Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Joseph Rotblat; Moral Dilemmas of Working on the Atom Bomb

British Library audio available of interviews with Joseph Rotblat about his life and experiences.  Note the link here to additional audio - an excellent resource for those interested in the Pugwash history.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Joseph Rotblat’s Memories of 6 August 1945
"The first inkling that I had that the [Manhattan] project was successful in the sense that it achieved what it wanted to achieve was on the 6th of August 1945.  I can remember very well.  It was a Monday, a bank holiday in England, and I came back from being away and I switched on the radio at 6:00 in the evening and there was the announcement that we had dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.  And so I knew from this that what were before purely theoretical speculations turned out to be reality.  To me it was a great shock because, for one, I still had some faint hope that maybe all these theoretical calculations would turn out to be wrong and the whole thing would be a fizzle, and secondly, I thought even that if it were successful that it would not be used against populations, but rather as we used to discuss before I left Los Alamos, to try to demonstrate to the Japanese the acquisition of the new type of weapon and get them to agree before it should be used on populations.  Both of these hopes, albeit faint hopes, were completely turned out to be wrong.  And then I was of course also very much afraid about what was going to happen because I was very much influenced by my discussions in the previous summer, 1944, at Los Alamos with Neils Bohr, the famous Danish physicist… he foresaw that this was going to lead to an arms race.  … I knew also at that time, that the atom bomb that was used on Japan was the first step in nuclear weaponry.  Because in the office next to me was Edward Teller who was not actually involved in the work on the atom bomb itself.  He already at that time worked on the super project, the hydrogen bomb.  One of Teller’s helpers was also a Polish man and therefore we used to talk to each other in Polish.  I knew a little bit more than other people about what was going on.  So I knew that it would begin an arms race and that the hydrogen bomb would come in.  And then, remembering what Bohr was saying, I was very much…for the first time I became worried about the whole future of mankind.  Because I knew that…once you are going to develop these huge weapons, where are you going to stop?  And this was my reaction on the 6th of August.
[Source: Personal interview with Sandra Ionno Butcher, Washington, DC, 13 July 2003.  The photo is a picture of paper cranes made by children in Japan and given to Joseph Rotblat.]

Friday, 6 July 2012

Pakistani Pugwashite and the Higgs boson discovery

An article in today's Express Tribune (Pakistan) refers to the contributions made to the Higgs boson discovery by a leading Pakistani scientist: “some of the earliest theoretical groundwork that led to this discovery was laid by Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, Dr Abdus Salam.” 

Dr. Salam was a Pugwashite for 20 years.  A tribute that appeared on p. 71 of the Proceedings of the 48th Pugwash Conference says he was "always pleasant" and "deeply humane."  He had "wisdom" and a "high sense of dignity".  Through his Pugwash involvement, "he the prevention of nuclear war and other threats to peace."

Sunday, 6 May 2012

1986 Interviews with Joseph Rotblat Available

A three part 1986 WGBH video interview with Joseph Rotblat is available.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three (post war) (the laughter in the beginning shows a side of his personality)

Videos of Rotblat Biography Launch Now Available

British Pugwash held a launch in February of the new biography of Joseph Rotblat, written by Andrew Brown, "Keeper of the Nuclear Conscience" (described in an earlier post).  Videos of this event are now available on you tube.

Andrew Brown (author)
Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies, Bradford University
Sandra Ionno Butcher, Director, Pugwash History Project

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Hodgkin was Thatcher's Mentor

Did you know that Margaret Thatcher's mentor was Dorothy Hodgkin (who became Pugwash President)?

Check out this RSC blog post:
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was a significant mentor for the young Thatcher. Hodgkin was herself a Somerville graduate who had returned to teach chemistry, specialising in the emerging field of x-ray crystallography. Thatcher spent a year in Hodgkin's laboratory, performing research on the structure of gramicidin B - the completion of which occurred about 30 years later. 
During her time at Oxford, Thatcher's interest in politics blossomed and in 1946 she became the third woman to be president of the powerful Oxford University Conservative Association. Her strong conservative views were at odds with those of her peers and her mentor (Hodgkin was a liberal and would become the president of the Pugwash Conferences, concerned with reducing the danger of armed conflict and seeking cooperative solutions for global problems). But despite these differences, Hodgkin and Thatcher kept in touch over the years and when Thatcher later became prime minister, she is reported to have installed Hodgkin's portrait at 10 Downing Street.   

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Raymond Aubrac and Pugwash: "One good chapter in my life"

Today we learn the sad news of the death of Raymond Aubrac, a leader of the French resistance who became involved with a little known 1967 Pugwash backchannel initiative on Vietnam (code named PENNSYLVANIA by the US).  This initiative involved Henry Kissinger, Ho Chi Minh (with whom Aubrac was friends), the late Pugwashites Herbert Marcovich and Robert McNamara, and others (including President Johnson).  

