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The absurdity of our global system for preserving peace

Christopher Nolan, director of Oppenheimer, said it best: “The absurdity of relying on these systems or this precarious balance,” Nolan says. “It’s frightening to contemplate.” His film, Oppenheimer, began shooting in February 2022, the month Russia invaded Ukraine, bringing to mind not just the peril of modern-day war and battlefield nukes, but the Cold War era, with Moscow and Washington both in command of an arsenal of city-killing ballistic missiles and only the threat of mutually assured destruction—the idea that letting one of them fly means they’d all fly—keeping them in their silos. Oppenheimer’s little Hiroshima bomb had an explosive power of 15 kilotons—or 15 thousand tons of TNT. A single, modern-day U.S. Trident II missile can carry up to 12 nuclear warheads, packing 475 kilotons of punch each. That mortal legacy of the work done at Los Alamos nuclear research facility was very much on the mind of Oppenheimer. One of the film’s more fraught scenes unfolds on Oct. 25, 1945, just over two and a half months after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were attacked. Oppenheimer had sought an audience with President Harry Truman, and on that day, the man who built the bombs and the man who dropped the bombs met for the first time, in the Oval Office. As the film depicts it and as accounts confirm, a guilt-wracked Oppenheimer was candid with Truman (played by Gary Oldman), confessing, “Mr. President, I feel I have blood on my hands.” History recalls just what happened next differently—with Bird and Sherwin reporting that Truman himself gave conflicting accounts, sometimes saying that he replied, “Never mind, it’ll come out in the wash,” and other times that he handed a handkerchief to Oppenheimer and said, “Well here, would you like to wipe your hands?” In the film, Truman merely brandishes the handkerchief, looking at Oppenheimer with a mocking pout. The meeting ends and as Oppenheimer leaves, Truman can be heard describing him as a “crybaby” to an aide. The crybaby part is true, though it was a term Truman used to describe Oppenheimer in a memo to Secretary of State Dean Acheson. There is much that the film Oppenheimer tells us about science, violence, murder, morality; about the very fate of all eight billion of us. During the promotional tour for the movie, Nolan appeared on a panel at the modern-day Los Angeles National Laboratory, along with author and theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli. Nolan recalls one of the attendees opining that “the deployment of nuclear weapons has helped ensure world peace for 80 years so far” to which , Rovelli portentously echoed, “So far.” “The absurdity of relying on these systems or this precarious balance,” Nolan says. “It’s frightening to contemplate.” So, this idea is that we, as a global population, should sto accepting this absurdity. Rather, we the people of the world, must work together to resolve it. There is only one place to start - communicating with each other. Idea includes extracts from Time Magazine article on Oppenheimer, 29 January 2024.
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