WHAT OF THE ATOMIC BOMB?
jpRECISELY what the combined scientific resources of Britain and the United States have achieved in the production of the atomic bomb relatively few people in the world can appreciate. For the layman, the higher physics has long been up in the stratosphere. Sufficient for the layman is the knowledge that a way has been found of releasing atomic energy, with consequences that are appalling to contemplate. The explosive force has been partially controlled, controlled sufficiently for it to be used in war. In war, as not in peace, men can afford —in fact, they are trained—to be careless of the consequences of their actions, provided only that these are detrimental to the enemy. So one method of releasing atomic energy, devised by an unparalleled effort, and at a prodigious cost, has been developed sufficiently to enable it to be given a practical test on a Japanese city, whose hapless people, condemned to be the guinea-pigs in an affrighting experiment, must be pitied. The consequences to the enemy have still to be learned in detail; but they can be judged from the description of the test experiments in America. They can be judged also from the portentous tone of the official statements made from London and Washington. It is clear that something has been done which was never done before, and that the responsible authorities, even while they rejoice in a scientific achievement, are uncertain what it portends, and so are not without foreboding. There is in the facts so far made known a deep mine of material for reflection. This epoch-making achievement stands to the credit of British and American scientists, but they were not alone in attempting it. The Germans were far advanced with their development. Had they succeeded, and succeeded first, it is possible that in the United Kingdom not one city of importance would exist to-day. If the Germans and the Allies had produced the bomb almost at the same time the war in Europe might still be going on, with the belligerents battering one another to pieces. And if German and Japanese scientists had been as fruitful, and had collaborated with equal success, what would have happened in the Pacific war—even this year? Thought on the possibilities must lead to the conclusion, already suggested by the destructive capacity of VI and V 2, that the Allies' victory in Europe was won not a moment too soon. But what of the future? To what use will this new force be put? As of every other scientific achievement, those responsible for it can say that that is not their business; science is non-moral. They have shown what can be done for the purposes of war; it is for others to determine, and to ensure, that the new force is used in future exclusively for the purposes of peace. Doubtless the inventive genius of man, at a cost infinitesimal compared with that of the development of the new bomb, can and will utilise the atomic energy in many ways that will contribute to the health, wealth and material happiness of mankind. But—and here is mankind's dilemma—will these peacetime accomplishments be carried out with the knowledge that, simultaneously, in the organisations which every great nation maintains, development and refinement of ways of utilising the new energy is proceeding for the purposes of war? Must the nations live in perpetual fear? It is for three nations—British, American and Russian—to say. If they can trust one another sufficiently to pool their scientific knowledge in peacetime, as they pooled it in war, and to limit its use for Avar purposes, then atomic energy, in Mr. Churchill's phrase, "may become a perennial fountain of world prosperity." If they cannot, then the nations, great and small, will be doomed, almost literally, to live always on the fringe of a volcano.
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WHAT OF THE ATOMIC BOMB?, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 186, 8 August 1945
WHAT OF THE ATOMIC BOMB? Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 186, 8 August 1945
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