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Szilard petition, cover letter, July 4, 1945

Source: U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, Harrison-Bundy File, folder #76.

Szilard sent copies of the July 3, 1945 version of his petition to colleagues at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos. In this cover letter, which accompanied the petition, he discussed the need for scientists to take a moral stand on the use of the bomb.

Germans who failed to protest the immoral actions of the Nazis, he pointed out, were widely condemned for their silence. If they, as Manhattan Project scientists, failed to speak out, they would have far less excuse than the people of Germany.

     SECRET               SECRET

Order Sec Army By TAG per

DOD Dir. 5200.9, Sept. 27, 1958
NWD by _____ date 3 Nov 61

                      July 4, 1945


Inclosed is the text of a petition which will be submitted to the 
President of the United States. As you will see, this petition is 
based on purely moral considerations.

It may very well be that the decision of the President whether or 
not to use atomic bombs in the war against Japan will largely be 
based on considerations of expediency. On the basis of expediency, 
many arguments could be put forward both for and against our use of 
atomic bombs against Japan. Such arguments could be considered only 
within the framework of a thorough analysis of the situation which 
will face the United States after this war and it was felt that no 
useful purpose would be served by considering arguments of 
expediency in a short petition.

However small the chance might be that our petition may influence 
the course of events, I personally feel that it would be a matter of 
importance if a large number of scientists who have worked in this 
field went clearly and unmistakably on record as to their opposition 
on moral grounds to the use of these bombs in the present phase of 
the war.

Many of us are inclined to say that individual Germans share the 
guilt for the acts which Germany committed during this war because 
they did not raise their voices in protest against these acts. Their 
defense that their protest would have been of no avail hardly seems 
acceptable even though these Germans could not have protests without 
running risks to life and liberty. We are in a position to raise our 
voices without incurring any such risks even though we might incur 
the displeasure of some of those who are at present in charge of 
controlling the work on "atomic power". 

The fact that the people of the people of the United States are 
unaware of the choice which faces us increases our responsibility in 
this matter since those who have worked on "atomic power" represent 
a sample of the population and they alone are in a position to form 
an opinion and declare their stand.

Anyone who might wish to go on record by signing the petition ought 
to have an opportunity to do so and, therefore, it would be 
appreciated if you could give every member of your group an 
opportunity for signing.

                                          Leo Szilard

P.S.-- Anyone who wants to sign the petition ought to sign both 
attached copies and ought to read not only the petition but also 
this covering letter.

Copyright Notice: The original of this document is believed to be in the public domain. Its transcription and formatting as an e-text, however, is copyright 1995-1998 by Gene Dannen (gene@dannen.com).

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