Einstein’s formula on the equivalence of mass and energy led to the discovery of the enormous amount of energy locked up within the atom. In 1939, a letter from him informed President Roosevelt that the Germans were engaged in the development of an atomic bomb and urged that science and technology in...
Einstein’s formula on the equivalence of mass and energy led to the discovery of the enormous amount of energy locked up within the atom. In 1939, a letter from him informed President Roosevelt that the Germans were engaged in the development of an atomic bomb and urged that science and technology in the United States be mobilized on a similar effort. The Manhattan Project was undertaken as a result and mid-1945 nuclear weapons were a reality. The immediate postwar years were marked by the onset of the Cold War. Manhattan Project scientists, who had debated the use of the bomb in the months between Germany’s defeat in May 1945 and the Hiroshima bombing in August, were well versed in the issues the bomb raised. Many feared a nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Feeling an obligation to act, in 1945, Leo Szilárd and 67 other scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project petitioned President Harry S. Truman opposing the use of the atomic bomb on moral grounds. The next year, the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists was created to warn the public of the dangers associated with the development of nuclear weapons, promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and ultimately work towards world peace as the only way to prevent further use of nuclear weapons. Einstein agreed to serve as chairman of the 8-man Board of Trustees, who also included Harold Urey, Leo Szilárd, and Linus Pauling. Half the members had worked directly on the Manhattan Project and all had been indirectly involved or consulted on the production of the first atomic bomb.
Later in 1946, the group issued an appeal by telegram to several hundred prominent Americans, asking for contributions with which to carry on a nationwide campaign "to let the people know that a new type of thinking is essential" in the atomic age "if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels." This was followed in early 1947 with a broader appeal by form letter sent to larger numbers of people. That letter, sent over Einstein’s signature, stated that atomic energy was “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…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…We need $1,000,000 for this great educational task.”
Many people responded, and some, like chemist Dr. Donald Kundiger, provided not merely money but ideas and additional contacts.
Typed Letter Signed on Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists letterhead, Princeton, October 9, 1947, to Kundiger, stressing the gravity of the problem and the need to avoid making atomic power subserbiant to nationalism. “I have received with pleasure your generous answer to my letter enclosing the recent statement of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists with its urgent appeal for the necessity of effective international control of atomic energy. Thanks you for your continued help in our campaign to arouse the American people to an understanding of the present very serious situation. An article by Cord Meyer in a recent issue of theAtlantic Monthly develops further some of the topics touched upon in our statement. If you have not seen Mr. Meyer’s article, I think you will be interested in the enclosed reprint [not present]. Thank you for your long and thoughtful letter, with its pertinent comments and suggestions. I have referred it to one of my colleagues for his consideration as well. It was thoughtful of you to send us the names of your friends. We are contacting them as you suggested.” We obtained the letter directly from the Kundiger descendants and it has never before been offered for sale. As committee chairman, Einstein sought first to try to meet with Secretary of State George C. Marshall tolobby for only non-military uses uses of atomic power. He was rebuffed, and although there was a substantial public response to the committee’s antinuclear message, in the end, the group was unable to reach its goal of removing atomic development from the military and placing it under international control.
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