Vitaly L. Ginzburg
Apart from several monographs on physics and astrophysics, I have published two books which are collections of various articles of scientific, semi-scientific and general, social and political character1. Some of these articles contain rather much biographical material. So I do not have any wish to come back to my autobiography. However, it is the wish of the Nobel Foundation that the Nobel Prize winners, together with the lecture, wrote their autobiography. I respect the wishes of the Foundation, so I am writing. Of course, I could confine myself to brief biographical information, while writing a detailed autobiography is rather dangerous – it can bring reproach for “exhibitionism” and immodesty. Nevertheless, I have decided to write in a rather detailed and frank way, as it corresponds to my habits and tastes. One more reason to justify this decision is that I am already 87 and will hardly ever have another occasion to write about myself and my views.
1. I was born in Moscow, on 4th October, 1916, that is, as far back as in the tsarist Russia (at that time even the calendar was different, so the date of my birth was 21st September). My father, Lazar’ Efimovich Ginzburg, almost half of his life lived in the 19th century, he was born in 1863, that is only two years after the abolition of serfdom in Russia. Having graduated from Riga Polytechnic, he was an engineer engaged in purification of water and had a number of patents. My mother, Avgusta Veniaminovna Vil’dauer-Ginzburg, was a doctor, she was born, in 1886, in Mitava (Latvia). I was the only child in the family. Mother died of typhoid in 1920, I only remember one episode at her bedside and her funeral. Mother’s younger sister, Rosa, who started to live with us, did everything she could for me. She died in 1948. Father had died still earlier (in 1942), when we were living in Kazan’, where we had been evacuated. Below I will tell about this period in a more detailed way. And here I will only note that, as is well known, life in Russia during World War I, and especially during the period of military communism, and later in the Soviet Union was hard, in many cases even very hard. But in Moscow, where we lived all the time, with the exception of about two years (1941-1943) spent in Kazan’, material conditions were better than in the majority of other regions of the country. However, one of my childhood memories is a wagon loaded with half-covered coffins with dead bodies and pulled by a horse past our house in the center of Moscow. Another memory is of buying fresh meat “for the kid”, which turned out to be the meat of a dog. Normally dogs had never been eaten in Central Russia. However, in general we did not starve, but we lived in a so-called communal apartment – into my father’s four-room apartment two more families had been placed after the revolution. Still, it is not these hardships, more or less general, but my loneliness that really sticks in my mind. It was exacerbated by my being sent to school only at the age of 11 (in 1927 I entered the 4th form). My parents (or, to be more exact, father and aunt) must have been afraid that school at the Soviet times had become quite bad, and sending children to school was not obligatory. I am not acquainted with the general state of education in the USSR in the twenties. But school No. 57 belonging to the Sokol’niki district department of education, which I entered, does not seem bad to me. It was a former French grammar school, with many good old teachers still working there. True, as far as I remember, history was practically not taught, being substituted with rendering the contents of some reports of comrade Stalin and, it seems, some other material like that. What was really bad came later. In 1931, just at the time when I finished the 7th form, yet another school reform happened, and the full high school (I do not remember whether it had 9 or 10 forms) was abolished. After the 7th form pupils were to enter vocational schools (FZU), which were supposed to train skilled factory workers. After a FZU one could, in principle, enter directly higher educational establishments (VUZes), including universities – through “rabfaks”, that is worker preparatory departments. I am putting it somewhat vaguely, because, not at all willing to enter a FZU, I did not follow this way. So for a while I, then a boy of 15, remained rather lost and unhappy. My aunt, already mentioned, was working in an organization dealing with purchases of foreign scientific literature. One of their customers was Evgeni Bakhmet’ev, a professor of a technical VUZ. He was a very picturesque figure – a former submarine sailor, a Bolshevik, who became a specialist in the field of X-ray structure analysis. His fate, like the fates of many other people of such kind, was tragic – later he died, crushed by the millstones of Stalin’s terror. But in 1931 he helped me to get a job of a laboratory assistant in the X-ray laboratory of the technical VUZ where he was teaching. I will not go into details. I will confine myself to saying that the key figure in the laboratory was Veniamin (Venya) Tsukerman, quite a young man (only three years older than me) with truly uncommon inventiveness and initiative. With him and his school friend and peer, Lev Al’tshuler, we communicated and worked together for about two years. Both Tsukerman and Al’tshuler became physicists, from 1946 they were very close to their superior, Y.B. Khariton, who headed the main center where the atomic and hydrogen bombs were created (now it is the town of Sarov, as this place was called as far back as in the tsarist time; after a nuclear center was created there it was called by some code name, which I have already forgotten, and later its name was Arzamas-16). Tsukerman and Al’tshuler have a lot of awards, and, the main thing, many works of theirs are already declassified and well-known. Both of them are people with interesting fates, in part already described in literature. Giving a more detailed description here is evidently impossible (I will only say that Tsukerman died in 1993, and on 9th November, 2003 we celebrated Al’tshuler’s 90th birth anniversary).
What I acquired at the laboratory is not so much some concrete knowledge as the taste for work, for physics, for inventiveness. I also remember reading, with interest, the book by O.D. Khvol’son “Fizika Nashikh Dnei” (The Physics of Our Days) – a popular writing about the achievements of physics, a rare book for that time. Anyway, I decided to become a physicist, especially as I did not have any talents, but in physics I was at least interested. So I decided to enter the physical department of the Moscow State University (MGU). Just at that time, from 1933, it became possible to enter the MGU by open competition (previously for several years the entrance procedure was somehow different – for instance, through rabfaks or in some other way, but certainly not by competition). But for entering the University it was necessary to have finished the complete high school course, while I had finished only 7 forms. So I had to learn in three months (partly with a tutor) what had to be learned in the senior forms. I am going into these details because all my life I have wished I had got a normal school education. And I want to warn those who think that school wisdom is not worth spending many years on it. Indeed, though having, as I am convinced, merely average abilities, I managed to do in three months the program of three school years. But at what cost? The cost is, first of all, a total lack of automatism in elementary mathematics and in the orthography even of the Russian language. Specifically, at school I would have solved, for instance, 100 problems in algebra, trigonometry, etc., while on my own I solved only about 10. Why solve more if it is not demanded? Such things lead to lack of skills in the further learning of mathematics. The same with orthography. Illiteracy “in the people” was at that time being combated, though, and, as far as I know, there were some good results in this field. But at the higher level things were much worse. Suffice to say that already at the second year at the university we had a check (a dictation) in Russian, and half of the students of the year (!), me including, got unsatisfactory marks. After that an obligatory course of Russian was introduced for those who had failed this exam. I doubt that it gave any noticeable benefit – making up for what has been missed in childhood is very difficult. Neither do I know foreign languages, although later I had to master English, but only in the limits necessary for my doing physics. I hope that the given information is not superfluous, both in terms of understanding the life in the USSR in the years described and in terms of my biography.
I did not fail any of the entrance exams at the MGU, in 1933, but on the whole I did not make out brilliantly. As a result, I was not admitted, although admitted were some people with slightly lower marks but more advantageous personal particulars (I was neither a member of the Young Communist League nor a worker, and my parents also were not proletarians, and so on). But still this result was not discrimination or a sign of anti-Semitism, which flourished after the war. Some of my comrades who were not admitted either decided to wait for a year, but I had already left work and had somehow become keen on studying. That is why I entered the external department, which proved possible. And here again I painfully felt my sore spot. In 1934 I managed to get transferred to the internal department, to the second year, that is, I caught up with my fellow students and started to study like everybody. But I learned how much richer and brighter their life was, with all sorts of optional courses and so on. Not to mention that, strangely, I never got acquainted with the courses of astronomy and chemistry, which I did not have to do at the external department and somehow was not obliged to sit when being transferred to the internal department.
