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Churchill on War: Part 2
Part 2: What He Said in the Nuclear Age
The atomic bomb, in its immediate aftermath, was regarded by many as just another weapon of war. Churchill himself spoke privately of using it, or threatening to use it, to roll back Soviet advances in Europe in 1946-47, though not on the plenary level, and was pushing for a negotiated settlement with Russia by early 1948.
At the 1953 Bermuda conference the British delegation was astonished to find President Eisenhower and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, still regarding the bomb as conventional. With the arrival of the hydrogen bomb, Churchill’s thoughts became apocalyptic, as he vainly tried to arrange a “summit” with the Americans and Stalin’s successor, Georgy Malenkov. These are his words on war and peace in the nuclear age:
“Another great war, especially an ideological war, fought as it would be not only on frontiers but in the heart of every land with weapons far more destructive than men have yet wielded, would spell the doom, perhaps for many centuries, of such civilization as we have been able to erect since history began to be written. . . .”1
“This revelation of the secrets of nature, long mercifully withheld from man, should arouse the most solemn reflections in the mind and conscience of every human being capable of comprehension. We must indeed pray that these awful agencies will be made to conduce to peace among the nations, and that instead of wreaking measureless havoc upon the entire globe they may become a perennial fountain of world prosperity.”2
“The bomb brought peace, but men alone can keep that peace, and henceforward they will keep it under penalties which threaten the survival not only of civilization but of humanity itself.”3
“The atomic bomb is still only in the hands of a State and nation which we know will never use it except in the cause of right and freedom. But it may well be that in a few years this awful agency of destruction will be widespread and the catastrophe following from its use by several warring nations will not only bring to an end all that we call civilization but may possibly disintegrate the globe itself.”4
“If we . . . firmly grasp the larger hopes of humanity, then it may be that we shall move into a happier sunlit age, when all the little children who are now growing up in this tormented world may find themselves not the victors nor the vanquished in the fleeting triumphs of one country over another in the bloody turmoil of destructive war, but the heirs of all the treasures of the past and the masters of all the science, the abundance and the glories of the future.”5
“….little did we guess that what has been called The Century of the Common Man would witness as its outstanding feature more common men killing each other with greater facilities than any other five centuries put together in the history of the world.”6
“Appeasement in itself may be good or bad according to the circumstances. Appeasement from weakness and fear is alike futile and fatal. Appeasement from strength is magnanimous and noble and might be the surest and perhaps the only path to world peace.”7
“The human race is going through tormenting convulsions, and there is a profound longing for some breathing space, for some pause in the frenzy.”8
“I have since heard it said that certain mathematical quantities when they pass through infinity, change their signs from plus to minus—or the other way round. It may be that his rule may have a novel application, and that when the advance of destructive weapons enables everyone to kill everybody else, nobody will want to kill anyone at all.”9
“When I meet Malenkov we can build for peace. . . . [Eisenhower] doesn’t think any good can come from talks with the Russians. But it will pay him to come along with us. I shall do what I can to persuade him.”10
“[Dulles says] nothing but evil can come out of meeting with Malenkov. Dulles is a terrible handicap. Ten years ago I could have dealt with him. Even as it is I have not been defeated by this bastard. I have been humiliated by my own decay.”11
“Then it may well be that we shall by a process of sublime irony have reached a stage in this story where safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation. . . . The [nuclear] deterrent does not cover the case of lunatics or dictators in the mood of Hitler when he found himself in his final dug-out. That is a blank. . . .”12
A bomb in the hands of lunatics is, alas, the blank we may someday face.
1 Winston S. Churchill (hereinafter WSC), Speech to the House of Commons (hereinafter “HC”), December 15, 1944.
2 WSC, Speech to the HC, August 6, 1945.
3 WSC, Speech to the HC, August 16, 1945.
4 WSC, Speech at Zurich University, September 19, 1946.
5 WSC, Speech to the Congress of Europe, The Hague, Holland, May 7, 1948.
6 WSC, Speech to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, March 31, 1949.
7 WSC, Speech to the HC, December 14, 1950.
8 WSC, Broadcast, London, October 8,1951.
9 WSC, Speech to the HC, November 3, 1953.
10 WSC, Speech, Hamilton, Bermuda, December 3, 1953.
11 WSC, Speech, Hamilton, Bermuda, December 7, 1953.
12 WSC, Speech to the HC, March 1, 1955.