(May 18, 2010)
“I am not only a pacifist, but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.” Albert Einstein
Being a peace advocate during times of war or times of peace takes its toll on even the hardiest of us. In most cultures, working for peace is very counter-cultural and, in my opinion, peace advocates have had and do have the absolute highest moral stance and should be treasured, not scourged.
So, in this world where warmongers and killers can be awarded the establishment’s highest honor for peace, the Nobel, this series will be about those who have been uncompromising in their quest for true world health through world peace.
The first Peace Hero I am writing about is Albert Einstein.
Even though Einstein’s famous Theory of Relativity (E = mc2)) led to the development of the ultimate energy weapon of mass destruction, Einstein was a life-long pacifist.
Einstein wrote shortly before his death that the “greatest mistake” of his life was to sign a letter urging then President Roosevelt to develop “the bomb.” Einstein was concerned that Hitler’s Germany would get it first, but then he was devastated when Truman used it twice on Japan.
Before Einstein moved to the U.S. in 1933 to accept a post at Princeton, he was involved in international disarmament and war resister efforts.
During the Vietnam conflict, many soldiers became active war resisters and there were countless draft resisters. Troops were openly resisting orders and even “fragging” their superiors who were willing to risk the slaughter of their men and civilians for military advancement. Oftentimes, troops would leave active duty—grow their hair long—rip up their uniforms and toss their medals over the fence of the White House in open defiance of the Military Industrial Complex. The anti-war movement welcomed vets then, as it does today.
However, there’s also a persistent urban myth that returning troops were met at (civilian) airports by a “Flower Child,” called “baby killers,” and then were spat upon. The perpetuation of these myths conveniently caused a knee-jerk reaction that swung the pendulum the other way to an all out, unconditional love and support for “the troops.”
This attitude reached crescendos of ridiculousness after 9/11 when criticism of the U.S. violent extremist reaction to that event became tantamount to criticism of “the troops.” Even the “peace” movement that arose in response radically shies away from any criticism of “the troops.” To me, and to Professor Einstein, this ideology ultimately harms peace as he wrote:
He who joyfully marches to music rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
In the last decade of his life, Einstein poured his efforts into nuclear disarmament and the cooling of tensions between the nuclear East and the nuclear West saying: “The war is won, but the peace is not.” Decades later, this tension was only ended when the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its military empire.
Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for physics, but was never awarded the establishment’s peace prize for his other passion: pacifism.
From time to time, I will write about well known peace activists, and about lesser known activists, but as in Einstein’s case, I will write about well known people who are not so well known for their peace activism.
I have a pencil sketch of Albert Einstein on my living-room wall and it is one of my prized possessions that has followed me from place to place in the many times I have had to change residences since my son, Casey, was killed in Iraq. I was always attracted to Einstein for his brilliant intellect and I was very pleased to discover the pacifist side of him.
Albert Einstein is definitely one of my Peace Heroes.