I want to finish the story of the first stage of my life by mentioning just one of many episodes which show that man’s fate is merely a chain of chances and it is like a pathetic little boat in the sea waves, which may capsize at any moment. What I mean here is the following. At the second year at the MGU all students were enrolled in groups of two types, military and civil. Only men were placed in military groups, where they were trained and qualified as military officers. So, when being transferred to the internal department I was sent to a military hospital in order to decide where I should be placed. I was rather not athletic (height 180 cm, weight about 60 kilograms). A military doctor, who seemed an elderly man to me, poked his finger at my neck, uttered the diagnosis “struma” and sent me to a civil group. Struma is some swelling of the thyroid gland, which I have not noticed up to now. I am telling about that because practically all my fellow students who got into military groups were killed at the war. To finish with this unpleasant topic, I shall note that there were three more similar episodes. I cannot say that I was bursting to go to the front but I was not in the least trying to avoid it. Telling about all incidents would be too long, so I shall limit myself to only one. In 1941, after the beginning of the war (for the USSR it began on 22nd June, 1941) the Lebedev Physical Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences (FIAN), where I was working at the time (and were I have been working up till now), was evacuated to Kazan’ together with the greater part of the Academy of Sciences. And, what was quite natural for the war time, at least in our country, the workers of the Institute were used for different works. So once we were sent to unload barges with logs or firewood on the Volga. By the way, everybody took part in that, for instance, I.E. Tamm, also mentioned in my Nobel Lecture. My task was bringing logs from the barge to the bank. I was wearing the so-called “koza” (which means “a goat”) – something like a rucksack with a step at the rear. Such “kozas” were widely used in Russia at one time for carrying heavy weights, and they are effective indeed. Two men put a log on a “koza” and the one who was wearing it carried the log to the bank. I am still surprised what heavy logs can be carried in such a way. But still I must have overstrained myself and on the next day I had bleeding at the throat, though not profuse. Some small blood vessel must have burst. I was sent to hospital, where some petrified spots were found in my lungs. The bleeding stopped, and, like the struma, it did not show itself anymore. At the same time voluntary enlistment into some airborne landing forces was announced and I, then a YCL member, enlisted. But I was not admitted, although I had not mentioned any illnesses and, if I remember correctly, even did not know that I was on the medical books. By the way, I can say that I was not officially exempted from military service – at least, in the first years of the war. But there was some order not to mobilize untrained graduates of some professions or some specialists in general. I was never conscripted, but, expecting to be conscripted all the time, I was trying to write my thesis as soon as possible. In peace time I would not have hurried to do it, but then I wanted, though it looks a bit silly, to be able to finish before the draft what had been started. So I defended this thesis in the spring of 1942 (it was the D.Sc. thesis, as the Ph.D. one I had defended in 1940).
The life in Kazan’ was hard, the four of us (my father, my aunt, my wife and I, as my daughter with her grandmother had been evacuated to another place) lived in one room. We felt rather cold and rather hungry. But I worked a lot, as did all my fellow workers. I was exploring the propagation of radio waves in the atmosphere and something else which seemed useful for the defense. I also tackled some other problems, as the scientific life was going on.
2. However, let me come back to the student days. Starting from the second year, I did well in my study and, so to say, enjoyed studying. I liked theoretical physics, but I thought, and still think, that my ability for mathematics is average, at most; besides, I had difficulties solving problems and making calculations (see above) – while it was considered, and rather justly, that a theoretical physicist should be good at mathematics. In short, because of all that, when at the end of the third year or at the beginning of the fourth year (now I do not remember when it was) I had to choose my specialization, I did not dare to take up theoretical physics and chose optics. The choice was not accidental. At the MGU physical department at that time there were rather many really good specialists, but there were some retrogrades as well. They were struggling with each other, and this struggle had a political coloring. Just a beginner at that time, I was far from their controversy. I remember only one public debate between the partisans of the contemporary physics and the so-called “mechanicists”, who criticized the theory of relativity and so on. It took place in 1935 or maybe the first half of 1936. I do not remember the date and I did not try to find it out, having a sad possibility to say something in this respect, as I know the fate of B. Gessen – a participant of this dispute, a physicist and a philosopher, who was the dean of the physical department at one time. He was also an old Bolshevik (so they called those who joined the party whether before October 1917 or shortly after) and shared the lot of the majority of his comrades – arrested on 21st August, 1936 and sentenced to be shot on 20th December, 1936, at the private meeting of the Military Board of the Supreme Court. The sentence was carried out on the same day. Of course, he was posthumously rehabilitated in view of a complete “absence of corpus delicti” – let it be a consolation for the representatives of “progressive, leftist intelligentsia” defending today, because of their much talked about “political correctness”, dictators, terrorists and hooligans.
Returning to the subject, I can say that, despite a complete absence of any personal connections or acquaintances, I understood from the very beginning, putting it in the words from a popular Russian children’s poem, “what is good and what is bad”. In short, I decided to specialize in optics because the chair of optics was headed by G.S. Landsberg, one of the people grouping around the remarkable person and physicist, Leonid Mandel’shtam. The associate professor of this chair, Saul Levi, was, luckily, appointed my tutor. I remember him with a warm feeling. I write about him and my relationship with him in the article “Notes of an Amateur Astrophysicist”2. There is also some material repeated above and further on. Maybe it would be more convenient for the readers if everything was repeated here, but I have decided not to do it, for this autobiography is becoming very long as it is. But still I shall tell how I left optics and experiment in general and became a theoretical physicist. When I was waiting, in September 1938, to be conscripted (as a matter of fact, I had already been conscripted and was waiting to be summoned to come with my things to the district military committee), which I again avoided, one can say, as luck would have it (it was the last time when the MGU post-graduates were granted a conscription deferment), I did not want to sit in the room without windows and with the walls painted black, where I was trying to measure the spectrum of radiation of canal rays. So I made an attempt to explain the effect we were looking for, notably some asymmetry in the radiation of the mentioned canal rays. Notably, I thought that the electro-magnetic field of moving charges could cause induced radiation. Such an assumption was erroneous, as the field of a charge is not equivalent to free (light) field. But I did not understand it at once and turned with the corresponding question to I. Tamm, who at that time was heading the chair of theoretical physics at the MGU and reading lectures to us. Fortunately, I. Tamm also did not notice at once that my idea was erroneous, he listened to me in a very friendly manner, advised to look something up and in general supported me. The latter was so important for me, suffering from the inferiority complex and not at all sure of my ability to obtain any theoretical results. I write about it in more detail in the article “A Scientific Autobiography – an Attempt” published in book I. In short, it turned out that I managed, without any complicated mathematics, to sort out some problems of quantum electrodynamics. Specifically, such an undoubtedly highly knowledgeable theoretical physicist, and mathematically minded at that, as V. Fock, when doing quantum calculations had come to the conclusion that an electron uniformly moving radiates electromagnetic waves. This conclusion surprises, as we in the classical theory are used to thinking that a uniformly moving charge (electron) does not radiate. But the thing was merely in formulating the problem in a different way: in the classical case it is usually a stationary problem, while the quantum calculation had been done with the inclusion of quantum interaction at a certain instant of time t = 0. But the latter is equivalent to the fact that when t t = 0 it acquires a velocity v and starts to interact with the field. Physically this is equivalent to the assumption that the electron at the moment t = 0 is instantly accelerated to a velocity v. It is clear that this process is accompanied by radiation. In general, using the so-called Hamiltonian method I managed to elucidate some questions and solve a number of electrodynamic problems both in vacuum and in the movement of charges in a medium, for example, the problem of the Vavilov-Cherenkov radiation in the passage of charges through crystals. Here I did not have to use any complicated mathematics. Of course, I found what had long been known – however close are physics and mathematics their connection can be most different, in particular, it is possible to make progress in theoretical physics using but a very modest mathematical apparatus, for instance, not exceeding the limits of what is taught at physical departments of universities. By contrast, in some cases theoretical physicists both use most complicated modern mathematics and develop it.
