Omar Bradley? Albert Einstein? Young Army Lieutenant? Walter Winchell? Joe Laitin? James W. Fulbright?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a great quotation about the type of weapons that will be used in World War IV. The words are both funny and chilling, and every time I have seen the saying it has been attributed to Albert Einstein. But while I was researching five-star generals I found a newspaper story from 1949 that gives credit to a famous World War II general [OMB]:
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Omar Bradley recently got involved in a discussion with the big shots of a midwestern city where he was making a speech. The group was arguing about future wars and how they would be fought.
One of the men said: “General, the newspapers tell us that World War III will be fought with atomic bombs, supersonic planes and a lot of new weapons. These are great strides, but how about World War IV? Is it possible to get any newer and fancier weapons than these?” “I can give you the exact answer to that question,” said General Bradley, “If we have World War III, then World War IV will be fought with bows and arrows.”
Do you think that Bradley is responsible for this sobering insight instead of Einstein?
Quote Investigator: An excellent question and QI can help. A quotation on this theme is attributed to Albert Einstein in 1948 and 1949, and his words are listed further below. However, it is unlikely that Bradley or Einstein originated this compelling motif concerning World War 4 weapons. The evidence that QI has collected points to a Bikini origin.
Some readers may only think of a swimsuit when they read that term, but the Bikini Atoll is a collection of islands where the newly created atomic bomb was tested, and that atoll is the location of the first recorded pronouncement of the saying. The quotes below are a selected subset presented chronologically with the first from the powerhouse syndicated columnist Walter Winchell in September 1946 [WA1]:
Joe Laitin reports that reporters at Bikini were questioning an army lieutenant about what weapons would be used in the next war.
“I dunno,” he said, “but in the war after the next war, sure as Hell, they’ll be using spears!”
The second citation is from another Winchell column in October 1946 and it shows how quotes are often altered in transmission. Winchell changes the wording of the saying from the version he gave the previous month. The citation also demonstrates how precise references are lost. The United Nations program that repeats the quote of the military man does not identify the news source. The name of the reporter Joe Laitin is omitted [WA2]:
The United Nations program (via WEAF) cerfed a colyum’d quip about the army officer who said he didn’t know what type of weapons would be used in the 3rd WW—but the one after that—”will be fought with spears.” We gave the author credit—why didn’t the U.N. program?
Here Winchell uses his specialized lingo. The phrase “cerfed a colyum’d quip” means the United Nations program took text from his column. The third citation comes from Reader’s Digest in November 1946. The version of the saying presented in the Digest differs slightly from the two versions in the Winchell columns. Although this appearance is later the text may be more accurate. The name of the reporter and the original news source, Frontpage, is given [RDFP]:
During the Bikini operations, a discussion arose as to what weapons would be used in the next war–atom bombs, germs, rockets.
“I don’t know what weapons will be used in the next war,” a young Army lieutenant interrupted, “but in the war after the next one, surer than hell they’ll be using spears.” —Joe Laitin in Frontpage
QI does not have access to a database with Frontpage and hence has not located the article; however, further below is a passage in which Joe Laitin recounts his experience on Bikini, and quotes the words of the soldier he met.
The fourth citation in May of 1947 shows an odd modification of the quote that may be due to word selection taboos. The School Board Journal contains a version in which the word “hell” is removed and “damned” is introduced [SBJ]:
To quote a recent army officer: “I am not sure what kind of weapons will be used in World War III, but I am damned sure that World War IV will be fought with spears.”
The fifth citation shows transmission in the academic sphere in June of 1947. The speaker is Dean Arthur L. Beeley, director of the University of Utah’s Institute of World Affairs. Beeley’s variant elevates the anonymous lieutenant to the status of a sage, and substitutes different weapons [SLC]:
“Unless the free people of the earth unite to avert World War III,” he said, “it is probable—as some sage recently prophesied—that World War IV will be fought with bows and arrows.”
In August of 1947 the GIs in Germany were using the expression according to a report in The New Yorker magazine [NYGI]:
The GIs here say that the war after the atomic-bomb war will be fought with spears. — GENET
The reporter mentioned in the first citation visits Kingston, Jamaica and is interviewed by a fellow journalist at The Daily Gleaner for an article printed 1947 September 10. The reporter is described as “Mr. Joseph Laitin, Reuters Special Representative to North America” and an “ace newspaperman”. He presents another variant of the saying that helps to explain why the featured weaponry sometimes changes. He lists more than one weapon [JL]:
“One thing that stays in my mind”, Mr. Laitin told me at the Chatham Hotel yesterday, “was an occasion at Bikini when a group of Correspondents were discussing the weapons that would be used in the next war if there was one—such as atom bombs, guided missiles, rocket warfare, germ warfare—and in the middle of this discussion a young United States Army Lieutenant suddenly turned around and broke into the conversation, and said some words I’ll never forget — nor do I propose to let anybody else forget them, ‘I do not know’, he said, ‘what weapons are going to be used in the next war, but in the war after the next war, surer than hell they’ll be using bows and arrows and spears’.
