Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.20 No.1, Winter 1959, p.31.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.
Peace or Atomic War?
by Albert Schweitzer
Henry Holt and Co., New York. 1958. 47 pp. $1.50.
These three appeals to end nuclear tests were broadcast from Oslo, Norway, on April 28, 29, and 30, 1958. Outside of the Saturday Review, which printed them in full, the press followed a policy of ignoring the eloquent words of the world-famous Dr. Schweitzer.
In the first appeal, Dr. Schweitzer stresses the danger of even a small amount of nuclear poisoning of the world’s atmosphere. The crime is projected into the future; for, by affecting the human gene, thousands in coming generations are doomed to be born with “the most serious mental and physical defects.” The crime also violates international law for it affects whole countries that do not engage in nuclear tests.
“Who is giving these countries the right to experiment, in time of peace, with weapons involving the most serious risks for the whole world?”
The second appeal deals with the danger of an atomic war. At present, according to the author, there is a stock of about 50,000 atom and H-bombs. Only fifteen to twenty H-bombs are required to finish off countries like England, West Germany, and France. The danger of annihilating all mankind is therefore real.
The cold war can turn into an atomic war in Dr. Schweitzer’s opinion. Even an accident can plunge the world into the nuclear catastrophe. How close we have already come to this can be judged from the following incident:
“The radar stations of the US Air Force and US Coastal Command reported that an invasion of unidentified bombers was on the way. Upon this warning the General, who was in command of the strategic bomber force, decided to order a reprisal bombardment to commence. However, realizing the enormity of his responsibility, he then hesitated. Shortly afterward it was discovered that the radar stations had made a technical error. What would have happened if a less balanced general had been in his place?”
It is regrettable that Dr. Schweitzer chose, after this sound presentation of the crime and the danger, to offer in his third appeal an unrealistic alternative to the present drift toward war.
His proposal is a Summit Conference – and a highly undemocratic one:
“Only the highest personalities of the three nuclear powers, together with their experts and advisers, should take their seats there.”
To make the conference successful, no preliminary conditions should be insisted upon such as general disarmament. The conference should confine itself to one point and begin with that – the renunciation of nuclear weapons. However, to bring this desirable end about, Dr. Schweitzer is forced to indicate different preliminary conditions of formidable character: Statesmen must “return to a diplomatic method” and avoid “unnecessary, thoughtless, discourteous, foolish, and offensive remarks ...”
“In the final analysis East and West are dependent on presupposing a certain reciprocal trust in one another.”
“If we want to work our way out of the desperate situation in which we find ourselves, another spirit must enter into the people.”
Perhaps as a lesson on how trusting people must become to follow his prescription, Dr. Schweitzer approvingly cites Eisenhower’s demagogic response to the launching of Sputnik II:
“What the world needs more than a gigantic leap into space is a gigantic leap into peace.”
This sentiment was expressed by the same Eisenhower who later took the gigantic Lebanon and Quemoy leaps toward atomic war.
Will the ordinary people of the world respectfully wait for the highest personalities of the three nuclear powers to respond to the entry of another spirit? It’s not likely. The working people have means at their disposal for achieving peace more powerful than the nuclear war weapons held by the highest personalities. They have class solidarity, mass action and the goal of socialism.
How to facilitate the use of these means is the problem our best minds should be considering; not how to plead more effectively with the breed who began their nuclear tests by dropping two atom bombs on crowded cities.
Last updated on: 5.3.2006