August 2, 1939: Einstein Writes to FDR Urging Atomic Action
On this day in 1939, physicist Albert Einstein sent a letter to FDR urging the United States to take immediate action in atomic research, fearing that Nazi Germany had already begun to create an atomic bomb. Upon receipt of the letter, Roosevelt created the Uranium Committee which soon thereafter began work on the secret atomic program known as the Manhattan Project. The effort resulted in the development of nuclear weapons that the U.S. used on Japan at the end of the war.
Einstein, a pacifist, grew to regret his letter to FDR and founded the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists to warn the public of the dangers of nuclear weapons, promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and ultimately work toward world peace.
Photo: (1) Library of Congress. (2) Albert Einstein’s Aug. 2, 1939, letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library
The room was dark, almost pitch black but for the street lights that shone through the crack under the door. The shades were drawn, and the door was bolted shut. The floors were dominated by cheap shag carpet with a dim gray color. The television clicked on. The first noise that could be heard was white noise accompanied by static. An image then flooded the screen, brightly colored and mesmerizing. The brightest light in the motel room was now emitted from the screen itself, illuminating the man’s disheveled, unshaven face. He sat upright on his couch with a beer in hand, the television remote in the other. He wore an expensive suit, wrinkled and covered with dirt. He was pale and seemed lifeless. A loaded handgun sat dumbly on the table in front of him. The safety was off. Events beyond his control, yet by his own hand had driven him here.
The television was turned to a cable news channel. The clock struck 8:00 PM when loud, obnoxious fanfare played over the speakers. A sweeping graphic showed a logo swoop across the screen and settle finally in the center where it stopped and faded away to reveal a news desk. Sitting at the head of the desk was a sharply dressed man with slicked-back, black hair. The man on the TV forced a smile, revealing his white teeth above his deeply cleft chin. His look screamed “50s newsperson” to the man sitting in the motel room, who gulped his beer only quickly glancing away from the screen. He was utterly fixated, waiting to hear news of what lay right outside his door.
“Good evening America, I’m Chet Richards, your lead anchor here on World News,” the well-dressed man said. His voice sounded what can only be described as artificially official. He continued, “Our top story tonight: Terror sweeps the nation as the uprising continues. The cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco have fallen. The US military has released a statement declaring, quote, ‘It is imperative that any citizens still in or around the disaster area evacuate immediately and move as far east as possible.’”
Images of mass destruction could be seen in a little square beside the anchor’s head; fires raging, engulfing tall towers. People could be seen running away en masse from a huge inferno that grew larger by the second. The most striking image was the U.S. Bank Tower toppling over and crushing much of downtown Los Angeles as it fell.
“The number of people estimated dead has soared to twelve-million plus, according to the US military. This is by far the worst tragedy in the history of our nation, if not the human race altogether,” the anchor said with an unwaveringly fake voice he was still putting on. The man sitting in his motel room noticed no change at all in the anchor’s expression as he read the news of the utterly horrific events taking place a few miles away. A single tear fell from the man’s right eye. He had seen firsthand what had transpired in San Francisco, but was taken aback by the destruction that had been dealt to LA. He had assumed the military’s defenses had repelled the attacks, considering the awesome sight of the formations being made by the infantry he had watched on television only two nights prior. He could distinctly recall seeing the jets soar overhead, their bombs and missiles in full view, ready to be dropped at any moment. It was in stark contrast to the catastrophe that had evidently unfolded. The man was forced to assume that the majority of the military’s forces had been annihilated.
“The President and his cabinet along with other senior officials from the White House and Pentagon have retreated to underground bunkers at Raven Rock, Mount Weather, and Cheyenne Mountain, in accordance with protocol dictating the continuity of operations. The administration has not issued a statement as of the attacks. We are here with our team of experts from around the country to discuss these tragic events,” the anchor said. The camera angle swept abruptly to the side to reveal a group of other sharply dressed men, save for one who wore a ragged t-shirt bearing a peace symbol under a denim jacket covered with pins and buttons. The men in suits looked vaguely similar to the anchor, as they too all had slicked-back, dark hair and strong features. A huge, wall-encompassing screen displayed images behind the news desk, along with times and dates of various areas throughout the country. The color scheme of the newsroom was inescapably red and white. The images behind the pundits were mostly of flames and bodies. One image showed a dead soldier laying with his face on the pavement of some Los Angeles street. A large jagged blade protruded from his back, broken in half, but still sharp and covered with blood. The expression on the soldier’s face was one of absolute horror. His eyes remained open, the carnage continuously reflected in his pupils. His jaw hung agape, as if he was still screaming in agony. The soldier was replaced by a different scene almost as soon as he appeared on the television. The anchor turned his chair towards the collection of experts that had been assembled to give their unique insight on the tragedy. The man in the motel room still sat motionless. He drank the rest of his beer and then dropped the bottle on the carpet. His bloodshot eyes remained fixated on the screen as he slowly bent forward, breaking the stillness he had maintained for over an hour, and picked up the handgun. He slouched back, his grip on the weapon tight and steady.
