Portrait of America: Survey Graphic in the ThirtiesHomeIntroductionEditor's NotesArticlesFurther Reading
Peace Must Be Waged

An Interview with Albert Einstein

Robert Merrill Bartlett

August 1935

1 2

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 clothes—he 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.

Albert Einstein"Well, war is on the way. I doubt if it will come this year—or 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 policies—some intellectuals—but 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 accurately sense 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 emotional 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."


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001-2003