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SYFY WIRE Oppenheimer

J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of atomic bomb, cleared of McCarthy era charges ahead of Nolan biopic

The black mark upon Oppenheimer's legendary career has officially been lifted by the U.S. government.

By Josh Weiss
Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer

With J. Robert Oppenheimer back in the news ahead of Christopher Nolan's highly-anticipated biopic (out in theaters everywhere this July), the U.S. government has officially cleared the legendary scientist of unfair charges dating back to the McCarthy era.

"As time has passed, more evidence has come to light of the bias and unfairness of the process that Dr. Oppenheimer was subjected to while the evidence of his loyalty and love of country have only been further affirmed," Jennifer M. Granholm, the 16th Secretary of Energy, wrote in a statement earlier this month.

While his invaluable contributions to the Manhattan Project led to the creation of the world's first atomic bomb — which brought an end to the Second World War in August 1945 — Oppenheimer later came to regret his time spent unlocking the terrible power of the atom, especially after the detonation of the hydrogen bomb in late 1952. His vocal opposition to such a devastating weapon led the Atomic Energy Commission to strip the man of his top security clearance, essentially blacklisting him, two years later. Unable to hold academic positions, he made a living as a cattle rancher until 1959 when the University of Colorado hired him to teach physics.

"As a successor agency to the Atomic Energy Commission, the Department of Energy has been entrusted with the responsibility to correct the historical record and honor Dr. Oppenheimer’s profound contributions to our national defense and the scientific enterprise at large," Secretary Granholm continued. "Today, I am pleased to announce the Department of Energy has vacated the Atomic Energy Commission’s 1954 decision In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer."

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Prometheus (written by Kai Bird and the late Martin J. Sherwin), Nolan's historical thriller stars Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, Inception) as the titular pioneer of atomic weaponry. Speaking to The New York Times, Bird declared that he was "overwhelmed with emotion" by the federal decision to wipe the black mark from Oppenheimer's record.

"History matters and what was done to Oppenheimer in 1954 was a travesty, a black mark on the honor of the nation," he explained. "Students of American history will now be able to read the last chapter and see that what was done to Oppenheimer in that kangaroo court proceeding was not the last word."

“I’m sure it doesn’t go as far as Oppenheimer and his family would have wanted, but it goes pretty far," echoed Alex Wellerstein, a nuclear technology historian and professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. "The injustice done to Oppenheimer doesn’t get undone by this. But it’s nice to see some response and reconciliation even if it’s decades too late."

Murphy will be joined by an all-star supporting cast comprised of Emily Blunt (Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer), Matt Damon (General Leslie Groves Jr.), Robert Downey Jr. (Lewis Strauss), Florence Pugh (Jean Tatlock), Josh Hartnett (Ernest Lawrence), Michael Angarano (Robert Serber), Benny Safdie (Edward Teller), Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek, Alden Ehrenreich, David Dastmalchian, Dane DeHaan, Jack Quaid, Matthew Modine, Dylan Arnold, and David Krumholtz.

Oppenheimer lands on the big screen Friday, July 21.

Jonesing for another thriller based on true events? A Friend of the Family is now streaming on Peacock.