The Two Bodies


Philip Liebson


May 4, 2009


Chicago Literary Club




   In 1926 as a doctoral candidate in physics, he presented a paper before the Cambridge Philosophical Society entitled “On the Quantum Theory of the Problem of the Two Bodies”. Three decades later a book was published by a medievalist entitled “The King’s Two Bodies”. Both dealt with the corporal and evanescent in their two spheres. It is coincidental that these titles were similar, and in fact, the two authors in many respects were similar although their fields were quite different. Both had an aura of mysticism about them, both ended up in the same academic institutions, both attracted a coterie of  enchanted students, both were involved in activities that impacted on their respective governments, both at one time were considered if not subversive, at least nonconformist to government-promoted policies.

   One of these two academic bodies, so to speak, you are probably aware of, J. Robert Oppenheimer. The other may be unfamiliar except to devotees of medieval historians, Ernst Hartwig Kantorowicz. Their lifetimes overlapped although Kantorowicz, Eka as he was called, was born nine years before Oppenheimer, in 1895 and died four year before him, in 1963. Both came from upper class Jewish backgrounds, Kantorowicz in Posen in what was then eastern Germany, and Oppenheimer in NY City. Eka’s family were the Bronfmans, very big in the liquor trade. Despite his Jewish background, and because of his family status, Eka associated with the Junker aristocracy and his adolescent friends included Counts and Margraves.

    After fighting in the first World War as a grenadier, Eka joined the Freikorps, the right-wing terrorist group of officers who fought communists in the streets of Germany. In the early 1920’s, he joined the Stefan George group, led by this visionary nationalist poet, the group itself considered  intellectually proto-Nazi.

    Robert Oppenheimer was brought up in a similar style, his family driving to the countryside in a Packard driven by a gray uniformed chauffeur. His father, a very successful businessman, bought a summer home in Bay Shore, Long Island, where Robert learned to sail.  On several trips to Germany to visit his grandfather, Robert, then less than 12 years old, developed an interest in architecture and rock collection, fostered by presents from his grandfather. At 12, on the basis of correspondence with other rock collectors who did not know his age, he was put up for membership in the New York Mineralogical Club and was invited to give a lecture. Although the audience was startled and burst out laughing when this youngster appeared on the podium, he was well prepared and his lecture was greeted with great applause.

     Robert prepped at the Ethical Culture School in Manhattan and his parents took him on another trip to Germany where he spent most the time prospecting old mines northeast of Berlin at a site where two decades later the Germans would be mining uranium for an atomic bomb project. He attended Harvard where on hot spring days he would spend his time reading such fascinating literature such as James Jeans’s Dynamical Theory of Gases. He became a chemistry major but had the good fortune of having Percy Bridgman, a physicist and subsequent Nobelist, as a mentor. During this period he would travel on vacation to New Mexico to a desolate spot called Los Alamos, building his rock collection.

     While a student at Harvard, Robert composed several poems for the literary magazine, one of which seemed to be eerily premonitory:

    It was evening when we came to the river

    With a low moon over the desert

    That we had lost in the mountains, forgotten,

    What with the cold and the sweating

    And the ranges barring the sky.

    And when we found it again,

    In the dry hills down by the river,

    Have withered, we had hot winds against us.

    There were two palms by the landing;

    The yuccas were flowering; there was

     A light in the far shore, and tamarisks.

    We waited a long time, in silence

    Then we heard the oars creaking

    And afterwards, I remember,

    The boatman called to us.

    We did not look back at the mountains. 

     In early 1925 the two academic bodies were still separated by the Atlantic Ocean. They came closer together when Robert graduated Harvard summa cum laude, and shortly thereafter, arrived at the Cavendish laboratories in Cambridge to begin his post-graduate studies. By this time Eka was ensconced in the pleasant University town of Heidelberg studying medieval history. Like Oppenheimer, Eka was fortunate to have prestigious mentors, Karl Hempe and Friedrich Baethgen, scholars of the medieval Salian and Hohenstaufen dynasties with omnivorous knowledge of late medieval political history. Kantorowicz was trained in the school of Geistesgeschichte- spiritual history relating the culture of Germany. Eka was supporting himself from his vast family resources and was writing a biography of Frederick II. At the same time, as previously indicated,  he was a member of the Stefan George circle, a group of aristocratic young men who were despondent about the Weimar republic and were thinking of national renewal under a great leader run by cultured supermen- however, this group was by no means looking for an Austrian ex-corporal to do the leading, rather, another Frederick. It was Stefan George himself who assigned Eka to write a biography of Frederick, a most apocalyptic medieval German figure.