So I realized that I could work, achieve results, think up new possibilities. Such awareness brings a great joy, it is happiness. And I worked a great deal, I wrote a thesis (which is a candidate thesis with us and a Ph.D. according to the western standards) practically in a year and defended it in 1940. Thus I finished the post-graduate course at the MGU physical department in two such kind. After that they wanted to leave me, in some capacity, at the MGU Institute of Physics, but the atmosphere there was bad and, most fortunately, on 1st September, 1940 I was taken to the FIAN as a person working for the degree of doctor (such a person has to already have the first scientific degree, Ph.D., and is to prepare, officially in three years, the second thesis for which the D.Sc. is given). I had been doing my postgraduate studies under the guidance of G. Landsberg, as I had been supposed to take up optics. But he quite nobly had not hindered me from doing something quite different. And I. Tamm, who was considered to be my tutor in my doctor work, also did not hamper my doing what I wanted. In general such is the style characteristic of theoretical physicists of the USSR and Russia, at any rate, in many places and undoubtedly at the FIAN.
Thus I have been doing theoretical physics since 1938, and I have done many dozens of research works on different physical and astrophysical subjects. As for articles, I have already written hundreds of them, because for me writing is fairly easy and writing articles is an integral part of my work. Some colleagues condemned and may still be condemning me for writing such a great number of articles. And indeed, there are people who write articles in order to increase the number of references to their works. But I, believe me, have never been guided by such considerations, besides, I have got very many references as it is. For instance, I have recently seen in a certain reference book that after 1985 there have been 8,962 references to my articles, in spite of the fact that the article which we wrote together with Landau and which was published, in 1950, only in Russian, is almost always mentioned without placing the reference in the list of literature; the same source informs that after 1945 there have been 19,519 references to my articles. I began to publish them in 1939. By the way, Landau judged, though not very seriously, the age of physicists by the time when their first publication appeared. For instance, he said that I was 13 years younger than him, because his first article appeared in 1926; whereas he was born in 1908, therefore by calendar years I am only 8 years younger. I think that it is not worth attaching too much importance to the number of references, sometimes it is quite deceptive, especially if people refer to some sensational assertion which may prove to be wrong. The number of publications may be slightly more reliable in this respect, but it characterizes the style of working rather than its quality – because it is clear that one publication containing an important result is more substantial than a great number of articles with less important results. Here I will not write about the content of my works, as I can refer the readers to the article “A Scientific Autobiography – an Attempt” published in book I. Let others judge the quality of these works, although below I shall make one remark in this respect.
3. Now I must come back to my biography. In 1937 I married my fellow student, Olga Zamsha. In 1946 we divorced. We have one daughter, Irina Dorman, born in 1939; she graduated from the Physics Department of the Moscow State University, defended her Ph.D. thesis, and was occupied with the history of physics. Her husband Lev Dorman is a D.Sc., a specialist in the area of cosmic rays. They have two daughters, Maria Dorman and Viktoria Dorman. The former is not married and lives in Israel. Viktoria has got a Ph.D. in physics in Princeton, she is married to M. Petrov, also a physicist, they have twins, Grigory and Elizaveta, who are now already three years old. So they are my great-grand-son and great-grand-daughter. They live in Princeton, USA. In 1946 I married the second time, to Nina Ermakova, who became Nina Ginzburg. Thus we have been together already for 57 years. Unfortunately, we have no children. As this is not quite an ordinary marriage, at least for the Soviet Union, I have written rather much about it in a number of articles published in book II. The thing is that Nina’s father, a prominent engineer, was arrested as far back as before the war and died of starvation, in 1942, in a prison of the city of Saratov. It seems that he died in the same cell and almost at the same time as the renowned biologist N.I. Vavilov. And Nina was arrested in 1944 as a member of a group of young people allegedly going to kill comrade Stalin himself. Of course, it was merely an invention of the KGB, but I am writing about it here, especially as a warning to contemporary “revolutionaries” and terrorists, so they could foresee their fate in case of their victory. Under a totalitarian regime the punitive organs deal out justice arbitrarily, and innocent people suffer. Quite often a regular theatre of the absurd adds to that. In Nina’s case, she suffered, according to the KGB’s scenario, mainly because she lived on Arbat, the street where the great leader sometimes drove by. It was from the window of her flat that he was to be shot at. But the valorous fighters against counter-revolutionaries had not taken the trouble to learn that after the head of the family had been arrested only one room in their apartment had been left to Nina and her mother, with the windows overlooking the yard. The clearing up of this circumstance, which happened already after the arrest and ruled out the charge with terrorism, and also some other circumstances resulted in the sentence surprisingly lenient for that time – “only” three years in camps. And if her room had overlooked Arbat, we would probably have never met. In 1945, Nina was released by an amnesty, but without the right to live in Moscow and in a number of other cities. Her aunt lived in the city of Nizhni Novgorod (then Gorki), so she went there, in fact, into exile, especially as in Gorki itself she had no right to live as well and was officially registered in the village of Bor, on the opposite bank of the Volga3.
In 1945 I was invited by a group of physicists headed by Alexander Andronov and working at Gorki University to become a visiting professor at the newly organized radiophysical department of this university. I was 29 and full of energy, but in Moscow I did not have any place to teach (I. Tamm and many others had been actually banished from the MGU by that time). During the war I had worked, among other things, on the propagation of radio waves in the ionosphere. So the invitation to head the chair of propagation and radiation of radio waves was quite natural, and I accepted it. I first came to Gorki at the end of 1945, it was then that I met Nina, and in the summer of 1946 we got married. Of course, I was permanently putting in applications to the KGB (to be more exact, it could be done once a year) with the request to permit my wife to return to Moscow and live where she was born and where her mother lived. But all the time I was refused, despite the fact that my applications were also signed by the directors of our institute, at first by S.I. Vavilov and then by D.V. Skobel’tsyn. I have written about it in a rather detailed way in “A Story of Two Directors” published in book I. My wife managed to move to Moscow only in1953, after Stalin’s death and the amnesty that followed. It goes without saying that later (in 1956) she was rehabilitated, like all the members of the imaginary counter-revolutionary group – “owing to the absence of corpus delicti“. Unfortunately, not all of them lived to see this moment, not to mention the long years of imprisonment for some of those who did.
In 1942 I joined the communist party (CPSU). It was just when the Germans reached the Volga, and our view of the future was far from optimistic. Thus I can hardly be suspected of any careerist considerations, not to mention the fact that I certainly hated the Nazis and all the faults of the communist rule were then receding. At the same time, I cannot help saying, with great regret and bitterness, that for many years I was virtually blind in my estimation of communism and Bolshevism. In general, I believed in “a radiant communist future”, not understanding that here we had, in fact, a regime of a Nazi type, headed by a criminal no less mean and bloodthirsty than Hitler. Having written the previous phrase I remembered the observation of Churchill that Stalin and Hitler differed only in the shape of their mustache. Anyway, I was sharing the lot of millions of people who did not understand the inevitable fate of the totalitarian regime sliding to lawlessness and terror. I have written a lot on this subject (see a number of articles in book II), and it is not possible for me to dwell on it here. I will come back to my own fate.
