Launching an Offensive Against the War

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[Pauling and the Vietnam War, Part 5 of 7]

“If President Johnson had to kill – shoot, burn to death – ten Vietnamese women and children every morning before breakfast, the war would soon end.”

-Linus Pauling, 1967

By early 1965, convinced that the United States government was the primary obstacle to initiating a cease-fire and subsequent negotiations in Vietnam, Linus Pauling increasingly began to go on the offensive against the war.

In February, he delivered a major public address at the Pacem in Terris convocation, which was held in New York City, stating that, for thousands of years, throughout “the entire period for which we have historical knowledge,” war was one of the principal causes of human suffering. “I believe that we have now reached the time in the course of the evolution of civilization when war must be abolished from the world,” Pauling thundered from the podium. Armed conflict must be replaced by a system of world law, he added, one “based upon the principles of justice and morality.”

Pauling returned to New York in March to participate in a peace parade and rally, walking with fellow protesters from 5th Avenue to the Central Park mall, where he delivered another speech decrying the war as both immoral and illegal.


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Dean Rusk

Developments in Vietnam made it increasingly important that those who opposed the war speak out forcefully. By the summer of 1965, the American ground war had been authorized by President Johnson, an action that marked a profound departure from the administration’s previous insistence that the government of South Vietnam bear the responsibility for defeating the National Liberation Front (NLF). Due to continued losses by and falling enrollment within the army of South Vietnam, U.S. ground troops were deployed in a new strategy that had now switched from defensive to offensive.

This drastic change was deemed necessary as the NLF was seen by U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, as a front for North Vietnamese hostilities and nothing more. Moreover, the the North’s aggression was not meant to unify the nation under a democratic regime, but represented instead a policy of communist expansion that enjoyed at least tacit support from China and Russia.

Rusk’s premise was one that Pauling had specifically rejected. In particular, Pauling pointed out that Rusk’s opinion on the plausibility of negotiations either distorted or, at times, ignored the actual position of the NLF, a stance that had been made clear in August 1965 and which made headlines in Europe, if not the United States.

The crucial detail that the Rusk and the American media had failed to communicate was that the NLF’s Five Point Declaration – a document based on the four-point plan that Ho Chi Minh had earlier communicated to Pauling and to the world – did not stipulate that U.S. troops be withdrawn as a precondition to negotiations. In fact, it called only for a freeze in the build-up of American troops, for a concurrent cease-fire, and for American agreement that the NLF to be brought to the negotiating table as a direct party or state entity. The NLF’s end goal for any ensuing negotiations would be a return to the 1954 Geneva Accord, an agreement that Washington had once purported to support as well.

The failure to act on or even move toward this opportunity was, for Pauling, a clear indication that the United States was not interested in ending the conflict. In December, Pauling wrote a statement to this effect, which was divided into two parts and aired on WPTR radio in Albany, New York. In the broadcast, Pauling reiterated these beliefs in an attempt to correct the broad American assumption that the North Vietnamese were not inclined to enter negotiations.


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McGeorge Bundy

Prior to 1965, some of the most prominent academics commenting on the war were doing so in support of the war effort. Among them were McGeorge Bundy, William Bundy and W.W. Rostow, each of whom was an academic who held a position of influence on foreign policy in Vietnam. With the deployment of American troops in 1965, an equal and opposite cohort of thinkers had coalesced, and Pauling got the idea of calling for a meeting between representatives of this group, of which he was a part, and the Bundy group.

Pauling’s argument against the Bundy point of view was that a war could not be fought without clear enemies and allies. Assuming this, and based on the United States’ stated policy as well as the targets that it had already struck, it was unclear how enemy was being discriminated from ally. Indeed, insurgent groups were being attacked at undisclosed targets in not only South Vietnam, but also North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, a fact that was largely hidden from public view in the United States.

Likewise, the United States was increasingly acting as a lone military force: though Washington encouraged its allies to contribute troops, and while Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines had all agreed to do so, major allies including Canada and the United Kingdom had declined the request

Meanwhile, the political situation in South Vietnam was becoming increasingly unstable. Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky and a figurehead Chief of State, General Nguyen Van Thieu, had risen to power following the assassination of President Diem and a series of internal coups that followed. Further complicating matters was the face that war in Vietnam was never declared, and Pauling argued forcefully that, as such, American military action continued to be undertaken, in effect, unconstitutionally.

