Nuclear Weapons and the Politics of Moral Promises and Material Progress

Nuclear Weapons and the Politics of Moral Promises and Material Progress

When Undersecretary of State William Burns reported that the US and Russia were “making very good progress” on nuclear arms reduction talks, I was reminded of when President Dwight Eisenhower stood before the United Nations General Assembly and proclaimed, “The United States pledges before you and therefore before the world, its determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma … to devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”

The progress of building the atomic bomb, which was a very negative and hurtful type of development for humankind, unfortunately overcame the promise that the US would devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall be consecrated to his life. Earlier, and at the very first “successful” atomic detonation and while seeing the mushroom cloud ascend, Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, quoted a sacred Hindu text saying, “I am Shiva, destroyer of the worlds.”(1) Another scientists put it more bluntly when he said, “Well, we’re all sons of bitches now.”(2)

The report on the effectiveness of the atomic bomb also had a dramatic effect on President Harry Truman. Truman was “immensely pleased” and “tremendously pepped up by it,” giving him an entirely new sense of confidence.(3) At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, Truman notified Joseph Stalin, leader of Russia, that the US had a new and powerful weapon, and it would not be afraid to use it.(4) Even Prime Minister Winston Churchill commented on how the news of the atomic bomb changed Truman. Churchill said Truman became most emphatic and bossed the whole meeting, telling the Russians as to certain demands that they absolutely could not have, and that America “possessed powers which were irresistible.”(5)

At the United Nations – in which several members suggested that there should be an agency to control all atomic manufacturing and mining operations, including all possible future nuclear reactors with teams of international inspectors to assure that no nation would create an atomic weapon – the US instead offered the Baruch Plan, knowing it would be unacceptable to the Soviet Union and that it represented little more than propaganda.(6) After all, the US had a monopoly on atomic weaponry, and there were already hundreds of weapons production complexes scattered throughout the country. Thousands of people were employed, too, by Westinghouse, Babcock and Wilcox, Combustion Engineering and General Electric, for the sole purpose of producing and stockpiling nuclear weapons.(7)

It was probably no surprise, then, that Eisenhower’s promise fell on deaf ears. Negative-oriented material progress had once again defeated a positive moral promise. Actually, unkept promises are like lies. Even more so, maybe they are lies. When a nation pursues only materialism at the expense of moral principles, like promises that will improve and better humanity, it borders on falsely believing it is above ethical and universal laws that govern life. In other words, nations that do not fulfill their promises to improve humanity become unaccountable and reckless. By believing only in materialistic progress and superiority, nations, like the US, rewrite ethics and often believe they are above the rule of morality.

Perhaps, this explains why the US imagined the annihilation of humanity with the Massive Retaliation and Mutually Assured Doctrines, and why it continues to fight imperial wars of aggression around the world. In the study of ethics, keeping promises is considered a sign of good character. Although some promises can give rise to moral conflicts, for nations to devote their entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall be consecrated to his life will surely lead to universal peace. As the US and Russia attempt to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, that ended last December, let us hope that moral progress, or keeping a promise, wins over material progress.

Will the Nuclear Curtain that has descended from Washington to Moscow finally be lifted?
(1) Carlisle, Rodney P., “Encyclopedia of the Atomic Age,” New York, New York: Facts On File, Incorporated, 2001. p. 238.
(2) Williams, William Appleman, “Americans in a Changing World, a History of the United States in the Twentieth Century,” New York, New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1978. p. 349.
(3) Ibid., p. 349.
(4) Ibid., p. 349.
(5) Ibid., p. 350.
(6) Carlisle, Rodney P. Encyclopedia Of The Atomic Age., p. 31.
(7) Ibid., p. 361.