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Could “Oppenheimer” Help Inspire a New Anti-Nuclear Movement in the United States?

Web ExclusiveJuly 24, 2023
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Part 2 of our interview with longtime journalist Greg Mitchell, who has written extensively about the new Hollywood film Oppenheimer, as well as U.S. nuclear weapons policy. He was editor of Nuclear Times magazine from 1982 to 1986. His books include The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood — and America — Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Hiroshima in America and Atomic Cover-up.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to look at Christopher Nolan’s new film, Oppenheimer, about the man credited with creating the atomic bomb. This is a clip of J. Robert Oppenheimer himself, not from the film, J. Robert Oppenheimer in his own words, describing his feeling as the first nuclear explosion in history lit up the Trinity blast site in New Mexico on July 16th, 1945.

J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER: We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed. A few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty, and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s J. Robert Oppenheimer himself.

Still with us, Greg Mitchell, documentary filmmaker, author of numerous books, including The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood — and America — Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Greg was editor of Nuclear Times magazine in the '80s, has written extensively about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, atomic bombings. His most recent piece for the Los Angeles Times, “'Oppenheimer’ is here. Is Hollywood still afraid of the truth about the atomic bomb?”

There’s so much to discuss in this Part 2 of our conversation, Greg, because you have taken this on for decades. Why don’t we start out by talking about this truth that you don’t feel was conveyed by the film? Though there’s a lot on this film, because, actually, so few films have been made, feature films, narrative dramatic films, about the dropping of the atomic bombs.

GREG MITCHELL: Yeah. As I show in my book, there’s really only been four. I mean, this new film is only the fourth. The first film, very revealingly, The Beginning or the End from MGM in 1947, started as a plea from the atomic scientists for a major studio to make a blockbuster movie that would warn the world about not continuing down the nuclear path and building bigger and more weapons. That got transformed, after intervention from the Pentagon and the Truman White House and Truman himself, into pro-bomb propaganda that supported the use of the bomb, supported making more bombs. It became almost kind of laughable. But it was released to theaters and stood as the only film —

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, wait, Greg. If you can explain how the White House and the Pentagon got involved with that film, that first film?

GREG MITCHELL: MGM developed — I mean, I saw every script, dozens of scripts, out at the Motion Picture Academy Library, and I charted, you know, week by week, the changes in the script. As I said, it started out as a warning about the bomb and took some issue with the use of the bomb against Hiroshima. General Leslie Groves, who is played with some sympathy, I would say, by Matt Damon in the Christopher Nolan movie, was given basic script approval. And he made dozens, perhaps hundreds, of revisions, big and small, in the script as it went forward. So it slowly became a justification for the building of the bomb and the use of the bomb and making more bombs, and certainly Grove’s role.

Oppenheimer himself, after raising some issues himself, basically caved and signed a release that allowed himself to be portrayed and serve as narrator of the movie in 1946. And then it went to the White House, where Truman himself took issue with a key scene where he’s describing why the bomb had to be used. He ordered that this scene be reshot. He ordered that the actor playing him be fired, because he did not communicate enough military bearing, as he said.

And so, there was a sort of remarkable situation where the both the Pentagon and the White House were basically given veto or veto approval over this film. And it was so revealing that this sort of set the stage for, I guess you’d say, 78 years of this Hiroshima narrative kind of holding sway in this country, although not in much of the rest of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Greg, that was just the first film. You talked about the four big films.


AMY GOODMAN: The second?

GREG MITCHELL: Right. The second one was basically a biopic of Paul Tibbets, the pilot who dropped the bomb over Hiroshima from the Enola Gay B-29. And, you know, it was basically his story. I don’t think Oppenheimer is in it at all. And also from MGM, they even use some of the footage from the first film. And again, it was definitely a justification narrative, justifying the use of the bomb. Above and Beyond, right, yeah, Above and Beyond. And again, both these MGM films, you can find streaming and watch them today, if you dare.

And then there was not another film until the late 1980s. Roland Joffé, who was a fine director of Killing Fields and some other movies, made a movie called Fat Man and Little Boy, which was a major, major movie. And it came at the end of the 1980s, which, as you know, was a period that started as a great anti-nuclear fervor in the U.S. And the film, you know, again, it’s not a terrible film, but it was definitely compromised by the casting of Paul — the great Paul Newman as Leslie Groves, the general, and an unknown named Dwight Schultz as Oppenheimer, who can’t — I suppose you might say Oppenheimer didn’t stand up to Groves very well in real life, either —

AMY GOODMAN: And explain.

