Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics

By Edward Teller; Judith L. Shoolery | Go to book overview

31
SEQUELAE
June 1954—February 1955

WHAT I HAD done was done. What remained were the consequences.

On June 2, the Gray Board voted, two to one, not to reinstate Oppenheimer's clearance, and Oppenheimer asked the commissioners of the AEC to review the decision. In mid-June, the transcript of the testimony at the hearing was published, a book almost 1,000 pages long. On June 29, the commissioners, in a vote of four to one, upheld the decision of the Gray Board. The leader at Los Alamos when the first atomic bomb was built had been told in effect that his government did not find him trustworthy enough to allow him to continue working on its affairs.

How can such a decision be understood? The evidence—the testimony and hundreds of pages of supporting documents—is complex and confusing. It is not likely that there will ever be a simple and accurate answer as to why Oppenheimer lost his clearance. The Oppenheimer affair had a deep influence on attitudes in our nation and changed my life irreparably. For this reason, I feel justified in discussing the hearing in some detail.

Let me begin by saying that the right decision would have been for President Eisenhower, having been informed of the situation, simply not to have asked Oppenheimer to serve further as an advisor on questions regarding nuclear topics. Even if Oppenheimer had then volunteered comments, they would have had little effect. I blame the president for not finding the courage to take responsibility in this matter.

I must also say that Oppenheimer's actions can be explained only if one realizes that his motives went beyond simple questions of truth and its proper consequences. No single perspective can provide a reasonably complete description of the Oppenheimer case, but an examination of the evidence from

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