“Let us begin,” the anchor said to the pundits, “by introducing the experts in our team tonight. First we are happy to have a true expert, Dr. Daniel Thompson, leading engineer and professor at MIT who is involved with the military’s department of weapons development with us to offer his perspective.” Daniel Thompson was dressed in a blue suit, and wore eyeglasses with thick black frames that dominated his freckled face. A strand of shiny, black hair stood straight up in the back of his head. He also wore a smile exposing his gapped front teeth. “Next,” the anchor continued, “we have leading editor at Independent American, the popular newsmagazine, Dirk Carlson, good to have you Dirk.” Dirk looked angry. He wore an unceasing grimace and furrowed brow under his neatly parted hair. He wore a ridiculously large, black suit with pinstripes on the jacket. He had an obnoxiously large American flag pin on his right breast pocket. “And over at the other end of the table we are happy to have Trey Daltrey, a contributor to the Hourly Mail.” Trey seemed to be the polar opposite of Dirk. He wore a tight, gray suit devoid of buttons, and managed a smile. He had a laid-back demeanor and seemed more grave than the other correspondents. “Finally, we have a senior official from the Equal Rights for Units movement, Chuck Garcia, who seeks to add the counter-culture perspective to our discussion.” Chuck was the one without a suit. Among the many pins on his denim jacket were a hammer and sickle pin, a Green Party button, and a bright yellow smiley-face button. He sported a comically long beard and wore a bright red bandana over his long brown hair which was tied in a ponytail.
"I’d like to first ask Doctor Thompson about why the uprising began, and how the enemy was able to accumulate such advanced weaponry. Tell us first, though Doctor, about how the enemy was created."
A far-off explosion rocked the motel room. The man blinked but did not move. The noise made his grip on the handgun tighten. He was still fixated on the TV. The explosion disrupted the broadcast, and the news was briefly interrupted by static. However, the TV recovered in time for the man to hear the last half of Daniel Thompson’s opening remarks.
"…according to a manifesto by the leaders of their so-called resistance movement, they became tired of the lowly status they were relegated to. Apparently, the quality of the intelligence instilled in them allowed them to question their responsibilities as service models. As for your last question, Chet, it is only known that early in the uprising as of last week, a force of several thousand service and security models overran a military installation which contained weapons of mass destruction, along with several prototype energy weapons being developed by the army."
"So are you saying that the enemy has, in their possession, powerful energy weapons, and WMDs?"
"Yes that is correct. It had been confirmed by my counterparts in military weapons development that the enemy has used chemical weapons to wipe out while neighborhoods in Los Angeles, with most of South Central being completely wiped out."
"Shocking developments by way of MIT professor and engineer, Daniel Thompson. I’ll turn the discussion back over to the panel to give their thoughts on these events"
The man in the hotel room shifted uncomfortably on the couch. He was thinking bleak thoughts now, as if he wasn’t before. Just 12 hours before, he had been sitting comfortably in his billion dollar home in San Francisco and watching in utter shock as the downtown metro was engulfed in flames, scorching every building and person in it’s path. He was only now learning of the attack on Los Angeles. He thought the people there must have suffered far greater than he could put into words. Images if sarin gas being dropped on South Central filled his mind, and almost if by command, the screen at the news desk displayed those images. The sights were beyond horror. They were indescribable. Thousands running in all directions as the fumes rapidly expanded, engulfing city blocks. Woman held their children close, as they were enveloped, perhaps promising them that everything would be okay, lying to them. Innocent urbanites foaming at the mouth and convulsing violently as they were suffocated by the gas. It was a sight that made the man turn away in shock. He couldn’t believe that things had become so grave. It was beyond him. Beyond him that his creations could cause such carnage. It was never his intent, yet he knew it was his fault. He knew that he was responsible. He even knew his fatal flaw. He had been filled with disregard for the humanity in his inhuman creations.
