Aug 2, 2005

Oppenheimer's face

He looks like the man from Grant Wood’s American Gothic recast with a floppy hat and a cigarette letting off a feather of smoke. His eyes are pinched, his nose subtly crooked and his face, above all things, is plain. Plain and even austere, looking sorrowed around the eyes and along the cheek bones and determined in the jaw, in the clench of the cigarette.

The say he stood there, after it went off, like the sheriff out of High Noon. He had done it, this feat of physics, this physics of fighting fascism.

They say they were terrified, standing out around the desert of the Journey of the Dead Man, thinking something had gone wrong and the world was on fire. They say they were nervous before and terrified after, as the wave of the blast blew dirt clods past them and the thunder from their explosion went up and down the hills, the purple cloud billowing into a mushroom.

Someone laughed, a few people cried, and most of them were silent. He stood there, looking down at his explosion, and he had changed the face of the world. He’d struggled with nature and the weather, with the government and the spies. He was J. Robert Oppenheimer. He was the father of the Atom Bomb. And maybe he strutted, for a moment, in his triumph.

Then he paused. We’re all sons of bitches now, he said.