Einstein’s Birthday: last statement on nuclear weapons

On March 3, 2015, in a speech before Congress, our Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned about Iran and urged the U.S. to take a tough stance in ongoing negotiations over nuclear program. Mr. Netanyahu argued that Iran’s “tentacles of terror” were clutching Israel and that failing to stop it from obtaining nuclear weapons “could well threaten the survival of my country”. Acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran would be intolerable.

In 1954 Bertrand Russell gave a radio speech on the BBC on “Man’s Peril from the Hydrogen Bomb”. On February 11, 1955 Russell sent the text of this speech to Einstein and proposed that Einstein and a small number of prominent physicists join him in signing a public statement about the necessity of avoiding war: whatever agreements not to use nuclear weapons 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 nuclear weapons 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.

Einstein immediately agreed to this proposal, and on April 5, 1955, Russell sent him the draft of the Manifesto. Einstein died on April 18, 1955. However, a few days before he died he wrote to Russell: “Thank you for your letter of April 5. I am gladly willing to sign your excellent statement”.

In 1960, in Einstein on Peace, Russell recalled: “I was among those who almost always agreed with him. He and I both opposed the First World War, but considered the Second unavoidable. He and I were equally perturbed by the awful prospect of H-bomb warfare. We agreed to make a joint pronouncement on this subject in conjunction with any eminent men of science who were willing to cooperate. I drew up a statement and sent it to Einstein. Before getting an answer from him, while travelling by air from Rome to Paris, I learnt of his death. On arrival in Paris, I found his letter agreeing to sign. This must have been one of the last acts of his life?”

Russell presented the Russell-Einstein Manifesto at a press conference in London on July 9, 1955:


Bertrand Russell at press conference to launch Russell-Einstein manifesto. Here.

Here are parts of Russell’s speech. It may be considered a reply to Netanyahu’s speech before Congress:

The Russell-Einstein manifesto:

….”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…

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…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….

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…

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 thermonuclear 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”…


Leaflet of the Manifesto

The resolution of the Manifesto is the following recommendation:

“In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them”.