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Julius Robert Oppenheimer

J. Robert Oppenheimer was an American physicist known for his groundbreaking work in quantum mechanics and theoretical physics. Oppenheimer was tasked with organizing the Manhattan Project, a top-secret program to develop nuclear energy for military purposes during WWII. The project resulted in the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Following the war, Oppenheimer came under intense scrutiny for possible atomic espionage. He was found not guilty of treason but was exiled from the nuclear establishment. Sixty years later, in 2014, declassified reports revealed he’d been a victim of bias and unfairness.

Oppenheimer’s ID badge from the Los Alamos Laboratory

Julius Robert Oppenheimer was born in New York City on April 22, 1904, the son of a German immigrant father and an American mother. He attended Harvard University and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He was accepted at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, where groundbreaking research on atomic structure was underway. He later attended the University of Gottingen in Germany and received a Ph.D. in Physics. After returning to the United States, Oppenheimer worked as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

During the 1930s, Oppenheimer belonged to groups known to have communist ties. Though he never joined the Communist Party, he supported some left-wing philosophies. As Hitler and his Nazi party came to power, Oppenheimer withdrew his associations from communism.

When the US became embroiled in WWII, military officials recruited Oppenheimer to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer chose Los Alamos, New Mexico, as the location for the research laboratory. He had long admired New Mexico’s stark beauty, having spent time there recovering from an illness. Oppenheimer was appointed the laboratory’s first director.

Los Alamos Laboratory presented an award to J. Robert Oppenheimer at the end of WWII

While working at Los Alamos, Oppenheimer and other prominent scientists learned to harness the power of nuclear fission. They successfully created and tested atomic bombs, ultimately leading to the development of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, marking the dawn of the nuclear age.

Following the war, rumors of Oppenheimer’s ties to communism emerged. Still, he always flatly denied sympathizing with or supporting communism, saying that what he believed 14 years ago now seems “complete nonsense.” In 1953, Oppenheimer learned federal officials were probing his communist ties. It was the height of the McCarthy era, and officials were concerned that Oppenheimer might be a Soviet spy. The probe led the Atomic Energy Commission to conduct secret hearings in 1954, and though he was declared not guilty, Oppenheimer’s access to military secrets was revoked. Oppenheimer continued his scientific research and lectured around the world.

The Enrico Fermi Award presented to J. Robert Oppenheimer in 1963

In 1963, in a White House ceremony, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Oppenheimer with the Enrico Fermi Award. The award, the highest honor bestowed by the Atomic Energy Commission, came through the efforts of the late President John F. Kennedy to restore Oppenheimer’s public name.

In 2014, the records from Oppenheimer’s 1954 hearings were declassified. After their release, historians and military experts found no sign of espionage or other evidence that questioned Oppenheimer’s loyalty to the United States.

J. Robert Oppenheimer died of throat cancer in 1967 at age 62. In 2022, the Department of Energy formally vacated the revocation of Oppenheimer’s security clearance. If you would like to learn more about J. Robert Oppenheimer, search Fold3® today.

88 Comments

  1. Thierry says:

    It was an interesting read that offered a glimpse into the complex life of a renowned physicist.

  2. William Prendergast says:

    Major motion picture coming out: “Oppenheimer”. From trailer it appears to be an interesting historical period piece, dramatized history, not a documentary.

  3. Michael C Robertson says:

    Members of the White House today have more Communist ties than Oppenheimer could have ever dreamed of.

    • M Sullivan says:

      I think the entire Cabinet today is either communist or socialist. It’s scary. I am a retired veteran who loves this country but I don’t trust them.

    • John Overby says:

      Name the ties please. I would like to know more.

    • Chuck Haley says:

      Ya think?

    • Gary McGowan says:

      Baloney.

    • Bob C says:

      Yes, please…name names. America needs to know!

    • Bob duzer says:

      The Biden administration has NO ties to Communism.
      Quit listening to stupid people’s conspiracy theories.
      I’d be worried about the things Trump did.
      He tried to ruin Democracy.
      Thank God Trump was defeated and we got rational people working for us. Remember Trump as the guy who wanted us to drink poison to kill Covid.

