Tuesday, October 18, 2005

EinsteinFest: The Relativity of Pacifism

On December 14th, 1930, Einstein delivered an extemporaneous speech in New York’s Ritz Carleton Hotel under the auspices of the New History Society and translated by the pacifist Rosika Schwimmer (she spoke nine languages; she was denied American citizenship because she refused to swear that she would bear arms in time of war; she was also involved in forming the Campaign for World Government):

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.

It was in the course of this speech that Einstein enunciated his two percent solution:

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 year later, this time at the California Institute of Technology, Einstein reiterated his position:

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.”

Sunday afternoon, David Rowe delivered another lecture at EinsteinFest entitled Einstein’s Political Priorities: World Government in which we learned about how the great scientific genius held to pacifism for his entire life, but changed tactics when times demanded a compromise. His pacifism was firmly rooted in what he called “objective realities”. By 1933, Einstein’s militant pacifism needed refinement in the face of the militarist threat of the Nazis. Force would be required to stop them.

In 1938, Einstein wrote Roosevelt to warn him of progress being made in Germany towards the development of an atomic bomb, presumably in the hopes that the United States would beat Germany in the race. Even so, he wrote Roosevelt again in 1945 advising the President not to use the bomb against Japan. That letter was found unopened on Roosevelt’s desk at the time of his death. Then, when Truman used the bomb, Einstein said, “If I had known they were going to do this, I would have become a shoemaker.”

After the war, we see yet another shift in his continued adherence to pacifism. World government was the only way Einstein could see to end wars.

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