The years from 1946 to 1953 were far from easy for me. Living mainly in Moscow I went to Gorky when I could, to read lectures and train a number of postgraduates and workers in physics with an astrophysical and astronomical bias. All that would not have been too bad, but the clouds began to gather over my head. State anti-Semitism and different kinds of persecution of the so-called cosmopolitans, who supposedly worshipped the West, were blossoming out in the country. An offensive against modern science was in progress – first of all, in biology, but accusations of idealism and of other sins were raining down on us in physics as well. I proved to be a good target for all sorts of attacks. Indeed: a member of the party, married to a former prisoner, who had been accused of counter-revolutionary activities and therefore deprived of many rights. And a Jew at that. So finally they started to accuse me of idealism, cosmopolitism and so on, and so forth. Appearing as some culmination of all that was an article published in a newspaper widely distributed at that time, the Literaturnaya Gazeta (Literary Newspaper), on 4th October 1947, that is, on my birthday, under the heading “Against Servility”. In the article inspired by the rather well-known physicist D.D. Ivanenko4, I was accused of all sins together with the biologist A.R. Zhebrak, an opponent of academician Lysenko. On the same day (what a coincidence!), on the initiative of the same Ivanenko, the High Assessment Commission of the ministry of higher education did not confirm promoting me to the rank of professor, for which I had been nominated by Gorki University. After that my name began to be mentioned wherever possible as a negative example. Even our institute evidently had to remove me from its academic council for “strengthening” it. I can only guess what fate awaited me in this situation at that time. I think that it would have cost me dear, but I was saved by the hydrogen bomb.
4. The history of creating atomic and hydrogen bombs and my role in it have been extensively described. So I have the more reasons to be brief. The Soviet atomic bomb was first blown up on 29th August, 1949, and the hydrogen bomb, on 12th August, 1953. The hydrogen bomb had been arousing interest even before the tests of the atomic bomb, but then it was completely unclear how to make it, nor was it topical, as far as I understand. It was merely something not to be missed. So in 1948 I. Tamm was attached to this work, though the authorities did not have any special trust in him (once he belonged to the Men’sheviks, who were opponents of the Bolsheviks, and his only brother had been arrested and shot). Only recently have I learned from some jubilee article (the jubilee took place on 12th August, 2003) that at first I had evidently not been admitted to the work in Tamm’s group, it only happened some time later. It is a miracle that it happened at all – that someone having the wife in exile was recruited for a top secret job (“top secret, special file”). Of course, I do not know the reasons. I think that both the task was not considered very important (see above) and I had a high “rating”. But recruiting my closest friend and a superb physicist, E.L. Feinberg, turned out to be impossible for Tamm, as Feinberg’s wife had once lived in the USA. By the way, I cannot help telling why the services of A. Sakharov were enlisted, though earlier I already wrote about it somewhere, and Sakhrov himself mentions it in his “Memories”5. From 1945 Sakharov was a postgraduate in the FIAN theoretical department headed by I. Tamm, in 1947 or 1948 he defended his Ph.D. thesis and was going to carry on with peaceful science at the FIAN. He had a small daughter and did not have an apartment of his own, renting a room somewhere, and in general his life was rather hard. So the director of our institute, S.I. Vavilov, asked Tamm to include Sakharov in his special group in order to get a room for him, which they managed to do (Sakharov got a small room with the area of 14 square meters in a communal apartment). If he had had a room of his own before that, many fates, including both his fate and mine, would have probably turned out quite differently. But it happened as it happened. From the middle of 1948 we started working, at first reading the materials which we had and which, as far as I remember, did not raise any hopes that this problem would be solved. Then Sakharov put forward “the first idea” and I, “the second idea”, which together made it possible to build the first Soviet hydrogen bomb. It is ridiculous, but until the very death of Sakharov in 1989, that is 40 years later, all this material had been classified. That is why Sakharov in his memories writes about the 1st and the 2nd ideas without revealing their content. Now it has long been known that the 1st idea is “the layer structure” (I will not explain it here), and my 2nd idea is using as fuel 6Li (or, if you wish, 6LiD) for obtaining tritium 3H = t as a result of the reaction 6Li + n –> t + 4He + 4.6 MeV. These two “ideas” were recognized as opening the possibility of creating the hydrogen bomb. With the aim of carrying out this task Tamm and Sakharov were sent, in 1950, to “the site” (Arzamas-16), and I was not admitted there, obviously for the reasons mentioned above (it was a higher level of secrecy), and I remained in Moscow as the head of a small “group of support”, but with a sentinel sitting at out door. It goes without saying that I regard this turn of the fate as a greatest luck. I was sure of my safety, so I could visit my wife in Gorki, and could do science. It was not that I was neglecting my work, but our task was mainly performing different calculations, which is not my strong suit. Taking an interest in other people’s secrets was not customary with us in general, and I was especially indifferent to them. So I remember my surprise, probably, already in the seventies or the eighties, when by chance I asked Sakharov how “the layer structure” had “worked” or developed. He said that it had “not worked”, which I did not understand. Now it is known that the first two Soviet hydrogen bombs were made as “layer structures.” But such a construction proved to be able to increase the power of the bombs, I do not remember exactly, whether 20 or some other, comparatively small number of times more than that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Somebody thought for some reason that it was not enough, and the 3rd idea (by Sakharov’s terminology) consisting in radiative compression was used. While “my” 2nd idea is probably still working. Or rather, not working, to our great luck, but merely figuring.
Trying to be worth my classified salt, as it has already been said, I was glad when Tamm or Sakharov (I do not remember exactly who of them), having once come to Moscow in 1950, told me of the problem of controlled thermonuclear synthesis and the “Tokamak” system offered by them. I took up this problem, managed to write several reports and, by the way, in 1962, when all that was declassified, even published some material from these reports. But I did it as a sort of some rather silly “revenge” for having been dismissed from this work in 1951, which must have been considered too secret for me (for more detail see book II, article 18).
Then especially terrible time came. Stalin went totally insane, repressions were going on, culminating in “the case of doctors” and a bestial anti-Semitism related to it. It seems that the corresponding documents have not been found yet. They may not have existed, as it was clear even to bandits that it was better not to leave trace. According to the rumors, “the doctor killers” were whether to be hanged on the Red Square or exterminated in some other way, and all Jews were to be exiled into some camps already built. Some “necessary” people, possibly I among them, would have been left in “sharashkas” later described by Solzhenitsyn and others (a “sharashka” is in fact a prison were scientific and technical research was conducted). It was a tremendous luck that the Great Leader did not have enough time to carry out what he had planned to do and died, or was killed, on 5th March, 1953. In the former USSR many people (at any rate, my wife and I) have up till now been celebrating this day as a great festival.
Everything in the country started to change very quickly, suffice to mention the rehabilitation of “the doctor killers” and the shooting up of Beriya, who was the head of the Soviet “atomic project” (by the way, he was a good organizer and probably not more of a bandit than all the rest). At the USSR Academy of Sciences, contrary to its Charter, there had been no election since 1946, evidently, because it had not been allowed by Stalin. Already in 1953 such an election took place, and I was elected corresponding member of the Academy. As they say, “from rags to riches” – although, in my case this saying looks somewhat exaggerated. But still, both in the USSR and now in Russia being a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences means a rather privileged position. In addition, I got some rather high governmental awards6 and in general turned into a VIP, although second rate. No less important was that my wife managed to return to Moscow, after 8 years of half-exile, not to mention approximately a year and a half of prison and camp.