    • BB says:

      Another group using the book of McCarthyism to try and smirch the truth. Take your storybook and go away with your repressive notions. Untrue as the group to the right always is.

    • Eric says:

      Exactly right. Started with Obama in earnest but has been at work much longer. Now it is becoming apparent.

    • Michael Sim says:

      I take it you are speaking of the Trump White House.

    • Jensine says:

      I agree!

    • Alice Jones says:

      Donald Trump certainly sympathizes with Putin. Still can’t believe as president, he took Putin’s word over OUR intelligence agencies. Even harder to believe citizens exist who have no problem with this.

    • deb webster says:

      xo

    • Leonid Trotsky says:

      Prove it.

    • George di Cristina says:

      And you know this without question how?? Please cite your sources…or is this yet another uninformed opinion?

    • Skyraider17 says:

      Yes !! Well said.

    • JT Landreth says:

      You mean the former Trump WhiteHouse and its ties to Russia? If not, what evidence do you have?

    • B Redmond says:

      The republican party has learned and benefitted financially a great deal from communist authoritarianism and communist billionaire oligarchs who back them all.

  4. Paul Collinsworth says:

    I think the author takes some unwarranted liberty with the Oppenheimer fiasco, in which his clearance was revoked. His opposition to the development of the fusion weapon, the “H-bomb”, was quite relevant, if not the primary driver, in the attack on him, with the matter of his pre-war association with Communists and other leftists, including his brother, being nothing more than a “red herring” used by those promoting the H-bomb, which included some of the political leadership of the AEC.

  5. Tom Helmantoler says:

    At the end of the discussion, we need to remember that had not Dr. Oppenheimer not been part of the invention of atomic weapons and their use to end WWII, about one million more American casualties would have occurred in an invasion of the Japanese islands. Plus another 2-3 years of WWII would have have happened as well.
    Those that condemn US use of the weapons today weren’t alive then, and may not have been born in any case.

    • Laura says:

      Thank you for making that very important point! My father would have been in that first wave of the Japanese invasion.

    • Colin Smith says:

      And probably wouldn’t have been born.

    • Mike says:

      Japan was withering on the vine due to a lack of essential materials and groceries. It was only a matter of time before they capitulated, even without an invasion. Dropping the bombs did materially shorten the war and gave us our pound of flesh for the dastardly way they opened the war.

  6. Mark says:

    I worked with many intel officers (and their civilian counterparts) over the years. One retired intel guy, who came to us give a lecture on the early Cold War days, actually had meet and interviewed Oppenheimer during this whole fiasco over his clearances (he was a young investigator at the time). He said there was never any evidence (later verified thru the Corona transcripts and other NKVD/KGB information that came to light) that he was ever part of any communist spy ring, a possible traitor, or even that he approved of atomic leaks. But, he held a huge sway over atomic weapons development because of his having led the whole Manhattan Project during WWII. It thought by many (even at the time) to be a power play by people in the American and British atomic development community to get him out of the way, so that bigger and more powerful nuclear weapons could be built. He felt that building weapons too large or powerful would have a detrimental effect on the earth’s populated areas, atmosphere, and climate. He was of course correct and it did cause issues in places thru contamination by spreading the radiation effect well beyond the test areas (South Pacific, Nevada and down-winders, parts of the Soviet Union, etc.)

    • Tate Clare says:

      That makes perfect sense. As often is the case, the entire situation smacks of the usual egos, power seekers and jealousies.

  7. Samuel says:

    Oppenheimer would be appalled at the right wing nuts (repugnicans) in our government and our courts today. He fought against all of that.

  8. Heidi says:

    Unless someone can support the accusations (with multiple credible sources) of the “right-wing nuts in our government” or “members of the White House today have more Communist ties than Oppenheimer could have ever dreamed of”, I would suggest they stop accusing without truth.

    • Gordon Brown says:

      Nobody knows the truth. The truth is not to be had. The lies obliterate the truth on all sides.