      Citing an abstract of George’s poetry to get some idea of the orientation of this influential poet:


        ..Most you value today is

           Rank as leaves in the fall-wind.

          Doomed to perdition and death!

          Only what consecrated earth

           Cradles in sheltering sleep…

            Far from acquisitive hands,

            Marvels this day cannot grasp,

             Are rife with the fate of tomorrow,

   In other words,  what rough beast, his hour come at last?

  Slouches toward Germany to be born?  

     Both Oppenheimer and Kantorowicz showed prodigious accomplishment early in their careers. Göttingen, a  small medieval town in Lower Saxony, housed the nucleus of the greatest center of theoretical physics, in contrast to the experimental physics center at Cambridge. Oppenheimer, who was quite clumsy with hands-on techniques, was in his element at Göttingen, surrounded by other young physicists such as Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, Max Born, to name a few, many of them future Nobel Prize winners and all of them ensconced in the formulation of quantum theory. In fact, even before leaving Cambridge, Oppenheimer had delivered two papers before the Cambridge Philosophical Society on Quantum Theory, one of which was the aforementioned “On the Quantum Theory of the Problem of the Two Bodies”. This paper referred to transitions to continuum states in the hydrogen atom. Another notably famous paper described the Born-Oppenheimer approximation, which separates nuclear motion from electronic motion in the mathematical treatment of molecules.  This approximation allowed a relatively simple solution to the previously complex computation of the energy and wave-form of an average sized molecule. Quantum theory provides a set of principles that combine the wave-like and particle-like behavior of matter and radiation, a radical change from classical physics. From this framework, accurate descriptions of previously unexplained phenomena such as the stability of electron orbits were explained. Would it be presumptuous to analogize the wave and particle components as the spirit and the body of physical phenomena? 

        Over a short period of time at Göttingen, Oppenheimer wrote prodigiously, publishing one paper after another on quantum theory, with complicated calculations which a colleague admitted was “beyond the scope of most quantum mechanics textbooks”. Several of his German colleagues, Heisenberg and Friederich Houtermans would, along with Oppenheimer, later work on developing an atomic bomb, on opposite sides.

       Oppenheimer’s PhD. was granted at Göttingen after an oral examination in which one examiner, the physicist James Franck, remarked “I got out of there just in time. He was beginning to ask me questions”.     

   Kantorowicz while in Heidelberg around the same time also was close to another precocious medievalist, Percy Ernst Schramm, who would eventually go on to join the Nazi party and become a major in the Wehrmacht, actually the historian of the Wehrmacht, very much in contact with Hitler. As with Eka, Schramm published  a pathfinding book on medieval kingship, Otto III, who died in 1002. That work has been described as “an intellectual revolution in medieval studies”.

       It was for the young Eka, however, to fuse the idea of the Volk and the apocalyptic figure in another revolutionary book- a biography of Frederick II. His book on Frederick II was published in 1928. It had a swastika on the cover, which even at the time  in the late 1920’s was easily recognized in Germany as a Nazi symbol.  The book was an amplification of the tradition of German Geistesgeschichte - , placing past idea, theory, learned traditions, and spiritual considerations above material and social forces. Frederick II was the grandson of Frederick I, or Frederick Barbarossa, whose formula, “Unus Deus, unus Papa, unus imperator” evolved centuries later into “Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Führer”.  It was the charismatic power of the grandson that Eka portrayed, an orphan prince of Sicily, lacking his own military forces, who succeeded in acquiring an immense empire stretching from East Prussia to Sicily. His concluding passage in the book, somewhat muddied by translation into English, provides an example of the romanticism and spiritual tone of Geisgechichte:

  “The weary Lord of the Last Day… the sage who leads his armed warriors to the Muses’ dance and song, he who slumbers not nor sleeps but ponders how he can renew the “Empire”. … The greatest Frederick is not yet redeemed…” Hermann Goering enjoyed the book.

