From the first Pugwash Conference on Science and Human Affairs held at Thinkers Lodge in 1957 until his death at age ninety-six on September 2, 2005, Joseph Rotblat played a pivotal role in the struggle to eliminate nuclear weapons. At the second Pugwash Conference in Lac Beauport, Montreal, Rotblat quoted from the 1957 Pugwash Statement. “It cannot be disputed that a full-scale war would be an utter catastrophe. In the combatant countries, hundreds of millions of people would be killed outright, by the blast and heat, and by the ionizing radiation produced at the instant of explosion. If so-called “dirty” bombs were used, large areas would be made uninhabitable for extended periods of time, and additional hundreds of millions of people would probably die from delayed effects of local fall-out radiation.”[i] In the twenty-first century, we need to heed this dire warning, and we need to take steps to prevent its occurrence.
Rotblat returned to Thinkers Lodge numerous times as guest and friend of Cyrus and Anne Eaton. In 1995, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize medal, which “hangs in Thinkers Lodge, as Rotblat intended, so that all who come to this place will gain inspiration from those early pioneers of the nuclear age. That medal is a reminder to us all of the work yet to be done to fulfill the mission set forward when Einstein added his signature to the Manifesto in what would be the final public act of his life. That medal is a reminder that great accomplishments can come when we work together in creative ways.”[ii] Rotblat in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture urged his colleagues, "The time has come to formulate guidelines for the ethical conduct of scientists." Pugwash "was a major East-West communications channel at a time when most channels, even official ones, were very badly plugged or nonexistent," noted Herbert York, the first director of the Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons lab.
The medal, prominently displayed in the Lodge, inspires visitors. In his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize, Rotblat said, “The quest for a war-free world has a basic purpose: survival. But if in the process we learn how to achieve it by love rather than by fear, by kindness rather than by compulsion; if in the process we learn to combine the essential with the enjoyable, the expedient with the benevolent, the practical with the beautiful, this will be an extra incentive to embark on this great task. Above all, remember your humanity.”
The path that led Rotblat from a Warsaw ghetto to becoming the heart of the Pugwash Conferences and an avid peace activist was arduous. “Experiencing first-hand the near-insane intolerance and injustice generated as a political condition of war, these years forged Rotblat's unswerving ideals of world peace and of the use of science for the benefit of man and the planet.”[iii] His message of hope for a war-free world is inspiring.
Joseph Rotblat was born on November 4, 1904, in Warsaw (then part of Russia) to an Orthodox Jewish family.[iv] During World War I, he and his family, fearing for their lives, lived in a basement and subsisted on potatoes as a mainstay of their diet. His family spiraled from affluence to extreme poverty. By 1916, when Rotblat was twelve, there was no money, so his family urged him to do practical studies that would quickly provide him with income and a career. He studied electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and basic arithmetic. At fourteen, he became an apprentice to an electrician, a job he detested. However, he was grateful he could help support his parents. As a Jew, he could not be officially admitted to Warsaw University, but he earned his degree there unofficially.
[i] Joseph Rotblat - Nobel Lecture, The Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize, 1995[ii] “Canadian Pugwash, Existential Threats to Humanity, and the 60th Anniversary of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto” by Sandra Butcher, The Lobster Factory, Thinkers Lodge, July 11, 2015
[iii] Obituary of Sir Joseph Rotblat - The Guardian, Friday 2 September 2005