On July 9th 1955 the Russell-Einstein Manifesto was released during a press conference at Caxton Hall, London. In the midst of a Nuclear Arms Race between the USA and USSR, it sought to raise the grave dangers to mankind posed by nuclear weapons and press for peaceful resolutions to Cold War tensions.
The first of the international Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which has gone on to bring together scholars to seek resolutions to international conflict winning the Nobel Peace Prize in the process, this manifesto was signed 11 respected intellectuals and scientists, most notably Albert Einstein, who had died on April 18th 1955. Joseph Rotblat, who jointly won the prize in 1995, was himself the only scientist to leave the Manhattan Project due to his moral reservations over the use of science to develop such a devastating weapon. He collaborated with activist and logician Bertrand Russell to develop the manifesto in the years following the horrific bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 by the US government, with had left over 100,000 civilians dead and long-term atomic cancers and health problems in the region.
“It was thought that only a few of the Press would turn up and a small room was booked in Caxton Hall for the Press Conference. But it soon became clear that interest was increasing and the next larger room was booked. In the end the largest room was taken and on the day of the Conference this was packed to capacity with representatives of the press, radio and television from all over the world. After reading the Manifesto, Russell answered a barrage of questions from members of the press, some of whom were initially openly hostile to the ideas contained in the Manifesto. Gradually, however, they became convinced by the forcefulness of his arguments, as was evident in the excellent reporting in the Press, which in many cases gave front page coverage.”
Joseph Rotblat chairs the meeting, which was politically neutral and extended its pleas to all world leaders.
Although an estimated 16,300 nuclear weapons remain spread around the world and full nuclear disarmament among the most imperial states looking distant, Russell and his fellow signatories may have gained some solace from the passing of United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on July 7th 2017. Representatives from 122 counties passed an historic treaty which outlawed nuclear bombs and showed majority support for a nuclear-free world, whilst the main nuclear states, engulfed in the G20, dismissed it as not legally binding and “disregard[ing] the realities of the international security environment.” Clearly these world powers have never fulfilled legal commitments regarding now illegitimate nuclear weapons, e.g. the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and do not look likely to waver from their positions.
The Russell-Einstein Manifesto
In the tragic situation which confronts humanity, we feel that scientists should assemble in conference to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction, and to discuss a resolution in the spirit of the appended draft.
We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt. The world is full of conflicts; and, overshadowing all minor conflicts, the titanic struggle between Communism and anti-Communism.
Almost everybody who is politically conscious has strong feelings about one or more of these issues; but we want you, if you can, to set aside such feelings and consider yourselves only as members of a biological species which has had a remarkable history, and whose disappearance none of us can desire.
We shall try to say no single word which should appeal to one group rather than to another. All, equally, are in peril, and, if the peril is understood, there is hope that they may collectively avert it.
We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?
The general public, and even many men in positions of authority, have not realized what would be involved in a war with nuclear bombs. The general public still thinks in terms of the obliteration of cities. It is understood that the new bombs are more powerful than the old, and that, while one A-bomb could obliterate Hiroshima, one H-bomb could obliterate the largest cities, such as London, New York, and Moscow.
No doubt in an H-bomb war great cities would be obliterated. But this is one of the minor disasters that would have to be faced. If everybody in London, New York, and Moscow were exterminated, the world might, in the course of a few centuries, recover from the blow. But we now know, especially since the Bikini test, that nuclear bombs can gradually spread destruction over a very much wider area than had been supposed.
It is stated on very good authority that a bomb can now be manufactured which will be 2,500 times as powerful as that which destroyed Hiroshima.
Such a bomb, if exploded near the ground or under water, sends radio-active particles into the upper air. They sink gradually and reach the surface of the earth in the form of a deadly dust or rain. It was this dust which infected the Japanese fishermen and their catch of fish.
No one knows how widely such lethal radio-active particles might be diffused, but the best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might possibly put an end to the human race. It is feared that if many H-bombs are used there will be universal death, sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration.
Many warnings have been uttered by eminent men of science and by authorities in military strategy. None of them will say that the worst results are certain. What they do say is that these results are possible, and no one can be sure that they will not be realized. We have not yet found that the views of experts on this question depend in any degree upon their politics or prejudices. They depend only, so far as our researches have revealed, upon the extent of the particular expert’s knowledge. We have found that the men who know most are the most gloomy.
Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?1 People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war.
The abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations of national sovereignty.2 But what perhaps impedes understanding of the situation more than anything else is that the term “mankind” feels vague and abstract. People scarcely realize in imagination that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren, and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity. They can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they, individually, and those whom they love are in imminent danger of perishing agonizingly. And so they hope that perhaps war may be allowed to continue provided modern weapons are prohibited.
This hope is illusory. Whatever agreements not to use H-bombs had been reached in time of peace, they would no longer be considered binding in time of war, and both sides would set to work to manufacture H-bombs as soon as war broke out, for, if one side manufactured the bombs and the other did not, the side that manufactured them would inevitably be victorious.
Although an agreement to renounce nuclear weapons as part of a general reduction of armaments3 would not afford an ultimate solution, it would serve certain important purposes.
First, any agreement between East and West is to the good in so far as it tends to diminish tension. Second, the abolition of thermo-nuclear weapons, if each side believed that the other had carried it out sincerely, would lessen the fear of a sudden attack in the style of Pearl Harbour, which at present keeps both sides in a state of nervous apprehension. We should, therefore, welcome such an agreement though only as a first step.
Most of us are not neutral in feeling, but, as human beings, we have to remember that, if the issues between East and West are to be decided in any manner that can give any possible satisfaction to anybody, whether Communist or anti-Communist, whether Asian or European or American, whether White or Black, then these issues must not be decided by war. We should wish this to be understood, both in the East and in the West.
There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.
We invite this Congress, and through it the scientists of the world and the general public, to subscribe to the following resolution:
“In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.”
Percy W. Bridgman
Herman J. Muller
Cecil F. Powell
1. Professor Joliot-Curie wishes to add the words: “as a means of settling differences between States.”
2. Professor Joliot-Curie wishes to add that these limitations are to be agreed by all and in the interests of all.
3. Professor Muller makes the reservation that this be taken to mean “a concomitant balanced reduction of all armaments.”
Author’s Note: Footnotes added from Joseph Rotblat, ed., Proceedings of the First Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs (Pugwash Council, 1982), 167-170
Read on for Britain’s personal experience with atomic weapons: