Albert Einstein: A Revolutionary Influence of the 20th Century, Who’s Work Impacted the Final Outcome of WWII and Forever Changed Modern Warfare (Fall 2012)

Albert Einstein was one of the twentieth centuries most influential people, both as a scientist and a public figure. Although Einstein was a mathematician he is better known for his work in the field of theoretical physics, and through his work he helped change the realm of physics for years to come. Throughout Einstein’s life and work he was continually subjected to constant scrutiny and even persecution, which can be directly related back to WWII and Einstein’s home country of Germany. Through this paper I wish to convey the historical significance of Einstein work, and the impact that his work had from a historical context, for if not for Einstein history would not be written as it is today.

Albert Einstein was born in Ulm Germany on March 14th 1879. His father was an engineer who sparked Albert’s early interest in science when he gave him a compass. Albert was fascinated by the way the compasses magnetic needle would continually point in the direction of the earths north pole (magnetic south pole). Einstein was a very quite child and didn’t even begin to speak until the age of three. This continued through his early education where his teachers believed him to be “stupid,” as they though he had trouble with math because he would solve problems very slowly, and furthermore because he didn’t become fluent with his speech until after the age of nine. Although his teachers believed he did not posses any sort of special intellect, due to his in ability to solve problems, this certainly was not the case, in fact it was his way of thinking out problems, thus determining how to solve them in his head. It was this way of thinking that continued to develop as Einstein’s education continued. As he progressed through school he began to even “out smart” his teachers, asking questions he knew they would not be able to solve. As his teachers struggle with the posed questions in front of class, Albert was known to sit in the back with a smug grin on his face, knowing he had out witted his supposedly “smarter teachers”.

Albert continued his education at the Swiss Polytechnic School in Zurich, Switzerland where he obtained his diploma as a teacher in the areas of mathematics and physics. After obtaining his diploma Albert had trouble obtaining a teaching position, after writing to many institution without any luck he ended up taking a job as a patent clerk at the Swiss patent office. Albert described his work at the Swiss patent office as boring and monotonous, but it gave him time to work on his own work and theories, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Through his time there he published many papers, including one on the special theory of relativity (the beginnings of his work on relativity that would later earn him the noble prize). After many promotions and publications in his time at the patent office in Bern he finally obtained a teaching position at the University of Bern in 1908 as a lecturer, and was then promoted to a professor of physics a year later. It was during this time in the Early 1900’s that Einstein began to gain popularity in the scientific community, more specifically in the realm of physics, where he was considered to be one of the great “thinkers” of time period. In 1911 he was appointed to a professorship at the Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague, and then again in 1914 he was offered another position, which he would take, as a professor at the Prussian Academy of Science at the University of Berlin.

One month after Einstein began his professorship at the University of Berlin WWI broke out. During this time Einstein would begin a string of work for the next four to five years that would be some of his most important and most well known work. Einstein, a pacifist, would confine himself to his study for hours on end during the war, which led to the production of four publications that are considered to this day some of his most influential work. Included in these publications was his general theory of relativity, most famously known by the equation E=mc2 (which stands for energy equals mass times the speed of light squared). It was this publication that would go on to earn Einstein the Nobel Prize in physics in 1922. Einstein worked non stop during the first world war while producing these four papers, so hard in fact that he pushed himself to the point where he collapsed in 1916, and would have to be nursed back to health by his wife at the time.

It was during this time period (WWI) that Einstein’s pacifist views really started to take shape. He had always believed in non-violence, which can be seen/supported by his decision to leave Germany at the age of sixteen because he did not agree with his home country’s policy that every male must serve a stint in the German military. While teaching in Berlin during the First World War his pacifist views continued to evolve, and he would give his first public political statement in 1914 condemning Germany for its aggression in the war. He took his protest against the war a step further by being one of four scientific political figures at the time to sign the “Manifesto to Europeans,” which was a protest against Germany’s military action. Einstein would continue to use his fame to promote his pacifist views for the remainder of his life; he even went on to do work with great historical figures of his era that shared many of his views, such as Freud and Mahatma Gandhi. Einstein Continued to teach at the University of Berlin after the First World War, but the rising tensions in Germany would eventually force his hand in making a move to the United States in 1932.

