VIII: Ivy

How Operation Ivy fulfilled Oppenheimer's fears.

VIII: Ivy
Ivy making use of a brick wall. Photo by Tim Mossholder / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is octidi, the 18th of Frimaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate le lierre, a plant that's synonymous with climbing.

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The Greeks thought that wearing ivy would keep you from getting drunk, which is why you'll often see a Bacchanalian character (the Ghost of Christmas Present comes to mind) wearing a little ivy wreath on their head. It's the original non-working hangover cure. True ivy – the drink-all-you-want kind – is called Hedera, and does not include poison ivy, which is instead related to cashews and pistachios? Taxonomy is strange.

Ivy was the end of the road for J. Robert Oppenheimer. The "father of the atomic bomb," who famously had severe misgivings about his work after witnessing the Manhattan Project tests in New Mexico – not to mention seeing the weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – lobbied President Harry Truman to develop an international consortium that would oversee all nuclear weapons.

Not only did Truman disagree (he was fearful of the Soviet Union developing the same weapons, which, of course, they did), but he threw Oppenheimer out of the Oval Office and ordered the creation of then-theoretical hydrogen bombs, 500 to 1,000 times more powerful than the weapons dropped on Japan.

While Oppenheimer initially reviewed the plans and confirmed they were scientifically possible, he also used his government clearance and status to do anything he could to delay the tests and, if possible, cancel them. This led to trials regarding his loyalty and his eventual exile from government and academic circles.

The name of the tests he so vigorously opposed? Operation Ivy, and the effects of that test are still wreaking havoc in the Pacific Ocean to this day.

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