Betrand Russell advocating war - hope this helps - was RE: virus: Prisoners my Derrida!

carlw (
Thu, 18 Mar 1999 21:30:49 -0600

My grandfather was a friend of Russell's and spoke of him often. I have two books from my grandfather's collection with me here, one "The Political Madhouse in America and Nearer Home" by Bernard Shaw, printed by Constable and Co in 1933 and the other "Must the Bomb Spread" by Leonard Beaton, published by Penguin Books in 1966, both with handwritten notes between Russell and my grandfather written on their flyleaves (and in the case of Must the Bomb Spread, Russell's notes on it inside the book). The communications between my grandfather and Russell started in 1907 or 1908 and continued until Russell's death in 1970 (unfortunately the balance of the communication between them is not yet widely available, but I am certain that there was no pro-war comment by either of them although both of them saw war as a sometimes necessary evil).

I think that this story comes from a speech (see below) dating to 1945.

Russell was an rationalist all of his life, but claimed to have had a highly significant experience, which he later referred to as "mystical illumination" in 1901, and which influenced his values for the rest of his life. In his Autobiography he described what happened (Vol. I, Bantam Books). "Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region. Within five minutes I went through some such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless; it follows that war is wrong, that a public school education is abominable, that the use of force is to be deprecated, and that in human relations one should penetrate to the core of loneliness in each person and speak to that." He said later that he felt as if he could sense people's inmost thoughts; as if he had became closer to his friends. As a consequence, he changed from being "an imperialist" to "a pacifist" and sided with the Boers against Britain. This led him into dialog with Jan Smuts and Frederick von Wagener on the nature of war, international government, pacifism and philosophy. I think it is fair to say that they all had significant impact on each others thinking, and that Jan Smuts' proposals on the League of Nations and later the United Nations certainly embodied a number of Russell's thoughts on the subject - while Russell was highly influenced by Smut's notions of a "neutral arbitrator" and Wagener's concept of "passive resistance". For a time his analytic mind was swept away by ecstatic feelings about beauty, an intense interest in children, and the desire to found a philosophy, as the Buddha had done, to make human life more endurable. Apropos of something, in later years he was to say that if any religion could be said to appeal to him it was Buddhism because its supporters had done relatively little persecution in its name.

During the first world war Russell's pacifism challenged British society. In July 1914 he collected signatures from fellow professors at Cambridge for a statement urging England to remain neutral in the imminent war. When the British were swept into the war, 90% of the population favored the fighting and killing. Russell was horrified. In a letter to the London Nation for August 15 he criticized the pride of patriotism which promotes mass murder. Bertrand Russell was not an absolute pacifist. In his letter he explained, "The use of force is justifiable when it is ordered in accordance with law by a neutral authority, in the general interest and not primarily in the interest of one of the parties to the quarrel." One solution then, he proposed, was for an international organization backed up by force to keep the peace. Another solution he suggested was passive resistance which he proposed should be adopted by the whole nation with as much courage and discipline as was shown in the war. He suggested that this would protect national life far more effectively and with far less carnage and waste than that produced by the war.

In 1916 Russell began to work for the No Conscription Fellowship, and he became its chairman after all of the original committee had gone to prison. He wrote a leaflet to defend the case of Ernest Everett who refused military service. When six men were arrested for distributing the leaflet, Russell wrote to The Times declaring he was its author. Russell was accused of hampering recruiting, and as his own attorney he explained that the case of a conscientious objector could hardly influence someone who is considering volunteering. He cited the English tradition of liberty, but he was convicted nonetheless. When he refused to pay the fine, the authorities preferred confiscating some of his possessions to putting him in prison. This conviction, however, prevented him from getting a passport to visit America. Russell felt that the more policemen and officials they could occupy with the innocent work of monitoring their pacifist activities, the fewer men would be available for the "official business of killing each other."

Russell's speeches to munition workers in South Wales were inaccurately reported by detectives, and the War Office forbade Russell from entering prohibited areas. In January 1918 an article by Russell appeared in a little weekly newspaper called The Tribunal suggesting that American soldiers were likely to be used as strike-breakers in England, since they had been employed in that way in the United States. This statement was backed up by a Sente Report. For this, Russell was sentenced to prisoan for six months. He spent the uninterrupted time cheerfully writing.

