Nehru offered Oppenheimer Indian citizenship in 1954, reveals American author Kai Bird

India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru

According to Kai Bird, the co-author of the book that inspired Christopher Nolan’s film on the American quantum physicist Julius Robert Oppenheimer, the-then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru offered the father of the atomic bomb, Indian citizenship after the latter was humiliated in 1954 over statements against nuclear weapons.

“After he [Oppenheimer] was humiliated in 1954…Nehru offered him to come to India and become a citizen…But I do not think Oppenheimer considered it [the offer] seriously because he was a deeply patriotic American,” Kai Bird, the co-author of the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer, revealed earlier in an interview.

Oppenheimer was brought down in “a terrible kangaroo court” and stripped of his security clearance in a virtual security hearing, according to Bird, nine years after being lauded as America’s greatest scientist.

“He became the chief victim of the McCarthy witch-hunts,” he said, referring to Republican Senator Joseph R McCarthy’s practice of publicly accusing government employees of disloyalty and using dubious methods of prosecuting them when the US government was combating communism.

Oppenheimer, according to Bird, was concerned about the rise of Fascism. “He had Jewish ancestors but was not a practicing Jew.” He donated money to aid in the rescue of Jewish refugees from Germany. He believed that German physicists would give Hitler an atomic weapon, allowing Hitler to win the [Second World] War, which would be a horrific ending, a victory for fascism all across the world. As a result, he believed that this [the atomic bomb] was required.”

Oppenheimer had conflicting feelings about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, according to Bird.

“By the spring of 1945, Germany was defeated. And that spring, some of the physicists and scientists…held an impromptu meeting to discuss the future of the gadget, and to ask why are we working so hard to build this terrible weapon of mass destruction when we know the Germans are defeated and Hitler is dead, and the Japanese can’t possibly have a bomb project?”

Bird said Oppenheimer reminded them the war was not over. “The Japanese still fight on. And he [Oppenheimer] said ‘I am reminded of the one question that Niels Bohr, the great Danish physicist asked me [Oppenheimer]’… He had asked Robert, ‘Tell me, is it big enough? Is this gadget you are building big enough to end all wars?’

“He was essentially making the argument that if we do not demonstrate the power and destructiveness of this weapon in this war, then the next war is going to be fought by two or three adversaries, all of whom will be armed with nuclear weapons.”