The PBS network just presented on their series The American Experience a tragic show entitled “The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer.” For me this was a poignant experience because inadvertently I had been involved in all of those events in very strange but very personal ways. Those events have distorted my view of the world and my relationship with the world in so many memorable and mostly painful ways. Briefly:
As a ten year old I remember clearly running a half mile barefoot on a gravel road up to tell my cousin Thomas the bomb had been dropped in Japan. That night with anxiety I clearly remember sitting in front of the radio with my grandfather listening with sweaty hands to the reports.
During the war I knew my namesake uncle, whom I knew very well long before he went off to war, was flying B-29’s over Japan. He wasn’t on those particular bombers but he was on those huge raids and is credited with shooting down two enemy planes.
When in high school in Richland, Washington, I lived across the street and a large field from the Hanford reactors which made the plutonium for the bombs exploded at Alamogordo and Nagasaki. And my family and friends’ families were involved in the manufacture of the plutonium that constitutes the American arsenal.
In the summer of 1958 through an introduction by Algernon Black of New York prominence I met and spoke with Eleanore Roosevelt and J. Robert Oppenheimer. These were momentous events for a lad from the west.
At the time I tried to get Oppenheimer to come speak at the Unitarian student group, the Channing Club at Washington State College but was prevented from doing so by our facility adviser Professor Wells, a philosophy professor. About this time Oppenheimer was prevented from speaking at our sister college the University of Washington.
In 1958-60 I was a pilot in the US Air Force and ended up assigned to B-47s in SAC, the Strategic Air Command under General Curtis Lemay.
After being in the presence of H-bombs for a while I told them that I thought they were the stupidest things in the world for fighting a war with and that if they were used it would destroy all humanity. I didn’t want any part of it and as there was no war at the time the Air Force and I went our separate ways rather peacefully.
They no doubt soon recovered from my departure, but I never did recover from it and have been plagued with the problem of humanity destroying itself ever since.
Totally unbeknown to me I became involved with the offspring of several of the daughters of the Berkeley atomic scientists and almost married the daughter of the chemist who did the basic research on plutonium which permitted Hanford to be built.
I spent a lot of hours thinking about this problem and at some point published a book, Tao and War, which explored human military strategy.
I am still trying to solve the H-bomb problem and still have a glimmer of hope that it can be resolved peacefully and wrote about this briefly in a blog UNITY. The more likely path to human survival is through the Earthark Project which attempts to give humanity a second chance after it succeeds in destroying itself.