Sixty-three years ago, America won a war and lost its innocence. On August 6, 1945, the world's first nuclear weapon was detonated over Hiroshima, and six days later, World War II ended.
I was in uniform then in Germany, one of thousands waiting to be sent as foot soldiers to invade Japan. All we knew then was that a mushroom cloud had ended our dread of going to the Pacific to storm beaches and fight through cities. For the first time in years, we could wake in the morning without feeling there was an IOU out on our lives, held by someone unknown and payable on demand.
It was weeks before we learned the moral price for our relief--that over 200,000 would die from that explosion in Hiroshima and another over Nagasaki three days afterward and that our country would forever bear the burden of being the first to use weapons of mass destruction.
Almost two decades later, in August 1963, I was interviewing John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office. "Since 1945," he said, "we have gone into an entirely new period of nuclear weapons. Most people have no conception of what it all means. A nuclear exchange lasting sixty minutes would mean over 300 million deaths. We have to prevent the end of the human race."
This August, as presidential candidates argue over gasoline prices and each other's celebrity status, it's easy to forget they are asking voters to give them a Godlike control over the lives of multitudes of people, not only in our own country but all over the world.
It's too late to anguish over that decision 60 years ago but not too soon to remember how much power of life and death will be in the hands of whoever we choose this November and what qualities of judgment, character and human feeling he will need to make such choices for us in the future.