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An Italian Pugwash history: Amaldi’s pacifist choice based on pragmatism and optimism (paper presented at the International Workshop “Writing Pugwash Histories”, Vienna, 10-12/05/2012)

Lodovica Clavarino

The paper I would like to submit to this Workshop is based on a research accomplished for my degree in History of International Relations. Edoardo Amaldi, the only one Italian invited to attend the first Pugwash meeting in 1957, was a prominent Italian nuclear physicist of the XX century and throughout his life he strove for peace and disarmament. The case of Amaldi, as an example of a scientist strongly involved in the events of his times, is really fascinating and not yet widely explored in the historiography. Moreover, I believe that adding a viewpoint of a case from Italy ‐ one of the pivotal states in the Cold War context ‐ is indeed functional to a deeper knowledge of the Pugwash by the scholars of this phenomenon.

I will investigate three key phases of Amaldi’s life, all of them useful for understanding the increasingly complex relationship between science and politics which the scientific community was facing from the very beginning of the nuclear age: a) the time of Via Panisperna, b) the postwar and c) Amaldi’s efforts for disarmament until his death in ’89. As a matter of fact, for a better comprehension of his participation in the transnational movement of scientists, is crucial to outline the origins and the development of his ideas across the earlier years. The first of these phases is thus the period of his professional and human involvement in the successful context of the “group of via Panisperna”, under the leadership of Enrico Fermi, in the ‘20s and ‘30s. The dramatic experiences of living under the fascism and then of remaining in Italy during the Second World War were essential for the development of the ideas Amaldi advocated for all his life. In fact, the breakdown of this famous group happened due to the very different paths of its members: many had to emigrate for political reasons, some worked in the Manhattan Project, someone was relieved for not being engaged in, several were proud of what they did, somebody else was tormented by a sense of guilt and others decided not to speak any longer about the bomb or finally changed their professional field. Although he didn’t have to face the dilemma of a personal participation in a military program, Amaldi was persuaded that nuclear scientists, because of their technical knowledge, had the moral duty to commit themselves to disarmament efforts. This sense of a common responsibility guided his engagement in Pugwash throughout his life. During all the Cold War his efforts were aimed mainly at helping to pursue and maintain a stable international détente and an unbroken dialogue across the blocs, which he thought were the necessary preconditions for a process of arms control and progressive disarmament. Noteworthy was the case of the strong pressure on Italian government and the awareness campaign for the national public opinion carried on by a group of scientists led by Amaldi during the years of the debate concerning the Non Proliferation Treaty. In this kind of experiences, in Amaldi’s perspective, the national context was always connected with the international one, because of the awareness that, in the atomic age, humanity’s fate transcended the traditional boundaries of national states.

For this contribution, in addition to the historiographical material and the memoirs, I intend to use original unpublished sources from the “Archivio Amaldi”, housed at the Department of Physics, Università di Roma “La Sapienza”. The conversations I had with some of Amaldi’s colleagues will be another remarkable source for further deepen the knowledge of these events.

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