A weapon beyond the imagination

Celebrating a mass murderer

Christopher Nolan (screenplay/director) Oppenheimer Universal Pictures, general release

This self-serving and slavishly pro-imperialist film from the Anglo-American, Christopher Nolan, follows in the footsteps of those previously produced by such talented directors as Leni Riefenstahl and Kathryn Bigelow - glorifiers of Nazism and US militarism respectively.

The film is a slanted biopic of J Robert Oppenheimer (played by Cillian Murphy) - the US theoretical physicist who developed nuclear weapons as part of the Manhattan Project, and thus was party to the August 1945 mass murders in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With his self-aggrandisement personified, he prostituted his science and himself to US ascendancy and domination of the rest of the world. It was four years until the Soviet Union was able to test an atomic weapon, during which time the USA was cock of the walk worldwide.

In a USA fed a decades-long diet of the Yellow Peril (fuelling racism against immigrants of Chinese and Japanese origin, especially in California), president Harry S Truman’s open sabre-rattling after Franklin D Roosevelt’s attempted masking of the nature of US imperialism, and the sneak Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it was easy to engender a climate dehumanising the Japanese foe.

Arguments about saving GI lives during a hypothetical invasion of the Japanese home islands are hinted at in Oppenheimer - although, even if truly discussed widely, this was window-dressing for public consumption and the salving of liberal consciences. Truman (Gary Oldman) did not need convincing that the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would bring about a rapid Japanese surrender, which his administration needed primarily to best the USA’s wartime Soviet ally.

Under heavy political pressure exerted at the covert Los Alamos, New Mexico atomic weapons campus through general Leslie Groves (Matt Damon), Oppenheimer brought forward the first A-bomb test, code-named Trinity. The test was carried out on July 16 1945 in order that it could be announced as a fait accompli at the Potsdam Conference held from July 17 - August 2 between the USA, UK and Soviet Union (represented by Truman, Attlee and Churchill, and Stalin). Even then, the bomb was described euphemistically.

As a result of Stalin’s 1943 declaration at the USA-UK-USSR Tehran conference that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan once Germany was defeated, the Soviets declared war on Japan on August 7 1945. Subsequently, the USSR defeated the Kwantung Army in parts of China (including Manchuria) and in Mongolia.

However, US atomic weapon technology or research was never shared with the USSR, its ‘ally’. And, unsurprisingly, neither was the Soviet Union informed beforehand of the atomic bombing of Japan, though the UK authorities gave formal agreement under treaty. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were accordingly targeted on August 6 and 9 respectively.

Oppenheimer fails to show any of the effects of those atomic weapons on the ordinary people of those cities. Film of the aftermath in both cities is readily available, as is the testimony of survivors (the hibakusha, totalling 400,000), many of whom died of radiation poisoning subsequently. An estimated 210,000-250,000 people perished in the two cities either immediately or shortly after the two bombings. This failure results from a political decision by the film-makers and their financial backers, exposing its propagandist nature. Some mealy-mouthed excuses have been given recently about the too-shocking nature of these images, but they were shown repeatedly on BBC television throughout the 1950s, being then considered salutary for all ages.

Unsurprisingly, the US military and its paid academics have always tried to downplay the number of deaths, incredibly suggesting that only around 100,000 died - still mass murder in anyone’s book.

Oppenheimer’s communist associations, including his wife and a former lover, who were lapsed members of the Communist Party of the USA, are of little moment, given the CPUSA’s Stalinist politics and its degeneration into a rally squad for Roosevelt’s bourgeois government.

The film depicts Oppenheimer’s crocodile tears and apparent concerns, even after the 1945 Trinity nuclear test more than confirmed the certain, massive devastation as a result of using these atomic devices. Let us never forget that no-one was forced to work on the Manhattan Project, which produced the weapons used on Japan. Certainly, other nuclear physicists continued their research outside the military, including professor Patrick Blackett, who became a vociferous opponent of UK nuclear weaponry in later life.

During World War II the mantle of global hegemony passed inevitably, if reluctantly, from the UK to the USA. The period covered by Oppenheimer sees this in Britain’s growing ‘bag carrier’ role for the USA. Pathetic attempts to regain its empire and colonial-based prestige were crushed at Suez in 1956 and during the post-war years when Britain strove for an ‘independent nuclear deterrent’, but it was all for nothing. Now, Britain’s armed forces are much reduced in comparative global terms, and the UK has become merely the US’s satrap.

And, so far, the USA is the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons. Since Vietnam kicked out its forces in 1975, it might have become the destroyer par excellence - armed to the teeth as it is, but unable to build, only to obliterate whichever enemy Aunt Sally it wants to cow. It must come as no surprise that US ‘defence’ spending is larger than that of the six next largest arms-spending countries combined.

Oppenheimer fulfils the Whig version of history. Not only is everything done in our interests in the best of all possible worlds, and the many thousands of deaths caused by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were inevitable and necessary to shorten the war: but incredibly their use was somehow to be seen as saving lives! US servicemen’s lives, that is. Of course, from the US imperialist view - some of us in the 60s and 70s might have said the ‘Amerikan’ view - the lives of those beyond its territory (stolen by blood and war from its indigenous peoples, of course) are dispensable.

We know that US bourgeois ideologues have a fall-back position of defending the ‘American way’ at the expense of the rest of us on earth. Satraps nothing! - we may become slaves to a future Amerikan empire, keeping its population in a custom to which it has become habituated.

Oppenheimer has more than a whiff of this and we would be well advised to take heed.