From our mid-western correspondent comes this quotation by President Harry S. Truman about the use of atomic weapons (sometime between the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki):
The atomic bomb is too dangerous to be loose in a lawless world. That is why Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, who have the secret of its production, do not intend to reveal that secret until means have been found to control the bomb so as to protect ourselves and the rest of the world from the danger of total destruction.
As far back as last May, Secretary of War Stimson, at my suggestion, appointed a committee upon which Secretary of State Byrnes served as my personal representative, to prepare plans for the future control of this bomb. I shall ask the Congress to cooperate to the end that its production and use be controlled, and that its power be made an overwhelming influence towards world peace.
We must constitute ourselves trustees of this new force–to prevent its misuse, and to turn it into the channels of service to mankind.
It is an awful responsibility which has come to us.
We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.
To make light of the moral dilemmas involved in Truman’s decision would be easy, as if anyone should know that nuclear weapons are evil. Being the son of a Marine who survived Iwo Jima and was waiting in Hawaii to conduct a similar mission to Japan’s shores, I myself have a small portion of my heart expressing gratitude that my father was spared having to fight in Japan. Chances are I would not be blogging if not for that bomb. (Old Life loyalists may want to thank Truman as well.)
The problem is the president’s identification of a weapon of mass destruction with God’s purposes. Providentially speaking, no one, not the president or even a minister of the gospel, knows God’s purposes in human history. But when it comes to God’s revealed purposes, as in saving a people for himself, we know what the weapons are — word, sacrament, and discipline. Those are the means by which Christ’s kingdom (of grace) comes.
Truman was not wrong to pray for wisdom, though he may have been sanctimonious to do so while bombing the bejeebers out of the Japanese. But he needed to know how to pray and what to pray for (sorry for the concluding preposition). That’s why God gave us the Lord’s Prayer. No atomic WMD’s there. Only spiritual ones.
Postscript of full disclosure: I am technically a graduate of Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania (the proverbial armpit of Bucks County). I say technically because the school’s name at the time of my diploma was Woodrow Wilson, not necessarily a better choice in the horse race of admirably restrained presidents. But the change of name is not a factor in my evaluation of Truman’s remarks.