    • Ken Hale says:

      Check out Alexander Hamilton’s personal publication dated 1797, in which he explains his congressional tribunal he went through explaining how lies, unsubstantiated, repeated over and over and over become in time to be fact. Because everyone heard it from someone so it must be true! He emphatically warned us of this process ruining our democratic way of government in 1797.
      We still aren’t listening, people are still drinking the kool-aid and not doing the due diligence to find out the facts. Use your brain not just your ears everybody.

    • Milton Pressley says:

      Agree!

  9. Margaret L Clarke says:

    Thank you, Tom. I had to speak out to a class of young people (I was 65 or so) to uphold what America did to stop the war. One person came up to me afterwards and thanked me. It wasn’t easy for me to speak up, but she made me eternally grateful to have done so. I remembered the war and was glad to have it end.

    • Milton Pressley says:

      I agree. My dad was a marine in WWII !Not sure I’d be here today if we had invaded Japan!

  10. Mary =J= says:

    Thank you to those who suggested that fingers STOP being pointed at our current government without evidence.
    And an even BIGGER thank you to who supported what we had to do to end the war.

    • Gary says:

      Then how come Putin didn’t invade Ukraine when Trump was in office? How come little rocket man didn’t fire off any missiles then either? Brandon’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was cowardly and weak. He and Hunter are Chinese commie agents. Just use your common sense and connect all the dots Wake up!

  11. John McQuain says:

    The Second World War was a hard time for hard men. The United States had close to 12 million in uniform fighting around the world. Had Oppenheimer not developed the atomic Bomb for us and Truman dropped it on Japan our forces would have suffered hundreds of thousands more casualties in an invasion. It’s logical that Oppenheimer would have had second thoughts but in the end he did the right thing.

    • Mike Edmonds says:

      My father was KIA March 22, 1945 fighting the Japs. If the bomb had been available and used earlier, he and thousands more American military men would have survived.

  12. Steve Block says:

    Shades of the treatment of Alfred Dreyfus, no. That’s why it is shameful when politicians use name calling and unsupported allegations as a political weapon. One would think our leaders would know this and always speak impeccably. Sadly it is thx default for marginalized ideologues in government.

  13. DDNorCal says:

    Come on people – this is not a platform for politics. It’s a movie and should be a great one. How about staying on topic about the movie, Oppenheimer, etc. without contributing these STUPID political undertones????

  14. James Doran says:

    There were, in fact, Russian spies in the Manhattan Project: Fuchs, Greenglass, Cohen, Gold, Hall, May, and others. Oppenheimer was not one of them, nor was he a communist, nor did he know about the spies. What happened to him was unfortunate but may have been driven as much or more by legitimate security concerns as by politics; secrets were leaking and it would have been remiss of investigators not to include the head of the program in their investigations.

  15. Jenny Ashcraft says:

    We love our Fold3 community and appreciate your thoughtful comments, but let’s remember our community standards and be respectful to one another. Thanks!

  16. Don Rittenberry says:

    Due to President Biden and his family having such close financial ties to China, Russia, Ukraine etc, our Country’s current administration is more heavily committed towards Communism than at any time in the last 80 years. I have been a registered Democrat for more than 60 years and if l can see those close ties it amazes me that ALL America can’t see them. I and many other Democrats will be voting Biden out of office on Election Day.

    • JB says:

      Oh Don, you aren’t really a Democrat are you?

      You are just a failed Trumpian.

      And communism failed in the USSR, to be replaced by something far worse in Purim’s Russia – and now they are a capitalist rival (as in reality is China).

    • JB says:

      *Putin’s Russia, spell check change

      (Putin – a man Trump admired and facilitated)

    • PB says:

      If you are really as old as you say, then you must remember the communist witch hunt hearings run by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. I’ll ask you the same question lawyer Joseph Welch representing the army asked him which ended McCarthy’s career:”… Have you no sense of decency?”. You seem to be of the same mindset as McCarthy. Lots of accusations; No proof. That was the political mindset which destroyed Oppenheimer’s reputation and it appears to be yours.

    • Janice K Terrell says:

      Thank you so much for trying to point out what’s going on in our White House.