Since that time life has been going on more or less normally, but still it made you think of a popular joke: “Question: What is permanent under the Soviet power? Answer: temporary difficulties are.” The Sakharov story became a temporary difficulty for me. In 1969, dismissed from classified work, he returned to our theoretical department of the FIAN. As for me, in 1971, after Tamm’s death, I had to become head of this department. “Had to become” indeed, because I did not want it and in general I do not at all like work like that. But the workers of the department had asked me, and it was really necessary, because due to numerous “temporary difficulties” it was important that the department should be headed by a person of some rank. And in our department only Sakharov and I were academicians (I had been elected full member of the Academy in 1966). But Sakharov had already become a dissident, had taken up politics, and was totally unsuitable for the post. So I had to take over. And it was the same Sakharov who first of all became a problem, one can say, especially after his being exiled to Gorki in 1980. I have written about it in the article “The Sakharov Phenomenon”, which can be found both in book I and in the book of memories about Sakharov. I will not repeat myself. I will only say that I do not see anything for which I could reproach myself in this matter.
However, I must note that “the case” of Sakharov aggravated my already not temporary but permanent problem which I faced when under the Soviet regime I either would not be allowed to go abroad at all or would be allowed with great difficulty. The explanations always referred to the reasons of our famous “secrecy”, but it was an obvious pretext. For instance, Tamm, who really did know some secrets (while I actually knew none), went abroad many times after 1953. Of course, I was very glad for him. But I was refused permission to go because of the “sins” of my wife and my own sins. My greatest “achievement” in this area was made in 1959. That year a big international physical conference took place in the USSR, in Kiev, it seems that it was called the Rochester conference. So, some people, me including, were not allowed to go to this conference (!) under the pretext of secrecy. Landau was also not allowed at first, but he announced that he would go all the same and would make a scandal. Well done! They retreated and he went there. And I cannot make scandals and, even if I could, I would perhaps not have obtained anything by it. So I did not go to this conference, did not see many good physicists, did not learn many interesting things. I was very bitter about it at that time, and I am bitter now when I remember this insult. And the greatest pity for me is that I could not meet Einstein and speak with him – for he died in 1955 when I was already 39, understood something in physics and astronomy already and could well have had a professional talk with him if I had lived in a free world. But I was not fated to. I only remember asking L. Infeld, who came to the USSR, to give my regards to Einstein. I do not know if Infeld had an opportunity to do it.
Going on with the subject, I shall describe two latest experiences characterizing the conditions in which we lived before the collapse of the USSR. In 1984 the Danish Academy of Sciences, whose foreign member I have been since 1977, invited me to come to Copenhagen for a week, I do not remember on what occasion. I started the painful procedure of “registration”: for going abroad one had to fill out many papers and pass some commissions. Then all the documents went to the “instance”, and sometimes you were not informed until the very last moment whether or not your trip had been permitted. This time I was also told shortly before the departure that I could go but without my wife (!). I refused to go. Such a natural reaction was a rare thing at that time, so I even had a telephone call from the president of the USSR Academy of Sciences, who expressed his disapproval by saying that he, for example, did go without his wife – so how can I be so shrewish instead of being grateful for the great honor done to me and the trust given (to be honest, all the last words were not said but, in my opinion, this call could be interpreted only in such a way). A year later, in 1985, again in Copenhagen, Niels Bohr‘s birth centenary was to be celebrated. And again I was invited, this time, if my memory does not fail me, being the only person from the USSR who was to make a report at a plenary meeting of the corresponding conference. And again I started to go through the “registration” with my wife. And again at the last moment I was told that I was allowed to go but without my wife. Probably, someone was afraid that if we went together, we might not return. By the way, we had never thought of anything of the kind. However, this time I went, though I was indignant. The thing was that I had already prepared my report, which meant quite a lot of work done, taking into account that I had to prepare it both in Russian and in English and then to pass it through censorship.7 And, what was even more important, I certainly had a great respect for Bohr (I had heard his reports and was acquainted with him, because he had been to the USSR) and I wanted to take part in the jubilee conference. In my report at the conference and especially in private talks, I somehow expressed my indignation at our lack of freedom. I do not remember the details, but I do remember the bitter after-taste left by the indifference of western colleagues. But I was probably wrong. In the West they knew about the Soviet arbitrariness and were used to it, they protested and defended some people. And in general, why should they have taken my case to heart. Besides, I spoke in a reserved manner, without any attempts to arrange a rally, so it was easier to turn a deaf ear.
By a chance coincidence, this year, 1985, was a turning point, as M.S. Gorbachev came to power, and soon the “perestroika” began. I took part in it – although not very active, but I did. I was a deputy of the USSR Supreme Soviet (from 1989 to 1991, the year when it was dissolved), elected from the Academy of Sciences. I resigned from the party in 1991, since then I have never again been a member of any party and am not going to be one. Of course, I have always been a partisan of the democratic forces but I have not always identified myself with concrete actions of some of their representatives, Sakharov in particular. However, I do not remember anything important and interesting from my “political” activities, which would be worth describing here.
In 1988 I finally managed to free myself from heading the I.E. Tamm Department of Theoretical Physics, as it began to be called. The thing is that according to the rule which had just been introduced and which had long been necessary, people over 70 were not allowed to hold some positions. Having remained at the FIAN in the position of advisor of the Academy of Sciences, I have a small group of subordinates. Besides, I have been heading, since 1968, the chair of problems of physics and astrophysics, created that year at the Moscow Physical and Technical Institute (rather well-known as Phystech), but now I already do not read lectures and remain in this position without being payed (according to my own wish), at the request of the staff in order to be able to help the chair in solving some problems.
Since 1998 I have been chief editor of the Usp. Fiz. Nauk (Physics – Uspekhi) journal, and I actually carry out my responsibility in the journal as far as I can. From the middle of the fifties I was in charge of a physical seminar at the FIAN, on Wednesdays, and this seminar was rather popular. Running for two hours, it was attended by many people from Moscow and from other places as well. At the time of Khrushchev we had a popular saying: one should know the measure, be it maize or seeing Nehru with pleasure. The saying came into being in connection with Khrushchev’s keenness on cultivating maize even in the areas totally unsuitable for this purpose, as well as with his love for Javaharlal Nehru, which the latter may have deserved, though. I am writing about that by association. In 2001 I started to feel worse and decided that I “should know the measure”. So on 21st November 2001 the 1700th seminar was arranged in the form of an amusing party, like some other “jubilee” seminars (for instance, the 1500th and 1600th), and there, quite unexpectedly for everybody, I announced that the seminar was closing down. I did it after telling a story about an actress who had been “playing” until she could no longer walk. I still could walk, but the seminar had to be closed some day and I wanted to do it in time.
In the post-Soviet Russia and even a bit earlier (after 1986 or 1987) going abroad was no longer a problem, or at least no longer a problem of the Soviet type, that is with a lot of obstacles. I took advantage of the corresponding opportunities, but due to “the law of conservation” going abroad has become difficult for other reasons – because of the age. In 2001 I was unexpectedly given the Humboldt Prize (or grant) for going to Germany for half a year. I was already going to accept this invitation but at the last moment refused it because of the state of my health. But I used the visa already received for going to Spain to the 10th International conference on ferroelectricity, the first conference of such kind which I managed to attend (about it see above and book II, article 5). I thought that I would not go abroad any more, but here I am going to Stockholm to the Nobel award ceremony.
6. A great deal has already been written above, but nevertheless, I do not think that some more questions could be left without answers. Indeed, if we want our notion of a person to be full enough, we should learn many things about him. Specifically, we would like to know, first, what his outlook is, including his attitude towards religion. Secondly, we would be interested in his political views. What follows, thirdly, is the description of his professional activities. And finally, fourthly, very important are his personal qualities and tastes. All that should be described. But of course, it is easier wished than done. Besides, I think that there are many personal things about which a man sometimes cannot and should not write. Indeed, in newspapers and magazines we can often see the answers to such questions asked by correspondents: what qualities in people do you value above all else, what are your ideals, do you want to earn more money and for what purposes, and so forth. The answers, as far as I could notice, are rather monotonous: everybody values faithfulness, nobleness and decency; everybody has radiant ideals of fairness, and money is needed mainly for good deeds and not for buying mansions. It is quite understandable, as everybody knows what qualities and likings are considered positive and what tastes one should and can be ashamed of. So I will not go into details of my personal matters. I will only say a few words on the theme related to them. In my life, like in the lives of many other people, friends have played an important role. Now some of them are already no more, to my greatest regret. Two closest friends of mine are now having hardships connected with old age I would like at least to mention all my friends and to express my warm feelings to them. But after some attempts I have made sure that I am not able to do it in a satisfactory way. The same concerns my wife and relatives. Probably only a few people will be able to write about their feelings quite sincerely and without hitting any wrong notes.
