Oppenheimer documentary airs Monday

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By Roger Snodgrass

“The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” a program of special interest to the Los Alamos community, will be broadcast Monday night at 9 p.m. on KNME, Channel 5.


The 2-hour special, part of the Public Broadcasting Service series, “American Experience,” features Academy Award-nominee David Strathairn, who played Edward R. Murrow, the pioneer broadcaster, in “Good Night and Good Luck."


The film features Strathairn as Oppenheimer in dramatic recreations, along with historical footage and interviews with the founding director's Los Alamos colleagues.


Eminent scholars in the film will include Robert Sherwin, who delivered the Oppenheimer memorial lecture in Los Alamos last year, and Richard Rhodes.


Sherwin, along with Kai Bird, wrote the Pulitzer-prize winning biography, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Rhodes was the author of the Pulitzer-prize winning history, “The Making of the Atom Bomb,” and its sequel, “Dark Sun: the Making of the Hydrogen Bomb.”


The story of Oppenheimer, the days of the Manhattan project and the role of Los Alamos at the end of World War II are fundamental to the history and the lore of Los Alamos, as was the subsequent fall from grace by the brilliant and mercurial leader of the project.


The advance material for the program says it asks why America turned on Oppenheimer after his enormous achievements and cast him aside.


The matter came to a head during some highly publicized hearings under the Atomic Energy Commission, a newly formed agency, whose creation Oppenheimer had recommended and to which he was a key advisor, until questions were raised again about his past associations and loyalties.


“There are so many ways to look at the Oppenheimer story,” said David Grubin, the award-winning producer of the program, in the PBS advance. “For me, the idea that the loyalty of one of our most distinguished scientists could be called into question and the rules of justice set aside, all justified because we were in a war against communism, is a tragic reminder of how staunchly we must protect our freedoms, especially in perilous times.”