This article appeared in the August 18, 1945 edition of The Nation.
The creation of the atom bomb is the greatest revolution ever accomplished in science–and unquestionably the most frightening.
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. From the point of view of military strategy, $2,000,000,000 (the cost of the bomb and the cost of nine days of war) was never better spent. 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.
Solemn official talk is going on in Britain and here about controlling the use of the new force. But the talk is unconvincing. 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, either here or in Britain. And so far no leader of one of the lesser states, from which the new knowledge has been withheld, has presumed to open his mouth. No one has spoken the simple truth that the exploding atom has exposed to the whole world.
President Truman announced that he would recommend to Congress "the establishment of an appropriate commission to control the production and use of atomic power within the United States." He has promised that the secret of the bomb will be kept by the three nations that hold it until "means have been found to control the bomb so as to protect ourselves and the rest of the world from the danger of total destruction." Secretary Stimson says that "substantial patent rights" have been assured to the American, Canadian, and British governments to prevent independent exploitation of the discovery. Do these plans and promises mean anything? Or are they conventional, high-sounding nonsense?
First, if anything is sure about the atomic bomb it is that no physical protection against it will ever be possible. The bomb dropped on Nagasaki was far more advanced than that dropped two days earlier on Hiroshima. Both were crude beginnings. We have already been promised that their successors will be enormously improved. Soon they will be propelled by rockets–similar to Hitler’s V-2s–and directed exactly to their destination by radar. When this is achieved, not only will armies and fleets and island bases and strategic frontiers all have been made obsolete, but widespread annihilation can be accomplished by any power, or even group of men, that can command atomic energy.