Return to lesson six index
Class of Nonviolence - Lesson Six - Essay 4

Albert Einstein on Pacifism

The United States has reached a point where she feels compelled to fortify islands, produce more atomic bombs, and hamper free scientific exchange; the army, demands huge budgets to stimulate research and guide it into specific channels; and youth is being indoctrinated with the spirit of nationalism. All this is done in preparation for the day when the specter may come to life. Unfortunately, these very policies are the most effective way of actually bringing the specter into being.

Developments have taken the same course everywhere. But our responsibility is particularly great, for circumstances have temporarily placed the United States in so powerful a position that our influence on current is of very great significance. In the face of so heavy a responsibility, the temptation to abuse one's power is great and potentially very dangerous.

You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. The very prevention of war requires more faith, courage and resolution than are needed to prepare for war. We must all do our share, that we may be equal to the task of peace.

Two months later, on March 8th, 1955, Einstein discussed the Arab question in a letter to his Indian friend: Of course, I regret the constant state of tension existing between Israel and the Arab states. Such tension could hardly have been avoided. in view of the nationalistic attitude of both sides, which has only been intensified by the war and its implications. Worst of all has been the policy of the new administration in the United States [the Eisenhower administration] which, due to its own imperialist and militaristic interests, seeks to win the sympathy of the Arab nations by sacrificing Israel. As a consequence the very existence of Israel has become seriously imperiled fry the armament efforts of her enemies. This man Dulles is a real misfortune! While pretending to serve the cause of peace, he in fact threatens everybody, hoping thereby to achieve his imperialist aims without becoming involved in a "big" war. Such a policy is not only morally objectionable but will prove dangerous to the United States in the long run. How few people realize this! In a surprisingly brief time, they have come to accept this shortsighted militaristic point of view.

I must confess that the foreign policy of the United States since the end of hostilities often irresistibly reminds me of the foreign policy of Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II. I know that others have independently recognized this painful analogy.

It is characteristic of the military mentally to consider material factors, such as atomic bombs, strategic bases, arms of every description, raw material resources, and the like as important while, at the same time, regarding man himself, his thoughts, and aspirations as quite inferior. In its theoretical approach the military mentality bears some resemblance to Marxism. In both, man is minimized as being merely "capacity" or "manpower." Under the impact of this kind of thinking, the goals which normally determine human aspirations simply disappear. To fill the gap, the military mentality makes the possession of "naked power" a goal in itself. This surely is one of the strangest delusions to which man can fall victim.

Today, the existence of the military mentality is more dangerous than ever; far the weapons which are available to aggressor nations have become much more powerful than weapons of defense. This fact will inevitably produce the kind of thinking which leads to preventive wars. Because of the general insecurity resulting from these developments, the civil rights of citizens are being sacrificed to the alleged cause of national interest. Political witch hunting and government interference in many forms, such as official control over teaching, research, and the press, appear inevitable and, consequently, do not encounter the kind of popular resistance that ought otherwise serve to protect the population. All traditional values are changing and anything which does not clearly serve the utopian goal of militarism is considered inferior.

In our own days the struggle is primarily waged for freedom of political conviction and discussion as well as for freedom of research and teaching. The fear of communism has led to policies that expose our country to ridicule by the rest of civilized mankind. How long shall we tolerate power-hungry politicians who try to generate a fear of communism in order to gain political advantage? Sometimes it seems that the people of today have lost their sense of humor to such a degree that the French saying "Ridicule kills," has lost its validity.

To A.J. Muste of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Einstein wrote on April 11th. 1951:

I agree wholeheartedly in ail essential points with the opinions expressed in the article "The Paranoia Race." I wish to mention, however, that I do not consider it reasonable to compare a disease in the medical sense with the hatred and fear toward Russia which have been installed in the American people since the death of Roosevelt. It is, of course, incontestable that the arming of individual countries can lead only to war and destruction, not to security. Under present conditions, those countries which have a minimum of armament are most secure. The only reasonable policy the United States could pursue is to declare unconditionally that security in the world depends upon the establishment of a world government which would be open to all nations and would have the duty and power-r to solve all international conflicts and put an end to colonial oppression.

A Hungarian survivor of the Dachau concentration camp, who had emigrated to Australia, asked in referring to the atomic bomb whether Einstein had discarded the old and noble traditions of his profession and had put his conscience and his faith in human ideals in cold storage; was Einstein working for the benefit of the people or had he plotted a revolt against their lives? Einstein took these insinuations seriously and replied on October 1st, 1952: You are mistaken in regarding me as a kind of chieftain of those scientists who abuse science for military purposes. I have never worked in the field of applied science, let alone for the military.

