“Japan’s Surrender,” by Rhoda E. McCulloch

In the hours directly following Japan’s acceptance of surrender terms, there was a peculiar illusion that we had suddenly moved into a world united for peace. Perhaps this illusion came from the stream of radio broadcasts, ringing the changes on “this is it.” Perhaps it was the only possible reaction to an experience of relief and hope too vast for words.

It is dangerous to house too long the illusion that military victory has settled the basic issues around which the war was waged. The war and the peace are not two separate chapters. They are parts of a continued story of the struggle of men to live cooperatively. Each era brings some violent cumulation of this struggle. Each generation prepares for succeeding generations some new horror devised to test the will for survival.

The real measure, therefore, of the gains and losses from this last Great War is an estimate of changes wrought by the war in the attitudes of people: Are they more or less ready to accept the fact that the world is one, and order the institutions of society accordingly? In the long run, the effect of the war on the inclination of the minds and hearts of men may be a more significant aftermath than any of the political and economic contrivings of the first post-war years.

We know little about the effect of these past years on what people think about life. The secret weapon which has dwarfed old-time wars into relative insignificance has now been demonstrated. We accept it, as we accept the mysteries of radio. The discoveries represented by the atomic bomb are here to stay. Whether these discoveries are to be used for the destruction or for the enhancement of civilized living rests ultimately on the attitudes of the people.

We do not know as yet whether life has more meaning for people or less, because of the blasting experiences of war. Yet only as the act of living is invested with rich meaning and purpose can there be any control of the rising tides of forces aimed to destroy life.

These are days for re-study of the statements made during the war by religious bodies, affirming their agreements on the key principles for an enduring peace. On one of these principles alone the future course of the world’s history could be determined for good or for ill: “the dignity of the human person as the image of God must be set forth in all its essential implications in an international declaration of rights, and be vindicated by the positive actions of national governments and international organization: States, as well as individuals, must repudiate racial, religious or other discriminations in violation of these rights.”

This principle is honored in the Charter produced by the United Nations Conference at San Francisco. But the Charter is merely a pledge that life shall be so organized that all people everywhere can find that satisfying meaningfulness which alone makes life worth living—either for an individual or for a national grouping. Meaning, significance cannot be enacted by pronouncements or edicts. We the people must find and develop it in the smallest areas of our common life.

The war has stirred men to great affirmations of human brotherhood, but it has also roiled up in all of us those traditional uncertainties which have delayed our fulfillment as a democracy.

“There are superior and inferior races.”

“Economic and political affairs are too large and complicated to be controlled by all the people.”

“Business and industry can’t be run for the mutual benefit of employers and employees.”

These are some of the “howevers” that have lurked in the minds of all sorts of people, stronger than the affirmation of religious faith, quick to find expression in every phase of community and national life. It may be that the fear that democracy won’t work is stronger than the hope that it will.

In the war years every detail of our living and working has had but one relevance—its contribution to the strength of the nation in its struggles on many fronts. What objective will unify us now that the military phase of the war is over?

We could hold together in the sterile and miserable unity of fear. One expert has proposed the building of underground cities. The construction job would last about 20 years, and provide work for millions of men and women. “It’s drastic, and the cost would be immense, but it’s the only way we can be sure of surviving.”

In the rejoicing over the surrender of Japan there was a note of sober concern with something more than mere survival. It is in our tradition to be moved by faith in the future. We are growing in our understanding of the role of this nation in the world of tomorrow.

If in relief over the end of the war we lived for a few hours in an illusion of peace attained, life will catch up with us in the decisions which this nation must make within the next few months. The direction which we shall take in these successive decisions of national policy will tell us more about what the war has done to the thinking of the people than can be now surmised.

Rhoda E. McCulloch (1884 – 1978) wrote on education, religion, social progress, working women, marriage, and the women’s movement in Christianity and Crisis, The Association Monthly, and The Woman’s Press. She wrote The War and the Woman Point of View and was the editor-in-chief of The Woman’s Press, a publication of the Young Women’s Christian Association.