The famous essay retranslated here, written sixty-one years ago this month but still timely, was published by Albert Camus on August 8, 1945, a day after news was received of the destruction of Hiroshima by an atomic bomb. -- In it, Camus seems to foresee the rise of doctrines like those of the neoconservatives who dominate U.S. foreign policy in the administration of George W. Bush. -- He warns: “But we refuse to draw from such grave news anything other than the determination to plead even more energetically for a real international society, in which . . . war, a scourge that has become definitive through human intelligence alone, will not depend on the appetites or doctrines of this or that State.” -- Camus concludes: “Faced with the terrifying prospects that are opening up before humanity, we see even more clearly than before that peace is the only fight worth engaging in. This isn’t a plea any more, but an order that has to rise up from peoples to governments, the order to choose once and for all between hell and reason.” ...
THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS . . .
By Albert Camus
The world is what it is, which is to say, not much. That's what each us learned yesterday thanks to the formidable chorus that radio, newspapers, and information agencies have just unleashed regarding the atomic bomb. We are told, in fact, amid a host of enthusiastic commentaries, that any mid-sized city whatever can be totally razed by a bomb about the size of a soccer ball. American, English, and French newspapers are overflowing with elegant dissertations on the future, the past, the inventors, the cost, the pacific vocation and war-like effects, the political consequences, and even the independent character of the atomic bomb. We'll sum it up in one sentence: mechanical civilization has just reached its final degree of savagery. We are going to have to choose, in a future that is more or less imminent, between collective suicide and the intelligent use of scientific conquests.
Meanwhile, it is permissible to think that there is some indecency in celebrating in this way a discovery that is, first of all, putting itself at the service of the most formidable destructive rage that humanity has demonstrated for centuries. It will occur to no one to be surprised, no doubt, except from some remorseless idealism, in a world that has been turned over to all the heartbreaks of violence, incapable of any control, indifferent to justice and simple human happiness, that science should devote itself to organized murder.
These discoveries must be recorded, commented upon for what they are, announced to be the world so that humanity may have an accurate idea of its destiny. But to surround these terrible revelations with picturesque or humorous writings, this is something that cannot be borne.
It was already hard to breathe in a tortured world. Here is a new source of anguish proposed to us, which has every chance of being definitive. Humanity is being offered, no doubt, its last chance. And that can, after all, be the pretext for a special edition. But more likely it ought to be an occasion for a few reflections and a lot of silence.
As for the rest, there are other reasons to give a cautious welcome to the suspense novel the newspapers are serving up. When we see the diplomatic editor of Reuters announce that this invention renders treaties null and void and even invalidates the Potsdam decisions, when we see him note that it doesn't matter whether the Russians are in Königsberg or Turkey has the Dardenelles, one can’t keep oneself from supposing that this chorus comes with intentions that are rather far removed from scientific detachment.
Let’s be clear. If the Japanese capitulate after the destruction of Hiroshima due to intimidation, we’ll be glad of it. But we refuse to draw from such grave news anything other than the determination to plead even more energetically for a real international society, in which great powers will not have rights superior to small or mid-sized ones, in which war, a scourge that has become definitive through human intelligence alone, will not depend on the appetites or doctrines of this or that State.
Faced with the terrifying prospects that are opening up before humanity, we see even more clearly than before that peace is the only fight worth engaging in. This isn’t a plea any more, but an order that has to rise up from peoples to governments, the order to choose once and for all between hell and reason.
[From Actuelles I: Chroniques 1944-1948 (Paris: Édition Prassinos & N.R.F., 1950). Reprinted in Essais, ed. R. Quilliot & L. Faucon (Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1965), pp. 291-93. Originally published in Combat (August 8, 1945).]
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Home page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/