denied his security clearance will be cheated of the truth and think worse of their country for this intentional and knowingly harmful omission.

Hollywood has always been soft on communists and still refuses to acknowledge that Oppenheimer was an admirer of the Soviet Union even when it became clear that the evil empire was the deadly enemy of the United States and the West. On Nov. 7, 1953, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover received proof that "Oppie" had long been a loyal agent of that bloody rulers in the Kremlin. The smoking gun was an explosive letter from William Borden, former executive director of Congress's Joint Atomic Energy Committee.

The letter was prompted by the government's compilation of a massive dossier on Oppenheimer that included, as one author would later write, "eleven years' minute surveillance of the scientist's life," with his office and home bugged, his telephone tapped and his mail opened. Oppenheimer himself was stunned and embarrassed by the revelation of his subversive conduct and repeatedly lied about it under oath.

On Dec. 16, 2022, Jennifer Granholm, President Biden's Department of Energy Secretary, vacated the 1954 decision to revoke his security clearance on the grounds that it didn't properly follow some of the AEC procedures. But she pointedly noted that her report would not "reconsider the substantive merits" of the findings which have never been successfully challenged.

Borden's charges were blunt. He said that "based upon my years of study of the available classified evidence" Oppenheimer is probably "an agent of the Soviet Union." As of April, 1942, he "was contributing substantial monthly sums to the Communist Party," even though he would publicly deny the charge. His party ties had also survived the "Nazi-Soviet Pact and the Soviet attack upon Finland."

His wife and younger brother "were Communists" and he had "at least one Communist mistress," the Borden letter went on. He belonged "only to Communist organizations, apart from professional affiliations." He had "been instrumental in securing recruits for the Communist Party." And was in "frequent contact with Soviet Espionage agents" as well as repeatedly giving "false information" about his Communist Party activities to Brigadier Gen. Leslie Groves, who was head of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, best known for its central role in developing the first atomic bomb.

The FBI had opened a file on Oppenheimer as early as 1941, after he had failed to immediately inform superiors that three men in Berkeley, California, had been solicited to obtain nuclear secrets for the Soviet Union and that both he and his brother Frank had been urged to help them. One of his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley was Haakon Chevalier, who worked with Oppenheimer on various Communist enterprises and who urged him to give Soviet Union Premier Josef Stalin what he wanted.

The Bureau opened its file on Oppenheimer after he had attended a December, 1940, meeting at Chevalier's home that was also attended by the Communist Party's California state secretary William Schneiderman and its treasurer Isaac Folkoff, each of whom was being wiretapped by the FBI.

In early 1943, Chevalier had a brief conversation with Oppenheimer in Chevalier's kitchen, with Chevalier mentioning that a scientist, George Eltenton, could transmit information of a technical nature to the Soviet Union about our progress on the highly secretive atomic bomb project that Oppenheimer was working on.

He initially rejected the overture to assist Eltenton but failed to report the incident until August of 1943. His failure to promptly report what was clearly a Soviet espionage effort would become central to the decision to revoke his security clearance. Oppenheimer did not report the recruitment effort until six months later. In subsequent interviews with Army security, he admitted he had been approached, but he refused to name Chevalier or anyone else who might have been involved. Not until December, 1943, in response to a direct order from Groves, did he name Chevalier.

From 1937 to 1942, he was a member at Berkeley of what he called "a discussion group," which was later identified by fellow members Chevalier and Gordon Griffiths as a "closed" or "secret" unit of the Communist Party for Berkeley faculty.

At his 1954 hearings, he denied ever having been a member of the party, but identified himself only as a fellow traveler who had many communist friends and had given to many communist causes. As respected Oppenheimer scholars Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes write in the September issue of "Commentary," he had willingly committed "perjury" on numerous occasions when he "flatly denied that he had ever been a party member."

The Borden letter further reveals how Oppenheimer influenced our military policy in multiple ways designed to weaken America and tip the nuclear scale to favor Moscow. He was "remarkably influential," the letter goes on, "to make it difficult for us to respond militarily to growing Soviet atomic capabilities, opposing even nuclear-powered submarine and aircraft programs as well as industrial power projects." And this is just a small portion of an immense amount of damaging information that the FBI had gathered.

