2002-08-01 / View From the Middle

View From

The MiddleThe Great Minds Might Have Led To
By Charles Rogers

The Middle
The Great Minds Might Have Led To ‘Mankind’s Destruction’

I collect things. Things. That includes everything from coins to foreign paper money to political memorabilia to base-ball cards. At any given time, I can be seen admiring and wishing for some nostalgic article or, perhaps, some auto-graph to add to my collection. Having been privileged in the past to have tra-veled to a pretty great extent and to have covered a few notables, I was able to "glom" a signature here and there which I now fairly treasure.

When I was a youngster, I dabbled in stamps. Once in awhile, I would come across a stamp that would evoke a sense of romanticism in me, frankly: Fulton’s steamboat chugging down the Missis-sippi (with me at the wheel) or George and the boys at Valley Forge massaging our frozen toes. You get the idea.

Recently, I came across a very interesting "first day cover", which, in stamp collecting, is an original release of a stamp by the U.S. Postal Service. This particular stamp (8 cents) was to commemorate Albert Einstein and, along with it, was a copy of a letter Professor Einstein sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt dated August 2, 1939 - ex-actly 63 years ago tomorrow. Although merely a copy, it is a treasure to me, since, for history buffs, such correspon-dence preceding the biggest change in science the world has ever known (World War II and the Atom Bomb) is an unfathomable source of romanticism.

Its main interest, of course, is the discovery - and imparting of information of the source of The Bomb. For your verification, and because we soon will

celebrate the anniversary of dropping of the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima, it is interesting to quote the letter:

Dear Sir:

Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action by the Administration. I believe, therefore, that it is my duty to bring to your attention the following facts and recommendations:

In the course of the last four months, it has been made possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium by which cast 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 port, might well destroy the whole port together with some surrounding territory. However, such bombs might well prove to be too heavy for transportation by sea.

I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines where she has taken over. That she should have taken an early action might perhaps be understood on the grounds that the son of German Under-Secretary of State Von Weizsacker, is attached to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.

Yours very truly,

Albert Einstein

As I said, I collect such things: for their romantic value and for their historical interest. On this date, 57 years after we dropped the bomb that changed the world, the Einstein letter serves as a reminder that such changes indeed begin in the minds of men.

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