On Aug. 2, 1939, Albert Einstein signed off on a letter sent to President Franklin Roosevelt on the building of the atomic bomb.
Do I still need to introduce Albert Einstein? I do not feel the need to do it. People all around the world know him already.
He was a German-born theoretical physicist. He developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics). His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. He is best known in popular culture for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, the world’s most famous equation.
Let’s go back to the letter made by Albert Einstein, what made this letter DEADLY? Read the entire letter below.
This letter was written a month before World War II and excelled the US into a nuclear arms race with the Nazis.
The letter said that the construction of this bomb would lead to a massive nuclear chain reaction creating an “extremely powerful bombs of a new type” which became the atomic bomb.
Einstein self described himself as a pacifist (a person who believes that war and violence are unjustifiable). In 1929, he announced that should war be declared he would “unconditionally refuse to do war service, direct or indirect… regardless of how the cause of the war should be judged.” (Ronald Clark, “Einstein: The Life and Times”, pg. 428). However this position would change in 1933 with Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. While still in favour of peace, Einstein would no longer fit his previous self-description of being an “absolute pacifist”.
In this letter Einstein advises on the need for “watchfulness and if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration.” He spoke of the level of destruction the bomb may cause “A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together” and the need for control of resources for its creation “the most important source of uranium is in the Belgian Congo” this point continued later in the letter saying they would need someone responsible to “approach Government Departments, keep them informed of the further development, and put forward recommendations for Government action, giving particular attention to the problem of securing a supply of uranium ore for the United States.”
This letter seems to show that Einstein was for the creation of the A-bomb however five months before his death in November 1954, Einstein made his feelings known about this letter saying “I made one great mistake in my life… when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification – the danger that the Germans would make them.” (Clark, pg. 752).
You can read the full letter below:
Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. I believe therefore that it is my duty to bring to your attention the following facts and recommendations.
In the course of the last four months it has been made probable through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America–that it may be possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.
This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable–though much less certain–that extremely powerful bombs of this type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might very well prove too heavy for transportation by air.
The United States has only very poor ores of uranium in moderate quantities. There is some good ore in Canada and former Czechoslovakia, while the most important source of uranium is in the Belgian Congo.
In view of this situation you may think it desirable to have some permanent contact maintained between the Administration and the group of physicists working on chain reactions in America. One possible way of achieving this might be for you to entrust the task with a person who has your confidence and who could perhaps serve in an unofficial capacity. His task might comprise the following:
a) to approach Government Departments, keep them informed of the further development, and put forward recommendations for Government action, giving particular attention to the problem of securing a supply of uranium ore for the United States.
b) to speed up the experimental work, which is at present being carried on within the limits of the budgets of University laboratories, by providing funds, if such funds be required, through his contacts with private persons who are willing to make contributions for this cause, and perhaps also by obtaining co-operation of industrial laboratories which have necessary equipment.
I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizsacker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.
Yours very truly,
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