Can this quote be correctly attributed to Albert Einstein? If so, can we have a source for it?

He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.

I came across this quote in a discussion board, attributed to Albert Einstein. A Google search reveals plenty of the usual unsourced and undated attributions. I found another skeptic of this quote on the Snopes board, but not useful information.

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    According to this related SO he said something similar in an interview in 1929. So this is feeling more like an Einstein quote than I originally thought. – Moby Disk Apr 3 '17 at 17:13
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    @JoelCoehoorn I don't believe it is at all accurate to say he was a primary architect of the nuclear bomb. Einstein's answer was always that his only act had been to write to President Roosevelt suggesting that the United States research atomic weapons before the Germans harnessed this deadly technology. He came to regret taking even this step. See The Manhattan Project: Note he was denied clearance for the project for his left-leaning ideology. – Beofett Apr 4 '17 at 18:36
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    See the excellent and authoritative "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes for more information as to the primary architects of the bomb. As correctly stated by Beofett, Einstein had very little direct involvement. It is worth noting though that your identification of the irony of pacifism and bomb makers is largely accurate - at least in terms of the scientist perspective. Many hoped that the bomb would be seen as so catastrophic it would usher in an age of peace. This sadly turned into the principle of mutually assured destruction and the arms race though. – NKCampbell Apr 4 '17 at 20:54
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    @NKCampbell, and the most peaceful period the Western powers have experienced in 1000 years, during which nobody actually dropped a bomb for all the threat of them. Would the Cold War have been cold without Hiroshima? – Separatrix Apr 5 '17 at 7:03
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    @Beofett He was certainly not an architect of the bomb, but the irony is there. The letter he signed basically says Germany might get the bomb, so America should try to get it first to prevent that. In principle, this seems no different than "they have an army with guns, we need the same to stop them." In other words, necessary war. Yet Einstein said he was extremely pacifist. I wonder if he was ever questioned directly on that or if he gave some explanation later in life... – DrZ214 Apr 5 '17 at 22:23
up vote 99 down vote accepted

Yes, roughly. This appears to be based upon a quote from his 1931 essay, Mein Weltbild (or "The World As I See It"), which was originally published in “Forum and Century,” vol. 84, pp. 193-194, the thirteenth in the Forum series, Living Philosophies. It is also included in Living Philosophies (pp. 3-7), New York: Simon Schuster, 1931..

Note that the sources I found directly referencing the original publication, or subsequent reprinting, have a somewhat different English translation:

This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of the herd nature, the military system, which I abhor. That a man can take pleasure in marching in formation to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. He has only been given his big brain by mistake; a backbone was all he needed. This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that does by the name of patriotism--how I hate them! War seems to me a mean, contemptible thing: I would rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such an abominable business.

Aside from the last sentence, the content of the text does match pretty closely, despite the distinctly different phrasing.

The last sentence of the popular version of the translation comes from a later section of the original essay:

It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.

Note that the translation used in the question was likely popularized by a poster published in 1977. I've seen multiple variations of this poster, and remember purchasing a copy from a major chain store in the late 80's.

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    Since the original is in German, differences in phrasing would not disqualify. The only date on the quote references are about 1930. Nice find! – PoloHoleSet Apr 3 '17 at 16:29
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    The last part is from a different part of the essay, which is rather longer than the English translation you link to. – phoog Apr 3 '17 at 17:30

My source is https://gedankenfrei.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/mein-weltbild-albert-einstein.pdf.

The quoted paragraph is a composite of sentences taken from two places in the essay. This first is the source for all but the last sentence:

He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action.

The original German is on the seventh page of the linked file; the portion in square brackets is omitted from the quoted translation:

Wenn einer mit Vergnügen in Reih und Glied zu einer Musik marschieren kann, dann verachte ich ihn schon; er hat sein großes Gehirn nur aus Irrtum bekommen, da für ihn das Rückenmark schon völlig genügen würde. Diesen Schandfleck der Zivilisation sollte man so schnell wie möglich zum Verschwinden bringen. Heldentum auf Kommando, [sinnlose Gewalttat und die leidige Vaterländerei,] wie glühend hasse ich sie, wie gemein und verächtlich erscheint mir der Krieg; ich möchte mich lieber in Stücke schlagen lassen, als mich an einem so elenden Tun beteiligen!

A somewhat more literal translation:

If one can march joyfully in rank and file to music then I already despise him; he has received his large brain only by mistake, because for him the spinal cord is already fully sufficient. This shameful stain on civilization should be made to disappear as soon as possible. Heroism on command, [senseless commission of violence and the sorry patriotism,] how glowingly I hate them, how vulgar and contemptible war seems to me; I would rather be cut into pieces than to participate in such miserable conduct.

The last sentence:

It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.

This comes from page 87 of the linked file. Here's the whole paragraph, for context. All but the last sentence of the source is in square brackets because it is absent from the quoted translation:

[Ich war mir der furchtbaren Gefahr wohl bewußt, die das Gelingen dieses Unternehmens für die Menschheit bedeutete. Aber die Wahrscheinlichkeit, daß die Deutschen am selben Problem mit Aussicht auf Erfolg arbeiten dürften, hat mich zu diesem Schritt gezwungen. Es blieb mir nichts anderes übrig, obwohl ich stets ein überzeugter Pazifist gewesen bin.] Töten im Krieg ist nach meiner Auffassung um nichts besser als gewöhnlicher Mord.

Again, a somewhat more literal translation:

[I was well aware of the fearful danger that the success of this enterprise meant for humanity. But the probability that the Germans should work on the same problem with the prospect of success compelled me to this step. There remained nothing else for me, although I have always been a convinced pacifist.] Killing in war is, according to my perception, no better than ordinary murder.

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    Well done on including the original German and your own translation. – Wildcard Apr 4 '17 at 3:16

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