In June of 1948 an article about Einstein is published in The Rotarian. This is the earliest cite QI has located that attributes a comment on this theme to Einstein [AE1]:
Recently he was asked what weapons would be used in a third world war. Dr. Einstein’s reply was characteristic: “I don’t know. But I can tell you what they’ll use in the fourth. They’ll use rocks!”
This remark is so intriguing that it quickly appears in a Toastmaster’s Handbook in 1949 where the story of Einstein’s response is credited to a well-known U.S. Senator [AE2]:
Someone asked Mr. Einstein one day what kind of weapons would be used in the third world war. “Well,” he answered, “I don’t know. I don’t know what they are developing, because things are progressing so rapidly, but I can tell you what they’ll use in the fourth world war,” he said. “They’ll use rocks.”
James W. Fulbright, United States Senator from Arkansas.
In April of 1949 an article titled “Einstein at 70″ appears in the periodical “Liberal Judaism”. The saying ascribed to Einstein is very similar to the quotation presented in The Rotarian a year before [AE3]:
Now and then the professor gets angry, realizing how blind his contemporaries are in the face of the imminent danger. Asked what weapons would be used in a Third World War, he made this characteristic reply:
“I don’t know. But I can tell you what they’ll use in the fourth—rocks!”
This interview is cited in the “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” [UQE] and was also kindly pointed out by an Information Officer at the Albert Einstein Archives in Jerusalem.
1949 is also the year of the attribution to General Omar Bradley, so QI will conclude the tracing here. The earliest cite QI was able to locate credits the words to an anonymous U.S. Army Lieutenant on the Bikini Atoll. Einstein, Bradley, and others are credited with variant sayings that accord with this general theme in the months and years afterward. Thanks for your question.
[OMB] 1949 January 5, Miami (Daily) News, “Answer to Next War’s Arms” by Peter Edson, Page 10-A (GNA Page 15), Miami, Florida. (Google News archive)
[WA1] 1946 September 23, Wisconsin State Journal, “Quote and Unquote: Raising ‘Alarmist’ Cry Brings a Winchell Reply” by Walter Winchell, Page 6, Column 3, Madison, Wisconsin. (NewspaperArchive)
[WA2] 1946 October 15, The Augusta Chronicle, Notes of a Not-So-Innocent Bystander by Water Winchell, Page 4, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)
[RDFP] 1946 November, Reader’s Digest, Page 108, Reader’s Digest Association. (Google Books snippet view; Verified on paper)
[SBJ] 1947 May, (The American) School Board Journal, Page 24, Column 2, National School Boards Association, Bruce Pub. Co. (Google Books snippet view; Verified on microfilm)
[SLC] 1947 June 11, Deseret News, Dean Returns From Conclave, Page 14, Column 1, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Google News archive)
[NYGI] 1947 August 02, The New Yorker, Letter from Berlin by Genet (pseudonym of Janet Flanner), Page 46, F. R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Google Books snippet view; Verified on paper)
[JL] 1947 September 10, The (Daily) Gleaner, Ace Newspaperman Here To Report Closer Union Conference, Page 12, Column 1, Kingston, Jamaica. (NewspaperArchive)
[AE1] 1948 June, The Rotarian, Looking Ahead by Albert Einstein, Side article: Albert Einstein, Citizen, Princeton, New Jersey, Page 9, Column 3, Rotary International. (Google Books full view) link
[AE2] 1949, The Toastmaster’s Handbook by Herbert Victor Prochnow, Page 142, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Google Books snippet view, Verified on paper in Thirteenth printing, 1955)
[AE3] 1949 April-May, Liberal Judaism, Interview: Einstein at 70 with Alfred Werner, Page 12, [Einstein Archives 30-1104], Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Verified on paper; Cited in YBQ and Einstein Archives)
[UQE] 2011, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice, Section: On Peace, War, and the Bomb, Page 280, Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey. (Google Books preview; Verified on paper) link
Update history: On April 8, 2011 the 1949 interview citation for Einstein was added. The text was modified to reflect this additional information.
Update history: On April 13, 2011 a longer text excerpt from the 1949 periodical Liberal Judaism was added to the post based on the direct examination of the information on paper. A citation for The Ultimate Quotable Einstein was added.