This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.

One World or None

Freda Kirchwey
Excerpted from the August 18, 1945 Issue

The bomb that hurried Russia into the Far Eastern war a week ahead of schedule and drove Japan to surrender has accomplished the specific job for which it was created. The suffering, the wholesale slaughter it entailed, have been outweighed by its spectacular success; Allied leaders can rightly claim that the loss of life on both sides would have been many times greater if the atomic bomb had not been used and Japan had gone on fighting. There is no answer to this argument. The danger is that it will encourage those in power to assume that, once accepted as valid, the argument can be applied equally well in the future. If that assumption should be permitted, the chance of saving civilization—and perhaps the world itself—from destruction is a remote one.

The atomic bomb represents a revolution in science—the greatest revolution ever accomplished. It calls for a comparable revolution in men’s thinking and in their capacity for political and social readjustment. Not a hint of that has so far emerged in high places. No one has spoken the simple truth that the exploding atom has exposed to the whole world.

President Truman is whistling to keep our courage up. He knows that other nations are working on atomic explosives. The secret was guarded long enough to enable us to smash Japan. It will not last much longer. The present “trustees” of this force had better stop thinking in terms of control by themselves and begin to figure how a world is to be run in which every nation equipped for research and modern production will soon be able to make and propel atomic bombs. The policy announced by the President is power politics raised to a cosmic degree; if continued it will insure an era of desperate competition in destruction, which can have only one outcome.

No longer can we afford a world organized to prevent aggression only if all of the great powers wish it to be prevented. No longer can we afford a social system which would permit private business, in the name of freedom, to control a source of energy capable of creating comfort and security for all the world’s people. This seems self-evident, and so it is. But it calls for changes so sweeping that only an immense effort of will and imagination can bring them about. Within each nation the people must establish public ownership and social development of the revolutionary force war has thrust into their hands. This program will sound drastic only to people who have not yet grasped the meaning of the new discovery. It is not drastic. We face a choice between one world or none.

Freda Kirchwey (1893–1976) joined the staff of The Nation in 1918; her first job was to aggregate articles from the foreign press for the International Relations Supplement. She later became managing editor and then editor from 1937 to 1955. Especially active in the 1920s in organizing discussions of feminism and “the new morality” in sexual relations, Kirchwey also championed antifascism, which led to her lifelong support for Spanish republicans, and the creation of Israel, for which she, and The Nation, lobbied both the Truman administration and the United Nations. 

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The Salt of the Earth

James Agee
February 15, 1947

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French Existentialism

Hannah Arendt
February 23, 1946

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Americans and Their Myths

Jean-Paul Sartre
October 18, 1947

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Parlor Games With Gats

Manny Farber
Excerpted from the June 4, 1949 Issue

Hollywood’s fair-haired boy, to the critics, is director John Huston; in terms of falling into the Hollywood mold, Huston is a smooth blend of iconoclast and sheep. If you look closely at his films, what appears to be a familiar story, face, grouping of actors, or tempo has in each case an obscure, outrageous, double-crossing unfamiliarity that is the product of an Eisenstein-lubricated brain.

Though Huston deals with the gangster, detective, adventure thriller that the average fan knows like the palm of his hand, he is Message-Mad, and mixes a savage story with puddin’head righteousness. His characters are humorless and troubled and quite reasonably so, since Huston, like a Puritan judge, is forever calling on them to prove that they can soak up punishment, carry through harrowing tasks, withstand the ugliest taunts. Huston is a crazy man with death: he pockmarks a story with gratuitous deaths, fast deaths, noisy ones, and in idle moments has his characters play parlor games with gats. Though his movies are concerned with grim interpersonal relationships, half of each audience takes them for comedies.

Money—its possession, influence, manufacture, lack—is a star performer in Huston’s moral fables and gilds his technique; his irony toward and preoccupation with money indicate a director who is a little bitter at being so rich. His movies will please a Russian audience: half the characters (Americans) are money-mad, directly enriching themselves by counterfeiting, prospecting, blackmail, panhandling.