GREG MITCHELL: — but certainly in the movie.

AMY GOODMAN: Fat Man and Little Boy were the names of the bombs, the one that dropped on Hiroshima —

GREG MITCHELL: That’s right, yeah, one —

AMY GOODMAN: — and the one that was dropped on Nagasaki.

GREG MITCHELL: That’s right. Right, right. And the film — you know, again, the film, because of the overpowering presence of Paul Newman, who, of course, we all love, but was tilted, again, way too much in favor of the pro-bomb experience.

Now, what’s interesting about that film, and was admirable — and Joffé took a lot of heat for this — was it did show — the only movie to show the death of one of the scientists at Los Alamos from exposure to radiation. Now, this happened to two scientists, actually, at Los Alamos, which was kept secret for a while, not something that any — Christopher Nolan or any other director really wants to focus on, but Joffé did show this physicist exposed and then dying from radiation, played by John Cusack. And so, that was a — I mean, that was a good thing. But Joffé then got slammed by many in the press for overemphasizing that, even though we were about to find out about all the horrible radiation medical experiments that came out, that only came out around that time. So, you know, the whole radiation aspect history of the bomb is just, you know, so terrible and so little understood.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about the fallout. I mean, that’s very interesting about the scientists who died. But since so much in the beginning of this film looks at Trinity, named so by J. Robert Oppenheimer himself, talk about the decision to do this test in the New Mexico desert, the significance of this, who the downwinders were. Give us this history.

GREG MITCHELL: OK. Well, Oppenheimer himself thought that the easiest and the best way to actually get a bomb made or invented would be in a remote location, bring all these top scientists together, under his guidance, and kind of force people to work together and work remotely, with — bringing their wives and children if they had to. And so, Oppenheimer, who had — although he was a New York man, a New York boy from a wealthy family, used to go out to New Mexico with his brother at a ranch and ride horses. He loved New Mexico. He loved the Los Alamos area. So he selected the Los Alamos area for this remote village or official secret village called Los Alamos. And so, he combined — I think the movie has a line about he combined his two favorite things at the moment, which was building a new weapon and his New Mexico ranch days. So they ended up in this remote location. But, you know, it wasn’t totally remote, and they did — had to relocate a lot of families and Indigenous people who lived out there, who were moved away.

And in terms of the Trinity test, they selected again a remote area. But it wasn’t that remote, because there were settlements and villages nearby. And the tragedy was that these people were not evacuated, even though there were some calls for them to be evacuated. They were not warned about the test that was about to come. The scientists and the military knew there was going to be a huge radioactive cloud released. They didn’t know exactly the dimensions. And yet, you know, they held this test there. And indeed, this radioactive cloud was produced and did drift further than they imagined, over these settlements and villages. And again, people were not warned, and they were not informed afterward that they really faced danger, health effects. They could see their livestock, some of their livestock, dying. There’s a famous paralyzed mule, hair falling out.

And this really set the stage of what I call the lethality and the secrecy of the radiation aspect of the bomb project, because they then, without people — without them being criticized for this test and the effects it caused, they were able to easily then move into the bomb test era for 20 years, first in the Pacific, where the Pacific Islanders were affected by being relocated and affected by fallout, and then in the U.S., mainly in Nevada, massive amounts of radiation fallout produced. You know, I drank it in my milk as a boy, as did many others.

So, it really — the Trinity test, filmmakers love, because it can show these great special effects. It can show a great moment of triumph, you know, people celebrating. You know, it’s a wonderful thing to focus on in a film, because no one died, at least on that day, where, of course, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, up to 200,000 died. And so, that’s why directors, in every film that’s been made, love to focus on Trinity, but not focus fully by following up on what the effects of the radiation was later.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could talk about a section of this film — and the reason we’re focusing on this, because it’s telling us the story of American history. But when J. Robert Oppenheimer goes before a hearing to deal with his — whether or not he would have his security clearance revoked, but this goes back in time.


AMY GOODMAN: And it goes to family, to relatives, to dear friends who were part of the Communist Party, everyone from his younger brother — 


AMY GOODMAN: — who also worked on the bomb, Frank, to his wife, played by Emily Blunt, Kitty Oppenheimer. Can you talk about the political context of the time?

