‘No’ to Los Alamos

Right after we dumped, er, gently placed all our stuff in our temporary place our new town, the plan was to go back to California and hand over our house there. Except, I got s so sick that I skipped the flight back to California. Since I’m already letting down my husband by being no use at all for a while, I figured I might as well watch movies. Oppenheimer is rentable and I’m already in a daze and how trippy could it be, right?

The way the story unfolded called out the moral ambiguities and karmic paybacks for decisions that impacted billions, that changed the world. I enjoyed it as much as anyone but, because of a bit of family lore, found myself having deep insights about my own family.

My father was a machinist who helped build Fermi’s lab in Chicago before the war. He told us he had been invited to go to Los Alamos to work on the gadget. When he first told me about his decision, I was vaguely proud and disappointed – proud that he’d been invited and disappointed he didn’t have that adventure.

Then came the movie. My father, I now realized, knew himself. He would not have enjoyed the suspicion, the secrecy, the weight of guilt he would have carried in building such a weapon. He may have been stuck there for years given how many bombs were produced and tested in the decades following the war.

That scene where the team added the core to the bomb made me see that my father would never want to be the person that constructed such a thing. I wondered if he ever was curious about his path not taken. I paused the movie to look on his shelves to see if I could find Rhodes The Making of the Atomic Bomb. No luck. Had I watched this movie in Sunnyvale a tiny little week earlier, I could have gone to the bookshelf holding my copy and would have found it in seconds.

I know where that book is within about 20 feet but I don’t know when – or if – I’ll find it again. In my addled state, I even considered going out at night, alone, when I’m feverish to find that book. Fortunately, i decided instead to just watch to the end of the movie.

Flaws exposed in Oppenheimer

The movie gave me plenty to react to. The feeling that sticks with me is relief that my father had nothing to do with it and that he served in Guam instead. That is a shift in my view, so Oppenheimer is a rare movie that changed my view of the world.

As I write this, I realize I’ve been in the hermetically sealed envelope of some world-changing endeavors myself – at a similar level in the command chain my dad would have had, too.

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