I don't think Oppenheimer was a spy; the problem was that he knew people (and slept with many of them) who knew people who were. He had a genius' confidence in himself and he genuinely inspired confidence in others; General Graves always maintained that, without Oppenheimer, the bomb would never have been built. The difficulty was that Oppenheimer could never imagine that other people were not as trustworthy as he was.

Whether that lack of imagination justified his losing his security clearance seems to me largely irrelevant. By 1954 Oppenheimer's part in the world of insanely lethal weaponry had largely drawn to a close. "The bomb" was now nuclear and US bombers were airborne 24 hours a day with payloads 100,000 times more destructive than the firecracker explosion at Alamogordo that had prompted Oppenheimer to quote poetry. People had very good reasons to be "hysterical" in 1954; the world was literally on the verge of annihilation.

Debating the question of Oppenheimer's guilt or innocence is - to my mind - much like arguing about capitalism. It is to accept terms that leave the people who are permanently aggrieved about the United States and its history with the upper hand. No one with an ounce of common sense, let alone Oppenheimer's genius, could have doubted that the Russians under Stalin were addicted to a tyrannical ambition as monstrous as Hitler's or the Japanese Emperor's. The Hitler-Stalin Pact had made that unmistakably clear about the Russian communists; the willingness of American communists to rationalize and even praise so monstrous an alliance erased all doubt about where Communists' loyalties would always lie. Oppenheimer also had to know what was happening to Polish Jews in 1940, with the complete support of the Russians. There was no excuse for him to be so cavalier with his "hazy and vague" connections to the Communist Party; as an American and, more particularly, as someone of Jewish descent he had no business associating with anyone even vaguely connected to the Party of Revolution.

Growing up in NYC (every borough but Staten Island) in the 1950s, I always thought the question of Oppenheimer's "innocence" (and even more the Rosenbergs) and Alger Hiss) was a coded message that translated into the general suspicion by the Left that the goyim were out to get them. What is remarkable is how that not entirely unreasonable anxiety has stayed alive even as the Left is now duty bound to support everyone who wants to blow up Israel.

P.S. FWVVVLIW, Ethel Rosenberg was probably not guilty of the crime her husband committed; those of us who despise conspiracy laws (how can you possibly reconcile them with the first Amendment?) wish that the prosecutors had been wise enough to understand the difference between her loyalty to her husband and Julius' active espionage.


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