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Morley on Bomb

Felix Morley reports that although officials have portrayed the development of the atomic bomb as “eminently laudable,” the general reaction to news of the atomic bomb has been “unconcealed horror.” Published in Human Events on August 29, 1945, these excerpts from Morley’s essay “The Return to Nothingness” show the author’s apprehensions over the atomic bomb and its impact on humanity.

Document Type:
The mushroom cloud over Nagasaki

From The Return to Nothingness by Felix Morley

The fear that has gripped men’s hearts, since the blasting of Hiroshima, is not primarily due to anticipation that our cities will eventually meet the same fate, logical though such outcome would be. Our fear is much more akin to that which still accompanies the sense of personal and collective sin. Expectation of retribution is only a part of the fear which springs from consciousness of sin. The sense of shame and degradation is only a part of this fear. Most important in this unease is the loss of individual dignity and spiritual peace—the consciousness of being hopelessly adrift; of having lost contact with those standards by which men really live.

Long before our age of science there were men who foresaw its coming and who sought in advance of the necessity which now confronts us to lead human intelligence to the service of principle rather than that of passion. One such prophet was Thomas Aquinas, who in the thirteenth century worked out that universal Christian synthesis which the atomic bomb destroys. Few today will deny surpassing insight to that passage in the Summa Theologica where St. Thomas wrote, almost 700 years ago, “in all created things there is a stable element, even if this be only primary matter, and something belonging to movement, if under movement we include operation. New things need governing as to both, because even that which is stable, since it is created from nothing, would return to nothingness were it not sustained by a Governing Hand.”

Great effort has been made to picture the atomic bomb as an eminently laudable achievement of American inventiveness, ingenuity and scientific skill. On the day of the destruction of Hiroshima the floodgates of official publicity were swung wide. Rivers of racy material prepared in our various agencies of Public Enlightenment poured out to the press and radio commentators whose well-understood duty is to “condition” public opinion. Puddles of ink confusedly outlined the techniques whereby we have successfully broken the Laws of God.

Never has any totalitarian propaganda effort fallen more flat. Instead of the anticipated wave of nationalistic enthusiasm, the general reaction was one of unconcealed horror. Even the immediate Japanese surrender, even the joy of “going places” on unrationed gas, even the universal sense of relief over the ending of the war, has not concealed an apprehension which reflection does less than nothing to diminish. Many who cannot voice their thoughts are nonetheless conscious of the withdrawal of the Governing Hand, are well aware that at the crossroads we have chosen the turning which leads back to Nothingness.

In London, last week, Parliament ratified the Charter of the United Nations. Consideration was as perfunctory as that given the subject by our Senate. Emphasized was the futility of this elaborate mechanism in the light of announcement that two major Allies intend to withhold the secret of the atomic bomb from the third most powerful partner. So a country dedicated by its founders to individual enlightenment now controls a secret which makes the individual look as does the insect in respect to D.D.T. Quite naturally our new scale of values loses its moral grandeur and shifts to insect values—“full employment” or “security” within the meticulously organized anthill of the expanding State. We have won the war. Now what is our purpose for the Power we control?