Not until December, 1953, however, was Oppenheimer faced with revocation of his security clearance. The Cold War was in full swing and Kenneth D. Nichols, general manager of the Atomic Energy Commission, had prepared a lengthy list of charges against the famed physicist designed to revoke his existing clearance.

The chairman of the Personnel Security Board that heard Oppenheimer was Gordon Gray, president of the University of North Carolina. The other members of the hearing panel were Thomas Alfred Morgan, a retired industrialist, and Ward V. Evans, chairman of the chemistry department at Northwestern University. The hearings lasted through May 6, when an Oppenheimer attorney made a closing statement on his behalf.

Oppenheimer's clearance was revoked by a 2-1 vote of the panel. Gray and Morgan voted in favor. Evans against. The board rendered its decision on May 27, 1954, in a sober 15,000 word letter to Nichols. It found that 20 of the 24 charges about his extraordinary violation of national security regulations were either true or substantially true. The board found that Oppenheimer's association with Chevalier "is not the kind of thing that our security system permits on the part of one who customarily has access to information of the highest classification" and concluded that "Oppenheimer's continuing conduct reflects a serious disregard for the requirements of the security system." He was also susceptible "to influence which could have serious implications for the security interests of the country." His attitude toward the H-bomb program also raised further doubt about whether his future participation "would be consistent with the best interests of security," and that Oppenheimer had been "less than candid in several instances" in his testimony. The majority then recommended that his security clearance not be reinstated.

On June 12, 1954, Nichols weighed in against Oppenheimer with even more force. He bluntly stated that Oppenheimer "was a Communist in every sense except that he did not carry a party card," and that the Chevalier incident indicated that he "is not reliable or trustworthy" and that his misstatements might have represented criminal conduct. His "obstruction and disregard for security" showed "a consistent disregard of a reasonable security system." On June 29 the AEC upheld the findings of the Personnel Security Board, with four commissioners voting in favor and one opposed. President Eisenhower, deeply concerned about Oppenheimer's deliberate mishandling of national security issues, ordered that a "blank wall" be placed between Oppenheimer and the nation's atomic secrets.

Other officials with affection for Oppenheimer and his success in developing the A-bomb also believed he should be denied his security clearance. Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb which Oppenheimer opposed, testified that he believed he was loyal, but said he would like to see the vital interests of this country in hands that he could "trust more." Since after the war ended in 1945 [when the Soviet Union emerged as our major enemy], "I would say one would be wiser not to grant clearance."

Groves, testifying as a witness for the AEC against Oppenheimer, whom he had put in charge of developing the atomic bomb, reaffirmed his decision to hire him since he believed his expertise and leadership abilities were instrumental to its success. But he also said that under the security criteria in effect in 1954, "he would not clear Dr. Oppenheimer today."

Oppenheimer was hardly a victim of mob justice as Hollywood likes to suggest. He had been convicted by his peers and his friends, many of them doing so reluctantly, after a lengthy trial in which Oppenheimer, beyond dispute, had been given every opportunity to defend himself against overwhelming evidence that he was protecting and financing a foreign enemy who wished us enormous harm. Nor were those who opposed his conduct without compassion.

The movie could have acknowledged, for instance, that Strauss, as detailed by Gizzi, agreed he had violated national security, but found him a well-paying job as the new director for the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. It could also have noted that Teller, post Oppenheimer's conviction by the Gray Commission, worked with President John Kennedy to give the controversial physicist the prestigious and highly remunerative Fermi award.

Instead, Hollywood defames those who did their duty and, with malice, leaves the impression that Oppenheimer was the victim of an unjust America.

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US
Universal's summer blockbuster "Oppenheimer" has grossed just under a staggering $1 billion in global ticket sales, but the story of the father of the atomic bomb is far from accurate.
j. robert oppenheimer, communist, film, hollywood
1750
2023-50-05
Thursday, 05 October 2023 12:50 PM
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