Oppie and Me
The Similarities are Striking

Talk about profoundly eureka moments. I can list on one hand times that I experienced life-changing events. The most recent time occurred last Friday when I went to a movie. Allow me to set the scene with past moments that awakened me.

The first was Professor Louie Palmer asking me to be his teaching assistant during my senior year at Muskingum College. I had taken a ten-hour required class called The Arts in my junior year. During my senior year, I taught a handful of subsections each week. I also wrote and graded the midterms and finals for both semesters.

In 2008, I danced with death twice. I fell off a ladder and hit my head on a retaining wall causing a subdural hematoma. That traumatic brain injury was the same year I had a robotic prostatectomy. The surgery was successful, but the prostate cancer had spread to surrounding tissue. After several months of radiation and hormone therapy, I have been cancer free for over fifteen years.

Those two dances woke me up to the reality that my time here on earth was extremely limited. One can’t possibly grasp that unless one has done the dance. People understand death intellectually. Do the dance, and you will feel it in your gut.

During winter break from teaching in 2013, I went to Myanmar to interview Aung San Suu Kyi, often called the Lady, and failed. However, I met a young lady by the name of Ti Ti. At the time, Ti Ti nine-years-old. We played Scrabble on the floor of her living room. I left her home, realizing that I had met my granddaughter. I have visited Ti Ti and my family in Myanmar twice since my first trip.

Ti Ti is now nineteen and a brilliant student. In the past couple of years, Ti Ti has been unsuccessfully trying to get a student visa from our embassy in Myanmar. When she gets her student visa, Ti Ti will live in my home and attend a local college that has already accepted her.

Those three eureka moments are the backstory for this essay. Each one of them floated around in my head as I watched the three-hour movie Oppenheimer.



I have taught various liberal arts classes in the past quarter century and thought I was well-versed in the Manhattan Project and J. Robert Oppenheimer. I was wrong. There I was watching Oppenheimer when it first opened last Friday. As my mind added details about Oppie that I had totally missed, my mind floated from the movie to my eureka moments. The movie and my life morphed together.

Interestingly, Oppie and I enjoyed learning but weren’t, for various reasons, interested in some subjects. He started out wanting to major in chemistry. I floundered around just like Oppie. It was Prof. Louie Palmer that asked me to be his teaching assistant. That opportunity awakened me. I am knowledgeable about various art forms and why artists were driven to express themselves.

I am absolutely fascinated by the similarities between Oppie and me. Oppie’s IQ is dozens of points higher than mine, but I knew how he felt. The academic parallels between us mixed around in my mind as I learned more about him. After graduating summa cum laude from Harvard, he went to Germany to study at the University of Göttingen. I went to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland after graduate school. It was challenging to deal with the academic history of Oppie in the movie and our common mindsets at the same time.

Believe me when I say that my dances with death profoundly affected me. That was far more true with Oppie. He directed the Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos Laboratory and named the site of the first explosion of the atomic bomb Trinity. The name is based on poems of his favorite English poet John Donne.

In hindsight, Oppenheimer quoted from the Bhagavad Gita, an important scripture in Hinduism dating back two millennia.

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that one way or another.

After the successful Trinity test, two of the three other atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The remaining one was held in reserve in case they needed it. Oppie’s dance with death parallels those who also personally danced with death, but his was on a global scale. There is a strange dichotomy when one dances with death. It is both at the personal or global level. There is the realization of actual death and the possibility of living a more meaningful life.

Finally, the last third of the movie was devoted to Lewis Strauss and how he conspired to vilify Oppenheimer. Strauss had it in for him. He was a politically ultra-conservative member of the Republican Party, which was the opposite of Oppie. Oppenheimer was a liberal and had friends in the Communist Party. That was the time of the McCarthy hearings looking for communists in the American government. Strauss used that mindset to promote himself and remove Oppie’s respected place in America.

Oppie was against developing a thermonuclear bomb. However, the Soviets were in the process of doing that, which resulted in the US and the USSR beginning decades of the nuclear arms race.

Even Oppie’s personal matters rattled Strauss. Ethnically, they were both of Jewish lineage. Strauss was as dedicated to his Jewish beliefs as to the Republican Party. However, Oppenheimer wasn’t into the Republican mindset or the Jewish faith. That was the capstone to Strauss’ dislike of Oppenheimer, which lasted for nearly a decade. However, President Lyndon Johnson presented Oppie with the Enrico Fermi Award on December 2, 1963.

A well-deserved recognition

A well-deserved recognition

The parallels between Oppie and me are similar. Ti Ti has been turned down three times at the US Embassy in Myanmar. In the first interview, the interviewer was a female, but there was also a man in the room during the interview. He shook his head to the interviewer about not granting Ti Ti a student visa.

The same man was the interviewer at Ti Ti’s second and third interviews. He had some issues with me and my teaching. I have asked the consular chief to forward my emails to the acting ambassador, but she refused. When I contacted the State Department in Washington, DC, they said to contact the embassy.

Like Oppie, I am driven, and I will succeed. I just need someone to assist me in looking into this matter. Interestingly, all the interviews are taped. Ti Ti will soon be in America if the State Department watches the three interviews.