16 October 2011 | bandw
A historical treasure
For a 90 minute film, this documentary does an admirable job of telling the tale of the making of the atom bomb. It's great value is the recording of interviews of some of the major players at a time when they had had time to reflect on the event. Since most all of those directly involved with the development of the bomb are now dead, this documentary is a priceless piece of history.
The events are centered around Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant physicist who became the director of the Los Alamos branch of the Manhattan Project that was responsible for the design, construction, and testing of the bomb. Oppenheimer was a person who had that unusual combination of a supreme knowledge of technology and theory as well as skills as an administrator. I think part of his success as an administrator was due to the respect he commanded from all who worked with him. Ultimately there were hundreds of scientists at the Los Alamos site; it was remarked that there has never been in history such a large gathering of world-class scientists at one place. I found it odd that there was no mention of Leó Szilárd who envisioned the idea of a nuclear chain reaction in 1933.
Unfortunately Robert Oppenheimer was not alive to be interviewed for this film, but there is substantial archival footage of him. Robert's brother Frank, also a physicist, was interviewed at some length. There is archival footage of the destruction caused by the dropping of the two bombs, both the physical and human destruction. Such scenes require a strong stomach to watch, and what is shown is only a small glimpse of the horror. The dropping of the bombs had a profound effect on the scientists who were responsible for the development. Some, like Robert Wilson, abandoned all classified work. Oppenheimer--who made the remark, "the physicists have known sin, and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose"-- spent time after the war agitating for world control over nuclear weapons; he was never the same person after the war and became a tragic figure.
Given that the development of the atom bomb was a significant event in human history, there is no lacking of reference material. A complete exposition is contained in Richard Rhodes', "The Making of the Atom Bomb." I found the fact-based docudrama, "Day One," to be interesting, particularly in its dealing with the discussions surrounding the decision to drop the bombs.