And the LORD God said, "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." -- Genesis 3:22
In some sort of crude sense, which no vulgarity, no humour, no overstatement cap quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose. -- J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1948
EVERYONE AT Los Alamos is excited. It is the 35th anniversary celebrtion of the first atomic bomb blast, and atomic alums will be coming from all over the country for the weekend festivities. In fact, the celebrations are being held a bit early this year because everyone wants to go on summer vacations and nobody wants to miss the parties.
Los Alamos, N.M. hovers at 7,200 feet between the sands and the heavens, a catbird seat to the universe. The air is hot, 90 degrees and so dry it parches the lips. The altitude takes away the breath. It is giddy-making, exhilarating. There is almost a spiritual quality to the atmospher of the tiny town, known as "The Hill," situated so close to that magical city of Santa Fe . . . and yet so far.
They are calling it "The Oldtimers Reunion." A lot of them were at Los Alamos in 1943 but a lot of them didn't know what was going on at the time -- just that it was about the war and really secret.
Titans of physics were there then -- Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe, George Kistrakowsky, John von Neumann . . . the men who built the bomb. But there were others, much younger, who were learning at the feet of the masters.
Norris Bradbury was one of them. He became Oppenheimer's successor as head of the Los Alamos Laboratory, known as simply as the "Lab." Now he is retired but still lives at Los Alamos. A bald diminutive, blustery man, he addresses Oldtimers as they munch on their fried chicken and sip their beers at the reunion picnic.
. . . This is the only laboratory whose alumni come back and I think feel the same sense of thrill, the same sense of dedication that this laboratory was built on in the '40s . . . There is something about Los Alamos that brings us back -- that ties us to it. It's tied me to it for now going on 31 years. It's home. I love it. You would not be here if it was not in some way an emotional experience to have been tied to this laboratory."
And there are others here at this celebration, each of whose contribution to the atomic bomb is historic.
Dr. Richard Baker, assistant director of Los Alamos Weapons Division and "the father of plutonium."
Dr. Stanislaw Ulam, "the father of the hydrogen bomb."
Joe McKibben, "the man who pushed the button."
Harold Agnew, former director of Los Alamos, and "the man who signed his name on the bomb dropped on Hiroshima."
Not there in body, but in spirit, was Robert Oppenheimer -- "Oppie" to his friends. The ghost of Oppenheimer still haunts those who were there 35 years ago and even those who are there now.
It was Oppenheimer who named the first bomb site in the dessert at Alamogordo, the "Trinity" site. To this day, nobody knows why this controversial, arrogant, brilliant, enigmatic man who orchestrated the building of the bomb would choose such a name.
"Trinity" has become as much of a legacy as Oppenheimer himself.
The first thing one notices driving into Los Alamos, past the now-vacant lookout tower that once guarded the security of the old lab, is the Trinity Bible Church.
There is also the Trinity Shopping Plaza, Trinity Street and a Trinity Housing Project.
Los Alamos is a tiny town, a one-industry town, brooded over by "The Lab," the pervasive power of The Hill.
It is a place that inspired a zealous attachment in those who love it, a frightened contempt in those who cannot exist in its all-consuming atmosphere.
Children's book author Judy Blume, who lived there for two years as the wife of a physicist, calls it a "fearful town," and refers to it as "Stepford," after the movie in which housewives were turned into mechanical dolls.
Dr. Baker, the father of plutonium, calls it "God's country."
There are more churches and liquor stores in Los Alamos than a "normal" town twice its size. Yet there are almost no book stores and those that are there rarely stock many hard-cover books.
In many respects Los Alamos is a place out of sync with most people's view of real life. Things that seem important in other places suddenly lose their priorities at Los Alamos and the normally dismissible seems urgent on The Hill.
On the coffee table of Stan Ulam's house is an ordinary-looking wooden puzzle, a block connecting squares, something like a turkish puzzle ring. It is gray with age and use. It is something, he says, that was given to him as a gift 40 years ago.
"It's very hard," he says. "I can't do it. Enrico Fermi and John von Neumann could never put it together. They would spend hours at it and then a child would walk in and put it together in an instant."
At Los Alamos, the difficult things make sense, the simple things seem too complicated. Everything is turned around, a little out of kilter.
The simple things in life can only be explained away in complicated terms. When Fermi would lose 6-4 at tennis, he would say, "It does not count because the difference is less than the square root of the sum of the number of games."
And Richard Feymann, one of the early-day scientists, would wander around The Lab reciting, "I wonder why I wonder, I wonder why I wonder, I wonder why I wonder, I wonder why I wonder, I wonder why I wonder . . ." each time with a different intonation and a different meaning.
The picnic is over. The speeches are about to begin. But first the invocation. The minister quiets the revelers. a
"May we now bow our heads in prayer. Almighty God, who holds us in thy hand, the souls of the righteous . . . We thank thee for all those who worked in this laboratory and made sacrifices of luxury and conveniences to get on with the needed work at hand . . . We pause to thank you for the memories of friendships which are being shared here today and in labor in which we worked as a team to accomplish the mission of terminating a crisis which we faced up to and diminished with our efforts and thy benevolent endorsement . . . In the name of the Father, and the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
-- Invocation at the 35th-anniversary celebration of the atomic bomb.
Joe McKibben was the guy who pushed the button that day in the desert at the Trinity site. He is an old man now, wizened and slightly stooped. At these reunions, he is always one of the most popular guys. He and his wife have lived at Los Alamos ever since. Saturday night, at the big barbecue picnic with all the speeches and the music, a number of local TV people came in from town to interview some of the Oldtimers.
Joe McKibben was ready for it. "About this time every year," says McKibben, "the press calls up and says, 'Well, it's been umpteeump years since you pushed the button. Do you regret it?'" His eyes light up and he begins to laugh. There is a feverish quality to this cackle and he keeps repeating the story over and over to anyone who will listen. But he never answers the question.
Press him. "Well, I didn't actually push the button. I started an automatic timer."
The McKibbens and the Bakers, both real Oldtimers -- been at Los Alamos since 1943 -- are all a bit surprised that nobody at the reunion has yet mentioned the bomb. There is a lot of visiting and joking and laughing and trading stories but mostly it's family news and everybody is having a good time drinking and listening to the music. The McKibbens and the Bakers wander out to the balcony of the community center overlooking the Pond, a center of Los Alamos, and reminisce about the old times.
McKibben has just finished doing a number of TV interviews inside, with his old friends standing around. He still seems kind of dazed by the experience, as though he had never had to answer these questions.
"There were many of us who really wished we couldn't do it," he says, shaking his head thoughtfully, "that it wasn't possible. But if it was . . . we should be the first. I guess I had no doubt this would be used in Japan, that it would probably bring the war to an end."
He is asked if he had any doubts abot it, the implication being moral doubts. He interprets the question to mean technical doubts.
"I didn't know. We'd given it the best chance. We had a lot of dry runs, there were problems in them . . . You get mixed feeling," he says when he finally understands. "Now I feel like asking, suppose fission were discovered five years later? The Russians would have it . . ."
"The Germans would have it," chimes in Dr. Baker, eager to help out his friend. "It does not have a simple answer."
"I get frightened when I think about a repeat of Love Canal," says Mrs. Baker, changing the subject.
"We're pulling chemicals over dilapidated railroads," adds McKibben, catching on. But then, inexorably he is brought back to the bomb: "We really hoped this wouldn't work, but we succeeded. They started looking around for somebody to do the job and it fell on me."
"I guess you could say he was in the right place at the right time," says Mrs. McKibben proudly.
"I wonder why people at this reunion aren't talking about it at all," ponders Dr. Baker. "I guess they're just not worrying about it."
"We had a job to do and we did it," continues McKibben, as though the others weren't there talking. "One of the difficult things these protester types have to understand is that it was a war situation. We were in a war."
Today there is no war. Today Los Alamos, though concentrating about 50 percent on weapons development, has branched out to scientific research in nuclear energy and medicine.
They are doing advance work in cancer research.
And as he was once in the vanguard of research in the old days when they were developing the atomic bomb, Joe McKibben is still there. He has volunteered to be guinea pig at the lab in cancer research. Because today, Joe McKibben has cancer.
The Oldtimers are gathering at the Fuller Lodge, a wonderful old log cabin that once was the main building of an exclusive boys' school in Los Alamos; it later housed many of the scientists who came to work on the bomb.
Next to the lodge are the original houses where the directors live. It is called, to this day, "Bathtub Row" because they were the only houses that had bathtubs.
They were registering for the reunion, chatting enthusiastically, buying memento booklets of Los Alamos, checking the schedule. Hanging on the old log post, for sale, is a T-shirt with a picture emblazoned on it of a giant mushroom cloud. "The Atomic City," it says. It comes in children's sizes, too. It is one of the big sellers at the reunion.
If ever there was a perfect example f an "atomic brat," as she calls herself, it is Rosemary Harris.
Her father was an M.D. and a physicist. She has spent most of her life in Santa Fe or Los Alamos.
"I grew up in the industry," she says. "I saw my first atmospheric nuclear weapon at 9 years old. I had a working knowledge of nuclear physics before I could spell. I was fascinated by the documents on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When people asked 'What does your daddy do?' I would tell them, 'He builds bombs.'"
Los Alamos was a "glamorous and exciting place." She studied geology and engineering in college, her summer jobs were at a Nevada test site. She decided to go to law school, then went to Washington as a staff attorney for the NRC, then became an attorney for the Navy. Today, at 35, Rosemary Harris is associate director of administration at Los Alamos. She is the first woman and one of the youngest associate directors ever.
She is tall and attractive with long dark hair. She has a clipped, business-like, no-nonsense way about her like so many of the men at The Lab.
One of the big problems Harris has faced since she arrived back in Los Alamos is that of recruiting women scientists as well as men whose wives will agree to come with them.
"This is like a military post," says Harris. "It's a company town. We recruit women but there aren't a whole lot of women in this business. The women who come here with their scientist or engineer husbands often have a masters or Ph.D.s but they are in fields that don't lend themselves to jobs here so they could only get clerical jobs. We've had women with masters pounding typewriters. According to Harris many recruits want jobs for their spouses.
"Or," says Harris, "she says 'You go. I'm not going.' It has to do with age. As we have more young people comeing out of college we have more long-distance relationships."
In fact Harris herself has one. Her husband, who is 56 and a major government contractor whom she met three years ago in Nevada, has his own company in California. They see each other on weekends. They married some weeks ago in Washington D.C., because it was convenient for both their business trips.
"I've put my career first," she says matter-of-factly. "Because of my father's influence. And it's clear my husband isn't about to give up what he's interested in. Frankly I don't want someone around five days a week. I just want to go home and not think about it." She also decided several years ago she never wanted children and did something about it.
As she is saying this, her secretary buzzes her to say her husband is on the line from California. "Hi, honey," she says picking up the phone. They have a bried conversation. "Oh, are you going to be in Washington that weekend, too? So am I. Where are you staying? Oh, I'm not. I'll put Dee on with Char to work out the details. Bye, honey."
Rosemary Harris once asked her father in the early days about the morality issue of building the bombs.
"His response," she says with a laugh, "was an explosive 'Bull-.'" Even now, says Harris, there is very little debate over nuclear weapons or energy at Los Aamos. "We're isolated here. We sort of sit up here without too much awareness of that debate. In northern New Mexico, Los Alamos is the only game in town."
"There's always war-gaming going on. My father did it for years -- calculating what would your casualty rate be. A lot of that goes on. yThat's the practicality of the business you're in. The reality is that a very large power has a large nuclear arsenal. The bottom line is that they're there and they've got 'em. The question is, 'Will they use them?' Nobody knows. And when push comes to shove, will the West take the risk?
Nanette Moore is Don Kerr's secretary. Since Don Kerr is head of The Lab that makes "Nan" a pretty special person. A bright, lively, friendly person, Nan is an "Oak Ridger" originally. Her father was an engineer at the Oak Ridge, Tenn., lab which was built before Los Alamos even existed. She has spent most of her life in "Atomic Cities."
Her present husband is a chemical technician in BMB 11. She stops and smiles, then translates. "That's the plutonium facility."
She is absolutely baffled by the mere idea that anybody would ever question what the scientists are doing at any of the labs. "The weapons people feel proud of their product," she says simply. "We know we have to defend our country so you have to build the best possible weapons."
As for the people who protest against nuclear power she too finds them "misguided." This is said more in sorrow than in anger.The idea of it makes her giggle though. It reminds her of "the funniest remark" the deputy director of The Lab made recently.
"Someone asked him how he'd like to live next to a nuclear reactor," says Nan. "And he said, 'I'd rather live next to a nuclear reactor than a high school.'"
