“By July 1945, Los Alamos was ready to test its bomb. Oppenheimer sent a cryptic telegram to scientists back at Berkeley: “Any time after the 15th would be a good time for our fishing trip…As we do not have enough sleeping bags to go around, we ask you please do not bring anyone with you.” The test, code-named “Trinity,” took place on July 16. It exploded with a force equivalent of 18,000 tons of TNT. Recalling the scene, Oppenheimer said: “A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. There floated through my mind a line from the “Bhagavad-Gita” in which Krishna is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty: “I am become death: the destroyer of worlds.”
-PBS- Robert Oppenheimer
I watched the above program about Robert Oppenheimer several years ago. Recently, I watched another PBS program on “Mai Lai”, called “the worst atrocity in American military history”. The victims: Vietnamese women, children and elderly in 1968. It is a part of the always amazing “American Experience” series and I immediately thought of Oppenheimer’s above quote and the exhortations to the Prince to do one’s duty.
The disquiet in my room following this Mai Lai show has not gone away three days later. I do my daily shooting and find the shadows and fore-shadowings even in flowers and spring. It is a documentary that is a meditation on people doing their “duty”–One man’s duty, Lt. Calley, another man’s death. One man’s duty, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson (US helicopter pilot), another man’s savior.
Same war, same side, same human nature: one American soldier (as well as others) kill Vietnamese women, children and elderly and another American soldier fighting the same war, on the same side, with the same human nature, rescues Vietnamese men, women, and elderly.
How can “duty” be so different?
You can watch it online here.
©Pat Coakley 2010
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