Discover more from Oppenheimer and the Legacy of His Bomb
Welcome to Oppenheimer, the Blog
A daily report on the man, the movie, my book, and the Bomb and its effects, from 1945 to today.
Greetings, as the countdown to the opening of the Christopher Nolan epic hits the eight-day mark. For the past couple of years or so, I have written and published a fairly popular Substack newsletter mainly on politics and music, but decided this week to also offer this bonus material on the side.
Why? Every summer for more than a decade, in the month before marking another sad anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan, I write or re-post (such as here) numerous pieces related to this tragedy and its aftermath. Now, in 2023, we have the new Nolan movie and fresh attention to my award-winning book, The Beginning or the End, about the first and horribly false Hollywood movie about the atomic bomb, which Oppenheimer, for some reason, aided. There’s so much to report at this time that I felt an old-style daily blog was the route to try, but that would mean subjecting all of my subscribers (here mainly for politics and music) to this single-minded focus, however important and fascinating it may be.
So starting this separate daily page with a clean slate of subscribers eliminates that burden. But if YOU want to see it every day for awhile—perhaps no longer than another month or so—then subscribe, for gosh sake. It’s free, and when this period ends, it will no longer clog your in-box any longer.
My probable expertise on this subject: I became the editor of Nuclear Times in 1982 (one of my top staffers was young David Corn). Went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki for a month on journo grant two years later, wrote about it for The New York Times and other leading outlets—and dozens of more articles later. Co-wrote with the great Robert Jay Lifton a classic book, Hiroshima in America, in 1995. Then the book Atomic Cover-up, and directed the acclaimed film based on that book in 2021 (see link down the page). Plus, The Beginning or the End, and etc.
Enough of that intro, here are today’s items. Stay tuned for this weekend, as I will be attending a rather exclusive early Oppenheimer screening in NYC, plus a panel with Nolan, Kai Bird (my friend and author of the book on which the movie is based), and other notables.
Thursday afternoon update: New 5-minute preview of film just launched, most yet…
I wrote a piece published yesterday by two venerable left-liberal sites, Raw Story and its partner Alternet. Not sure about the pay walls at either so check out both links if need be. It explores one of Oppenheimer’s little-noted roles in the much-covered first test of his bomb at the Trinity site, as the 78th anniversary of that arrives this Sunday.
Oppenheimer was aware of the potential for radioactive debris from the test to float in clouds off-site and endanger local residents and their livestock. Yet he did nothing to promote evacuation or even a warning to these citizens, and indeed they would be subjected to radiation and their cattle suffered afflications and burned hair—at least one mule was paralyzed. These “downwinders” later claimed to suffer excessive health problems; their survivors’ complaints continue today.
About a month after the Nagasaki bombing, Oppenheimer led a press junket to the Trinity site with the express purpose to “give lie to” stories of radiation threats and a new radiation illness. For more, read one of my pieces linked above. And all of this is in my book, of course.
There’s a lengthy new interview with Nolan in the L.A. Times by Kenneth Turan. Lot of the same stuff he has revealed in other chats but also some new. But come on. He defends casting Matt Damon as a rather “charismatic” and sympathetic Gen. Leslie Groves. Note: Groves was extremely fat and a bully, promoted the use of the bomb against Japan at all cost, refused to delay even a minute before hitting Nagasaki, and then did more than anyone to suppress information about radiation dangers (causing untold harm to workers and soldiers and then millions of Americans subjected to fallout from nuclear tests in the years following).
He also ordered dozens of changes in that MGM movie (see my book) that transformed it from a warning to the world from scientists to pro-bomb propaganda from the Pentagon and White House. That’s evil charisma. The casting of Paul Newman as Groves helped wreck an earlier movie, Fat Man and Little Boy.
As I noted on Twitter and elsewhere yesterday, the studio has ordered an embargo on full reviews of Oppenheimer by film critics but some of them took to Twitter to offer comments in advance, almost all of them raves of various stripes. Myself, I have no doubt about the film artistry and craftsmanship but I am anxious to judge a few other things, you know, like script, accuracy, tone, slant, message….
I will also post a link here to the trailer for my 2021 film Atomic Cover-up, which played at 20 festivals (from Hawaii to NYC, from Rio and Berlin) and won three awards. What happened at the other end of The Bomb.
Today, I start what might be called an ambitious Book Tour (from my living room couch and dining room table) as my The Beginning or the End gains new interest. Contact me here or elsewhere if you would like to interview me or cover the book. O course, I will be available through the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings on August 6 and 9.
Today: four interviews by phone and zoom. Much more to follow. And look for my major pieces coming this weekend at Mother Jones and on Monday at the wonderful LitHub. I first wrote for MoJo back in 1985—an interview with, of all people, Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets. Three years ago, I contributed to LitHub a piece on John Hersey and his landmark “Hiroshima” article. More pieces coming. So you might want to subscribe here.
Loved this headline in Variety: ‘Oppenheimer’ London Premiere to Start an Hour Earlier So Cast Can Attend Before Possible SAG-AFTRA Strike Begins. More here.
Musical commentary: Bob Dylan, almost a kid, in earliest live recorded performance of ‘Hard Rain.’
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