I condemn the military mentality of our time just as you do. Indeed, I have been a pacifist all my life and regard Gandhi as the only truly great political figure of our age.

My name is linked to the atomic bomb in two different ways. Almost 50 years ago I discovered the equivalence of mass and energy, a relationship which served as the guiding principle in the work leading to the release of atomic energy. Secondly, I signed a letter to President Roosevelt stressing the need for work in the field of the atomic bomb. I felt this was necessary because of the dreadful danger that the Nazi regime might be the first to come into possession of the atomic bomb.

Thus, your letter, as you will no doubt realize, was based on incorrect assumptions.

On February 16th, 1931, the Yale Daily News published Einstein's answers to a long series of questions relating to the field of science. Only one of the questions touched upon politics. In his reply, Einstein once again emphasized the view that science in itself could have no direct influence in building the international organization that was necessary if world chaos were to be avoided; man's determination alone could solve that problem.

On February 16th, 1931, Einstein addressed several hundred students at the California Institute of Technology: I could sing a hymn of praise about the progress made in the field of applied science; and, no doubt, you yourselves will promote further progress during your lifetime. I could speak in such terms since this is the century of applied science, and America is its fatherland. But I do not want to use such language. Why does applied science, which is so magnificent, saves work, and makes life easier, bring us so little happiness? The simple answer is that we have not yet learned to make proper use of it.

In times of war, applied science has given men the means to poison and mutilate one another. In times of peace, science has made our lives hurried and uncertain. Instead of liberating us from much of the monotonous work that has to be done, it has enslaved men to machines; men who work long, wearisome hours mostly without joy in their labor and with the continual fear of losing their pitiful income.

You may feel that this old man before you is singing an ugly song. I do it, however, for the purpose of making some suggestions to you. If you want your life's work to be useful to mankind, it is not enough that you understand applied science as such. Concern for man himself must always constitute the chief objective of all technological effort, concern for the big, unsolved problems of how to organize human work and the distribution of commodities in such a manner as to assure that the results of our scientific may be a blessing to mankind, and not a curse.

Never forget this when you are pondering over your diagrams and equations!

There is enough money, enough work, and enough food, provided we organize our resources according to our necessities rather than be slaves to rigid economic theories or traditions. Above all, we must not permit our minds and our activities to be diverted from constructive work by preparations for another war. I agree with the great American Benjamin Franklin, who said that there never was a good war or a bad peace.

I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the peoples themselves refuse to go to war.

Every great cause is first championed by an aggressive minority. Is it not better for a man to die for a cause in which he believes, such as peace, than to suffer for a cause in which he does not believe, such as war? Every war merely enlarges the chain of vicious circles which impedes the progress of mankind. A handful of conscientious objectors can dramatize the protest against war.

The masses are never militaristic until their minds are poisoned by propaganda. I agree with you that we must teach them to resist propaganda. We must begin to inoculate our children against militarism by educating them in the spirit of pacifism. The trouble with Europe is that her people have been educated on a wrong psychology. Our schoolbooks glorify war and conceal its horrors then indoctrinate children with hatred. I would teach peace rather than war, love rather than hate.

The textbooks should be rewritten. Instead of perpetuating ancient rancors and prejudices, we should infuse a new spirit into our educational system. Education should begin in the cradle. Mothers throughout the world have the responsibility of sowing the seeds of peace into the souls of their children.

It may not be possible in one generation to eradicate the combative instinct. It is not even desirable to eradicate it entirely. Men should continue to fight, but they should fight for things worthwhile, not for imaginary geographical lines, racial prejudices, and private greed draped in the colors of patriotism. Their arms should be weapons of the spirit, not shrapnel and tanks.

Think of what a world we could build if the power unleashed in war were applied to constructive tasks! One tenth of the energy that the various belligerent spent in the World War, a fraction of the money they exploded in hand grenades and poison gas, would suffice to raise the standard of living in every country and avert the economic catastrophe of worldwide unemployment.

We must be prepared to make the same heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war. There is no task that is more important or closer to my heart.

Nothing that I can do or say will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice, I can help the greatest of all causes-goodwill among men and peace on earth.

