OPINION: A little chat with Mrs. R.

OPINION: A little chat with Mrs. R.

Aug. 8, 1945

NEW YORK, Tuesday — The news which came to us yesterday afternoon of the first use of the atomic bomb in the war with Japan may have surprised a good many people, but scientists — both British and American — have been working feverishly to make this discovery before our enemies, the Germans, could make it and thereby possibly win the war.

These are Eleanor Roosevelt’s reflections, as published in her syndicated column, “My Day,” 75 years ago this week. The Germans were known to have been working on their own atomic bomb.

This discovery may be of great commercial value someday. If wisely used, it may serve the purposes of peace. But for the moment we are chiefly concerned with its destructive power.

True enough — and it’s good to see that Mrs. Roosevelt was looking ahead to better days, and a better world. But the war with Germany and Japan was in its fifth year, and the Allies had been moving heaven and earth to find an ultimate weapon that would end it. The atomic bomb turned out to be that weapon.

President Franklin Roosevelt had authorized the highly secret Manhattan Project in 1939 to develop the bomb, if possible. He did not live to see the results, but one bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, another on Nagasaki on Aug 9, and the war was effectively over by the 15th.

It’s also to Mrs. Roosevelt’s credit that she understood the terrible prospects that had been unleashed over those two cities.

That power can be multiplied indefinitely, so that not only whole cities but large areas may be destroyed at one fell swoop. If you face this possibility and realize that, having once discovered a principle, it is very easy to take further steps to magnify its power, you soon face the unpleasant fact that in the next war whole peoples may be destroyed. …

Unpleasant? You can say that again.

This discovery must spell the end of war. ...

Well, it didn’t. But nice thought, Mrs. R. Would that the end of war were at hand. Instead, the period since World War II has been measured in dozens of wars and other major military actions, many of them involving the United States. It seems almost a miracle that atomic weapons have not been used again. 

In the past we have given lip service to the desire for peace. …

In the past? Seriously, lip service is what we do. But thanks for all your work on the United Nations.

… Religious groups have been telling us for a long time that peace could be achieved only by a basic change in the nature of man. I am inclined to think that this is true. But if we give human beings sufficient incentive, they may find good reasons for reshaping their characteristics.

Don’t hold your breath, Mrs. R.

… We have only two alternative choices: destruction and death — or construction and life! If we desire our civilization to survive, then we must accept the responsibility of constructive work and of the wise use of a knowledge greater than any ever achieved by man before.

E. R.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote “My Day” for the United Feature Syndicate Inc. between 1935 and 1962. Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Reach Glenn Richter at grichter@record-journal.com.

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