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  Library Correspondence Matthew Connelly: Memorandum, September 6, 1945

Memorandum of Szilard Correspondence
From: Matthew Connelly, Secretary to the President
To: Hon. James Byrnes, Secretary of State
Date: September 6, 1945


Dear Mr. Secretary:

I enclose herewith correspondence addressed to me by Mr. Leo Szilard of the Metallurgical Laboratory, Chicago, Illinois. I believe you are familiar with these papers. I will appreciate it very much if you will be good enough to write him direct, stating that his correspondence had been brought to your attention by this office.

Thank you.

Secretary to the President


August 17, 1945

Mr. Matthew J. Connelly
The White House
Washington, D. C.

Dear Mr. Connelly:

When Mr. Bartky and I called on you on May 25, you were kind enough to arrange an interview with Mr. Byrnes. H. C. Urey of Columbia University, Walter Bartky of the University of Chicago, and I saw Byrnes on May 28 and submitted to him a memorandum dated Spring, 1945 which was originally prepared for Mr. Roosevelt and which you have read. We are very grateful to you for the opportunity to present our views to Mr. Byrnes.

The enclosed envelope contains Mr. Einstein's letter, returned by Mr. Byrnes for transmittal to your office, and a copy of the memorandum which we left with Mr. Byrnes. You had previously seen both of these documents and they are merely transmitted for your files.

Enclosed also is the text of a petition which was signed by 67 scientists working in this Laboratory. It may not have crossed your desk since it had been transmitted in July via the War Department. Some of those who signed this petition have asked me that its text be now made public; and I wondered whether you would be good enough to let me know by August 24 if you considered its publication undesirable.

Very sincerely yours,

Leo Szilard


112 Mercer Street
Princeton, New Jersey
March 25, 1945

The Honorable Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D. C.


I am writing you to introduce Dr. L. Szilard who proposes to submit to you certain considerations and recommendations. Unusual circumstances which I shall describe further below induce me to take this action in spite of the fact that I do not know the substance of the considerations and recommendations which Dr. Szilard proposes to submit to you.

In the summer of 1939 Dr. Szilard put before me his views concerning the potential importance of uranium for national defense. He was greatly disturbed by the potentialities involved and anxious that the United States Government be advised of them as soon as possible. Dr. Szilard, who is one of the discoverers of the neutron emission of uranium on which all present work on uranium is based, described to me a specific system which he devised and which he thought would make it possible to set up a chain reaction in unseparated uranium in the immediate future. Having known him for over twenty years both from his scientific work and personally, I have much confidence in his judgment and it was on the basis of his judgment as well as my own that I took the liberty to approach you in connection with this subject. You responded to my letter dated August 2, 1939 by the appointment of a committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Briggs and thus started the Government's activity in this field.

The terms of secrecy under which Dr. Szilard is working at present do not permit him to give me information about his work; however, I understand that he now is greatly concerned about the lack of adequate contact between scientists who are doing this work and those members of your Cabinet who are responding for formulating policy. In the circumstances I consider it my duty to give Dr. Szilard this introduction and I wish to express the hope that you will be able to give his presentation of the case your personal attention. 

Very truly yours


July 17, 1945


Discoveries of which the people of the United States are not aware may affect the welfare of this nation in the near future. The liberation of atomic power which has been achieved places atomic bombs in the hands of the Army. It places in your hands, as Commander-in-Chief, the fateful decision whether or not to sanction the use of such bombs in the present phase of the war against Japan.

We, the undersigned scientists, have been working in the field of atomic power. Until recently we have had to fear that the United States might be attacked by atomic bombs during this war and that her only defense might lie in a counterattack by the same means. Today, with the defeat of Germany, this danger is averted and we feel impelled to say what follows:

The war has to be brought speedily to a successful conclusion and attacks by atomic bombs may very well be an effective method of warfare. We feel, however, that such attacks on Japan could not be justified, at least not unless the terms which will be imposed after the war on Japan were made public in detail and Japan were given an opportunity to surrender.

If such public announcement gave assurance to the Japanese that they could look forward to a life devoted to peaceful pursuits in their homeland and if Japan still refused to surrender our nation might then, in certain circumstances, find itself forced to resort to the use of atomic bombs. Such a step, however, ought not to be made at any time without seriously considering the moral responsibilities which are involved.

The development of atomic power will provide the nations with new means of destruction. The atomic bombs at our disposal represent only the first step in this direction, and there is almost no limit to the destructive power which will become available in the course of their future development. Thus a nation which sets the precedent of using these newly liberated forces of nature for purposes of destruction may have to bear the responsibility of opening the door to an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale.

If after this war a situation is allowed to develop in the world which permits rival powers to be in uncontrolled possession of these new means of destruction, the cities of the United States as well as the cities of other nations will be in continuous danger of sudden annihilation. All the resources of the United States, moral and material, may have to be mobilized to prevent the advent of such a world situation. Its prevention is at present the solemn responsibility of the United States--singled out by virtue of her lead in the field of atomic power.

The added material strength which this lead gives to the United States brings with it the obligation of restraint and if we were to violate this obligation our moral position would be weakened in the eyes of the world and in our own eyes. It would then be more difficult for us to live up to our responsibility of bringing the unloosened forces of destruction under control.

In view of the foregoing, we, the undersigned, respectfully petition: first, that you exercise your power as Commander-in-Chief, to rule that the United States shall not resort tot the use of atomic bombs in this war unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public in detail and Japan knowing these terms has refused to surrender; second, that in such an event the question whether or not to use atomic bombs be decided by you in the light of the considerations presented in this petition as well as all the other moral responsibilities which are involved.

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See Also
Hiroshima and Nagasaki Documents