The way to international security leads over the unconditional renunciation of the states of a part of their freedom of action or sovereignty, and it should be undoubted that there is no other way to this security… (P)owerful psychological forces are at work paralyzing these efforts. Some of these forces are out in the open. The need for power of the ruling class of each state is one force.
Excerpts from an exchange of letters written in 1932 and published by the League of Nations in 1933 under the title “Why War?”.
by Albert Einstein
[These excerpts posted om 1/3/2023 are translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.ossietzky.net/artikel/warum-krieg/.]
Dear Mr. Freud!
I am happy that through the suggestion of the League of Nations (…) to discuss a freely chosen problem with a person of my choice in a free exchange of opinions, I receive a unique opportunity to talk with them about that question which, in the present state of things, appears to me to be the most important of civilization: Is there a way to free mankind from the doom of war? The realization that this question has become an existential question for civilized mankind as a result of the progress of technology has fairly generally penetrated, and yet the hot efforts to solve it have so far failed to an alarming degree. (…)
Because I myself am a man free from the affects of national nature, the external or organizational side of the problem seems to me simple: the States create a legislative and judicial authority for the arbitration of all conflicts arising between them. They undertake to submit to the laws established by the legislative authority, to apply to the court in all cases of dispute, to submit unconditionally to its decisions, and to carry out all such measures as the court deems necessary for the realization of its decisions. (…) However, at present we are far from having a supranational organization capable of conferring unquestionable authority on its court and of enforcing absolute obedience to the execution of its findings. Thus the first observation suggests itself to me: The way to international security leads over the unconditional renunciation of the states of a part of their freedom of action or sovereignty, and it should be undoubted that there is no other way to this security.
A look at the unsuccessfulness of the undoubtedly serious efforts of recent decades to achieve this goal makes everyone feel clearly that powerful psychological forces are at work paralyzing these efforts. Some of these forces are out in the open. The need for power of the ruling class of each state opposes any limitation of the sovereign rights of the same. This “political need for power” is often nourished by the materially and economically expressed striving for power of another stratum. I am thinking here primarily of the small but determined group of people, present within every nation and inaccessible to social considerations and inhibitions, to whom war, arms manufacture and trade are nothing but an opportunity to derive personal advantage, to expand their personal sphere of power.
This simple statement, however, means only a first step in the realization of the connections. The question immediately arises: How is it possible that the minority just mentioned can make the masses of the people subservient to their desires, who have only to suffer and lose through a war. (…) Here the nearest answer seems to be: The minority of the respective rulers has above all the school, the press and mostly also the religious organizations in its hand. Through these means it dominates and directs the feelings of the great masses and makes them its will-less tools.
But even this answer does not exhaust the whole context, for the question arises: How is it possible that the masses can be inflamed to frenzy and self-sacrifice by the means mentioned? The answer can only be: In man lives a need to hate and to destroy. (…) Here is the place which only the great connoisseur of human drives can illuminate.
This leads to a final question: Is there a possibility to guide the psychic development of human beings in such a way that they become more resistant to the psychoses of hatred and destruction? I am by no means thinking only of the so-called uneducated. According to my life experiences, it is rather just the so-called “intelligence” which succumbs most easily to the fatal mass suggestion, because it does not use to draw directly from the experience, but can be grasped most comfortably and most completely on the way over the printed paper. (…)
Dear Mr. Einstein!
When I heard that you intended to invite me to an exchange of ideas on a subject in which you are interested and which seems to you worthy of the interest of others, I readily agreed. (…) At first I was frightened under the impression of my – almost I would have said: our -incompetence, because this appeared to me as a practical task, which falls to the statesmen. But then I understood that you raised the question not as a natural scientist and physicist, but as a philanthropist who had followed the suggestions of the League of Nations (…). I also remembered that I am not expected to make practical suggestions, but only to indicate how the problem of war prevention presents itself to a psychological consideration. (…)
You begin with the relationship between law and power. This is certainly the right starting point for our investigation. May I replace the word “might” by the more glaring, harsher word “force”? Law and violence are opposites to us today. It is easy to show that the one has developed from the other, and if we go back to the primordial beginnings and see how this first happened, the solution of the problem falls to us effortlessly. (…)
Conflicts of interest among people are decided in principle by the use of force. (…) Even within a community the violent settlement of conflicts of interest has not been avoided. But the necessities and commonalities derived from living together on the same ground are favorable to a speedy termination of such struggles, and the probability of peaceful solutions under these conditions is steadily increasing. A glance at human history, however, shows us an incessant series of conflicts between one polity and one or more others, between larger and smaller units, urban areas, landscapes, tribes, peoples, empires, which are almost always decided by the trial of strength of war. Such wars end either in deprivation or in full subjugation, conquest of one part. One cannot judge the wars of conquest uniformly. Some, such as those of the Mongols and Turks, have only brought disaster, others, on the contrary, have contributed to the transformation of violence into law, by creating larger units within which the possibility of using violence had now ceased and a new legal order settled the conflicts. Thus the conquests of the Romans gave the Mediterranean countries the precious Pax Romana. The French kings’ desire for aggrandizement created a peaceful united, prosperous France. Paradoxical as it may sound, one must admit that war would not be an inappropriate means of establishing the longed-for “eternal” peace, because it is capable of creating those large units within which a strong central power makes further wars impossible. But it is not suitable for this purpose, because the successes of conquest are usually not permanent; the newly created units disintegrate again, mostly as a result of the lack of cohesion of the forcibly united parts. (…)
Applied to our present time, the same result is obtained, to which you have arrived in a shorter way. A safe prevention of wars is possible only if people agree on the establishment of a central power, to which the judgement in all conflicts of interests is transferred. Obviously, two demands are united here, that such a superior authority be created and that it be given the necessary power. The one alone would not avail. Now the League of Nations is conceived as such an authority, but the other condition is not fulfilled; the League of Nations has no power of its own and can get it only if the members of the new unification, the individual states, cede it to it. But there seems little prospect of this at present. (…) There are persons who predict that only the general penetration of the Bolshevik way of thinking will be able to put an end to the wars, but at any rate we are far from such a goal today, and perhaps it would be attainable only after terrible civil wars. So it seems that the attempt to replace real power with the power of ideas is still doomed to failure today.
