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Atomic Bomb: the shock of a victory so gained

14 August 2020

Christian disquiet at the power unleashed to defeat Japan was pronounced. From the Church Times of 10 August 1945


The bombing of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. The bomb killed 40,000 instantly and achieved a final death toll of nearly 74,000 and almost 75,000 injuries

The bombing of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. The bomb killed 40,000 instantly and achieved a final death toll of nearly 74,000 and almost 75,000 injuries

BEFORE a congregation of about thousand Oxford undergraduates, the late Archbishop Temple, twelve or thirteen years ago, argued out the evidence for a spiritual, or at least a qualitative, view of the universe as against a materialistic conception The essence of his argument ran like this. Man can see the stars; the stars shine on man. But man knows he can see the stars, whereas the stars do not know they shine on man. That is, man beats the stars.

This simple argument, couched in the language of popular philosophy to-day, would come fairly near the head of any argument for a religious view of nature. It asserts the superiority of quality over quantity but at the same time this primitive stage of an age-old argument does not proceed to differentiation between qualities or to the choice of quality, in short, to morality, or the distinction between good and evil.

This is relevant in the highest degree to the astonishing news of Tuesday’s press that the Western Allies had teamed up the best scientists they could muster to smash the atom, and with it smash their enemies. After years of secret study a test bomb was constructed and placed on a steel tower in the desert of New Mexico.

When it was exploded forest rangers more than one hundred and fifty miles away thought there had been an earthquake. A pilot flying three hundred and fifty miles away saw the flash, which to those ten miles away was more intense than daylight. An enormous cloud billowed 40,000 feet up to the stratosphere, and all that remained was a hole in the ground. The experiment, thus far successful, was then applied to the Japanese.

PAResidents of New York City greet the news of the Japanese surrender on 14 August 1945

This application recalls the practice of vivisection on condemned prisoners at Alexandria in the early centuries of the Christian era and in the German concentration camps up till a few months ago.

But there was a difference. Beforehand, the Japanese nation was given an ultimatum which it rejected. Accordingly a single atomic bomb, with a blasting power equal to that of two thousand of the eleven-ton bombs carried by the R.A.F., was dropped on the Honshu town of Hiroshima opposite Kure. Four square miles of the town were obliterated in an instant, and some two or three hundred thousand men, women and children were massacred in the explosion.

Since then, Nagasaki has been hurled after Hiroshima into the pit of dissolution. Anglo-American destructiveness has certainly put Attila and Jenghiz Khan in the shade.

Mr Churchill in inimitable language has pointed the moral. “This revelation of the secrets of nature”, he wrote while still in office, “long mercifully withheld from man, should arouse the most solemn reflections in the mind and conscience of every human being capable of comprehension. We must indeed pray that these awful agencies will be made to conduce to peace among the nations, and that instead of wreaking measureless havoc upon the entire globe they may become a perpetual fountain of world prosperity.”

In short, man beats the stars; man beats nature; but can man beat himself? The message of Jesus Christ is that only by the power of the Almighty, revealed first in nature, then by the prophets and finally in the Incarnation, can man beat himself, or, as the psychologist may prefer to put it, sublimate his immoralities. Meantime the atomic bomb should be outlawed as soon as possible by general agreement, like poison gas.

PAAs part of the Japanese surrender, soldiers march in formation past American occupation forces on Atsugi airfield

This week’s news is as fearful a challenge to Christians to pray and work for the conversion of the world as any that has been issued since man crucified his Saviour. If love will not turn men to God, will terror? For human society has now within its grasp the power to destroy both itself and a vast proportion of all life, human, animal and vegetable, on the face of the earth.

Man can beat nature; thereby he may promote his physical well-being or his physical destruction. But only God can save man from himself and from the abominably evil use of the knowledge of nature which He has placed in man’s power. Pathetic cries will be heard on all sides, pitiful pleas for safety from a world of unbelief.

Let folk read the Book of Genesis over again, learn what the Fall of Man means in the light of this monstrosity; and then read the Gospel again and come to the feet of an all-pitying Saviour.


Our readers write. . .

Church Times Correspondence 17 August 1945

Sir, — The daily press has so far failed to reflect or indicate the widespread feeling among Christians about the use by the Allies of the atomic bomb. Not one definite Christian to whom I have spoken has approved it.

Deterioration of moral standards through the war has reduced our country’s official attitude to the point that the end justifies any means whatever. “To shorten the war and ultimately save lives” was Mussolini’s plea in defence of gas against the Abyssinians; Hitler’s in defence of flying bombs and rockets.

The fact that we previously gave warning to the populations of the towns concerned is irrelevant. If the Germans had warned Londoners in 1941 to evacuate their city, would they have done so? In most cases, could they have done so? And if the enemy had then used atom bombs on London, how our newspapers would have cried out at “this latest example of German savagery”.

St. Bartholomew’s Vicarage, Brighton.


Sir, — All the hideous nightmares conjured up by H. G. Wells have now become realities during this past week, as a result of the discovery and perversion of the use of atomic energy, and men’s hearts might well fail them as they contemplate the horror of Hiroshima.

But what of the Church? Paradoxical as it may sound, I suggest that this is her finest hour. Will she raise her voice and denounce the wickedness in high places, or meekly acquiesce in this ghastly massacre of God’s children?

If ever there was a moral question upon which the Church must decide ex-cathedra, I suggest that it is in regard to this awful discovery which must be consecrated for the service of mankind or desecrated for his utter destruction.

May Christians everywhere, and especially in our own Church, pray without ceasing for a right judgment by our leaders in the exercise of the tremendous responsibility of piloting this awful revelation into constructive channels for the benefit of all mankind.

33, Belsize-road, Swiss Cottage, London, N.W. 6.


Sir, — Recent discoveries relating to the control and the operation of atomic energy have filled the hearts of most people with awe; and rightly so. We have been told that, from the. urgency of the moment, scientific development has spanned fifty years in a mighty leap, and thus this momentous revelation has been precipitated.

All worthy scientists affirm that unless true moral advance is concurrent with scientific progress, civilization is most certainly doomed.

Surely, Christian people everywhere have the gravest responsibility, and at the same time, perhaps, the most unique opportunity since the days of the early Church. Children of God, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, they are His ambassadors on earth. Let us leap forward, in the urgency of this moment, to the revelation of our opportunity, that His Kingdom may be known upon earth.

G. K.-T.


Sir, — The doomed city of Nagasaki was the cradle of Christianity in Japan. On February 5, 1597, some years after the missionary preaching of Francis Xavier, twenty-six Japanese Christians, the first martyrs of Japan, were crucified at Nagasaki. The torch they lit was never extinguished, though it burnt low for 250 years.

In 1859, when Japan was re-opened to the West, the Gospel message once more stared from. Nagasaki. What its restraining influence on the nation has been during the eight years of war with China and the West will perhaps never be known. This was the first gift of the West to Nagasaki — the good news of One who is come that “they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” A second gift has followed.

The Rectory, Flixton, Lancs.


Sir, — The hypocrisy of Allied commanders passes belief. They allege that fair warning was given to the Japanese before the use of the new weapon. A visible demonstration of its terrible power could easily have been given without the complete effacement of a large town.

2, Douglas-avenue, New Malden, Surrey.

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