Saving the World from Destruction; BERTRAND RUSSELL: Philosopher Who Pioneered Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), January 22, 2002 | Go to article overview

Saving the World from Destruction; BERTRAND RUSSELL: Philosopher Who Pioneered Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament


Byline: RHODRI OWEN

AS the world teetered on the brink of disaster for 13 days during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, an 80-year-old man sat writing through the night in his North Wales home.

With the United States and Russia continuing to raise the stakes in a game of nuclear call-my-bluff centred around the Caribbean island, Bertrand Russell, labelled one of the most brilliant minds of the age, believed somebody, somewhere had to do something to defuse the tension.

The veteran mathematician, philosopher and pacifist duly cabled telegrams to premiers John F Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev imploring them to negotiate.

And though historians have played down Lord Russell's role in the peaceful resolution of the crisis, Krushchev's reply to his home at Plas Penrhyn, near Penrhyndeudraeth, undoubtedly gave the Americans a crucial clue that the Russian leader wanted to avoid a war.

The intervention was typical of a man whose lengthy life was punctuated with grand and stubborn gestures.

Russell was born into landed aristocracy in Trellech Grange, Monmouthshire, on May 18, 1872. The grandson of Lord John Russell, the Victorian Whig Prime Minister, he was educated at Trinity, Cambridge.

The college made him a fellow in 1895, but as his pacifist stance began to bring him notoriety during World War I, he was expelled in 1915. (He was re-elected in 1944).

Serving a six-month jail sentence in 1918 for writing anti-war material, Russell penned An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. In all he would write 40 books, including the History of Western Philosophy.

As a mathematician and philosopher, his work had a profound effect in the first half of the 20th Century and earned him worldwide respect.

But as a man his "immoral and salacious" sexual behaviour ? three of his four wives divorced him ? simultaneously brought him censure. In 1940, at the age of 68, he was sacked from his chair at New York's City College amid talk of "indecency".

In October 1948 Russell survived the sinking of a flying boat near Trondheim in Norway. Aged 76, he had to swim in a heavy overcoat in icy water until he was picked up. …

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