A climactic point in Einstein's career as a militant pacifist came on December 14th, 1930, when he spoke at a meeting in New York's Ritz Carlton Hotel, under the auspices of the New History Society. The speech was delivered extemporaneously, and when the interpreter originally designated proved unequal to the task. Mrs. Rosika Schwimmer volunteered to translate Einstein's remarks into English:

When those who are bound together by pacifist ideals hold a meeting they are usually consorting only with their own kind. They are like sheep huddled together while wolves wait outside. I believe that pacifist speakers face this difficulty: they ordinarily reach only their own group, people who are pacifists any how and hardly need to be convinced. The sheep's voice does not reach beyond this circle and is, therefore ineffectual. That is the real weakness of the pacifist movement.

Genuine pacifists, those whose heads are not in the clouds but who think in realistic terms, must fearlessly endeavor to act in a manner which is of practical value to the cause rather than remain content merely to espouse the ideals of pacifism. Deeds, not words, are needed; mere words get pacifists nowhere. They must initiate action and begin with what can be achieved now.

As to what our next step should be, I should like you to realize that under the present military system every man is compelled to commit the crime of killing for his country. The aim of all pacifists must be to convince others of the immorality of war and rid the world of the shameful slavery of military service. I wish to suggest two ways to achieve that aim.

The first has already been put into practice: uncompromising war resistance and refusal to do military service under any circumstances. In countries where conscription exists, the true pacifist must refuse military-y duty. Already, a considerable number of pacifists in many countries have refused and are refusing, at great personal sacrifice, to serve a military term in peacetime. By doing so, it becomes manifest that they will not fight in the event of war.

In countries where compulsory service does not exist, true pacifists must publicly declare in time of peace that they will not take up arms under any circumstances. This, too, is an effective method of war resistance. I earnestly urge you to try to convince people all over the world of the justice of this position. The timid may say, "What is the use? We shall be sent to prison." To them I would reply: Even if only two percent of those assigned to perform military service should announce their refusal to fight, as well as urge means other than war of settling international disputes, governments would be powerless, they would not dare send such a large number of people to jail.

A second line of action for war resisters, which I suggest, is a policy which would not involve personal involvement with the law. That is, to try to establish through international legislation the right to refuse military service in peacetime. Those who are unwilling to accept such a position might prefer to advocate legislation which would permit them, in place of military service, to do some strenuous or even dangerous work, in the interest of their own country or of mankind as a whole. They would thereby prove that their war resistance is unselfish and merely a logical consequence of the belief that international differences can be sealed in ways other than fighting; it would further prove that their opposition to war could not be attributed to cowardice or the desire for personal comfort or unwillingness to accept work of a dangerous nature; we shall have advanced far on the road to a more peaceful world.

I further suggest that pacifists of all countries start raising funds to support those who would want to refuse military service but who cannot actually do so for lack of financial means. I, therefore, advocate the establishment of an international organization and an international pacifist fund to support the active war resisters of our day.

In conclusion, may I say that the serious pacifists who want to accomplish peace must have the courage to initiate and to carry on these aims; only then will the world be obliged to take notice. Pacifists will then be heard by people who are not already pacifists; and once they are listened to, their message is bound to be effective. If they are too restrained, their voices will continue to reach only those in their own circle. They will remain sheep, pacifist sheep.

I am very glad that you have given me this opportunity to make a few remarks about the problem of pacifism. The developments of the last few years have once more indicated that we are hardly justified in assuming that the struggle against armaments and the spirit of militarism can be safely left in the hands of governments. Even the creation of pacifist originations with large memberships will not bring us much closer to our goal.

I am convinced that the only way to be effective is through the revolutionary method of refusing military service. We need organizations in different countries to give material and moral support to ail those who have the courage to resist war. This is the only way to make pacifism a vital issue and to inaugurate a vigorous campaign that will attract men of strong character. It is a fight not sanctioned by law, but one which must be fought if people are to have the right to resist the demands of governments that they perform criminal actions.

Many who consider themselves good pacifists will not want to participate in such a radical form of pacifism; they will claim that patriotism prevents them from adopting such a policy. But, in an emergency, such people cannot be counted on anyhow, as we learned so well during the World War.

On May 28th. 1940, the Columbia Broadcasting System originated a special broadcast on atomic energy. The broadcast, called "'Operation Crossroads," emanated from the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.: Newscaster Robert Trout:
There are many people who-while they hope and pray that war can be averted-{are] pessimistic about the chance of avoiding war. They say it's just "human nature, " and that while mankind may possibly, change some old habits of thinking in .a million years, there's certainly no chance of changing them in the next five. What about that "you can't change human nature" argument, Dr. Albert Einstein?

Einstein (speaking from Princeton):
When you speak of "human nature," what do you mean?

Trout (from Washington):
Why, I suppose the hates and fears and prejudices that make far wars.

