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« In Defense of Skeptics and Conspiracy Theorists (Sort Of) | Main | KGB vs. the Papacy »

11 February 2012

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Michael Wreszin

This early sentence provides a key to the mind-set of the authors: "Nothing fueled the liberal/left critique of the so-called “national security state” more than the supposed excesses of the US government in the Oppenheimer case, save the cases involving Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs."

They apparently believe that there were only "supposed excesses" in the conduct of the US government in the Oppenheimer case. As a person who lived through those times, I did not see the hysterical excesses as unimportant. They apparently have no belief in the rights of political privacy and believe that Oppenheimer should have admitted his membership in the CP to legislative committees. They have contempt for and smear Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin for insisting that the evidence is not clear as to whether Oppenheimer was actually a member of the party. They call their questioning "pettifoggery." One should approach these authors with reserve as they have a history of fanatical anti-communism which raises some question about their claims of high scholarship. Their quotations from the biography are ideologically selective. They don't quote Bird and Sherwin's statement that they can state with "confidence" that the period of Oppenheimer's "high commitment [to the CP] was short and did not last." Why is Oppenheimer's brief membership in the CP, if that is indeed the case, important? What damage did it do anybody or policy? In any event he abandoned his earlier relationship with the CP and became an articulate participant in American Cold War policy. Surely these two author celebrate that.

James Van Loon

The job of the professional historian is that of "miner" of truth. The facts and truth were there for Bird and Sherwin in 2005, as they were for William L. Borden in 1953: "Having lived with the Oppenheimer case for years, having studied and restudied all data concerning him that your agency made available to the Atomic Energy Commission through May 1953, having endeavored to factor in a mass of additional data assembled from numerous other sources, and looking back upon the case from a perspective in private life, I feel a duty simply to state to the responsible head of the security agency most concerned the conclusions which I have painfully crystallized and which I believe any fair-minded man thoroughly familiar with the evidence must also be driven to accept." (Borden to Hoover, November 7, 1953) For authors Bird and Sherwin, the will and integrity to bring out the truth evidently did not survive an a priori book contract, American Prometheus.

As regards the Oppenheimer reality, with one simple, scholarly essay, Haynes and Klehr have consigned the majority of previous Oppenheimer literature to the dust bin. Better late than never, must be William Borden's sentiment in absentia. But this essay, or any essay, will not be the definitive Oppenheimer history. That will only come when Borden's principal concern is addressed and set aside: “The central problem is not whether J. Robert Oppenheimer was ever a Communist; for the existing evidence makes abundantly clear that he was. Even an Atomic Energy Commission analysis prepared in early 1947 reflects this conclusion, although some of the most significant derogatory data had yet to become available. The central problem is assessing the degree of likelihood that he in fact did what a Communist in his circumstances, at Berkeley, would logically have done during the crucial 1939-1942 period . . . that is, whether he became an actual espionage and policy instrument of the Soviets." At the present time, Haynes and Klehr's answer, "No," is the appropriate position for professional Historians.

Marcel Kincaid

"...what a Communist in his circumstances, at Berkeley, would logically have done during the crucial 1939-1942 period . . . that is, whether he became an actual espionage and policy instrument of the Soviets."

Here's where folks like you and Borden go off the rails. A member of CPUSA was no more likely to be a Soviet spy than members of AIPAC are likely to be Israeli spies. Oppenheimer did no more than what many intellectuals of conscience did back in the '30s. The way he was treated had nothing to do with whether he was a security risk, which of course he wasn't, but rather with his opposition to Edward "Dr. Strangelove" Teller's views on the hydrogen bomb and with the Red Scare politics of the period that gave us "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, HUAC, McCarthy, Richard Nixon ...

Marcel Kincaid

'The job of the professional historian is that of "miner" of truth.... with one simple, scholarly essay ...'

In the fields of science, an article that accuses colleagues of having "split hairs" and taking a "silly stance," that they "insist" and "triumphantly ... declare" is not be considered professional or scholarly. When the tone is so subjective, it's hard to view the content as objective.

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