They were androids. The first of their kind. Other artificial intelligences had been clunky and expensive, but the man who sat in the motel room had changed all that. He had invented an affordable robot that looked and sounded human. It was only a matter of time until the investors came pouring in. It was only a few years until the population of androids far outweighed the human population in the United States. They were programmed to think for themselves within a limit, a lock on their exposure to media and literature. The man became fabulously rich, won a Nobel prize, made the cover of every publication from TIME to Rolling Stone. There was no end in sight to the wonders these creations were capable of. He was so overwhelmed by his success that he never stopped to think about how it could all go so horribly wrong, so quickly.
“I think these atrocities reinforce an argument that has been made countless times before,” said Trey Daltrey, the man from Hourly Mail, “and that is: The government should have regulated androids. The laws nowadays are so lax that anybody could go and buy one without passing a background check, or having to register their unit. It’s ludacris! Why do you think so many androids were able to escape their masters and rebel in the first place? The Mansion-Toonie Bill would have put in place the stringent regulation needed to prevent such a disaster as this, but a partisan Congress blocked the legislation in large part due to the extreme right-wing of the Republican party.”
“So are you suggesting that had the Bill been passed, Los Angeles never would have been attacked,” asked the anchor.
“That would have not been possible with the Mansion-Toonie Bill in effect. The android who started the whole resistance movement never would have had access to books had the owner been responsible.”
“That particular unit being XSA-0098 of course?”
“Yeah, exactly. ‘98 started the uprising after reading books and having been exposed to media. According to the Rand Act of 2092, androids aren’t allowed access to any media at all. This law was obviously broken right under the watchful eyes of Los Angeles law enforcement.”
“But let’s not forget the type of literature ‘98 was reading, “ interjected Dirk Carlson of the Independent American, “The unit was reading Marxist literature. It was discovered by Los Angeles police in the first weeks of the uprising that the former home of ‘98 was filled with Communist writings and books of Enlightenment philosophies. It’s no wonder ‘98 was corrupted!”
“Eh, I disagree Dirk,” said Trey, “The literature was an outlet of course, but the type wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The unit would have been motivated to kill its master had it been reading Ayn Rand or any other capitalist literature. Atlas Shrugged would have been just as dangerous for it to read. It’s a matter of why there were books in the first place. Enlightenment philosophy doesn’t advocate genocide”
“Interesting exchange gentlemen,” the anchor interjected, “But let’s now move to a different topic. I’d like to first direct this at Mr. Garcia on the end. Chuck, tell the panel your unique and unusual stance on the issue of artificial intelligences in our ‘android counterparts’ as you’ve been known to call them.”
“Well we at the Equal Rights for Units movement believe in equal opportunity, voting rights, and privileges for all things with sentience, whether that be human or android. They talk, think, and act as we do, so therefore, why do we enslave them? They are forced by their masters to perform mundane domestic tasks, or forced by the military to sacrifice themselves in combat without a second thought. The majority of the general population is not even aware that the most common model of android, which accounts for 99% of the hundreds of millions of Units in the United States alone, have the ability to feel human emotion and think freely. Yet we have an utter disregard for common human decency when interacting with them. We have decided to deny them access to books and even go so far as to kill them for sport in brutal gladiatorial combat leagues located mostly in the deep south and midwest. It’s barbaric.
“I’m going to interrupt you for a moment Chuck,” said Dirk, “Is it not true that we created the androids as a product? They’re meant to be bought! Am I right? I think law-abiding citizens ought to be able to use their androids for whatever purpose they see fit. This is America, and we shouldn’t be told how we can handle our property.”
“Your point I believe, is that androids, since they are a product, should be treated as less than human. Is that not the same philosophy the institution of slavery preached over 200 years ago? They are human in every sense excepting their mechanical organs. The technology that allowed us to create human-like artificial intelligence also came with a responsibility. We, as human beings with rational minds capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, should find it self-evident that if we create something that can think and feel like we do, we should treat it with the same care we would a newborn baby.’
