November 19, 2023
From Internationalism

“We knew that the world would never be the same again. Some people laughed, others cried, but most remained silent. I was reminded of the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu tries to persuade the Prince to do his duty and, in order to impress him, assumes his many-armed form and says: ‘Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds’. I suppose we’ve all thought that, in one way or another”.

These were the words of Robert Oppenheimer in 1965 as he recounted his feelings when he witnessed the first nuclear test in the New Mexico desert in July 1945.

Christopher Nolan’s film explores the conscience of this scientist, known as “the father of the atomic bomb”.

It is true that Robert Oppenheimer was overwhelmed by the monstrosity of what he had greatly contributed to, namely the development of a killing machine that far surpassed anything that had existed before. This new atomic weapon killed 210,000 people on 6 and 9 August 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to mention the incalculable number of deaths that followed as a result of the serious effects of the radiation, which lasted for many years afterwards.

So yes, in the midst of the war, there was ideological justification for the American government. Nazi Germany was conducting research into a powerful and destructive weapon and the defence of the “free world”, of democracy, justified doing everything possible to fight Nazism, to develop weapons powerful enough to destroy this enemy of civilisation that was engaged in exterminating the Jews. Oppenheimer was Jewish and was susceptible to this propaganda.

Given the go-ahead to manufacture the bomb, Oppenheimer and his team of scientists completed their work. Then, on the eve of the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, conclusive tests were carried out in the middle of the desert in the southern United States. But at that time, in 1945, why, with Germany now defeated, proceed with this military programme? The pretext of defending civilisation against Nazi barbarism no longer existed.

Oppenheimer was a highly contradictory character and was convinced that he was working for world peace by having built a death machine that surpassed anything that had been built up to that point, so that future wars could be avoided through the power of deterrence.
The aim of Truman, the American president who ordered the nuclear holocaust, and his accomplice Winston Churchill, was quite different.

In stark contrast to all the lies that have been spread since 1945 about the supposed victory of democracy as a synonym for peace([1]), and with the butchery of the Second World War barely ended, the new course of imperialist confrontation engulfing the planet in blood was already underway. Yalta([2]) was an attempt to manage the major imperialist divide between the great victor of 1945, the United States, and its Russian challenger. From being a minor economic power, Russia was able, thanks to the Second World War, to acquire a global  imperialist status , which would clearly present a threat to the American superpower. From the spring of 1945, the USSR used its military might to establish a bloc in Eastern Europe. Yalta  merely sanctioned the balance of power between the main imperialist sharks who had emerged victorious from the greatest carnage in history. What was created by one set of balance of forces could be undone by another. Thus, in the summer of 1945, the real issue facing the American state was not to make Japan capitulate as quickly as possible, as we are taught in school textbooks, but to oppose and contain the imperialist offensive of the “great Russian ally”!

Christopher Nolan’s film shows how a brilliant researcher, passionate about culture and humanism, finds himself at the centre of historical events that are beyond his control,  in which he is both an actor and a victim. But the film also makes much of the context of the early years of the Cold War, the era of McCarthy-ism, the hunting down of subversive’ elements, those ‘communists’ with ties to Stalin’s USSR. Oppenheimer himself became a victim of this ([3]) though he was subsequently rehabilitated by J.F. Kennedy in 1962.

In the current context of war in Ukraine and the manoeuvring of American imperialism against Russia, this film seems to be prescient. Given the current barbarism inflicted by Russia in Ukraine, is it the case that the American and British policy at the end of the Second World War was justified?

The film industry has long been widely used for state propaganda purposes. Even before the Second World War, the US government asked Walt Disney to take his cartoon mouse to South America to counter the rise of Nazi propaganda.

One of the conditions of the Marshall Plan in 1947 was that those European countries involved should distribute American films widely to the cinemas. Once again, the aim was to counter the growing influence of the USSR in the aftermath of the war by projecting a freedom-loving democratic imagefor the United States.

The ideological battle between the two blocs was equated to the struggle between “democracy” and “communist” dictatorship. Each time, the Western democracies claimed to be fighting against a system fundamentally different from their own, fighting against “dictatorships” ([4]). This is not at all the case; the politics of the two sides are rooted in the same capitalist system!

The idyllic and naive vision of “democracy” is a myth. “Democracy” is the ideological screen used to mask the dictatorship of capital in its developed central heartlands. There is no fundamental difference in nature between the various models that capitalist propaganda opposes one against the other for the purposes of its ideological campaigns of mystification. All the supposedly different systems which have served as a foil for democratic propaganda since the beginning of the century are expressions of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and of capitalism.

As Oppenheimer said in 1945, the world will never be the same again. Capitalism is war. Since the end of the Second World War, while there was no Third World War, the competition between the American and Russian blocs continued as a “Cold War”, in the sense that it never took the form of open conflict. Instead, it was waged through a series of proxy wars between local states and various “national liberation movements” doing their dirty work, and with the two superpowers providing the weapons, intelligence, strategic support and ideological justification.

Since the collapse of the Eastern bloc in the late 1980s, despite the rhetoric at the time, no so-called “new world order” came about. On the contrary, the world is facing an acceleration of barbarism and chaos. The war in Ukraine and now the conflict in the Middle East are the latest manifestations of war, with all that this means in terms of massive destruction and massacres of entire defenceless populations.

Capitalism is dragging human society into an endless abyss of chaos and barbarism. More than ever before, the only alternative is communism or the destruction of humanity!



[1] See our article

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Lies of the Bourgeoisie, International Review 83

 [2] The Yalta Conference was a meeting of the main leaders of the Soviet Union (Joseph Stalin), the United Kingdom (Winston Churchill) and the United States (Franklin D. Roosevelt). The aims of the Yalta conference were:

– to adopt a common strategy to hasten the end of the Second World War;

– to settle the fate of Europe after the defeat of the Third Reich; and

– to guarantee the stability of the new world order after victory.

[3] He was accused of having had links in his youth with the American “Communist” Party (he was more of a Democrat, supporting Roosevelt). The real reason for accusing him of being a Soviet agent was his refusal to use his great scientific skills to build the H-bomb.


Bourgeois Organization: The Lie of the ‘Democratic’ State, International Review 76