GREG MITCHELL: Yeah. Well, you know, as you mentioned, there’s no question in history that Oppenheimer, in the ’30s, had these close communist associations you just mentioned. He did attend communist meetings or fundraisers and so forth, donated to — in the Spanish Civil War and so forth. No one can test that. But yet he was hired by General Groves, who was quite a conservative man, to head the bomb project, knowing most of these associations. So, you know, he was trusted as a loyal American or whatever. Then he pulled off this incredible success in making the bomb, and then became, you know, one of the most famous men in the world after the war.

Now, we got to the early 1950s in the McCarthy era and the Red Scare era, and so Oppenheimer became a target because of his past associations, because he had, at least mainly, not completely, mainly opposed the building of the hydrogen bomb. He was more of an advocate for international control and limits on the bomb and so forth, so that when we got into the early 1950s and into his security hearing in 1954, it was easy to go back, or at least within that atmosphere, to go back to the 1930s and bring up these issues from his past. And, you know, I don’t want to — this is a spoiler alert, but, you know, we do see that the final hour of the film focuses on that, and it doesn’t end real well for him.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about how it was he — that J. Robert Oppenheimer was approved to run the Manhattan Project. And then let’s talk about why it was named that, where the uranium came from. Lay it out for us. This is a subject you have taken on for decades. This is the story of your life, too, Greg.

GREG MITCHELL: Well, I suppose that’s partly right. Well, you know, FDR, who was, of course, still living then, heard from Einstein and others that it was possible to split the atom and create this superweapon. FDR approved this project, approved the massive amount of money that would be spent on it, approved the formation, the building of these secret cities in several parts of the country, including Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, incredible enterprises. You don’t quite get the scope in the Nolan movie, but, I mean, it really is an amazing subject. And again, why filmmakers like it, because it’s a big subject, and it’s an incredible success story in many ways.

And so, the bomb project began. They recruited all these famous physicists to come in and work on it under Oppenheimer’s guidance. Oppenheimer did not have much to do himself with technical invention of the bomb. He’s often credited as the father of the A-bomb, not because he was, you know, such a — made such contributions to the actual technical stuff, but because he guided the project. General Leslie Groves was the military director, basically his boss. And it was Groves who was driving the engine, both with Oppenheimer and Los Alamos and with Truman. Some people have said that Truman was described as like a little boy on a toboggan going downhill, pushed by Groves, basically. Groves was the one who wanted the bomb made as quickly as possible, used as quickly as possible, used as widely as possible. And that then came to fruition in the summer of 1945. But the Manhattan Project itself went back to the — you know, several years earlier.

AMY GOODMAN: And it was called Manhattan Project because?

GREG MITCHELL: Well, you know, there was — a important part of the overall project was in New York City, Columbia scientists and so forth. It just became a code, a code name, you know, for the project. There was nothing particularly significant about it.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about Chicago and Los Alamos, which scientists were where, and why that division mattered even politically later on.

GREG MITCHELL: Yeah, the film does — one thing it does, but again, like much else in the film, it kind of shows briefly or mentions briefly a number of things. And one thing it does, it does have, again, in short, a short amount of it, was the famous petition that was circulated by Leo Szilard. There’s one — in fact, Leo Szilard, who was a Chicago scientist — you mentioned this difference. The Chicago scientists were much more — I wouldn’t say “anti-bomb.” They worked on the bomb. They helped build the bomb and, as did Szilard, played a key role. But the Chicago scientists were more skeptical of the use of the bomb after Germany was defeated. And Szilard, you know, circulated this petition.

Now, there’s a scene in the movie where he basically waves it at Oppenheimer, and Oppenheimer kind of — I’m not sure whether it’s accidental or on purpose, but he kind of knocks it away. And what’s interesting, again, if you know — it’s a little bit inside baseball maybe, but Edward Teller, who went on to become the father of the hydrogen bomb and, for many of us in the '60s and ’70s and ’80s, was a kind of a bad guy for that, a very bellicose, belligerent pro-bomb guy, scientist. In the film, he wants to sign the Szilard petition, that would go to Truman asking him to delay in using the bomb or not use it at all. So, Teller, I think, has at least two, maybe three different mini scenes with Oppenheimer where he mentions the petition. And Oppenheimer kind of discourages him and shoots him down. But it is interesting that Teller, who sort of has this very bad reputation for many of us, stands in as someone who's kind of — you know, wants to sign this — signs this petition, and he’s misdirected by Oppenheimer.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen, for example, and not Kyoto? I mean, it’s an amazing story.

