Saturday, July 16, 2011
Sixty-six years ago today, the scientists of the Manhattan project tested the first atomic bomb. Here, Dr. Oppenheimer compares his feelings to a passage from the Baghavad Gita: Vishnu, the God of Destruction. The quote dates from 1965, two years before Oppenheimer's death. There is a look that passes over his face as he talks about the bomb and Vishnu that I find simply haunting.
This is John Adams' treatment of the same quote in his opera, Dr. Atomic. Subtitles are in Dutch, but the opera is in English. Oppenheimer was a German Jew, and I can imagine that Adams and the librettist, Peter Sellars, were correct in assuming that he found his work less morally questionable when the primary target was Hitler's Germany. In the opera, however, which centers on the preparation for the Alamogordo test which took place on July 16, Oppenheimer is a highly conflicted character.