STAND BY FOR some more anniversary journalism. Today marks exactly 40 years since the atomic bomb was exploded over Hiroshima, and the anniversary itself has compelled an explosion of commentary. Don't misunderstand us. It is not the commemoration itself -- a remembering -- to which we object, but rather the fitful, artificial quality of it. This year has been one public-issues anniversary after another. All feel duty-bound to acknowledge them. But does the sudden festival of commentary do justice to the size of the event? Does it show that we have been usefully instructed and chastened by that event -- or merely that we have learned how to talk about it?
There is a sense in which you could say the whole world has been properly instructed and chastened: those countries which have nuclear weapons or have the capacity for quickly assembling and using them have proceeded warily in areas where conflict might quickly engage nuclear weapons -- at least they have for the most part behaved warily, and no nuclear weapon has been used since World War II. One theme of this anniversary has been a deficiency of concern about these weapons on the part of governments and populations around the world. But this seems to us to be false. Concern -- anxiety -- is all but universal, extending, though some self-righteous critics find it impossible to believe, to the very governing circles that are responsible for these weapons. From the day the first bomb was used, people have understood what was unleashed, the magnitude of it and the consequent reason for fear.
What has been missing has not been concern. What has been missing has been resolve, concentration, ingenuity and restraint. This is what makes these birthday bursts of attention so troubling to us: they are by their nature fleeting, that's-enough-now-let's- forget-it sort of things, and that has been the pattern in public thinking about nuclear weapons issues almost since the beginning. The concern is constant; the interest in what to do about it is not.
Thousands upon thousands of these weapons of devastation have been deployed, principally by the Soviet Union and this country. The time it would take them to reach their intercontinental destinations is calculated in minutes, not hours. The command and control structure governing their use is necessarily elaborate, and in many respects outmoded and frail. All this is in the background of a ferocious and legitimate political conflict between the United States and the U.S.S.R., and it is in the wings where other mutually hostile countries are concerned as they pursue their efforts to get the bomb. Is concern, as distinct from an abiding, unflagging, intelligent interest, really enough?
Nuclear issues come and go in this country and elsewhere around the world. They have vogues. When they are in fashion you tend to get largely wishful proposals that concentrate on what the United States should stop doing and that ignore what goes on in the Soviet Union and the relation between the two. Both when they are in fashion and when they are out, another (opposite) school, cheered on by the defense contractors and the more mindless among our military and civilian authorities persist in their nuclear piling on: the pursuit of ever more and fancier nukes whose mission they have scarcely thought through. The Soviets have tremendous blame in all this. But so have the people in this country who have refused to get serious -- except about fighting with each other -- as the world marched on to its present nuclear pass. Maybe we will do something about it in the 41st year after Hiroshima.