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By Irwin Abrams
Published in THE NOBEL PRIZE ANNUAL for 1995 as "The Nobel Prize in Peace."

In the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Norwegian Nobel Committee shared its prize between Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs "for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and in the longer run to eliminate such arms." Rotblat was the nuclear physicist who had opposed the bomb when the first one was being built. He was a founder and now president of the organization established in 1957 on the initiative of Bertrand Russell, the eminent British philosopher, mathematician and social reformer, who proposed that scientists should take responsibility for the nuclear weapons which science had produced and work toward their elimination before these weapons destroyed civilization.

When the scientific world first heard about the splitting of the uranium atom at the beginning of 1939, Joseph Rotblat was a thirty-one year-old Polish scientist who had just received his doctor's degree from the University of Warsaw and was working in the radiological laboratory in Warsaw under a pupil of Marie Curie. Like many other scientists inspired by the news of what was now called the "fission" of uranium, Rotblat set out to repeat the experiment to see whether neutrons would be emitted. When he found that even more neutrons were emitted than those producing this effect, he realized that a chain reaction could be set up which would release a great amount of energy and that if this were released in a short time, a tremendous explosion would result. This meant that a weapon of unprecedented destruction could be manufactured.

Rotblat's first thought was "to put the whole thing out of my mind." Science should serve mankind, and the idea that a scientific discovery should be used to produce such a weapon was abhorrent. Only a few months earlier, however, Nazi Germany had increased its power at the Munich settlement, and Rotblat could not banish the fear that German scientists, who had first discovered fission, might put their talents at the service of their state.

In April 1939 Rotblat left Warsaw to spend a year at Liverpool University working with Professor James Chadwick, winner of the 1995 Nobel physics prize of 1935 for his discovery of the neutron. As war approached, Rotblat worked out his rationale for researching the feasibility of an atomic bomb: if the Germans were to get it, the only way to stop them would be if the British also had it and could threaten to retaliate. Two days after he returned to Liverpool from a brief trip to Warsaw, Germany attacked Poland, and Rotblat's conscience was now clear. Chadwick approved his proposal to do research on the atom bomb without revealing that other scientists in Britain were working on the same idea. So secret was such activity that Rotblat was not permitted to tell the Quaker conscientious objector assisting him that they were now doing war work.

Across the Atlantic in the same year of 1939 Albert Einstein's letter to President Franklin Roosevelt, prompted by fellow scientists also concerned about Nazi Germany, led Roosevelt to appoint a committee to investigate the possibility of making an atomic bomb, the first step in the establishment of the Manhattan Project. When Rotblat and other scientists in Britain concluded that indeed an atomic bomb could be made, but that it would take a vast technological effort, it was decided that a British scientific mission would join the Manhattan Project in the United States.

As chief of this mission, Chadwick had Rotblat appointed as a "technical scientific officer," and in February 1944 Rotblat arrived at Los Alamos. He retained his Polish citizenship, expecting to return to Poland after the war, where he had left his wife. Since the other émigré scientists at Los Alamos had acquired either British or United States citizenship, security officials would have paid Rotblat special attention.

Early in his stay at Los Alamos, he had "a disagreeable shock." At a social occasion at the Chadwicks he heard General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, say "Of course, the real purpose in making the bomb was to subdue the Soviets." To Rotblat, the objective was to have a nuclear deterrent against Germany, certainly not against the Soviet ally. Toward the end of 1944, when it seemed clear that Germany would not obtain the bomb, for Rotblat the reason he had come to Los Alamos no longer existed, and he asked Chadwick for permission to leave.

Chadwick now learned that the chief of security had a dossier on Rotblat: he was suspected of planning to return to England so that he could be flown over Poland, where he would parachute down to Soviet territory and hand over to the Soviets the secrets of the atomic bomb. Moreover, it was alleged that he planned to leave a blank check with a contact in Santa Fe for the establishment of a Communist cell.

Rotblat had, against regulations, indeed visited a friend in Santa Fe, although he had kept Chadwick completely informed, and he did plan to leave a blank check with her. The dossier shown Chadwick, however, contained a number of details of conversations with dates, which Rotblat was able to expose as complete fabrications. FBI records now available show that their persevering agents eventually tracked down Rotblat's Santa Fe friend in California six years later, and she denied the whole fanciful story. The blank check was to purchase and send to Rotblat some articles not available in wartime England, and it had never been cashed. Nevertheless, presumably for reasons of security, Rotblat was unable to secure a visa to visit the United States until 1964.

Since the authorities could not let Rotblat reveal his real reason for leaving Los Alamos, for fear that others might defect, Rotblat had to promise to tell only that he was leaving because he was worried about his family in Poland. In fact they did not survive the Holocaust. In December Rotblat sailed from New York to Liverpool, but his trunk with all his records disappeared somewhere en route to New York, most probably, Rotblat believes, having fallen prey to the long arm of American intelligence.

