Editor's Note: Our dear friend, colleague, and mentor, the late Dr. Philip Morrison, sent me the following letter over seven years ago. He did not want it published during his lifetime. It is now my bittersweet privilege to enter Phil's recollections into the historical record.
13 January, 1998
I hope you are on good terms with Dr. SETI. I have a rather delicate matter to send to him via you. I do not want this to be a matter of discussion now, but to stay in the archives and minds of the League until sometime when it is again relevant.
The story he cites (winter 1998 issue of SearchLites) of Fermi and Szilard is simply a folk tale, a delightful one perhaps, that grew in postwar Los Alamos, if McPhee is to be trusted. I know this because I am indeed the originator of the theory of Martian origin of the Hungarians. Of course the talents and energies of famous examples were taken as evidence; there, folk lore and history concur. But my reasoning was far different and I believe more cogent. Why would Martians come to the Danube? Is it nicer there than on advanced Mars? Nor would they be fearful of the barbaroi.
No, the answer is clearer. The Martians simply were planning, at least on a contingent basis, the eventual need to occupy Earth. Such an expedition is extraordinarily difficult beyond all history. It is naive - this was a wartime story with the tone of that era - to suppose that the first Martians on Earth would be the combatants of the forces of conquest. Even just across the channel to Normandy an invasion was not like that. The Allies knew a great deal about Europe before the landing, and had strong covert support already in place. The earliest Martians to come to Earth were indeed sent as the first intelligence assets. They would plan for a safe base, a large number on staff, and a long lead time to learn all about this planet. A few months or years would not do; you need a millennium or two, and a nation with a strange language provides the safest long-term cover. Their unconcealed intelligence, beauty (recall the Gabors!), and energy are clearly beyond earthly level. (The gypsies are a false note; that people are surely emigrant refugees from Rajasthan in northwest India, whose own language is close to Rajastani. They reached Romania before they came to Hungary, and indeed were found over all Europe west to Spain and Britain.)
Why strong Hungarian interest in nuclear weapons? Easy; they were finally organizing to divide earthkind in a way that would weaken us profoundly. Szilard began to propose the A-bomb a few years before fission was known. The discovery of fission showed that it was necessary to set the bait. The very threat of a long nuclear war would make us simpletons much easier targets. Their superiority in such simple issues as weapons was not at risk. Get going on high strategy; the time has arrived! They did, and it almost worked, nor is the last word said.
I made up and told my tale widely at Los Alamos in 1945 or maybe 46, first probably to Stan Ulam, long before the McPhee contacts, and indeed before Szilard ever came to Los Alamos, if he ever got there. (I am not certain whether or not he came postwar either; possibly he did.)
My high point in this long-elaborated spoof was telling the great Hungarian aerodynamicist Theodor von Karman, who enjoyed it greatly. "I do not deny", he said, at Cornell some years postwar. This is documented, if not dated, by my aerodynamical friend and associate of Karman, William R Sears, writing in Physics Today in 1986, and in his 1994 autobiography called A Twentieth Century Life, publisher Parabolic Press, PO Box 3032, Stanford Ca 94309. You would like Sears' book a lot.
I am pleased enough with this funny story not to lose it to local rumors recorded by a writer who wasn't there at the time. It is a delight to see just how fiction has slowly turned into slightly implausible folklore. There is of course nothing important about the credit; that is why I do not want you to print my version in rejoinder. Please, no controversies! But I thought you'd enjoy having the truth discreetly on hand, just in case.
with best wishes and a happy New Orbit to all of you,
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.
entire website copyright © The SETI League, Inc.; Maintained by Microcomm
this page last updated 6 August 2005
Top of Page