Ashutosh Jogalekar in The Curious Wavefunction:
Edward Teller was born on this day 107 years ago. Teller is best known to the general public for two things: his reputation as the “father of the hydrogen bomb” and as a key villain in the story of the downfall of Robert Oppenheimer. To me Teller will always be a prime example of the harm that brilliant men can do – either by accident or design – when they are placed in positions of power; as the famed historian Richard Rhodes said about Teller in an interview, “Teller consistently gave bad advice to every president that he worked for”. It’s a phenomenon that is a mainstay of politics but Teller’s case sadly indicates that even science can be put into the service of such misuse of power.
Ironically it is the two most publicly known facts about Teller that are also probably not entirely accurate. Later in life he often complained that the public had exaggerated his roles in both the hydrogen bomb program and in the ousting of Oppenheimer, and this contention was largely true. In truth he deserved both less credit and less blame for his two major acts. Without Teller hydrogen bombs would still have been developed and without Teller Oppenheimer would still have been removed from his role as the government’s foremost scientific advisor.
The question that continues to dog historians and scientists is simple; why did Teller behave the way he did?