Rotblat returned to research and teaching nuclear physics at Liverpool University. Determined that his research would only benefit humanity and have no possible application to weaponry, he made his career in nuclear medicine. From 1950 to 1976, when he retired, Rotblat was Professor of Physics in the University of London and was attached to St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College in Charterhouse Square. He rose to the very top of his profession, acclaimed by the London Times in 1983 as "a world authority on radiation."

He continued to be concerned about the bomb, although he did not speak out until after the war had ended. When he heard that the bomb had been used on Japanese cities, Rotblat says he felt "betrayed." For several months he gave public lectures calling for a complete moratorium on all nuclear research for three years. Ironically, he was vigorously attacked by left-wing groups, who claimed that this would disadvantage the Soviet Union. He next helped to establish the Atomic Scientists Association, the British counterpart to the American Federation of Atomic Scientists.

To educate the public about atoms he arranged a mobile museum, placing models illustrating the peaceful and military uses of atomic energy on two railway cars, which traveled throughout the British Isles and even visited Scandinavia and several countries of the Middle East. This so-called "Atom Train" was scored a great success. In the 1950s he lectured and published articles warning about atomic dangers and the threat of genetic damage from nuclear testing. After the American H-bomb test at the Bikini atoll, he deduced why the fall-out had been so widespread and declared in his article explaining this, "There is something particularly sinister about a bomb which is so designed as to poison the whole world with radioactivity."

It was in these activities that he met Bertrand Russell. Soon after the Hiroshima bomb explosion in 1945, Russell had given a prophetic speech in the House of Lords warning of the threat to civilization of a future H-bomb and suggesting a meeting between Soviet and Western scientists. As the Cold War developed, he saw the situation growing more serious as the Cold War developed and vitally urgent when the H-bomb became a reality. In December 1954 Russell repeated his warning in the strongest words in a talk over the BBC later called "Man's Peril." He urged his listeners to forget their ideological quarrels: "I appeal, as a human being to human beings: remember your humanity, and forget the rest." The choice, he concluded, was between progress and happiness or "universal death."

Encouraged by the flood of letters, Russell wrote to Albert Einstein, then the greatest living scientist, proposing a statement which well-known scientists from both capitalist and Communist countries could sign, calling for future action. Einstein was enthusiastic and asked Russell to draft the statement. This he did, basing it on his December broadcast, sending it to Einstein to sign and inviting other scientists to join them. When Russell was flying from Rome to Paris, the pilot announced the news of Einstein's death. Russell was crestfallen, thinking that all was lost, but when he arrived in Paris, he found a letter from Einstein, written just before he died, with his signature to the statement.

The declaration, which became known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, was signed by Rotblat and eight other distinguished scientists, most of them Nobel prize winners. Included were Linus Pauling, Frederic Joliot-Curie of France, Leopold Infeld of Poland, Max Born of Germany, and Hideki Yukawa of Japan.

The Manifesto proposed a conference of scientists "to appraise the perils" faced by humanity because of the H-bomb and called for an agreement between East and West to renounce nuclear weapons. Russell arranged for a press conference to launch the Manifesto and then looked for a chairman. He needed a nuclear physicist to answer the technical questions, preferably one who could handle the anticipated hostility from those who would regard the statement as pro-Soviet. Rotblat was just the man, but he was off on vacation in Southern Ireland. Russell reached him by phone through the local policeman, who had the only phone in the village. Rotblat immediately accepted.

The press conference was well attended by representatives of the media, who were initially skeptical but increasingly favorable as Russell and Rotblat impressed them with their own sincerity and their conviction that the effort must be made to avert universal nuclear devastation. Russell was much impressed by Rotblat and predicted that one day he would win a Nobel prize, never dreaming that it would be for peace and not physics.

The news coverage of the press conference all over the world was mostly favorable, and the next step was to arrange for the conference of scientists. This finally took place in 1957, with the essential financial support provided by the industrialist Cyrus Eaton. He paid the travel costs and hosted the meeting at his summer home in Pugwash, a small fishing village in Nova Scotia, which was his birthplace and the site of similar gatherings.

At Pugwash on July 22 participants from 10 countries of both East and West came together to discuss the threat to humanity of nuclear war. Russell, now eighty-five years old, did not attend, but he was made the chairman of the Continuing Committee set up to plan future meetings. Once the organization was established, Russell maintained close contact throughout the early years, but later withdrew from direct participation. Rotblat, however, was chosen from the beginning as the executive officer and served in that position for seventeen years.

The achievement of Russell and the other founders was not only to assemble top scientists to discuss the human problem of survival, but to bring them together from both sides of what the Russell-Einstein Manifesto had called, "the titanic struggle between Communism and anti-Communism." Pugwash has always maintained the principle of inviting participants to its meetings with political and ideological impartiality and they are to represent only themselves.

