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To Watch or Not to Watch the Oppenheimer Movie?

As someone who is not a regular moviegoer and has been television-free for almost 40 years (yes, that long), I find myself contemplating whether to watch Oppenheimer and experience Hollywood’s take on one of the most challenging decisions in modern history: whether to build or not to build the atomic bomb. It took me some time to come to a conclusion: should I watch Hollywood’s Oppenheimer? After all, we live in a world of multiple perceptions and interpretations, where those who control the means of shaping consciousness wield significant power.

In May, I completed my lecture on Modern World History, guiding my students to explore the diverse dimensions of decision-making in global politics. As the “Socrates” in the classroom, I adhere to a pedagogical creed of not imposing my opinions but fostering a dialogical environment. Philosophy is my forte when it comes to crafting such discussions.

Regarding the question at hand, “to watch or not to watch,” I don’t have a definitive answer, and that has always been my stance. My students know this well – I encourage them to seek out answers for themselves and share their insights with me.

I firmly believe in questioning authority and everything else – every premise and proposition, including one’s own views. Our world is filled with various narratives and perspectives that influence us.

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Governments often seem like an intellectual nuisance to me. The state, a necessary evil, operates on the production of perception and propaganda for its survival. This can be observed in the new Malaysian ruling regime, where perceptions are created and consumed without question.

Now, coming back to Oppenheimer, the brilliant physicist who heeded Einstein’s suggestion and letter to Roosevelt, joining the Manhattan Project with Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi, and Edward Tanner. It was a historically significant project involving exiled Jews that played a role in saving the Allied powers and ending the brutality of the Axis Powers – the Nazis, Italians, and Imperial Japanese.

Was it the right decision? A moral one? To end a just war?

The invention of the atomic bomb led to the devastating events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world was forever altered, with those possessing the most sophisticated nuclear weapons now holding significant power. The decision by Oppenheimer and his circle of inventors, viewed from a realpolitik standpoint, aimed to end the great war, with Adolf Hitler representing pure evil and a grave threat to humanity.

Oppenheimer’s familiarity with the Bhagavad Gita adds another layer of complexity to his actions. The philosophical dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurukshetra resonates deeply with me, as I analyze historical events through philosophical-anthropological perspectives.

Speaking of the Bhagavad Gita, I have also taught philosophical perspectives using this timeless text. Its questions and dialogue continue to hold great significance. In the midst of complexity, Krishna’s unwavering certainty contrasts with Arjuna’s uncertainty and “cowardice.”

Perhaps, using the text known as The Song of thy Lord, a section of the classic Mahabharata (The Great War) by the poet Vyasa, one could attempt to understand the contemporary questions of our time, such as whether Vladimir Putin’s actions are justified or if he could have acted differently.

As for Oppenheimer, I speculate that he might not have regretted his actions. In his mind, he might have likened himself to the warrior Arjuna, finding resonance in Lord Krishna’s words.

Having pondered this question at length, I have made up my mind: I will watch the Oppenheimer movie sometime soon. I’m curious about Hollywood’s portrayal and interpretation. I encourage you to watch it too and share your thoughts with us.

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DR AZLY RAHMAN grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in six fields of study: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, Creative Non-Fiction, and Fiction Writing. He has written more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia. His 30 years of teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly online forums in Malaysia, the USA, Greece, and Montenegro.

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