Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume 2, Number 4, 3 March 1975 — Page 3
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pens if you're near an explosion — a bomb explosion. We know it from experience and from common sense. The — the things we know ought to be in the public domain so people are fearful only in the measure in which fear is justified and — and rational. The things that aren't known should be talked about, because one of the ways to get things found out is — is to have it clear that we don't know the answers; and also one of the ways to — to give people the kind of responsibility and humanity which we would like, or think we have, is that they recognize when they don't know something, and take their very ignorance into account in their planning. This is too long an answer to your question, but I feel very. . . MURROW: It certainly is not, and it brings me to another one that I wanted to ask very much, and that is: In this era that is more frightened and dominated than any previous one by scientists, their decisions, their discoveries — what about the poor uninformed civilian? OPPENHEIMER: It isn't the layman that's ignorant. It's everybody that's ignorant. The scientist may know a little patch of something, and if he's a humane and intelligent and curious guy he'll know a few spots from other people's work. He may even be able to read a book. But — but his condition is a condition of everyone, which is, that almost everything that's known to man, he doesn't know anything about at all, or knows it only in a very sketchy way. And that's because it's — - it's gotten a bit complicated. The problem of — of a coherent civilization is the problem of—of living with ignorance and not — not being frustrated by it; so that you find occasionally a man who knows two things, and thaf intersection may be a great event in the history of ideas. Occasionally, a man may think that something is relevant or exciting which no one before thought concerned him professionally. That may change the history of the world. And these are the connections, these virtual connections, these casual and occasional connections, which make the only kind of coherence we have; that, and affection; that, and respect. That, and, I suppose, a kind of humanity. Now, if you look at the problem of science in government, then of course, it's possibly not really science. It's — it's pretty much practical application, because no one in the government of the United States needs to worry about whether the isotopic spin or the strangeness number are the real invariants of this subatomic work. They need to know, sometimes, things that are very hard to answer. Can a rocket enter the — the earth's atmosphere if it's gone a few thousand miles, and have a skin that isn't burned up? — and so on. They need to know: Is there any limit to the size of explosions you can make? They need to know all kinds of technical things. And these are not, in the narrow sense, the frontier of science, but they are technical and complicated. Some will understand one another in one area, some in another, and you get a kind of lacework of coherence. And that requires — l used the word "affection" before. For the government it might be better to say "trust." Though I think even for the government "affection" wouldn't be a hopeless word — take in the government itself, which consists of life. Take the President, or his Secretary of State, or his Secretary of Defense. All he can do is to be sure that in one way or another the advice he's being given is subject to criticism.
If he gets a statement of how it is — this will cost so many dollars and take so many years; this is impossible — that anyone who has a different view and the professional qualifications that make it interesting, can get to him. And I think that isn't too bad in the parts of the government I have been close to. That is, the atom, and military establishment, and the State Department. I think —/ think people have been able to — to tell their stories, and that — that the folly has been corrected. But if you mean the people outside the government. . . . MURROW: Yes. OPPENHEIMER: And I think that's more important. There — there is a — a really, a point that I feel most deeply, and I think I speak really now the voice of — of my profession: and that is the integrity of communication. The trouble with secrecy isn't that it inhibits science; it could, but in this country it's hardly been used that way. Technical things are — are really quite widely known, and those at the growing tip of—of any science are so far from practice that the — the people talk quite freely about them, and should. The trouble with secrecy isn't that it doesn 't give the public a sense of participation. The trouble with secrecy is that it denies to the government itself the wisdom and the resources of the whole community, of the whole country; and the only way you can do this is to let almost anyone say what he thinks — to try to give the best synopses, the best popularizations, the best mediations of technical things that you can, and to let men deny what they think is false, argue what they think is false. You have to have a free and uncorrupted communication. And this is — this is so the heart of living in a complicated technological world — it is so the heart of freedom, that that is why we are all the time saying, "Does this really have to be secret?" "Couldn't you say more about that?" "Are we really acting in a wise way?" Not because we enjoy chattering, not because we are not aware of the dangers of the world we live in, but because these dangers cannot be met in any other way. MURROW: Well, if I may say so, I think you were speaking there, not only for your profession, but for mine — if it is a profession. OPPENHEIMER: I—l'm sure of that. MURROW: There aren't, in fact, very many secrets? OPPENHEIMER: There aren 't secrets about the world of nature. There are secrets about the thoughts and intentions of men. Sometimes they are secret because a man doesn't like to know what he's up to if he can avoid it. . . .
