Leo Szilard’s Plan to Avoid Nuking Japan

History lesson. How would you like to be Leo Szilard? The man worked on the Manhattan Project, building the first atomic bomb for the U.S. military. Then, when he realized its potential, he fought against any military use of the bomb. But to no avail. The bombs were dropped and Hiroshima and Nagasaki were leveled. Days later the Japanese unconditionally surrendered. What is the state of humanity when it becomes necessary to level a city to end a war? Many argue that the use of nuclear weapons was necessary. My grandfather fought as a marine in Iowa Jima, and would have undoubtedly been a part of any invasion force, had it been necessary to invade Japan. Such an invasion would not come without great casualties. Therefore many people argue that the atomic bombs saved American lives.

Leo Szilard had another idea. Test the bomb and allow the Japanese to see the results, then ask for their unconditional surrender. Would such a plan have worked? It never had a chance. The Potsdam Declaration was released before President Truman even heard of Szilard’s plan. The Potsdam Declaration called for the unconditional surrender of Japan, or suffer total annihilation. Seeing no evidence that the Allied Forces could bring “total annihilation” on Japan, the Japanese ignored the declaration. Within the month two atomic bombs were dropped and Japan surrendered.

What kind of creature would seek to utterly destroy itself? To what level has humanity slipped when we must fight wars and kill over trifling matters? I suppose it’s an age old question, rooted in the greed, corruption, and depravity of humanity. Aren’t we capable of better than that? The answer to that comes in our daily lives, because we usually don’t face questions of war in our daily lives. But how we respond to daily struggles is a window in to how we would respond to wartime calamity. Are my responses to the people around me responses of love and peace, or do my responses constitute a declaration of war?

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