The Atom Bomb Means We Must Have Peace! | Vol. 2 / No. 40.4

Paper lanterns light the streets of Hiroshima; Photo: Flickr user Freedom II Andres, CC BY 2.0
Paper lanterns light the streets of Hiroshima; Photo: Flickr user Freedom II Andres, CC BY 2.0

I’m trying a #ThrowBackThursday post today, in memory of this day seventy years ago.


Seventy years ago, on August 6, 1945, at 8:15am local time, the Japanese city of Hiroshima was destroyed by the first of only two nuclear bombs ever to be used in combat. Between seventy and eighty thousand people were killed by the blast and the fires that followed. Three days later, on August 9 at 11:01am, the second was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, killing a further forty to eighty thousand. These attacks, while credited with ending the War in the Pacific, were nevertheless so shocking that they forever changed the way we would understand the terrible possibilities of war.

In my day job — I’m only moonlighting as a PhD candidate and science blogger, see — I run into some interesting things. So I thought that on this inauspicious day I would share the words of (of all people) a Jesuit priest in 1946, from a pamphlet entitled “The Atom Bomb Means We Must Have Peace!”

For being nearly seventy years old, it’s weathered remarkably well. Enjoy.


We must have peace. All will concede this.

But what is peace? In which direction is it to be found? What is war, and how can we abolish it? Do we want peace? Can we have it?

Sad history has shown us that the memory of the slaughter and desolation that go with war or the prospect of still greater sacrifices in wars to come has not exercised a decisive restraining influence on minds inflamed with ambition, anger, or greed. Fear of total war does not prevent total war.

Is it true that the atomic age will witness a psychological revolution to go hand in hand with the new revolution in the realms of nuclear research? Or has the political and social development of man lagged, as usual, far behind his technological development?

Not far from where I live, a great general lies buried. Over his imposing mausoleum are cut the words: “Let us have peace.” They are his own words uttered wearily and prayerfully at the termination of a fratricidal conflict.

Back of those words even today is embedded the poignant regret that peace had ever departed. And in that prayer was the conviction that peace was once again possible for those who had so recently been locked in the most sanguinary battles the word had hitherto ever seen.

Military historians say that this general — Grant — was prodigal with the blood of his men. He believed that victory was a prize worth great expenditures of the most precious commodity mankind possesses. But when victory was in his hands, he counted peace still greater. His prayer was in fact destined to be answered. North and South bound up their wounds and went forward together to the great destiny that Providence had marked out for them.

The military leaders of World War II have not given us any such theme as we were fortunate to have bequeathed to us by General Grant. Is it possible that a captain of our time would be laughed out of court as a simpleton or even cursed as an appeaser if he uttered those same words? But where the Grants of today are silent, a new authoritative voice has made itself heard to make up for the default.

It is not the generals who tell us “Let us have peace.”

It is the scientists, whose one message today is, “We must have peace!”

From: Graham, Robert, SJ. The Atom Bomb Means We Must Have Peace. (St. Louis, MO: Institute of Social Order, 1946).


Richard Ford Burley is a writer, as well as a doctoral candidate in English at Boston College, where he’s studying remix culture and the processes that generate texts. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, and feminism (and other things) here at This Week In Tomorrow.