Einstein: Letters to Roosevelt, a signed Manifesto, and Newspaper Gossip

previous post: Goethe‘s Faust and der Erlkönig

Though my previous post promised Schiller, I have switched to Einstein––as I will need more time to prepare for the less known Germans.  Entschuldigung!  However, in a complete reverse from unknown to known, I give you…Einstein!

Before we get to far, I want to share a video containing some archival footage. Often times people talk about Einstein without ever reading anything he wrote. Watch for yourself, then, in this unique collection of footage:

OK, now to begin. It might be hard for us, as previously said, to see Einstein as a German who was born a few years after the German unification. Not only do we talk about his work with little mechanical understanding, we do not even speak his original language. He is often romanticized in the public to the point that there is no content within our representations of him, whether it be his theoretical work or his inspiring quotes––which are quoted endlessly without source. Thus, I wanted to see a side of Einstein I had never seen (perhaps even get a moment’s glance at him himself). With this in mind, I want to focus on some of Einstein’s writing and letters we do not often see.

First, I wanted to share a letter that Einstein signed and gave to Roosevelt in October 1939 (though the letter was written by another Physicist named Szilárd). At this time, Einstein had already, of course, left Germany. He too, at this time, had supported Roosevelt politically as his term was up for reelection––though I do not know very many of these details. Note that Einstein was working in a special department and Princeton and had already gained world recognition. Eventually, Einstein came across some unsettling news and wrote to the President of the United States to share it the following news (imagine, reader, being in that position): uranium, due to its composition and the new theoretical understanding of this composition, could be weaponized. This was my first time reading this letter and I found it to be a strange experience.

Here is the letter, taken from this website: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/pdfs/docsworldwar.pdf.

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A few things, dear reader, stand out to me in this letter on my first reading. To start, I was impressed at the letter mentioning the German uranium mine which had stopped selling its contents (and, of course, what this implies). That is a very keen observation within the framework of how the world is working. Furthermore I found its “dutiful” and blank statement concerning America’s poor uranium resources to be very clearheaded. Second, I wonder what Einstein looked like to the German government––i.e. someone who fled to other side of the world and provided scientific information to another country, during a not-so-great-time-in-global-and-German-potitical-history. Last, I was impressed by Einstein asking for more funding for the physics departments and I wonder what changes this had for top Physics departments––which eventually contributed to our military history.

Now (and do not quote me on this), Einstein came to regret this letter, since it was not meant to encourage Roosevelt to engage in the way we know our country to have done. If one wants tragic content, you have it here: Einstein’s work, adorned in his life, creating a new political and global framework which his ideology fought against. Fortunately, for me, none of the groundbreaking science I am working on will ever pose a threat to humanity; I am still trying to figure out why my old oven does not explode.

Next, I wish to turn to a manifesto which Einstein collectively signed with many other significant people. I post this document to counterbalance the Roosevelt letter with Einstein’s beliefs. Additionally, this letter contains many other big names:  Max Born; Percy W. Bridgman; Leopold Infeld; Frederic Jolio-Curie; Herman J. Muller; Linus Pauling; Cecil F. Powell; Joseph Rotbat; Bertrand Russell; Hideki Yukawa. (Note: to anyone who knows a little about philosophy, the name Bertrand Russell stands out: a well known philosopher who famously found a contradiction in Hilbert’s mathematical framework, taught (and put up with) the fiery and intesnse Wittgenstein, and was imprisoned for his pacifist views late in his life).

I must admit, however, I found this letter remarkably uplifting…and chilling. Imagining this event, from this declaration on, causes little water droplets to form in my eyes, letting the terror out quietly.

The following is taken from this following link: http://pugwash.org/1955/07/09/statement-manifesto/

1 2 really3 really4 5 6

Now, with little time left, I will post some interesting snippets I found from the New York Times “Times  Machine” archive. Einstein, too, outside of his academic life, was––regardless of his desire for the contrary––a public figure. Here are some random news clippings I found on Einstein. I tried to post an assortment.

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Well, that it is it for today! I hope you enjoyed it. I am posting more links below that I did not have time to include. One of the most interesting is the FBI’s documents on Einstein. Bis bald––until next time!

FBI documents on Einstein: http://vault.fbi.gov/Albert%20Einstein

A great book Einstein (which I have never finished): HIs Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson. 

An old PBS “home video” on Einstein: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZ_W3EAfp6I


One thought on “Einstein: Letters to Roosevelt, a signed Manifesto, and Newspaper Gossip

  1. Gabby

    It was really strange to read the phrase “Professor Einstein”. It’s easy to forget that this was a person, with time and personality and all that, and not just a poster in a classroom.


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