Albert Einstein Appears in Remarkably Colorized Video & Contemplates the Fate of Humanity After the Atomic Bomb (1946)

We lived in one world before August 6, 1945, and have lived in anoth­er ever since. Nobody under­stood this more clear­ly than Albert Ein­stein, who had advo­cat­ed for the research that cul­mi­nat­ed in that day. “A let­ter from Dr. Ein­stein in 1939 informed Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt that the Ger­mans were engaged in the devel­op­ment of an atom­ic bomb and urged that sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy in the Unit­ed States be mobi­lized on a sim­i­lar effort,” says a 1946 New York Times arti­cle. “This [1939] let­ter gave the first impe­tus to the devel­op­ment of the Atom­ic Bomb.” This sto­ry was includ­ed by way of con­text of a new call to action by Ein­stein and oth­er promi­nent sci­en­tists, one meant to secure human­i­ty’s future in a world with the bomb.

“Our world faces a cri­sis as yet unper­ceived by those pos­sess­ing pow­er to make great deci­sions for good or evil,” declares a telegram sent by Ein­stein to what the Times calls “sev­er­al hun­dred promi­nent Amer­i­cans.” “The unleashed pow­er of the atom has changed every­thing save our modes of think­ing and we thus drift toward unpar­al­leled cat­a­stro­phe. We sci­en­tists who released this immense pow­er have an over­whelm­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty in this world life-and-death strug­gle to har­ness the atom for the ben­e­fit of mankind and not for humanity’s destruc­tion.”

Hence the for­ma­tion of the Emer­gency Com­mit­tee of Atom­ic Sci­en­tists, chaired by Ein­stein and includ­ing as mem­bers such fig­ures as Hans A. Bethe, who’d direct­ed the The­o­ret­i­cal Divi­sion at Los Alam­os, and Leo Szi­lard, Ein­stein’s col­lab­o­ra­tor on the 1939 let­ter to Roo­sevelt.

Szi­lard also appears along Ein­stein in the col­orized short film clip above, in which they lis­ten to a ver­sion of their telegram read aloud “We beg you to sup­port our efforts to bring real­iza­tion to Amer­i­ca that mankind’s des­tiny is being decid­ed today, now, this moment,” reads the announc­er. The telegram itself spec­i­fies that “we need two hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars at once for a nation-wide cam­paign to let the peo­ple know that a new type of think­ing is essen­tial if mankind is to sur­vive and move toward high­er lev­els.” In oth­er words, one mind­set had enabled the cre­ation of nuclear weapons, and quite anoth­er was need­ed to pre­vent them from ever being used again. In 1954, the year before his death, Ein­stein wrote that “I made one great mis­take in my life — when I signed the let­ter to Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt rec­om­mend­ing that atom bombs be made.” It’s one kind of ambi­tion to change the mind of a politi­cian, and quite anoth­er to change the mind of human­i­ty.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Albert Ein­stein in Four Col­or Films

Hear Albert Ein­stein Read “The Com­mon Lan­guage of Sci­ence” (1941)

Albert Ein­stein Explains Why We Need to Read the Clas­sics

Hear the Voice of Albert Ein­stein: Vin­tage Album Fea­tures Him Talk­ing About E=MC2, World Peace & More

“The Most Intel­li­gent Pho­to Ever Tak­en”: The 1927 Solvay Coun­cil Con­fer­ence, Fea­tur­ing Ein­stein, Bohr, Curie, Heisen­berg, Schrödinger & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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