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
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.