Wolfgang Borchert Says NO!
[This poem posted on 1/3/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.ossietzky.net/artikel/wolfgang-borchert-sagt-nein/.]
Women and men at the machines in workshops. If they order you to produce armaments, there is only one thing to do:
People, wherever you sell your labor, if tomorrow they order you to produce weapons, then there is only one thing:
Capitalists, if they order you to sell weapons and accessories instead of food, there is only one thing you can do:
Researcher Researchers in all institutes of this world. If tomorrow they order you to sell even more brutal murder weapons to destroy life, then there is only one thing to do:
PoetsPoets, opinion makersopinion makers, if they force you to justify war instead of peace, if they order you to proclaim hate and murder texts, then there is only one thing:
You who heal the sick, refuse to write people fit for war service:
Proclaimers of all religions. If tomorrow they order you to bless murder and canonize war, there is only one thing to do:
You who are responsible for logistics. If they order you to stop transporting food, but to transport guns and tanks, there is only one thing you can do:
Pilots on the airfield. When they order you to carry bombs and phosphorus over the cities, there is only one thing to do:
Politicians don’t decide on war and money or credits for murder weapons that turn soldiers into murderers: Be for freedom, equality and brotherhood, to everything else:
You women and men who dispense justice in the courts. If tomorrow they order you to go to court martial, there is only one thing to do:
Railroad workers. If tomorrow they order you to give the signal for departure for the ammunition train and for the troop transport, there is only one thing to do:
You people in the village and in the city. When they come tomorrow and bring you the order to present yourselves, there is only one thing to do:
You. Mother in Normandy and mother in Ukraine and Moscow, you, mother in Frisko and London, you at the Hoangho and at the Mississippi, you, mother in Naples and Hamburg and Cairo and Oslo – mothers in all continents, mothers in the world, when tomorrow they order you to give birth to children, nurses for war hospitals and new murderers for new battles, mothers in the world, there is only one thing:
Say NO! Mothers, say NO!
Because if you don’t say NO, if WE all don’t say NO, then:
In the noisy steam-haunted port cities, the great ships will fall groaning silent, and like titanic mammoth carcasses will sway waterily inert against the dead lonely quay walls, algae, kelp and shell over-west, the formerly so gleaming booming body, peacefully fish-fouling fragrant, friable, sickly, dead – the streetcars will lie like senseless lackluster glassy-eyed cages stupidly dented and flaked beside the tangled steel skeletons of wires and tracks, behind rotten roof-perforated sheds, in lost crater-cracked streets – a muddy gray thick leaden silence will roll up, voracious, growing, will swell in the schools and universities and playhouses, in sports fields and children’s playgrounds, gruesome and greedy unstoppable – the sunny juicy wine will rot on the decayed slopes, the rice will wither in the parched earth, the potato will freeze to death on the fallow fields, and the cows will stretch their dead-stiff legs to the sky like overturned milking stools – in the institutes the brilliant inventions of the great doctors will turn sour, rot, mold fungus – in the kitchens, chambers and cellars, in the cold stores and warehouses, the last sacks of flour, the last jars of strawberries, pumpkin and cherry juice will decay – the bread under the overturned tables and on shattered plates will turn green, and the spilled butter will stink like soft soap, the grain in the fields will have sunk down beside rusted plows like a slain army, and the smoking brick chimneys, the meals and the chimneys of the pounding factories will, covered by the eternal grass, crumble – crumble – crumble – then the last man, with torn guts and polluted lungs, will wander answerless and lonely under the poisonously glowing sun and under wavering stars, lonely among the immense mass graves and the cold idols of the gigantic concrete-block desolate cities, the last man, scrawny, insane, blaspheming, lamenting – and his terrible lament: WHY? will trickle away unheard in the steppe, blow through the broken ruins, seep into the rubble of the churches, clap against high bunkers, fall into pools of blood, unheard, unanswered, last animal cry of the last animal man – all this will come to pass, tomorrow, tomorrow maybe, maybe tonight if – if you don’t say NO.
This poem, repressed and forgotten like its poet Wolfgang Borchert, I have adapted a little in the first part to today’s reality. In the jungle of the poisoned media and opinion kitchen it should admonish: Where there is war, no man will survive. No matter whether he is red-black-green or yellow.