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The Russell-Einstein Manifesto

Lawrence Bush
July 8, 2017

Albert Einstein was one of eleven signatories to what became known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, released by Bertrand Russell on this date in 1955 and signed by Einstein just days before his death on April 18th. The manifesto, which became the founding document of the Pugwash Conference two years later, was intended to raise international consciousness about the dangers of nuclear war and encourage a tamping down of Cold War tensions. The signatories included physicists Max Born, Leopold Infeld, and Joseph Rotblat. Infeld was the only signatory who was not a Nobel laureate. "The abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations of national sovereignty," said the manifesto. "But what perhaps impedes understanding of the situation more than anything else is that the term 'mankind' feels vague and abstract. People scarcely realize in imagination that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren, and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity. They can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they, individually, and those whom they love are in imminent danger of perishing agonizingly. . . . There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal, as human beings, to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death."

"In 1955 we were at the height of the Cold War, with the two super powers of the time, the USA and the USSR, accumulating obscenely huge nuclear arsenals, 100 times more than required for deterrent purposes. Many of the warheads were kept on hair trigger alert increasing the possibility of accidental war. On several occasions, in particular, during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, we came very, very close to a nuclear confrontation. The publication of the Manifesto had brought home to the general public the dire consequences of such a confrontation. More importantly, as elucidated in the essay, the direct outcome of the Manifesto was the setting up of the Pugwash Movement, with its objective: to avert the dangers resulting from the development of weapons of mass destruction, in particular, thermonuclear weapons. The activities of Pugwash received recognition in the award to it (and myself ) of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize." --Sandra Ionno Butcher

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.