Pages from History: Time’s film critic James Agee talk about the dropping of the Atomic Bomb and the end of WWII

by Ari Rutenberg

On August 20th, 1945 Time magazine film critic James Agee wrote a commentary on what the dropping of the atomic bomb meant for the human race. In his truly brilliant and eloquent piece, Agee discusses the potential effects of such power on the human race, and our individual souls. The writing is timeless and moving, but more importantly it asks questions about using the bomb that today we must consider when discussing torture, wiretapping, and all the new forms of power we have acrrued as our society advances.

From Time Magazine, August 20th, 1945:

“The Bomb

by James Agee
August 20th, 1945

The greatest and most terrible of wars ended, this week, in the

echoes of an enormous event—an event so much more enormous that,

relative to it, the war itself shrank to minor significance. The

knowledge of victory was as charged with sorrow and doubt as with joy

and gratitude. More fearful responsibilities, more crucial liabilities

rested on the victors even than on the vanquished.

In what they said and did, men were still, as in the aftershock

of a great wound, bemused and only semi-articulate, whether they were

soldiers or scientists, or great statesmen, or the simplest of men. But

in the dark depths of their minds and hearts, huge forms moved and

silently arrayed themselves: Titans, arranging out of the chaos an age

in which victory was already only the shout of a child in the street.

With the controlled splitting of the atom, humanity, already

profoundly perplexed and disunified, was brought inescapably into a new

age in which all thoughts and things were split—and far from

controlled. As most men realized, the first atomic bomb was a merely

pregnant threat, a merely infinitesimal promise (see ATOMIC AGE).

All thoughts and things were split. The sudden achievement of

victory was a mercy, to the Japanese no less than to the United

Nations; but mercy born of a ruthless force beyond anything in human

chronicle. The race had been won, the weapon had been used by those on

whom civilization could best hope to depend; but the demonstration of

power against living creatures instead of dead matter created a

bottomless wound in the living conscience of the race. The rational

mind had won the most Promethean of its conquests over nature, and had

put into the hands of common man the fire and force of the sun itself.

Was man equal to the challenge? In an instant, without warning,

the present had become the unthinkable future. Was there hope in that

future, and if so, where did hope lie?”

Read the full article here