Dr. Michio Kaku
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
23 August 2014
Episode on the beliefs of Albert Einstein
MK: And now let's talk about the McCarthy years. And once again when the waters get troubled there's a tendency for professors to run like hell and hide under the covers and here's Einstein going right up against McCarthyism! So tell us a little about that.
FJ: I think it may be that perhaps his greatest legacy to the future or as great as any – and I don't want to take away from any of his science - the legacy of his science but – and I'm not the first one to say this – an Einstein expert in Boston, John Stachel who's the head of the Center for Einstein Studies at Boston University, has said this - that one of his greatest legacies certainly is his example of the courage that he demonstrated in standing up to the McCarthy committees and the other Congressional investigating committees and urging people to refuse to answer questions. This is in 1953, even if it meant going to gaol - and that it was the only way to defeat these committees and that if enough people did it the committees would be finished and McCarthyism would be finished.
And it was a call for civil disobedience at a time when – he was the first one to do that, really – and was attacked for doing that even by The New York Times and The Washington Post.
And yet he did it. And it did have an impact on many people. Within a year McCarthy was on the rocks and I think he was censored the next year, 1954.
In any case Einstein's call urging of witnesses to refuse to answer questions from these committees - it made the front of The New York Times twice in one year in 1953 - in June and December - and if it made the front page of The New York Times you can be sure it made the front page of newspapers around the world - then as now.
It had a tremendous impact I think on the sort of turning around of the McCarthy period - although that turning around took a while to complete.
MK: Right. Now let's talk about racism. Einstein, of course being Jewish, had to bear the brunt of antisemitism, especially in Germany, but also he was very involved with the African-American movement here is this country which is not widely known. Could you elaborate?
FJ: Absolutely! Of all the little know aspects of Einstein's political dimension his anti-lynching and anti-racism activity is the least known.
In 1946 after World War Two there was a wave of lynchings that swept across America, especially the southern states. Some fifty-six black men and women, mostly GI's, were lynched in this country compared to something like three in the last year before the war.
And Einstein spoke against that as he had on many other issues.
In September of 1946, he was co-chairman, with Paul Robeson, of a group called the American Crusade to End Lynching which led a march on Washington in September to demand that the federal government pass anti-lynching legislation. Einstein wrote a letter to Truman – he was unable to actually attend the march because of his poor health.
He also spoke at Lincoln University, a black college – the oldest black college in this hemisphere - he spoke there in 1946 in May and received an honorary degree. And he generally did not do this during the last years of his life - he didn't go to colleges – although he had many invitations. But he wanted to send a message.
And the message that he sent in a speech was that racism was the worst – well, he said in a speech he said: “Segregation is a white man's disease and I'm not gong to remain silent about it.”
And later on he said: “Racism was America's worst disease.”
And what's interesting is that this speech at Lincoln University in 1946 - the most famous scientist in the world at the oldest black institution of learning in the hemisphere - not a word has been published in a single biography of Einstein anywhere and that counts hundreds of books!
And so it's an example of the fact that this vital aspect of Einstein's outlook has been kept from us and I think – in this day and age especially - we all suffer as a result of not knowing it.
MK: And now let's talk about the Jewish question because obviously he bore the brunt of a lot of anti-Jewish slurs and discrimination.
But just before he died - just before he died - being this world figure that he was - he was actually offered the presidency of Israel. So the question is: What was his position on Zionism and his relationship to Israel?
FJ: Actually that offering him of the presidency by Israel was a very clever public relations move – it got a lot of attention.
In fact, Einstein - when they offered it to him - I have a quote here from Ben Gurion which said that:
What are we ever going to do if he accepts the presidency? Because I've had to offer it to him because it's impossible not to but if he accepts (he says) we are in for trouble.
I think the fact of the matter is that Einstein was highly critical of the policy of the Israeli government and the Zionist leadership of their policy - especially their policy towards Arabs.
And at one point he wrote to Weizmann, the head of Zionism, he said:
If we do not succeed in finding the path of honest cooperation in coming to terms with the Arabs we will not have learned anything from our two thousand year old ordeal and we'll deserve the fate which will beset us.
And another time he said: “The most important aspect of Israel's policy must be our ever-present manifest desire to institute complete equality for the Arab citizens living in our midsts.”
And: “The attitude we adopt towards the Arab minority will provide the real test of our moral standards as a people.”
And there's more. It's something that's not widely known and I know that there are Jews - some in this country - who don't like to hear this but the fact of the matter is there's a long, a lot of statements like this – Einstein actually opposed the formation of the Jewish state until after it was formed – and then he did support it. (ends)
(Ed Note: This interview first aired in 2005 as part of Explorations' celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of Einstein's Theory of Relativity.)