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After Hiroshima: Sharing the Atom Bomb
James Chace is Henry Luce Professor in Freedom of Inquiry and Expression at Bard College and Editor of the World Policy Journal at the New School for Social Research. He is currently writing a biography of Dean Acheson, from which this article is adapted.See more by this author
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
Colonel Stimson was worried. A week earlier, a few days after the atomic bomb had exploded over Hiroshima, he had a small heart attack. With intimations of mortality, the weary secretary of war, who was nearly 78, had decided to resign. His deepest concern, however, may not have been his health but the future of the atom. The reports of what had happened when an American B-29 bomber dropped the bomb on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, had been devastating. Almost everything within a 500-meter radius of the explosion had been incinerated, and buildings as far away as three kilometers had burned. A second bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki on August 10, and the two blasts had killed more than 150,000 people and injured at least another 100,000.
Henry Stimson was shaken. He had never opposed using the bomb to end the war and save American lives that would have been lost in an invasion of the Japanese islands. Before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he had even believed that possession of the bomb would be a "master card" in the hands of American leaders, which they could use as leverage in settling the great issues of the postwar world. But in the aftermath of the bombing, Stimson changed his mind and, along with Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson, initiated an attempt to place all future atomic weapons under international control. Had their approach been followed, the United States and the Soviet Union might well have reached an agreement that would have checked the spread of nuclear weapons. But their plan, which depended on superpower cooperation, was undone by Cold War politics. A half-century later, with the Cold War over and nuclear weapons still at large, their ill-fated efforts are worth recalling.
STIMSON'S LAST STAND