"If I had known that the Germans would not be able to build a nuclear bomb, I would never have moved a finger," wrote Albert Einstein in 1950 in his book "Out of My Later Years". He talked about a letter from him Holiday House in Nassau Point at the North Fork warns President Franklin D. Roosevelt of a breakthrough of National Socialist Germany in the nuclear fission, which "could lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable … extremely powerful bombs a new type. "
This letter from Einstein sparked the Manhattan Project, a United States emergency program to build nuclear weapons – to build atomic bombs off National Socialist Germany. And it led to an expansion of nuclear technology and ushered in the so-called "atomic age".
On this August 2, the anniversary of the date of this letter of August 2, 1939, the current owners of the Rothman department store in Southold unveiled the Einstein Square in front of the store revolving around a bust of Einstein. The scientist was good friends with David Rothman, the shopkeeper, in the 1930s when he rented a house in Nassau Point.
I was a child when I saw the Einstein letter for the first time in a display case of the FDR Presidential Library and the FDR Museum in Hyde Park. I felt that it was very important. Now I think it could be the most important letter ever. I reprinted part of the letter in 1980 as a facsimile in my book "Cover Up: What You Should Not Know About Nuclear Energy" and talked about it in other writings and television programs that I have moderated.
According to a Washington Post article dated December 20, 1986, the letter "was today sold to Christie for $ 220,000 to Malcolm Forbes. The prize was a record for a letter from the 20th century. "
In fact, Einstein did not write the letter, even though he signed it and checked it. It was written by physicist Leo Szilard. The split – the splitting of atoms – had only taken place in December 1938 in Germany. Szilard realized that the process could be used to create an atomic chain reaction. He visited Einstein in his holiday home on Nassau Point with his colleagues Eugene Wigner and Edward Teller.
In the one and a half page letter with the inscription "Albert Einstein, Old Hain Street, Nassau Point, Peconic, Long Iceland" was referred to the splitting experiment in Germany and it was pointed out that it could be possible to set up a nuclear power plant chain reaction in a large uranium mass, which would generate tremendous amounts of power and large amounts of new radium-like elements. "
"A single bomb of this type," it says, "carried by a boat and exploded in a harbor, could very well destroy the entire port along with part of the surrounding area." However, such bombs could prove too heavy for air transport. The United States has only very poor uranium ores in moderate quantities. In Canada and the former Czechoslovakia, there is good ore, while the main source of uranium is uranium [the] Belgian Congo. "
The letter continued, "I understand that Germany has stopped selling uranium from the Czechoslovak mines it has taken over" – an indication that Nazi Germany could operate nuclear weapons. It urged the United States to "governmental acts."
Upon receipt of the letter, President Roosevelt acted. The Manhattan Project was founded with large, secret labs in multiple locations in the United States, notably Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Oak Ridge, Tenn.
When the Manhattan project produced atomic bombs, Germany was defeated. Two of the bombs were then dropped on the ally of Germany, Japan. Szilard was against it and argued that dropping atomic bombs on Japan "could not be justified, at least not until the conditions imposed after the war against Japan were detailed and Japan was given the opportunity to capitulate."
Szilard put together a petition signed by hundreds of scientists at the Manhattan Project demanding that nuclear bombs not be used on Japan. He and other scientists had previously collaborated on a 1945 report in which Szilard and some of them called on the United States to conduct an atomic bomb demonstration to show Japan the consequences of refusing surrender. Other scientists involved in the report disagreed. The physicist of the Manhattan Project, Arthur Compton, wrote, "We see no acceptable alternative to direct military deployment."
Einstein regretted the signing of the letter of 2 August and also criticized how nuclear bombs had led to civil nuclear energy.
He also wrote in "Out of My Later Years", "Since I do not foresee that nuclear energy will be a great blessing for a long time, I have to say that it is a threat today."