Sixty-five years ago
Yesterday was the sixty-fifth anniversary of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. Monday is the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. When news of the attacks reached the U.S., the editors of Commonweal (led at that time by Edward Skillin) reacted with disgust:
We had to invent the bomb because the Germans were going to invent the bomb. It was a matter of avoiding our own possible destruction. We had to test the bomb and we tested it in a desert. If we were to threaten the use of it against the Japanese, we could have told them to pick a desert and then go look at the hole. Without warning we dropped it into the middle of a city and then without warning we dropped it into the middle of another city.
And then we said that this bomb could mean the end of civilization if we ever got into a war and everyone started to use it. So that we must keep it a secret. We must keep it as sole property of people who know how to use it. We must keep it the property of peace-loving nations.
The argument over whether the bomb was necessary, whether it saved lives in the long run, was just beginning. The long-term effects of exposure to radiation — the hell that survivors of the blast would go on living in — were still unknown. But one thing about which the Commonweal editors were indisputably correct was that the use of nuclear weapons marked a turning point, an entirely new era in warfare and moral calculation, after which “the future of humanity and the atomic bomb” would be an all-consuming subject. Sixty-five years later, we’re still stuck there.
To mark the occasion, we’ve posted a section of that editorial from August 24, 1945, on our Web site: “Horror & Shame.”