During the war Russell published several books on politics, war, and peace. Principles of Social Reconstruction was released in America as Why Men Fight. In this work Russell begins with the idea that the passions of war must be controlled, not by thought alone, but by the passion and desire to think clearly. Reason by itself is too lifeless. Wars can be prevented by a positive life of passion. Impulse must not be weakened but directed "towards life and growth rather than towards death and decay."

Russell replied to the War Office's restriction of his movement in the book Justice in War Time. He refused to surrender his spiritual liberty and declared that they could not prevent him from discussing political subjects, although they could imprison him under the Defense of the Realm Act. In the book he delineated the evils of war: the young men killed and maimed, the atrocities to non-combatants. the poverty of economic and social conditions, and the spiritual evils of hatred, injustice, falsehood, and conflict.

Writing in 1918 he supported the idea of the League of Nations and international cooperation. He asserted, "No idea is so practical as the idea of the brotherhood of man." Again he emphasized the need for a world government and national disarmament. In 1923 he wrote, "Without a world government it will be impossible to preserve civilization for another hundred years." He declared the fundamental principle that the rights of a nation against humanity are no more absolute than the rights of an individual against the community.

While visiting China in 1920 Russell fell ill and was treated by John Dewey. Dewey was moved by a statement Russell made while he was delirious - "We must make a plan for peace." In 1922 Russell was intending to go to a Congress in Italy, but Mussolini informed the organizers of the Congress that, while no harm was to be done to Russell, any Italian who spoke to him was to be assassinated. Naturally Russell decided to avoid the country he felt Mussolini was defiling. In 1931 Russell applauded Einstein's statement recommending that pacifists refuse military service. Like Einstein, Russell decided not to adhere to absolute pacifism in the face of the Nazi threat.

Russell published Which Way to Peace? in 1936. He criticized isolationism and encouraged international law and government with an international armed force to prevent war. He could not imagine Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin voluntarily renouncing national power. He also felt that England would not consent until after the disaster of war and that the United States would be reluctant unless Washington was in control. He cited Denmark as a successful example of national pacifism. Russell indicated that the three obstacles to disarmament were fear, pride, and greed.

In the notes in the Shaw book (which are highly critical of it) and which are dated November 1938, he says "I am completely at a loss to understand how it came about that people who are both humane and intelligent can find anything to admire in the vast slave camps produced by Stalin. He has condemned millions of peasants to death by starvation and millions of others to forced labour in concentration camps. The people that George admires so are dishonest, muddle-headed; and almost entirely inspired by hatred. I pity anybody working under that dictatorship of the proletariat. There are signs that in course of time the Soviet regime will become more liberal, but, although this is possible, it is far from certain. Meantime, anyone who values art and science must do what lies in their power to preserve in their own countries a less servile and more prosperous manner of life. Everyone in the Soviet today, lives with the momentary fear that a careless word by their children to a schoolteacher may condemn them to forced labour in a Siberian wilderness. I think that even with the concerns we discussed, that we should fear the White Bear far more than the present evils you are living with. After all, you Germans are a civilised people, and I expect you will soon grow tired of and dispose of the tyranny you are suffering under. Even if we [UK and Germany] had not reached an accord, I am sure that neither of our countries would have stood for a repeat of the horrors of 1914. Given the nastiness of the munitions developed then, and how much worse they probably are today, I would have to say that this is most likely a very good thing."

While this proves that he was far from prescientient, these hardly seem the words of an aggressive person.

