New Jersey History I Didn’t Know: Albert Einstein & the Russell-Einstein Manifesto

Doomsday Clock

The Doomsday Clock, maintained at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, now stands at 2 Minutes to Midnight; midnight being the devastation that Albert Einstein and other scientists saw, and see, coming. Einstein did not directly participate in the invention of the atomic bomb, but its existence depends on the equation you’ve had memorized all your life, even if you can’t explain it: E=mc2, the idea that large amounts of energy could be released from a small amount of matter. In his elder years, in Princeton, Albert Einstein tried to warn the world, including with something that came to be called the Russell-Einstein Manifesto – signed on this day July 9, 1955. It’s worth talking about this now, as the Doomsday Clock now ticks up a full minute since Trump (in 1947, 2 years post-Hiroshima, it was 7 minutes to midnight). The Manifesto reminded world leaders that weapons of mass destruction required more of them: “Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.” Not much of a chance of that with Trump in the White House.

“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….“We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves … what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?” – from Russell-Einstein Manifesto

The Manifesto was issued in London during the Cold War. Announced after his death, but it was one of the last things that Albert Einstein ever did on this earth, and it carries his name along with the man who initiated it, Renaissance man Bertrand Russel, who began writing it on the day the U.S. dropped Fat Man on Nagasaki. Russell allied himself with Polish physicist Joseph Rotblat (only scientist to leave the Manhattan Project on moral grounds) on the dangers of nuclear proliferation and the arms race. They saw that scientists, physicists especially, were in the best position to warn the world of the catastrophe these weapons now made possible. And it was their responsibility to do so.

Family & friends arrive 112 Mercer St, Princeton, hours after Einstein’s death. Photo: Ralph Morse,Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

The document made clear what the dangers were, with all the authority of physicists taking responsibility for what was now unleashed, and it called for world leaders to seek peaceful resolutions to conflict. It was signed by 11 well-known intellectuals and scientists, 10 of whom were Nobel laureates (including a friend of my father’s, Linus Pauling, one of only 2 people awarded the Nobel Prize in two disciplines – the other is Marie Curie). The document led to the first of the Pugwash Conferences, calling together international scholars and public figures to tackle global security threats.

Albert Einstein, the world’s most pre-eminent physicist (then and still) was at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton then, a short bike ride from his home at 112 Mercer Street. He signed his name to the document in April, 1955, and died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm days later at Princeton Hospital.

Below, Albert Einstein’s private office at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, just hours after his death. This photo was also taken by Ralph Morse for Life Magazine, but not published for 60 years. Read more in The Day Albert Einstein Died: A Photographer’s Story.

Comments (2)

  1. Dennis C. McGrath

    great item Rosi, and thanks so much for getting Einstein’s Princeton affiliation right – I’m tired of explaining that no, he didn’t “teach at Princeton” (he didn’t teach and he wasn’t ‘at Princeton’.)

    1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

      Thanks, Dennis. For anybody who wants to know more about the Institute for Advanced Study – here’s their history, a little wiki, and you can follow them on Twitter.


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