Harold Agnew had the distinction of being the man who wrote his name on the atomic bomb before it dropped on Hiroshima. He later became the head of Los Alamos and is now president of General Atomic Corp. which makes nuclear reactors. He is sitting outside by the pool of the Los Alamos Inn chatting about the old days.
Harold Agnew was only in his early 20s then. But he was enough of a part of the whole bomb thing that he got to ride in the chase plane alongside Enola Gay over Hiroshima.
Even today, 35 years later, he will talk about it with the same excitement a little boy would talk about his first electric train.
"I had never been on a combat mission before," he says, "but I knew one thing. I wanted a gun." His job, he says, was to detect the signal. "After all those years of preparation, I didn't want to muff it. We were all worried what would happen, would the wings fall off? Nobody had ever done this before. As soon as the bomb went off, I ran to the window . . ." He was disappointed. You couldn't really see anything, he says. But he took pictures, lots of pictures, picutres which are today very valuable.
"They weren't as good as the nice pictures we got in color of Nagasaki," he says. Harold Agnew was scared at the time. "I was scared we'd get shot down, that the wings would fall of the plane, that we wouldn't get home."
He pauses, and shrugs. "Much more exciting than that," he says finally, with a lot more enthusiasm, "was the first nuclear reactor."
Harold Agnew was there, too -- with Enrico Fermi when it was decided to build the first nuclear chain reactor in New York City. The scientists were so afraid of an explosion that they decided to take it to Chicago. This is after the bomb, of course. Agnew starts to crack up. " . . . I think that's so funny."
The thing that absolutely destroys Harold Agnew is this idea that people have that all those guys who worked on the bomb and flew the missions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been tormented by their participation.
"Tibbetts flew the plane. He flew it again in Texas last year in demonstration." That suicide stuff? "Balony. There was one of the pilots who went religious, got born again. The press got wind of it. I don't think it had anything to do with anything."
As far as his own personal soul searching about his role in the atomic bomb and nuclear weapons Agnew has done very little. Is he religious? "Not bowing down or burning incense. I feel very deeply not to hurt anybody or anything."
Does he see the irony there? "I believe in helping to preserve the integrity and well-being of the United States."
Psychiatry? "I don't believe in it. I never met a psychiatrist I didn't think was phony and bananas. What they do is what preachers and wives do. Allow you to talk to somebody. Psychiatrists are bananas. Bananas. I've never known any leader of any of these things who needed any psychiatric help. If you're a pretty strong leader you don't need a crutch."
The ladies minding the bookstore and tidy picture museum next to the lodge where everyone was registering were enraged. They had been working all morning on the beautiful welcomeback cake for the Oldtimers, and they had carefully put out platters on homebaked cookies and brownies and bowls of punches.
Now these people had invaded their domain, dressed in black with death painted on their faces shouting anti-bomb and -nuclear slogans.
"How disgusting," one cried as they looked at the old pictures of the bomb. "Is there plutonium in this cake?" asked another in a loud voice.
And as if that weren't bad enough, they actually were eating the cake and cookies.
"Ill-informed," sniffed one of the ladies. Another one, even more outraged, sat down and wrote a letter to the editor of the Los Alamos Monitor.
Outside, on the grassy slope next to The Pond was a small group of people sitting peaceably around in a circle talking. They looked like picnickers. Nearby was an even smaller group of eight or 10 in black with painted faces. They looked particularly docile for anti-nuke demonstrators. But as the locals pointed out, the annual demonstration which takes place this time every year is always very low key.
Ed Grothus, one of the laid-back demonstrators, calls himself the Jane Fonda-Ralph Nader-Daniel Ellsberg of Los Alamos. Once he was a technician at The Lab. Then he quit to run a gift shop there which is much more profitable.
"For 20 years I was in a weapons group making 'better' atomic bombs. For the last 10 years I've been running the Shalico shop." Recently Grothus expandes his empire when he opened the "grouthery Store." He is wearing Indian turqoise necklaces and bracelets, an advertisement for his shop, and he has let his white hair grow down to his shoulders.
Most of the people of Los Alamos take Ed Grothus with a grain of salt. He is their local character. And somehow all his ranting and raving is greeted more with amusement than ire. Perhaps it is because of the nature of his laid-back convictions.
"I didn't quit The Lab for moral reasons," he says. "I quit it because I got rich."
