Philip Coben

Truman, Churchill
Underline Pact with Bomb

Admit They Can Defend Their System Only by Threatening
Atomic Destruction in World Holocaust

(18 April 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 16, 18 April 1949, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In all the rash of official speech-making on the Atlantic Pact, there were two that got the headlines. Neither was delivered at the ceremony where the signing took place. Neither was even supposed to be about the Atlantic Pact. Both just “happened” to be delivered in the midst of the oratorical festivities, and both hogged the headlines because –

The speakers were Harry S. Truman and Winston Churchill.

In the ceremonial hall, the twelve foreign ministers signed their names with a fountain pen, were given the fountain pen as a souvenir of the occasion, and made their speeches as a souvenir for the audience.

Outside, President Truman gave point to the pointless speeches within by declaring that he would not hesitate to use the atom bomb again – “for the welfare of the United States, and [if] the democracies of the world are at stake,” he said. “I wouldn’t hesitate ...,” he said.

Outside, in his speech in Boston at the M.I.T. convocation on science, Winston Churchill had previously informed his audience that only the atom bomb stood between Western Europe, particularly London, and the fate of being “communized” by Russia. Only the atom bomb ...

Asked by a reporter two days later if he wanted to elaborate that statement, Churchill answered: “Don’t you think it stands better in its naked simplicity?”

We do. Nothing could be more naked.

A Question, Mr. Speaker!

There could have been no more naked admission of the bankruptcy of the present order and its political leaders. There could have been no simpler affirmation of the fact that the capitalist democracies can be preserved only because of their power to destroy or ravage the world, and not, certainly not, because of the “moral force” of their system of ideas (listen to the speechmakers!) or the ability of their democracy to withstand the attack of Stalinism, horrible as that despotism is.

Both the speech by Truman this past week, and the Boston speech by Churchill the week before, immediately raise a thunderous question.

If only the atom bomb stands between “the democratic world” and Russia, and if the president of the United States “wouldn’t hesitate” to use it, what happens when Russia gets the atom bomb too – if it doesn’t hove it now?

This question has an answer, and a nakedly simple one too. The question will then be: Who has more atom bombs? Whose bomb can devastate a mere 25 square miles and whose has a destructive range of a hundred square miles, or a thousand? Which side has more airplanes to carry them? Which side will need no airplanes at all for the purpose, if it can develop long-range inter-continental self-guided missiles with atomic warheads?

“Restraining Force”?

“Five or six atomic bombs, each with twice the destructive power of the weapon that was dropped over Hiroshima, would knock out Detroit, according to Commissioner Donald S. Leonard of the Michigan State Police, who gave the Army General Staff as his source of information.” (N.Y. Times, April 8.)

A foreign correspondent wires the French reaction to Truman’s speech:

“Ever since tension over Berlin reached a high point last summer some of the highest French officials have said privately that the atomic bomb was about all that sustained such peace as there was. It has lately been assumed that for at least a year or so, Europe’s rearmament being slow, the restraining force of the Atlantic Pact would lie mainly in the known power of the new bomb. Mr. Truman’s statement [‘I wouldn’t hesitate’] was considered a salutary reminder of this power.” (Harold Callender, from Paris, Times, April)

We call your attention to one phrase in the above dispatch: “for at least a year or so.” And after “a year or so” of European rearmament with the United States’ cast-off models (such as the plan for the first “year or so”), will the “restraining force” of the pact be anything else but ... only the atom bomb?

In other columns of this and other issues of Labor Action, we discuss the political meaning of the pact and its impact in this world of two imperialist war blocs. The speeches by Truman and Churchill have struck a deeper, more somber note.

The monster-explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even in the midst of the rejoicing at the end of the war, brought a real moral revulsion into the heart of all thinking men. The most unusual aspect of this was the chain-reaction of revolt, sporadic though it was, on the part of atomic scientists themselves. For the first time – after decades of talk about war meaning the end of civilization – this gloomy prophecy became scientifically meaningful, or so many of the scientists themselves insisted. The first reaction to the news of Hiroshima, even on the part of the most war-minded, was not a cheer, it was a gasp.

They Dare Do It Now

The moral revulsion to the atom bomb has played itself out now, as a force. The reason we know that is so is because Truman and Churchill made their speeches. Three years ago neither would have dared, so blatantly, so nakedly, to wave the Bomb in the face of the world as if to say – like a corny passage in a thriller:

Go ahead, try to stop me, and I’ll drop this stick of dynamite!” And particularly: “I wouldn’t hesitate ...”

The moral revulsion must be back- stopped with political understanding, or if fades like a passing mood. As we pointed out. Churchill helped to supply that too. The capitalist world, in Churchill’s mind, has nothing to counteract the appeal to the European and Asian peoples which is made by Stalin’s totalitarianism, nothing except the threat of a plutonium smoke- cloud over their country. The fight for a socialist democracy, to replace capitalist and Stalinist imperialism, is the real road to peace and world security.

Last updated on 1 August 2019