From The National Interest: The Excerpt from a Review of Edward Teller's memories
(The following is adapted from the review of Edward Teller's memoirs written by Adam Schulman, who teaches the liberal arts at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland.)
In the minds of most American physicists today and a good part of the educated public, as well, Edward Teller remains a sinister figure, somehow epitomizing in his person all that is morally suspect about the Cold War, atomic energy, and nuclear weapons. Indeed, Teller is generally taken to be one of four possible models (with Werner von Braun, Herman Kahn, and Henry Kissinger) for Stanley Kubrick's unforgettable character Dr. Strangelove, played brilliantly by Peter Sellers in the 1964 film. In part, this is attributable to Teller's incessant promotion of the hydrogen bomb, his unpopular advocacy of peacetime uses for nuclear explosions (to dig harbors and canals, for example), his skepticism toward arms control, and, during the Reagan presidency, his role in promoting the Strategic Defense Initiative. Of course, in this last respect, the contempt heaped on Edward Teller mirrors the fate of nearly every prominent public intellectual who dared to deviate from the prevailing liberal orthodoxy, especially in the last decades of the Cold War.
But Teller has also been particularly despised and shunned for his supposed role in the "downfall" of J. Robert Oppenheimer, whose security clearance was revoked by the Atomic Energy Commission following hearings in 1954. Oppenheimer was charged with harboring Communist sympathies; he was stripped of his clearance in part because of Teller's adverse testimony. Many physicists have never forgiven Teller for what seemed to them an act of treachery against a brilliant colleague who had, after all, guided the Manhattan Project to its triumphant success. It was easy enough to conclude that the long-running tension between Teller and Oppenheimer over whether to pursue the hydrogen bomb was the real reason Teller was willing to help destroy his former boss's reputation.
This is a complex and difficult subject, however, and one on which Teller's memoirs do shed some interesting light. (Teller's complete testimony is included as an appendix to the book.) While Oppenheimer was certainly no Soviet agent, he was, in his own words, "a member of just about every Communist Front organization on the West Coast." He also committed serious indiscretions and recklessly lied to federal investigators, actions for which he might have lost his clearance even without Teller's testimony. As for his own role, Teller clearly indicates that he regrets his decision to testify against Oppenheimer, that he admired him immensely, and that, in his testimony, he questioned only his colleague's judgment and never his loyalty. In any case, since Oppenheimer retained his post as director of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, one should not exaggerate the injury done to him by the suspension of his security clearance.
On the whole it seems clear that the vilification Teller has endured is largely unmerited; that for decades he worked tirelessly and devotedly on behalf of his adopted country; that he made immeasurable contributions to American national security; and that, in all likelihood, the hydrogen bomb he bequeathed to the world has helped, by its deterrent effect, to maintain the relative peace the world enjoyed during the latter half of the 20th century. For these lasting achievements Edward Teller, that supreme practitioner of Baconian science, deserves our admiration and our gratitude.