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"Einstein, Ethics and the Atomic Bomb"
Patricia Rife, Ph.D.
Graduate School of Technology & Management
University of Maryland University College
A public lecture delivered to the American Physics Society ‘Social Responsibility’ session March 24, 2005 Los Angeles, CA
Editor's Note: The following is the full version of the article by Patricia Rife. Because of space limitations, an abridged and edited version of this article appeared in the print edition of the May APS News.
Albert Einstein was morally opposed to war throughout his life, and this ethical stance had deep roots in his childhood education. His ethical choices and social responsibility to speak out against war throughout his life form the rubric of my paper, as well as my own endearing life interest in Albert Einstein’s ethical choices concerning war and peace.
Raised in Munich until the age of 12, young Einstein was schooled in both the required Catholic as well as supplementary Jewish religious education classes, both in German primary and secondary schools. His beloved sister Maja recalls that not only did her brother compose songs to God, but he “heard about Divine Will and works pleasing to God, about a way of life pleasing to God–without those teachings having been integrated into a specific dogma. .. Later these feelings gave way to philosophic thought, but absolutely strict loyalty to conscience remained his guiding principle” (1). Their father, known for his sunny, optimistic temperament, brought a Jewish medical student, Max Talmud from Poland, to their home for meals many times when Einstein was 12. The influence of this scholar/scientist, ten years older than thoughtful Albert, had a profound influence upon the boy. The medical student introduced the young Albert Einstein to the philosophy of Kant, Naturwissenschaftliche Volksbuecher (Popular Books on Physical Sciences) and debates about science and mathematics then raging in Munich. Einstein looked back when writing his autobiography about this seminal influence:
Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much of the stories in the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic “free-thinking” coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Suspicion against every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude towards the convictions which were alive in any specific social environment – an attitude which has never again left me…. (2)
After his seminal works on relativity, a divorce and job offer to relocate to Berlin, Einstein’s world – and focus of his life work – shifted. He moved to the northern Prussia capital of Berlin during 1914, the same period when other physicists had also been invited there by Max Planck. Einstein was welcomed by physicists his own age in 1914, before the ominous guns of war plunged Germany into World War I: Planck’s then assistant Max von Laue; the shy Lise Meitner from Vienna (see my biography on her pioneering research on radioactivity during 30 years in Berlin) ; Gustav Hertz; Hans Geiger; and many other names who would be known worldwide by the end of the “war to end all wars”.
In 1912, Einstein declared to many that he was a ‘citizen of the world’—several years before the guns of August 1914 were fired and World War I aggression began (4). This was a brave stance—yet, the Kaiser’s cruel aggression and beginning of World War I made a profound impact upon the younger generation of scholars and physicists who had been drawn into the orbit of Berlin. Einstein refused to participate in any military activities, while the universities were drained of their scientific staff, students, and professors who joined the Army or military research.
During World War I, a deep shift occurred in the German scientific community. That fateful summer and fall, scientific institutes and the Universities were emptied of their most brilliant students, and soon, scientists themselves were enlisted or joined German military battalions or scientific research units. Gas warfare became the focus of chemists in Berlin, and the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry was turned over to the military, led by the Jewish Nobel Laureate Fritz Haber–who, 25 years later, would protest vehemently about his treatment by the Nazis, since he had been decorated as a ‘war hero’ during World War I (5). But none of this rhetoric or nationalist fervor impressed Albert Einstein. He remained a declared pacifist during World War I and did not take part in any military research or activity (6). This moral separation from the military-industrial complex would shadow him for nearly twenty years before he was forced from Germany.
