You are on page 1of 12


The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer And Louis Slotin Sonata

(Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the study guide)

Interview with Joanne Gordon, Director of Oppenheimer Glossary A Brief History of Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare Nuclear Energy and the Environment Facts Japan Nuclear Crisis FAQ Post-show Discussion Questions 2 4 7 7 8 9 12

Interview with Joanne Gordon, Artistic Director of Cal Rep and Director of The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer
What do you love about this piece? What drew you to this piece? Originally its a play about a man of ideals and the idealism itself is the cause of his downfall and his weakness. And for me that aspiration to be something great, and out of that greatness comes such disaster, both on a personal level in terms of his persecution under the blacklist era and the horror of living with the guilt of having been the founder of the atomic bomb. The two, one on a macro level, one on a micro level, one on a universal level, one on a personal level makes for such great tragedy I think. So the issues of the play intrigue me, and then the style of the play its very theatrical. And this is a story thats been told and retold. Theres been a TV drama about it, theres a play about it call The Case of J. Robert Oppenheimer, its not a piece thats unfamiliar, but by throwing Lilith into the mix, it also deals with gender issues, it deals with the notion of creation and destruction. So, I love the play theatrically, in terms of its form. What do you think is relevant about presenting this play right now? I think that on the most important level for me is the more universal issue that out of aspiration and idealism can come destruction. One cannot be blindly committed to an ideal without understanding that there are costs, and the cost of being an idealist is often extreme. It doesnt mean that you dont become an idealist but youve got to understand that its not simplistic. So on that level, I just love the idea of examining a man of principles who is, in fact, destroyed its true tragedy. On a second level, of course, we just had the tsunami and the fallout, and on a very immediate level, only two days ago the NY Times said that they were now starting to sell beef out of the area in Japan where the nuclear reactors were. Governor Perry is dealing with not permitting the deposit of nuclear waste in Texas to pay off big business. Were dealing on a daily

basis with the consequences of Oppenheimers work. And again, its not simplistic do we become dependent on foreign oil and gas guzzlers, or do we turn to a safer way? In yesterdays headlines, NIMBY Not in My Back Yard, people are all in favor, the big liberal voting bloc, want things like alternative energy and they want wind energy, except that when they wanted to put it off Cape Cod, led by the Kennedys, they went, no, no, no, no, no, not here. So, the selfishness, the confusion its a very immediate problem. You have spoken before about the theme of Jewish Identity in this play. Can you speak a little on that? I grew up in a country in which anti-Semitism was a fact of life, it was just something that you knew existed, that you were aware of, you were sensitive to. And then my children grew up in Southern California, where it was almost non-existent. But occasionally, just occasionally, they would see manifestations and were very unsettled. So Im very conscious of... With Oppenheimer, the issues fuse, because on one hand, he was conscious that in inventing the bomb, he was dealing with Hitler and the Holocaust. At the same time, he was a man who was very intent on hiding his Jewish identity because he wanted to be accepted by the establishment. So he was ashamed and proud, and these themes are, again, very relevant today. We embrace multiculturalism, and yet how do we assert our own cultural identity without betraying our own idealism. How do we belong to the majority and yet, not lose our specialness. Where is pride, where is shame, in terms of identity, I think these are very powerful issues. What would you outline as your major theme or focus of the production? I think that in a very simplistic Aristotelian way its watching the rise and downfall of a great man, and feeling both pity and fear. The identification is crucial throughout, we all have to face those decisions in different ways in our lives. In choosing to present a nuclear double-bill with the Louis Slotin Sonata, what would you say are the differences in the themes between those two pieces? I think that the first play deals with a man whos very well known, whos story is well known, and the second play, the tragedy is refracted through one of the minor players. Nobody knew his name, but Slotin was one of the first people who lost his life in a nuclear accident. The themes that are subliminal in the first play of Jewish identity are very prevalent in the second play, which to a large extent becomes a play about family love, Jewish family love. I mean, the relationship between the father and Louis is very beautiful. Are there any other themes that you find prevalent in the Louis Slotin play that are not present in the Oppenheimer piece?

No, but again its a very theatrical play. So, we were so lucky to find themes that were reflective of each other but told in totally different theatrical languages, but both non-linear, both nonrealistic, which totally fits in with the Cal Rep aesthetic.

