Albert Einstein: On Peace, War, And The Bomb

Albert Einstein: born in Ulm Germany on March 14, 1879. Albert_Einstein_(Nobel)I do not consider myself the father of the release of atomic energy. My part in it was quite indirect. I did not, in fact, foresee that it would be released in my time.”   

Just 12 years before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki Japan, the great scientist Albert Einstein and the great psychologist Sigmund Freud published their correspondence on the very subject of war and peace in a 1933 pamphlet simply titled Why War? (1933,Völkerbund: Internationales Institut für Geistige Zusammenarbeit). Incidentally, this was the same year that the world’s most infamous tyrant, Adolf Hitler, assumed the throne of power in Germany, and subsequently, Albert Einstein relinquished his German citizenship.

Living in Switzerland in 1939, Einstein sent a letter to President Roosevelt on the possible military implications of atomic energy. A few years after being granted citizenship to the United States in 1940, Einstein would in fact become a consultant to the Navy on explosives and ammunition during world war 2.

For all of the miraculous achievements and discoveries Einstein would make in his lifetime, his association with atomic energy was one that perhaps troubled him until his death.

After seeing the horrific aftermath of the worlds first Atomic bomb blasts in the summer of 1945, Einstein would in the following year become the chairman of the Emergency committee of atomic scientists, pushing the United Nations to form a world government for maintaining peace. Einstein understood perhaps better than anyone at the time the dangerous implications of atomic energy, and no doubt feared the future of such a weapon; the grave possibility of such devastating power being unleashed on human kind again.

So what might he think if he were alive today to witness the largest proliferation of nuclear armament the world has ever seen? And with an increasing number of smaller nations developing the potential for launching their own nuclear programs, the danger level seems sure to keep escalating. Oddly enough, perhaps he wouldn’t be all that surprised. Einstein himself seemed to believe that the atomic bomb should be manufactured by the U.S. Not necessarily to be used, but as a deterrent from other nations (namely Germany at the time) from gaining the capabilities first and launching attacks.

I am not saying the U.S should not manufacture and stockpile the bomb, for I believe that it must do so; it must be able to deter another nation from making an atomic attack when it also has the bomb.”

Though a bitter pill to swallow, in some sense it is difficult to argue with this logic; once atomic capabilities were realized, the worlds arms race was on and there was no simply no turning back.

Still, reaching such a conclusion had to have been troubling for Einstein who’d in fact spent the better part of his life advocating for peace. Further reinforcing this hope and ideal, in his very last letter to Bertrand Russell before his death in 1955 Einstein agreed to the signing of a joint manifesto urging all nations to renounce nuclear weapons.

But after years of disarmament agreements being nowhere remotely in sight, smaller nations today are perhaps (aside from whatever other unknown agendas) feeling an urgency to build these weapons, in defense of, or as a deterrent from, being over taken by the worlds super powers who continue to become only more and more powerful.

In one of those earlier letters to Freud in Why War? Einstein poses the question:

Is there any way of delivering man from the menace of war? It is common knowledge that with the advance of modern science, this issue has come to mean a matter of life and death for civilization as we know it; nevertheless for all the zeal displayed, every attempt at its solution has ended in a lamentable breakdown.”

He would then a short time later write:

Anybody who really wants to abolish war must resolutely declare himself in favor of his own country’s resigning a portion of its sovereignty in place of international institutions.

For more of these correspondences between Einstein and Freud they can be found in Why War? It is not particularly easy to obtain a copy of this pamphlet, however, since a very limited number were printed, and no doubt far fewer preserved. Two other books containing many of these insights and ideas, however, titled The World As I See It (1934, Covici, Friede) and The Quotable Einstein (1996, Princeton University Press) are much more easily accessible and also highly recommended.



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