Does a moral stand against war reflect a person’s deeper philosophic or spiritual belief systems? Instead of labeling the person with a platitude as “a pacifist”, let us look in depth at Albert Einstein’s choices of social responsibility from his mid-career to after World War II. Einstein’s troubles with militaristic German scientists began a decade earlier than the ugly rise of Hitler. As early as 1923, years after the award of the Nobel Prize, right-wing nationalistic physicist Johannes Stark began attacking the theory of relativity as “Jewish propaganda physics”. Other World War I veterans were lauded for their “practical” utilitarian approach to Wissenschaften und Technik, while Einstein’s work was smeared as “impractical theory” by young Brown Shirts in the growing Nazi Party. (7) Einstein’s fame had catapulted him into the global glare of press and even cinema during the era of 1920s: Charlie Chaplin was filmed with Einstein in California; Einstein and his second wife Elsa visited Japan and cordially drank tea with the Emperor; avante-garde painters and musicians flocked to Berlin to ride the tide of the “Roaring Twenties” and the cabaret lifestyles, and even painted portraits of the “theoretical dreamer”.
However, Einstein remained aloof from all this ‘social relativity’ talk and spotlight. He was dedicated to science, not advancing “modern culture”, he modestly affirmed. Einstein cultivated, in his students, public lectures and participation in international as well as Berlin-based conferences, a conservatism concerning quantum mechanics, debating long into the night with Niels Bohr from Copenhagen about quantum physics and philosophy. (8) Little did Einstein realize that the National Socialist Party (Nazi) splinter groups would manipulate his fame as a Jewish scientist–and later, publicly burn his books–as a target for their vicious anti-Semitism.
Foreboding signs were apparent after the worldwide stock market crash of 1929, and in Berlin–as well as throughout Germany–hungry dissatisfied workers, strikes by communist party and socialist movements, and the rise of Hitler’s diatribes against “outsiders” (Auslaender) made the dreamy-looking Jewish physicist an easy target for irrational hate and anti-Semitic propaganda. (9) Still, Einstein did not “fight back”. He chose to challenge the jackals in politics—but it was difficult to ignore the military-industrial complex’s influence upon his own profession, physics. Ominous parallels would arise at the end of World War II.
In January, 1933, Einstein was in sunny Pasadena, California on a lecture tour, when the Reichstag fire took place. Elections in Germany brought Adolf Hitler into the position of Chancellor, approved by President Hindenberg, to lead the Third Reich. Einstein held a press conference in California and spoke out strongly against Hitler, considering it his social responsibility to do so. (10) Soon, the tragedy of what had occurred in the Universities was known around the world. Professors were fired, disappeared, or lost all of their rights and pensions. Not only Jewish physicists but many others were immediately fired from their jobs. Others, such as James Franck, resigned in vocal protest (11). German universities were in a turmoil due to the S.S. and Nazi policies. Einstein’s house was padlocked and his savings account was confiscated in 1933, under the pretense of the Gestapo searching his belongings for ‘anti-government literature’(12). He learned of all of this from his temporary housing and tour in California.
How did Einstein fare in America during these years of turmoil? He immediately began speaking out—many intellectuals who disagreed with the Third Reich had been arrested or sent to concentration camps, and Einstein’s position against the brutalities led by Hitler was clear (13). Ironically, the public debates concerning his views on science and religion, which had hit the popular press in 1930, continued during this time as well. Theologians and rabbis (both liberal and orthodox) published “refutes” to Einstein’s “deterministic causality” and some even called him an atheist since his views of God did not match their own (14). However, Einstein stated –and published–again and again that he did not refute the wonder of God, but only the “naïve beliefs” of people who thought of a God who “punishes” based on fear. Hence, his ethics based on his spiritual beliefs, in alignment with Spinoza (as Einstein affirmed in many publications) , formed the basis of his stance on social responsibility.
Before Hitler’s Germany brutally invaded Austria and later, Czechoslovakia in the Anschluss (annexation/invasions) of 1938/39, public debates around the world had centered upon the “internal politics” of the Third Reich, not war. Many naively did not view the brutal internal purges of German industry, research centers, universities and other organizations as “fighting”–the Gestapo were an elite police force, “enforcing the law”, not an arm of the Army, their convoluted logic argued. Yet Einstein continued to speak out bravely against all aggression and preparations for war from his humble new home provided by Princeton University, where he and his wife had relocated to. He wrote to many of his former colleagues, challenging them to stand up for their moral beliefs–but many stood up for the Fatherland instead, including Max Planck, then-President of the German Academy of Sciences in the Third Reich (16). Einstein never truly forgave his aging mentor, as swastikas were unfurled over the esteemed Akademie and other German research institutes.