I include below a brief excerpt of a 2004 interview I conducted with Aubrac, which focuses on why Aubrac accepted to get involved with the Pugwash initiative, and what his assessment was of the impact.  One can perhaps begin to get a sense of the man from these excerpts.

Q:  "Why did you agree to do this with Pugwash when in the past others asked you to get involved and you declined?"

A:  “Any person would have gotten involved at that time.  Any normal individual would have accepted.  Of course I was very much impressed by that meeting [with Pugwashites].  So the real reason why I accepted was that I considered myself as a normal person.…

“In other visits to Vietnam, I had many occasions to see Pham Van Dong.  Not between 67 and 75, but after 75.  He has always told me that the PENNSYLVANIA business would have succeeded if it had taken place one year before.  I think he was right.  So our Pugwash friends woke up too late.  That’s true of the atom bomb as well. If they had taken that decision two or three years before, the world would have been different….”

“It was one good chapter in my life.  I have several of them as you may know.  That one was interesting, very interesting.” 

McNamara himself credited this initiative with laying the groundwork for the San Antonio accords, “the foundation for the start of the negotiations between North Vietnam and the U.S. in Paris.”  According to Nguyen Khac Huynh, this was a shared assessment from the Vietnamese side: “[PENNSYLVANIA] gave tremendous support and encouragement to those of us who were at that moment working on a negotiating strategy. We were very encouraged….PENNSYLVANIA succeeded several months after it was initiated, because it provided the basis for beginning the Paris peace process. There is your answer. Our ears were not ‘deaf.’ We ‘heard’ you. And we gave you our answer after Tet.” 

And yet, sadly, for a series of complicated reasons, the initiative failed in immediate terms.  McNamara later wrote, “…military forces under Hanoi’s command…had by 1968 suffered a half-million killed in battle…They would by 1975 lose somewhere between 2 million to 3 million more.  The United States had lost 19,562 killed in battle by December 31, 1967.  Ultimately, 58,169 Americans would lose their lives in the war.  This means the vast majority of war-related fatalities on both sides occurred after the failure of PENNSYLVANIA, which was the last serious attempt before the Tet Offensive to move to negotiations.  In other words, even if Washington and Hanoi had failed in face-to-face talks time and again, yet had been able to move to negotiations by late 1967, most of those killed in the war would have been spared."

In contemplation of the missed opportunities for negotiations in 1967, McNamara had some words which might be relevant for today's world. He wrote,  "Skeptics will say...that our very failure to move to negotiations proves ...that it couldn't have been done.  I disagree totally with this point of view.  Missed opportunities proliferated.  Mistakes were made that were preventable....William James recorded in his journal on April 30, 1870: 'My first act of free will will be to believe in free will.' He then gives himself some advice: 'Care little for speculation,' he says, and 'much for the form of action.' This is also good advice for anyone wishing to lower the risk of such tragedies as the Vietnam War occurring in the twenty-first century."

There is not space here to give a complete history of the Vietnam initiative, but I did want to take this opportunity to note what was an important moment in Pugwash history.  Part of the story lies in each side trying to send signals that were missed or not understood by the other side.

With appreciation and respect for the efforts of Raymond Aubrac and Herbert Marcovich, who travelled to Hanoi with a hope for peace....

Raymond Aubrac's autobiography, Ou la memoire s'attarde contains information about this initiative.

Robert McNamara (et al), "ArgumentWithout End" (1999) also contains a fascinating chapter on this initiative, a dialogue between former US and Vietnamese officials.  It is the source of the above quotes, with the exception of the first McNamara quote, which was from an interview he conducted with Harry Kreisler, the video of which is available here: .  An earlier post on McNamara contains some related material.

Friday, 30 March 2012

New Biography of Joseph Rotblat

Keeper of the Nuclear Conscience: The Life and Work of Joseph Rotblat

By Andrew Brown. Oxford University Press; 347 pages

This comprehensive biography of Joseph Rotblat has been reviewed by several major publications, including The Economist, Nature (Sir Martin Rees),  New Scientist (Edwin Lyman), The Lancet (Andrew Robinson), and the Wall Street Journal, Times Higher Education, History Today, among other publications.  Check it out!

Monday, 15 August 2011

First Call for Papers: Workshop

Writing Pugwash Histories.
From Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Kabul and Gaza

Sponsored by: Institute for Contemporary History, University of Vienna, and Arbeitskreis Historische Friedensforschung (AKHF)
Conveners: Silke Fengler (University of Vienna), Alison Kraft (Egenis, University of Exeter), Holger Nehring (University of Sheffield, AKHF), and Carola Sachse (University of Vienna)
Keynote speaker: Matthew Evangelista (Cornell University)
In cooperation with: Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (contact: Sandra Ionno Butcher), Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler (VDW, contact: Reiner Braun)

Dates: 10–12 May, 2012
Venue: University of Vienna
Conference language: English

Deadline for proposals (one page plus brief CV): 31 October, 2011

For nuclear physicists, chemists and technicians, the hundreds of thousands of civilian victims of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki cast a painfully sharp light on the military and biopolitical consequences of their work during the Second World War. In the nuclear arms race between the Cold War superpowers, many nuclear scientists felt able, justified and indeed called upon to campaign against the continued development and deployment of nuclear weapons. Those scientists included some who had themselves helped to develop the atom bomb.

Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs

Among the various national and transnational groupings working against nuclear war, the Pugwash movement stands out. Even today, it evokes the July 1955 manifesto that was drafted by Bertrand Russell and co-signed by Albert Einstein just before his death. The movement took its name from the location of its first meeting, in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia in summer 1957. So far, 59 “Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs” and numerous workshops have been held in various regions of the world. From the beginning, the movement aimed to bring together eminent scientists, scholars, politicians, diplomats and government advisers across the hostile frontiers of the Cold War. The “Pugwashites” wanted to go beyond the exchange of diplomatic notes or military force, instead using the shared language of science to evaluate the risks of nuclear armament, develop solutions to regional conflicts and exert influence on national governments with the goal of promoting world peace.

The themes addressed by the Pugwash conferences have diversified to reflect the changing problems facing international politics – climate change; crises of energy, food and natural resources. Since the movement was founded its membership structure has also changed, as have the scientific disciplines and professions of its members, its objectives, methods and modes of cooperation, and its role within the debates of global politics.

Pugwash movement: History or histories

To date, the history of the Pugwash movement has been told largely through chronological accounts, memoirs and partial studies of national Pugwash groups. Writing a comprehensive history of the movement is perhaps not possible at the present time. On the one hand, the informal structure of the Pugwash movement means it is known only to a relatively small audience, and has attracted little attention from historians even since the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the movement and its secretary general, Joseph Rotblat, in 1995. On the other, although the Pugwash movement has an international presence, it is embedded in very different scientific, social and political configurations in different countries and regions. As a result, it seems neither possible nor desirable to write a single, unified narrative of the movement's peace-policy successes and global political significance.

Instead, what we need are multi-faceted histories written from a range of distinct national and regional perspectives. Only in this way will historians be able to fully understand the distinctive character of the Pugwash movement in the long term, its survival through time and across such profound political changes and its contributions to international dialogue. From its inception, Pugwash oscillated between an elitist claim to universal scientific expertise, links with transnational movements for peace and against nuclear weapons, and integration into the local political establishments. It therefore offers an outstanding opportunity to consider national and international connections between science and politics, which became increasingly complex during the second half of the twentieth century. Analysing these interrelations from a transnational perspective necessitates a large, cooperative network of historians, able to take a range of different thematic and regional approaches.

Objectives of the workshop

The wide and diverse literature on the Cold War by political historians, historians of science and historians of diplomacy has hitherto yielded only a small number of informative studies of the Pugwash movement (these include Evangelista 1999; Kubbig 2004; Butcher 2005; Braun 2007). The proposed workshop intends to form a springboard for a more broadly based engagement with the topic. Our objectives include:
- to exchange information regarding existing research and ongoing projects relating to the history of the Pugwash movement in various different countries,
- using completed, current and planned research projects as a point of entry, to discuss history of science and political history dimensions of the Pugwash movement,
- to examine methodological approaches, the state of documentation and questions around archival sources relevant to Pugwash.

Who is invited?

We invite proposals from scholars in the history of science, social and political history, and related disciplines. You should either have worked directly on the history of the Pugwash movement or addressed it in the course of other research. Proposals related to ongoing PhD or postdoctoral projects are particularly welcome.

Please submit a one-page proposal and brief CV in English to by 31 October, 2011. We will notify selected participants in November 2011. Papers of no more than 3,500 words must be submitted, in English, by 31 March, 2012.

Funding is still pending. We hope to be able to cover travel costs for up to ten participants (max. € 400 each).


Prof. Dr. Carola Sachse
Institut für Zeitgeschichte
Universität Wien
Spitalgasse 2, Hof 1
A-1090 Vienna

Dr. Silke Fengler
Institut für Zeitgeschichte
Universität Wien
Spitalgasse 2, Hof 1
A-1090 Vienna

Dr. Alison Kraft
ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis)
University of Exeter
Byrne House, St. Germans Road


Martina Schmied
Institut für Zeitgeschichte
Universität Wien
Spitalgasse 2, Hof 1
A-1090 Vienna

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Rotblat British Library Tapes Now Online

The British Library has made available online nearly 20 hours of biographical interviews with Joseph Rotblat, taped in 1999. This is the closest Rotblat came to an autobiography and it is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in his life or the history of Pugwash.

There is a rough index of the interviews available here.