Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Winning Hearts and Minds: How WWII Was Won By Words Before It Was Won By Bombs

In August 2016, lifelong Republican voter and former CIA spy Evan McMullin threw his hat into the ring as presidential candidate to oppose Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. When asked why he opposed Trump, he answered that Donald Trump posed a greater long-term risk to the US than ISIS because he would undermine the goodwill for the US around the world. And this goodwill was an essential asset the US could not do without.

So this seems like a rather strong claim. Is there a precedent for this? Yes, plenty of them, and none is more telling than WWII, where I would claim that the US won primarily because the right people wanted to go there, and because those same right people wanted to leave Germany.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler instituted a racial purge of the universities and other institutions of higher learning and research in Germany to "get out the Jews." As a result, there was a massive brain drain of some of the leading minds in physics, chemistry, and other areas of learning. Here is an incomplete list of physicists who left Germany and Italy because of Hitler and Mussolini:

- Leo Szilard (filed the first patent for an atomic bomb, instrumental in creating the first atomic reactor and in convincing president Roosevelt to start up the Manhattan Project).
- Edward Teller (father of the hydrogen bomb and radical anti-Communist)
- John von Neumann (father of the modern computer, essential contributor to the development of both the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb).
- Rudolf Peierls and Otto R. Frisch (discovered the first workable cross-section for an atomic bomb and wrote the Frisch-Peierls memorandum which convinced the UK and US to develop the atomic bomb)
- Albert Einstein (developed the theory of relativity and convinced president Roosevelt to invest money into making the atomic bomb).
- Theodore von Karman (father of modern aviation physics and jet propulsion).
- Hans Bethe (Nobel laureate and instrumental member at Los Alamos)
- Erwin Schrödinger (Nobel laureate and father of quantum theory)
- Niels Bohr (father of quantum physics)
- Joseph Rotblat (founder of the Pugwash Conference and Nobel Peace Prize laureate)
- Emilio Segre (Nobel laureate)
- Enrico Fermi (Nobel laureate)
- Lise Meitner (discovered fission)
- Max Born (Nobel laureate)
- James Franck (Nobel laureate)
- Eugene Wigner (Nobel laureate)

In total, Germany and Italy lost more than 25% of its physicists, 11 Nobel Prize laureates, and a total of more than 2,500 scientists. Most of these chose to join the allies and made crucial contributions to the development of the atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb, and other crucial inventions, such as the radar, which contributed to the Allies ultimately winning the war against the Axis powers, and also led to an American advantage in science, technology, and industry which the US has maintained ever since.

But why did all these physicists choose to join forces with the US, why did they choose to give their loyalty and all of their considerable knowledge and scientific effort to a foreign country? These numbers are the aggregate of thousands of individual decisions, a different algorithm of choices and consequences in these individuals' lives, and in most cases the US became the choice. Why?

The US in the 30s and 40s were not without a blemish in the eyes of these physicists. There were strong anti-Semitic forces in the US too, and the Roosevelt government was enforcing a strict quota on Jewish immigration which kept many refugees from Europe out of the country. Boats were turned back, and Jews were sent back to a continent in flames to meet their deaths in the camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Some Jewish scientists feared to go to the US because of this, but they were also attracted to Roosevelts rhetoric in defense of freedom and democracy. On the other hand, the Soviet Union was unattractive because of the many purges instigated by Stalin and the lack of freedom of expression. Some scientists still chose to join the Soviet Union, or to spy for them in the US, like Klaus Fuchs did, but for most the Soviet Union seemed neither safe nor attractive. Stalin was his own worst enemy, and he set the technological power of the USSR back many years because of his mass executions and deportations.

In Turing's Cathedral: The Origin of the Digital Universe, we get a glimpse into the decision-making process for one of the most important of all of these scientists who did more than perhaps any other to give the US an advantage in science and technology for the next 60 years: John von Neumann.

It says: "Von Neumann left Europe with an unforgiving hatred for the Nazis, a growing distrust of the Russians, and a determination never again to let the free world fall into a position of military weakness that would force the compromises that had been made with Hitler while the German war machine was gaining strength. He replaced the loss with a passion for America and everything its open frontiers came to represent" (181).

However, he nearly didn't make it to America. For himself, as a world famous scientist, it was easy enough to gain employment and an exception from the immigration quotas, but for his fiance and soon to be wife it was not so easy. Would he have stayed in Europe or even chosen the USSR out of desperation if his wife would not have been granted immigration to the US? What would the world have looked like then?

The world of minds, from Sergej Brin at Google to John von Neumann who invented the first computer, is distributed all over the world in every nation and language. The US will only be able to keep its edge in all fields if it is open to these people and if these people actually want to go there or support what the US and the West is trying to do around the world. This is why the actions of Donald Trump's presidency may in the long-term be more fatal to the US than ISIS.