Leading the petition drive was Chicago physicist Leo Szilard, who had helped initiate the bomb project. In early July, Szilard sent a draft petition to Oak Ridge for signatures; it urged Truman ``to rule that the United States shall not, in the present phase of the war, resort to the use of atomic bombs.'' Eighteen Oak Ridge physicists, including Weinberg, agreed with the petition ``in essence,'' supporting use of the bomb only if Japan ignored warnings about ``a new weapon''--and if responsibility for the bombing were shared by America's allies.
Another petition, originating in Oak Ridge, received wider local circulation and more signatures, says Weinberg. This petition maintained that the bomb ``should be adequately described and demonstrated, and the Japanese nation should be given the opportunity to consider the consequences of further refusal to surrender.''
By mid-July Szilard revised his petition, softening its language before mailing it to Truman with 70 signatures. However, the president never saw Szilard's petition or either of the two from Oak Ridge.
Eventually the scientists would win more of a hearing than they got during the war: After vigorous lobbying by scientists, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 took authority over atomic weapons away from soldiers and gave it to civilians. In the Cold War decades to come, that sometimes seemed a dubious victory.
Weinberg, who continued to ponder the bomb's use, gradually evolved a stance he calls ``the sanctification of Hiroshima.''
``In recent years, I've argued that dropping the bomb was the proper thing to do,'' he explains, ``because it was the only way to impress on humanity the terrible nature of nuclear weapons. We have to invest them with the force of religious taboos, which are the only things strong enough to last for millennia.'' He adds, ``The images of Hiroshima have that force.''
``It's the only way to keep nuclear weapons from ever being used again.''