On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m., the crew of the Enola Gay, a B-29 bomber dropped the first wartime atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing between 90,000 and 146,000 people. Twelve days later, following the dropping of a second bomb on Nagasaki, the Japanese imperial government surrendered, bringing an end to World War II.  The August 19, 1945 issue of The Living Church, the first to be published after news of the bomb reached the United States, included reports of severe public criticism by church leaders about the decision to drop the bomb. The issue’s editorial, after first giving thanks for the victory soon expected, included a bracing call to moral reckoning and a bracing call to international cooperation.

“Cosmically Barbarous”

The following is from an address delivered in Trinity Church, New York, on August 9th by the Rev. Dr. Bernard Iddings Bell, of Providence, R . I.

“It is doubtful if Christian missions in the Orient, at least under American auspices, can matter ever again. The Orient has long perceived that Anglo-Saxon diplomacy is based not on Christian principles but on a canny imperialistic expediency; now it has been shown that American methods of war are cosmically and cold-bloodedly barbarous beyond previous experience or possibility.”

Development of the atomic bomb “makes absolutely imperative the ending of war,” according to a statement by Bishop Manning of New York. The statement said: “The development of the atomic bomb is one of the greatest events in all time in the world of science and in human life. It makes absolutely imperative the ending of war.

“This discovery gives man a frightful power for evil, but also an unprecedented power for good. If the faith and conscience of mankind are correspondingly awakened by this mighty event, a new day of hope will open for the world.”

Editorial: The War

The atomic bomb, horrifying in its first appearance seems to have unlimited possibilities for future destructiveness. The pride with which Americans have greeted most other developments in military science was overwhelmed in the public comment and private by the realization that the atomic future is indeed a Frankenstein monster which can destroy the United States as readily as any other nation.

The “superfluous injury” of the atomic bomb has blasted the Hague Convention into nothingness.

The bomb has to be made by men and directed by men to its goal. The monster is not the tool that man has created, but the monstrous capacity for evil of the human heart. In distant times, sword and spear and fire were capable of unlimited slaughter, and it was the custom of conquering tribes to wipe out their defeated enemies. Non-total war was a comparatively modern development; it was possible only in a society in which the warmaking will was centered in a comparatively small group of military men. Nowadays, the will to make war — offensively or defensively — is the will of the whole people. The means of warfare are directed against the will of the whole people.

The atomic bomb has blasted the Hague Convention into nothingness. There can be no doubt that the bomb belongs to the class of “arms, projectiles, or material of a nature to cause superfluous injury,” as area bombing also does, if injury to the civilian population be defined as superfluous.

But the whole moral atmosphere of the old laws of war has disappeared. One of the first and most pressing functions of the United Nations organization is to replace the concept of a nation’s sovereign right to make war with the concept of a nation’s duty not to make war for any cause except to carry out the will of the community of nations. With the advent of the atomic bomb, isolationism is no longer even respectable. It is wild and woolly international anarchism.

For let no one think that the secret of the atomic bomb can be kept. There has hardly been a discovery in physics or chemistry for years which was not made by half a dozen men working independently in different lands. The great powers have become almost as vulnerable as the little ones, in view of the destructive power which human inventiveness has found. At present the atomic bomb is reported to be made of rare materials by costly processes; but it is still in the first stages of development. Like the robot bomb, the supersonic aircraft, and other developments now in their experimental stage, it may very well be one of the standard weapons of the next war

The next war — yes, it is as likely as that, unless the great powers and the small ones can agree that no sacrifice of sovereignty is too great for the maintenance of world peace. The United Nations Council is almost outmoded before it is formally organized. For, in essence, it is a concert of the great powers rather than a representative body to which all the peoples of the world owe allegiance. The task of turning it into such a body is the most pressing one that faces the nations today; for a world community under law is humanity’s only shield of defense against the horrors of scientific war.