I went to see Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer biopic with some reservations, worried that the scientist who gave us the nuclear bomb, and the military-industrial complex that spawned and abused it, would be presented in too positive a light.
I’m happy to report that Nolan actually did an excellent job of portraying the devastating toll of the nuclear bombing of Japan on Oppenheimer’s psyche and on the rest of his life. Moreover, when Oppenheimer vociferously opposed the nuclear arms race and tried to promote world peace, he was hauled in front of a committee of McCarthyist political and military hacks, pre-determined to humiliate him and declare him a “threat to national security.”
Nolan unequivocally portrays the noxious military-government operatives with their paranoid anti-Communist views as the villains. He reserves the tragic-heroic halo for the patriot scientist who gave his life’s work and compromised his conscience for his country, yet was castigated by the power establishment and cast out of the inner circle.
I was struck by many similarities between the movie’s themes and current political and cultural trends: a deep state intent on creating weapons of mass destruction – in our time genetically engineered bioweapons – with blithe disregard for the potentially devastating consequences; scientists hounded and discredited for promoting unpopular ideas that contradict the mainstream narrative; a government in thrall to a paranoid notion of internal enemies (controlled by Russia!) who must be silenced and shunned, the Constitution be damned.
Ring any bells?
Judging by the reviews and responses to the film that I’ve read, not at all. In fact, in the upside-down, inside-out, and backwards world of the mainstream media bubble, the conscience-stricken, publicly humiliated Oppenheimer somehow manages to embody “our public health servants during the pandemic.”
This is the astonishing and intellectually bankrupt interpretation put forth in a New York Times editorial by none other than Kai Bird, co-author of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer – the book upon which Nolan’s film is based.
You might think someone so intimately familiar with the indignities inflicted on a world-renowned scientist who spoke out against the establishment would be sensitive to present-day parallels. I would argue that you have to be wilfully blind or ignorant to miss the comparisons between Oppenheimer’s fate and the reputational and career destruction suffered by all the scientists and doctors – many world-famous in their fields – who risked their livelihoods and good standing in the scientific community by speaking out against the prevailing Covid narrative.
At first, it seems like Bird might have an inkling. He lists Oppenheimer’s offenses against the military-political establishment, which included criticizing the decision to build a hydrogen bomb, saying that the Hiroshima bomb was used “against an essentially defeated enemy,” and warning that the atomic bomb “is a weapon for aggressors.”
Basically, Oppenheimer wanted the world to use his weapon of mass destruction as a deterrent against all future wars.
As a result, Bird explains:
These forthright dissents against the prevailing view of Washington’s national security establishment earned him powerful political enemies. That was precisely why he was being charged with disloyalty.
Bird extrapolates from Oppenheimer’s fate to the fate of other anti-establishment scientists and intellectuals:
After America’s most celebrated scientist was falsely accused and publicly humiliated, the Oppenheimer case sent a warning to all scientists not to stand up in the political arena as public intellectuals. This was the real tragedy of Oppenheimer: What happened to him also damaged our ability as a society to debate honestly about scientific theory – the very foundation of our modern world.
Sounds about right.
But wait. At this point, Bird does one of those contortionist intellectual maneuvers that flip truth and reality on their heads and make your head spin:
Sadly, Oppenheimer’s life story is relevant to our current political predicaments. Oppenheimer was destroyed by a political movement characterized by rank know-nothing, anti-intellectual, xenophobic demagogues.
Just recall the former president’s fact-challenged comments on the pandemic or climate change. This is a worldview proudly scornful of science.
In other words: The biggest political problem we face – according to Bird – are bad, bad Trump and stupid, ignorant, racist Trump supporters. They are the existential threat to our democracy and our freedoms.
One might logically infer from Bird’s argument that it is Trump and his “anti-intellectual” supporters who silenced John Ioannidis, one of the most highly regarded and widely cited epidemiologists of our time, when he spoke out against Covid lockdowns. Their “demagoguery” apparently prevented the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration – again, among the most respected scientists in the world – from disseminating vital information during the pandemic.
Furthermore, if we continue to follow the perverse line of reasoning that posits “our public health servants during the pandemic” as moral and intellectual descendants of Oppneheimer, we might conclude that it was Anthony Fauci et al. who were pushed out of the mainstream and branded “fringe epidemiologists” by government officials. Or who are no longer able to publish their work in respected scientific journals and whose opinions are deemed dangerous to national security.
Yet we know this to be the opposite of what actually happened.
The free-thinking, establishment-challenging heroes of the pandemic were world-class experts including Ioannidis, the Great Barrington Declaration doctors, and scientist-intellectuals like Aaron Kheriaty – the director of Medical Ethics and a Professor of Psychiatry at UC Irvine, who was fired for opposing the anti-scientific, unethical and indefensible vaccine mandates at his institution.
Needless to say, Fauci and other leaders of the public health-industrial complex are not among those heroes. In fact, they are the agents of the government-military-intelligence alliance that wielded all the power, resources, and megaphone of the federal government to blanket the media with anti-science, anti-public-health propaganda.
It was their censorship and propaganda that “damaged our ability as a society to debate honestly about scientific theory – the very foundation of our modern world.”
And it was Trump and his supporters – no matter how much one may disagree with them politically or despise them personally – who were actually accused of being Russian agents and of threatening national security by spreading “misinformation.”
I find it tragic that someone as familiar with Oppenheimer’s life as Kai Bird can participate in the very same paranoia and censorship of dissident opinions that he ostensibly decries.
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