Is the Use of the Atomic Bomb Justified?


By FRANK G. TYRRELL, Judge of the Los Angeles Municipal Court

Delivered before the Beverly Hills Bar Association, Beverly Hills, California, September 5, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 767-768.

THE strange expressions we hear and read indicating a sense of guilt and shame in many quarters, seem to make the topic immediately apropos. One interdenominational weekly publishes a lengthy editorial pleading guilty of atrocity, and in the same issue prints a broadside of letters echoing the same mea culpa.

Are they not contused in their thinking? The aggressive war of the Axis Powers is unjustified; any machinery or method for defeating their saturnine purpose is legitimate, if it stops the gangs of international banditti in their mad career of mass murder, devastation, loot and despotism. Crush them, as you would a venomous reptile; it is the primary law of self-preservation, a deplorable necessity, imperative and implacable.

The chief aspect of modern war is wholesale slaughter; what difference to those killed, whether they are annihilated by big guns, block busters, or atomic bombs? Indeed, the last may be the more merciful. As to the innocent who die in its blast, the orthodox theologians can have recourse to their doctrine of vicarious sacrifice.

In a famous speech Senator John J. Ingalls attempted to justify tergiversations and fraud in politics by comparing it to war, in which "It is proper to deceive the enemy, to hire Hessians. The commander who would lose a battle by the activity of his moral nature would be the derision and jest of history."

War has become total; it enlists the massed energies of entire peoples. The days of chivalry have passed, never to return. We are challenged by conditions, not theories, facts, not sentiments. The United Nations fought a grim battle for survival.

What entirely lacks justification is aggressive war; it is murder. It wears the brand of Cain. It is further degraded by its purpose,—the enrichment of the aggressor by the spoliation of those he attacks. If the race does not forever ibolish it, mankind will be annihilated, as completely to all ntents as if Professor Huxley's "kindly comet" had "swept he whole affair away." And Huxley was right when he added, that "would be a highly desired consummation." In other words, we should deserve to die.

Even a cursory analysis of the causes of this resurgence of barbarism will of course implicate us all. There were sins of omission and commission in the sinuosities and duplicities of diplomacy by all the great powers. There were still remaining the outmoded imperialisms of past centuries, with most of their policies of oppression, intimidation, and subjugation of weaker peoples. It is high time and past time that diplomats and statesmen should awake to the inexorable fact that they are subject to the same moral law that controls the individual in his conduct. No nation can abandon the fundamental precepts of morality and go scathless; it will sooner or later pay the dire penalty for its transgressions.

What are the facts? The marvels of invention have of course reduced the habitable globe to a neighborhood; and the neighbors live in dangerously close proximity. Industry, trade and commerce have woven a seamless robe and we are all enmeshed in its folds, inextricably. The diplomacies of the past are forever outgrown and out-moded.

War persists because international anarchy persists. The bugaboo of "sovereignty" still haunts the myopic minis of many. There never was such a thing; it could be only if there were but one nation on earth. Immediately another nation came into existence, there would arise mutual relations with their attendant obligations. Neither would any longer be a law to itself. The insistence of the powers on a fact which is nonexistent has muddled our minds, dislocated our international relations, confused our policies and established conditions which inevitably and inexorably reach their maturity in war. War cannot be ended save by ending this international anarchy. Until the reign of law is extended into this area of human relations, war will persist to plague and decimate mankind.

And precisely this is the course charted at Bret ton Woods and at San Francisco. Quite naturally these first blueprints are crude; but they mark the beginning of a new era.

Almost any plan, any United Nations charter, will enable world leaders to begin to function toward permanent peace. Whatever the undisclosed purposes of the leaders, the peoples of the world demand that they go forward in the paths of peace! That is their mandate.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact is becoming alive. War is outlawed; and the devastating reign of the bomb, atomic or otherwise, is being replaced by the reign of sovereign law.

Perhaps some day the doughty champions of isolation will realize that they cannot get off the earth. All life has become global, and who would secede has no alternative but to emigrate to some other planet.

The days of miracle will return, and the blind will see; to wit, those who have been unable to see that what they call sovereignty is not sacrificed by co-operating in collective rule, but brought into exercise in the only way possible, will exclaim ecstatically, "Now I see!"

