Leo’s Letter

Leo was worried.

He had crossed an ocean and fled a continent as it fell under the power of a new and terrible tyrant.  But the ocean was not wide enough.   And he was afraid.  Soon, the tyrant might have a weapon to which there would be no answer.

Misako Chida - The Paper Crane cc Wikipedia

Misako Chida – The Paper Crane

Leo, you see, worked with the tiniest, most invisible of things.  And he had discovered that they could be linked together in a daisy chain of death. Or power.  And in it he thought he also saw a crown for human knowledge.

But others, across the ocean, also knew of the discovery.  So Leo worried.

And Leo went to see his friend Albert.

“Albert, we must warn the President,” he said.  Albert would gladly have had none of war or weapons.  But here was something that could not be ignored.  Or so he thought.  And Albert said,

“Let us write to the President.”  And Leo wrote for Albert.  And when Albert was happy, he signed.

And slowly the letter wended its way to the President.  At first, little was done, but soon enough a great project was born.  A weapon, a bomb such as the world had never seen before.  Kept secret, unimaginable wealth was poured into the quest.  Leo went to work on the project.  And the war wound on.  And millions died.  Children burned in far apart cities.  Young men died on island beaches, in deserts and forests, in plains and snows, in metal shells on land and sea.  More and more lives poured into a seemingly endless engine of death.  And Hades, smiled a smile of welcome, as they came to his door.

“Wasn’t Pandora’s warning enough?” he asked them. “Soon more will come.”  And the people grieved.

But this thing, this terrible new weapon, was meant to be kept safe and never used, except in a final hour of need.  And now the war was ending, the tyrant defeated.  And Leo was worried.

He spoke to his fellow scientists.  “We cannot allow this thing to be used.”  And many agreed.  And they were now afraid of the warriors for whom they had built the weapon.  Leo, said, “Let us send a petition to the President”.  And they did and the petition said – do not use this weapon.  “We feel that such attacks could not be justified … it will open the door to an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale … we must bring the unloosened forces of destruction under control.”

Edward, who had been with Leo at the beginning, would not sign, and he wrote, “I wanted to know.  That is why. And there is no hope of saving our souls.”  And Hades smiled a knowing smile.

When the general came to know of the petition, he was angry.  He wrote to an old friend.  “Tell me, old friend, what do you remember about dear Leo.  He has not, I must speak plainly, evidenced wholehearted cooperation in our security“.  And the old friend wrote back.  There was nothing.  But Leo, it was clear, would work no more with the small invisible things he knew so well.  And the petition, would stray in its path, finally arriving filed safely in a place marked secret.   And others, around the President, cleared a pathway for the bomb, so that it would not stray.

And the bomb fell.

And some cried. And some laughed. And many were silent.  And Robert said, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”.

And on the flight home, little was said.

And the doctor said, “We had nothing to treat the injured and we didn’t know what to do, there were so many.  But we learnt a lot that day.  We learnt that such weapons which gnaw the bodies and minds of men must never be used.  And if we ever use them again we shall never stop being ashamed of ourselves.

And the criers crafted words of revenge and wonder for the President to speak.

Those who attacked us have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet.  … But the marvel … the achievement of scientific minds weaving together infinitely complex pieces of knowledge held by many men … And hardly less marvelous has been the capacity of industry to design and of labor to operate, the machines and methods to do things never done before so that the brainchild of many minds came forth in physical shape and performed as it was supposed to do …

Sadako, was only a Hiroshima babe when the bomb fell and thousands of mortal remains came down as ashen rain.

But Sadako lived on, for a time.  Only a span of 12 years.  And then she became sick.

One day she learnt of paper cranes and heart deep wishes.  And Sadako made them, as the sickness gripped her, and slowly took her life.  One by one she folded and released them, and the cranes flew, each with its mission.

And one of them flew to Leo.  Taking its fragile wings, he carefully unfolded it, one love creased fold after another.  And when it was fully open, he read it.  Just one word, so carefully written on its wings.  Hope.


[Leo’s Letter is, of course, based on real events.  Minimal ‘artistic’ licence has been taken with the basic historical facts behind the story.  The idea of presenting this ‘history’ as story grew from seeing the parallels between the human folly involved in one of the most tragic events of modern times and the ancient myth of Pandora’s Box.  The figure of Pandora, her ‘box’ and all it contains can perhaps be thought of as metaphors of the human condition.  We see this human condition play out in the words and actions of figures in Leo’s Letter.  The following are some of the historical sources which have been drawn on.]

Gene Dannen’s account of how the letter to President Roosevelt came to be written

Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein’s Letter to President Roosevelt

Report of Einstein’s later view about the letter

A Point of View.  The Man Who Dreamed of the Atom Bomb

Scientists Petition to the President of the United States

Edward Teller’s letter to Leo Szilard, explaining why he would not support the scientists’ petition against use of the bomb

General Groves letter seeking evidence against Leo Szilard

The June 1945 Szilard Petition on the Atomic Bomb Memoir by a Signer at Oak Ridge Howard Gest

Video of Robert Oppenheimer in which he recollects the first experience of the first test atom bomb

Sargeant Joseph Stiborik’s, Radar Operator on the Enola Gay. Recollections

President Truman’s Announcement of the Bombing of Hiroshima

Testimony of Hiroshima Survivor Hiroshi Sawachika

Sadako Sasaki – Virtual Exhibition at the Hiroshima Peace Museum

Kid’s Peace Station Hiroshima:  Sadako’s hope conveyed around the world

Leo Szilard’s later advocacy against nuclear weapons.



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