The issue of legality extended to international law as well, with the U.S. acting in apparent violation of the charter of the United Nations, which required members to refrain from the use of force until all attempts to settle a dispute were exhausted. Likewise, the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which defined crimes against humanity, and the Geneva Accords of 1954 all seemed to have been violated by the United States’ entry into the conflict.


Pauling’s position against the war was encapsulated in a a personal letter that he sent to McGregor Bundy in April 1965. If the real reason that a cease-fire was not possible was the communist aspiration for victory by force, Pauling asked, then would the United States in fact support free elections in Vietnam even if doing so resulted in a democratically elected and unified communist Vietnam?

If an answer came, it does not remain extant. Regardless, by the middle of the 1960s, Pauling had increasingly come to agree with the point of view that the war in Vietnam was principally being fought to contain communism and to protect American economic interests.

If this were true, then the American government, under both Kennedy and Johnson, had deliberately misled the American people – a suspicion that was confirmed for Americans in 1971 with the unsanctioned release of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. Pauling’s shifting perspective and his increasingly vocal activities during this time displayed his growing lack of confidence in his country’s leadership, another example of the broken trust that many other Americans were feeling as the 1960s moved forward.

Struggling to Find Common Ground

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George W. Ball and President Lyndon Johnson, ca. 1965. Image credit: George W. Ball Papers, Princeton University.

[Pauling and the Vietnam War, Part 4 of 7]

Almost as soon as he had received it, Linus Pauling sent a copy of Ho Chi Minh’s letter of November 17, 1965 to U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. While the letter contained some “strongly worded” rhetoric about the United States, Pauling wrote, these were to be expected from the leader of a small country that was undergoing significant aerial bombardment from a world power.

In Pauling’s view, the more loaded statements made in the letter were relatively unimportant. Rather, Pauling highlighted Ho Chi Minh’s aspirations for peace as the crux of his response, pointing out that his four-point prescription for resolution was not described as a prerequisite for the initiation of negotiations. Indeed, Pauling took pains to note (perhaps with some measure of concern) that Minh had not called for negotiations as a means to achieve a peaceful resolution at all. Nonetheless, he believed that the Vietnamese leader’s hopes for peace in his country could prevail if the United States initiated negotiations for strategic withdrawal and cease-fire.


The response from Washington to Pauling’s letter came not from President Johnson himself, but from the administration’s Under Secretary of State, George W. Ball. Ball’s stated position was much the same as that conveyed to Pauling and Corliss Lamont by McGeorge Bundy in 1962. Ball wrote that, in its dealings with the North Vietnamese, the United States government had given its support to “every one of the many efforts to open the way to unconditional negotiation.”

In this, Ball implied that the inability to negotiate a cease-fire was not the fault of the US, but rather the doing of the National Liberation Front, or perhaps the North Vietnamese government in Hanoi. Pauling questioned this implication, arguing instead that since the United States did not view the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam as a legitimate political entity and viable negotiating partner, the U.S. shared at least some culpability in perpetuating the war.

Though addressed by George Ball, Pauling responded directly to President Johnson:

The possibility that this belief is correct is supported by the last paragraph in the letter sent to me by Under Secretary Ball, which reads as follows: ‘We give the same support to your appeal. We hope it may help to persuade the government of Hanoi and the government of Peking that this conflict should be moved to the conference table.’ I am accordingly writing to ask you the following question: Does the United States government refuse to negotiate with all of the governments and parties concerned in the war in Vietnam, including the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, or is the government of the United States willing to negotiate with all of the governments and parties concerned in this tragic conflict?

The response to Pauling’s letter came, once again, from George Ball, and he did not directly answer Pauling’s question. Rather, Ball replied that the National Liberation Front was “exactly what its name connotes,” a front for North Vietnamese aggression against South Vietnam. From the perspective of the White House, the NLF held no standing under international law, enjoyed only coerced support from the people of South Vietnam, and had no ability to survive except as a tool of the regime in Hanoi.