Key Players: Enrico Fermi: Physicist and winner of the 1938 Nobel Prize for Physics. Fermi worked extensively on quantum, nuclear, and particle physics and was instrumental in the development of the first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1. Klaus Fuchs: German theoretical physicist. Fuchs worked on the Manhattan Project who made major contributions to the early work on fission. He was convicted of spying for the USSR but not executed. Robert Greenglass: Ethel Rosenbergs brother, he worked at the Manhattan Project and smuggled confidential documents. He was convicted of espionage but was not executed. Lieutenant General Leslie Richard Groves: Directed the Manhattan Project and was instrumental in getting Oppenheimer cleared to run the project. Katherine Kitty Puening Harrison: Wife of J. Robert Oppenheimer. A former Communist party member, Kitty had previously been married to Joe Dallet, a known Communist member who died in the Spanish Civil War. Her involvement with the Communist party became a key part of the investigation in J.R. Oppenheimers security clearance. J. Edgar Hoover: First director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, from its founding in 1935 until his death in 1972. Although credited with forward-thinking leadership that made the department efficient and effective, Hoover became more and more controversial towards the end of his career due to his harassment of those whose politics he did not agree with and his support of illegal means of information gathering. Perhaps his most infamous initiative was COINTELPRO, a counter intelligence project that was initially aimed at disrupting the Communist Party but was later targeted civil rights groups including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Isidor Rabi: Physicist and winner of the 1944 Nobel Prize for Physics. Rabi was opposed to the development of nuclear weaponry and served only reluctantly as a consultant on the Manhattan Project, most likely out of consideration to Oppenheimer, with whom he had been a student and maintained a friendship with. Franklin D. Roovesvelt: 32nd President of the United States and remains the only American president elected to more than two terms. He began his first term during the Great Depression

and introduced the New Deal legislation which included bills to create the Securities and Exchange Commission, which still regulates the stock exchange in the US today. Although he campaigned for his third term with promises of official neutrality during WWII, following the attack on Pearl Harbor he declared war with strong public support. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg: American Communists convicted of and executed for espionage in 1953. The married couple were accused of smuggling information on the atomic bomb to the Soviets, though Ethels involvement was never proven, and subsequent paranoia resulted in the investigation of many unrelated Rosenbergs. Louis Slotin: Physicist and chemist. Slotin worked on the Manhattan project finding the critical mass values of the nuclear materials. This testing was dangerous and he became the second person to die as a result of a criticality accident. Jean Tatlock: Former girlfriend of Oppenheimer, and known Communist Party member. Jean wrote for the Western Worker, a Communist newspaper. Oppenheimer continued to see Jean during the Manhattan Project and his marriage to Kitty, which prompted questions about his leftwing affiliations during his security clearance trial. Edward Teller: Theoretical physicist. Teller worked on the Manhattan Project and was often called the father of the hydrogen bomb. His application of Fermis atomic decay theory was hugely significant. Throughout his life he advocated for nuclear armament and unconventional uses of nuclear technology, though he was ostracized from much of the scientific community after he testified in support of Oppenheimer during investigation into Oppenheimers security clearing. Harry S. Truman: 33rd and 34th President of the United States. He succeeded to the office after Roosevelt died at the beginning of his fourth term and was subsequently reelected. Although he began high in the polls, by the end of his presidency is approval ratings were among the lowest in history. This was partially due to McCarthys repeated accusations that there were Communist spies in the upper levels of government as well as doubt that the atomic strike on Japan was necessary.

Other Important Concepts: Bhagavad Gita: The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Hindu scripture that Oppenheimer studied and later quoted during the first Trinity test. Oppenheimer read the text in its original language. The text is a conversation between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna on a battlefield, where Krishna educates the Prince about spirituality and divinity. Oppenheimer stated that the line from the text, I am become Death, the destroyer of Worlds came to mind as he reflected on the impact of the Trinity test.

