Happy Scribe Logo

Transcript

Proofread by 0 readers
Proofread
[00:00:00]

The following podcast contains some graphic descriptions which some listeners might find upsetting. On New Year's Eve, 1942, some people are out drinking and dancing. Others are celebrating by having a nice meal with loved ones. But Leo Szilard is alone in his bedroom in frigid Chicago.

[00:00:34]

He's lived here for nearly a year, but still hasn't unpacked since fleeing Berlin nearly a decade ago. He's always ready to leave at a moment's notice. It has been less than a month since the resounding success of the Chicago Pile one. Or he'd achieve the world's first nuclear chain reaction, the first time in the world's history a nuclear reactor had successfully gone critical, but already he can feel his influence slipping. Part of him would love to just walk away from it all.

[00:01:11]

The bomb has consumed his life for a decade and he's tired. But he can't leave the bomb in the hands of men who seem to have given no thought to the consequences of using it. How can he influence these politicians and military men?

[00:01:26]

This is their project now, and it looks nearly certain that they're going to be able to build a bomb.

[00:01:33]

It's what comes next that has him worried.

[00:01:39]

Salade wanted to get the bomb before the Nazis, but he didn't want to see it used. The destruction an atomic bomb would unleash, particularly on civilians, is unconscionable. The more salaat had seen of the American military machine. The more concerned he has become. Who is stopping to think about the morality, who is stopping to think about the dangers of what awaits in the nuclear age? It seems that these people only care about winning, not the costs, if no one else will speak up.

[00:02:18]

So Lord knows, he has to be the one to stop them. He can't imagine the destruction the bomb might bring if he doesn't. My name is Emily Strasser. From the BBC World Service, this is the bomb episode five, Enemy Alien. On the morning of June 22nd in 1943, Salade settles in to enjoy his breakfast, which he eventually eats at the dining counter in a drugstore.

[00:02:59]

That's William Leinert, Sellards biographer. By this point, it's been six months since Salade was let go of the Medlab. But this morning he has company dotted around the store. No less than six FBI agents are watching and taking notes.

[00:03:19]

They sort of got into a stalemate. Janet Connett is a historian and author. He hung around the Met Lab. He he tried to get reinstated. He still does want to see the bomb finished in hands. That can serve as a check on Hitler's aggressiveness, even if he has concerns about how it will be used.

[00:03:40]

General Groves is trying any way he can to sideline salade Leslie Groves, the senior military general running the Manhattan Project who's had frequent run ins with salad.

[00:03:53]

He's looking for any evidence that will show that he is insubordinate, perhaps disloyal, perhaps even a spy. And so Army agents and FBI agents are put on Sellards tail everywhere he goes. Groves is unsuccessful in his attempt to have salade classed as an enemy alien and have it locked up. So he comes up with an alternative. He has Szilard trailed by the FBI. There's no evidence that salade is a spy. But for Groves, the hatred of salade becomes an obsession.

[00:04:29]

General Groves is sure if they just keep digging, the FBI will find something to pin on zijlaard and justification to get rid of him.

[00:04:43]

FBI agents tailed Zijlaard everywhere. It got to the point where Zijlaard used to joke about their clumsy attempts to conceal their surveillance of him, and he would brag about the silly tricks he played on them on a trip to New York, he becomes so annoyed with his tail that he enters a building and stays inside for three days.

[00:05:08]

On other occasions, he pitied the agents and turns to invite them for a taxi ride or a cup of coffee.

[00:05:15]

Zijlaard thought he was quite the prankster, but really it was becoming a very serious matter. The issue of the patent looms in the background, something alternately negotiated and completely ignored. He's not on staff, they're not paying him, hoping that the financial pressure will get to salade. He is adamant that he wants to see scientists in charge of how and when the bomb will be used and the military leadership is having none of it.

[00:05:45]

General Groves uses the salade patent as a way of sidelining him.

[00:05:50]

Groves was paranoid about security, and he didn't want anything important in the hands of someone he felt was as out of control as Zijlaard was.

