At the New York meeting Einstein made his famous statement that, ‘If only two percent of those assigned to perform military service should announce their refusal to fight, as well as urge means other than war of settling international disputes, governments would be powerless – they would not dare send such a large number of people to jail.’ But although he was to describe himself as a pacifist for the rest of his life, his commitment to total nonviolence did not survive the rise of the Nazis.
Einstein explained his change of heart in a letter to Professor C C Heringa of the University of Amsterdam written on 11 September 1933:
‘The root of all evil lies in the fact that there is no powerful international police force, nor is there a really effective international court of arbitration whose judgments could be enforced. All the same, antimilitarists were justified in refusing military service as long as the majority of the nations of Europe were intent upon peace. This no longer holds true. I am convinced that developments in Germany tend toward belligerent acts similar to those in France after the Revolution. Should this trend meet with success, you may be sure that the last remnants of personal freedom on the continent of Europe will be destroyed.
‘While it is quite true that the deterioration of conditions in Germany is partially attributable to the policies of neighbouring countries, there seems little purpose at this juncture in blaming them for these policies. The plain fact is that the gospel of force and repression, currently prevailing in Germany, poses grave threats to the continent of Europe and the independence of its inhabitants. This threat cannot be combated by moral means; it can be met only by organised might. To prevent the greater evil, it is necessary that the lesser evil – the hated military – be accepted for the time being. Should German armed might prevail, life will not be worth living anywhere in Europe.’
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