Nuclear physicist Leo Szilard founded Council for a Livable World in 1962 to deliver “the sweet voice of reason” about nuclear weapons to Congress, the White House, and the American public.
“The policies of the great powers have consistently followed the line of least resistance, and this line leads to an unlimited arms race. I do not believe that America can be made secure by keeping ahead in such an arms race,” Szilard declared in April 1962 as he toured the country building support for the Council.
Szilard fought for years to harness the power of atomic energy. In a letter prepared in 1939 for Albert Einstein, Szilard warned President Franklin Roosevelt about the possibility of atomic weaponry and urged the United States to develop these weapons before Nazi Germany could. This letter catalyzed the American government’s involvement in atomic research and led to the establishment of the Manhattan Project.
After unleashing the first controlled nuclear chain reaction and participating in the Manhattan Project, Szilard adamantly advocated against using the atomic bomb. Szilard drafted a July 1945 petition to President Harry Truman opposing the use of the bomb on moral grounds and warned him of the dangers of using atomic weapons against Japan.
In his constant quest for a method to safeguard peace, Szilard made an important realization:
“I was led to conclude that the sweet voice of reason alone could not do the job, that campaign contributions could not do the job, but the combination of the sweet voice of reason and substantial campaign contributions might very well do the job.”
This insight was the seed that grew into the Council for a Livable World.
Over the past 50 years, many distinguished elected officials, artists, scientists, academics, military officers, authors, and activists have been affiliated with the Council for a Livable World.
- Physicist Hans Bethe, who won the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in solar and stellar energy, was a longtime board member. Upon his death in March 2005, the Council for a Livable World renamed its building “The Hans Bethe Center.”
- Manhattan Project physical chemist George Kistiakowsky, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Joseph Priestly Award of the American Chemical Society, became chairman of the Council for Livable World in 1977 and served in that position until he passed away in December 1982.
- Carl Sagan, who played a leading role in the American space program, and Jerome Wiesner, who held numerous government advisory positions on science and technology, were both active board members for many years.
- Father Robert F. Drinan, the first Roman Catholic priest to be elected to Congress, was a longtime board member and chair of Council for a Livable World’s PeacePAC. In 2006, the Council established the Father Robert F. Drinan National Peace and Human Rights Award to honor individuals who exemplify the late Father Drinan’s commitment to peace and human justice.