It is noon and the sun is broiling hot. Outside, in the courtyard of the Los Alamos, in front of the replica of "little Boy," the atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima, the "today" show's Tom Brokaw is interviewing the three heads of Los Alamos since Robert Oppenheimer. Norris Bradbury, Harold Abnew and Don Kerr sit on chairs, each trying to articulate the philosophical and moral meanings of the bomb and nuclear power. It is clear they are all made uncomfortable by the line of questioning.
"I've never understood why it was bad, provocative to provide defense for yourself," Agnew is saying . . . All-Out war is ridiculous . . . We haven't sat down with the adversary to determine a threshold . . . What you need is agreement on both sides . . . We have more than we need . . . The Russians have more than they need . . . Last Thursday in the Russell Building in the rotunda was a big exhibit of Hiroshima. There was no exhibit of Pearl Harbor . . . We didn't start it, we finished it . . . I don't mind being associated with the atom . . . "
"We're not Dr. Strangeloves at all," says Don Kerr. "We're rather human people."
"What you're trying to do is maintain a balance," says Agnew. In the Kingdom of the Blind, the one-eyed man is king . . . People don't think much of scientists . . . I wish they would pay attention to what we're saying on nuclear energy. They pay more attention to a pop star who has no idea at all."
"What frightens me," says Bradbury a bit later, "is that some damn fool might start a war . . . But I'm never safe from a madman walking down the streets . . . If your leader is a madman, you're in trouble."
After the interview, they posed for pictures in front of "Little Boy." A reporter asked Harold Agnew if he would mind riding it for the photographer. "I will if you will," he challenged.
Stanisalw Ulam is a Polish Jew who came to the United States before the war. He was a brilliant mathematician and was ultimately recruited for work on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. Though his later contribution to science was the invention of the hydrogen bomb along with Edward Teller, Ulam was part of the original group who live on the Hill. He came to New Mexico with his wife, Francoise, then pregnant with their only child, Claire. Like many children whose early lives were shrouded in secrecy there, Claire has on her birth certificate as place of birth, "Post Office Box 1663."
Ulam is now 71, retired and living in Santa Fe in an adobe house with an extraordinary view of the plains and mountains for as far as you can see. He still consults at The Lab three days a week and teaches in the winters at the University of Florida. The rest of his time he has his equations and his memories.
Ulam, like the small number of European scientists from the early days, is much more reflective of the implications of his work than are his American colleagues.
"Is there ambivalence?" he asks. "Certainly. But it was war. What could you do? Unfortunately it is an act of nature. You cannot say if people here didn't do it it wouldn't have been done. Maybe millions more Japanese and Americans would have been killed without the bomb. There was a fear, too, that Germany was working on the bomb. Certainly people wanted to win the wars. I personally had less against the Japanese than against the Germans. It's impossible to tell whether the decisions were right or wrong." g
He smiles at the reminder of Oppenheimer's remark that now physicists know sin after the bomb was exploded.
"Well," he says, "it was a dramatic statement. Of course physicists know sin like everybody else. I don't think it was the first sin. Maybe it was a larger sin. To my naive mind the sin was primeval or primordial."
What bothers Ulam more than the idea of a bomb is the current anti-nuclear trend in this country.
"It is incredible how young people are so misguided that they are against nuclear power instead of being against war."
Part of it, he says, " is political, part is not so innocent as it looks. Perhaps there is some foreign influence . . ."
But back to the bomb. "The number of bombs now is essentially infinite. It's a madness of the whole world. But what can you do? Now we dismantle our bomb and the Russians rule the whole world? It would be good if people could destroy bombs before they explode -- but it's still madness."
Still, says Ulman as he closes the circle of reason in his mind, a circle he has obviously traveled many times since the first bomb exploded at the Trinity site, "still, maybe there has been no big war so far because of the atomic bomb, because it is unthinkable. THE U.S. didn't use it in Korea or Vietnam. The U.S. could have wiped out Vietnam in 10 seconds, could have won the war for 10 cents, literally. But how can you make sense of this madness? You can't. I really don't know what I would do if I were president of the United States."
Ulam can hardly speak a sentence without the echoing chorus of "madness" punctuating each thought.
