TV1960Recently I was perusing a book I bought on sale ($3) from MIT Press -- of Leo Szilard's letters. Contained inside was a transcript of a debate on NBC (televised 12 November 1960) between Edward Teller and Szilard:
TELLER: Szilard, this is an area where a person needs the kind of knolwedge which the insiders may have. I don't have it. I simply do not know whether the Russians are testing or not testing [...]
SZILARD: Very good. Let me ask you only one thing. I take from what you say--I take it that you know of no evidence that the Russians are in fact testing. In the newspaper you see a member of the Atomic Energy Commission said today, October 20, that the United States had evidence indicating that the Russians might be conducting underground tests of nuclear weapons. Now, since you have been director of [name] until recently, if you have no evidence, I'd rather believe you than the United Press report.
TELLER: You even believe in what I don't say.
SZILARD: Well, let me...
TELLER: You see there is just barely the possibility that when I say that I'm ignorant I'm telling the truth.... [laughter] I have not followed the details of reasons for suspicion. I have not the inclinating and I don't think the capability of trying to keep abreast with the many small indications which may in toto give rise to reasonable doubt, whether there is reasonable doubt. I know this: if the Russians wanted to test in the last two years they could have done so easily and without our getting the slightest indication of it. What indications there exist I do not know. But everybody under the present conditions--and the commissioners of the Atomic Energy Commission in particular--have a full right to have their serios doubts, their serious worries and to voice them. Whether the basis of these worries are very extensive or less extensive, I simply don't know. [...]
Talk about a deep-seated skepticism and pessimism. Let's play our favorite game of "Who would say the following in modern valley-girl parlance?"
I mean, like seriously, I don't know jack about the Soviets, and I purposefully keep myself ill-informed. [dramatic hair flip] I'm completely like a good American and everything. And like totally seriously, what good would knowing about those Soviets do? It's like better to exercise our full right to have serious doubts about the Soviets and to voice them, rather than investigating the basis of those doubts. WMD! WMD!
On the other hand, I also like very much the following exchange:
SZILARD: [...] I can see very good reasons which might be both in the interests of Russia and America to resume tests--that this then should be done for that purpose and not because the Russians are cheating--which I don't think they do.
TELLER: How do you know?
SZILARD: Look! I'm asking myself--what interest do they have? And I'm talking to them. You see, I'm doing something you don't do. I spend time talking to Russians. And if you talk to different people, you hear the same thing said in a different way--you feel whether they lie or whether they speak the truth. I think that all the Russians, who talked to me, spoke the truth.
Talk about a deep-seated trust and optimism. Let's play our game again!
I mean, you mean you didn't speak to the Russians?! Like not even on the cell? Girl, they have Verizon -- they're IN. I called 'em yesterday. They really, really, really were totally telling the truth. I can tell these things. I'm like totally known for reading people well.
And no, I have no idea why I just typed this. Delerium.
 Helen S. Hawkings, G. Allen Greb, and Gertrud Weiss Szilard, eds., Toward a livable world: Leo Szilard and the crusade for nuclear arms control (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987).