The eventual decision to move himself and his current wife at the time to America was forced upon him due to his religious background. Einstein was born into a Jewish family, and in his early childhood years followed the religions views and practices closely. In his later years he grew away from his religious background, although he always retained his respect for the Jewish religion. Although Einstein was not considered to be a practicing Jew, he did have his own belief system. In his later years he expressed his somewhat unclear believe in god. According to The Encyclopedia Britannica, Einstein said this referring to his idea of a god, “I want to know how God created this world, I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.” It was this view of a god that actually enhanced his interest in the physical world and physics itself.

Einstein’s Jewish background was reason for conflict between himself/his work and the rising Nazi party in Germany; his theory of relativity was even referred to as “Jewish physics” by the Nazis. Furthermore the rise of the Nazis came with the pushing of other German physicists and scientists to denounce Einstein’s work. When asked once about the 100’s of scientists who denounced his work and his general theory of relativity in published book, Einstein replied, “It doesn’t take 100 scientists to denounce relativity, it only takes one fact.” The continued conflict with the new political power in Germany is what eventually pushed Einstein’s decision to leave his homeland, never to return. He chose to move to New Jersey where he would settle at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University, the newly labeled Mecca of physics after his arrival.

It was in the next few years that Einstein’s general theory of relativity (E=mc2) would be put to use. For years after Einstein’s publishing of the general theory of relativity there had been speculation as to whether his theories could be used to develop and atomic bomb, Einstein himself thought it to not be possible. But much to the physic community’s surprise, four physicists confirmed the ability to produce a nuclear bomb between 1938 and 1939 by splitting the uranium atom. Seven years after his arrival in the United States, during The Second World War, fellow physicist Leo Szilard asked Einstein if he would sign a letter urging president Franklin D. Roosevelt to use this newly found technology to develop the atomic bomb before the Germans did! Einstein signed the letter, and a few months later the “Manhattan Project” was born. It was a few years that, in 1945, that Einstein’s worst fears would come true, the use of a nuclear bomb. If not for Albert Einstein the atomic bomb may have never been developed during World War II, furthermore the eventual dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have never happened.

The development of the atomic bomb through Einstein’s work forever changed the face of history; furthermore it forever changed the way that modern warfare is fought. The dropping of the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a main contributor to the development of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Nuclear Age had begun and it terrified Einstein. Einstein spent much of his later years advocating for the containment of nuclear weapons by national leaders and governments, in order to avoid another catastrophe such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact it has been said that before Einstein’s death, he said, that “writing the letter (referring to president Roosevelt, urging him to start the process of developing the atomic bomb) was the biggest blunder.” Although he may have in hindsight regretted his decision to support the development of the A-bomb, at the time he felt it to be justified, for if Hitler were able to gain control of such a weapon, there was no telling what evil could come from it. I believe that he did in fact make the right decision, for when considering the terrible evil that was the Holocaust, brought about by Hitler and the Nazi party, there could be no good from their possessing nuclear technology.

In conclusion Albert Einstein was indeed one of the twentieth centuries greats minds/influences. If not for Einstein’s contributions to Science, most notably physics, we would not be where we are today. Although his Theory of relativity, i.e. E=mc2, is commonly known as the “death equation,” it could also be labeled the equation of life. For the theory of general relativity is in fact the underlying principle of the “big bang,” and our existence as human beings. Einstein went on to do great things even after the conclusion of WWII, including his constant search for what he called the unified field theory, a unifying principle that would tie all physics principles together into one theory. Furthermore, it was Einstein himself who developed and started the field of cosmology. Einstein’s pioneering work with relativity stemmed the discovery of black holes and the possibility of wormholes, higher dimensions and even time travel. In fact Noble prizes are continually being given out for work that stems from the work of Einstein’s. If not for Albert Einstein our world would not be what it is today, he is and forever will be, one of the most recognized, and one of the most important human being, to ever be known throughout human history.


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