GREG MITCHELL: Yeah, well, it’s accurate. You know, I have to say, the film, the Nolan movie, unlike most of the other movies, and certainly not The Beginning or the End, the movie that I write about in my book that started it all, is quite accurate, you know, in terms of accuracy. I just — I have issues, some issues, with the focus and what’s missing, but it’s based on a terrific book by two of my friends, Kai Bird and the late Marty Sherwin. It’s very, very close to the book. And it is, in most scenes, quite accurate. And so, you know, I applaud it for that.

But the movie does not go in, in any depth, to the selection of the cities, why they were selected, how they were targeted. You know, there was an original list of about five cities. Kyoto was on it. They were all chosen because they had been not touched very much by our bombing already, and they could show the real extent of the damage, and, I suppose you could say, the deaths that could be caused by the bomb. And so they included, you know, Niigata and Kokura, Nagasaki and Hiroshima and Kyoto. It is kind of amazing. The film shows this very briefly. Secretary of War Stimson insisted that Kyoto get removed from the list, partly because he had visited there and thought it was this beautiful city, but also the cultural importance it had to the Japanese. And Stimson was a little more concerned than, let’s say, Groves about how we would manage Japan after we dropped the bomb on the country. Groves tried desperately to get Kyoto back on the list. It’s not really amusing, but it is amazing how persistently he tried to get Kyoto back on the list, and failed. There would have been even more civilian deaths if Kyoto had been bombed.

But Hiroshima and Nagasaki were picked as very large cities that were not already destroyed by our carpet bombing. And the targeting was blatantly, overtly to drop it over the center of the cities to cause the most damage. There was — they mentioned, well, they had military facilities, they had industrial facilities. They tried to couch it in the language of a military attack. But they knew very well that this was basically not primarily military targets. And, in fact, Nagasaki, only about a hundred noncivilians were killed, out of the maybe 100,000 or 80,000 who died there. And in Hiroshima, about 80% of the casualties were civilian. So, it went off as planned, you might say, unfortunately, but, I mean, that was the — definitely the planned destruction of two cities to cause the most damage.

AMY GOODMAN: And if you could talk about whether the logic of, because different kinds of bombs were made, wanting to test them both? I mean, the horror of even saying this, but —


AMY GOODMAN: — and also the innocuous names for them. Little Boy was the Hiroshima bomb, and Fat Man was the Nagasaki bomb.

GREG MITCHELL: Right. Well, the Hiroshima bomb was made with uranium, was the key component. And the Nagasaki bomb was plutonium. And there’s a body of thought, which I’ve never embraced fully — I think it could have been a factor — is that one of the reasons we went ahead with the Nagasaki bomb was we wanted to test that second weapon with plutonium, which then, in fact, became our weapon of choice. So, you know, it does almost seem that way. We wanted to have the two experiments. And the second experiment was carried out. We did test the plutonium bomb, which was more damaging. Now, we didn’t kill as many people in Nagasaki, because the bomb was dropped slightly off target. We were so desperate to use the bomb. You know, we dropped it — it took off in a storm, and they barely found a hole in the clouds to drop the bomb. We were so desperate to use it that day, and — but it did explode slightly off target, so not as many people died. But, in fact, the plutonium bomb is — was stronger than the uranium bomb.

But, you know, Nagasaki is such a — and I know you know this history well, although most people don’t. You know, Nagasaki, there are people who will — including strong supporters of the Hiroshima bomb, historians and other people, who have said, “Well, I think the Hiroshima bomb maybe was needed, but Nagasaki was a war crime, unquestionably.” You know, I’m not so sure to give people a pass on Hiroshima. But, in fact, the Nagasaki bomb was — it was basically an assembly line situation. Truman and Groves and everyone else signed off on using these bombs as quickly as possible when they were ready. And so, Nagasaki was ready three days after Hiroshima. And, you know, it’s just revealing that nobody, whether it’s Groves or Truman or Oppenheimer, anyone, no one took the care to say, “Well, let’s wait a few days or a couple weeks to see how Hiroshima — or, how Japan responds to the first bomb.” You know, no one paused. They just said, “OK, let’s just keep going.”

And, in fact, one of the — again, one of the things I have — issues I have with the Nolan movie is it barely mentions Nagasaki. And, in fact, Oppenheimer really was not shaken by so much what happened with Hiroshima. But when he learned about and saw photos, saw aerial footage and heard what happened in Nagasaki, that’s what started his hand-wringing and regrets and haunted statements about this. You know, you might say he never did regret that the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, but he did regret that it then followed up with Nagasaki. So it would have been an important thing for Nolan to focus on, you know, but he did not. But, you know, Nagasaki has been a tragic story that I’ve written about for so long, and I just think it reveals so much about our nuclear era, the lack of care about this, you know, about the second bomb and what happened there.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about where the uranium for the original bomb, for the Hiroshima bomb, came from?

