Letters to the Editor on the Atomic Bomb: Reader correspondence from the dawn of the nuclear age

Editors Note: The following letters were published in America between September 1945 and November 1946. We share them here to honor the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki


EDITOR : I regret not writing you earlier about the excellent article. We Can Lose the Peace, by Benjamin L. Masse in the June 23 issue of AMERICA.


It appeared at a time when we gravely needed foresighted and clear-thinking support. I believe it is a tribute to such support and the clear thinking on the part of the American people and their Congressmen that the misguided, irresponsible and sometimes deliberate inflationists did not win out in Congress.

The renewal of the Price Control Act for another year gave to OPA perhaps one of the most difficult tasks of its career. Today [August 10], as Japan's surrender is expected almost hourly, that task becomes even more difficult—and more urgent. It will take the best thinking and the best efforts of all of us to steer our way safely and soundly back to full peacetime production and employment.

The reconversion pricing policies of OPA will play a large part in making the transition quickly and successfully from war to peace. Yet the frank inflationists are already renewing their attacks for removal of what we believe are critically essential controls. Your continuing policy to increase public understanding of the job before us will, I am sure, again help us speed our work successfully.

Washington, D.C. OPA Administrator
[September 1, 1945]



EDITOR: Please accept these few words of praise for your work for the war victims and for the splendidly Catholic article by Father Gardiner on sacrifice and the suffering people of the war-torn lands. After reading so much of "It's their own fault" and "It's none of our business" one must offer thanks for the spirit of Christ and the Works of Mercy in Father Gardiner’s appeal.

Chicago, Ill.
[September 15, 1945]



EDITOR: Of one tree they were forbidden to eat the fruit—the tree of knowledge. The ban was a test. If Adam and Eve would not obey and trust the commands of God—Who willed only good and had proved it by placing man in paradise—they were unfit for knowledge. They disobeyed—and were banished from paradise.

In 1945 man plucked the ultimate fruit from the tree of physical knowledge—the secret of the source of energy and the atomic bomb. Again he is put to the test. In his relations with other men and the whole world man must obey the will of God—the law of charity and justice—or again he will be found unfit for knowledge. This time he will be banished from the world.

New York, N. Y.
[October 6, 1945]



EDITOR: At the beginning of World War II, I had one of those pipe dreams. I thought: wars are usually fought for control of resources—oil, coal, ores, land. Wouldn't itbean ironic joke if, in the course of this war, the atom should finally be split and its power harnessed, making the whole bloody scramble for power resources pointless? Furthermore, I dreamed on, the energy of the atom could abolish the need for labor by "lesser breeds without the law," could ensure human dignity and usher in a period of prosperity and security that would banish fear and war-breeding tensions.

It was a dream. Today we are about to open a meeting of leaders of "peace-loving" nations to discuss atomic energy. Has any one of those leaders announced that in that meeting they must discuss ways and means to use the new power for peace and plenty? Not one. Has any one spoken of the need to keep its military power—its power for destruction—in its own hands, or the hands of a few friends? You know the answer. But, more than this, how about the people of these peace-loving countries? Have they held mass meetings, marches on Washington, to demand that the beneficial aspects of atomic energy be considered at that meeting, and not only considered, but set going? Are the people and their leaders interested in peace, or in power and pelf?

We, the unimportant and uninfluential people of the world, like our leaders, talk atom, think atom, fear atom. We fear the hands that hold the power of the atom, and we will continue to fear until the holders of the power talk peace and plenty from atomic energy instead of power and war. Was my dream the stuff of nightmare, or a dream that can be realized?

New York, N. Y.
[November 24, 1945]



EDITOR: I appreciate your sending me the marked copy of AMERICA for September 28 (p. 627), and read with particular interest your comments on my remarks at the recent Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion. I regret it if my remarks could in any way be interpreted as opposed to religion. Religion is of much more importance than politics in many phases of human existence. It deals with ends and values, and influences individual and social aspirations, character and happiness, I hope my suggestion that in the problem of world peace and the control of atomic energy we must look to politics rather than to religion is not regarded as critical of religion in its own sphere.

As you point out later in the comment, my remarks centered around the fact that the world is faced today by many religions. History shows that different religions have often been hostile to one another. This past and present situation may not be inevitable in the future, but the problems pressed upon us by the shrinking world and the atom bomb cannot wait. We must seek in the field of politics to do what can be done while the fact of many religions prevails.

It is perhaps the very modesty of the task of politics that gives a hope of political unity while religious unity still lags. Politics deals with means, and religion with ends. It is possible that through politics and the development of opinions men can unite on the prohibition of particular means of social action and the utilization of other means of social action, even while they differ on ultimate ends. Perhaps men of all religions and cultures can agree that in the search for the ultimate truths, the better values, and the more satisfying ways of life, they will observe procedures of discussion, conciliation and adjudication;' and avoid procedures of fraud, violence and war, as set forth in the United Nations Charter. If such a modest program could be achieved by politics, then the more important job of discovering the ends of human life might proceed more satisfactorily.

It is, of course, true that men cannot get together on means unless they have some ends in common. It was in this sense of certain interests on which world opinion might unite for political purposes that I emphasized the universality of the desire of men to live and to escape such immediate fears as that engendered by the prospect of an atomic war. I think all of the great religions recognize the value of individual personality. This thought is emphasized on the bottom of the page 4 of the memorandum I submitted to the Conference, a copy of which I enclose.

Committee of International Relations
University of Chicago


[What remains of our dissent from Professor Wright's position stems from the unacceptable notion that politics deals merely with "means" and religion only with the "discovery of ends." The true religion (we were concerned to insist that only one could be integrally true) has already "discovered” the ends of human life, and provides for all men, statesmen included, a code of moral conduct for the achievement of those ends. Call it "means of salvation" or "program for peace," it represents the only conceivable rational basis for united social action, whether on the national or international plane. Conversely, politics, being an aspect of moral conduct, must adopt and adjust its techniques in the light and direction of the ends of human life, as our Declaration of Independence affirms so energetically. A common desire to live, coupled with a common fear of destruction, could furnish, we fear, but flimsy grounds for politicians to build a just and secure world order. How should welive, and what should we fear? are questions politics must put to religion, under pain of floundering helplessly in a morass of cross-purposes. Religion alone has the answers.—EDITOR.] 

[November 2, 1946] 

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