The development of nuclear weapons caused Bertrand Russell deep concern. In November l945 he gave a speech in the House of Lords warning that atomic weapons were going to be made more destructive and cheaper. Understanding nuclear physics he explained how a hydrogen bomb with much more explosive force could work. He predicted that soon the Russians would have bombs as destructive as those of the United States. He recommended that nuclear weapons be under international control, and he supported the Baruch Plan for an International Atomic Development Authority. Such great danger did he see if Russia and other nations developed atomic weapons that during this period when the United States was the only nuclear power he advocated that the U.S. ought to force the Russians to accept a world government under American leadership, even by going to war against Russia if necessary. He believed that the only cause worth fighting for was world government. He compared this policy to the alternative of waiting until the Russians had atomic bombs and choosing between a nuclear war and submission. Russell never liked Communism, but his anti-Communism was moderated with the death of Stalin. McCarthyism's restriction of civil liberties and other US activities gradually led Russell to consider the United States a greater threat to unleash nuclear war than the Russians.

In "New Hopes for a Changing World" in 1951, he wrote, "The twentieth century so far has not been a credit to the human race. True, a number of emperors have disappeared, which from the point of view of 1793 would be adjudged a gain. But the results have not always been happy. There are those who may doubt whether Stalin is much better for the world than Nicholas II, whether Hitler was a great improvement on Kaiser Wilhelm, and even (greatly daring) whether Hirohito was much worse than MacArthur. In any case, these transfers were somewhat expensive. Each of them cost many millions of lives, many billions of dollars, much abasement of the currency of civilization. There were also special horrors, such as the extermination of the Jews, the deliberate starvation of the Russian peasants, and the invention of the terror of atomic death. These, so far, are the achievements of the twentieth century. There is a risk, a very imminent risk that, glorious as these achievements are, they will sink into insignificance beside those of the next few years. As I write, I do not know - no one knows - whether London and New York will still exist six months hence. I do not know - no-one else of my age in Western Europe knows - whether the children and grandchildren upon whom care has been lavished will survive another twelve months. I do not know, and no one else knows what, if anything, will be left of the structure of Western civilization which has been slowly built up from the time of Homer. All this is in doubt. All this depends upon the degree of hysteria in the United States, on the courage of Truman, the independence of Western Europe, and the good or bad temper of the Politbureau."

On March 1, 1954 the Bikini test of the H-bomb made it clear that the weapon was about one thousand times more powerful than the A-bomb. The radioactive fallout also proved to be deadly. Russell suggested that all fissionable raw material be owned by an international authority. He suggested that an international inspectorate be formed ensure that no nation or individual had access to fissionable raw material. On December 23, 1954 Russell made a broadcast over the BBC on "Man's Peril." He spoke not as a Briton or European but as a human being. He recommended that some neutral countries form a commission of experts to report on the destructive effects of a war using hydrogen bombs and that they submit this report to the Governments of the Great Powers so that they could agree that a world war could not serve the purpose of any of them. Russell asked everyone to remember their humanity and forget the rest so that a new Paradise would open instead of the way to universal death. Russell followed this address by drafting a statement for scientists to sign. He sent it to Einstein and was disappointed when he heard the news of Einstein's death. However, as one of his last acts, the great scientist had sent Russell a letter agreeing to sign. The 1995 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Russell was probably the chief founder of Pugwash. His archives show that he and Rotblat worked closely together, and Rotblat chaired Russell's announcement, in 1955, of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. In that, they made the argument that the only way to prevent war is to abolish war altogether. "Here then is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful, and inescapable: shall we put an end to the human race: or shall mankind renounce war?". At the first meeting in 1957 three committees were formed - one on the hazards of atomic energy, one on the control of nuclear weapons, and one on the social responsibilities of scientists. One of the achievements of the Pugwash movement was the eventual agreement on at least a partial Test-ban Treaty. Russell considered this only a slight mitigation of the dangers. Russell was also the President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) which worked for the unilateral disarmament of Britain and the expulsion of U.S. bases from her soil.

The Parliamentary Association for World Government in August 1955, invited representatives from every country, including four from the USSR. Russell moved a resolution urging "the governments of the world to realize and to acknowledge publicly that their purposes cannot be furthered by world war." Russell addressed an open letter to Eisenhower and Khrushchev in November 1957, asking that they make an agreement with each other on some points in which the interests of Russia and America are the same. Russell proposed the following: first, since the continued existence of the human race is paramount, neither side should incite war by trying for world dominion; second, the diffusion of nuclear weapons to other countries must be stopped; third, lessening hostility could lead to immense savings on armament expenditures; and fourth, by respecting each other's rights and using argument instead of force, fears of collective death could be diminished.

