Einstein's 1905 Special Theory of Relativity (E=mc2) made the point that a large amount of energy could be released from a small amount of matter and the atomic bomb illustrated this principle clearly. But this theory didn't create the atom bomb, it was merely proved by it.
Even though he publicly declared himself to be a pacifist in 1929, stating that if war broke out he would, "unconditionally refuse to do war service, direct or indirect... regardless of how the cause of the war should be judged," Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933 changed his position and he no longer fit his previous self-description of an "absolute pacifist".
Einstein's greatest role in the invention of the atomic bomb was signing a letter written by Leo Szilard (the physcist who conceived the nuclear chain reaction and held a patent on the nuclear reactor) to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939. The letter urged that the atomic bomb be built by the Americans as Nazi Germany had already split the uranium atom and might themselves be building an atomic bomb. The letter was delivered in October and that same month President Roosevelt struck the Briggs Committee to study uranium chain reactions.
Einstein would write three more letters to the president to urge him to move quickly. The weight of his name is often cited as the force behind the Manhattan Project and the ultimate making of the atomic bomb.
But again we find no joy in what Einstein, the scientist, may have felt compelled to participate in. In fact he made no public comment until one year after the atomic bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at which time he stated that, "he was sure that President Roosevelt would have forbidden the atomic bombing of Hiroshima had he been alive and that it was probably carried out to end the Pacific war before Russia could participate."
In 1954, just before his death, he talked about his role in the making of the atomic bomb. "I made one great mistake in my life... when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification - the danger that the Germans would make them."
Again, a scientist who felt compelled to something he thought to be morally repugnant. Could Einstein's letter have played a positive role in society? Some say that it did. It may have sped up the Japanese surrender therefore saving what some say could have been up to five million lives.
Knowing what we know about the potential of stem cells, would Einstein have felt compelled to intervene to save many millions of lives? Einstein's letter follows below.
Old Grove Rd.
Peconic, Long Island
President of the United States
Some recent work by
In the course of the last
This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of
The United States has only
In view of the situation you may think it desirable to have more permanent contact maintained between the Administration and the group of
a) to approach Government Departments, keep them informed of the further development, and put forward recommendations for Government action, giving particular attention to the problem of securing a supply of
b) to speed up the experimental work, which is at present being carried on within the limits of the budgets of University laboratories, by providing funds, if such funds be required, through his contacts with private persons who are willing to make contributions for this cause, and perhaps also by obtaining the co-operation of industrial laboratories which have the necessary equipment.
I understand that
Yours very truly,