THE OPPENHEIMER CASE: Security on Trial by Philip M. Stern


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An exhaustive, substantive, dismaying, involving review of the ""dry crucifixion"" of J. Robert Oppenheimer which, as the subtitle indicates, extends further in its implications for national security (a tangible commodity?). Long before Strauss and the Commission bring in their verdict of ""defects in his character,"" Mr. Stern indicates the divisive nature of the man (gentle, ascetic, charismatic on the one hand -- arrogant and ""annihilating"" -- one of his students -- on the other) which as much as anything contributed to it. Still, primarily, Oppenheimer was condemned for his beliefs and his associations; among the latter, the episode of the ""kitchen conversation"" with Haakon Chevalier, his friend at Berkeley, is taken up again and again and leads to the later admitted falsification and the enduring ambiguity of Oppenheimer's motivations; as for the beliefs, his resignation from Los Alamos after the war, his disapproval of the H-bomb, and the rankling bitterness of his former associate -- the strongwilled, vain Edward Teller -- also promoted the verdict. Mr. Stern's book gives the many particulars of those involved, a large part of the trial itself in which Oppenheimer's ""unaided memory"" had to compete with some eleven years of recorded scrutiny, and all the contradictory elements of the era as well as the individuals who participated -- particularly the great man who was his own worst witness. A special memoir by Oppenheimer's Chief Defense Counsel, Lloyd Garrison, appends this eminently inclusive and extensive re-examination.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1969
Publisher: Harper & Row