THE ATOM: The Road Beyond Elugelab

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The older morality, still dominant in the U.S., and in most other western lands, finds no moral problem in the H-bomb that was not present in the Abomb, none in the A-bomb that was not present in the mass bombing of cities, none in these that is not present in war itself, and no grave problems in war that are not present in the basic question of the permissibility of force in any circumstance. This does not mean that the traditional morality does not meet a host of appalling questions in the whole area of when and how force may be morally used. It does. But it meets them on the basis of motive and law and of actual choice available. It looks at the man, not his weapon; at the circumstances in which he uses it, not at the number of the slain.

Judging from a nationwide sampling of this week's sermons, the U.S. clergy held with firmness to traditional Christian (and Jewish and Mohammedan) principles on this point. The news from Elugelab did not set off a wave of pacifist sentimentality. A passage in a sermon by Dr. Louie De Votie Newton, pastor of Atlanta's Druid Hills Baptist Church, was typical of the main strain of comment on the H-bomb. Said Dr. Newton:

"The thing to do now is for ministers and the press and radio and everyone else concerned with public opinion to undertake to fortify the people spiritually for whatever comes, now that the thing is upon us ... A sense of spiritual poise is essential if we are to be ready for whatever happens ... In the H-bomb era we can't go back to muskets. We've got to maintain anything essential to our defense, the H-bomb or any other kind of bomb."

The Legal Level. But if this was the moral answer, where was the practical ground upon which hope could function?

Civilized man, faced with a public danger of man's own making, turns to law; the U.S. and its allies turned there very early in their efforts to deal with the danger of atomic weapons. On June 14, 1946, the U.S. proposed in the United Nations the Baruch plan. Main features: i) the U.S. would turn its (then) atomic monopoly over to an international agency (with no veto power for members), and 2) the agreements of the atomic powers would be guaranteed by a workable system of inspection. This was no show-window design; it was perhaps the most remarkable offer in the history of nations, made in all good faith at a time when U.S. military power was demobilizing, and the U.S. was thus offering to give up its major weapon in a world where the Soviets still maintained great military power.

Down through the years the Russians balked at both control and inspection, all the while shouting piously for a flat ban on the use of the atomic weapons (which would have been easy to check in the goldfish-bowl U.S., but impossible to check in uninspected Russia). In November 1951, at the U.N. meeting in Paris, the U.S., France and Britain changed their proposals in the light of the growing importance of the A-bomb as a balance to Russia's land armies. The new proposal called for 1) a step-by-step scaling-down of atomic and conventional armaments together, 2) continuous inspection, and 3) international control of the atom.

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