Skip to main content


Special Note: I know disappointed that Chrislove's byline is missing tonight. He had a scheduling conflict. But take heart! Chris will author Top Comments tomorrow night.
Letter from Albert Einstein to Franklin Roosevelt sent August 2, 1939.
On this date in 1939, Albert Einstein sent a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt urging the President to consider the use of uranium in a bomb. That letter changed the history of the world, not only in regard to nuclear power and weaponry, but in even more fundamental ways, particularly here in the United States.

If you want to learn more, follow me below the double gnocchi; if not, skip on down to the good stuff. But, first, a word from our sponsor:

Top Comments recognizes the previous day's Top Mojo and Top Photos and strives to promote each day's outstanding comments through nominations made by Kossacks like you. Please send us the comments you'd like to nominate (but not your own) either by email to or by our KosMail message board before 9:30pm ET. Just click on the Spinning Top™ to make a submission.

Make sure that you include the direct link to the comment (the URL), which is available by clicking on that comment's date/time. Please let us know your Daily Kos user name if you use email so we can credit you properly. If you send a writeup with the link, we can include that as well. The diarist reserves the right to edit all content.

Einstein's letter was, surprisingly, probably not written by Einstein, although his is the only signature on it. It was "largely written by Leó Szilárd in consultation with fellow Hungarian physicists Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner," according to Wiki, and is often called the Einstein-Szilárd Letter. You might want to read it here. It is not lengthy.

In it, Einstein warns that uranium could become weaponized:

Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd
In the course of the last four months it has been made probable...that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future. This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable — though much less certain — that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air.
He then goes on to warn that Nazi Germany has already started hoarding uranium and may be pursuing the bomb:
Allied soldiers dismantle a German experimental nuclear reactor.
I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizsäcker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in Berlin where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.
Einstein urged that a sort of ombudsman be appointed who could keep track of uranium development both as a resource and as a weapon. Since WWII began with Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the President was understandably delayed in his reply. But on October 19, FDR responded to Einstein's August 2 letter, noting that he "found this data of such import" that he had set up a "Board" to look into it. He actually established the Advisory Committee on Uranium, headed by Lyman James Briggs, Director of the National Bureau of Standards. In 1942, the Manhattan Engineering District (AKA the Manhattan Project) took over the work of the Advisory Committee and two other agencies (the National Defense Research Committee and the Office of Scientific Research and Development) in the final push to develop the atomic bomb.

Atomic bomb cloud over Hiroshima.
That work led directly to the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and, eventually, to the arms race between the US and the Soviet Union. Although Einstein never directly worked on the development of the bomb (he was considered a security risk because of his outspoken pacifism), both he and Szilárd deeply regretted the part their letter played in setting the development of the bomb in motion. (Szilárd later left physics and became a biologist.) Einstein only signed the letter because of his fear that Nazi Germany would get the bomb first. There is an excellent 3 minute video at the History Channel website called Einstein: Regret.

There is a particularly poignant moment in the video when Robert Christy, one of the physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project, chokes up as he talks about the grisly details of Hiroshima. In 1954, Einstein wrote:

I made one great mistake in my life: When I signed a letter to FDR recommending atom bombs be made.

Eisenhower issues a warning in his farewell address.
But even a genius like Einstein couldn't know how huge the monster that had been created by the atom bomb would become. Not only did the bomb lead to the development of the capability by two hostile superpowers to destroy the world at the push of a button, but his letter also marked the beginning of what we know today as the Military-Industrial Complex. In the video about Einstein's regret, the narrator says:

Unwittingly, their letter ushered in an era in which scientists and their discoveries became the tools of government.
Peter Galison, a Harvard University historian notes:
The atomic bomb project was a transformative moment in the history of all science. To spend billions of dollars building a project of this scale, it gave physicists and the government a sense of the power of science in a way that was entirely unprecedented.
Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, clarifies the impact:
Einstein's letter was, in a way, the first contact between the physicists and government. Physicists in 1945 became the most valuable asset governments had. So a lot of what we struggle with [today]—this conjoining of these vast industrial and military and scientific forces—began with that letter.
That monster continues to operate unabated. One of every five federal tax dollars goes to defense. (Only a dime out of every five dollars goes to education.) That unholy beast has produced everything from atomic submarines to night vision goggles to drones to "Star Wars."

