“A nearly impenetrable thicket of geekitude…”

Quote in Context

Posted on January 18, 2005 at 09:27

The Carbon Trust, a worthy environmental body concerned with climate change, are running a TV advert in the UK centered around a famous quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer. The advert says:

One man has been where we all are today.
When he saw what he’d done he said:
‘I am become the destroyer of worlds.’
Now we all have to face up to what we’ve done.[…]

This particular quote has always sent shivers down my spine; however, this version is inaccurate. Here’s a more complete version in context:

We knew the world could 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: “I am became Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

Another, slightly different variation:

A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. There floated through my mind a line from the “Bhagavad-Gita” in which Krishna is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty: “I am become death: the destroyer of worlds.”

The shorter misquote is catchy and makes for great television. I am also generally in favour of the work of the Trust and similar organisations. In this case, though, I can’t help feeling that equating personal responsibility at the level of turning down the heating at the office with the moral burden shouldered by the people that saw nuclear weapons born into the world on that day in 1945 is insulting to them, and to us.

[If you want to dig deeper, verses 11.31 to 11.33 of this translation of the Bhagavad Gita may help. Particularly 11.33.]

Does anybody recognise the music that is playing in the background of that advert? For some reason, it reminds me of Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

— jehuni on January 20, 2005

It is Cloudscape from the soundtrack Philip Glass composed for the movie Koyaanisqatsi.

— iay on January 21, 2005

Copy and paste the link to view the video of Oppenheimer’s statement..


— Brian on July 21, 2005

There is a song by Minsk that uses this quote in there music called Circle of Ashes. Awesome song.

— Bobby on May 12, 2009

Thanks, Bobby. I’m not normally into things like Minsk, but I picked up a copy of the “Circle of Ashes” track on iTunes just now and enjoyed it… it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

— iay on May 12, 2009