70 Years ago today the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On Sunday, it was to be Nagasaki’s turn. The above title is from Jacob Bronowki’s book ‘Science and Human Values‘. He was part of an official visit to Nagasaki later in 1945. Two quotes from this book have never left me.
The gravest indictment that can be made of our generalized culture is, in fact, that it erodes our sense of the context in which judgements must be made. Let me end with a practical example. When I returned from the physical shock of Nagasaki, which I have described in the first page of this book, I tried to persuade my colleagues in governments and in the United Nations that Nagasaki should be preserved exactly as it was then. I wanted all future conferences on disarmament, and on other issues which weigh the fates of nations, to be held in that ashy, clinical sea of rubble. I still think as I did then, that only in this forbidding context could statesmen make realistic judgements of the problems which they handle on our behalf. Alas, my official colleagues thought nothing of my scheme; on the contrary, they pointed out to me that delegates would be uncomfortable in Nagasaki……….
Nothing happened in 1945 except that we changed the scale of our indifference to man; and conscience, in revenge, for an instant became immediate to us. Before this immediacy fades in a sequence of televised atomic tests, let us acknowledge our subject for what it is: civilization face to face with its own implications. The implications are both the industrial slum which Nagasaki was before it was bombed, and the ashy desolation which the bomb made of the slum.
Bronowksi always wanted to build a natural philosophy fit for our age. It is our tragedy that he (and we have) failed.