      Eka published the book without footnotes- it was meant for the general reader- and later when he was criticized for the lack of footnotes, he published an Erganzungsband, an appendix with 300 pages of background footnotes. This was in response to an academic in Berlin who considered him a romanticizer and not an honest researcher. In fact, Eka, who was then in his mid 30’s, was given a chair at the University in Frankfurt on the basis of his book, a young age in Germany for such an honor.

         Obviously, being Jewish did not help him over the next few years. In 1933, with the advent of Hitler as Chancellor, Eka resigned his chair at Frankfurt and in his resignation letter to the Prussian minister of education, before an inevitable firing, betrayed his indignation that he, of all persons, supporting the theme of German nationalism, was faced with ignominy because of his religion.

   ”I never dreamed- I, who volunteered for service in 1914, I who fought during, and, again, after the war against the Poles in Poznan, against the Sparticist insurrection in Berlin, and against the Republic of the Councils in Munich – I never thought that I could be stripped of my post because of my Jewish ancestry. It seemed to me that my writings on the Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen, I would need no proof, either past or present, of my feelings in favor of a Germany reoriented toward nationalism. It appeared to me that my fundamental enthusiasm for a nationalist State went well beyond the ordinary feeling…, nor has it been eroded by my current affairs...”

         Nevertheless, for the next 5 years he lived in Berlin until 1938, presumably protected by Goering and several of his aristocratic friends who happened to be high in Nazi circles. This presumption was indicated in the chapter “The Nazi Twins”, a book about 20th century medievalists by the late Norman F. Cantor. The twins referred to Kantorowicz and Schramm. Dr. Eckhart Grünewald, another authority on Kantorowicz, termed any indication that Eka had any interest in the Nazi regime or was protected by Goering, much less others, as “dumb, indecent, and ridiculous”.

          Although Eka was a right-wing nationalist, he was entirely opposed to the Nazis and indeed spoke out against them early in their ascendancy, which no doubt took great courage. When a law on April 7, 1933 excluded Jews from public functions, with the exception of combatants of war, which he surely was, Eka, on April 20, 1933, which by ironic coincidence happened to be Hitler’s birthday, protested the law and informed the Prussian minister of science of his decision not to guarantee to teach his summer semester classes, although he did not resign. He did resign in 1934 when he refused to take a loyalty oath to Hitler. This was not the last time he would refuse such a request for a loyalty oath.  In 1938, with the handwriting on the wall, he moved to Oxford after being provided with a British visa by an Oxford classical scholar, an English friend, who visited him in Berlin that summer following the Anschluss with Austria.

      Oppenheimer and Eka supported themselves in their postgraduate days from lavish family funds. They both had somewhat grating personalities. In Göttingen, Oppenheimer would interrupt his professor in a quantum mechanics seminar by stepping to the blackboard and demonstrating with chalk that the explanation could be done much better. Once, his mentor, Max Born, gave him a set of calculations to look over. Oppenheimer looked them over after a few days and indicated that there were no mistakes and questioned whether Born had actually done this alone.

      After Göttingen,  while Oppenheimer did further studies at the University of  Leiden that his students started calling him “Oppje” later anglicized to “Oppie”. As with Eka, we will mostly use this shortened form for convenience.

     Eka had a singsong way of speaking, a German aristocratic affection, which caused much mirth in the Oxford students and faculty. Unlike Oppie, however, who tended to wear his expensive clothes somewhat sloppily, Eka was always dressed to the nines, unlike his Oxford colleagues with their baggy trousers and sloppy tweed jackets. His hair was cropped close, and he would have a crisp white handkerchief carefully placed in his breast pocket. He really was out of his element in Oxford and had to look overseas for employment. He only lasted there a few months.

     Oppie at the same time had his own quirks and eccentricities. During lectures to his graduate students back in the United States,   he would hum “nim” “nim” and chain smoke Chesterfields . Unlike Eka’s students at Oxford, Oppie’s students would copy his mannerisms, gestures and taste for cigarette brand. He invariably wore a gray suit a blue denim shirt and round-toed black shoes, well polished but worn. Outside of the University he wore a blue work shirt and faded blue jeans with a broad leather belt and a Mexican silver buckle. 

