Monday, August 4, 2008

Now I Am Become Death

In reference to the [nuclear] Trinity test in New Mexico, where his Los Alamos team first tested the bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer famously recalled the Bhagavad Gita (this is a historical archive taping of about 30 seconds and VERY powerful):

"If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky,
that would be like the splendor of the mighty one.
Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

August is a nuclear month. It also is the month of my birth, and that of my father who in some way worked on one or both of the two bombs that were dropped on Japan. I, on the other hand, have taken the opposite road as a peace and environmental activist. I suppose where my father and I junctured was on the issue of radioactive waste on which he once commented that "we" (meaning those that supported nuclear anything) never really thought about it. He said this with a rather puzzled look on his face. It was one of those "oops" looks.

I don't know exactly what my dad did in terms of the Manhattan Project. I do know that he was locked in a room by himself when he worked, which was related to me by my mom. I assume he worked on either mathematical calculations or engineering of some part of the Manhattan project both in New Mexico (which may have been at Los Alamos Labs) and later in Las Vegas.

I was born on August 6th, Hiroshima Day. I have spent an awful lot of birthdays at protests. My father, who died on his 92nd birthday, was born on August 7. I only mention this because of the symbolism... my birthday on the event, and his birthday between Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 8) as though he had a hand in the terrible both.

Without delving into the politics and history of the bombs and the war of the time, my great hope has been that we can get past the nuclear age alive, both in terms of weapons and war and in terms of nuclear power. Both, in my view, are inherently destructive, and one the daughter of the other. I remain hopeful which is all I can be. I look at the little girl next door, who is four, and I pray to God she will live free from these crushing burdens.

Oppenheimer is not quoting from the Bible, obviously. But note Oppenheimer's "I am" statement here, which punched me the second I read it, especially given the context. It would be difficult for anyone of Judeo-Christian belief not to see it. And his statement is pretty creepy, for lack of a better word, and rings ominously.

What do you see in his statement?