‘Why war?”

Can there be a more urgent question, in our time or any other? In 1932, two of the greatest minds humanity has yet spawned — Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud — addressed it together in an exchange of letters published in 1933 under the title “Why War?”

The initiative was Einstein’s. Invited by the League of Nations to engage an interlocutor of his choice on an issue of his choice, he chose war and Freud. “As for me,” he wrote, “the normal objective of my thought (as a mathematical physicist and pacifist) affords me no insight into the dark places of human will and feeling.” The founder of psychoanalysis, also a pacifist, would, he hoped, “bring the light of your far-reaching knowledge of man’s instinctive life to bear upon the problem.”