Friday, March 7, 2014

J. Robert Oppenheimer: The American Prometheus

Oppenheimer at age 40.

"There are children who are playing in the street who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception." The Medium is the Massage

J. Robert Oppenheimer was an enigmatic genius that led a tragic life that has inspired an opera, Doctor Atomic, and that continues to beguile historians. For better or worse, Oppenheimer will forever be remembered as the mind that birthed the atomic bomb. The creator of weaponized death on a massive scale. As he said after the successful trinity test at Los Alamos, "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

The Manhattan Project was a research and developmental project that was convened during World War II due to the fear that Germany might gain access to nuclear weaponry before the Allies, securing their victory in the war. Oppenheimer was named director of The Manhattan Project, and under his leadership America successfully acquired the atomic bomb before the Germans. Oppenheimer knew the destructive force that he had created, and he feared its use in military strategy. He proposed that there be strict international regulation of atomic weaponry and favored the idea of diplomacy over combat. Ultimately, Oppenheimer was ignored, and President Truman dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in response to Pearl Harbor. The military necessity of this move was questioned by many and Oppenheimer was burdened with guilt as a result. As payment for his contributions to America, Oppenheimer was ultimately accused of communism and died an early death from throat cancer, a broken and discredited man.

Hiroshima after the bomb.

In McLuhan, the use of technology is greatly debated, and some great ethical and societal implications are made. One of those being that the technology that we use shapes the way we use and process information as a society. For example, linear science caused us to think and progress in a linear fashion.  Formal education and societal influence, in turn, results in restrictions upon our technology, causing it to be used in a non ideal fashion, or, at the very least, not to it's full potential. Men and women who often seek to innovate technology or a way of thinking are then met with obstacles imposed by society, education, and the law. Oppenheimer represents an innovator whose technology was ultimately abused to fulfill a desire for revenge rather than to facilitate progress. His story serves as a cautionary tale as to the consequences of technology. It pays for society to open their eyes and think with a mind of their own.

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