During the cold war, however, anti-communists in the West refused to believe that the Soviet participants could be anything other than instruments of the "communist conspiracy." In 1960 Senator Thomas Dodd, a member of the Subcommittee on Internal Security, called Pugwash on the floor of the Senate a communist organization, and the conclusion of a Senate staff report declared: "The general tenor of the Pugwash Conferences, as set by Lord Bertrand Russell and the Soviet delegation, was to weaken the will of American scientists to resist Soviet aggression."

It is true that the Soviet authorities made some effort to manipulate discussions, but the American scientists were no innocents. They were quite aware that certain Soviet representatives seemed to have more authority than even the official head of their delegation. There was one who in translating a paper would change or add something. Rotblat, who knew Russian, would call him on it openly, saying: "This is not part of the paper." But there were also senior Soviet scientists present who clearly were not afraid to speak their mind.

Russell knew how important it was to keep himself and Pugwash perceived as impartial. He declined the International Peace Prize offered him by the pro-Soviet World Council of Peace, and he, Rotblat and others resisted the suggestion from Cyrus Eaton that the Pugwash organization support the appeal by Premier Nikita Khruschev to the United Nations for universal disarmament. Russell took a dim view of Eaton's acceptance of the Soviet Union's Lenin Peace Prize.

Eaton's increasing political activities and pro-Soviet public statements became an embarrassment to Pugwash, and its leaders decided, after he had financed three of the first five conferences, that they needed to separate from him and seek funding elsewhere. The conference held at Pugwash in 1959 was the last held there. Many participants wanted to rechristen the movement. In Britain Captain Pugwash was a character in a children's story, and Russell himelf privately used the name, "Houndsditch." The conference at London in 1962, however, decided to stay with Pugwash and to call the movement the "Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs."

It was several years before the governments of the West became convinced that Pugwash was genuinely evenhanded and independent. Then Pugwash had to resist the efforts of Western governments to influence Pugwash by proposing participants and topics for discussion, and then it was the turn of the Soviets to make charges that Pugwash was serving the interests of the West.

Pugwash kept to its small off-the-record discussions, but social scientists and other scholars as well as public figures joined the discussions, representatives from the Third World were also invited, and the agenda was broadened to include consideration of chemical and bacteriological warfare, of economic development, environmental problems and other topics.

The Pugwash conferences provided a channel of communications during times in the Cold War when the superpowers were not speaking to one another. In informal and freewheeling discussions, novel ideas could arise, to be passed on to governments. Methods of verification first discussed at Pugwash produced technical ideas that helped lead to the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963. Similarly, Pugwash discussions facilitated negotiations for the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 and the agreements in 1972 on biological weapons and the limiting of anti-ballistic missiles in the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I). There is evidence that in the process of reaching this latter agreement, Soviet scientists convinced by arguments of Western scientists at Pugwash influenced their government to change its policy.

As the chairman of the Nobel committee declared at the award ceremony, Rotblat and Pugwash "have kept the vision of a nuclear-free world alive, while working unwearingly for specific arms limitation measures in the short term." In his Nobel speech accepting the prize, Rotblat proposed some immediate steps that could be taken. He explained that while the very first resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1946 had called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, the deterrence policies of the Cold War had then placed a high priority on maintaining such weapons. Now, however, the rationale for keeping them had disappeared. The five admitted nuclear states, in signing the recent extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, had again committed themselves to complete nuclear disarmament, yet in their policies they keep nuclear arms to deal with unspecified contingencies.

Rotblat appealed to the nuclear states, first to sign a treaty agreeing never be the first to use such weapons, and then to work toward a universal Nuclear Weapons Convention, prohibiting all possession of nuclear arms. Pugwash, he said, has already been working on measures for verification.

His second appeal was to his fellow scientists, echoing the Hiroshima anniversary statement of Hans Bethe, one of the few surviving chief scientists of the Manhattan Project. Bethe had called upon all scientists to refuse to work on the development of any weapons of mass destruction. Rotblat added that scientists should be prepared to "blow the whistle" on attempts to conceal such research, even though this could bring heavy punishment, as happened to Mordechai Vanunu, kidnapped and still jailed by the Israelis for revealing that his country was producing nuclear weapons.

Finally, Rotblat appealed to his fellow citizens in all countries while keeping their national loyalties, to develop a new loyalty, a loyalty to humankind. Because of the way science and technology have brought the world together, Rotblat declared, prospects for this are better than at the time of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. In any case, there is no alternative, since to survive, we must work for a war-free world.

In closing, Rotblat quoted the final sentence of the Manifesto:

We appeal, as human beings, to human beings. Remember
your humanity and forget the rest. If you do so, the way lies
open for a new paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you
the risk of universal death.

"Above all," Rotblat concluded, leaving the key words of that memorable document in the minds of his listeners, "Remember your humanity."