As a member of the human family, as a person who feels a deep kinship with all life, as a war veteran who supported President Truman’s decision to use atom bombs to end the war in the Pacific in 1945, I call upon the leaders of my country to act now to end the nuclear weapons threat to humanity’s future.
Mr. Truman told me that he made his horrifying decision when our nation and other nations were in hell. “War is hell,” he said. “We were burning up thousands of Japanese men, women, and children with fire bombs, night after night. I wanted to end that slaughter.” In a speech he made in 1948, he said: ” I decided that the bomb should be used in order to end the war quickly and save countless lives – Japanese as well as American.”
I was a soldier in Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis when he took that action. With thousands of other soldiers there and elsewhere, I knew that I might be sent to Japan, to take part in an invasion that might cost my life and the lives of many thousands of people. When the bombs were dropped and the Japanese Emperor surrendered quickly, I took part in a celebration. The hellish time of torment was ended. The joy of release from war uplifted us all.
As a science fiction writer in the 1930’s, I assumed that the release of nuclear energy would occur. I knew it would cause great dangers, but I thought it could be harnessed for peaceful purposes. I thought that the unlocking of nuclear knowledge might be part of the Creator’s plan for the high development of civilization. With unlimited power available, prosperity might be available for everyone. Poverty would be abolished. Humanity would enter a new age of fulfillment.
But now I know that nuclear weapons are monstrous instruments that threaten to obliterate life on our beautiful planet. My country, as the nation that used these weapons in a war, has a special obligation to take the lead in getting rid of them.
As a taxpayer, I helped to finance the construction and proliferation of these terrible weapons. When I worked as a speechwriter for President Truman and for members of the U.S. Senate, I supported the idea of “deterrence” – the belief that such weapons would keep heavily armed nations from going to war. I realized that President Ronald Reagan was right when he said: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” But I did not fully understand that the very existence of such weapons constituted an unbearable peril. Now I do.
Now I completely endorse the statements in the recent appeal issued by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. The signers of the appeal declared:
“We call upon the leaders of the nations of the world and, in particular, the leaders of the nuclear weapons states to act now for the benefit of all humanity and all life by taking the following steps:
- De-alert all nuclear weapons and de-couple all nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles.
- Reaffirm commitments to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
- Commence good faith negotiations to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention requiring the phased elimination of all nuclear weapons, with provisions for effective verification and enforcement.
- Declare policies of No First Use of nuclear weapons against other weapons states and policies of No Use against non-nuclear weapons states.
- Reallocate resources from the tens of billions of dollars currently spent for maintaining nuclear arsenals to improving human health, education, and welfare throughout the world.”
That appeal has been signed by former President Jimmy Carter; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Elie Wiesel, and many other Nobel prize winners.
I believe it is an appeal that could be signed by millions of human beings like myself, who have become aware that nuclear weapons endanger all of us and may destroy the whole earth.
I ask for the forgiveness of my fellow citizens and people everywhere for the part I had in supporting the nuclear arms race when I worked in Washington as a special assistant to the Senate Majority Leader from 1949 to 1952; for the belligerent speeches I wrote for Senators, and the statements I made to friends.
I still believe that Harry Truman was principally motivated by a desire to save lives when he authorized the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The destruction of those two cities, depicted on film and viewed later by millions of people, had profound effects on the leaders of nations in the subsequent years. It is possible that those bombings prevented a third world war.
But now it is folly to risk the survival of life on earth by permitting nuclear weapons to exist. Let us choose life; let us get rid of them as fast as we can. I can no longer support their existence. I urge everyone to call for their abolition, as I do now.
*Frank K. Kelly is senior vice president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.