GREG MITCHELL: Well, you know, Canada was an important source for it. And, of course, most people don’t know Canada was part of the bomb project, as was the U.K. But what happened later with uranium, you know, probably is more important to focus on, which is all the uranium mining in the U.S., again in the Southwest, all the workers who were exposed out there, you know, just the tremendous burden that people, workers in the Southwest and residents of the Southwest, have had in this nuclear era, you know, from the uranium mining and the uranium industry, and, of course, the bomb tests in Nevada, so much affected. You mentioned earlier the downwinders. Again, many people today may not know what that word means.

But, fortunately, what has come out of all this publicity around the Oppenheimer film — and, of course, I’m sure you and I both hope that it does cause a sea change in how people view the future of nuclear weapons and the first-use policy, first-strike policy and things like that. You know, we’ll see. We’ll see what happens with that. But already in the past week, we have seen numerous stories across the country on the downwinders and on the effects on people out there, who have been fighting for recognition for how they’ve suffered originally and in the years since from the radiation exposure and fallout. And it’s kind of been heartening that a lot of these stories have come out. And there’s new lawsuits, and so on and so forth. In fact, the screening I went to of Oppenheimer, there were people outside passing out leaflets and signs calling attention to this issue.

But the expression “downwinders” just means people who lived downwind from the tests and were unquestionably exposed to fallout. And in a way, even me growing up in East, I was a downwinder in the sense that the radioactive clouds did drift across the country, but nothing like the danger that was faced by those and Indigenous residents out in the Southwest.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg, the United States Department of Energy website states, “The Shinkolobwe mine in the Katanga province of the Belgian Congo provided two-thirds of the Manhattan Project’s uranium from an extraordinarily rich pitchblende deposit averaging more than 2 percent uranium content. Virtually all of this had been mined and was above ground at the start of the war.” If you could talk more about that link to the Congo?

GREG MITCHELL: Yeah. Well, that’s an interesting, interesting point. We had to get the uranium however we could get it. And whether it was from Africa or wherever we got it, it was important to secure it. And there’s a scene in the movie where — you don’t ever see this. You never learn in the Nolan movie where they got it or how they got it or anything else. The movie does show him — and I this is one thing I’m not sure is historically correct. But he had two bowls in front of him. And when he would talk to the — talk to his fellow physicists and scientists, as weeks went by, he would fill them up with little metal balls, as they were able to secure the uranium and plutonium and start to get it refined. So, you know, it’s a great, great device in the movie, but we know we never do see what happened, you know, how we got the materials.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Mitchell, can you talk about the role of Albert Einstein? I mean, he’s dismissed early on by J. Robert Oppenheimer as sort of a man of the past. Relativity was — the theory of relativity was developed decades before. It’s not what he needed to make the atomic bomb. But talk about how important Albert Einstein was through this whole period.

GREG MITCHELL: Well, you know, he played — I mean, he was like the greatest man of science, a world-famous figure. This was years after his discovery of the theory of relativity. But because of his standing, he was called on to go to Roosevelt and, you know, plead with him to begin this bomb project. So, apart from anything he contributed to the history of science in the years earlier, his role was to be a champion of going ahead with the bomb project. Now, as it happens, as the bomb project went on, Einstein became very, very nervous about the use of it as a weapon. He didn’t take part in the Manhattan Project at all.

In the Nolan movie, as you mentioned, we do see Oppenheimer, who clearly respected him and knew him, kind of dismissing him, as he was the old science, and Oppenheimer represented the new science. And Einstein, in the movie, plays a key role. I don’t want to give away the ending. I think it’s quite a strong, effective ending. Oppenheimer — and, in fact, in the movie, we see Einstein two or three times, and you kind of wonder why they keep showing him, or he seems to be involved with Robert Downey and the Oppenheimer character. Where is this going? But it does kind of get a big payoff at the end, I’d say.