Exiled in America during the 1930s, faced with the death of his wife Elsa in 1936, who had never truly learned to speak English, and cared for only by his step-daughter and quiet secretary, Einstein took a vacation in the summer of 1939 to Long Island as the winds of war increased in Europe. It was there that he was approached by “the younger generation”, physicists Leo Szilard and Teller, who were very fearful about Hitler’s potential for developing atomic weapons.
The discovery of fission in 1938 was so startling (17), and the news so surprising that when Hahn and Strassmann—and soon, Lise Meitner and her nephew Otto Frisch, both emigrants from Nazi Germany—published their interpretations of the “splitting” of the uranium nucleus (18), reporters leapt to their phones when the news was announced in America. Meitner and Frisch proved experimentally that fission did release an enormous amount of energy (based upon E=mc2), and when Frisch notified his mentor Niels Bohr, Bohr cancelled his planned visit with Einstein in the winter of 1939, in exchange for debates and publishing on the mechanism of fission (19). My friend John Archibald Wheeler was there, and worked long nights with Bohr, since “the energy of fission called us” day after day, as he wrote in the Foreword to my history of Lise Meitner and the “dawn” of the nuclear age (20).
But soon, this news—which electrified scientists worldwide–became compartmentalized and would be applied via the secret of governments, not research labs. Einstein was not privy to these government research labs all through World War II. His colleague from the University Physics Department, Lise Meitner, was also lonely after her forced emigration move to Sweden, and she too never worked on weapons research (21).
The famous 1939 Einstein letter to the American President Roosevelt was drafted by Leo Szilard. Einstein was said to have concisely described the “potentially dangerous situation” to the U.S. government – and when this famous letter was published after the war, changed the world’s opinion of Einstein (22). Some called him the ‘father of the atomic bomb’ in later years! This title was sadly mis-applied, since Einstein never worked on any weapons research nor the arms race.
The famous letter, dated August 2, 1939 has been discussed at length in historical circles around the world. Einstein, in his quiet abode in Long Island, was approached by the younger generation’s representative, Leo Szilard. They feared that uranium in the Belgium-controlled Congo would be grabbed by the Nazis. Many thought that Hitler’s henchmen–or brilliant physicists such as von Weizsaecker, Werner vonBraun, or Heisenberg —would create a chain-reaction which the Third Reich would harness for, in modern-day terms, “weapons of mass destruction”. Szilard had worked through the calculations for a chain reaction and presented this to Einstein.
Let me quote Einstein’s letter to Roosevelt, which was delivered by a diplomatic friend and reached the desk of the President of the United States in August, 1939: “Certain aspects of the situation [regarding nuclear energy] seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration.” We all know that governments, however, do not move quickly, and it may have been Einstein’s fame and respect that gave the momentum for this fateful letter to be read by the President–and acted upon. The creation of the Manhattan Project, the large atomic research program based in Los Alamos, New Mexico, was in fact, during 1940, initiated by this fateful letter.
German scientists were apparently at work on the applications of nuclear fission, Einstein’s letter to the U.S. President warned. Did he have this thought, or was it pressed upon him by Szilard? “This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable –though much less certain–that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed”, Einstein’s letter stated (23). It is all too easy to place this letter at the heart of Roosevelt’s “decision” to fund atomic weapons research—but certainly, it did trigger the White House to act by 1940.
15 years later, years after World War II, Einstein was still regretting his actions. The many associations in the public’s mind with his “initiation” of atomic weapons research hurt his conscience deeply as an aged widower, living alone in Princeton. He wrote to his long-term colleague in Germany, Max von Laue, in 1955: “If I had known that these fears [of the Germans developing an atomic bomb first] were groundless, I would not have taken part in opening that Pandora’s box” (24). Yet others were adamant that the Truman administration’s decision to drop atomic bombs over Japan did save countless lives—in order that the war would not drag on for more months or years. Other historians now also debate if the atomic bomb was detonated as a threat against Stalin and his aggressive policies after the war in Europe had ended (25).
Einstein was not a diplomat, although so many would have liked him to be. Yet at the end of the war, physicists were in the spotlight all over the world. Einstein was famous not just for theory of relativity and Nobel Prize, but his own gentle ‘public trust and image’–loved by young and old. In America, idealistic Leo Szilard found that if he pressed on, a truly peace-oriented organization could be created which could leverage Einstein’s fame while also building an international platform for cooperation as well as dialogue between physicists. Einstein was willing to become the first Chairman, and the organization was called “The Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, Inc.” after much deliberation in 1946 (26). Members such as Linus Pauling, Hans Bethe, Victor Weisskopf and others of the then “younger generation” became Trustees, and met regularly at Princeton and in New York City (27).
I have just returned from research in the Rare Books and Documents Collection at the University of Chicago Library, where I carefully read and sorted over 19 boxes of documents, letters, rare telegrams and correspondence between the Trustees of this organization, as well as fund-raising appeals, letters and speeches by Albert Einstein (28). In one reflective essay, entitled “The Menace of Mass Destruction” Einstein stated:
Everyone is aware of the difficult and menacing situation in which human society -- shrunk into one community with a common fate – now finds itself, but only a few act accordingly. Most people go on living their every-day life: half frightened, half indifferent, they behold the ghostly tragi-comedy which is being performed on the international stage before the eyes and ears of the world. But on that stage, on which the actors under the floodlights play their ordained parts, our fate of tomorrow, life or death of the nations, is being decided.(29)
It took a concerted effort of the Trustees and staff of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists to agree on their platform and mission, but this they all did agree upon: a journal should be created (later called The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists) and an educational campaign conducted throughout America concerning the dangers of atomic weapons (30).
With Einstein as their spokesperson, their message of “the unleashed power of the atom” had a trusted public figurehead. He was also asked to fund-raise, and Albert Einstein did not withdraw from this task either. In 1947, at age 68, a widow, he traveled back and forth to Manhattan from his humble home in Princeton to attend to Committee matters and give public lectures. In an article, published by the New York Times Magazine, Einstein reflected:
Many persons have inquired concerning a recent message of mine that ‘a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels.’
Often in evolutionary processes a species must adapt to new conditions in order to survive. Today the atomic bomb has altered profoundly the nature of the world as we know it, and the human race consequently finds itself in a new habitat to which it must adapt its thinking.
In light of new knowledge…an eventual world state is not just desirable in the name of brotherhood, it is necessary for survival. ..Today we must abandon competition and secure cooperation. This must be the central fact in all our considerations of international affairs; otherwise we face certain disaster. Past thinking and methods did not prevent world wars. Future thinking must prevent wars. (31)
A controversy arose soon after the production of a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film in Hollywood entitled “The Beginning or the End” about the development and use of the first atomic bomb (32). Many scenes did not correspond with the reality of the production of the first atomic weapons, nor Truman’s decisions to use them. It was hard enough for the scientists to work towards international cooperation, but such Hollywood films also put imagery into the American public’s mind that the atomic bombs were ‘justified’ and necessary to use.
Many scientists decided to continue to leverage their own international visibility to turn the tide of public opinion and war-support towards peace. Lise Meitner was invited by the US Women’s Press Club to dine in the White House. Leo Szilard drafted a bold letter to Stalin in Russia, challenging him to join international cooperation efforts about atomic weapons (33). While Einstein agreed in principle, this letter set off a wave of backlash when at last published in the Bulletin in 1948 (34). Hence, even though it lay unsent to Stalin, the gauntlet was laid down: the U.S. government held one position about secrecy around atomic, and later nuclear, weapons research, while many scientists friendly to Einstein favored international cooperation – and even proposed that “world government” agencies, not America, should deal with issues of war and peace in a nuclear era. Controversial or not, Einstein strongly supported these platforms.
There were no simple answers to the complex questions surrounding atomic weapons in the post-war world. Listen to the prophetic words of Einstein, which he spoke from his heart at a one-day conference convened at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, on November 17, 1946, one year after the end of World War Two. In the symposium “The Social Task of the Scientist in the Atomic Era”, Einstein stated:
…the position in which we are now is a very strange one which in general political life never happened. Namely, the thing that I refer to is this: To have security against atomic bombs and against the other biological weapons, we have to prevent war, for if we cannot prevent war every nation will use every means that is at their disposal; and in spite of all promises they make, they will do it. At the same time, so long as war is not prevented, all the governments of the nations have to prepare for war, and if you have to prepare for war, then you are in a state where you cannot abolish war.