One more category of people to be described in a complete enough autobiography are teachers and pupils. Treating the matter seriously, it is not at all simple to decide who you should regard as your teachers and pupils. Evidently each of us learned a lot from many people, in person or externally. Where I am concerned I want to solve this problem as I.E. Tamm and L.D. Landau solved it. The latter said, quite definitely and repeatedly, that it was only Niels Bohr whom he considered his teacher. As for I.E. Tamm, as far as I know, he regarded only L.I. Mandel’shtam as his teacher. For my part, acting in the same way, I believe that my teachers are I.E. Tamm and L.D. Landau. By the way, with the latter I did not have any official links – I did not take an exam in his “theoretical minimum”, he was not my tutor or superior, nor did his name appear as that. About Tamm and Landau I have written in a rather detailed way (see books I and II). As for the pupils, many people (especially mathematicians) call their pupils those who they supervised, for instance, in their postgraduate studies or for whom they were considered tutors helping to prepare a thesis. I cannot be satisfied with such an approach. I want to call my pupils, although maybe not always, those who consider me their teacher. Naturally, with such an approach I cannot present a list of my pupils. I will only say that I have never forgotten the role played for me by the support and benevolent attitude of I.E. Tamm. I tried to follow his example. Let other people judge to what extent I have succeeded in it. I will confine myself to the remark that, with only very few exceptions, I have good feelings about those with whom I happened to work together or whose tutor I used to be. Thanking them for cooperation I hope that they returned and return my feelings.
Where my professional activities are concerned, they are described in the Nobel lecture, in this autobiography and, the main thing, in a number of articles in books I and II; I would especially like to note the article “A Scientific Autobiography – an Attempt” in book I. It is interesting to consider the question of estimation of people’s scientific level and activities. It is a big theme and here I only want to take an opportunity and to tell about Landau’s opinion in this respect. Landau in general , especially in his youth, liked to classify everything. Later, when I got to know him, he himself looked at these classifications, for instance, of women, with irony. I shall only dwell on his classification of theoretical physicists who worked in the 20th century. It was done according to a logarithmic scale, with the base 10, so a 2nd class physicist was 10 times inferior to a 1st class physicist. It was a question of accomplishments, and not of the level of knowledge, of pedagogical ability or oratorical talent. Class 0.5 was given only to Einstein. Put into class 1 were Bohr, Dirac, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, de Broglie, Feynman. I have undoubtedly forgotten several names, but, of course, I will not supplement this list in the way I see it. I remember Pauli being put to class 1.5. Landau himself was placed in his own classification, as far as I remember, at first to class 2.5 and then to class 2. Once E. Lifshits told me that Landau had upgraded himself to class 1.5. Why does this classification seem interesting to me? First, it refutes the legends about Landau’s immodesty and conceit. Secondly, it is important that he put an emphasis on the record of accomplishments, achievements. For instance, I remember arguing with Landau about de Broglie, who did not seem to me a particularly powerful figure. But Landau stood firm, and I think he was right. The wave proprieties of the electron and other particles is a guess of genius, although this idea occurred to de Broglie under the influence of Einstein’s notion of photons and the equations p = -hk and k = w/c. By the way, I am surprised that Landau put Feynman higher than himself and in general put him into the 1st class. There is no doubt that Feynman was a brilliant physicist and lecturer but it seems to me that his accomplishments cannot be compared with those of other “first-class” physicists. Probably, Landau especially valued the diagrammatic technique, thinking that he himself would not have been able to hit upon it. What looks interesting and important, from my point of view, is an enormous gap which may exist and often exists between accomplishments and knowledge, command of the apparatus and so on. I think, though I cannot assert it, of course, that “by knowledge and command of the apparatus” Landau stood even higher than Einstein, but “by accomplishments” he sober-mindedly estimated himself as much inferior to him. I am certainly not going to give my estimation of myself here, but it is undoubtedly much lower “by command of the apparatus” than “by accomplishments”.
It seems to me that working in science, in physics – at any rate, in a position of at least some authority – is absolutely impossible without having a stand on important issues of our existence and thinking about philosophical questions. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to really acquaint myself with the philosophy and methodology of science. To a certain extent it can be explained by the fact that I have always worked at concrete tasks and not at, for instance, problems of interpretation of quantum mechanics and so on. That is why the atmosphere of dogmatism and censorship in philosophical issues, which prevailed in our country, has not had an especially pernicious effect on me, as well as on the majority of my colleagues in the USSR. I do not even want to name illiterate rogues who dictated to us under the sign of dialectical materialism how the laws of physics or, for instance, of genetics should be understood. But it does not in the least prove that dialectical materialism in itself is unacceptable (among its advocates there were quite decent and reasonable people, as for instance, the already mentioned B. Gessen). I have always understood the core of this philosophical trend as, first of all, materialism, that is the conviction that nature and matter exist beyond our consciousness and independently of it. Secondly, studying nature, which is what natural sciences do, requires a flexible approach based on facts and not on dogmas. It is such an approach which is dialectical. I do not mean anything else, although philosophers may consider my words naive, insufficient or maybe even worse.8 A really important point is understanding that materialism is “an intuitive judgment” (using the term especially widely used by E.L. Feinberg) which can be neither proved nor disproved. Atheism and belief in the existence of God are also intuitive judgments. I am an atheist, that is, I think nothing exists except and beyond nature. Within the limits of my, undoubtedly insufficient knowledge of the history of philosophy, I do not see in fact any difference between atheism and the pantheism of Spinoza. That is why I think that Einstein was also an atheist, because in 1929, when asked what he believed in, he answered: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who shows himself in the harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who takes care of the fate and actions of people.” Einstein, however, used the term “cosmic religion” and reckoning him among atheists may be not quite right. At any rate, I, like many others, do not have any “cosmic feeling”, and I do not see any place for God, that is, for something which is beyond nature and has created this nature (such is the opinion of deists). But evidently it is impossible to prove that God does not exist. This itself leads to the conclusion that the principle of the freedom of conscience is fair, that is, people should have the unimpeded right to believe in God and, if they so desire, to practice some religion (of course, I am not speaking about wildly fanatical sects and the beliefs justifying banditry and terrorism). The Bolshevik-communists were not merely atheists but, according to Lenin’s terminology, militant atheists. This term, being not quite clear for broad masses, was changed to the name “the militant godless”. These pursued believers, especially priests, destroyed temples (churches, mosques, synagogues) turning some of them into warehouses, stables and so on. Identifying atheists with “the militant godless”, which is done in Russia by unscrupulous people or simply by illiterate demagogues, is absolutely groundless. It is the same as identifying a respectable catholic with a partisan of the inquisition or considering all members of the Orthodox Church to be partisans of the brutal persecution of Old Believers or other “heretics”. Unfortunately, in the post-Soviet time in Russia a clerical offensive has been going on, while the voice of atheists is completely stifled. That is why since 1998 I have been defending atheism in the press, and after being awarded the Nobel Prize I managed to say about that on television as well. Here it is not a question of combating religion, as this would be at variance with the principle of the freedom of conscience, and, besides, religion sometimes does good, calling for good and for worthy behaviour. It is merely a question of atheistic enlightenment, for instance, of scientific elucidation of a complete falsehood of creationism. In general, an abstract belief in the existence of God (concretely, deism) should not be confused with theism (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) involving belief in miracles and the sanctity of the Bible, Koran and so on. By the way, no cultured person will deny the great artistic and historical value of the Bible. But a belief in Biblical miracles is another thing altogether, being incompatible with a scientific outlook, because a miracle, by definition, is something at variance with scientific data and results of scientific research (for some more details see a number of articles in book II).
