Sheldon Kirshner

Einstein and the Bomb

Albert Einstein, the most brilliant theoretical physicist of his generation, was torn by an abiding sense of responsibility and guilt after the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer of 1945.

The enormous blasts killed tens of thousands of people, but hastened Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II in the Pacific theater.

Although Einstein played no direct role in building these awesome nuclear devices, American scientists attached to the Manhattan Project could not have developed and built the A-bomb without his totally original, path-breaking scientific theories about the relativity of space and time.

And so he would always be known as the Father of the Atomic Age.

Anthony Philipson’s docudrama, Einstein and the Bomb, which is now available on the Netflix streaming platform, expertly explores this facet of his career through his own words, reenactments, newspaper headlines and file footage. The actor Aidan McArdle delivers a fine performance in portraying Einstein.

It’s an interesting and instructive film about an extraordinarily great scientist who considered himself a man of peace and a pacifist despite his firmly-held belief that only “organized force” could defeat his nemesis, Adolf Hitler, and his antisemitic Nazi regime.

Having been driven out of Germany, his native land, where his Theory of Relatively was debunked by pro-Nazi scientists, Einstein landed on his feet in the United States following a brief interlude in Britain.

Einstein, a secular Jew, believed that Walther Rathenau, Germany’s only Jewish foreign minister, was the first victim of Nazism. Rathenau, the scion of a wealthy and highly assimilated family, was assassinated by an extreme right-wing paramilitary group in Berlin in 1922.

And while Einstein was wrong in claiming that Nazi rule would crumble with the onset of prosperity in Germany, he was right in predicting that fascism would poison the minds of many Germans and that Hitler would eventually lead his nation to war.

After U.S. military intelligence concluded that Germany had taken the first steps toward building an atomic bomb, Einstein wrote President Franklin Roosevelt an impassioned letter in 1939 advising him to finance a nuclear weapons program. In fact, German scientists failed to produce an A-bomb, but Einstein would regret his advocacy of it.

Ironically enough, Einstein was excluded from the Manhattan Project. Due to his activism as a pacifist, he was deemed as a security risk.

Once the full details of the Holocaust emerged, Einstein said he would have nothing further to do with Germany.

In 1955, the year of Einstein’s death, a Japanese journalist visited him at his office in the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton University. Still feeling guilty about his indirect role in the production of the nuclear bomb, Einstein confessed that it never occurred to him that the devastating power of atomic energy would be released during his lifetime. True to his beliefs, Einstein said that the fate of humanity was now dependent on the caliber of its moral development.

Nearly 70 years after his passing, Einstein’s penetrating observation can be applied to the volatile and unstable geopolitical climate that defines our contemporary era.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,
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