This is really the cornerstone of our situation. Now, I believe what we should try to bring about is the general conviction that the first thing you have to abolish is war at all costs, and every other point of view must be of secondary importance.(35)
These words still ring true today, 59 years later. Will a new generation hear them and rise to our own social responsibilities–and become responsible for the fate of our world? World peace is worth the effort, in my opinion–and I continue to work for this ethical stance.
In 1920, after extensive study of the philosopher Spinoza’s Ethics, a mature Albert Einstein wrote a poem (36) beginning:
How much do I love that noble man
More than I could tell with words
I fear though he’ll remain alone
With a holy halo all his own.
The same could be said of Albert Einstein, who declared himself against war and a citizen of the world, and worked for world peace all of his long, eventful life. Patricia Rife, Ph.D. ©2005 email@example.com
REFERENCES and NOTES:
1) Maja Winteler-Einstein, “Albert Einstein–Beitrag fuer sein Lebensbild”, The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, (J.Stachel, ed.), V.1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), pp.xlvii-lxvi; “Albert Einstein—A Biographical Sketch” (translated excerpts), English translations of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, vol. 1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), pp.xv-xxii.
2) Albert Einstein, “Autobiographical Notes”, in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, ed. P.A. Schilpp (Evanston, IL.: Library of Living Philosophers, 1930), p.5.
Physicist Max Jammer points out again and again that Einstein was not indifferent to God, only religious formalism. He refused to become bar mitzvahed and while that “may have caused serious political problems, at least on the part of the [Jewish] orthodoxy” if Einstein had accepted the offer in 1952 to become the President of Israel, his ethical stance and love of God’s structural perfection was always clear. See A. Moszkowski, Einstein—Einblicke in seine Gedankenwelt, entwickelt aus Gespraechen mit Einstein (Hamburg: Hoffmanm and Campe, 1920); Einstein the Searcher–His Work Explained from Dialogues with Einstein (London: Methuen, 1921), p.222.
A strong-minded Berlin writer, Alfred Kerr, was deriding God and religion at a dinner party in 1927. The host tried to silence him, since he did not want to embarrass his honored guest, the Nobel laureate Einstein. Kerr then turned to Einstein: “Professor! I hear that you are suppose to be deeply religious?”
Calm and with great dignity, Einstein replied “Yes, you can call it that. Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.” For the quote in response to Kerr, see Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion, Ch.1 “Religion in Private Life”, pp.39/40, quoted from H.G. Kessler, The Diary of a Cosmopolitan (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971), p.157.
4) For further biographical references to Einstein’s youth, see Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (N.Y.: Crown Publishers, 1954); Mein Weltbild (Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1977) and Out of My Later Years (N.Y.: Philosophical Library, 1950) as well as the biographies by Philipp Frank, Einstein: His Life and Times (N.Y. , Knopf, 1947) and Ronald Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times (N.Y.: Vintage, 1971).
5) See Anne Becker, Kurt Becker, and Jochen Block, et.al in “Fritz Haber”, in Wilhelm Treue and Gerhard Hildebrandt, eds., Berlinische Lebensbilder: Naturwissenschaftler (Berlin: Colloquium Verlag, 1987) and David Nachmansohn, German-Jewish Pioneers of Science, 1900-1933 (NY: Springer Verlag, 1979).
7) See Alan Beyerchen, Scientists Under Hitler: Politics and the Physics Community Under the Third Reich (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977); J.C. Jackman and C. Bohrden, eds., The Muses Flee Hitler: Culture Transfer and Adaptation, 1930-1945 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983); Gerald Holton and Yehuda Elkana, eds., Albert Einstein: Historical and Cultural Perspectives (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982); Patricia Rife, Lise Meitner and the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (Boston: Birkhauser/Springer, 1999).