Enrico Fermi Award: This award is given to scientists for their lifetime achievement in the development, use, or production of energy. Oppenheimer was to have been awarded this honor in 1963 by then President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated before the ceremony. Thus, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Oppenheimer with the award following Kennedys death. John Donne/ Trinity: Oppenheimer often read the poetry of Donne, having been introduced to it by Jean Tatlock. Oppenheimer later wrote of codenaming the project, I did suggest [the name Trinity]... Why I chose the name is not clear, but I know what thoughts were in my mind. There is a poem of John Donne, written just before his death, which I know and love. From it a quotation: As West and East / In all flatt Maps-and I am one-are one, / So death doth touch the Resurrection.... That still does not make a Trinity, but in another, better known devotional poem Donne opens, Batter my heart, three person'd God. Lilith: Female demon and first woman, first wife of Adam according to Jewish folklore. Unlike Eve, who was made from Adams rib, Lilith was formed independently of Adam from the same clay that he had been shaped from. Adam and Lilith never found peace together; for when he wished to lie with her, she took offense at the recumbent position he demanded. Why must I lie beneath you? she asked. I also was made from dust, and am therefore your equal. Because Adam tried to compel her obedience by force, Lilith, in a rage, uttered the magic name of God, rose into the air and left him. Robert Grave and Raphael Patai, Hebrew Mythology The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: Poem by T.S. Eliot, that influences both the structure and the tone of The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The poem utilizes symbols and literary illusions, often masking the actual plot of the poem, or what is real about Prufrocks journey into the acceptance of age and death. Similarly, the play which jumps from real to the surreal, particularly through the use of Lilith as provocateur. Complete text of the poem can be found online at Sonata-Allegro Form: Refers to a means of structuring a musical composition popular in the 18th century. Louis Slotin Sonata structures the text based on this musical form. There are three divisions in the formthe Exposition, the Development, and the Recapitulation. The Exposition establishes the main themes of the piece, the Development expands upon them, and the Recapitulation acts as the conclusion of the piece, restating the themes. Throughout the work, particularly the Devlepmont, the themes are changed tonally and modulated. In the Recapitulation, there is no modulation. There are usually two distinct tonal themes on which the piece is based. For more information about the subtleties of the structure, visit

A Brief History of Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project

The Los Alamos National Laboratory was established in 1943 to facilitate the top secret research of nuclear armaments during World War II. The United States Government had been funding the exploration of nuclear technology prior to the foundation of the laboratory, but the difficulty in coordinating the work of scientists across the country and the increasing danger posed by the experimentation prompted General Leslie Groves to look for an isolated area to use as a base. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project and first director of the lab itself, had spent many vacations in New Mexico and suggested Los Alamos. Although the facility employed thousands of workers during the Manhattan Project, including many Nobelwinning scientists, the location was considered a state secret and the only publicly available address was a P.O Box in Santa Fe. During the Project the facility began an association with the University of California, which continues to this day. During the War, however, only one university employee knew the true function of the lab or its location. During the first era of work at the lab, three nuclear bombs were created: Trinity, which was detonated in a test near Almongardo, New Mexico, prompting Oppenheimer to infamously quote I am become death, destroyer of worlds, and Little Boy and Fat Man which were used in the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Following the end of the War, many of the scientists integral to the Manhattan Projects success left and eventually became outspoken opponents of nuclear armament, including Oppenheimer. Replacing the latter as director of the lab, Norris Bradbury began work to make the bombs mass-producable and able to be operated without the scientists specialist training. After the Cold War, the lab began pursuing much more diverse research, specifically into medicine and related technologies. Currently, three AIDS vaccines are being tested at the lab and work is progressing on safer and more effective breast cancer detection. In recent years, the lab has faced criticism as a result of a series of alleged information leaks and lax security procedures.

McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare

Although Senator Joseph McCarthy gave his name to the politically motivated paranoia and blacklisting that dominated the public consciousness in the 1940s and 50s, the phenomenon began much earlier and spread far beyond his actions. In 1917 the Bolshevik Russian Revolution sparked fear in America that Communist party members intended to overthrow the capitalist government of the United States as well. With the support of President Woodrow Wilson, legislation was passed allowing immigrants to be deported due to their political associations, even if the evidence that they were involved in any kind of sedition was unsubstantiated. Between November 1919 and January 1920, Attorney General Mitchell Palmer led an initiative