     Oppenheimer in some ways was also involved in a transcendental interest in myth – in his case the Bhagavad-Gita and Sanskrit texts. You no doubt are aware of his comment after witnessing the world’s first nuclear explosion “I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds”. After the Hindu trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.  the future site of the A-test in Alamogordo New Mexico the test itself named Trinity. While watching the explosion, Oppie remembered a passage from the Bhagavad-Gita:      “If the radiance of a thousand suns

   Were to burst into the sky,

   They would be like

    the splendor of the mighty one “

   It has been commented in one perspective that Oppenheimer had his own trinity of principal tenets: duty, fate, and faith.  

    His perspective of what he was responsible for creating can perhaps parallel the insight that Eka evoked when he saw Nazism as a distorted evocation of his authoritarian ideal in Frederick II.  Eka  tried later  to suppress the republication of the book until his death.” As he indicated: “This book was inspired by enthusiasm peculiar to the 1920’s,  rife with its hopes for the triumph of a secret Germany and for the renewal of the German people by contemplating their greatest emperor. The book is now out of date and runs the risk of encouraging an outmoded nationalism”.

      While Eka was living through the nightmare of 1930’s Germany, Oppie was established at both the University of California, Berkeley and Cal Tech, becoming a full professor by 1936 after a profusion of scholarly papers. In fact, during this period he was invited to positions at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and at Harvard. As early as 1930, he wrote a paper predicting the existence of the positron. In the late 1930’s he helped write several papers in astrophysics suggesting the existence of what are today called black holes, demonstrating a size limit (called the Tolman-Oppenheimer-Volkoff limit) to stars beyond which they could not remain stable as neutron stars, and would undergo gravitational collapse. He was considered by many to be a father of theoretical physics.

    Nonetheless, Oppie was not placed in the top rank of theorists because of his difficult to understand, complex mathematical techniques and lack of persistence in focusing on a single topic for long. His colleague, the Nobel Prizewinner Isidor Rabi at Columbia remarked:

     “Oppenheimer was overeducated in those fields which lie outside the scientific tradition, such as his interest in religion, in the Hindu religion in particular, which resulted in a feeling of mystery of the universe that surrounded him like a fog. He saw physics clearly, looking toward what had already been done, but at the border he tended to feel there was much more of the mysterious and novel in botany … than there actually was… [he turned] away from the hard, crude methods of theoretical physics into a mystical realm of broad intuition”.

    During the 1930’s Oppie never returned to Europe, and fell seriously in love with Jean Tatlock, the daughter of Berkeley’s eminent Chaucer Scholar, who was taking medical courses at Cal. It was a time of political ferment obviously and Oppie was in contact with many intellectuals, some of whom were members of the Communist Party. The romance did not endure and Oppie eventually married Kitty Pruening Harrison, whose first husband, a political commissar during the Spanish Civil War, had been killed by Falangist bullets. Kitty herself had been a party member, left the party, and began graduate studies at UCLA. When she met Oppie, she had remarried a British born doctor who was taking his internship in the United States. The Harrison marriage was not working out and in fact Oppie phoned Harrison to tell him that his wife was pregnant. An agreement was made for a divorce. Harrison later told the FBI that “… they all had modern views concerning sex” This was in 1940.  Eka, in Germany until 1938 of course, was in no way involved with Communists during that period. They were all dead or in concentration camps. However, several decades later, further political ferment in the United States would come to haunt both.

    Eka had no place in Oxford in 1939. However, he saw a small announcement in the Times of London that the University of California was looking for an associate professor of medieval English constitutional history. He applied and was accepted. Eka knew little about the subject but fortunately was provided with Pollock and Maitland’s History of English Law by a bright young clerk at Blackwell’s after he asked for the best book ever written in English constitutional history. He took the volume on the Cunard liner with him to New York and arrived at Berkeley in September 1939 the same week the Wehrmacht arrived in Poland.

     He was a great success as a teacher. Just as Oppie had his clique of students, Eka, with his singsong manner of talking and continental clothes, that rubbed Oxford the wrong way, made a great impression on the California students. Of course, he was erudite, gathering around him graduate students who sipped his California wines and listened to Eka parsing Latin texts by word. In American medieval academia, Eka was up against some major barriers, however. While Oppie was working on the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, Eka was publishing what may be considered boring but erudite monographs, well documented with footnotes, on the liturgy of kingship, attending the Medieval Academy meetings in Cambridge and Madison, and  delivering papers on Roman and canon law. He was up against the American medieval historians, notably Charles H. Haskins, professor of history at Harvard, who practically single-handedly developed the academic environment in medieval history in this country, sending numerous highly talented graduate students to foster medieval history at such institutions as Princeton and Michigan.  Haskins and his colleagues were not susceptible to flamboyant works such as Eka’s Frederick II, and Eka was careful never to cite this book in his many papers and presentations. Finally, he achieved recognition with the prestigious Haskins Medal in medieval history.

      Oppie and Eka were at Berkeley together from 1939 to 1941, perhaps meeting on occasion in the Faculty club, although I have no record of them ever having a serious discussion. Both were similarly flamboyant polymaths and it would not be surprising that they would have much to talk about.   

   However, while Eka was free to enjoy his California existence during the War years, Oppie of course was in charge of the Atomic bomb project as scientific director in Los Alamos. We will not dwell on the intricacies of this project except that he continued to be been linked to various friends or acquaintances who happened to be communists or have communist ties. I bring this up as a prelude to what follows.

     Oppie himself stated in respect to the party that “discipline was severe and… not compatible with complete loyalty to the project” although he knew of several former party members who were working at Los Alamos. Needless to say, despite an occasional wiretap by the FBI and government surveillance, Oppie successfully completed the project on July 16, 1945 at Alamogordo, New Mexico.

    Needless to say, also, he was strongly supported by Colonel then General Leslie Groves, the military director of the project. Interestingly, Groves had the idea that all scientists on the project should become commissioned army officers. Oppie went so far as to take an army physical in January 1943 - and failed it miserably. He was 11 pounds under the minimum weight for his height, had a chronic cough due to his chain smoking, and had lumbo-sacral strain. However, for a short while Oppie was allowed to don a Colonel’s uniform, until Groves, seeing the problems of scientists working under military discipline, retracted his order and decided that during the lab’s development, the scientists would remain civilians but uniforms would be donned for the A-Test. As many of you can recall from the photos of the A-Test, this did not come to pass.    

    With the end of the war, Oppenheimer, seeing the results of his efforts, lobbied vigorously for international arms control.  In 1947 he accepted the directorship of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, and later took over the position of senior professor of theoretical physics from Albert Einstein. It was during the following few years that he was portrayed by Time and Life as the pipe-smoking family man who represented the scientific community. Indeed, his involvement included Chair of the General Advisory Committee of the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission. However, he was seen by many as an obstructionist, especially to the development of the hydrogen bomb, especially earlier on when there had been no practical design for such a weapon. James Bryant Conant, President of Harvard, also on the Committee, and also opposing the shunting of resources away from fissionable weapons to an develop a weapon with as yet no workable design, considered along with Oppenheimer retiring from the committee after President Truman agreed to a crash program for a hydrogen bomb after the Soviet Union tested its first A-bomb in late 1949. However, Oppie did later support its development after a feasible design was accomplished by Edward Teller, no friend of Oppie, but to many in administrative politics, and especially to Teller, this change came too late.

     As you are all aware, the early 1950’s was the McCarthy era, abetted by the Un-American Activities Committee, the loyalty oaths in universities and a general fear of non-conformity. You would have to live through that era to fully appreciate the fear in this country, a two fold fear, of a Soviet nuclear attack and of being fired for past activities that were not currently considered de rigeur politically. High school teachers and college professors of my acquaintance were fired for flimsy reasons. There was a war in Korea and every few years, polio stalked the country – or as younger contemporaries looking back to that period are fond of saying, they were simpler times, probably because they consider that gas was cheaper. 

       Although Oppie himself stated quite candidly that in the 1930”s he had belonged to every Communist front organization in California – but not the communist party, it was Eka, not Oppie, who was first caught up in the ant-communist frenzy. However, it was his decision to do so. In 1949, the University of California decided that a loyalty oath was necessary to teach well. On June 14, 1949, Eka read a statement before the academic senate of the northern section of California.  Its initial paragraph stated:

      “As a historian who has investigated and traced the histories of quite a number of oaths, I feel competent to make a statement indicating the grave dangers residing in the introduction of a new, enforced oath, and to express, at the same time, from a professional and human point of view, my deepest concern about the steps taken by the Regents of this University:

      He concluded with the statement” It is a shameful and undignified action; it is an affront and a violation of both human sovereignty and professional dignity… “

And on October 4, to President of the University

   “..My political record will stand the test of any investigation. I have twice volunteered to fight actively… the left-wing radicals in Germany; but I know also that by joining the white battalions, I have prepared, if indirectly or against my intention, the road leading to National Socialism and its rise to power.

… I cannot allow myself to believe that the base field of political inquisition, which paralyzes scholarly production, should be within the range of [the University’s] activities.,” He did not sign the loyalty oath, of course, this so-called “Nazi twin” of Norman Cantor’s chapter title. He did this after the President of the University told a meeting of the Academic Senate that no faculty member on the University of California’s eight campuses enjoyed any rights of tenure whatsoever.  

     He had to leave California and where was he welcomed? By the Institute for Advanced Study. However, Eka was almost blackballed from the Institute when Oppie wanted to appoint him – by Lewis Strauss, vice chair of the institute’s board of trustees, precisely because Eka had refused to sign the California loyalty oath. However, Strauss was the sole dissenting vote and he had to accede to the majority. There had been an ongoing power play between Strauss and Oppenheimer that was to shortly have grave consequences for Oppie.  

      It was there in 1957 that that Eka published his most famous work at least in English), the King’s Two Bodies. The institute was not part of Princeton University, of course, and Joseph Strayer, the medievalist at the University who was Chair of the History department and the prime protégé of Haskins – despised Eka – including his style, his mannerisms and his scholarship - there was something of Oxford in Tigertown. Although he had had a large circle of student disciples at Berkeley, Eka became virtually reclusive in Princeton- the Institute was not a graduate school but a haven for academic geniuses who spent their time as faculty members with no students. As such it is comparable to the Collège de France and All Soul’s College in Oxford. And so Eka concentrated on the theology of kingship.

     As to Oppenheimer himself, some faculty members were quite dissatisfied with his initial appointment as director of the Institute, recognizing his brilliance but contesting is arrogance. His relationship with the mathematics faculty was especially disastrous. One long-time mathematician at the institute complained that “Oppenheimer was a wholly frustrated personality, and his amusement was to make people quarrel with each other”. With equal consideration, Oppie called one of the mathematicians ‘” the most arrogant, bull-headed son-of a-bitch I ever met”. One wonders whether this should be considered an honor coming from Oppie, especially with the competition.

      Whatever the difficulty Eka had to go through with the loyalty oath involvement at the University of California, and the decision was his to choose, Oppie had a far greater burden. In the midst of the McCarthy era, the FBI surveillance continued. More particularly, Lewis Strauss sent a note to J. Edgar Hoover, that he was “extremely concerned about Oppenheimer’s influence in the atomic energy program… and hoped to be able in the near future to terminate all AEC dealings with Oppenheimer”. We have mentioned the developing hostility between the two, mostly from Strauss.

        Edward Teller, who was developing the plans for the H-bomb, and had had difficult relations with Oppie since Los Alamos, was convinced that he was obstructing its development. In 1951, when Teller had finally solved the design problems of the bomb, he went to the FBI accusing Oppie of attempting to delay the bomb’s development. Not only that, but he indicated flat out to the FBI that “ a lot of people believe Oppenheimer opposed the development of the h-bomb on “direct orders from Moscow’’’. Although he indicated that he did not consider Oppie disloyal, but that he had a personality defect and anyway” he is not as great a physicist as he would like to be” Teller concluded that he would do “anything possible” to see that his government service was terminated.

        In fact, Oppie had a preference for the use of tactical nuclear weapons rather than a massive H-bomb, and using these weapons in a ground war, if necessary. His current attitude toward the Soviet Union was that “ we are coping with a barbarous, backward people who are hardly loyal to their rulers”.

        The Air Force, of course, was strongly supportive of the H-bomb, and President Truman repeatedly ignored the counsel of the General Advisory Committee of the AEC, which included, in addition to Oppie, James B. Conant, the President of Harvard, and Lee Du Bridge, the President of Cal Tech. All three submitted their resignations from the committee.    

        In the autumn of 1953, because of his friendship and acquaintance with scientists who were considered communists or fellow travelers, things came to a head when Oppie was first called to Washington to testify as a defense witness for a physicist who had been discharged from the University of Wisconsin for presumably subversive activities involving passing along secrets to the Russians during the war. As it turned out, Oppie  did not have to testify, but by that time there was enough FBI documentation to suggest to the suggestible that Oppie was a security risk yet loyal to his country. Could this dichotomy be in some way analogous to quantum mechanics where a body could be a wave and a particle at the same time? No doubt the metaphysicians and analogists among us can have a field day about this.

      By that time Strauss was head of the AEC, having supported President Eisenhower during his candidacy. He convinced the president that Oppie was suspicious enough that what was called a “blank wall’ should separate him from sensitive documents. This evoked the famous Herblock cartoon of Oppie sitting in a chair holding a symbol of the atom behind a blank wall with Uncle Sam on the other side of the wall with Strauss and Eisenhower, who were holding bricks and mortar in hod carriers. Uncle Sam is looking at the two of them, holding his forehead in amazement and exclaiming “Who’s being walled off from what?”

       Oppie had to appear before a committee of the AEC concerning the charges about his security status, stacked by Strauss to ensure the result, and the decision was that he should lose his security clearance. In fact, he could have avoided it but felt that appearing before the committee he would be able to clear any doubts about his loyalty. It was not supposed to be a trial but it might have given some inquisition Star Chamber proceedings competition. This result devastated Oppie and over the next 14 years, until he died in early 1967 of cancer, his effectiveness at a national level had ceased. Strauss had even attempted to prevent him from living in Princeton after Oppie stepped down from directorship of the Institute, without success. Oppie was finally recognized by the government in 1963, when President Kennedy awarded him the prestigious Fermi prize, which was he received on December 2, 1963, two weeks after Kennedy himself was killed. Oppie received the award from President Johnson, and one observer described Oppie as “a figure of stone, gray, rigid, almost lifeless, and tragic in his intensity”. After accepting the award, Oppie turned to Johnson and said “I think it is just possible, Mr. President, that it has taken some charity and some courage for you to make this award today. “ However, Oppenheimer never got his security clearance back. As for Strauss, the Democratic controlled senate voted down his nomination for Secretary of Commerce at the end of the Eisenhower administration. For those of you who would relish a literary analogy, I refer you to Somerset Maugham’s Lord Mountdrago.

    While this was going on, Eka proceeded to publish his book on the King’s Two Bodies, published by the Princeton University Press,. which may caused the Princeton History chair, Strayer, some distress. Those years of semi-seclusion at the Institute had brought about a scholarly study in medieval political theology. The King’s two bodies referred to his corporeal body and his metaphysical corporate body. If you think that this is analogous to transubstantiation, that is where the idea came from. The concept had developed initially around the 12th century and flourished in Elizabethan times. You can imagine the contortions that lawyers had to go through to separate the concept of the divinity of a king from his physical body.

     If you want an example let us go back to the court of King Henry VII which was deciding a case in which an English Lord had trespassed on lands for which he claimed to have paid a tax to the King’s court and considered it therefore a parcel in the lord’s demesne.   I quote just a part of the judges’ reasoning in deciding the outcome, which is enough to give you the idea:

     “ … For when the Body politic of King of this Realm is conjoined to the Body natural, and one Body is made of them both, the Degree of the Body natural, and of the things possessed in that capacity, is thereby altered, and the effects thereof are changed by its Union with the other Body, and don’t remain in the former Degree, but partake in the Effects of the Body politic…the Body natural and the Body politic are consolidated into one, and the Body politic wipes away every Imperfection of the other Body…” . No doubt they could meet when coming through the rye.

         Ill health began to overtake Eka in 1960 and he died in 1963, four years before Oppie.

        What can we conclude about the lives of these unique individuals? It is of course interesting that they both wrote works with virtually the same title about entirely different spheres of scholarship yet there was a connection in the ambiguity of their subjects. Waves and particles, natural and corporate bodies, each one in the same. Both individuals had brilliant early careers and at different times were victims of government coercion. Both were brilliant teachers and displayed erratic temperaments, both coming from different countries but with similar upbringing developing their early careers in Germany and eventually finding themselves in the same institutions, both grappling with a certain  mysticism that that was an important part of their lives. Both were involved in projects that influenced ideas or events leading to destruction and havoc, one a book on Frederick II, the other the development of a bomb. Both considered ruefully the humanitarian concerns of what they had brought about. It is such individuals as these who alter and illuminate their times.  





Source Material


1. Kantorowicz EH. The King’s Two Bodies. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ1957, 1997.

2. Cantor NF.  Chapter 3. The Nazi twins, in Inventing the Middle Ages. Quill.      William Morrow. New York 1991.

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