Aug 26, 2010 Ben Young
Russell, Caxton Hall Press Conf., July 9 1955 - Associated Press, 1955
An account of the 1955 Manifesto by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, which was crucial in shaping public opinion against nuclear war.
Today there is universal public knowledge about the dreadful effects of nuclear war; but it wasn't always this way. The philosopher Bertrand Russell and the physicist Albert Einstein were two leading figures in the creation of public understanding of, and opposition to, nuclear war. The last public act of Einstein's life was to sign a world-changing manifesto against nuclear war.
Nuclear Weapons: Cold War Secrecy
In the years following World War 2, the USA and the USSR raced to develop ever more powerful nuclear weapons. The development was carried out in secret and covered by disinformation. Scientists working outside the military were able to deduce what was being developed (see Joseph Rotblat's "detective work" on the Bikini Atoll H-bomb test), but to speak out was professionally dangerous: in the US it could lead to blacklisting as a Communist, and in the USSR it could lead to the gulag.
Under these circumstances, Bertrand Russell, then in his 80s, wrote (11 February 1955) to Einstein saying:
"In common with every other thinking person, I am profoundly disquieted by the armaments race in nuclear weapons. [...] I think that eminent men of science ought to do something dramatic to bring home to the public and governments the disasters that may occur. Do you think it would be possible to get, say, six men of the very highest scientific repute, headed by yourself, to make a very solemn statement about the imperative necessity of avoiding war?"
Einstein replied five days later: "I agree with every word in your letter of February 11. Something must be done in this matter, something that will make an impression on the general public as well as on political leaders."
The Manifesto Takes Shape
In the following weeks Russell worked with Einstein to draw up a text. Einstein wrote to his colleagues to enlist their support (including to former scientific adversaries: one letter written by Einstein, on March 2, begins: "Dear Niels Bohr, Don't frown like that! This is not about our old physics controversy, but about a matter on which we are in complete agreement."
However, Einstein's health was failing. He wrote to Russell saying "It seems to me that, to avoid any confusion, you should regard yourself as the dictator of the enterprise and give orders." Einstein signs off: "Awaiting orders, I am, with warmest regards and in admiration."
Russell's last letter to Einstein was dated 5 April 1955. It contained a draft of the declaration and a list of proposed signatories. A few days later, Russell was flying from Rome to Paris for a conference on world government, when the pilot announced the news of Einstein's death. Russell wrote in his autobiography: "I felt shattered, not only for the obvious reasons, but because I saw my plan falling through without his support."
Einstein's Last Public Act
On arriving in his hotel room in Paris, Russell found a short letter waiting for him. It was dated April 11 and read:
Dear Bertrand Russell,
Thank you for your letter of April 5th.
I am gladly willing to sign your excellent statement.
I also agree with your choice of the prospective signers.
With kind regards,
The manifesto was released to the press on July 9, 1955. It calls not just for a reduction of nuclear weapons, but for humanity to find a way to avoid war in general, since "in any future world war nuclear weapons would certainly be used." It was signed by ten scientists of global renown; but it was Einstein, and his death, that gave it the greatest power. Russell described it as "the last public act of Einstein's life."
The Manifesto in Retrospect
The Russell-Einstein Manifesto marked a crucial moment in the development of public consciousness about nuclear war. The fame and authority of those who signed it outmatched the efforts of governments to suppress knowledge, and led to the "Pugwash" movement of scientists against nuclear weapons, as well as being a significant moment in the development of CND.
See the McMaster University archive on the Russell-Einstein Manifesto.
See also: Russell, B. Bertrand Russell: Autobiography (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1967), here.
Butcher, S.I. "The Origins of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto" (Pugwash History Series no. 1, 2005), here
Read more at Suite101: The Russell-Einstein Manifesto: A Warning Against Nuclear War http://www.suite101.com/content/the-russell-einstein-manifesto-a-warning-against-nuclear-war-a278850#ixzz0zmRCerTS
Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard
Albert Einstein Biography, Relativity Theory
Thanks : Ben Young
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