Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In The Matter Of J. Robert Oppenheimer - by Heinar Kipphardt

Published in German in 1964 and in English in 1967, In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, uses primary source material from the hearings regarding whether or not to grant Oppenheimer security clearance in the 1950s (after the development of the Hydrogen bomb). Kipphardt condenses the hearings, re-organizing and editing for drama and clarity, but as he states in his introduction if it was a choice between drama and accuracy he went with accuracy.

It unfolds over two parts, follows the question and answer format of the hearings, with longer monologues interspersed between the scenes.

The most striking thing about this play to me was the power of the story that is within it. The slice of history represented as is, without frills or spin. The complexities of the choices physicists were making, responsibilities to humanity or to country, could withholding knowledge or even just enthusiasm be considered 'intellectual treason'? - and what did that even mean when the question at hand was developing a weapon with little tactical value, that could destroy the human race?

I am ashamed I'm reading this so late in my life. And its resonance with current events and questions lead me to suggest that a reading or a re-mounting of this play is in order. This part of our history is not yet grappled with and we're facing similar questions, a dramatic text exists that both cleanly presents an event - and vibrates with the existential, moral, practical and philosophical questions the fact of that event's occurrence creates.


  1. Keen Company produced it a few years ago, FYI.

  2. Really? I felt like I'd heard of a recent production...wonder if there's any press on line...