Let us expect this, and nothing less. There is such a thing as regeneration by expectation. Let us have done with prejudices, hates, pride, and egotism. Enough and more than enough of doubt and suspicion have been voiced by press and radio and from the platform. H the doubters and misanthropes would devote h&lf as much energy to courageous faith the happy denouement would be achieved.

Among the forces that will achieve permanent peace we can think of none more puissant than the organized bar. There are about 170,000 lawyers in the United States. And it is their business to see that law and justice are administered. Too long they have accepted the status quo; but right valiantly they have flung themselves into this controversy. The American Bar Association, the National Lawyers Guild, and innumerable local associations have marched to the vanguard. We believe they will show the same versatility, the same tenacity, the same loyalty, that they continuously exhibited in the forensic arena, and that they will have a part in the final triumph.

Here they are more than ever under the compulsion of noblesse oblige; rank imposes obligation. Looking back in the history of the nation, we must in grief confess that many of the leading lawyers were Tories, and fled the country in the days of the War of Independence. But the rebels had their James Otis, and others like-minded. Lawyers are by the very nature of their occupation, more or less conservative; but they are intelligent enough to realize that the course of true conservatism is to promote the reign of law in international relations.

Mr. Justice Murray of the California Supreme Court took occasion to say, in a case decided in 1852 (Fowler v. Smith), "The law of nations is said to be founded on right reason, sound morality, and justice; but although it is said to be binding upon nations in their intercourse and transactions, still we find the courts of the United States and Europe in many instances differing in the application of its rules, and even disregarding them. As the world has advanced in civilization and learning, the influence of religion has been felt and recognized by the Christian countries of Europe in their intercourse with each other. War has been stripped of its most disgusting features. It is no longer considered as the moral condition of man and nations, but only justifiable when resorted to to preserve national honor, prosperity and happiness." That of course includes national survival.

Let the entire intelligence, force and statecraft of the nation's lawyers be mobilized in the world effort now being made to extend the reign of law till the whole earth is brought under its gentle and beneficent sway. Let them co-operate with their brethren of all other nations; we shall then see the end of world anarchy, and rivers of blood and treasure will cease to flow through the red altars of Mars.

We can, because we must; we must, because we can. Law took its origin as a substitute for revenge in personal feuds. J It has the same function to perform in national feuds. The profession should be ashamed that anarchy and consequent war have persisted so long. Have we not been derelict in our manifest duty?

Do you for a moment think that anything which the united bar has resolved upon could be long successfully op* posed? If you do, you do not know lawyers. They are 1 enmeshed in the same environment of economics that holds in its grip the businessman and the worker; but they are a class apart, in that they are the ministers of justice.

Obviously the release of the energy of the atom has flung the world into a new era. The American Chemical Society declares that it is feasible to utilize that energy in productive enterprises. Well may we stand appalled and aghast at such an event! Carlyle says, "Our clocks mark the change from hour to hour; but there is no hammer in the horologe of time to herald to the universe the change from Era to Era." We have, let us hope, the capacity ourselves to perceive it, and meet the imperious challenge of that astonishingly new era with jubilant and triumphant hope.

Any alternative is too horrible to contemplate. The colored races outnumber the whites two or three to one. All races have the same capacities; cultural differences are due solely to adventitious causes, which time will erase altogether. Fifty years at most, a short period in world history, doubtless will see Asia industrialized, together with all other backward areas. Shall we then have a war of races? Yes, unless we end war, It is possible; it is probable. The domineering whites have furnished an example which the colored races will not be slow to imitate. That is not a pleasing or alluring prospect.

The industrial and economic development of which we boast seems to be a force driving us mto the practice of brotherhood willy-nilly. Not only is honesty the best policy, but virtue, integrity, altruism, good-will have become compulsory, or else!

This of course trenches on the area of religion, and it goes without saying that we can count on its functioning efficiently and influentially. Victor Hugo, whose life ended about 1882, said,—"In the 20th century, war will be dead; the scaffold will be dead; hatred will be dead; frontier boundaries will be dead; dogmas will be dead. Man will live. He will possess things higher than all these,—a great country, the whole earth, and a great hope, the whole heaven." It is our high privilege to participate in the work of implementing such prophecies by creating a world government where "the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe, And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law."