'A story more provocative than Oppenheimer'

Robert Scheer interviews Steve James and Dave Lindorff about their film ‘A Compassionate Spy’

“I’m surprised you were able to make this film.”

                       — Bob Scheer, host of KCRW’s “Scheer Intelligence”

The world has somehow reached a moment where the use of nuclear weapons has possibly never been closer and the interest in nuclear weapons has possibly never been higher. With the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” a compelling dialogue emerges concerning the utilization of nuclear weapons, as the biopic delves into the life of the father of the atomic bomb and his profound doubts about the barbaric weapon he unleashed on the world. An even more captivating narrative about dissent amongst the Los Alamos scientists who created the bomb is close to release, and its timing couldn’t be more perfect. A Compassionate Spy, directed by two time Academy Award nominated Steve James, delves into the intriguing life of an unconventional hero within the world of nuclear development – a character whose history might be viewed with skepticism, yet is undeniably instrumental in shaping the post Cold War nuclear arms race.

Host Robert Scheer sits down with James and journalist David Lindorff, who originally broke the story about the character in question, to discuss the film and the life of Ted Hall. The young, brilliant physicist turned atomic Soviet spy made a decision at an age where most college-bound people would be making their first change in major. This fateful decision to share nuclear secrets with the Soviet Union proved to be a pivotal moment that not only broke the American nuclear monopoly but also averted the potential for further use of these devastating weapons. The film paints a conclusive “ends justify the means” story. Director Steve James said, “[Hall’s] reasons for passing the secrets, whether you agree with them or not, were grounded and not in naivete or brashness, but in real thoughtfulness.”

Lindorff puts it plainly: “[T]here’s been 78 years of no use in wartime since the August 9th Nagasaki bombing and I attribute that completely to mutual assured destruction, because every time it’s come close and when you read the stories, somebody flinched and said, we can’t do this because we can’t pull it off without destroying our own country. It’s a suicide murder pact, so it hasn’t happened.” James goes on to mention the apathy from crucial figures at the time like Harry Truman who, as referenced in the Oppenheimer film, was unconcerned with Oppenheimer’s worry about the future of nuclear weapon use and found himself, as Scheer and James describe, giddy over their use in Japan.

In the end, Lindorff’s hot take that both Hall and fellow physicist turned spy, Klaus Fuchs, were deserving of a Nobel Prize for “for having saved the world from a US with a monopoly on the bomb after the war,” that ended up being the catalyst for the investigation into Hall. His article about Hall prompted Hall’s widow, Joan Hall—a prominent character in the film—to contact him about her late husband and the rest was history.

Tpo hear the podcast of Scheer’s interview with the makers of this extraordinary film just opening in theaters around the country, click here.