The world has become mulch smaller and more explosive. Now we are all crowded together into as single house. Beneath the floor of our house there is a time bomb ticking away, as write this … as you read this.
Dr. Harold C. Urey, Atom bomb scientist.
During the war we looked forward to peace. We expected a rest from our struggles, freedom from war-time restrictions, a release from the making of history and time to attend to our own affairs. Above all we hoped for escape from the shadow of death.
Many have been somewhat disillusioned. The war has ended – and nothing has taken its place in uniting forty million individuals into a community. Instead of taking up our private lives where we dropped them in 1939 we have often to start anew. And the power which smashed Hiroshima and Nagasaki now shadows London, Moscow and New York.
We in Britain are among the victors. Bad as are conditions here, with shortages of food, clothes and housing, they are far worse among the defeated; on the Continent there is not merely a shortage of food but near starvation. Yet as far as the material necessities of life go there is a reasonable expectation that the difficulties will be overcome. Food is being provided, clothes and housing produced. Under such circumstances it is understandable (although, as we shall see later, it is not merely a consequence of these particular circumstances) that few should concern themselves with issues broader than the satisfaction of immediate needs, but for those alive to the movement of world events there looms a spectre grimmer than starvation, a shadow before which the evils of the world to-day pale into nothingness – the threat of atomic war.
Phrases like “the death of our civilisation” tend, partly by repetition, to lose urgency. They come to be accepted as general truths with no particular reference to us as individuals. Or perhaps it is that we are prevented from grasping their full import much as we – notoriously – find it difficult to conceive of our own deaths. But any difficulty we may experience in grasping the idea does not detract from its grim reality. The effects of mere chemical explosives have reduced central Europe to a condition where it would be unable to support a large part of its population without help from abroad; atomic devastation would be even more complete, and, carried by rockets faster than sound, it would almost inevitably be more widespread. But in world atomic war there could be no help from abroad, for the whole civilised earth would be engulfed.
Of all the illusions by which we endeavour to protect ourselves from the full realisation of what the future may hold the most pitiful is probably the belief that the atomic bomb is too horrible a weapon to be used. “The conscience of humanity,” one hears people saying, “would revolt against it.” But the bomb has been used and that by nations who consider themselves among the most highly civilised. For many of those who cling to this belief it is simply a method of escape. Others attempt to support it by arguing that poison gas was not used in the war. Even this is untrue. Poison gas was used, not against soldiers but in an even crueller fashion – thousands of defenceless women and children died by gas in the Nazi death-wagons. It is said that in the Middle Ages the Pope forbade the use of the cross-bow as being too murderous a weapon for warfare between Christian nations. The story may be unfounded, but even so it casts a sardonic light on any belief in the developing conscience of humanity. Ever since the flint axe was invented fighting man has used the most effective weapons available; we can see no grounds for believing that his nature has suddenly changed.
If man’s conscience provides no security, what of his reason? Can we not take it that men will see that atomic warfare can lead to no end other than mutual destruction? Whatever our personal opinions may be, those responsible for the security of nations are not prepared, to accept this as a guarantee. Far from disarming in anticipation of an era of peace – a peace forced upon man by the very efficiency of his weapons – they are searching after still more deadly instruments. The Hiroshima bomb, it is reported, was a toy compared with those which are now being developed. In view of the world situation to-day this attitude can hardly be regarded as unduly pessimistic. Some would pin their hopes on U.N.O. and an international police force, but the structure of that organisation gives to any one of the Big Five the power of veto over the use of such an international force to quell a dispute. U.N.O. might serve to prevent wars among the minor powers – but only if the great nations do not take sides themselves. With nations, as with individuals, history gives little indication of any strong leanings towards pacifism and we can see no reason to anticipate a sudden change in their attitude.
Continue reading 999 – Emergency! (1946)
The Child with the Loaded Pistol | Social Hari-Kiri | Are Scientists Inhuman? | The Rape of Science | Scientific Superstitions | While Rome Burns | The International Volcano | The Final Crusade