There has never been a moment in my life when the possibility of a war waged with invisible particles split open and set off against other particles, a war of instant annihilation, a war of mutual, total, omnivorous destruction, didn’t exist. Born in the last weeks of 1961, I was a child of the so-called Cold War, trained — without much opposition on my part — to hate Communists and Communism.

I still hate them, as well as their watered-down perversions, present in this country today. But that’s a story for another day.

The reason for this brief rumination on fission and fusion is my recent viewing of the film “Oppenheimer.” Like the documentary “To End All War: Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb,” Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus tells the intertwined stories of all the characters involved in the Manhattan Project. There is the drama of building the bomb, keeping secrets, worrying about leaks and spies, political hatreds, professional enemies, and unexpected loyalties and betrayals. There are love stories, possible suicides, alcoholism, mental anguish, and technological triumphs.

All of it is beautifully depicted by actors who seem to have been born for this film, these roles, this moment. And Cillian Murphy, who resurrects J. Robert Oppenheimer like a celluloid Lazarus, just earned himself next year’s Oscar Award for Best Actor. No one else need apply.

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As someone who never experienced the before, the pre-nuclear era, it was incredibly moving to see how the characters in this story, some of them manipulated like the human puppets attached to the strings of Aeschylus and Euripides, justified the unleashing of Promethean fire. The military saw it as necessary, and I agree with them. The scientists, at least most, looked upon the bomb as the culmination of their combined efforts, their shared genius, and I agree with them, too.

But Oppenheimer, and Neils Bohr before him, and Albert Einstein even further back, knew they would break the hinge on Pandora’s Box and create a world where any idea of a forced, unilateral peace would be impossible. The advent of nuclear warfare, weapons that harness the invisible to create the omnipotent, changed us forever.

I grew up in a country that was still a superpower, but one that could no longer impose conditions without compromise. My America no longer “owned” the powerful weapons of the universe. Due to the duplicity of spies, and the inevitable results of human ingenuity, other countries had the power to kill us while killing themselves, dragging us all into the maelstrom together.

The most poignant moments in “Oppenheimer” come as you see the film’s namesake, and a few of his colleagues, wrestle with the terrible truth that to save civilization, they needed to forever place it in an as yet undefined but always present, looming, future danger.

I was born in that danger. And yet I know that the great men and women who made those choices almost two decades before I was born guaranteed the survival of the world, vouchsafed to us the ability to avoid mutual destruction (if we took the time and employed the effort to make it happen), and did their best to show us why there were no other options.

The destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never be forgotten, and are not acceptable in a vacuum. In that vacuum, they are the definition of genocide. But when viewed in context, and against the background of these great minds struggling with few alternatives other than the sacrifice of these innocent caught up in their government’s crusade, the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb, was more Angel of Deliverance than of Death.

This movie reminded me that I need to be grateful that others made excruciating, tortured, moral choices, so that I would ultimately have choices of my own.

Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61

4 thoughts on “Christine Flowers: The only option was the nuclear one”

  1. Good piece.

    My late father was a Navy chief and Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) frogman in the Pacific during WWII. He told me that as the U.S. military island-hopped across the Pacific, taking back the Imperial Japanese-held islands, he attended several planning sessions as they got closer to Japan. He was told that UDT casualties during the invasion of Japan would be near 90 percent, as UDT frogmen were the first go ashore and fight.

    Many thousands of U.S. Marines and other American military personnel would also be killed in the invasion of Japan, as American military planners expected the Japanese – men, women and children – would fight the Americans to the death. Millions of Japanese people, military and civilian, would be killed in the invasion.

    The atomic bombs dropped on the two Japanese cities forced the Japanese Emperor to order his people to surrender. Without the atomic bombs, my father would probably have been killed in combat in the invasion, and I would not be writing this today.

    Although the atomic bombs caused terrible death and destruction, the conventional U.S. military invasion of Japan and the defense of the country by the Japanese military and the civilian populace would have been far worst.

  2. With Christine, everything is always black or white. There is never any nuance. She picks a side and pontificates with absolutely no room for discussion or changing of mind no matter how clearly she may be proven wrong. This review is very much the same. In a nutshell, Christine’s “infallible” assertion is ‘we had to use the bomb because without it, civilization would cease to exist.’ This is the depth of Christine’s thinking. Even the most war fearing people of the time knew that the justification for using the 2 bombs was to save allied lives. We would have won the war with or without the bombs. There just would have been many more casualties. Civilization would have gone on despite Christine’s unwavering position. There have been many enlightened people in the past 78 years who have philosophized many different scenarios. “What if we dropped them on some low populated nearby islands as a warning?” What if we dropped the first one on Tokyo instead?” etc. This type of critical thinking and especially the nuance that it brings is way over Christine’s head. It’s her way or the highway. Just today she tweeted that a person “can’t be pro choice and have any moral authority in anything.” Just consider the combination of stupidity and outright pompousness in not only thinking that, but saying it out loud.

  3. Margaret, what is your point? Is it that any number of casualties is acceptable, so the atomic bombing was not necessary? Where is the assertion that without using the bomb, civilization would cease to exist? The use of the bomb was predicated on saving as many lives of United States armed forces and opposing Japanese armed forces and mobilized Japanese citizens as possible. The slaughter of a land invasion would have been grim and great as the Japanese were committed to fight to the end. Realizing that this was exactly the “last ditch” approach taken by the British when it looked as if there would be a German invasion of the Realm and noticing the fire-bombing raids on Tokyo and other Japanese cities (which were nearly as devastating as atomic bombing) did not force surrender, atomic bombing was the least devastating pathway to surrender.

    1. It’s regrettable that you lack basic comprehension. My point is that Christine Flowers is as usual, irrational. If you can’t find in her review that she literally says that Oppenheimer and co. had to “save civilization” well, that’s on you. I am also in no way saying that dropping the bombs was the wrong move. I was explaining how Christine approaches everything with blinders on and absolutely no chance of being swayed regardless of evidence. She then combines this was a complete lack of understanding nuance. Whether it’s -We had to nuke Japan or else civilization would cease. End of story- or – an egg that was fertilized last night by a rapist is the same as a 4th grader. End of story.- This is the ramblings of someone incapable of critical thinking.

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