Russell expressed his views on television in 1959 and in the books Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare and Has Man a Future? he said that nuclear warfare imperils mankind as a whole and therefore should be treated like an epidemic and not be entangled in the conflicts of power politics. As a mathematician Russell knew that as long as nuclear war is a possibility its probability over time is increased. He quoted Linus Pauling's estimates of the hundreds of thousands of birth defects and embryonic and neo-natal deaths likely if tests were continued. The steps toward peace he recommended included the abolition of nuclear tests, the solving of differences without the threat of war, complete disarmament of nuclear weapons and a reduction of conventional forces, appointment of a Conciliation Committee with representatives from the powers and neutrals, the prohibition of foreign troops on any territory, and the establishment of a Federal International Authority with armed force to prevent war. Russell cautions that the armed force should be in units of mixed nationalities and under the command of officers from neutral countries. A federal constitution would have the nations autonomous in regard to their own internal affairs. The international court must have the same authority as national courts. To those who fear the tyranny of a world government Russell responds that there would be more real freedom in the world under effective law and that in large modern governments it is fairly easy to maintain civilian control over the military. Technical advances have not only made international anarchy infinitely more dangerous, but also the facility of world cooperation is now more available. Eventually, for the sake of a stable world, greater economic equality and opportunity must be granted to the poorer peoples of the world. Education ought to be global in scope and perspective. Also the increase of population must be brought under control. Peace movements in every country ought to work together in spite of minor differences.

At the age of 88 Russell came to believe that a more radical strategy was needed, and he resigned from the CND to begin to plan actions of civil disobedience through the Committee of 100. A sit-down demonstration took place at a U.S. Polaris Base in which 20,000 people attended a rally and 5,000 sat down and risked arrest. On August 6, 1961 ("Hiroshima Day") they met at Hyde Park, and Russell illegally used a microphone. He was arrested and convicted of inciting the public to civil disobedience; his sentence was commuted to one week. Russell wrote eloquent leaflets and gave speeches for these and other demonstrations urging that the seriousness of nuclear peril justified non-violent civil disobedience against the offending governments which are "organizing the massacre of the whole of mankind."

In October and November of 1962 Bertrand Russell acted as a peacemaker in two very serious international crises, even though he was only a private citizen. When President Kennedy ordered the naval blockade of Cuba to stop any Russian ship from carrying missiles to the island, Russell issued a press statement, which began, "It seems likely that within a week you will all be dead to please American madmen." Russell hoped there would be large demonstrations of protest, and he noted that the most impressive was in New York where Michael Scott and A. J. Muste spoke to ten thousand. On October 23 Russell sent a telegram to Kennedy, calling his action "desperate" and a "threat to human survival" without justification and pleading that he end the madness. To Khrushchev he telegraphed an appeal that he not be provoked but seek condemnation of U.S. action through the United Nations. On the next day Premier Khrushchev publicized a long letter in reply to Mr. Russell assuring him that the Soviet government would not be reckless as the Americans had been in their pre-election excitement. Russell then telegraphed Khrushchev thanking him for his "courageous stand for sanity" and asking him to hold back the ships so that the Americans could come to an agreement. He also telegraphed Kennedy to urge him to negotiate. Khrushchev ordered some ships to turn away and allowed others to be inspected; Russell praised the Soviet Premier for this magnanimous, unilateral act. In another press statement Russell argued that the U.S. blockade was illegal and immoral even though he believed nuclear bases to be intolerable in Cuba or anywhere. How would America respond if the Russians or Chinese blockaded Formosa?