9) See the recollections of the book burnings and anti-Einstein campaign in Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations (N.Y.: Harper & Row, 1971); Fritz Stern, Dreams and Delusions: The Drama of German History (NY: Columbia University Press, 1987); Albrecht Foelsing, Albert Einstein: A Biography (N.Y., 1997); David Cassidy, Einstein and Our World (N.Y.: Humanity/Promethus Books, 2004). Also, see letters in the Max von Laue to Einstein, 1933, Laue Nachlass, Deutsches Museum, Munich and Einstein Archives, Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
11) See Beyerchen, Scientists Under Hitler and the New York Times, March 5, 1934, p.10. Franck resigned from the University of Goettingen; he had not wanted to leave Germany, but in his letter of resignation, April 1933, stated: “This decision is an inner necessity for me because of the attitude of the government towards German Jewry.” See Beyerchen, pp.15-17. Three other Nobel Prize laureates were forced from their positions under the April laws of the new Third Reich: Otto Meyerhof, Fritz Haber, and Albert Einstein.
12) For details of the raid on Einstein’s apartment, four months after he left Germany, see Armin Hermann, Einstein–Der Weltweise und sein Jahrhundert (Munich: Piper Verlag, 1994), p.410. See Raul Hilbert, The Destruction of the European Jews (N.Y.: Octagon Books, 1978) for overviews of the Gestapo targeting scientists in Germany throughout the 1930s, prior to the Anschluss (invasion) of Austria.
15) Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion, Chapter 1 “Einstein’s Religiosity and the Role of Religion in His Private Life”; Albert Einstein, The World as I See It (N.Y.: Philosophical Library, 1949) and Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (N.Y.: Crown Publishers, 1954, 1982) for his views on Spinoza’s ethics. Einstein was mis-quoted often as being an ‘atheist’, when he was adamant that was not his cosmological view! He stated “In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for support of such views.” Quoted in Hubertus zu Loewenstein, Toward the Further Shore (London: Victor Gollancz, 1968), p.156. Also see A. Einstein, Mein Weltbild (Amsterdam: Querido Press, 1934) and Albert Einstein, Essays in Humanism (N.Y.: Philosophical Library, 1950, reprinted 1985). His popular essay, “Religion and Science” was published by the New York Times, November 9, 1930, three years before he was banned from returning to Germany.
17) See Horst Wohlfarth, 40 Jahre Kernspaltung: Einse Einfuehrung in die Originalliteratur (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1979); Patricia Rife, Lise Meitner: Ein Leben fuer die Wissenschaft (Frankfurt: Claassen Verlag, 1991; second ed. 1992); Fritz Krafft, Im Schatten der Sensation: Leben und Wirken von Fritz Strassmann (Weinheim: Verlag Chemie, 1981) and Otto Hahn, Vom Radiothor zur Uranspaltung: Eine wissenschaftliche Selbstbiographie (Braunschwieg: Viewig Verlag, 1962).
18) Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, “Ueber den Nachweis und das Verhalten der bei der Bestrahlung des Urans mittels Neutronen entstehenden Erdalkalimetalle”, Naturwiss. 27, (1939): 11 and O.R.Frisch and Lise Meitner, “Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: A New Type of Nuclear Reaction”, Nature, 143, (Feb.11, 1939): 239-240. For historical interpretations of the correspondence between Hahn in Berlin and Meitner in Sweden during the weeks fission was interpreted, see Ruth Sime, Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics (L.A. and Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1996); Patricia Rife, Lise Meitner and the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (Boston: Birkhauser, 1999); and O.R. Frisch “How It All Began”, Physics Today (November, 1967).
19) See Rozenthal, Stefan, ed. Niels Bohr: His Life and Work as seen by his friends and colleagues (N.Y.: Wiley and Sons, 1967) ; Otto R.Frisch, What Little I Remember (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979) and Stuewer, Roger, ed. Nuclear Physics in Retrospect: Proceedings of a Symposium on the 1930s (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1972).