that arrested and deported over 500 foreign citizens, though these raids were later widely criticized. During the second World War fears about Communist activity in the US ballooned once again, primarily as a result of the Soviet Unions new superpower status and research into nuclear weapons. In 1940 Congress passed the Alien Registration Act, which made it punishable by law to knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise or teach the duty, necessity, desirability or propriety of overthrowing the Government of the United States or of any State by force or violence, or for anyone to organize any association which teaches, advises or encourages such an overthrow, or for anyone to become a member of or to affiliate with any such association. Also called the Smith Act, this was primarily used against Communists and Communist sympathizers. This closely followed the creation of The House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, which conducted character investigations into suspected American Communists. Senator McCarthy rocketed into political prominence in 1950 when he made a speech claiming he had a physical list of Communists employed in the US State Department. This led to the creation of a committee to investigate the charges, even though they were immediately criticized due to McCarthys unwillingness to name the source of his information and alleged revisions of the number of names on the list. Ultimately, McCarthy targeted nine specific people who were ultimately cleared of all charges. Despite McCarthys unfounded claims, antiCommunist investigations continued. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover infamously encouraged his agents to use illegal wiretaps and other invasions of privacy to gather information. Due to the targeting of artists, writers, and professors, the second Red Scare was seen as anti-intellectual. Blacklisting, the practice of denying work to those accused of Communist affiliation in the entertainment industry, was not publicly admitted but began roughly in 1947 when major Hollywood studio heads issued a joint statement promising not to employ members of the Communist party. This implicitly condemned the actions of ten directors and screenwriters that had recently been cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about their political affiliations. Although the blacklist was not publicly admitted by the studios, hundreds were denied employment and the effects were felt for decades afterwards.

Nuclear Energy and the Environment

Provided by the Nuclear Energy Institute Nuclear power plants generate about 20 percent of U.S. electricity. They do not burn hydrocarbons when producing electricity, so they do not produce any greenhouse gases or combustion byproducts. By substituting for fossil fuels in the electricity sector, nuclear energy has significantly reduced U.S. emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

About one-quarter of Americas electricity comes from clean-air sources, including nuclear power plants, hydroelectric plants, and wind and solar energy facilities. Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, clean-air electricity source that can be expanded widely to produce large amounts of energy. Nuclear energy makes up more than 70 percent of all the nations clean air electricity generation. U.S. nuclear power plants also prevented the emission of 1 million short tons of nitrogen oxides and 2.7 million short tons of sulfur dioxide pollutants controlled under the Clean Air Act. The amount of nitrogen oxide emissions that nuclear plants prevent annually is the equivalent of taking more than 47 million passenger cars off the road. In 2008, U.S. nuclear plants prevented the emissions of almost 689 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is nearly as much carbon dioxide as is released from all U.S. passenger cars.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Japan Nuclear Crisis

Provided by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission 1. Can the Japanese nuclear crisis happen here in the United States? The events that have occurred in Japan are the result of a combination of highly unlikely natural disasters. These include the fifth largest earthquake in recorded history and the resulting devastating tsunami. It is highly unlikely that a similar event could occur in the United States. 2. I live near a nuclear power plant similar to the ones having trouble in Japan. How can we now be confident that this plant wont experience a similar problem? All U.S. nuclear power plants are built to withstand environmental hazards, including earthquakes and tsunamis. Even those plants that are located outside of areas with extensive seismic activity are designed for safety in the event of such a natural disaster. The NRC requires that safety-significant structures, systems, and components be designed to take into account the most severe natural phenomena historically reported for the site and surrounding area even very rare and extreme earthquakes and tsunami. The NRC is confident that the robust design of these plants makes it highly unlikely that a similar event could occur in the United States. 3. How many plants are located in seismic areas? Although we often think of the US as having active and non-active earthquake zones, earthquakes can actually happen almost anywhere. Seismologists typically separate the United States into low-, moderate-, and high-seismicity zones. The NRC requires that every plant be designed for site-specific ground motions that are appropriate for their location. In addition, the NRC has specified a minimum ground shaking level to which the plants must be designed. 4. Has this crisis changed your opinion about the safety of U.S. nuclear power