[00:06:00]

Salade is eager to have his patent honored by the Manhattan Project for two reasons. One, he thinks that he is do the thousands of dollars he has spent developing the patent.

[00:06:14]

But equally as important, he's eager to be back to work to beat the Germans to the bomb.

[00:06:21]

Things became as bad between Zijlaard and Groves as they could. I mean, they were completely at odds and they really suspected him of going behind their backs and proposing all kinds of schemes to preempt their work on nuclear weapons, to promote international control schemes that were really important political policy matters. And they felt not remotely in his purview. So he was really seen as an out of control figure. Other senior scientists like Enrico Fermi are invited to take positions at Los Alamos in Hanford, Washington, where the bomb development is continuing.

[00:07:09]

No one wants salade in their lab.

[00:07:16]

From one angle, it seems that salade is his own worst enemy, it's his own contrariness and dramatic behavior that gets in the way of his influencing the Manhattan Project. But then again, many of the other scientists have little to no interest in the morality of the bomb. They just don't see it as their job. To think about it. Salade is the only one determined enough and brave enough to be vocal about its reservations about the bomb being used. Questioning authority is almost a compulsion for him.

[00:07:53]

Meanwhile, Europe burns. Each morning, Salade reads about the war in Europe, reports tell of a million of his fellow Jews slain by the Nazis. Each day, more civilians and soldiers lose their lives in fighting that stretches around the globe.

[00:08:29]

The war is brutal using technological innovations. The raid began on July 24, 1943, and lasted eight days and seven nights.

[00:08:43]

Cynthia Kelley, the American and British target, is.

[00:08:47]

The war had dragged on long enough that it had really effectively changed the sentiments of the men conducting it. And the new head of the British bomber command, Sir Arthur Harris, perfectly articulated the changing sentiment and the new approach to the air war against the Germans. He announced that their primary objective would now be focused on eroding the morale of the enemy and the civilian population, especially the industrial workers, which meant flattening cities, not factories. As horrible things happen with combatants trying to match or beat each other's military efforts, the level of atrocity keeps rising.

[00:09:42]

The use of chaffe was effective in confusing German radar and kept the allied loss of aircraft low, the use of target market by advanced Pathfinder squadrons greatly improved the accuracy of succeeding bombing raids. The initial surprise attack inflicted incredibly heavy damage, 2500 tons of high explosives on a thousand tons of incendiaries, killed 1500 and wounded many more. But the real punishment would be delivered by subsequent raids. Firestorms held down the streets and consumed everything in their path, the firestorm torched eight square miles of the city and killed 45000 Germans in one night.

[00:10:31]

I can't really imagine dying that kind of death. Instead, I keep imagining the experience of the witnesses. Watching loved ones sink into the melting asphalt, screaming as their organs boil. Becoming more stuck with every effort to free themselves, many of these are children or elderly people. The devastating effects of firebombing had been well publicized if this could be achieved just with conventional bombs. Imagine the horrors that could lie ahead once the atomic bomb is complete. Meanwhile, war rages in the Pacific, the Japanese have proved a particularly brutal and formidable opponent and beginning with Pearl Harbor, had showed no mercy for the soldiers or civilians.

[00:11:21]

The invasion of Iraq Jima, which was one of the crucial stepping stones to the mainland, resulted in a 36 day siege. And it was really probably one of the bloodiest campaigns in the Marine Corps history. The effort claimed more than 6000 American Marines and wounded another 19000 and killed most of the 21000 Japanese soldiers on the island.

[00:11:49]

I think for Americans, seeing those body bags come home and reading those statistics, they just became convinced that the Japanese were an absolutely impossible enemy, that they would never quit, that Japan prized honor above all else and would continue the slaughter to the last man standing.

[00:12:17]

It's also important to acknowledge the way racist cartoons and depictions of the Japanese publish in newspapers in war propaganda contributed to a general dehumanizing of them. This undoubtedly made it easier, ultimately, to drop the bomb on Japan.