    • Ron Oliver says:

      Don, I have been a Republican since at least 1964 and aware of political issues since 1953. Majored in Econ, history and two others, minored in political science. I am appalled at the state of ignorance in this country regarding these issues on both the right and left. Although I am not a Biden supporter ( I find him mediocre–over the last twenty yrs or more) what I have seen here is ridiculous. Trump and his Trumpian Rhinos are far more dangerous. It’s time all centrist Republicans, Democrats, and Independents formed a new party more worthy of the country my family has served and fought for since the Revolution.

  17. Michael Moran says:

    Thanks Ken!

    • Ken Hale says:

      Your welcome Michael, it’s a scary read of today’s politics.

      Ron Oliver, I’ve been a devote democrat as you a republican and I find your comments to be absolutely where this country should be at this moment intime, self annualized it self politically. Your words are right out of my playbook. And yet we are opposite. How do we get congress to think this way.

  18. Mary Nugent says:

    My great aunt Lee (née Alethea Brickhouse) was a WAC assigned to be Oppenheimer’s head cryptologist, often working side by side, taking the raw scientific data and putting it into Army code. I have letters of commendation written by General Groves and Oppenheimer of her service.
    She kept lots of souvenirs and literature from her time in Los Alamos and from its 25th reunion. My grandmother kept all her letters which I have. All were stamped for approval before being mailed. On leave, she had 3 guards. When she was to be married to a soldier she met on base, they were blindfolded to and from the church which I believe was in Santa Fe. Top secret everything!
    A lovely side note: as Aunt Lee was leaving her interview with Mrs. Hobby, the director of the WACS smiled and said “You come from a fine old American family.” My great aunt was perplexed. She had come from a line of farmers from VA and NC. After the war she and her husband settled in beautiful NM, but every year she came east to visit my grandmother and great grandmother. During those visits she sought out records from city, county and state bureaus, took notes and made copies to uncover what Mrs Hobby meant. She also interviewed older relatives. That all came down to me and after my years of research piecing it all together, traced my mother’s lines to George Brickhouse who arrived as an indentured servant in VA in 1658. After his servitude, he amassed 2200 acres and set aside land to build the first Quaker Meeting House in VA. Other lines arrived in MA on the Winthrop Fleet in 1630. Such rich, fascinating and patriotic lineages and stories followed. Thank you, Aunt Lee. I’m now a proud member of the DAR, etc.
    I will add Aunt Lee fire on 1990 from a blood disease from exposure to radiation that the government did not acknowledge until well after most who worked on the Manhattan Project, had past on.

    • Jenny Ashcraft says:

      Fascinating!!!

    • Louise says:

      Now that is interesting !

    • Debra says:

      So interesting! Thank you for sharing!

    • Dani Weis says:

      Great story. I also have some colonial and DAR ancestry. Before I was aware of it, from time to time people would say things similar to what was said to your aunt and I didn’t have a clue what they were on about. I don’t know if they knew my family personally or just assumed from my maiden name.

  19. Mary Nugent says:

    Oh wow. I should have proofread. Pardon my errors, especially in the last paragraph!

  20. karl kjarsgaard says:

    I find your report on OPPENHEIMER to be narrow and without context, akin to fast food of history. You could at least have included and added the footnote of the intrigue and background of the hiring and involvement of “Klaus Emil Julius Fuchs (29 December 1911 – 28 January 1988)”in the Manhattan Project. Fuchs was a 1930’s German physicist who belonged secretly to the German communist party, fled pre-war Germany and went to the UK as refugee type, then was hired by the Oppenheimer teams in the USA!!! They did not check his communist background and Fuchs is the reason, by passing secrets of the American atomic bomb to the Russians who obtained the knowledge to make the atomic bomb so quickly right after the Americans. You cannot talk about Oppenheimer without including WHY the Russians were able to so quickly build their own atomic bomb. Fuchs is the key. But he is NOT American, so why include him? Karl K.

  21. DLF36189 says:

    If you can get the 1980 – 7 part, miniseries, Oppenheimer, that aired on PBS, it was a very good presentation of Oppenheimer’s life.

