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.
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