Why did Robert Oppenheimer regret his involvement in the Manhattan Project?

It's commonly reported that Oppenheimer had deep regret for his involvement in nuclear weapons development. What led to this regret, and how did it affect his subsequent life and work?

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J. Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist, is often regarded as the 'father of the atomic bomb' for his role as the scientific director of the Manhattan Project during World War II. The Manhattan Project was the United States-led effort to develop the first functional nuclear weapons. Oppenheimer's regret stemmed from the profound effects these atomic weapons had on human life, particularly the destruction witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These bombings marked the end of WWII, but with unimaginable devastation. Upon seeing the destructive power of the weapon unleashed, Oppenheimer infamously quoted from Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Oppenheimer’s remorse turned him into a staunch advocate for international control over nuclear weapons. He began to argue against nuclear armament and pushed for peaceful applications of atomic energy. His moral stance put him at odds with his former colleagues and the U.S military and government, leading to his security clearance being summarily revoked in 1954 during the Cold War under suspicion of communist sympathies. This effectively ended his role in policy decisions related to nuclear energy. Nevertheless, Oppenheimer continued to speak out against the arms race and many of his ideas remain influential in the discussion of scientific ethics, particularly concerning the societal responsibility of scientists. His life and subsequent remorse after the Manhattan Project underline the important ethical considerations that accompany significant scientific and technological advancements. For anyone who discovers this topic in the future, the story of Oppenheimer underscores the crucial understanding that with great knowledge and power comes great responsibility. We should always work towards using scientific advancements for the betterment of humankind rather than its destruction.
Answered on August 24, 2023.
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