7. It remains for me to write about politics, or rather about my opinion on certain questions in this respect. I have always remembered the line from a song by the popular poet and singer Alexander Galich (by the way, his real surname was Ginzburg but we are not relatives): “Be only afraid of the one who will say: I know what should be done”. Lenin, Hitler and Stalin knew “what should be done” and this knowledge cost the lives of millions of people. Even if I knew “what should be done”, I would not be able to influence the course of history. But the main thing is that I do not know this. I have some opinions, but there is a world of difference between being sure that you are right and acting correspondingly, in spite of everything – and having an opinion and understanding that it may prove to be wrong. So, my opinion is well-known enough: I am convinced that only a democratic form of rule is acceptable. Churchill was certainly right when he said, with the clarity of thought inherent in him, that (unfortunately, I do not remember his exact words) democracy is a very bad form of rule but we do not know any better. Indeed, the hereditary monarchy is presently something which remains merely by tradition. Even so, the monarchic regimes remaining in some countries of Europe do not hamper the democratic order, as far as I know. Where the totalitarian regime is concerned, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse-tung and many leaders of a lower rank proved convincingly enough that this form of rule is inhuman and is inevitably leading to tragic circumstances. Millions of people, and I am not an exception, believed, putting it in a more or less modern language, in the possibility of “a communism with a human face”. To tell the truth, I still do not understand why it is impossible. But there is “a criterion of practice”, in exact sciences absolutely unshakeable and enabling us to have indisputable knowledge, for instance, that astrological forecasts are false and the law of conservation of energy is correct (though for the latter this is with a reservation about the whole known range of phenomena). In social life there is certainly no similar indisputability, but the whole experience of mankind shows that totalitarianism and dictatorship inevitably slide to the rails of arbitrary rule, crimes and atrocities. However, for democracy a high price is to be payed too, and arguments emerge about this price – how far can we go, where is the border? The whole history of the rule of the Bolsheviks and the Nazis is full of examples how democrats, progressive intellectuals, liberals, pacifists and all public like that often did not understand elementary things, and step by step they in actual fact encouraged bandits and consolidated their power. Much has been written on this theme, and I also could write a whole book. I will confine myself to just one example of “deep understanding” of Stalinism, which I have recently come across. Herbert Wells wrote, characterizing Stalin, that he had never met a person more sincere, decent and honest; that in Stalin there was nothing dark and sinister, and it was these qualities that should account for his tremendous power in Russia (!) According to Wells, Stalin was a Georgian totally devoid of cunning and insidiousness, and his sincere orthodoxy guaranteed the safety of his comrades-in-arms. And this was written in the thirties, already after the horrors of Stalin’s collectivization, known all over the world. Several years later Stalin’s comrades-in-arms who Wells had probably met were also shot. In all, the “Georgian devoid of cunning and insidiousness” signed by his own hand death sentences (shooting lists) for 44000 people!9
There are really lots of examples of “understanding” reality in the way demonstrated above. But I have an impression that the “leftist progressive” public “has forgotten nothing and has learned nothing”. Under the slogans of “political correctness”, following democratic principles and so on, they follow the same road of protection and justification of hooliganism, banditry and terror. Even the tragic events of 11th September, 2001 were far from having a sobering effect on each and everyone. A spectacular example is the attitude to the events in Iraq. The Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in the war with Iran, it occupied and plundered Kuwait, it committed innumerable atrocities inside the country. But they say that it has not been proved whether Saddam did or did not manage to build up a stock of chemical, bacteriological and maybe also of nuclear weapons. It has been proved, however, that he aspired for that. All vileness of this regime and its crimes have also been proved. However, the action of the USA and Britain taken in order to overthrow this regime is condemned by many people. In their opinion, they should have waited until Saddam became stronger and was able to drop something on their heads. I understand that the Anglo-American action was clumsy and this issue is complicated. But, by the way, I do not understand why the elimination of the regime of Talibs in Afghanistan had been considered more legitimate from formal point of view. It is just that 11th September was closer, and bin Laden and Afghanistan, farther. I have already said that I do not know “what should be done”. But I know, as it seems to me, that if civilized countries follow the principles of “political correctness” and observing laws literally, they will again incur innumerable calamities, like those from Hitler and Stalin. The wild fanatics killing absolutely innocent people, women and children, cannot be stopped and rendered harmless without soiling one’s hands.
As a Jew I cannot go without dwelling on the “Jewish question” here, although it is still not entirely clear to me why this quite small, suffering people turned out to be in the focus of the world politics. For understanding of what follows I must make several observations. The Jews have remained as a nation, they have not assimilated, as it is customary to think, due to their attachment to Judaism and to considering themselves a chosen nation. I am an atheist and internationalist, that is, I do not regard any people as “chosen”, in particular, I do not think that Jews are better than Arabs. I do not know any Jewish language (Hebrew or Yiddish); by the way, I wish I knew, but I do not have ability for languages and my native tongue is Russian. One would think that I must have assimilated. But it is absolutely wrong, I have never been able to even think of giving up my native people. What are the reasons? I do not know and understand them quite well myself. Of course, family roots are essential, there were some Jewish traditions in my family. No less essential is anti-Semitism. Although I have not suffered from it directly, I also used to be called “a Yid”. Not to mention the time when after the war anti-Semitism flourished with us. Anyway, because of all these and maybe some other reasons which I do not understand (what if it is merely a question of genes, their role is not quite clear yet), I am a bearer, so to say, of the Jewish national feeling. This is by no means nationalism, for I see nationalism as the opinion of the superiority of “one’s own” nation or, at least, striving to justify and defend “one’s own” people. I categorically deny having such feelings. On the contrary, with me the most spectacular display of the Jewish national feeling are shame and indignation when I face a Jew who is a scoundrel and on the whole a bad person. At the same time I am glad if a worthy person turns out to be a Jew. For instance, I am happy that Einstein was a Jew, as well as many other outstanding people. In these feelings I see nothing to be ashamed of. It is shameful to promote somebody “one’s own” at someone else’s expense, it is shameful to pardon “one’s own” scoundrel. But taking pride in “one’s own” good person is not shameful to me. However, I cannot clearly explain and understand these feelings of mine. But this is another question. By the way, to avoid suspicion of being insincere, let me say that my first and my second wives are Russian. The daughter’s husband is a Jew. The granddaughter’s husband is Russian. I do not see any problem here, life is like that.