21) Ibid. See Chapter 12, “Secrecy and Code Names: War Research Surrounding Nuclear Fission, 1939-1942” and Chapter 14, “The Atomic Bomb, A Trip to Washington, and the Nobel Prize Controversy, 1945-1946”. Lise Meitner, Felix Klein and several other physicists in Stockholm were not privy to the nuclear scientists’ research on potential weapons, and Meitner was shocked when she learned of the dropping of the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima in August, 1945.
22) For a complete text of this letter to President Roosevelt (with letters and correspondence surrounding it), see Spencer Weart and Gertrud Weiss Szilard, eds., Leo Szilard: His Version of the Facts (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1978), pp.92-96.
24) Reprinted in Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion. See Mark Walker, Nazi Science: Myth, Truth and the German Atomic Bomb (N.Y., N.Y.: Plenum Press, 1995) and John Cornwell, Hitler’s Scientists: Science, War and the Devil’s Pact (N.Y., N.Y.: Viking/Penguin Books, 2003) concerning German physicists’ work on atomic weapons research during World War II.
25) See Tom Bower, The Paperclip Conspiracy: The Hunt for Nazi Scientists (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1987) and Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1986) as well as many current articles in journals concerning the Truman Administration’s decision to use atomic weapons in 1945 and the issues surrounding Russia and Stalin.
26) For a history of this committee, see The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists; for the original documents relating to the formation of the Emergency Committee, see the University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center, “Papers of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists”.
28) Ibid., University of Chicago Library. An appeal letter which took several months of committee correspondence to draft, sent out to a very large mailing list on January 20, 1947 on Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists letterhead, signed by Albert Einstein, read:
I write to you for help at the suggestion of a friend.
Through the release of atomic energy, our generation has brought into the world the most revolutionary force since prehistoric man’s discovery of fire. This basic power of the universe cannot be fitted into the outmoded concept of narrow nationalisms. For there is no secret and there is no defense; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world.
We scientists recognize our inescapable responsibility to carry to our fellow citizens an understanding of the simple facts of atomic energy and its implications for society. In this lies our only security and our only hope– we believe that an informed citizenry will act for life and not for death.
We need $1,000,000 for this great educational task. Sustained by faith in man’s ability to control his destiny through the exercise of reason, we have pledged all our strength and our knowledge to this work. I do not hesitate to call upon you to help.
31) Albert Einstein, N.Y. Times Magazine, “Only Then Shall We Find Courage”, undated, 1947. This article ends:
It will be far more difficult for practitioners of other disciplines who consciously or not have helped build the barriers that balk us now. As the issues are greater than men ever sought to realize before, the recriminations will be fiercer and pride more desperately hurt. It may help to recall that many recognized before the bomb ever feel that the time had already come when we must learn to live in One World.
The stakes are immense, the task colossal, the time is short. But we may hope–we must hope–that man’s own creation, man’s own genius, will not destroy him. Scholars, indeed all men, must move forward in the faith of that philosopher who held that there is no problem the human reason can propound which the human reason cannot reason out.
32) The film’s title was “The Beginning or the End” (starring Brian Donlevy and Robert Walker, produced by Samuel Marx; directed by Norman Taurog) but after much re-editing in 1946, on the alarm of Water Lippman and others who viewed the first cut, it was re-edited by Loew’s Incorporated, and the producer, James McGuinness, wrote apologetically:
As I told you in Washington…the present scene of President Truman’s decision is being eliminated. Personally, I was deeply impressed by your feeling that we were showing our country’s Chief Executive deciding a monumental matter in what was a much-too-hasty fashion.
For this scene, we are substituting one at Potsdam, between the President and Charles Ross, his press secretary, at the time of the publication of the Potsdam Declaration, which was signed by the President, the Prime Minister, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. It called on Japan to surrender, or, in the closing sentence of the proclamation, “the alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction”. It was on this occasion, historically, that the President first informed his Press Secretary of the existence of the atomic bomb, of the success of the Los Alamos test [July 1945], and of the considerations which led to the decision to use it.
The scene will sum up the many conferences the President had with his military, naval, diplomatic advisers– also with Churchill–and the civilian and scientific advice he sought before he followed the urgings of his advisers and authorized use of the bomb in combat.
Patricia Rife, Ph.D.
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