BR's letter to the Assistant Editor of Maariv (S. Rosenfeld, spelled 'Rosenfield' by Russell), a Israeli daily newspaper, is published here for the first time. This powerful letter was written January 26, 1963, only three months after the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust. It is one of Russell's most forceful public condemnations of the immorality of nuclear weapons, not only because of what H-bombs are likely to do, but also because of what their deployers are willing to do.
In the letter, Russell draws some striking parallels between the evils of Nazism and the East-West policy of nuclear deterrence which, he says, rests on the "willingness to commit genocide". The letter is a stark reminder that the forces that produced anti-Semitism and its horrors are still very much with us and, when combined with nationalism and technology, threaten to produce even greater catastrophe. His reference to "... napalm, mass bombings and chemical ... weapons" brings to mind the concurrent American oppression in Vietnam, a matter that Russell was following closely in the press and would soon raise his voice against (See Yours Faithfully, Bertrand Russell, Open Court, 2002, pp. 360-95).
26 January 1963
Dear Mr. Rosenfield,
Thank you for your letter which my work has prevented being answered earlier. I can not send a full contribution at this time but I should wish to send to you the following:
“Nazism and Fascism draw on responses which can be found in all cultures and all human beings. In a world of napalm, mass bombings, chemical and nuclear weapons we see clearly enough the capacity for murderous aggression and the atrophy of conscience possible in men. Every major Government of East and West tolerates a national policy worse in consequence than that of Adolf Hitler. One hydrogen bomb can kill more people than perished in the concentration camps.
The cruelty and aggression inherent in man are often organised and directed towards victims who are easily attackable. Particularly where no clear and rational answer to complex problems is available to distraught peoples, the scapegoat is a convenient psychological alternative. This phenomenon exists in every organised society. When it combines with nationalism and technology the result is something such as the world saw under Hitler.
I think it is of absolute importance to remember that the same conditions which gave rise to Hitler pertain in organised states today. Individuals feel helpless to stop barbarism and therefore gradually acquiesce and even justify it. Nuclear policy is based on the willingness to commit genocide. Every individual who accepts such a policy or allows it to continue without personal protest is assuming the role of Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann is becoming a euphemism for Everyman.
I have little patience for the exploration of the evil of Nazism which avoids recognising the conditions which made it possible and the extent to which those conditions are with us now. Every country which persecutes a minority in the name of national security is guilty. The guilt is the weakness and blindness to cruelty which, when widespread, permit every and any atrocity.
I say that the treatment of a society's worst offenders and most hated members is an indication of its own moral standard. If a society can in all conscience permit the cruel treatment of any man, ultimately it will allow it for all.
Anti-Semitism focused on a small community in a minority, easily attacked because weak, and easily hated because cohesive and independent. The Jews were the example but they were and are when persecuted only a symbol of the ease with which mankind sinks into barbarism and the scarcity of individuals who truly stand out against it. When mass incineration of nuclear war descends upon us it will be too late to learn this lesson. The time, as always, is now.”
I wish this to be used in its entirety, if it is used at all, and I should be most grateful to you for confirmation of its use. I hope to hear from you.