Einstein:
Then I would say that it is precisely because we cannot change human nature in a million years that we must do what we have to do very quickly, in order to prevent the terrible destruction of an atomic war. This "human nature" which likes wars is like a river. It is impossible in geological time to change the nature of the river. But when it continually overflows its banks and destroys our lives and homes, do we sit down and say, "It is too bad. We can't change the river. We can do nothing about it."

Trout:
No, Dr. Einstein. We get together and build a dam which will keep the river in check.

Einstein:
Exactly. And what do we use to build the dam?

Trout:
We use reason, I suppose, our ability to think.

Einstein:
That is correct. And this ability to think is also a part of human nature. It is intelligence, which is the ability to learn from experience, to plan ahead. It includes the capacity to give up immediate, temporary benefits far permanent ones. This part of human nature recognizes that a man's security and happiness depend on a well-functioning society; that a well-functioning society depends on the existence and observance of laws; and that men must submit to these laws in order to have peace. It is this reasoning faculty which is responsible far all of man's progress in art, science, agriculture, industry, and government.

Trout:
And you believe, Dr. Einstein, that this thinking man can solve our great problem for us?

Einstein:
I believe nothing else can. Just as we use our reason to build a dam to hold a river in check, we must now build institutions to restrain the fears and suspicions and greed which move peoples and their rulers. Such institutions, as have been described by Mr. Stassen and Mr. Douglas, must be based on law and justice. The, must have authority over atomic bombs and other weapons, and they must have the power to enforce this authority. To do this is difficult, yes; but we must remember that if the animal part of human nature is our foe, the thinking part is our friend. We do not have to wait a million years to use our ability to reason. It does not depend on time. We are using it every day of our lives.

On March 21st, 1952, Einstein responded to a troubled pacifist who, like others, asked for clarification of apparent inconsistencies in Einstein's various statements on pacifism and suggested that he make a public pronouncement about his actual pacifist position. Einstein wrote:

I am indeed a pacifist, but not a pacifist at any price. My views are virtually identical with those of Gandhi. But I would, individually and collectively resist violently any attempt to kill me or to take away from me, or my people, the basic means of subsistence.

I was, therefore, of the conviction that it was justified and necessary to fight Hitler. For his was such an extreme attempt to destroy people.

Furthermore, I am of the conviction that realization of the goal of pacifism is possible only through supranational organization. To stand unconditionally for this cause is, in my opinion, the criterion of true pacifism.

Letters urging him to clarify his change of views followed him to England and even America. Professor C.C. Heringa of the University of Amsterdam was another pacifist who could not believe the published reports. On September 11, 1933, Einstein wrote him from Cromer, England: I assure you that my present attitude toward military service was arrived at with the greatest reluctance and after a difficult inner struggle. The root of all evil lies in the fact that there is no powerful international police force, nor is there a really effective international court of arbitration whose judgments could be enforced. All the same, antimilitarists were justified in refusing military service as long as the majority of the nations of Europe were intent upon peace. This no longer holds true. I am convinced that developments in Germany tend toward belligerent acts similar to those in France after the Revolution. Should this trend meet with success, you may be sure that the last remnants of personal freedom on the continent of Europe will be destroyed.

While it is quite true that the deterioration of conditions in Germany is partially attributable to the policies of neighboring countries, there seems little purpose at this juncture in blaming them for these policies. The plain fact is that the gospel of force and repression, currently prevailing in Germany, poses grave threats to the continent of Europe and the independence of its inhabitants. This threat cannot be combated by moral means; it can be met only by organized might. To prevent the greater evil, it is necessary that the lesser evil-the hated military-be accepted for the time being. Should German armed might prevail, life will not be worth living anywhere in Europe.

I believe, nonetheless, that even now it is not too late to avert war by preventing German rearmament through diplomatic pressure. But such pressure will require absolute military superiority on the part of Germany's neighbors. To destroy such superiority or to prevent its achievement is tantamount to betraying the cause of European freedom.

You cannot compare French militarism to German militarism. The French people, even those at the top, have remained preponderantly pacifist in outlook and are maintaining an army merely for the defense of their country. This is even more true of the Belgian people.

To summarize: In the present circumstances, realistic pacifists should no longer advocate the destruction of military power; rather, they should strive for its internationalization. Only when such internationalization has been achieved will it be possible to work toward the reduction of military power to the dimensions of an international police force. We do not cause the danger to disappear by merely closing our eyes to it.


This reading is from The Class of Nonviolence, prepared by Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace, 4501 Van Ness Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20016 202/537-1372