APRIL 19, 1954
HYDE PARK, Sunday—It is an ironic thing to note that over in the state of New Jersey, while Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer is undergoing the ordeal of another loyalty test, former Representative J. Parnell Thomas is seeking the Republican nomination from New Jersey's Seventh Congressional District. Mr. Thomas is the one-time chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee who served a prison term after being convicted of padding his Congressional payroll. Yet this gentleman is now ready to go before the voters and ask to be returned to Congress. He is saying such things as this: "Irrespective of what I have done, I am working now for America," by which I suppose he means that he will work hand in hand with men like Senator McCarthy to smear more and more people as Communists.
The letter written by Dr. Oppenheimer in answer to the charges against him seems to me a very fine one. He did not try to deny what he had believed and done in the past. He was absolutely frank, and I think that frankness is a measure of the trust he deserves. Without him, we might well have failed to make the discoveries that helped us end World War II. The fact that he, along with other scientists, may have felt it wiser to delay work on the H-bomb does not seem to me in any way treasonable. He was carrying a heavy responsibility. Only the physicists themselves can decide whether it is right or wrong, from their viewpoint, to continue experiments that lead to more and more destructive weapons. It would seem to me entirely within the realm of personal liberty to decide whether one thought this was best for humanity or not. Someday we may well explode a bomb that will do more damage than we expect, and then we may regret ever having tried it.
We have the H-bomb, however, and we know its destructive power. Now we are left with the problem of building the best ways of defense short of the use of this bomb, which may well destroy all civilization. I am not sure we have explored all the ways of defending ourselves, or of weakening the Soviet Union as far as converting the world to Communism goes. I would like to see us use all the machinery of the U.N. in the Indo-China case, and in every other way to find avenues that will build confidence and not fear among the peoples of the world. I do not want to see us fight in Indo-China. But if we fight there without the U.N. having been consulted, and in a war where we and the British and French fight together, we will never persuade the Asians that this is not a case of the colonial powers against the freedom of peoples. It is a difficult and complex question, but I would rather see it settled peacefully in a way that is not entirely our own way than see us take high-handed military action by ourselves or with the French and British. If we ever have to fight again, I hope it will be only after we have explored every other avenue first.