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At this point, the Gothic strain in him was still strong, but his was obviously not the ignorance of the unlettered and the hard-used. His was the ignorance of channeled, unconnected learning and the false confidence of the overprotected. This peculiar character of the self-made Goth was also in the world around him. Later, Oppenheimer summed it up: "When I got out of school and went ahead, I felt very sympathetic with the nihilist spirit of these times. My life as a child had not prepared me in any way for the fact that there are bitter and cruel things." Not even Sophocles. If a boy could calculate the velocity of a ball, the ball couldn't hurt anyone.


In his letter to the AEC. Oppenheimer tells of his life in California: "My friends both in Pasadena and Berkeley were mostly faculty people, scientists, classicists and artists. I studied and read Sanskrit with Arthur Ryder ... I was not interested in and did not read about economics or politics. I was almost wholly divorced from the contemporary scene in this country. I never read a newspaper or current magazine ... I had no radio, no telephone ... I was interested in man and his experience. I was deeply interested in my science, but I had no understanding of the relations of man to his society . . ."

Oppenheimer stresses the negative aspects of his isolation. Even today, he does not express a sense that something positive —in him or his times or both—blinded his restless mind to what has been obvious for ages to every human clod: that man's experience necessarily includes "the relations of man to his society."

Yet at this time Oppenheimer was continuing his avid nonscientific reading. Along with the Sanskrit came Roman Catholic exegetical works and Dostoevsky. Some of Oppenheimer's friends refer to this as his "ivory-tower period." Yet the communication facilities to that tower were impressive. Dostoevsky could have told him more of what he needed to know about the world of the 1930s than Oppenheimer was likely to have discovered by becoming a subscriber of the telephone company or buying a radio set. But Dostoevsky did not get through; there was some positive interference on the line. When awareness of public evil came, it burst upon him as a thunderclap.

His letter to the AEC says: "Beginning in late 1936, my interests began to change . . . I had had a continuing smoldering fury about the treatment of Jews in Germany ... I saw what the Depression was doing to my students ... I began to feel the need to participate more fully in the life of the community. But I had no framework of political conviction or experience to give me perspective in these matters . . .

"The matter which most engaged my sympathies and interests was the war in Spain. This was not a matter of understanding and informed convictions. I had never been in Spain; I knew a little of its literature; I knew nothing of its history or politics or contemporary problems. But like a great many other Americans. I was emotionally committed to the Loyalist cause . . . The end of the war and the defeat of the Loyalists caused me great sorrow.

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