Hostages For World Peace

Circa 1986, Jeremy Stone (then-President of the Federation of American Scientists) asked Owen Chamberlain to forward to him any ideas he may have which would ‘make useful arms control initiatives’. Chamberlain – a highly intelligent, hugely influential Nobel laureate in physics who discovered the antiproton – responded with the fantastic letter seen below, the contents of which I won’t mention for fear of spoiling your experience. Unfortunately, although I can’t imagine the letter to be anything but satirical, I’m uninformed when it comes to Chamberlain’s sense of humour and have no way of verifying my belief. Even the Bancroft Library labels it as ‘possibly tongue-in-cheek’.

Transcript follows.


Dear Jeremy:

I do have a thought. Please forgive me if it is not very original. But, anyhow, I still think it has some possibilities.

The idea I want to have looked over is this:

The 200 most important political and military persons in each superpower should be required to provide one family member who could act as a hostage by living inside the other superpower. Thus, every powerful politician or general would have one family member.

I claim this might be arranged easily, is really quite inexpensive, and I believe it has the potential of putting the world in a different frame of mind. It might make nuclear war seem out-of-the-question to all.

The hostages–maybe one can find better word–could be children or grandchildren or perhaps nephews and nieces. We could afford to have excellent schooling for the hostages, for the number involved would be very moderate.

I admit is a gimmick. However, it seems to me to be a gimmick with more than the usual protection for the dollar.

Improvements welcome, of course.

Thank you for asking me. I plan to send this immediately. If I have more ideas I will send them later.

Say hello to BJ. June sends her best.


Owen Chamberlain