But Oppenheimer himself, you know, became a very strong advocate of control of the bomb and nuclear weapons. Again, the movie I wrote about, The Beginning or the End, Einstein held out as long as he could from being represented in the movie, and he actually is barely in the movie. So, he had a — you know, he was much more skeptical about about the bomb than Oppenheimer, but he did not take part in the Manhattan Project whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Mitchell, if you can talk about why you feel it’s so critical to be accurate about what’s happening, beyond because it’s important that history be as true as possible? It’s also determined by those who tell the story. And, of course, in this country, we rarely see the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the perspective of the Japanese, the targets of the bomb.


AMY GOODMAN: But why you feel it’s so critical? And today, I mean, the fact that you have people now interested in it may — this may have surpassed Christopher Nolan’s wildest imaginings. You know, this weekend, the release of the films Barbie and Oppenheimer, they call it “Barbieheimer,” the bomb and the bombshell, has, you know, surpassed some of the wildest expectations of even the people involved with these films. But what could come of this? And especially as we face — I think of Dan Ellsberg, who we just lost at 92. His final warnings, as the greatest whistleblower of all time, were not about the War in Vietnam, but about the use of nuclear weapons, or what’s called tactical nuclear weapons, that makes them more acceptable.

GREG MITCHELL: Right. Yeah. In fact, when I saw the Oppenheimer screening, Christopher Nolan was on a panel. And besides warning about AI, he specifically mentioned tactical nuclear weapons, that frightened him. He also said that his own — one of his own children had asked him why he was interested in the subject, suggesting that younger people, or maybe people in general, don’t really worry that much about nuclear weapons anymore. And I guess that partly inspired him to go ahead. My own — my son and daughter both saw the movie on the exact same night; one of them in London and one of them in Los Angeles, coincidentally, on the same night, rushed to see it. The question is what younger people may make of this, not that they — not that other people don’t count. But there’s great speculation on what people are going to do when they come out of the theater. Is it just it’s a summer blockbuster? And as you mentioned, Barbie is at least twice as popular. I’m not sure what that means. But, you know, is Oppenheimer just another popcorn movie in a way that people are already turning the page who’ve seen it?

So, I think it’s important that we we do take advantage of this moment, this Oppenheimer moment, you might say, to raise issues some of us have been raising for decades. And, you know, I understand that climate change is incredibly important, especially for younger people looking to the future, but we have to be reminded that, as, you know, Oppenheimer does, I think, remind us that, you know, the world could end in a moment or in a day with the exchange of nuclear weapons. They’re still here. I mentioned earlier that the U.S. and most other countries have a — still have a first-use policy, which gives the president the right or the — to be able to use nuclear weapons first in a war in response to conventional weapons. There are periodically, or even every year, a bill to overturn that policy. I think it’s gotten some attention again in the last few days. That is one thing that could be, theoretically, changed quickly. We can’t get rid of our thousands of weapons in the nuclear arsenal right away, but we can get rid of our first-use policy. We could demand that whoever’s president secure new arms control agreements with the Soviets and with the Chinese. We could try to get the crises reduced versus North Korea and Iran. There’s just a host of issues.

And again, it may surprise many people that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which has had their Doomsday Clock, going back almost to the beginning, where every year they announce where they’re moving the minute hand in terms of danger, closer to midnight or not. And again, I think it will surprise some people that, you know, in the past year, they moved closer to midnight than it has ever been. And you think about all the scares in the 1950s, the U.S.-Soviet arms race, the Cuban missile crisis, various other times where we’ve nearly used the bomb, and yet the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists now has its clock closer to midnight than it’s ever been. So, it’s a very sobering thing.

And I think — so it’s great if Oppenheimer does spark great new attention and worries and political action about this. I know we’re already seeing political action for the downwinders and other people affected by the bomb. But you have to hope that Oppenheimer does provoke a new surge of interest like there was in the 1980s, the anti-nuclear movement, which was partly inspired by Jonathan Schell’s book, The Fate of the Earth. It would be nice if this decade, then, there was a huge new anti-nuclear movement that was inspired by this movie. I’m skeptical, but I’m hopeful.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Greg Mitchell, documentary filmmaker, author of numerous books, including The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood — and America — Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial, co-written with Robert Jay Lifton; Atomic Cover-up. Greg was editor of Nuclear Times magazine in the 1980s, has written extensively about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We will link to your Los Angeles Times piece, “'Oppenheimer' is here. Is Hollywood still afraid of the truth about the atomic bomb?” We’ll also link to your Substack pieces at democracynow.org. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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Is Hollywood Still Afraid of the Truth About the Atomic Bomb?: Greg Mitchell on “Oppenheimer”

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