To the play Oppenheimer, at the Swan Theatre, Stratford.

A man was sent from the Manhattan Project to observe the dropping of the bombs, and report back, to check the calculations. People close enough to the blast left nothing but shadows on the ground, or fatty stains. From the length of the shadows, taking the average height of a Japanese person at about 5’6″, they could calculate the altitude at which the bomb exploded. Useful information. In the play, we see the scientist reporting this in a detached, rational way then breaking down at the horror of it.

Richard was moved to tears by this. He feels the horror of those deaths. Why, I wondered, did you want to come to see this play, to feel that horror?

Actually, I feel reassured by it. A man who was willing to take part in this great scientific endeavour was overwhelmed by the horror of the deaths. I see his humanity. This is the human response, and those weapons will never be used.

I may owe my life to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. My father’s Lancaster squadron was about to be posted to the Far East when the Japanese surrendered. Even had he survived- not guaranteed- the posting might have changed my father’s life so he might never have married my mother.

Other people are real. I find difficulty seeing them, instead usually seeing simulacra or shadows, either responding exactly as I painstakingly discover that I do, or responding in the perfect, conventional way which I was indoctrinated with. Over coffee afterwards, I pushed back my chair and looked at my friend. Who is this person, really?

There are other horrors in the play. It starts with a Communist Party fundraiser for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, with Oppie enthusiastically supporting, and by the time Colonel Oppenheimer is ready to explode his bomb he has named some of his former Communist associates to the authorities, and they have been interrogated. One is driven to suicide.

After the Bomb, the cast dances wildly, manically. It makes sense. Such power!

I find the Swan theatre beautiful. We sat right next to the side of the stage, which has the audience on three sides and on three levels above the ground floor. It is an intimate space constructed of wood. The actors, none looking over thirty, playing with our most prestigious company, are founding brilliant careers. They are very beautiful.

Richard’s friend Richard, also Aspie, drove us there. He has a charming manner, with a near constant smile, and is hungry to understand the world through facts. Our conversation covered wide ranges of fact, such as the nature of Listed Building regulations and the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, and he is keen to do an Open University Mathematics degree. He can be crippled with stress in an examination, finding it easy to absorb facts for pleasure but not in study, and everything can vanish from his mind. He seeks to understand his responses, so as to optimise them. I love his thirst for understanding, but pity that it seems driven by terror of failure.

Hiroshima Bomb victim

One thought on “Oppenheimer

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