"Fermi," he continues, "was very pessimistic about humanity. I have hopes that the idiocy is not bottomless . . . It depends on whether the Russians would be mad enough to start it off. After Hiroshima I thought the bomb would never be used. I thought people would not be that mad. To start a nuclear war you need lots of generals and scientists who have to agree -- because they know the consequences. There has to be group madness to start it off."
He stops talking. His wife, Francoise, has been sitting silently listening to him struggle with his own ideas, his own words. Ocassionally she will interject a thought, remind him, cue him. But mostly she is silient.
He begins to laugh. "Just after World War ii, a South African country asked us, 'Is it possible to have little bombs made for little countries?' "He is laughing out loud now but there is no mirth in his laughter. "now, to fire the first shot," he says finally, "you have to be totally mad."
You can see immediately why Judy Blume would not exactly fit into the Los Alamos scene. Slim, in a tight T-shirt, braless, fitted jeans and touseled hair, she just doesn't look like anybody else up on The Hill. She seems much more at home in the French pastry shop near the main square in Santa Fe, which is where she shows up to be interviewed.
Judy Blume is well known as the author of those successful, sophisticated and controversial children's books as well as a very sophisticated adult book call "Wifey."
What is less well known about her is the fact that she was a physicist's wife and lived for two years at Los Alamos.
Now divorced and living in Santa Fe with her two teen-aged children, she is one of the most outspoken critics of the quality of life and the attitudes on The Hill.
She has been jogging this morning and hungrily devours two croissants as she talks about her impressions of "The Atomic City."
"I have a feeling there is no other town like it in this country," she says.
"The physical beauty plus the isolation plus The Lab is everything. Everything revolves around The Lab. It is a fearful town. There's devensiveness about it that makes it almost impossible to talk about true feelings -- 'Here's how I feel about living here, I'm going crazy' . . . Women are protective of The Lab. It supports the family."
Blume remembers how differently she felt when she first moved there with her new husband after her first marriage ended in divorce. "The first thing I could think of was, 'Oh my God, it's so beautiful! I would laugh -- it's like a vacation -- aren't I lucky!" Then slowly reality set in. I felt, 'Oh my God, I really live here! What am I doing here?'
"What really got to me," she says, "is when you move in they give you a card. It gives the name of your leader and your place to go in case of attack. You're supposed to go into bomb shelters! I never even knew where mine was."
"My daughter," she says with a chilling finality to her voice, "used to call Los Alamos 'Stepford.'"
Blume thinks that what happens is that "people who have been there for years and years lose a sense of what real life is."
"Fear sets in. People up there are afraid of Santa Fe. You can't go to Santa Fe. It's not safe there. There are people who carry guns with them when they leave The Hill to go to Santa Fe. What are they afraid of? I wish I could tell you. Maybe they are afraid of those who are different. The kids who grow up there can't wait to get out but they always come running back. The real world is scary without preparation. I think Los Alamos is a really dangerous place to raise children."
Another element of fear, says Blume, is the fear of personal safety. "People on bikes wear crash helmets," she says. "They're building enough bombs to blow up the world and they wear crash helmets when they ride bicycles."
The people who really suffer the most at Los Alamos are the women, says Blume. "The only happy women are those baking bread and raising children. Or those being outdoorsy -- skiing and hiking. The town is a real throwback to the '50s. Mommy stays home and Daddy goes out to work.
"There's a tremendous resentment on the part of the women, a sense of frustration. A friend of mine said, 'I feel when I moved here I died professionally and intellectually.'"
Judy Blume says she was a freak in the community because she had a carrer. She says she accepted every speaking engagement and television show appearance she could, just to get out.
"Still," she says, "for the first time in my life I went to a psychiatrist. I felt so claustrophobic. I felt as if I would suffocate. I was tired all the time. I slept a lot."
She was not the only one who felt that way, she says. The boredom of the women and children led to "a lot of drinking, a lot of drugs. There was one little girl who used to come to our house drunk. Her parents didn't even know. It's tough on marriages too. I have witnessed the boredom leading to sexual experimentation. The strange thing is that the affairs would lead to double divorces, then the new couple would marry and remain at Los Alamos. What's that going to solve? The problem is still there.
"Los Alamos," she says, "will stand out above everything else in my life . . . and the thing I will never forgive Tom for is that he never told me when he left there the first time that his former wife said to him, 'I will never go back.'"
Psychiatrists say that there is more drinking at Los Alamos than in most communities. Some attribute this to isolation, the intensity of the work for the men, the boredom for the women. There is an interesting custom at Los Alamos.