    Sam Waterston portrayed Oppenheimer and David Suchet played Edward Teller.

  22. Rich Schmitz says:

    My father was drafted into the Army and worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, NM and was part of the SED. He worked on the explosive shape charge part of the “gadget”.

  23. D. Bucklin says:

    I thought comments would be focused on the life and times of Oppenheimer. Some people offered some historic and thoughtful opinions about the man and the devastating consequences to the world wrought by nuclear weapons that currently dwarf the destructive potential of the two that were dropped on Japan. Instead, we find right conspiracy chatter and bogus allegations about the current administration. I guess some people live in the conspiracy bubble to the extent that they want to revive McCarthyism. Remember that Oppenheimer was a victim of that conspiracy-minded political rhetoric. Let’s not go back to the 50s. In many respects, this country has not learned anything from the past. Unfortunately, when I read comments connected to these stories, the whole thing seems to devolve into right wing conspiracy chatter.

  24. Alice Jones says:

    Donald Trump certainly sympathizes with Putin. Still can’t believe as president, he took Putin’s word over OUR intelligence agencies. Even harder to believe citizens exist who have no problem with this.

  25. deb webster says:

    extraneous response:
    thanks to all of you! i stumbled onto this blog knowing about fold 3, but not about you folks. agreed or not, it was a privilege to read your comments, reasoning, understanding of past and present. i learned from you, as well as the basic article.

  26. Nancy Jordan says:

    I think it must be a requirement to be a Republican that you shut down your common sense and decency so that you can robotically defend the most outrageous and ludicrous MAGA pronouncements!

  27. Kiwi V says:

    Fold 3 -Don’t Play with Marxist revisionism 80 years later…
    Alger Hiss,Herr Openheimer, and Vice President.Wallace were all documented Communists and Mentioned by name in the KGB Soviet Archives that were payed open by Yeltsin and the East German Swazi.(State Polietzi) 1991…Biden’s Marxist Regime gave him a reprieve?!?!..Spare Me’
    Respectfully ,
    An27 Year AirForce Intell Vet✝️❤️✈️

    • Ivanov says:

      The Reason The Soviet Union and China got the Bomb was Oppenheimer and the communist collaborators in the US government…
      Nothing Has Changed…,
      Clinton Gave North Korea -Nuclear Technology
      For Peaceful Purposes in 1993…….
      Gotta Love Them Commies…
      As The Hippies use to say…..
      “Better Red than Dead!!
      Tell it to Arlington Cemetery and the American Families that have lost sons since 1950 to Oppenheimers and Obama and Obidens Commie Ways…Right Comrade!!!

  28. Ron Oliver says:

    Ivanov, my brother is buried at Arlington and it is clear you have not made a real study of communism et al. As a centrist Republican who has studied the systems and observed I can assure you that there is a difference between liberal democrats (small d and large D) and communists. Full disclosure though, I still find the liberals wrong (just as I find the more conservatives wrong too.

  29. Paul McDonald says:

    MAGA mania! The fools that follow a lawless sociopath who is only running for the presidency again in an effort to avoid prosecution. He doesn’t subscribe to any ideology and has no respect for the law or the constitution. His only aim is to enrich himself. I’m sure his Communist pal, Putin, would own Ukraine by now if that grifter/fraudster had won another term by overthrowing the 2020 election.

  30. Gerald says:

    After reading the comments on this article and the denial that we have Marxists in our government, I realize why we have those Marxist in our government. We have an entirely uneducated, an informed electorate, who believe our current media.
    The truth is out there. If only you will open your eyes and see it. It will ring true in your common sense, it won’t contradict itself. Stop listening to the controlled media machine and do your own research, reach out and listen to podcasts And news suppliers not in your current circle. But rather open your mind and think for your, open your eyes and listen to the others ideas.

