WHEN Britain's first atomic weapon was exploded on the Monte Bello Islands, off North-West Australia, last Friday morning an enormous atomic cloud rose to a height of 12,000 feet before it went drifting for miles across the sky. It was so big that the Press photographers were able to photograph it 55 miles away.
It was so big, too, that our children and our children's children will still be paying for it when we are gone, for the cost to date. it is estimated unofficially, is £120,000.000. We are told that there are more to come.
Because of a Budget deficit of £120,000,000 a British Government fell in 1931, a great economy campaign was launched and public spending was pruned back at every point, even down to economising in the relief payments to the poorest of the poor.
Britain has fought a great and costly war since then, she has lost many of her overseas assets and is poorer in every way. Yet. with less to back us up, the expenditure of vast sums means less to us today than it did then. The millions have become meaningless.
"The world's biggest bang" was a triumph for the scientists who have done their job well. It has satisfied (we hope) our national pride by showing the world that we can do it, and it presumably strengthens the position of the British Government in its dealings with other Powers, particularly America.
But it was a very costly triumph and not an altogether necessary. or even justifiable one, when half the world is crying out for peaceful economic development schemes which cannot be undertaken because of their cost.
It is doubtful whether in fact this country can, working alone, afford to manufacture sufficient numbers of such bombs as its contribution to the stockpile of the West to be of any real significance, and last week's bomb was, in the words of the Manchester Guardian, "the outcome of an absurd duplication of effort, cost and ingenuity."
"It seems likely," said the same paper editorially, that those responsible "could have been still more successful and could have saved time and money if they had been able to work together with the Atomic Energy Commission of the United States."
In an endeavour to meet the challenge from the East the national economies of half the countries of Europe are creaking and straining under the burden of defence plans whilst the Communists stand hopefully by waiting for the cracks to begin to show themselves. There is a danger that the fantastic cost of rearmament may achieve precisely what the arms are intended to frustrate. Economy in their manufacture is therefore a political and military matter which it is absurd to ignore.
If the atom bomb has become a mid-twentieth century necessity let us at least see that the need for economy in its manufacture is used to bring Britain and the U.S.A. closer together in a practical working unity.
BENEATH the thin, deceptive veneer of our present-day civilisation, with its huge pride in material achievement, lies the stark fact that no generation of men has seen organised hatred and terror on such a scale. Our days are so darkened by violence that we are in danger of becoming blind to its very existence.
We have experienced two World Wars of unparalleled horror; read of gas chambers into which went literally millions of screaming men. women and children; we have seen the pictures of the living skeletons of the concentration camps; and have heard Stalin, the leader of a party pledged to the liberation of mankind, boasting that he had liquidated an entire class. Breathing such an atmosphere, we are in danger of becoming immunised against feeling any sense of shock at new manifestations of human cruelty and injustice.
Last week-end a Bulgarian Bishop, spiritual leader of a helpless minority, was condemned to death by shooting on what the whole world knows to be trumped-up charges, and which the Communist Government itself hardly bothers to attempt to justify.
Once there would have been a great outcry right across the civilised world. Today, judging by our Press, it is hardly worth a headline. We have, it seems, already reached saturation point and our minds no longer react as once they would have done. This is a pointer to how far we have travelled in the lifetime of this generation. It is a measure of our shame.