The purpose of this assignment was to write an essay as Albert
Einstein, explaining his stance on the atomic bomb--and using his stance,
not our own.
“Spend a minute with your hand on a hot stove, and it feels like
an hour. Spend an hour with a pretty girl, and it feels like a minute.
The funny thing is, I still don’t know if I would sign that letter and
start this whole cycle all over again. I’m referring, of course,
to the 1939 letter to President Roosevelt that I saw fit to support.
Stating that atomic fission was certainly feasible and that the Germans
were probably pursuing the same line of research, it urged the President
to consider starting government research into the bomb ourselves.
In 1939, it seemed like a good idea. In 1945, it did not.
The war with the Germans was over, and yet the research continued.
I wrote a second letter to President Roosevelt, this time urging him to
stop the development of the nuclear bomb and not to use it on Japan under
any circumstances. Had I come full circle? Was I directly
contradicting myself? I’ve taken a lot of flak from critics who claim
I’ve done so, but I believe my overall mentality regarding the nuclear
bomb has remained intact. I shall attempt to explain.
In 1939, there was a threat. I could see this threat, it was larger
than life—both figuratively and literally. The Germans were bent
on world domination, and nothing short of blasting them back into the
Stone Age was going to stop them. The only logical recourse, therefore,
was to blast them back into the Stone Age. When faced with dire peril,
it is often necessary to consider options that we usually would consider
too inhumane for normal use. When that threat was removed, with the
fall of the Third Reich in early 1945, the need to use the atomic bomb
quickly vanished. In the summer of 1945, U.S. Intelligence (this
may be an oxymoron, but we’ll ignore it for now) reports indicated that
Japan may have been ready to surrender. And yet, we continued our
plans to drop the bomb on them. Then we went ahead and dropped the
bloody thing. Well, we won. But at what price?
The continued development of an atomic weapon after the immediate emergency—the
reason for funding the research in the first place—under government control
sets a dangerous precedent. Firstly, the atomic bomb now exists.
This means that more research into improving and investigating the bomb
will invariably be called for. And, since the government has done
such a nifty job of developing the bomb in the first place, there are many
that feel that research in this area should remain in the government’s
hands. I must disagree with my colleagues on this point.
It’s rather ironic that this whole “Military Mentality” that has arisen
regarding research and the military is primarily due to our relatively
quick victories in both World Wars. In both wars, we swooped in during
the middle stages and turned stagnation into victory, almost resembling
deus ex machina. Because this makes it seem like the military is
a force that can be trusted—since the wars have shown that “might makes
right”—Americans have become much more willing to let the military make
important decisions about the issues affecting the country.
This is not the first time this has happened. In fact, current
events bear an eerie resemblance to those in Germany, my birthplace, after
Otto von Bismark’s successes in uniting Germany. This was magnified
even further with the rise of the Nazi regime. After the first
few easy military victories leading up to 1939, the “Military Mentality”
grew to the point where eventual world domination by military force seemed
inevitable to the Nazis and their supporters.
The failure of the Nazis shows that this military mentality, more often
than not, ends in fire. I can see no way for the United States
to continue their present attitude towards the atomic bomb and not draw
us into a third World War.
The atomic bomb changes the entire nature of war as we know it.
Offensive weapons now have a gigantic advantage over defensive ones, since
there is no force in existence at the moment that can protect a city or
military base from the effects of a nuclear explosion. Thus,
the only effective defense to a nuclear attack is a counter-offense.
There’s no way that the United States can maintain a monopoly on nuclear
weapons indefinitely, and once another country develops the technology,
I see no way to avoid a gigantic arms race. Each country will continue
to research bigger, badder atomic weapons while increasing their stockpile
at the same time. How far will the research go before we gain the
technology to destroy a country with a single bomb? More importantly,
will the world be able to survive it?
I doubt it—which is why atomic research must be removed from the hands
of the military. I would give up my Nobel Prize in a second to
remove the conception of the bomb from our minds, but this being impossible,
the best we can hope for is to keep atomic research in non-military area—such
as perhaps harnessing the energy released in controlled fission to be used
to power homes or facilities. Again, this I fear may be impossible.
“Atomic energy” is synonymous with “atomic bomb” at the moment, and
it will be a long time before this association changes. I think the
best we can hope for is to raise awareness concerning the dangers of the
atomic bomb while keeping new research in the area, as largely as possible,
out of the hands of the military.
Unfortunately, even this may not be possible. There is no other
person or organization that can come close to matching the monetary investment
that the government can give to research, and so any research done outside
the confines of a government-funded lab is bound to be plagued by insufficient
budgets and funds. I wish I could think of some way to rectify the
situation, but I find myself stumped. Any sort of national scientific
fund would end up being funded largely by the government anyway, and millionaires
are not likely to give grants to researchers out of scientific curiosity.
And so, we are left with an interesting paradox…the military cannot
be allowed to fund nuclear research, but if the military doesn’t fund it,
it may fail to be funded at all. Which risk is greater? Shall
we abandon the bomb in the hopes that all other nations will follow suit?
Or shall we research and produce the bomb to such an extent that we force
other countries to follow this suit, creating such tension that eventually
a skirmish will develop into a war that none of us may live to survive?
Personally, I dislike both options immensely.