1963 Twenty-five Years Ago

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President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer with the Atomic Energy Commission’s Enrico Fermi Medal on December 2. As the brilliant leader of the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer had headed the team of scientists that developed the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but after the war he opposed the development of the far more destructive hydrogen bomb, warning that the United States could find itself trapped in a suicidal arms race.

His controversial positions and a youthful flirtation with the Communist party made him the target of an investigation by federal agents. In 1954, despite a complete lack of evidence of wrongdoing, he was stripped of his top-level security clearance. The waning of McCarthy-era anti-Communist fervor eventually brought the disillusioned Oppenheimer into better standing with the government, but he never got his security clearance back.