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· Saddam Hussein's WMD and J. Robert Oppenheimer's Style ·

My title today links an odd pair. It's prompted by the unanimous Security Council vote today urging Saddam Hussein, immediately and unconditionally, to stop production and development of supposed weapons of mass destruction. But it bears, more importantly, on a more famous and more significant American producer and developer of such weapons, J. Robert Oppenheimer.

As Scientific Director of the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer offers me occasion today to reflect on the much larger meaning of the new UN resolution, for what I have in mind, beyond Saddam Hussein's bluffing and George Bush's blustering, is Oppenheimer's justly famous definition of style:

The problem of doing justice to the implicit, the imponderable, and the unknown is of course not unique to politics. It is always with us in science, it is with us in the most trivial of personal affairs, and it is one of the great problems of writing and of all forms of art. The means by which it is solved is sometimes called style. It is style which complements affirmation with limitation and humility; it is style which makes it possible to act effectively but not absolutely; it is style, which in the domain of foreign policy, enables us to find a harmony between the pursuit of ends essential to us and the regard of the views, sensibilities, the aspirations of those to whom the problem may appear in another light; it is style which is the deference that action pays to uncertainty; it is above all style through which power defers to reason.

I would simply hope that world leaders — but most especially Bush and Hussein — recall today Oppenheimer's words, for they offer a reasonable, stylishly sane resolution here stopping just short, you might recall, of another of Oppenheimer's famous sayings: "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

One hopes that point will be no leader's last thought.


I hate saddam and think he should pay for all he has done....but i dont believe in sending millions of the us men in to do it....isnt there an easier way to kill him?

Posted by nun ya' on March 22, 2003 09:28 AM

"God shall not rest until all his children are home safe." When will the war end; I want my dad to come home.

Posted by Quantum on March 3, 2006 06:04 PM

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