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
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.]