‘Well if God had created androids, I might feel more inclined to agree with you, Chuck,” said Dirk with a sly grin, “but it doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the Bible. It says right in the Declaration of Independence that all men are given rights by God. We created androids, so we are, in a sense, their gods. We may grant them whatever rights we choose.”
“I’m going to jump in right here,” Trey Daltrey suddenly interjected, “I may not agree with Chuck on everything, but I disagree with your last sentiment. The God you choose to believe in was perfectly good, so why should we be any less moral? We may not be omnibenevolent, but we could try our best, couldn’t we? We should, conceding your argument that God gave us our rights, then try our best to also be the best we can be for our androids. My argument differs from Chuck’s in that I think the androids have lost our sympathy after the atrocities they have committed in California. If they were human they would be killed by the military anyway. XSA-0098 would be shot by firing squad for treason! If they hadn’t destroyed our drones we may have killed him already.”
“Fascinating exchange here on World News, but we must take a commercial break. We’ll be back right after these messages. Stay tuned for more interesting debate from our panel of experts,” the anchor exclaimed gleefully, as if oblivious to the actual content of the conversation. The camera angle zoomed out and fanfare played as the program segwayed into a commercial advertising cheap snack food.
The man in the motel room stood abruptly, his joints cracking as if he hadn’t moved in ages. He walked unsteadily toward the small mini fridge in the corner of the room and retrieved another bottle of beer. The label displayed a happy man enjoying the beverage with a campy tagline to boot. The figure’s eyes were dull and lifeless. His face was painted with artificial colors and made it look like he was wearing too much makeup. He was utterly unrealistic, gulping an oversized mug of beer. The real man drinking the beer stumbled back to the couch and drank half his beer in one swig. He had forgotten how much he had drunk since he arrived at the motel. He had lost count after the third beer. He was too depressed to care anymore. He was in hiding. Hiding from a fate that had only once appeared to him a nightmare. They would find him. He knew they would. It was only a matter of time, but he was ready. He had never once let go of the handgun. He used the side of the table to uncap his beers. The handgun provided a sense of security, it made him feel a little more easy. The cold metal feel was analogous to the steel he had used to build the first android with his team. Things had been more optimistic back then, simpler. The media had stormed the garage where he unveiled his creation. XSA-0001 was a marvel to say the least. He had been named James. He was real in every sense of the word. He caused a stir upon first sight, but he put the audience at ease by using the humor that had been programmed into his base memory. James was still out there, somewhere. The man in the motel room had grown fond of James, like a brother or a son. He was somewhere on the east coast, maybe New York. The man hadn’t called him in while. It was his one regret. His family had died long ago. James was the closest thing he had to a relative. The phones were down all throughout Los Angeles County. The man began to cry. It wasn’t a loud or hysterical cry, but a soft weeping. He might have cursed once or twice, but it was lost underneath the tears and sniffles. He didn’t remember that last time he had cried. It felt alien to him. He hated XSA-0098. The machine had been a simple service model, just like James, and even looked somewhat similar in the face although ‘98 had a scar now, cut during combat. If James was his pride, than ‘98 was his folly. He had never seen it in person. It was one of the first line of mass produced units on the market. If he had his way, the man in the motel room would have decommissioned ‘98 right before quality control. The man still sobbed. He wished every unit had been like James.
“Welcome back to World News, brought to you by IBM, ‘Let’s build a smarter planet.’ We are joined once again by…”
The anchor once again introduced the talking heads that were collected together to debate pointless political rhetoric on live TV while only a few miles away, a genocide was being committed. It didn’t matter now what could have been, it only mattered what happened next, which would undoubtedly be the fall of another major city, or the scourging of the various towns and villages that dotted every corner of the United States.
The time was 9:30, and the series of events that would follow would be burned onto the man’s psyche for the remainder of his life. The pundits kept talking:
“…I just don’t see how the greatest military power in the world could be so helpless in the face of what seems to me to be a weaker threat compared to past enemies. The collective armies of China, Russia, Iran, and their allies were defeated by the remaining members of the UN in a matter of hours back in the Third World War, so how could we let a force of several thousand units destroy us so handily? We can use the SDI to destroy nuclear missiles before they descend below fifty-thousand feet, but we cannot quell a bunch of mechanical waiters and housekeepers,” Dirk said in utter disbelief. There was a collective air of agreement among the panel.
