MIT professor David Kaiser wrote a short piece in the New York Times on international politics’ impact on the development of the theory of relativity. Some excerpts:
Some of the barriers to acceptance were conceptual. Isaac Newton had argued that there was a universal force of gravity, the incessant tugging of one body on another. But Einstein argued that there was no “force” of gravity at all. Space and time were as wobbly as a trampoline; they could warp, bend or distend in the presence of massive objects like the sun. Objects simply moved as straight as they could, flowing through curved space-time. This idea could be hard to wrap your head around….
One year after the armistice that ended World War I, [British scientist Arthur] Eddington announced that his team’s measurements of the apparent positions of stars during a recent eclipse matched Einstein’s predictions. In an interview soon afterward, Einstein noted that the public recognition of his accomplishment had a political slant. “Today I am described in Germany as a ‘German servant,’ and in England as a ‘Swiss Jew,’ ” he said. “Should it ever be my fate to be represented as a bête noire, I should, on the contrary, become a ‘Swiss Jew’ for the Germans and a ‘German savant’ for the English.” Here, he shared with a wink, was yet another application of the theory of relativity.
Sadly, events quickly proved Einstein right. Just months after Eddington’s announcement, right-wing political opportunists in war-ravaged Germany began to organize raucous anti-Einstein rallies. Only an effete Jew, they argued, could remove “force” from modern physics; those of true Aryan spirit, they went on, shared an intuitive sense of “force” from generations of working the land. Soon after the Nazis seized power in 1933, they banned the teaching of Einstein’s work within the Reich. Einstein settled in Princeton, N.J.; the German relativity community was decimated.
Hat tip: Albert Mohler