    • Ron Oliver says:

      Gerald, I found your comments not so much laughable as very sad. As a highly educated Republican from conservative states who has been studying and following these things for more than 60 yrs and, consequently, who analyzes what is happening accordingly, I will say that there are those further to the left than I like (but not communists) and further to the right than I can stomach (approaching Hitlerism) you should be careful about podcasts that may come from people who’s understanding comes from arm chair thinking while analyzing the cobwebs in the upper corners of their rooms for wisdom. Incidentally, Einstein said there was no such thing as “common sense.”

  31. Jenni says:

    Really interesting history. I would say that as an outsider i.e. in the UK reading comments about the US I was surprised to hear that some see the government as left wing at all. I see both parties as right wing. Even the Democrats are nowhere near as left wing as our Labour party and they are certainly no communists. I have always seen the US as a right wing country and the parties just differing in degrees to the right.

    • Sal DiMaria says:

      Spot on! Thank you for bringing some perspective. There really isn’t that much daylight between the two parties in the US. Now I must say the biggest difference is the radical element in the GOP that follows a wannabe autocrat and something called Q.

  32. James Oshust says:

    The early McCarthy hearings and fraudulent communist investigations were the basis for the sick attempts of Schiff, Nadler and Pelosi along with Schumer to falsify accusations against Trump.

  33. Jenny Ashcraft says:

    Let’s refrain from personal attacks. You are welcome to share differing opinions but our community standards require you to do so respectfully.

  34. Mr_Orez says:

    Only because he was Jewish. Jews were a favorite target for political marginalization.

  35. Stephanie says:

    Great overview. For those interested in learning a broader sense of Oppenheimer’s work and “The Manhattan Project” there is a fabulous book written by Chris Wallace- “Countdown 1945.” This book is such a fabulous read, you can’t put it down. Interesting, how this brilliant man-Oppenheimer-with a distinctive, unique style and attitude, created such a destructive weapon with his talents. Sadly, he couldn’t put his intellect to do good for the world, as in the case of Alfred Noble- who after inventing dynamite, wanted to establish a more humanitarian purpose for him to be remembered , aka The Nobel Peace Prize!” Unfortunately for Oppenheimer, he ironically, was thought a traitor by his own countrymen, who were the catalyst for creating the one (or rather two) things that were designed to help “end” the war for America. He was a man without a country- as of course Japan was devastated and would forever be. The ultimate irony, through years of what this aftermath must have taken a toll on his soul, was to suffer from throat cancer- depriving him of a voice any further. “War… what is it good for?”

  36. Earl says:

    I think a lot of Trump supporters have been out Foxed if you know what I mean

  37. Bob Krohn says:

    A book written by the head of Soviet Espionage after the collapse of the USSR stated that Oppenheimer was in fact a Soviet asset. He passed some info but his main purpose was to be in charge so he could hire others and infiltrate the program with Soviet Spies. His whole family were active card carrying Communist Party members.

  38. Oppenheimer’s main motive for development of the A Bomb was to use US resources to create a weapon to defeat the Nazis before they got one and could win the war with Russia (Germany’s former ally during the first two years of war. Never mentioned)

  39. Linda Grauer says:

    I still Shudder at the thought that Trump apparently called our MIA’s and Dead Soldiers Losers and Suckers– He also apparently did NOT want our wounded solders in any Military Parades–

  40. Russell Wilson says:

    Does a tie(i.e. demanding and accepting cash etc.) to multiple communist governments / companies constitute “being” a communist?

  41. George R Deaton says:

    My brother James G Deaton. Was killed on Batana, dring the troop evacuation
    I was 8 years old at the time of the missing in action telegram. In 1947 two soliders visted Denve, Co. out place of residence. hey met with my older brother (robert and my Father at Fitsomona Hospital. I beleve these two soldiers were survivors of The Death March. As far as I know m mother was not told about the visit and I know i never knew other than he had been killed. I have tried over the years trying to find information about his service, so far with lttle luck. Although recently I have learned there has been some recovery projects underway in the Philippines. If the is anyone wrking this blog that may have had a friend or famiy member that might have known or heard of my brother I would appreciate hearing from them.
    I just turned 90 and my daughter Lisa Kropp and my niece Sandy York are the one that will carry on.
    Thank you
    George Deaton