Michael KreponTuring and Oppenheimer

J. Robert Oppenheimer and Ernest Lawrence were worthy of a dual biography. Oppenheimer and Edward Teller will be forever intertwined. So why haven’t Oppenheimer and Alan Turing been joined at the hip? Both were brilliant pathfinders — Turing in mathematics, Oppenheimer in physics. Their actions shortened World War II, saving countless lives — Turing because of his code-breaking skills, Oppenheimer by leading the Manhattan Project’s work at Los Alamos. Both were tragic figures. Turing’s homosexuality was criminalized, leading to his suicide. The British government never came to his rescue for services rendered. Oppenheimer was done in by his friendships before the war, and by his reservations about the Bomb afterward. Seeking to remain an influential insider, he left himself vulnerable to losing his clearances, thereby being cut off at the knees. Both belatedly received tributes from their nations after their unbearable public rebukes – Oppenheimer while dying from cancer, Turing posthumously.

I was spellbound watching Derek Jacoby play Turing in “Breaking the Code” at a theater in London’s West End in 1986. How could anyone do better than his stuttering portrayal? I stand corrected. Give yourself a treat and watch Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch play Turing in “The Imitation Game.”


  1. Bradley Laing (History)


    It was while researching my book on India’s nuclear weapons history that I read most of his works and those of others about him. I also talked to a range of people who knew him, including politicians, scientists, diplomats and armed forces personnel. While Mahatma Gandhi was unambiguous about his opposition to the atom bomb, Nehru, while championing a nuclear-free world, exhibited a duality in thinking that puzzled me.

    It was widely believed that Nehru forbade Bhabha from building a nuclear weapon. But Professor S. Gopal, his biographer, told me, “It is not generally known that Nehru wrote to Bhabha that he was against outlawing atomic weapons. His policy was never to use it but to have it because we can’t completely abjure from it.” Even as Nehru advocated a nuclear bomb-free world and pushed for a nuclear test ban treaty, he sanctioned expensive plans for Bhabha to set up the giant infrastructure capable of both generating nuclear energy and building bombs…

    On nuclear weapons, Nehru proved to be both an idealist and a pragmatist. While he was dead against the bomb, he believed that when India called for a nuclear-free world, it must do so from a position of strength. Nehru argued that it was not because India didn’t have the capability of making the bomb but because we believed that a nuclear arms race would only end in the annihilation of life on earth. While criticism is heaped on Nehru for his pacifist approach towards the defence of India, on his 125th birth anniversary we must acknowledge that he laid the foundation of making India nuclear capable in every sense.

  2. Bradley Laing (History)


    While Russia’s nuclear bombers have recently set the West abuzz by probing NATO’s air defenses, a far more certain danger currently lurks beneath the frigid Arctic waters off Russia’s northern coast — a toxic boneyard for Soviet nuclear ships and reactors whose containment systems are gradually wearing out.

    Left to decay at the bottom of the ocean, the world is facing a worst case scenario described as “an Arctic underwater Chernobyl, played out in slow motion,” according to Thomas Nilsen, an editor at the Barents Observer newspaper and a member of a Norwegian watchdog group that monitors the situation.
    According to a joint Russian-Norwegian report issued in 2012, there are 17,000 containers of nuclear waste, 19 rusting Soviet nuclear ships and 14 nuclear reactors cut out of atomic vessels at the bottom of the Kara Se

  3. Bradley Laing (History)

    In a move that is expected to increase the striking power of Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces (SMF), the Yars Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) system will replace older versions of Topol missiles…

    The Teykovskoe Command has already been handed the mobile Yars. Now the mobile ground units are being provided to the Tagilsk and Novosibirsk divisions. A missile regiment in Kozelsk division on training combat duty will shortly test-fire a Yars missile system consisting of four silo launchers and a unified command post.


  4. Bradley Laing (History)


    Britain to move 2 more nuclear submarines to Scotland
    English.news.cn 2014-11-25 03:25:41 More
    LONDON, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) — Britain will move two more nuclear submarines from England to Scotland by 2020, making Scotland home to all of Britain’s submarines, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon confirmed Monday.

    HMS Talent and HMS Triumph, the country’s two Trafalgar Class nuclear submarines, will move from Devonport in the southwestern English county of Devon to the naval base Clyde in Scotland by 2020, making the latter the submarine center of specialization for British Royal Navy, the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a statement…

    The British Royal Navy’s other two T-Boats, HMS Torbay and HMS Trenchant, are to remain at their current home in Devonport until they are decommissioned in 2017 and 2019 respectively, according to the MoD.

  5. bob (History)

    From your post:- “Turing’s homosexuality was criminalized, leading to his suicide. The British government never came to his rescue for services rendered.”

    This is disingenuous – Turing was charged because an under-age teenage boy complained of Turings behaviour to his father, who took him to the police.

    So, not exactly consenting adults eh?

    Are you really suggesting that the British government should have interfered with the judicial process ‘for services rendered’?

    What about judicial independence and more importantly the complainant?

    There seems to be very disturbing double-standards in this regard, with some public figures rehabilitated and some villified.

    Undoubtably we owe a significant debt to both Turing and Oppenheimer, however they had their flaws and the story of the ‘tragic’ aspects of their lives is more complex and nuanced than can be summarized in a politically-correct soundbite.

    • Andrew (History)

      Turing was charged for relations with a young man who was 19 years old. The age of consent in the UK at the time was 21, which is higher than the age of consent for any country on the planet today. And I would hazard to guess that if Turing had relations with a woman of similar age, the British government wouldn’t have batted an eyelash (see: age of consent laws in England after homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967 – they remained 21 for same-sex relations, while lowered to 16 for heterosexuals).

      So I’d say the only the being “rehabilitated” here is draconian Victorian-era moral policing. There certainly was tragedy and nuance in the lives and work of both Oppenheimer and Turing, but you’re looking for it in the wrong places.

  6. Bradley Laing (History)

    GREAT FALLS – The Air Force Global Strike Command is helping put mission readiness back to being a top priority.

    The U.S. Air Force recently introduced the ICBM Parts Centralized Funding Program so that when a missile system part is needed the wing can order it without worrying about the base’s budget.

    The bill for that part will now go to Global Strike Command, and the new funding program will cover anything used in direct support of the weapons system.The centralized funding will also help determined what the weapon system’s true requirements are.