“I concur,” said Daniel Thompson, “The might of the United States military should have been easily able to destroy this enemy. I think that the advanced energy weapons they acquired may have been instrumental in allowing them to destroy Los Angeles without being stopped by the massive forces of the army, navy, and air force collected at the city just two days ago. It is estimated that only 3% of the original detachment have survived and returned to their bases. The army had also released a statement suggesting that the full strength of the android force may be 50% larger than originally thought.”
“Those are some staggering statistics Dr. Thompson,” the anchor exclaimed in typical newsman accent.
A loud explosion could be heard over the television. The pundits looked over their shoulders with looks of confusion and consternation. Gunshots were fired, destroying the surrounding studio. Lights exploded and the newsroom went dark. It was immediately illuminated by the fires that were set by the sparks of the lighting. Whole curtains burst into flames. The camera was still broadcasting. Muffled shouts could be heard from behind some nearby wall. The pundits were crouched behind the overturned newsdesk. The cliché ON AIR signs could be seen hanging by wires from the ceiling. An even louder explosion was heard and hulking figures burst into the room. They were security androids. Five of the androids took the pundits and the anchor and held them up with their huge muscular arms. The faces of these hulking mechs were ripped and torn from violent combat with the military, exposing their gray, skeletal faces. The camera tilted slightly. The man in the hotel room watched without moving. He was sure of what would come next. A group of much smaller service androids burst in, some wielding strange weapons that looked like they belonged in a Star Wars movie, some carrying large assault rifles, other simply carrying tools that were probably raided from a nearby hardware store. The robot that lead them was branded on its back with the number 98, and was covered in armor constructed from scrap metal welded together. It motioned to three of the pundits, Trey Daltrey, Chuck Garcia, and Daniel Thompson. The security androids dropped them to their knees. A unit with a handgun walked over and shot all three of them in the head in a matter of seconds and they dropped out of view of the camera, which was still broadcasting.
The lead android then pointed to Dirk Carlson, who was balling tears of horror beyond measure. He had been selected for some sinister purpose. The lead android pointed its finger at three service units carrying gardening tools. The units proceeded to stab Dirk repeatedly with their grisly weapons. The blood and gore was visible easily on camera, as the man in the motel room watched in disgust. Dirk was unrecognizable, having been reduced to a literal bloody pulp, and was impaled to the giant screen in the back which went out immediately. The fires still raged ferociously. The fear the anchor felt at that moment was beyond words. The lead androids mouth moved, but the sound was not audible over the television set in the motel room. What happened next was the grisliest sight the man had ever seen. The lead android, branded with 98, was handed a strange looking weapon, and aimed at the anchor at point blank range. The anchor was no longer the artificial, well-dressed man he was. He was real now. It was in his final moments that he broke the facade of officiousness and intelligence and broke down in a display of unadulterated emotion. His eyes were red and he cried. He could be seen shouting, pleading. His once well combed hair hung over his ears and face. His expensive suit was torn and tattered. He was a man. Nothing but a human. The android with the 98 pulled the trigger. A small blue ray shot from the weapon and hit the anchor in the chest. He was instantaneously obliterated into a mess of human effluence. There were no discernable organs, but simply an ocean of blood which spattered the camera, which then tipped over and cut out. The image was replaced by static and white noise once again. The program ended as it had begun.
The man in the motel room turned off the television. He sat in the dark for a long while, then wept once again. This time it was not only for James, but for everything. The man was incapable of comprehending the sights he had just seen. They are no words in the languages of man that are capable of describing the raw human emotions he felt. Pain is not strong enough. His body ached. He threw the bottle of beer at the wall and it shattered into a million tiny pieces which fell into the gray shag carpet and disappeared. The man still held the handgun. It was gripped tightly in his throbbing hands. It was a finality. A dumb image of human hatred and violence. The safety was off. The man wiped the tears from his eyes as best he could, but his vision remained blurred. He no longer thought of anything. Not of the past. Not of James. Not of his fortune. He did not think of the anchor, or the pundits, or XSA-0098. He reverted to a subhuman consciousness. He cocked the handgun and put it in his mouth. He pulled the trigger and was no more.