Khrushchev offered to dismantle the nuclear bases in Cuba if the United States would guarantee that it would not invade Cuba. This Cuban fear was obviously valid, since the U.S. had already tried to invade once at the Bay of Pigs. When Kennedy cabled Russell about the "secret Soviet missiles" and the Russian "burglars," he pointed out that they had not been secret, that even if they had been long-range, which they were not, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. already had enough long-range missiles and submarines to destroy each other, and that the Russians were not burglars any more than Americans in Britain and Western Europe; actually the Americans were contemplating "burglary." Russell wired Kennedy, asking him to "accept United Nations inspection of bases and to offer bases in Turkey in exchange." This would show America's stand for peace. He cabled Dr. Castro, requesting that he accept the dismantling and U.N. inspection in exchange for the pledge not to be invaded. Russell sent a long letter to Khrushchev, suggesting further steps toward peace, such as the abandonment of the Warsaw Pact. He telegraphed U.N. Secretary General U Thant, asking him if he would arbitrate and inspect bases. Castro wanted U Thant to mediate in Cuba, but the U.S. refused to discuss the Guantanamo base or accept U.N. inspectors of Florida camps. In the face of U.S. intransigence to trading bases in Turkey, Russell telegraphed Castro and Khruschchev, urging them to dismantle the bases, since even the insane American blackmail is preferable to catastrophe. Although he was no lover of Communism, in this instance Russell commended Khrushchev for his wisdom and courage and criticized Kennedy for violating the U.N. Charter and perverting the Monroe Doctrine into the idea that if the U.S. does not like the form of government of a Western Hemisphere state and is threatening to attack it, then no outside power ought to try to help it.

In November 1962 Russell was similarly involved in mediating the border dispute between China and India. In numerous telegrams to Nehru and Chou En-lai, Russell urged a cease-fire and withdrawal so that negotiation and arbitration could settle the conflict. He also urged President Sukarno of Indonesia and U Thant to help mediate. In this situation India, which as a neutral nation had so often pleaded for peaceful relations, seemed to be overcome by war hysteria, and thus Russell found that the nation for which he had the most sympathy again was being the most unreasonable. This time Chou En-lai exercised wisdom and thanked Russell for his peacemaking efforts.

Reflecting on these two crises, Russell reiterated the danger of brinkmanship and the need for nuclear disarmament, since nuclear weapons only offer the options of complete submission or annihilation. The value of an unarmed and reasonable mediator made it easier for Khrushchev and others to make concessions without damaging their pride as much. Russell hoped that these crises might help discredit the Western belief that all Communists are wicked and all anti-Communists are virtuous. These situations and many others indicate the need for world government and strong international law so that disputes can be peacefully decided in courts.

The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation was formed in 1963. He worked to free political prisoners in over forty countries. Russell began publishing articles criticizing the unofficial war in Vietnam. He explained how the French, Japanese, British, and Americans had prevented the Vietnamese people from obtaining their independence for the sake of imperialism and capitalistic exploitation. He described the atrocities that had been perpetrated by puppet governments of the West and American "advisors." By mid-1963 there were "160,000 dead; 700,000 tortured and maimed; 400,000 imprisoned; 31,000 raped; 3,000 disemboweled with livers cut out while alive; 4,000 burned alive; 1,000 temples destroyed; 46 villages attacked with poisonous chemicals;" and eight million villagers in 6,000 concentration camps. He felt the time for protest was overdue. By 1965 the numbers had increased and in a speech criticizing the British Labor Party's foreign policy Russell tore up his Labor Party membership card. He complained that visas the Peace Foundation had requested for three members of the National Liberation Front (NLF) had been refused. Russell backed up his vituperative criticism of U.S. policies with numerous facts and figures. He appealed to Americans to understand and overcome the cruel rulers who had taken control of the U.S. government.

In December 1965, he delivered a paper titled "Peace through Resistance to US Imperialism" at something called the "First Solidarity Conference of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America", held in Havana at the end of 1965.

In 1966 he gave four reasons why the United States must be compelled to withdraw from Vietnam. First, the U.S. war crimes in Vietnam had been amply documented. Second, the U.S. had no right to be there; only a puppet ruler and a few ambitious Vietnamese generals wanted them there. Third, U.S. claims of "halting aggression" were absurd since the Geneva agreements had arranged for unification of Vietnam through election, which the U.S. had blocked. Fourth, the U.S. must not be encouraged to think that aggression pays.

