Oppenheimer’s vision for arms control is still upon us

By Andrew Facini | July 28, 2023

J. Robert Oppenheimer (as portrayed by actor Cillian Murphy) looks at the Trinity explosion from a bunker in a scene from Christopher Nolan's film 'Oppenheimer' (Image courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Christopher Nolan’s film Oppenheimer does a great job showing the speed and tenacity with which power brokers took control of the nuclear weapons enterprise once the weapons were created. From J. Robert Oppenheimer’s viewpoint, certainty about the need to defeat the Nazis gave way to some moral dilemma when only an “essentially defeated” Japan was left to target, which grew to a deeper concern about starting an arms race with the Soviet Union. In the end, his vision for arms control—and willingness to speak out for it—was incompatible with those drawing power from the bomb, and he was systematically and deliberately ruined for it.

We are unfortunately left with many consequences of that campaign today. Nuclear weapons procurement and policy decisions are driven almost wholly by a small number of interested actors forming the military-industrial complex. These processes need to be democratized, with decisions reflecting broader constituencies and definitions of national security. Those pushing for such changes need to be given stronger platforms, not sidelined as Oppenheimer was in 1954.


A Manhattan Project historian comments on ‘Oppenheimer’

Although Nolan’s film is not technically accurate throughout, the adjustments in 'Oppenheimer' are made for understandable artistic reasons, writes an historian of the Manhattan Project.

Oppenheimer’s vision for arms control is still upon us

Oppenheimer's vision for arms control was incompatible with those drawing power from the bomb. We are still there today, a nuclear policy expert argues.

‘Oppenheimer’ is terrific. But it’s just a movie

'Oppenheimer' might not have a lasting impact because the world-ending potential of nuclear weapons is now essentially taken for granted in public discussions, a Princeton physicist argues.

Thought-provoked by ‘Oppenheimer’

Christopher Nolan’s "Oppenheimer" authentically conveys the contradictions of the man, some I discovered in a small way, a physicist writes.

‘Oppenheimer’, the bomb, and arms control, then and now

The viewers of 'Oppenheimer' might walk out of theaters with a lot of blind spots, an arms control expert writes.

‘Oppenheimer’ depicts a man becoming powerful—and irrelevant

Oppenheimer did not have the temperament and skills to confront the US political and military leadership on critical decisions about nuclear weapons, a nuclear policy expert writes.

Nuclear weapons since Oppenheimer: Who’s in control?

After Oppenheimer, policy makers of nuclear-armed countries have let the interests of their military and arms producers control these weapons, an MIT physicist argues.

What ‘Oppenheimer’ can teach today’s scientists

'Oppenheimer' shows scientists cannot turn back to a world in which research is pure and unencumbered with its consequences. They need to take part in the public arena, a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine argues.

Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’: an artistic visual tapestry of the bomb’s science and power intricacies

A nuclear non-proliferation expert explains how Nolan's artistic portrayal of Oppenheimer effectively connects the science of nuclear fission with technology, war, and power.

Widening the field of view on ‘Oppenheimer’

A Princeton physicist argues viewers of Christopher Nolan's 'Oppenheimer' must broaden their field of view to understand the issues that J. Robert Oppenheimer confronted for the first time in human history.

Together, we make the world safer.

The Bulletin elevates expert voices above the noise. But as an independent nonprofit organization, our operations depend on the support of readers like you. Help us continue to deliver quality journalism that holds leaders accountable. Your support of our work at any level is important. In return, we promise our coverage will be understandable, influential, vigilant, solution-oriented, and fair-minded. Together we can make a difference.

Get alerts about this thread
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments