"I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

J. Robert Oppenheimer was the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, the USA's World War II program to develop the first nuclear weapons. This quote is often attributed to Oppenheimer on the occasion of the first successful nuclear test, the Trinity test in New Mexico in 1945, after which USA President Truman authorized the atomic bombings of the cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, killing well over 200,000 men, women and children. It is not clear whether Oppenheimer used these words at the time of the test or at a later date, but in fact he was recalling and translating the words of Vishnu in the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad-Gita.

In a 1965 television broadcast about the moments following the Trinity test, Oppenheimer said: "We knew the world would 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. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that, one way or another."

J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) American physicist, known as the "Father of the Atomic Bomb"

I am become: I have become; I am
destroyer (noun): something that ends the existence of another thing
worlds (noun): planets; everything(?); the universe(?)

Contributor: Josef Essberger