On May 24, 1966 Bertrand Russell spoke over NLF radio to American soldiers to explain to them the injustice of their involvement. Since the U.S. was continuing to drop three million pounds of bombs daily on North Vietnam, Russell called for an international War Crimes Tribunal in keeping with the principles of the Nuremburg trials. The Tribunal convened in November 1966 to announce that it would prepare evidence in the following five areas:

  1. the crime of aggression, involving violation of international treaties;
  2. the use of experimental weapons, such as gas and chemicals;
  3. the bombing of hospitals, sanatoria, schools, dikes and other civilian areas;
  4. the torture and mutilation of prisoners;
  5. the pursuit of genocidal policies, such as forced labor camps, mass burials and other techniques of extermination in the South.

Distinguished individuals from various countries agreed to join the Tribunal. The War Crimes Tribunal met in Sweden and Denmark and became independent of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation.

In the notes to my grandfather inside "Must the Bomb Spread", dated December 1966, he says "There are those who think that the only way to combat these evils [of communism]is by means of a world war. This a frightful mistake. If such a policy was ever possible, war since Hitler is so terrible, and Communism is so powerful, that no one can tell what would be left after a world war. In any event, whatever might be left would probably be at least as bad as today's Communism."

Just a few years later he was the focus of protests against the USSR's invasion of Czechoslovakia, so his dislike of armed imperialism was definitely greater than any ideology he held.

He continued to work for peace to the end, and his last political statement was a condemnation of Israel's aggression sent to the International Conference of Parliamentarians in Cairo in February 1970.

There is a nice passage at the end of Russell's autobiography (Vol. III, Bantam Books, p. 239) where Russell succinctly describes the change in his thinking regarding peace and so-called wars of national liberation. "In the late forties and early fifties, I had been profoundly impressed by the horror of Stalin's dictatorship, which led me to believe that there would be no easy resolution of the Cold War. I later came to see that for all his ruthlessness Stalin had been very conservative. I had assumed like most people in the West, that his tyranny was expansionist, but later evidence made it clear that it was the West which had given him Eastern Europe as part of the spoils of WWII, and that for the most part, he had kept his agreements with the West. After his death, I earnestly hoped that the world would come to see the folly and danger of living permanently in the shadow of nuclear weapons. If the contenders for world supremacy could be kept apart, perhaps the neutral nations could introduce the voice of reason into international affairs. It was a small hope, for I overestimated the power of the neutrals. The neutrals continued to embody my outlook, in that I consider human survival more important than ideology. But a new danger came to the fore. It became obvious that Russia no longer entertained hope of world empire, but that this hope had now passed over to the U.S. As my researches into the origins and circumstances of the war in Vietnam showed, the U.S. was embarking upon military adventures which increasingly replaced war with Russia as the chief threat to the world. The fanaticism of America's anti-Communism, combined with its constant search for markets and raw materials, made it impossible for any serious neutral to regard America and Russia as equally dangerous to the world. The essential unity of American military, economic and Cold War policies was increasingly revealed by the sordidness and cruelty of the Vietnam War. For people in the West, this was most difficult to admit, and again I experienced the silence or opposition of those who had come to accept my views of the previous decade. In the third world, however, our support was very considerable. Cruelty has not gone wholly unchallenged."

See also the The Bertrand Russell Archives at McMaster University in Canada,


> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> []On Behalf
> Of Sodom
> Sent: Thursday, March 18, 1999 1:03 PM
> To:
> Subject: RE: virus: Prisoners my Derrida!
<big snip>
> Russell and Von Neumann -- two of the best, most logical minds of this
> century -- both thought that the United States should
> preemptively drop
> hydrogen bombs on the Soviet Union before they could develop the bomb
> themselves (this was in the 1950's).
> [Bill Roh]
> I am a bit of a fanatic of Russell, and I didn't know that he
> ever favored
> using the bomb as you are saying, I am sure however that he was very
> anti-bomb pro-peace later in his carreer. If you by chance
> have a source for
> Russell's pro nuke stance, I would be interested in seeing it.
> Bill Roh