Every evening around 4:30 when The Lab lets out, you will see a line of cars down the main street and halfway around the block from the Los Alamos Inn. The line winds its way to the back parking lot of the Inn where there is a drive-in carryout liquor store. This is where they get their "roadies." A roadie at Los Alamos consists of a miniature and a beer chaser. But they don't drink it there. Follow the traffic and you will find, about a mile down the highway toward one of the housing facilities, is a spot in the road where cars can pull over.
There, at the evening hour, will be some 10 or 15 cars parked in this gravel spot, and their inhabitants enjoying their roadie. The interesting thing about this spot is that it is one of the few places on this breathtaking drive where there is virtually no view.
It could be said that Robert Oppengeimer is the holy spirit of Los Alamos. The first director of the "atomic City," he was the one who brought together one of the greatest collection of scientific brains ever assembled to build the bomb in 1943. It has been said that at any given time at Los Alamos one could find 10 Nobel prize winners eating breakfast together in the lodge.
And Oppenheimer, or "Oppie," was the impressario.Still, he was a figure as controversial as the bomb he helped to develop, a figure of worship, scorn, awe, resentment, and envy.
Oppenheimer's constant philosophizing about the moral implications of the bomb enraged many of his colleagues who saw him as a hypocrite who was trying to reap all the glory for himself.
Years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki he would say:
"When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb."
Yet immediately after the bomb was exploded he could quote from the Hindu epic Bhagavad Gita -- "It flashed to my mind that I had become the prince of darkness, the destroyer of universes" -- and agonize over his own personal guilt to the point of annoying everyone. As Stan Ulam was to say later, "Many people confess guilt to claim credit for the sin."
Harold Agnew, a successor of Openheimer's after Bradbury, remembers with mixed feelings those early days when Oppenheimer was head of Los Alamos.
"It was the best collection of minds in the western world," he says. "You don't see stars like that any more. There's no Enrico Fermi today. Hans Bethe once said that Fermis and the Galileos only come once every 50 years." b
But Agnew did not like Oppenheimer. "He was a little bit of a snob," he says.
"He tried not to look down on everybdy but if you couldn't read and write Sanscrit he looked down on you. He always seemed to be trying hard to be patient with people not as bright as he. Fermi liked youth. He found his own peer group boring and stuffy. Oppie would not have been my type. I was never really at ease with Oppie.When we went to his home it was not exactly Speak When Sponen To, but he was cold. Fermi and Teller were warm. The other thing was that Oppie had money. He drove this big robin's-egg blue convertible Cadillac. I don't know. There was just something about that. He kept everybody off balance all the time. You really never challenged him. You never knew if he was a god or not. Maybe he had to be that way to keep all the prima donnas -- a lot of whome were as smart as he was -- to keep them at bay. It could have been his mystique compared with Teller and Bethe. Because Oppie, well what had he done scientifically? Nothing!" a
Stan Ulam gets equally prickly when Oppenheimer's name is mentioned. And he was much closer to his age.
"Oppie was not such a genius in physics as he made out," snipes Ulam. "He was good . . . but it was a myth, largely, this Oppenheimer."
"He was a very seductive man," chimes Francoise Ulam.
Ulam shrugs with the tiniest contempt. "Well, he pleased the ladies by talk but I don't think he was a great lover in the physical sense."
Mrs. Ulam says nothing.
"Oppenheimer was capable of posting for himself," continues Ulam. "His tragedy was that he was smart enough to know he was not a great physicist."
After several hours with a reporter during the 35th anniversary of the bomb at Los Alamos, Francoise Ulam sat down and wrote a long letter about her emotions and ambivalent feeling about the whole thing. Saying she suffered from "l'esprit de l'escalier," she wrote: "During the days of the 'super' debates Stan refused to become politically or administratively involved. Yet I know that he felt as I did intense relief when he spearheaded the research that convincingly proved that such a weapon could not be built. The irony is that all hopes were dashed the day he said, 'I think I have found a way to make it work.' The rest is history. Ours is a most imperfect world."
May we see the day when war and bloodshed cease? When a great and wonderous peace embraces the world? When one nation shall not again experience war? Bless us, oh Lord, with peace. Amen. -- Benediction at the 35th-anniversary celebration of the atomic bomb