I have burst out telling the above partly in order to explain why I was interested in Israel and its fate. I am very glad that there is such a state where at last the Jews are not a minority, often persecuted and humiliated. At the same time, many things there I do not like. Not in the order of importance, but I cannot help noting clericalism. In the history of the Jews synagogues played not only the role of prayer houses but also of the centers of a community. So some state support of religion in Israel can be understood. But it is important to know the measure. I cannot see any reasons justifying the absence (at least, in a number of places) of public transport on Saturdays and a number of other, sometimes more important, restrictions or consequences of religious character. In such a way atheists are discriminated. Still more important are a complete absence of unity in the country and the presence of a great number of cases of abusing the advantages of democracy which I mentioned above. That is why, I think, the very existence of the state of Israel is under threat, while the elimination of this state would be a new catastrophe of the Holocaust sort. I am writing about it, although I am aware that it might be irrelevant here, as I am indignant at the support of Arafat and his gangs by anti-Semitic and at the same-time progressive “left” forces of the West. And it is not because of my supposedly anti-Arab stand. Stalin and Hitler would have solved the Palestinian problem in 48 hours. They would eliminate either Israel or, which is much less likely, the Palestinian autonomy, deporting the disagreeable population to some distant place. Of course, in the civilized world such a decision is inadmissible. I am of the opinion that it is necessary and possible to have two completely isolated states. All those who know the lessons of history (for instance, the history of “friendship” of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland) or who have seen on television dancing crowds of Palestinians of all ages while the television was showing the terrorist acts of 11th September, which took away the lives of thousands of innocent people, cannot have any illusions about the friendship and love between Palestinians and Israelis. To be more exact, only absolutely brainless bankrupts who had once obtained the celebrated agreements in Oslo can assume (or pretend to assume) that this might be possible in the foreseeable future. That is why I am convinced that a friendly coexistence of Israel and the state of Palestine is nowadays impossible. The only way out, in my view, is a complete isolation of these states from each other. It cannot be done with the majority of Israeli “settlements” remaining on the Palestinian territory. They should be removed, and it is not a question of law. One Israeli man told me that the land for these “settlements” had been bought and not annexed. So much the better, but it merely means that they can try to “exchange” these settlements for the land of the Arabs living in Israel. These Israeli Arabs are the only true obstacle to a complete division of the two states10. But this obstacle is not decisive either. Of course, an impenetrable “wall” dividing the two states is also necessary. Using Palestinian workers on the territory of Israel is absolutely inadmissible. This is motivated, as I heard, by humanist considerations, allegedly by the care about poor Arabs. While in actual fact, I think, many Israelis do not want to do manual or menial dirty work, and their own workers are, in spite of the unemployment, either more expensive or unavailable. But the Palestinians working in Israel can’t help hating their rich masters, which is a source of additional antagonism. The history of importation of black slaves to America could be a good lesson. And taking care of Palestinians should be carried out by their brothers in rich Arab countries.
As for the question of the Golan Heights, it seems to me completely made up. I have been there myself and seen the ruins of a big ancient synagogue. So why is it Syrian land “from time immemorial”? Syria attacked Israel, suffered a crushing defeat and lost the Golan Heights. Now there is no Syrian population on this territory, its loss is Syria’s pay for aggression. Why those who are indignant at this situation do not demand that Konigsberg and its environs, renamed into Kaliningrad and the Kaliningrad region, should be returned to Germany? Such is a result of Germany’s attack on the USSR, and nobody, including the Germans, is not going to revise it. By the way, I am indignant that a part of Eastern Prussia and Konigsberg were named after Kalinin, this nonentity, who licked Stalin’s boots, while Stalin sent his completely innocent wife to a concentration camp.
Being a realist, I am sure that such “Ginzburg plan” will not be realized and will only arouse spite and mockery of pseudo-democrats and “peace-makers”. Why, that is their business, while I wanted to express my opinion, taking advantage of the freedom of speech.
In conclusion, one observation of general character. A tremendous progress of science has led to its deep internationalization. There is no such thing as American, Russian, Jewish or whatever else national physics. There is only one physics in the world, and when we are speaking, for instance, about British or Russian physics, we only mean the organization or the state of physics in Britain or in Russia. The Aryan science of the Nazis and the Marxist and Leninist science of the communists have long been forgotten. Whereas in the field of the social sciences and the sciences related to them, like sociology, psychology, economics and so on, the true depth and internationalization are still far from being achieved. But, I hope, here also the time of great success is near. Such is one of the factors which enable us, as it seems to me, to look into the future with hope. Another factor is the slowdown of the growth of the population of the Earth. Also positive, though this assertion is disputable, is the increase of the average life expectancy and thus the increase of the average age of the population. I remember the saying: if a man is not a communist at the age of 20, it means that he has no heart, but if he is a communist at 50, it means that he has no head. The bitter statement “what history teaches is merely that it does not teach anything” is not without reason. But still to completely agree with this statement would mean to totally lose the faith in mankind.
What has been said explains why I am still inclined to believe in the radiant future of mankind. Today on the road to it there are many obstacles, first of all, the Islamic (terrorist) threat, poverty and the lack of education of great masses of population, AIDS and other diseases. But let us remember the situation, for example, in 1943, sixty years ago. Europe was under Hitler’s heel, the USSR, though heroically resisting, was living under the Stalinist yoke. America was not so strong, and the world war was raging. Was it easier and better than now? The forces of democracy have coped with it, saved the civilized society and nowadays both the Nazism and the communism have almost sunk into oblivion. That is why we can hope for the ultimate triumph of the democratic system and the secular humanism all over the world. The necessary conditions for that are the presence of historical memory and the development of science.
23 November 2003
1. I mean the book “O Fizike I Astrofizike” (On Physics and Astrophysics) (Moscow: Byuro Kvantum, 1995); it is the third edition. The English translation: “The Physics of a Lifetime” (Springer-Verlag, 2001). The second book is “O Nauke, o Sebe i o Drugikh” (About Science, Myself and Others) (Moscow: Fizmatlit, 2003): it is the third edition. The English translation “About Science, Myself and Others” will, I hope, be published at the publishing house Bristol: IOP Publ. (2004). Below these books are referred to as (I) and (II) respectively.
2. This article was published under the number 17 in collection II. Earlier it had been published, though without some small modifications, in Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics 28 1 (1990).
3. For foreigners it should be explained that in the USSR a person could live somewhere only with the permission of the militia and had to be registered there.
4. As I am mentioning his name I must say that I am writing about the fact established beyond all doubt (see book II, article 18, commentary 10 at the end of the article).
5. A.D. Sakharov. “Vospominaniya” (Memories). Moscow: “Prava Cheloveka” (1996). There is also an English edition.
6. I must say I do not feel like enumerating all these awards, including prizes and being elected members of some academies. Enumerating all of them would be too long, and mentioning only the main ones would mean lack of respect for others. The corresponding information, although incomplete, can be found in books I and II. Let me note that I have never strived for awards, never aspired for them, though I was glad to get them. Besides, the Nobel Prize has exceeded everything. I know that they had started to nominate me for this prize as far back as about thirty years ago. However, I had long ago come to the conclusion that it had been decided not to give it to me. By the way, I was able to understand it – both because of the certain circumstances of my life and because I knew that the work of the Nobel committee is extremely difficult. That is why the news of the prize having been awarded to me, in 2003, was quite unexpected.
7. Fortunately, now things are quite different!
8. As it was explained to me, a more exact interpretation of dialectical materialism is seeing it as a combination of materialism with the recognition of the laws of dialectics formulated by Hegel. Whereas I regard these laws as scholastic to a considerable degree. Perhaps the most correct name for the views that I hold would be scientific materialism.
9. See A. Yakovlev. “Sumerki” (Twilight). Moscow: “Materik”, 2003. The German translation has already been published, the English one is being prepared. The citation from H. Wells is made by re-translating from the Russian text in the Russian edition of book II in comment 12* to article 25.
10. There also is a certain problem because Jerusalem is a very important center from the religious point of view not only for the Jews but also for the Christians and the Moslems. However, I do not see why a free religious life cannot be provided under a correspondent agreement (and, perhaps, also under international control) and in the conditions when Jerusalem is the capital of only Israel.
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/ Nobel Lectures/The Nobel Prizes. The information is sometimes updated with an addendum submitted by the Laureate.
Vitaly L. Ginzburg died on 8 November, 2009.
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