Our World Boundaries

August 1935

Peace Must Be Waged:

An Interview with Albert Einstein

by Robert Merrill Bartlett

SO you have come to talk about peace?" Albert Einstein welcomed me with a firm handclasp into the living room of his Princeton home.

He is a sturdy and impressive person with his shaggy head of white hair and informal clothesăhe had on a wing collar but no tie, combined rough moccasins and a leather jacket with striped trousers such as are worn with a frock coat. There is nothing of the showman about him. His brown eyes are kind, his quiet voice sympathetic. His hearty laugh would disarm any listener, even those who would have kept this "dangerous pacifist" from our shores.

"Well, war is on the way. I doubt if it will come this yearăor the next; the stage is not yet ready. But in two or three years it is going to come. Germany is re-arming rapidly now and the contagion of fear is sweeping Europe. England might have checked this disastrous trend two years ago if she had stood firm against Germany's re-arming, but she failed. In Nazi Germany there still are some who oppose the military-nationalistic policiesăsome intellectualsăbut those who might have voiced such opposition have largely been exiled or suppressed. Of course I have been out of Germany for two years and cannot accuratelysense public feeling there now. Many who suffered from 1914-1918 are hostile to a return of war. But there are many youths, who are restless, the victims of troubled conditions; they are being exploited by the present regime. Germany is still war-minded and conflict is inevitable. The nation has been on the decline mentally and morally since 1870. Many of the men I associated with in the Prussian Academy have not been of the highest caliber in these nationalistic years since the World War."

It has been rumored that Dr. Einstein has repudiated his policy of pacifism. "Do you still believe in vigorous personal resistance to war?" I asked. "Do you still believe that if two percent of the people in a nation refuse to fight that war can be averted?"

"Yes, but intellectual resistance of this type is not enough to face the circumstances of today. Pacifism defeats itself under certain conditions, as it would in Germany today. Anyone who resists the military program will be "done away with" quickly and his influence brought to an end.

"We must educate, must work with the people to create a public sentiment that will outlaw war. I believe there are two features in this program of action: first, create the idea of super-sovereignty. National loyalty is limited; men must be taught to think in world terms. Every country will have to surrender a portion of its sovereignty through international cooperation. To avoid destruction aggression must be sacrificed. Our need now is an international tribunal with authority. The League and the World Court lack the power to enforce their decisions. Though they may suffer unpopularity now, this trend of progress is toward world organization, and institutions of this type are inevitable. Lord Davies of London has written some significant things on world cooperation; I like his ideas on this subject better than any I know. His book Force gives some suggestions which need to be interpreted here in America. Military training and competition in armaments are never going to avert war. They must be replaced by the wider concept of international organization, the development of a world tribunal which is given authority and an international police force which has power to keep the peace of the world.

"Second, we must face the economic causes of war. Fundamentally, our difficulty is the selfish desire of people who put profit before humanity. Some people refuse to adopt liberal ideas; they remain provincial and self-satisfied, content with their money returns. We suffer from the ills of economic nationalism and war because these people will not control their passion for money gain. Perhaps Romain Rolland may not be far wrong in turning to social revolution as the only means of breaking the war system. I do not understand just what his present position on communism is, nor do I say that I agree with him. But he is right in attacking the individual greed and national scramble for wealth that make war inevitable. There is one economic change we must strive for, that is the control of munition manufacture."

Dr. Einstein spoke with fervor. This 56-year-old Swiss Jew is more than a savant who has spent his life in the physics laboratories of Zurich and Berlin, more than a gentle lover of the violin and nature; he is a reformer who hates war with the fervor of an Old Testament prophet.

"Of course," he went on, "I do not try to reduce life to economic forces as some do. There is a persistent emotiona I element in all human relations that we must cope with. As national groups we feel ourselves different from our fellowmen and we so often permit our conduct to be controlled by prejudice. We need to be educated until we understand our emotional conflicts and learn to correct them."

"Do you believe that we can change human nature?" I asked.

"No," he replied, "I think not. Human nature remains more or less the same. But we can guide human nature into new habits. That has been done throughout history. Enlightenment and discipline do lead us into better ways."

"Shall we ever be able to abolish war?" I persisted.

"Yes," he answered, "I believe we can. I feel sure that we will. We must educate to do it. Our hope is in youthăwho can be given emancipated views of life."

"ls religion a necessary factor in this program of education?"

"Religion can be made the basis of character instruction for youth. It should be the means with which to create more intelligent attitudes. You ask me if I believe in a purpose back of life? Every scientist wonders at the mystery of existence and senses a creative force in the law and beauty of the universe, but I cannot define that force as an anthropomorphic God such as many religious people believe in. Everyone has been given an endowment," he went on, "which he must strive to develop in the service of mankind. This cannot be brought to completion through the threat of a God who will punish man for sin, but only by challenging the best in human nature. To bring beauty and brotherhood into life is the chief end of man and the highest happiness."

"Whom do you consider the most significant leader in the world today?" I asked.

"I doubt if there has been a true moral leader of world-wide influence since Tolstoy. He remains in many ways the foremost prophet of our time."

Dr. Einstein paid tribute to Albert Schweitzer, the Alsatian doctor who has built his remarkable hospital in the jungle of Africa, as "a great figure who bids for the moral leadership of the world. But there is no one today with Tolstoy's deep insight and moral force. I admire Gandhi greatly but I believe there are two weaknesses in his program. Nonresistance is the most intelligent way to face difficulty, but it can be practiced only under ideal conditions. Nonresistance practiced in India against the English may be feasible but it could not be carried out against the Nazi party in Germany today. Then, Gandhi makes a mistake in trying to abolish the machine from modern civilization. It is here and it must be dealt with."

"You have made a real sacrifice in taking issue with the Nazi government and leaving Germany. Would you take the same steps again?" I queried.

Dr. Einstein replied quietly, "I have made no sacrifice. I have done nothing but what a thinking man would do. I feel that it is not a matter of intellectual complexity. There are certain stands that one must take on big issues. I claim no credit. I could have taken no other course."

We walked out into the blossoming garden. He drew a deep breath of the fragrant air and exclaimed, "Ah, nature!" The contagious smile was still on his face. "I am very happy with my new home in friendly America and in the liberal atmosphere of Princeton," he commented. As I thanked him for the privilege of the interview, I said, "I hope that I may hear you lecture sometime." He laughed. "Lecture? I don't know enough to go around giving lectures or to write books. I sit some days in my study for three hours with a sheet of paper before me and during that time write down just a few little figures of some sort. No, I will never know enough to lecture or write books!"

I said goodbye, leaving the father of relativity standing in humility before his "fourth dimension" universe.




Portrait of America: Survey Graphic in the Thirties