The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles paid $4,000 last month for a 1937 letter written by Nobel prize-winning philosopher Bertrand Russell wherein he says that if the Nazi army invades his homeland England, the British should invite Adolf Hitler to dinner rather than fight.
"If the Germans succeed in sending an invading army to England we should do best to treat them as visitors, give them quarters and invite the commander and chief to dine with the prime minister," Russell wrote to British critic Godfrey Carter. "Such behavior would completely baffle them."
"The fact of the matter is he had all the credentials. He probably was Britain's greatest philosopher and won the Nobel Prize for literature after all," Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Center's founder, said. "But he didn't understand a basic concept: that the idea that you allow evil to flourish under these conditions, that if we act nice to Hitler, serve him the best wine, that Hitler will come around to see things our way is just preposterous."
Russell wrote the letter during the time that Hitler was both denying German Jews their rights and sending political prisoners to Dachau, the horrific concentration camp. But Russell wrote that he saw no value in engaging Germany in war.
The Museum of Tolerance, part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, will place Russell's letter next to one that Hitler wrote in 1919 that outlines his anti-Semitic views which led to the death of 6 million in the Holocaust.
"We may win or we may lose," Russell wrote. "If we lose obviously no good has been done. If we win we shall inevitably during the struggle acquire their bad qualities and the world at the end will be no better off than if we had lost."
The Russell letter is important, Hier said, because it warns future generations that even a distinguished scholar can be wrong in allowing evil to go unchallenged.
Russell, a leading pacifist, eventually changed his views on Hitler. Those inside Germany often did not know of the concentration camps or the planned extermination of the Jews, so one cannot entirely fault Russell if he was misled on Hitler's intentions there.
However, his idea to essentially invite the Nazis for tea and crumpets on the Thames is a good reminder that even Nobel Prize winners can dream up horribly misguided foreign policy.