Leó Szilárd (1898-02-11 – 1964-05-30) was a Hungarian-American physicist, and probably the first scientist to take seriously the idea of developing real atomic bombs; he drafted the famous letter sent by Albert Einstein to U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that was largely responsible for initiating the Manhattan Project.
- Suppose Germany had developed two bombs before we had any bombs. And suppose Germany had dropped one bomb, say, on Rochester and the other on Buffalo, and then having run out of bombs she would have lost the war. Can anyone doubt that we would then have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and that we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them?
But, again, don't misunderstand me. The only conclusion we can draw is that governments acting in a crisis are guided by questions of expediency, and moral considerations are given very little weight, and that America is no different from any other nation in this respect.
- "President Truman Did Not Understand" in U.S. News & World Report (1960-08-15); Unsourced variant: If the Germans had dropped atomic bombs on cities instead of us, we would have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them.
- A great power imposes the obligation of exercising restraint, and we did not live up to this obligation. I think this affected many of the scientists in a subtle sense, and it diminished their desire to continue to work on the bomb.
- "President Truman Did Not Understand" in U.S. News & World Report (1960-08-15)
- Even if we accept, as the basic tenet of true democracy, that one moron is equal to one genius, is it necessary to go a further step and hold that two morons are better than one genius?
- The Voice of the Dolphins: And Other Stories (1961)
- We turned the switch, we saw the flashes, we watched them for about ten minutes — and then we switched everything off and went home. That night I knew the world was headed for sorrow...
- On the experiment at University of Chicago which indicated a nuclear chain reaction was possible, as quoted in the Boston University Graduate Journal (1968)
- Variant: We turned the switch, saw the flashes, watched for ten minutes, then switched everything off and went home. That night I knew the world was headed for sorrow.
- As quoted in The Making Of The Atomic Bomb (1986) by Richard Rhodes
Are We on the Road to War?
- Speech at Harvard Law School (1961-11-17) ; republished in Toward a Livable World: Leo Szilard and the Crusade for Nuclear Arms Control (1987) by Leo Szilard, Helen S. Hawkins, G. Allen Greb, and Gertrud Weiss Szilard, p. 432
- I sometimes have the feeling that I have lived through all this before and, in a sense, I have. I was sixteen years old when the first World War broke out, and I lived at that time in Hungary. From reading the newspapers in Hungary, it would have appeared that, whatever Austria and Germany did was right and whatever England, France, Russia, or America did was wrong. A good case could be made out for this general thesis, in almost every single instance. It would have been difficult for me to prove, in any single instance, that the newspapers were wrong, but somehow, it seemed to me unlikely that the two nations located in the center of Europe should be invariably right, and that all the other nations should be invariably wrong. History, I reasoned, would hardly operate in such a peculiar fashion, and it didn't take long until I began to hold views which were diametrically opposed to those held by the majority of my schoolmates.
- Even in times of war, you can see current events in their historical perspective, provided that your passion for the truth prevails over your bias in favor of your own nation.
- The people who have sufficient passion for the truth to give the truth a chance to prevail, if it runs counter to their bias, are in a minority. How important is this "minority?" It is difficult to say at this point, for, at the present time their influence on governmental decisions is not perceptible.
- A scientist's aim in a discussion with his colleagues is not to persuade, but to clarify.
- Don't lie if you don't have to.
- I'm all in favor of the democratic principle that one idiot is as good as one genius, but I draw the line when someone takes the next step and concludes that two idiots are better than one genius.
- If you want to succeed in the world, you don't have to be much cleverer than other people. You just have to be one day earlier.
- If one knows only what one is told, one does not know enough to be able to arrive at a well-balanced decision.