Volumes of The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell

A Hypertextual Draft Edition of a Paper in Volume 24

Table of Contents

+ Headnote
+ Chronology
+ “The Bomb and Civilization” (1945)


“The Bomb and Civilization”, Russell’s first known comment of any kind on the atomic bomb, appeared in the Glasgow Forward, 39, no. 33 (18 Aug. 1945): 1, 3 (B&R C45.14). Russell never reprinted the article, and it has remained largely unknown, even to histories of the anti-nuclear movement such as Wittner 1993. Forward, which had previously published Russell, supported the Independent Labour Party.

The atom-bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 destroyed four square miles of the city. Three days later Russell was at work on this article. We know this because midway he remarks that he has just learned of the explosion of the second atomic bomb, over Nagasaki. (The bomb had been dropped at about 2 a.m. GMT [Weintraub 1995, 482].) At this point he abandons the exposition and history of atomic theory to dwell on the danger to civilization posed by the new weaponry, and immediately states: “The prospect for the human race is sombre beyond all precedent.” This is in contrast to the guarded optimism of Paper 48, finished a few days prior to the nuclear attack on Japan and probably, as a consequence, withdrawn from publication.

It is unknown whether, at the time of writing, Russell knew of the Manhattan project, although he may have been cognizant of physicists’ pre-war curiosity about producing an atomic explosion. How then did he know of the 1939 discovery and that scientists on both sides of World War II had been working on the problem? News sources may have carried this information in early days of the nuclear age.

The main outline and some details of his international policy for the next few years are visible, complete with an argument for forcing a world government and a prediction that the U.S. will not internationalize the atomic secrets.

Russell could not comment here on whether the A-bomb hastened the end of the war. Japan did not surrender until several days later, on 14 August. At the same time preparations were under way for a massive Allied land invasion. It remains uncertain whether it was the A-bomb or the prospect of the land invasion that brought Japan to surrender. It was “a common observation that Japan at war’s end was vastly weaker than anyone outside the country had imagined—or anyone inside it had acknowledged” (Dower 1999, 44).

The copy-text is a photocopy of the manuscript, which Russell titled “The Atomic Bomb”. There is no evidence that he read proofs of the newspaper publication. The two versions have been collated. The substitution in the printed text of “hear” for the manuscript’s “learn” in “As I write, I learn” is a misreading of Russell’s hand. The variants are recorded in the textual notes.

The Cyrus Eaton Foundation supported research on this paper and on Volume 24 in general. The original draft chronology and annotations had the valuable assistance of Sheila Turcon.


Life/Related Events


26 June 1945 U.N. Charter signed. On the BBC Brains Trust.
16 July 1945 First A-bomb tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico.
17 July-2 Aug. 1945 Stalin, Truman, Churchill (replaced by Attlee on 28 July) attend Potsdam Conference.
22 July 1945 9 [“Make Divorce Easier”] published.
26 July 1945 U.K. general election results: Labour victorious with 48% of the vote and 393 of 615 seats. Churchill resigns; Attlee becomes Prime Minister.
U.S., U.K. and China demand Japan’s unconditional surrender (“Potsdam Declaration”)
26-28 July 1945 10 [“Proposal for a Free Rational Thought Club”] written.
2 Aug. 1945 48 [“Hopes and Fears for Tomorrow”] written shortly thereafter.
6 Aug. 1945 U.S. drops A-bomb on Hiroshima.
8 Aug. 1945 Soviets declare war on Japan.
9 Aug. 1945 U.S. drops A-bomb on Nagasaki.
London Agreement, setting up an International Military Tribunal for trial of war criminals, is signed by U.S., U.K., France and U.S.S.R.
11-25 Aug. 1945 At Hotel Portmeirion, N. Wales.
14 Aug. 1945 Victory in Japan Day, after last, massive bombing raid the previous night.
16 Aug. 1945 U.S. Smyth report (Atomic Energy for Military Purposes) published.
18 Aug. 1945 58 [“The Bomb and Civilization”] published.
21 Aug. 1945 Sir John Anderson to be chairman of U.K. Advisory Committee on Atomic Energy
1 Sept. 1945 Writes to Gamel Brenan that preventive war is the only way to save the world, but he would never advocate it.

* Bertrand Russell Research Centre * Faculty of Humanities * Bertrand Russell Archives * McMaster University

The text for this page was prepared at McMaster University.
Page maintained by K. Blackwell. Last updated 16 January 2014.
Russell Keyword: alembics