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Sir Joseph Rotblat, Noble Laureate, Anti-Nuclear Weapons Advocate Dies

Anti-nuclear weapons advocate Joseph Rotblat, 1995 Nobel Peace Prize winner, physicist and leader of the Pugwash scientific conferences, passed away at the age of 96 on August 31, 2005. Rotblatís diplomatic-scientific work help lay the groundwork for many test ban treaties, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, and the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972.

Anti-nuclear weapons advocate Joseph Rotblat, 1995 Nobel Peace Prize winner, physicist and leader of the Pugwash scientific conferences, passed away at the age of 96 on August 31, 2005. Rotblatís diplomatic-scientific work help lay the groundwork for many test ban treaties, including the “Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993.”

Born in Poland on November 4, 1908, Rotblat developed from his early teenage electrician days to gain his doctorate in physics.

“Enthralled with Einstein’s discoveries about the nature of energy,” Rotblat applied and was accepted to study with “Sir James Chadwick, the discoverer of the neutron,” at the University of Liverpool. Since the stipend was small, he and his wife, Tola Gryn, decided that she would remain behind in Warsaw until they could possibly be re-united.

Unfortunately this was 1939. Rotblat was Jewish. When he returned to his homeland with an increase in his stipend, Tola was too sick to leave Poland with him. The very next day after Rotblat left, Adolf Hitlerís Germany invaded Poland. Rotblat never saw his wife again, and he deferred from ever marrying again because no “definite” proof of her death ever was provided.

With World War II in full force, Rotblat began doing calculations that could produce an atomic bomb. But he was
unsure if this was something he should be doing. He had “decided the only way to stop Hitler from making an atomic bomb was to make sure the Allies could threaten retaliation in kind. Back in Britain, Dr. Chadwick told him to go ahead with his research. In 1944, Dr. Rotblat and Dr. Chadwick became members of the British team assigned to the Manhattan Project to help build a bomb.

As the Allies began to win the war without an atomic bomb, Dr. Rotblat felt deeper and deeper misgivings about the project. His colleagues responded that it was important to see the experiment through, but late in 1944 Dr. Chadwick told him that intelligence indicated the Germans were not working on a nuclear weapon.

Dr. Rotblat left the project after nine months on it. After the war, he was visited by American intelligence agents who accused him of spying for the Soviet Union and planning to fly from Britain into Poland to give atomic secrets to the Soviets.”

His disarmament work, chairing many Pugwash Conferences in that Nova Scotia, Canada, town, and places afar as Hiroshima, Japan, led some, like neo-liberal “Richard N. Perle, assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration,” to label the Pugwash leaders “definitely Communist dupes.” Perle cited the antimissile treaty, he said, because he believed it served Soviet purposes.

Dr. Rotblatís “response was that he and his colleagues “were never working for the Russians in any way to make life sweeter for them.” He declared: “We were working for the whole of civilization.””

Actually called the “Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs,” these meetings “for many years provided the only channel of communications between scientists who knew one another personally or through their publications to speak to each another as individuals, not as representatives of countries or organizations, about the technicalities of disarmament and arms control….[Rotblat] led the talks from the first meeting in 1957 until 1997. In 1955 he was a principal author of the manifesto that inspired them. That declaration had been signed by Albert Einstein, who died before the meeting, and Bertrand Russell, who could not attend because he was ill.

“Remember your humanity, and forget the rest,” it said.

That statement and the Pugwash gatherings challenged the prevailing view that scientists should stick to science. Because they best knew the powers of technology, Dr. Rotblat and his colleagues believed they had no choice but to address political questions.”

About that first meeting in 1957, backed by Cyrus Eaton, a philanthropic “Canadian industrialist and self-styled global peacemaker,” Eatonís home was offered in Pugwash as the place to talk and confer. The original 22 attendees included “Aleksandr Topchiyev, vice president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and George Brock Chisholm, first director general of the World Health Organization. “What 22 people!” Dr. Rotblat said.”

Initially, a report was issued concerning “the radiation hazards of nuclear testing and made recommendations on arms control and the social responsibilities of scientists. The conclusions were sent to leaders of the United States, the Soviet Union, Canada, Britain and the Soviet Academy of Scientists. Only Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, leader of Dr. Rotblat’s adopted country, did not reply.

Over the years, Dr. Rotblat’s off-the-record meetings of Nobel laureates came to include government advisers and well-connected academics from both sides of the Iron Curtain. The resultant lines of communication aided the passing of vital information during the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War and other times of tension.

An example was Henry A. Kissinger’s role as an intermediary for the United States in talks with North Vietnam on a bombing halt before he joined the Nixon administration.

“Pugwash played a major, pioneering role, starting before everyone else, in helping soften the edges of the cold war, and taming it,” Charles William Maynes, a former editor of Foreign Policy, once observed. He cited the greater openness of people speaking unofficially.”

Dr. Rotblat joined the Medical College of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London in 1949 where he led studies on the effect of radiation on living organisms.

After the American test of a hydrogen bomb in Bikini Atoll in 1954, he met Bertrand Russell on the set of the BBC Television program “Panorama.” Lord Russell started to come to him to ask for information about the bomb, then decided to get eminent scientists from around the world to join in issuing a statement on the dangers of thermonuclear war.

They soon had the enthusiastic support of Einstein. Dr. Rotblat was the youngest of the 11 who signed the manifesto, and was the last to die. Signers included nine Nobel Prize winners, including Einstein, Linus Pauling, Frederic Joliot-Curie, the German physicist Max Born and the Japanese physicist Hideki Yukawa.”

Dr. Rotblat enthusiastically campaigned about the world, even into his later years, speaking for disarmament, sometimes giving three speeches in one day.

He was knighted Sir Joseph in 1998.

A saying to leave you with from Sir Joseph Rotblat:

“We have been trying for 40 years to save the world, sometimes against the world’s wishes.”

Information and text quoted from Holcolm B. Noble article September 2, 2005 New York Times
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