For Einstein's part, his letter recommending pursuit of the bomb was an aberration in a life of pacifism. He once said:

My pacifism is an instinctive feeling, a feeling that possesses me because the murder of men is disgusting. My attitude is not derived from any intellectual theory but is based on my deepest antipathy to every kind of cruelty and hatred.
Einstein worked until his death in 1955 to try to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle. He promoted the formation of the United Nations. He sought arms control agreements. He dreamed of a world without atomic weapons, without war. Perhaps someday we will get there. What seems most difficult at the moment is controlling a Military-Industrial Complex that continues to have a voracious appetite for ever more destructive weapons.

Maybe someday every human will feel a deep "antipathy to every kind of cruelty and hatred." Wouldn't it be nice to reverse those budget numbers? Spend one of every five bucks on education and a dime on defense? I know that's extreme, but isn't today's reality extreme too?

Image Credits:
Einstein letter courtesy
Einstein and Szilárd courtesy
German nuclear pile courtesy
Hiroshima cloud courtesy
Military-Industrial complex courtesy
Peace sign courtesy

August 2, 2013

Thanks to tonight's Top Comments contributors! Let us hear from YOU
when you find that comment that is tops!

From enhydra lutis:

This comment by Puddytat in this diary, also by Puddytat, is simply too spot on not to submit.
From Dave in Northridge:
You would expect that eclectablog's diary about filling in for Dan Savage by writing the Savage Love column (if you were at NN13 you know eclectablog's real name is Chris Savage) would produce some gems, and wesmorgan1's invocation of Clausewitz is one of them.
From your humble diarist:
lyvwyr101 flagged this comment by TimG831 about Republican idiocy in Jed Lewison's post Republicans offer details on plan to starve American citizens.

In P Carey's diary Books That Changed My Life: Dante's Inferno, helpImdrowning flagged this wonderful comment about privilege by koosah.

peregrine kate flagged IamGumby's poignant comment in Vetwife's diary Dear Hearts and Gentle People...Rachel would never ask, but I will.

I loved this Kossack Klassification by Phoebe Loosinhouse in LaFeminista's recommended meta diary Poll. What Type of Kossack Are You?

August 1, 2013

(excluding Tip Jars and first comments)

Got mik!

  1) I wish I could rec this multiple times! by Loose Fur — 176
  2) Don't get caught giving aid & comfort to Ali Bambi by antirove — 149
  3) Thank you for sharing your very personal by MRA NY — 144
  4) Whatever the hell the law is by NYFM — 141
  5) Secrecy in government = abuses of power by Dallasdoc — 130
  6) I'm sorry for what you're going through, by cai — 122
  7) Great diary, tbctbc! by Themistoclea — 109
  8) That diary has already been derailed by PhilJD — 104
  9) Me too. Pregnancy may be "natural" but it is by merrywidow — 91
10) Agree, I had four kids, but almost bled to by ahumbleopinion — 89
11) I have bad allergies, so when I mow the lawn by Timaeus — 88
12) Yet alcohol and tobacco kill 400000+ by xxdr zombiexx — 86
13) "Turnkey totalitarianism" by Dallasdoc — 85
14) If You Have Nothing to Hide... by JekyllnHyde — 85
15) I used to love coming here by Diogenes2008 — 82
16) You'd think that they'd have at least had the by Roadbed Guy — 79
17) But the Rich would have ALL of Hawai'i, California by xxdr zombiexx — 79
18) Doesn't need to be redistributed. by tobendaro — 76
19) Well i'm not surprised by joanneleon — 74
20) Interesting articulation: by David Harris Gershon — 73
21) Congratulations by SilverWillow — 73
22) Actually by Diogenes2008 — 72
23) How much of a scumbag... by roundhead — 71
24) If the woman dies, by Cali Scribe — 71
25) If this wasn't incredibly fucked-up, it'd be funny by bobswern — 70
26) About time the smart people figured this out by Dallasdoc — 70
27) It's seems that many men don't understand by jplanner — 69
28) Some women like being pregnant by chicago minx — 67
29) Are you sure? by JoanMar — 66
30) heh. by Denise Oliver Velez — 66
31) What horrendous bullshit. by commonmass — 66

August 1, 2013

Enjoy jotter's wonderful PictureQuilt™ below. Just click on the picture and it will magically take you to the comment that features that photo. Have fun, Kossacks!

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site