The Living Church carried this robust discussion of atomic warfare and world peace as an editorial just two days before the first of 23 nuclear tests on Bikini Atoll.
The editorial, almost certainly by Clifford Phelps Morehouse, focuses importantly on the work of Bernard Baruch (1870-1965) in the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. Baruch proposed the following rules govern the use of atomic energy and weapons: to “extend between all countries the exchange of basic scientific information for peaceful ends; implement control of nuclear power to the extent necessary to ensure its use only for peaceful purposes; eliminate from national armaments atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction; and establish effective safeguards by way of inspection and other means to protect complying States against the hazards of violations and evasions.”
Like much other contemporary coverage of the tests, the editorial omits any mention of the forced relocation of the indigenous inhabitants of this Marshallese atoll. The residents of Bikini were moved in early 1946 first to Rongerik Atoll and Kwajalein Atoll, then later to Kili Island in extremely poor conditions. The tests continued until 1958, and Bikini-born Marshallese only returned to their home for the first time for visits in 1970. The atoll is still in 2015 uninhabitable for permanent residence because of radioactive isotopes from the explosions.
“Bikini — And After”
From The Living Church (June 30, 1946), pp. 12-13.
THE attention of the world is focused today on tiny Bikini atoll, in the remote stretches of the Pacific, for there the atomic bomb is soon to he exploded in a large and costly experiment. On the outcome of that experiment, and the subsequent ones planned, will depend many things: the future of our Navy and the navies of the world, the pattern of military development generally, and other far-reaching matters of scientific, military, and economic importance.
For a brief time, the glare of world publicity will be on Bikini. Newspapers will be filled with reports of the event; the radio will broadcast the actual sound throughout the world; newsreels will record as much of it as possible. It will be as if Armageddon was conveniently packaged for presentation at your local theater, or the Last Trumpet sounded for broadcast over your favorite network. It is perhaps well that this experiment should take place now, with the blaze of worldwide publicity that will accompany it. For the lesson of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which shocked the world into a consciousness of its peril a year ago, has largely been overlaid with time and forgotten. The peril still remains, though the world is now in a period of troubled suspension of hostilities which can scarcely be described as peace.
Yes, the excitement and noise, the tumult and the shouting, the spectacular display will be at Bikini; but these will not be the most important things.
Eight thousand miles away a little group of men, representing the nations of the world, are trying to find a way to save their countries from the horror of atomic warfare, and to divert this great power into peaceful channels for the benefit of mankind, rather than its destruction. The Atomic Energy Commission of the United Nations, which began its sessions a few weeks ago, is grappling with a problem, of the first magnitude. On its solution depends literally the fate of mankind. These men have a grave task — probably the gravest and most vital task, on a material level, that has ever been faced by any group of men. They do not have to await the outcome of the Bikini experiment to know the magnitude of their task. They are not concerned with the precise limits of the destructive power of the atomic bomb, or the effect it will have on future military strategy. They know that the only defense against it, and against bacteriological warfare and the other super-weapons of the present and future, is the elimination of war itself. And they know that that can only be done by the reorientation of the nations, and a new concept of the limitations and responsibilities of national sovereignty.
Bernard Baruch, speaking for the United States at the first public session of the Atomic Energy Commission, went straight to the heart of the matter. The American proposal is at once most generous and most far-reaching. It is magnificent in its simplicity and comprehensiveness. It may be reduced to a single proposition: The United States will yield its “secret” of atomic energy to a world organization, provided that world organization be given the power to prevent its use by any nation for destructive purposes.
If the Baruch proposal is accepted, it means the beginning of the end of unrestrained nationalism. There can be no “iron curtain,” for all nations must agree to international inspection and supervision of their production of fissionable materials and their harnessing of atomic energy. There can be no secret preparation for an atomic Pearl Harbor, even on the threadbare excuse of “national defense.” But to accomplish that aim, no nation must possess the power of veto in this vital matter, and no nation will be able to live in isolation from its neighbors. The by-products of this policy may, in the long run, be quite as important as the attainment of its primary intention.
In the effort to bring the power of atomic energy under world control, it must be remembered always that, while this may be the most immediate threat to world peace, it is not the only one. The nations of the world might conceivably submit to international supervision of all activities connected with the splitting of the atom, and yet devise some equally fiendish method of warfare in the seclusion of secret laboratories. Germ cultures can be studied and tested without conspicuous equipment, an obvious flow of raw materials, or other visible evidence. A way might be found to bend the sun’s rays in such a manner as to concentrate intense heat upon a chosen spot in the world. It might become possible, without arousing suspicion, to find a way to divert the ocean currents so that the climate of an entire continent could be changed, or to bring sterility to an “enemy” country and render its territory uninhabitable.
ULTIMATELY, there is only one kind of control that can save the world, as there is only one kind of control that can save the individual. It is the control of the God-given and God-guided conscience; which is another way of saying, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
God has given mankind the power to control its own destiny, and the freewill to decide how it is going to use that power. In His infinite wisdom. He veiled that power, and made it difficult for man to discover how to use it. And through the ages, as man has discovered new sources of power, God has progressively revealed Himself and His purpose. Man discovered fire, and used it both for good and evil. Man discovered the wheel, and used it both to lighten labor and to build his chariots of war. So it has been with every discovery and every invention. Man has used it both for good and for evil, exercising his God-given freedom of will.
God is still permitting man to discover the secrets of the universe, and to use them in accordance with his God-given freedom. But God has also revealed to us, in the person of Jesus Christ, His true nature and His true purpose for mankind. His nature is love, and His purpose is the union of mankind with God.
Does this excursion into the basic elements of theology seem remote from the practical and material subject of the Bikini experiment, and of the problem of controlling atomic energy? It is not; for the problem of Bikini is essentially a religious and theological problem.
Man cannot control the atom unless he can control himself. The problem of controlling atomic energy, and the other potentialities of modern life, is essentially a problem of self-control. And self-control is basically the orientation of oneself toward the accomplishment of God’s purpose for mankind; the exercise of the ballot of freewill to vote for God rather than for destruction.
As we look toward Bikini, therefore, let us turn our hearts toward God, and pray, in the words taught us by Our Lord, that His will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. And let us pray that the Divine Energy, which was released into the world when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and which is the greatest power of all, may so infuse the hearts and minds of men that they may turn not only atomic energy, but all of God’s gifts, to His glory and the accomplishment of His purpose for mankind.
Richard Mammana is the Archivist of the Living Church Foundation.