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    Volume 9 Issue 27| July 2, 2010|

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the Atomic Bomb and World Peace

Azizul Jalil

“There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal, as human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”

Public Declaration issued in London on July 9, 1955 was signed by eleven scientists including Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, of which nine were Noble laureates.

That was the last document signed by Einstein before his death on April 18, 1955. The declaration further stated, “We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent or creed, but as human beings, members of the species man, whose continued existence is in doubt.” Both Einstein and Russell had opposed the First World War and supported the Second. Russell felt that it was imperative to prevent a third. He wrote to Einstein: “I think that eminent men of science ought to do something dramatic to bring home to the governments the disasters that may occur.” Einstein agreed and proposed a “public declaration.”

Einstein, regarded by many as the father of the release of atomic energy, denied this strongly. He had, however, written to President Roosevelt on August 2, 1939 warning him that Germany was developing an atom bomb. A life-long pacifist, he was opposed to the making of weapons. However, he could not let the Nazi Germany have the sole possession of such destructive power. Roosevelt took it seriously and formed a committee to look into the possibilities, which lead to the Manhattan Project for the development of the atom bomb. Einstein's hatred and fear of Hitler's Germany was so great that not satisfied with the pace with which the work was progressing, he wrote again to the president in March 1940, repeating his warnings.

Einstein had no further connection with the atomic bomb project, though he might have been aware of its progress. In early 1945, by then concerned about the use of this immense power of destruction, he wrote his third letter to the president on March 25, 1945. In this letter, he expressed great concern about hearing of “the lack of adequate contact between scientists who are doing the work and those members of your cabinet who are responsible for formulating policy.”

Roosevelt died soon after and Truman, who succeeded him, was not much affected by Einstein's letter. While tests of the atom bomb were being conducted, sixty scientists condemned the military use of this bomb. Truman nonetheless went ahead and the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by another bomb on Nagasaki on August 9. Witnessing the mushroom cloud of the test explosion in mid-summer 1945 in New Mexico, Robert Oppenheimer, head of the Manhattan Project, though ecstatic about the success of the project had quoted from the Bhagavad Gita: I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. The test director said to Oppenheimer, “Now we are all sons of bitches.”

Einstein later maintained that his involvement with the bomb was accidental. In November 1945, in a speech, he said: My part in it was quite indirect. I did not, in fact, foresee that it would be released in my time. I only believed that it was theoretically possible. It became practical through the accidental discovery of chain reaction, and was not something I could have predicted.

Toward the end of his life in the fifties, Einstein devoted his eminence and scientific prestige to the promotion of world peace. He considered it to be an obsession that we must in the peacetime so organise our life and work that in the event of war we would be sure of victory. You cannot simultaneously work for the prevention of war and preparation for war. Only by overcoming this obsession, would it be possible to reach “the real political problem-how can we contribute to make the life of man on this diminishing earth more secure and more tolerable.”

An anecdote would truly reveal Einstein's humanity and impartiality. A few days before his death, the Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban came to see him and requested a radio address on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the Jewish state. Eban told him he would be heard by 60 million listeners. Einstein was amused-he smiled and said “So, I shall have a chance to become world famous.” When he died, at his bedside was the draft of his undelivered speech for Israel's Independence Day, “I speak to you today not as an American citizen and not as a Jew, but as a human being.” While happy about the birth of Israel, Einstein, a Jew, was concerned that the Jews were having trouble to live with the Arabs. He felt that “The attitude we adopt toward the Arab minority will provide the real test of our moral standard as a people.” That was more than half a century ago and so true even today -what a prophetic statement indeed!

The New York Times wrote about his death the next day: “Man stands on this diminutive earth, gazes at the myriad stars and upon billowing oceans and tossing trees-and wonders. What does it all mean? How did it come about? The most thoughtful wonderer who appeared among us in three centuries has passed on in the person of Albert Einstein.”


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