Winston Churchill on War, Part 2: Atomic Age

Winston Churchill on War, Part 2: Atomic Age

Atomic peril (continued from Part 1…)

Ear­ly on, some regard­ed the atom­ic bomb 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. This was not on the ple­nary lev­el. By ear­ly 1948 he was push­ing for a nego­ti­at­ed set­tle­ment with Russia.

At the 1953 Bermu­da con­fer­ence the British del­e­ga­tion was aston­ished to find that Pres­i­dent Eisen­how­er, and his Sec­re­tary of State, John Fos­ter Dulles, still regard­ed the bomb as con­ven­tion­al. It was, they said, just anoth­er improve­ment in mil­i­tary hard­ware. With the arrival of the hydro­gen bomb, Churchill’s thoughts became apoc­a­lyp­tic. He tried in vain to arrange a “sum­mit” with the Amer­i­cans and Stalin’s suc­ces­sor, Geor­gy Malenkov.


These were his words on war and peace at the end of the Sec­ond World War:

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.  —1945, 6 August, House of Commons

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. —1945, 16 August, House of Commons

Peace and Cold War

As divi­sions with Rus­sia deep­ened after the war, atom­ic research con­tin­ued and Churchill offered omi­nous warnings:

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. —1946, 19 Sep­tem­ber, Zurich University

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. —1948, 7 May, Con­gress of Europe, The Hague

“Century of the Common Man”?

….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. —1949, 31 March, Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Technology

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. —1950, 14 Decem­ber, House of Commons

The human race is going through tor­ment­ing con­vul­sions, and there is a pro­found long­ing for some breath­ing space, for some pause in the fren­zy. —1951, 8 Octo­ber, Broad­cast, London

Passing through infinity

Meet­ing Eisen­how­er at Bermu­da, Novem­ber 1953. (Hills­dale Col­lege Press)

By the time he met Eisen­how­er in Bermu­da in 1953, the Sovi­ets had an atom­ic bomb and were on the way to its next iter­a­tion. WSC spoke of what became “Mutu­al Assured Destruc­tion.” Would it be enough to keep the peace? Churchill wondered.

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.   —1953, 3 Novem­ber, House of Commons


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. —1953, 3 Decem­ber, Hamil­ton, Bermuda

[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. —1953, 7 Decem­ber, Hamil­ton, Bermuda

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…. —1955, 1 March, House of Commons.

A bomb in the hands of lunatics is, alas, the blank we still may be facing.

Con­clud­ed in Part 3

One thought on “Winston Churchill on War, Part 2: Atomic Age

  1. Words of wis­dom are need­ed more than ever in this tur­bu­lent time of accel­er­at­ed change.Churchill`s words and thoughts are missed in today`s world, where good lead­er­ship is urgent­ly required.

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