FRIENDLY: The Oppenheimer you just watched in this interview is not the same Oppenheimer portrayed in Kipphart's In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The difference is, perhaps, the difference between theater and journalism. At the front of the published version of the play, (4) the author offered the following "apology": "In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer is a play for the theatre, not an assemblage of documentary material. Even so, the author adheres strictly to the facts which emerge from the documents and reports concerning this investigation.
"His chief source is the records — three thousand typewritten pages — of the proceedings. . . "It is the author's intention to present a shortened version of those proceedings, a version which lends itself to being staged and which does not distort the truth. As the author's business is the stage, and not the writing of history, he endeavors to follow Hegel's advice and lay bare 'the core and significance' of a historical event by freeing it from the 'adventitious contingencies and irrelevant accessories of the event,' to 'strip away the circumstances and aspects that are of merely secondary importance'.. ." He explains that the magnificent speech at the end of the play by Oppenheimer —that he will not work in government and will not work on bombs —was pieced together by the author out of things that Oppenheimer said at other times and places. Dr. Rabi can also testify that words were put in his mouth that ne never said at those hearings. I would like to ask him now, "What did you do when you found that you were saying things you never said?"
RABI: When this play was produced in Paris, I happened to be there at the time and met with the producer and principal backer. I told them I did not want to be a character in their play unless the lines attributed to me were the actual words that I had used in giving testimony at the Oppenheimer hearings. Oppenheimer himself felt as I did. So finally, after a good deal of discussion, they agreed to drop most of T the material that Kipphart had added and which changed the tone because it was really false and quite tendentious politically. But the play had a great success in Paris. Then, when it was subsequently produced in New York, I took the same line: I wanted my words and my words only. Although I was assured that the added material had been contributed by the very best authors that could be found, I still insisted. So the character of Rabi was given a fictitious name, Mr. Lehman. FRIENDLY: I believe that Dr. Oppenheimer, when he heard about the play, said: "The Gray hearings were a farce and now they're trying to make a tragedy out of them." Michael Wood, you have seen and studied the dramatization of the Oppenheimer security hearings. And now, during the past week, you have gotten to know the man Oppenheimer through this filmed interview. In your opinion, is the play a farce or a tragedy, or both?
WOOD: It is a sermon. I think it must be impossible to read the play if you have seen or met the man, because there is simply no access from the diagrammatic presentation of reality in the play to the complicated humanity of the man speaking in the film. Thanks to Friendly and Murrow, the ordinary roles of journalism and art have been inverted. We see here a news program which has the complexity and intensity and density of a work of art; whereas the play, which is an imagined arrangement of experience, doesn't attain the same degree of complexity. What the play does, however, is to articulate precisely the things that Dr. Oppenheimer doesn't want to talk about, or about which he was very diffident. For example, at the end of the hearings, when he was asked if he wished to make a closing statement, he simply made a technical point. In the play, almost inevitably, he makes a speech; not a bad speech —but it isn't the speech that Oppenheimer actually made. This play incidentally, was originally written in German and produced in Germany, which gives it a kind of distance that is hard for us to imagine. The characters are speaking an alien language and living in a foreign country. Although they are not cartoons of reality, they are emblematic objects; i.e., one is not constantly comparing them with some known reality. The direct source for Kipphart's play is another historical dramatization: Galileo by Brecht. The first production of the Oppenheimer play, in Berlin, has been described by Eric Bentley as opening among the sets of the production of Galileo. The audience sees the trappings of that play being pulled down as the Oppenheimer play opens. Conversely, Bentley suggested, an American production of Galileo should have projected on the screen a statement of Oppenheimer's: "I was not in a policymaking position at Los Alamos. I would have done anything that I was asked to do." Bentley then goes on to say, in his introduction to the translation of the Brecht play, that he thinks the differences between the cases of Galileo and Oppenheimer are more interesting than the similarities. One issue does emerge from the play that is not immediately available from Oppenheimer's own conversation (although perhaps implicit in it). Nor does it come out of Germany or Brecht's original version of Galileo for the German production, but rather out of Brecht's re-writing of the play in Hollywood for' an American production. Given the same story, he rewrote its meaning. The story of Galileo in the original version concerns a man who discovers that the earth turns around the sun. But he is not a hero, simply a great scientist; and also a man who likes to live well. When ordered by the Inquisition to stop his research, he is merely shown the instruments of torture and promptly recants. His outraged supporters and followers say: "Unhappy is the land that has no heroes," to which Galileo responds: "Unhappy the land that needs heroes." In 1938-39, when Brecht wrote the play, its message was that a man whose only sin was that he was like the rest of us —that he was not a hero —had set science back; i.e., by cooperating with the Inquisition, he collaborated with the forces of reaction that slowed down scientific progress. In the second (American) version, written after the explosion of the Hiroshima bomb, Brecht becomes
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Vol. 2, No. 4