Monday, July 02, 2012

Einstein and his anti-war views

by Salman Hameed

The moral issues surrounding science for military purposes are - to say the least - tricky. Here is a recent discovery of some correspondence that shows views of Einstein on science and war:

A cleanup of the archives of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in January yielded an unexpected treasure for the 95-year-old news service: hand-typed correspondence between JTA's founder, Jacob Landau, and Albert Einstein. Among the yellowing letters was a 20 January 1947 statement from Einstein on scientists' role in military research—a hot topic in the wake of World War II and the wartime use of atomic weapons.
“Non-cooperation in military matters should be a vital part of the moral code of basic scientists,” Einstein wrote, adding that keeping basic discoveries secret “would seriously harm science.” 
Einstein had expressed similar antiwar views prior to writing that letter, but it does shed new light on the physicist's views “on the relationship of science and state,” says Harvard University historian Peter Galison. Einstein writes, for example, that for science, “moral law is above any obligation to the state.”                      

This also reminded me of the brilliant Richard Feynman. He was part of the Manhattan Project and initially celebrated the success of the bomb - purely from the physics perspective. After all, here was a case that of mathematical equations leading to a physical reality. But when the pictures from Hiroshima came back, his reaction changed. Several years later, here he is talking about his role in the Manhattan Project:



Of course, the issue of the morality of nuclear weapons is very much alive in several of the Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan and Iran. While we, as humanity, are playing with fire with nuclear weapon proliferation, the US still does not have much of a case to stop Iran (and previously, Pakistan and India) from obtaining nuclear weapons. So far, Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain the only instances of the use of nuclear weapons. I hope that it stays that way, but I don't think I can bet on that.

Time to watch some anti-nuclear Sagan again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So he is genius enough to help build a nuke in pre-computer era, yet dumb enough not to know what it could do!! Nice try.
These are war criminals, yet glorified, like showering petals on a fanatic murderer. Whom are we fooling?