[00:12:37]

And the Medlab tensions are rising. Rumors begin circulating of a new secret weapon that Germany expects to have operational by the end of the year, the financial pressure hasn't worked to get salade to sign over his patents. Neither have reasonably generous financial offers. Zijlaard was eventually dismissed from the meth lab director, Arthur Compton, who was really quite sympathetic to Zijlaard and had respect for his brilliance. He was unable to protect him and sent him a letter that basically told him he couldn't work either as a volunteer, let alone a paid employee there.

[00:13:20]

This moment must be utterly devastating to salade. He's dedicated a decade of his life to this problem, pursuing it in the face of ridicule and significant financial hardship. He is the one who had to convince the US government to take some action when the government officials seem determined to look away and drag their feet. And now he's completely shut out from the work that has dictated the course of his life.

[00:13:52]

The deadline was set for when Zijlaard would reach an agreement with the Army over his patent for a reactor. Salad is left to drift, and by December 1943, this has taken its toll. How is he supposed to help ensure the issue of the bomb is being handled carefully if he can't even get in the building? And how long before these military men find a way to simply take what they want? If the Lord won't give it to them? Finally, it all comes to a head.

[00:14:34]

Groves comes out to Chicago and meets with Salade. Sellards lawyer is out of town, but he doesn't have a choice. This might be his last chance going into the meeting. Salade is ambivalent. He hasn't completely made up his mind about what to do. The patents hold the intellectual copyright to the nuclear chain reaction, the very foundation of the bomb. They're also sellards most tangible way of asserting his influence. I'm sure there was a lot of pride that went into Sellards calculations.

[00:15:13]

He wanted to be recognized for his contribution to this.

[00:15:18]

Staring at Graves's smug face, he realizes there is no good choice. Either he has to sign over the patents to men he does not trust or he has to accept being permanently pushed out of the project. There's money at stake. There's influence, too, and his pride. But most of all, there's his sense of moral obligation. Back at the Met Lab.. There is at least the chance he can still make some kind of difference alone. There isn't a chance he can stop them from using the bomb.

[00:15:53]

After some testy exchanges, they work out an agreement. He agreed not to be highly reimbursed for the patent itself, but he was given pay equivalent to the pay that was given to his colleagues at the Medlab.

[00:16:10]

Salade receives the back pay and Groves has the patent for the chain reaction.

[00:16:17]

He's lost this round, but Zijlaard is not done fighting. He won't give up until the bitter end. Once the bomb is clear that it's a practical possibility, the work will shift to the nascent bomb laboratory, which is built on a mountaintop in Los Alamos, and all of the project leaders and the top physicists begin to leave their various laboratories across the country and take the train to Lamay, New Mexico.

[00:16:52]

The project senior scientists are sent to the forefront of the action, but not everyone.

[00:16:58]

Most of the Chicago team will go. But Zijlaard is not invited to take part in these activities because Groves will not have him on any of the top secret sites.

[00:17:09]

Salade can't know for sure the Army's plans for using the atomic bomb, but he can know that if the bomb is used, it will have profound effects on the future of humanity.

[00:17:23]

He starts at that point worrying more about the post-war arms race in a way, because he's not working day to day on the bomb, he has more time to think about the ramifications of the bomb and the future. As dangerous as the bomb itself is, could it be that the kind of world that would exist after its use is the most terrifying prospect of all? Szilard turns once again to his old friend, Albert Einstein. This time, he's making the drive to see Einstein, not to get the U.S. government to build a bomb, but to convince the president not to use it.

[00:18:10]

Roosevelt has drawn, importantly, moral lines around war before, at the beginning of the war, before everything escalated. He asked all combatants to join him in a pledge not to bomb cities. This did not hold nations on the pledge, then broke it, including the United States. But the intention behind it gives Zijlaard the hope that FDR might just listen. Salade still believes that the bomb is an essential deterrent, but the danger of a nuclear arms race is that security quickly becomes insecurity.

[00:18:44]

The sheer presence of an increasing number of atomic weapons in the hands of more and more nations creates a persistent threat of nuclear war. How could the world ever be safe in those conditions? Who will control nuclear weapons, who will stand in the way of them being unleashed on the world, Salade believes it should be a body higher than a national government, higher than political leaders, certainly higher than the military. He needs to influence the president. He's done it once before.