plants? No. The NRC remains confident that the design of U.S. nuclear power plants ensures the continued protection of public health and safety and the environment. 5. With all this happening, how can the NRC continue to approve new nuclear power plants? It is premature to speculate what, if any, effect the events in Japan will have on the licensing of new nuclear power plants. 6. What is the NRC doing in response to the situation in Japan? The NRC has taken a number of actions: a. Since the beginning of the event, the NRC has continuously manned its Operations Center in Rockville, MD in order to gather and examine all available information as part of the effort to analyze the event and understand its implications both for Japan and the United States. b. A team of 11 officials from the NRC with expertise in boiling water nuclear reactors have deployed to Japan as part of a U.S. International Agency for International Development (USAID) team. c. The NRC has spoken with its counterpart agency in Japan, offering the assistance of U.S. technical experts. d. The NRC is coordinating its actions with other Federal agencies as part of the U.S. government response. 7. What other U.S. agencies are involved, and what are they doing? The entire federal family is responding to this event. The NRC is closely coordinating its efforts with the White House, DOE, DOD, USAID, and others. The U.S. government is providing whatever support requested by the Japanese government. 8. What else can go wrong? The NRC is continuously monitoring the developments at the nuclear power plants in Japan. Circumstances are constantly evolving and it would be inappropriate to speculate on how this situation might develop over the coming days. 9. What is the worst-case scenario? In a nuclear emergency, the most important action is to ensure the nuclear fuel in the reactor core and the spent fuel pool is covered with water to provide cooling to remove any heat from the fuel rods. Without adequate cooling, the fuel rods will melt. Should the final containment structure fail, radiation from these melting fuel rods would be released to the atmosphere and additional protective measures may be necessary depending on factors such as prevailing wind patterns. 10. The United States has troops in Japan and has sent ships to help the relief effort are they in danger from the radiation? The Department of Defense is the appropriate agency to provide information regarding its personnel. 11. I saw a news report that said my local nuclear power plant ranked high on your list


of plants most vulnerable to earthquakes. Is that true? The NRC does not rank plants according to seismic risk or vulnerability. This ranking was developed by a reporter using partial information and we believe an even more partial understanding of how we evaluate plants for seismic risk. Each plant is evaluated individually according to the geology of its site, not by a one-size-fits-all model therefore such rankings or comparisons are highly misleading. We are also frequently asked whether Plant A can withstand a quake of magnitude X. This sounds like a yes-or-no question, but again, its not that simple. Nuclear plants are designed to withstand a certain level of ground shaking, to use a technical term. But the way the ground shakes in an earthquake is a factor of the magnitude and the distance from the epicenter, among other things. So we cant give a simple answer to such a simple question. 12. Are nuclear power plants along the coasts vulnerable to tsunami? Large tsunami such as the one that hit Japan typically are caused by subduction faults, where one tectonic plate slides under another. There is only one such fault near the U.S. coastline off the northern part of the West Coast, from northern California up past Oregon and Washington. There are no coastal nuclear power plants in this region. The closest plant, in southern California, is well protected against tsunami. Along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast, storm surge from hurricanes poses a greater threat than tsunami to nuclear power plants. The plants in these regions are well protected against hurricane storm surge. 13. Other countries have ordered their nuclear power plants to shut down in the wake of the Japan crisis until they can be determined to be safe. Why isnt the NRC taking similar action? The NRC is confident that U.S. nuclear plants are safe and that there is no need to shut them down. However, events such as the Japan crisis often have lessons to offer that can help us improve our oversight and regulation of the countrys nuclear power plants. As President Obama said on March 17: Our nuclear power plants have undergone exhaustive study, and have been declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies. But when we see a crisis like the one in Japan, we have a responsibility to learn from this event, and to draw from those lessons to ensure the safety and security of our people. Thats why Ive asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do a comprehensive review of the safety of our domestic nuclear plants in light of the natural disaster that unfolded in Japan. The NRC intends to conduct such a review as soon as possible.


Discussion Questions
How are the two plays similar? How are they different? How does the shared set affect your experience of the plays? Why do you think that choice was made? How do other design elements differ between the two plays? Why do you think Oppenheimer has visions of Lilith? What is her role? Does Slotin ever discover why he made his fatal error? Is there a reason? Does the fact that the characters are Jewish affect the meaning of the play? How do the two plays affect your attitude to nuclear energy? How does the fact that the events in this play are based on history affect your response?