Apex point - © Robert Sommers 2024

Friday, July 21, 2023

"Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds..."

I am looking forward to seeing Oppenheimer and am happy that the new movie seems to be captivating the public and is getting good initial reviews. 

I once read a great book on the physicist that I highly recommend, American Prometheus, the triumph and tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

It won its authors, Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin the Pulitzer Prize and I believe might have been a major influence on the director and producer.


Fallout from the Trinity explosion reached 46 states but the downstream damage to native New Mexicans has never been fully accounted for. If nothing else, the movie should bring attention to their plight and sacrifice.

“They’ll never reflect on the fact that New Mexicans gave their lives. They did the dirtiest of jobs. They invaded our lives and our lands and then they left,” Tina Cordova, a cancer survivor and founder of a group of New Mexico downwinders, said of the scientists and military officials who established a secret city in Los Alamos during the 1940s and tested their work at the Trinity Site some 200 miles (322 kilometers) away.

An interesting article on the subject from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The test site—selected in 1944 from a shortlist of eight possible test sites in California, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado—had been selected, in part, for its supposed isolation. Yet in reality, nearly half-a-million people were living within a 150-mile radius of the explosion, with some as close as 12 miles away. Many, if not most, of these civilians were still asleep when the bomb detonated just before dawn. (See figure 2, below.)


I have visited the vicinity many times, both my father and stepfather connected tangentially to the project and area. My stepfather worked at White Sands missile testing from 1964 to 1969 when we left for New York. My father's limited involvement is still classified but as I have mentioned previously, he transmitted the first nuclear blast photograph for the United States Army.


People interested in the subject of two more people working on the Manhattan Project should see the movie Tom Dowd and the language of music. The brilliant mathematician and recording engineer was never authorized to mention anything about this hole in his life on his resume.

The other book I recommend with zany tales of escaping from the Manhattan site and breaking open safes and other madcap adventures is Richard Feynmann's book Surely you're joking Mr. Feynmann.

We owe all of these men a great deal, as well as Bohr, Bethe and Fermi and a host of other men and women.

And we also owe a lot to the people of Southern New Mexico who had to bear a disproportionate cost for living downwind.

Oppennheimer was a brilliant and conflicted man, unfairly hounded, he also gave a lot and warned us about the terrible nightmare he had unleashed on the world and what it meant to continuing civilization.

One wrong move and:

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