Peace or atomic war

The commitment of Albert Schweitzer against the nuclear bombs.

The first time Albert Schweitzer talked of his concerns about the use of nuclear bombs was in a letter to the “Daily Herald” in London, published on the 14th of April 1954

On the 4th of November 1954, in his acceptance speech in Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize of 1952, Schweitzer talked for a second time on the danger of nuclear weapons.
Many friends and well-known scientists, headed by his friend Albert Einstein who died on the 18th of April 1957, urged Schweitzer to protest in public against nuclear bombs and the atomic tests. Renowned scientists had the idea that the reputation of Albert Schweitzer could help to awaken the public to the problem of nuclear pollution and the consequent danger to human beings.
Schweitzer didn’t feel called upon to do this. He had always refused to comment on political problems or to take up a position in favour of one party or another. But after the first hydrogen bomb test in 1954, he began to make an intense study of the political and scientific aspects of the nuclear tests and the military implications. Robert Jungk wrote about this: “Almost everyone who met Schweitzer private between the year 1954 and 1957 was questioned very intense about the ‘nuclear danger'”.
In January 1957 the well-known publisher Norman Cousins visited Albert Schweitzer together with the photographer Clara Urquhart in Lambaréné. Together they hoped to be able to persuade Albert Schweitzer that he must commit himself against the nuclear bomb. He hesitated about his competence in the nuclear question and doubted seriously whether a statement from him would have any influence.

Then Schweitzer wrote a letter to the American President Dwight Eisenhower:
“In my heart I carry the hope I may somehow be able to contribute to the peace of the world. This I know has always been our deepest wish. We both share the conviction that humanity must find a way to control the weapons which now menace the very existence of life on earth. May it be given to us both to see the day when the world’s people will realize that the fate of all humanity is now at stake, and that it is urgently necessary to make the bold decisions that can deal adequately with the agonizing situation in which the world now find itself.”

On the 23. April 1957 radio Oslo broadcast Schweitzer’s “Declaration of Conscience”. The declaration was transmitted by 140 other radio stations all around the world. Many broadcast services – in the east and west – were forbidden by their governments to broadcast it. Schweitzer was always looking for more material and he corresponded with well-known scientists and friends such as Bertrand Russell, Pablo Casals and Norman Cousins.

On the 14th January 1958 – Schweitzer’s 83rd birthday – the chemist and Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling delivered a petition to the UNO in New York, signed by Albert Schweitzer and 9235 other scientists. The resolution urged an international agreement to stop nuclear weapons tests. Schweitzer wrote to the director of radio Oslo: “Since October I have spent the greater part of my time in keeping myself informed about the progress of atomic weapons, and I am in touch with experts on the subject.”

Meanwhile Schweitzer prepared three other appeals. The manuscripts were read by Gunnar Jahn, the president of the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee. The broadcasts were made by radio Oslo on the 28th, 29th and 30th of April 1958. There were various echoes around the world.

The three speeches – The Renunciation of Nuclear Tests – The Danger of an Atomic War – Negotiations at the Highest Level – were published by Henry Holt in New York in the same year in under the title “Peace or Atomic War?” and were also translated into several languages.

Following an announcement by the government of the USSR, America and Britain stated that they would stop nuclear tests by the 31st October 1958. When the three nations who possessed the atomic bomb stopped their tests, the French began their own tests in the attempt to become an atomic force. The first test happened the 13th February 1960 in the Sahara.

The test-ban moratorium held for 34 months and then, in August 1961, when the USSR began new tests, the American too announced that they would not hold the test-ban moratorium any longer. A wave of protest started. Leading it, Linus Pauling released a declaration to the press on the 31st August.

The 20th April 1962 Schweitzer wrote a letter to president Kennedy as “someone who has occupied himself for a long time with the problem of atomic weapons and with problem of peace”. He took the stance that “disarmament under effective international control” is the important goal and that negotiations toward this end should not be “made questionable by unnecessary appeals for international verification of the discontinuance of testing”. He declared that “only when the states agree not to carry out tests any more can promising negotiations about disarmament and peace take place”. Then he took the “courage” to draw the attention of the president “to something that concerns you personally” – the hereditary effect of radioactivity on children. He closed by saying: “It was not easy for me to draw your attention to the great responsibility you hold to protect the future generations. Please forgive me; I could not do otherwise, not only for the sake of humanity, but also out of consideration for you personally”.
Kennedy replied with a letter dated  June 6, 1962.

At Easter 1962, the German monthly “Das Gewissen” published the first big common declaration of international anti-atomic fighters against new tests in east and west.

The growing crisis in Cuba in October 1962 made the world insecure. In the middle of the crisis Schweitzer wrote to Norman Cousins, “that the time works for all who want to abolish nuclear weapons”. When Schweitzer heard that the American might use an atomic bomb to resolve the crisis, he wrote an open letter to the American Secretary of Defense, McNamara. He asked Cousins to find a magazine in America that might publish the letter. When the crisis was over, Cousins thought that they should change the tactic and that an open letter to the Minister of Defense would not be the right thing. Schweitzer insisted: “We cannot stop criticizing McNamara in public very strongly, because he announced that he would use nuclear bombs”.