Manifesto Review: Russell-Einstein

Original manifesto:

Issued in London, 9 July 1955


In the tragic situation which confronts humanity, we feel that scientists should assemble in conference to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction, and to discuss a resolution in the spirit of the appended draft.

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. The world is full of conflicts; and, overshadowing all minor conflicts, the titanic struggle between Communism and anti- Communism.

Almost everybody who is politically conscious has strong feelings about one or more of these issues; but we want you, if you can, to set aside such feelings and consider yourselves only as members of a biological species which has had a remarkable history, and whose disappearance none of us can desire.

We shall try to say no single word which should appeal to one group rather than to another. All, equally, are in peril, and, if the peril is understood, there is hope that they may collectively avert it.

We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?

The general public, and even many men in positions of authority, have not realized what would be involved in a war with nuclear bombs. The general public still thinks in terms of the obliteration of cities. It is understood that the new bombs are more powerful than the old, and that, while one A-bomb could obliterate Hiroshima, one H-bomb could obliterate the largest cities, such as London, New York, and Moscow.

No doubt in an H-bomb war great cities would be obliterated. But this is one of the minor disasters that would have to be faced. If everybody in London, New York, and Moscow were exterminated, the world might, in the course of a few centuries, recover from the blow. But we now know, especially since the Bikini test, that nuclear bombs can gradually spread destruction over a very much wider area than had been supposed.

It is stated on very good authority that a bomb can now be manufactured which will be 2,500 times as powerful as that which destroyed Hiroshima. Such a bomb, if exploded near the ground or under water, sends radio-active particles into the upper air. They sink gradually and reach the surface of the earth in the form of a deadly dust or rain. It was this dust which infected the Japanese fishermen and their catch of fish.

No one knows how widely such lethal radioactive particles might be diffused, but the best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might possibly put an end to the human race. It is feared that if many H-bombs are used there will be universal death, sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration.

Many warnings have been uttered by eminent men of science and by authorities in military strategy. None of them will say that the worst results are certain. What they do say is that these results are possible, and no one can be sure that they will not be realized. We have not yet found that the views of experts on this question depend in any degree upon their politics or prejudices. They depend only, so far as our researches have revealed, upon the extent of the particular expert’s knowledge. We have found that the men who know most are the most gloomy.

Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war? People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war.

The abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations of national sovereignty. But what perhaps impedes understanding of the situation more than anything else is that the term “mankind” feels vague and abstract. People scarcely realize in imagination that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren, and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity. They can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they, individually, and those whom they love are in imminent danger of perishing agonizingly. And so they hope that perhaps war may be allowed to continue provided modern weapons are prohibited.

This hope is illusory. Whatever agreements not to use H-bombs had been reached in time of peace, they would no longer be considered binding in time of war, and both sides would set to work to manufacture H-bombs as soon as war broke out, for, if one side manufactured the bombs and the other did not, the side that manufactured them would inevitably be victorious.

Although an agreement to renounce nuclear weapons as part of a general reduction of armaments would not afford an ultimate solution, it would serve certain important purposes. First: any agreement between East and West is to the good in so far as it tends to diminish tension. Second: the abolition of thermo-nuclear weapons, if each side believed that the other had carried it out sincerely, would lessen the fear of a sudden attack in the style of Pearl Harbour, which at present keeps both sides in a state of nervous apprehension. We should, therefore, welcome such an agreement though only as a first step. Most of us are not neutral in feeling, but, as human beings, we have to remember that, if the issues between East and West are to be decided in any manner that can give any possible satisfaction to anybody, whether Communist or anti-Communist, whether Asian or European or American, whether White or Black, then these issues must not be decided by war. We should wish this to be understood, both in the East andin the West. 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, to 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.

My review:

The Russell-Einstein manifesto was issued in the midst of the cold war. Einstein, being a pacifist by nature felt a sense of responsibility for the development of nuclear weapons.

It began in the heat of the second world war. Hitler’s influence was growing and it was known that German physicists had managed to split the atom making it possible for them to develop nuclear weapons using Einstein’s E=mc2 (this equation helps you to work out how much matter is required to acquire a particular amount of energy; the amount of energy is equal to the amount of matter travelling at the speed of light squared). It was thanks to this equation that the potential for nuclear weapons was realised.

Being a pacifist, Einstein never intended for his E=mc2 to be utilised in such a way. But upon learning that the Germans were potentially capable of building a nuclear bomb, Einstein found himself in a moral dilemma. Should he keep to his pacifist nature and keep a neutral position, potentially allowing Germany to win the war through nuclear strength? Or should he prevent a German victory by encouraging the development of nuclear weapons for use by the U.S.?

Einstein made the decision to sign a series of letters to American president Franklyn D. Roosevelt, pressing for the U.S. government to begin research and development into nuclear weapons. Eventually this resulted in the U.S. developing nuclear weapons, but they weren’t fully developed until the end of the war. By which time Germany had surrendered and the war was all but over.

Franklyn D. Roosevelt passed away in April 1945, in the following August Harry Truman made the decision to detonate the bombs “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” over the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki (it is claimed that this was a “pre-emptive” measure to prevent a massive land invasion. The American public was in fear of Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, which was in fact Japan’s retaliation for America breaking international laws of peace when they were still a neutral power, prior to America’s involvement in the war. It is widely believed that this was a premeditated move to develop support from the American public for the U.S.’s involvement in the war as there were many people who would make a colossal financial profit by supplying weapons to the American military).

Einstein Had always condoned the attack on Japan, He firmly believed that had Roosevelt not passed away, He never would have allowed the detonation of these bombs, particularly as they had been intended for use against Germany, not Japan. Now at the time that Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein issued their manifesto, war was on the rise again. This time it was between the U.S. and Russia and the main focus of the war was communism vs anti-communism.

At this point, the H-bomb had been realised and Einstein clearly felt that he had a responsibility to try and deter the world from using H-bombs, due to the fact that a H-bomb war could ultimately wipe out all of mankind. Fortunately, the war came to a reluctant end with neither side detonating a H-bomb, but the fear of nuclear warfare is still alive to this day.

I genuinely feel quite sorry for Einstein, he dedicated his life to researching and discovering ways to improve our lives through the use of science, but the hunger for power and lack of empathy within men drove the powers that be to turn what was this man’s greatest achievement and gift to mankind into a method for killing tens of thousands of people in an instant and in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, without hesitation.

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