Huston’s technique differs from classic Hollywood practice in which the primary image is the fluid landscape shot where terrain and individual are blended together. Huston’s art is stage presentation: the scenery is curiously deadened, and the individual has an exaggerated vitality. His characters do everything the hard way—the mastication of a gum-chewing gangster resembles the leg-motion in bicycling. In the traditional film life is viewed from a comfortable vantage-point, one that is so unobtrusive that the audience is seldom conscious of the fact that a camera had anything to do with what is shown. In Huston’s you are constantly aware of a vitaminized photographer. Huston breaks a film up into a hundred disparate midget films.

The Eisenstein of the Bogart thriller, he rigidly delimits the subject matter that goes into a frame, by chiaroscuro or by grouping his figures within the square of the screen so that there is nothing else to look at. He is a terror with a camera where there is hardly room for an actor to move an arm: given a small group in close quarters, around a bar, bonfire, table, he will hang on to the event for dear life and show you peculiarities of posture, expression, and anatomy that only the actor’s doctor should know. The arty, competent Huston would seem to an old rough-and-ready silent film director like a boy who graduated from Oxford at the age of eight, and painted the Sistine Chapel during his lunch hours.

Manny Farber (1917–2008) was The Nation’s film critic (and occasional art critic) from 1949 to 1954. Susan Sontag called him “the liveliest, smartest, most original film critic this country has ever produced.” 

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The Witch Hunt and Civil Rights

Carey McWilliams
Excerpted from the June 28, 1952 Issue

The past few years have witnessed an anomalous development in the struggle to safeguard human freedoms. Some progress has been noted in the effort to extend civil rights, but serious setbacks have occurred in almost every category of civil liberties.

The distinction has some historical basis. Since the passage of the original federal civil-rights act, rights which stem from legislation aimed at preventing discrimination on account of race, creed, or color have been called “civil rights,” whereas the basic liberties are those previously sanctioned by the Bill of Rights. Though historically valid, the distinction has been used to create the impression that human rights are adequately protected, when in fact the opposite is true.

Since 1949 it has become increasingly clear that the civil-rights program cannot be enacted as long as the witch hunt goes on. The moment the demand for full civil equality begins to find expression in independent political action, the struggle for civil rights will become one with the struggle to maintain civil liberties. At this point the protagonists of civil rights will either be smeared as Reds or threatened with legal action as disturbers of the peace.

Civil liberties and civil rights are not separable. One cannot be achieved while the other is denied. Indeed, the most important item on the agenda of organizations concerned with civil rights should now be to bring the witch hunt to a speedy end. This is not to say that in the field of civil rights token concessions will not be granted; they may in fact be granted as a means of dividing the forces which if united might terminate the witch hunt. But any concessions granted by the witch hunters will be subject to the implied condition that minority groups continue to talk about civil rights, not civil liberties, and agree to support the cold war.

In short, the witch hunt threatens to retard the movement for both civil rights and civil liberties for a long time unless there is early and widespread realization, particularly among minority groups, of the truth pointed out by Walter White of the N.A.A.C.P. and David Petergorsky of the American Jewish Congress, that “human freedom is indivisible.”

Carey McWilliams (1905–1980) first wrote for The Nation in 1929, a review of a biography of Ambrose Bierce. His own book on Bierce was published later that year; he was only 23. Later books included the influential Factories in the Field (1939) and Prejudice (1944), the first book about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. After serving as the magazine’s West Coast editor for many years, McWilliams relocated to New York in 1952 to help with a special issue on civil liberties. He succeeded Freda Kirchwey as editor in 1955 and served for two decades, stewarding The Nation through perilous years of redbaiting and aligning the magazine with the nascent civil-rights movement and the early opposition to the Vietnam War. After his retirement, McWilliams published his memoir, The Education of Carey McWilliams (1979). 

* * *

Encounter: Bernard Fall and Frances Fitzgerald

Solution in Indo-China: Cease-Fire, Negotiate

Bernard Fall
March 6, 1954

Lost on the Street Without Joy

Frances Fitzgerald
April 6, 2015

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Day After Tomorrow: Why Science Fiction?

Ray Bradbury
May 2, 1953