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Peace Must Be Waged

An Interview with Albert Einstein

Robert Merrill Bartlett

August 1935

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"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 youth—who 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.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001-2003