On the surface, the lives of J. Robert and Frank Oppenheimer resembled a brotherly game of follow-the-leader. Robert became a nuclear physicist; so did Frank, who is nine years younger. Robert helped invent the atomic bomb; Frank went to work on the A-bomb project. Last week the brothers appeared before congressional investigating committees, but beyond that there was no similarity in their performances.
Boyish-looking Robert Oppenheimer stole the show at the Joint Atomic Energy Committee's hearing. For 2½ hours, the cropped-haired scientist set forth the intricacies of atomic science, gave sure, rapid-fire answers to polite questionsand punched gaping holes in Iowa Senator Bourke Hickenlooper's foundering one-man campaign against AEC Chairman David Lilienthal.
Far from seeing any evidence of "incredible mismanagement," as Hicken-looper had charged, Oppenheimer thought Lilienthal and the commission had done a fine job"far better than I thought it would be." Oppenheimer's nine-man General Advisory Committee agreed with his conclusion, he said. As for the supposed risk involved in sending radioactive isotopes overseas for research, he was sure that there was nothing to worry about. Even if the Russians managed to get some, said Oppenheimer, they wouldn't find them much help in making atomic weapons. Like wide-eyed students enthralled by their favorite professor, committee members thanked their witness and apologized for keeping him so long.
Confession. The man who trudged up to Capitol Hill on the following day displayed none of Robert Oppenheimer's crisp confidence. He knew what was coming. A few days before taking the stand, thin, 36-year-old Frank Oppenheimer resigned his post as assistant professor of physics at the University of Minnesota and his resignation had been promptly accepted. He sat uneasily before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and talked about the mistake he and his wife Jacquinette had made twelve years before.
It was a story that Witness Oppenheimer had called a "complete fabrication" when the Washington Times-Herald printed it two years ago. Last week he admitted that it was true: in 1937 Frank and Jacquinette, naively looking for a cure for the world's woes, had joined the Communist Party; they had quit, disillusioned, 3½ years later. During the war he worked on atomic projects in California, at Oak Ridge and at the Los Alamos laboratory run by his brother Robert, and had received a letter of praise from Major General Leslie R. Groves, wartime chief of the atomic-bomb program.
Recommendation. The House committee handled sad-faced Frank Oppenheimer gently. When he finished his testimony, Senior Investigator Louis J. Russell told the committee that it was only fair to let the record show that General Groves knew all along that Frank Oppenheimer had been a Communist who had broken clean before he went to work on the atomic bomb. "And," added Russell, "Dr. Oppenheimer's loyalty was vouched for by an outstanding scientist." Russell didn't name the outstanding scientist to the committee, but confided it to newsmen afterwards. It was brother Robert.