Physicist Albert Einstein, who laid the groundwork for technologies ranging from television to space travel, has been named Time's Person of the Century. Writes the magazine, "In a century that will be remembered foremost for its science and technology -- in particular for our ability to understand and then harness the forces of the atom and universe -- one person clearly stands out as both the greatest mind and paramount icon of our age: The kindly, absent-minded professor whose wild halo of hair, piercing eyes, engaging humanity and extraordinary brilliance made his face a symbol and his name a synonym for genius, Albert Einstein." The German-born Einstein's theory of relativity rejects the concept of absolute motion, explaining why motion, speed and mass appear different depending on the observer's frame of reference. That enabled spectacular developments in fields such as gravitation, the study of the cosmos and nuclear fission.
Einstein is less well known as a humanist and pacifist. After the terrible "War to End All Wars" (such irony!), the League of Nations was founded to work on removing the obstacles to peace. After WWI, Einstein was philosophically a 'pacifist'. As Hitler began to gain power in the 1930's, Einstein realized that Hitler could only be stopped by force. However, before that time, in 1932, Einstein wrote to Freud to avail himself of psychological insights. The League of Nations committee was an impressive think tank, which included such great minds as Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. You can imagine that these dominant and profound thinkers knew of each other and had read each other's works, and they were interested in working on the task of making peace. The tacit understanding was that war is primitive and peace is civilized, that we should logically work toward a better world--- the greater good for the greater number. "Good" would involve freedom from suffering and slavery, freedom from insecurity and oppression, freedom to grow and thrive and be successful.
In 1923 Einstein wrote a letter to Freud, saying that he was only a physicist, and that he needed the help of a psychologist to give insights into human nature, so that this knowledge can be effectively utilized. In answer to this letter, Freud sent a deep, complex and extended reply, saying in effect that war is here to stay and you might as well accept the fact. It is only another calamity of life. In case anybody thought that Freudian psychoanalysis would be a panacea, which was definitely not Freud's notion. In his reply to Einstein, which was published as an essay, "On War", Freud traced the origins of war from the caveman, one battling another, for whatever they fought about in those days. And the stronger and quicker would win. This was the beginning of "might makes right."
It is ironic that the pacifist Einstein developed the equation E=MC2, which mathematically determined the relationship between matter and energy. Since C is the speed of light, the number is very great, as it is squared. This means that a tiny amount of matter can give rise to, or be converted to a massive amount of energy. The source of the energy is within the atom itself, and since certain isotopes are unstable and radioactive, the nucleus of the atom can be split, resulting in a huge outpouring of energy. It was Einstein who approached president Roosevelt and told him of these findings of research and experimental physics, and predicted that this process could be made into a bomb beyond any made before, and which could turn the tide against the Axis powers.
Ironically, Nazi antiSemitism caused both Einstein and Freud to leave Germany, and so they were free to do their work without hindrance. If not for the atom bomb, the invasion of the Japanese mainland would have been unbearably costly. The Manhattan Project is history, the testing of the bomb in secret, and finally dropping it on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought about the unconditional surrender which was our requirement for ending the war.
Since then there are thousands of nuclear ICBMs poised to destroy, hopefully with many effective safeguards against accidental use. There are fission bombs and fusion bombs, 'clean' bombs and 'dirty' bombs. We can only hope, at the beginning of the third millennium, that terrorists will not be able to utilize them. A miniature bomb in a suitcase could conceivable vaporize New York City. Terrorists have already tried to topple one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
It is essential that we give up primitive tribalism, the categorization of them and us, friend and enemy, to work toward a real peace in this world. Otherwise we will destroy ourselves, and with it all our hopes and dreams, our children and grandchildren, our history, our art--- everything. And if that happened, for a time the world would consist of crabgrass and cockroaches.
Dr Bloom is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Wayne State University. He welcomes comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.