[00:19:23]

Maybe that means he can do it again. And hopefully Einstein can help Einstein Caesar salad, he really is a force for good and he's willing to help him any way he can.

[00:19:42]

So Salade writes another letter to Roosevelt, and I'd send signs that this is what it says 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 should be advised of them as soon as possible.

[00:20:11]

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 in which he thought would make it possible to set up a chain reaction in unsaturated uranium in the immediate future. Having known him for over 20 years, both from his scientific work and personally, I have much confidence in his judgment. I understand that he now is greatly concerned about the lack of adequate contact between scientists who are doing this work and the members of your cabinet who are responsible for formulating policy.

[00:21:06]

The pieces of Sellards plane are falling into place. He has the letter Salade tries to figure out how to get this letter into the president's hands. He's fishing around for a way to do it. And he remembers that his old friend Vikner had once managed to get a lot of complaints he had about the Hanford Project to Roosevelt by going through his wife.

[00:21:28]

In late March 1945, Zijlaard decides to send a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt.

[00:21:33]

Well, she had helped other scientists to reach the president. And so so I remembered that and thought he would approach her. And he did.

[00:21:43]

And she agreed, Eleanor replies, proposing a meeting in Manhattan on May 3rd, taking a much more political role than most first ladies.

[00:21:52]

She's a key confidante and moral compass for the president.

[00:21:55]

When Zijlaard received her letter, he rushes to tell Arthur Compton, Salade and Einstein want the government to consider what dropping a bomb really means, not just for now, not just during wartime, but for the future to come. How will this change the world? What are the moral implications? Fortunately, Compton is not upset about his not going through channels. He tells Zijlaard, I hope you will get the president to read this. Szilard had come into the room anticipating resistance of the fiercest kind.

[00:22:36]

But Compton takes his point. There's still a chance for science to influence the outcome of the biggest military project in human history. There is still a chance, a good one, that he can stop the bomb. Maybe, just maybe, he's found a way to stop the chain reaction he set in motion with the Roosevelts really want this humanitarian disaster as part of their legacy. If Compton agrees with him, surely President Roosevelt will at least see his point, Salade has a lightning fast mind and he can't help it.

[00:23:11]

Skipping ahead, he can foresee the whole thing playing out. He can practically taste his success with a bonus of really sticking it to Grove's. Zijlaard is practically giddy. Zijlaard leaves. Five minutes later, Compton is informed that the news has just come on the radio. In a flash, all of Sellards grand plans are about to dissolve into nothing. Roosevelt has died. The president is dead. The bomb from the BBC World Service is hashtag the bomb on social media.

[00:23:56]

The show is presented by me, Emily Strasser, the producers, Glenn Tansley, our writer, is U.S. Smith and our scripts are edited by James Robinson. Title music is composed especially for us by Trevor Gorecki's. Our sound design is by Richard Gould at Skywalker Sound Program has been mixed by Martin Williams with additional sound elements by Eloise Whitmore. The production team is William Richards, Amelia Parker, Alice McKee and Amy Will. Our series editor is Martin Smith.

[00:24:29]

And our commissioning editor at the BBC World Service is Simon Pitts', we'd really appreciate it if you would leave us a rating, a review, wherever you get your podcasts and subscribe so that you can get new episodes on your device as soon as they become available. The campus is the podcast from the BBC World Service that really gets under the skin of a story.

[00:24:54]

I can tell you what I believe, if not the truth. And you know, it's not the truth and I'll get away with it. So I will tell a lie.

[00:25:04]

With series that take an in-depth look at how the World Today really works. Sometimes I think that we are moving into the right direction and change is happening. And then I realized that nine to 10 women get killed every day in this country. So I don't feel we're moving forward at all and why things are the way they are. I have been socialized to be a soldier, to be someone aggressive and even dominate, especially women or other people. So I have this kind of fear that I one day become a violent person.

[00:25:35]

The Compass podcast from the BBC World Service. She shamed the politicians into taking an interest in the search for the compass.

[00:25:46]

Wherever you get your podcasts.