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History taught us that intellectuals mostly commit treason because they can easily justify them, from those who stood against revolutions in France to those who stood against revolutions in the Arab Spring.

Those intellectuals justified wars, kings and dictators, and counterrevolutions. A 1927 book by French essayist Julien Benda, "La Trahison des clercs," is an attack on the intellectual corruption of the age. Thanks to such men, Benda wrote, "Humanity did evil for two thousand years but honored good." However, our modern civilization slipped so that it honored hatred, nationalism and racism when man substituted action over the idea and when success became the value.

In the last few weeks, debate has swept the airwaves and animated talk at office water coolers after the opening of director Christopher Nolan's blockbuster film "Oppenheimer." The movie is based on the book "American Prometheus," a 700-page biography of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. "Oppenheimer" opened in thousands of theaters across America and the world. Hollywood turned a massive violent act into a box-office smash. I went to see it at the newly improved Edina Theatre, where an oversized seat swallowed me for the three-and-a-half-hour duration of the film.

"Oppenheimer" recreates a narrative that fits the sensibility of middle-class whites. It offers an image of the title character as a sensitive blue-eyed white man who was used by the state and later subjected to a kangaroo court. The film tries to show the complexity of morality and the redemption of the man who was dubbed "the father of the atomic bomb." Oppenheimer headed the Manhattan Project, which was secretly founded when Americans were racing against time to beat the Nazi Germans and the Russians to making the big bomb.

In Japan, an official who commemorated the 78th anniversary by warning the world of the bomb threat coming from Vladimir Putin and Russia forgot that the Americans were the ones who dropped the two atomic bombs ever used. Nolan's film focuses on the man who built the bomb, on the making of the bomb, on the dropping of the bombs and on the dramatic explosions of the sun, but it never shows any of the hundreds of thousands of Japanese victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nor does it talk about the hundreds of thousands more who have suffered the consequences of radiation since.

The bomb ended the war and saved lots of American lives — so goes the rational justification of the mass killing. Afterward, Oppenheimer — the American Prometheus, the god of fire, according to Greek mythology, went to meet the vindictive Harry Truman. President Truman wasn't in the mood for any intellectual argument about stopping the nuclear arms race, since the U.S. had won the war. In the meeting, Oppenheimer told Truman, "I have blood on my hands," and Truman handed him a handkerchief. "He hasn't half as much blood on his hands as I have," the president said afterward.

Oppenheimer — played in the movie by Cillian Murphy — was the most revered scientist in America until he had second thoughts. In America, intellectuals are not our heroes; people of action are. The issue is not who built or dropped the bomb. In Western civilization, modern rationalism made massive atrocities and violence a possibility.

Modernity, bureaucracy and technology at the Los Alamos research center made the atomic bomb possible. Once science was separated from human values, it became neutral, manipulated by men of action and ambitions. "Oppenheimer" uses sophisticated and impressive images and sounds that assault our senses and occupy our minds. Images are captivating mediums; they are undemocratic means of communication that leave no room for intellectual argument or debate.

Moral relativism and straitjacket rationality gave Oppenheimer breathing room to justify the dark action. The film portrays him as a charismatic, brilliant scientist, a museum-goer who collects art and reads poetry, and as a handsome womanizer. He was manipulated by Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves (played in the film by Matt Damon). He was a suspected communist who couldn't be trusted. He was trying hard to construct his loyalty to the state.

Many Americans who have seen this film needed a moral justification and personal redemption — and found them.

Today, though, with artificial intelligence and chatbots liberating knowledge, everyone creates his or her own rational atomic bomb. Everyone is an intellectual.

As the German physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-99) wrote, "Today, we are trying to spread knowledge everywhere. Who knows if, in centuries to come, there will not be universities for re-establishing our former ignorance?"

Ahmed Tharwat, host and producer of the Arab American TV show BelAhdan, is working on a film documentary, "The Coptic Grave." He lives in Minnetonka.