“To this day, Hanoi is directing its activities and supplying it with essential men and materiel,” Ball lamented, adding that, “if the North Vietnamese regime were to decide to negotiate in good faith on an unconditional basis, it would find no difficulty in making a place for representatives of the Liberation Front on its own delegation.”

For the United States, the key term that might lead to negotiations was that the revolutionaries leading the resistance in South Vietnam speak at the negotiating table solely through the established leadership of the North Vietnamese government. Crucially, the American government claimed that it was willing to respect the conventions of the Geneva Accords, which both North Vietnam and the NLF also wished to see respected. Since both sides seemed to agree on this and yet no cease-fire had come about, Pauling concluded that the United States was not being honest in stating its support for a return to the 1954 accords.

Fellow Nobel Peace laureate Philip Noel-Baker, a member of the House of Commons in England, concurred. Noel-Baker wrote to Pauling to say that he “warmly” agreed with Pauling’s view that the point to be cleared up was whether or not Ho Chi Minh was making pre-conditions for the discussions about a cease-fire – such as a demand for the withdrawal of American troops – for negotiations to begin. Like Pauling, Baker and others in the British government believed that Hanoi and the NLF were more than willing to come to the table if they were allowed to do so. He concluded that it was “disingenuous of your Government and mine to throw doubt on the point.”


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Ho Chi Minh in his study.

In December 1965, Pauling responded to Ho Chi Minh and reported that his letter of November 17th had been interpreted in a variety of ways. Depending on the point of view of the reader, different conclusions could be reached from the letter on the crucial point of whether or not the North Vietnamese were actually willing to enter into negotiations unconditionally. Pauling pressed his correspondent for more details:

I accordingly now write to ask you the following question: Is the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Vietnam willing to begin negotiations that would lead to a cease-fire and a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam War without making any conditions as prerequisites to the beginning of the discussions?

As indicated in his exchange with Philip Noel-Baker, the core issue for Pauling was whether North Vietnam would require that American troops withdraw entirely, or require that all the conditions of the Geneva Accords of 1954 be upheld, before negotiations began.

In February 1966, another letter arrived from Hanoi. After apologizing for delays in his response due to difficulties in North Vietnam with communications, Ho Chi Minh addressed Pauling’s question:

The way to peace is: The United States must stop their aggression. It must strictly respect the fundamental national rights of the Vietnamese people as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Viet Nam. That is the way which has been clearly pointed out by the March 22, 1965 Statement of the South Viet Nam National Liberation and the four-point stand of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam… If the U.S. Government really wants a peaceful settlement, it must recognize the four-point stand of the government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam…it must end definitively and unconditionally the air raids and all other war acts against the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.

Another telegram, this one arriving in May 1967, reaffirmed this stance. The Vietnamese people, Minh declared, had produced their “Four Point Stand,” which embodied the main principles and provisions put forth by the 1954 Geneva Accords on Vietnam. “In my reply to U.S. President Johnson I made clear our goodwill and charter serious path to talks between DV and USA,” Minh communicated in the telegram. “USA must unconditionally stop bombing and all other war acts. But US Authorities do not want peace, and are intensifying war in both zones of Vietnam.”

Crucial Correspondence

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[An examination of Linus Pauling’s activism against the Vietnam War. Part 3 of 7.]

“The continuation of the savagery of the Vietnam War is unworthy of the dignity of man.”

-Linus Pauling, 1965

In 1964, Linus Pauling’s colleague in anti-Vietnam War activism, Corliss Lamont, sent a copy of his 1962 open letter against Vietnam to President Lyndon Johnson. Pauling added his support to Lamont’s action, expressing his agreement with Lamont’s plea that the new President change course and disengage from a policy of military escalation had already “deteriorated almost beyond belief.”

President Johnson did not change course, however. Under his administration, U.S. involvement in Vietnam swelled, as did the corresponding antiwar movement around the world. It was in this atmosphere that Linus and Ava Helen Pauling elevated their own activities and became outspoken opponents of the conflict.


From 1961 to 1964, U.S. troop levels in Vietnam rose precipitously from just over 3,000 to more that 23,000 soldiers in country. Meanwhile, the ranks of the National Liberation Front (or Viet Cong) grew at a decidedly more rapid pace, from around 5,000 fighters in 1959 to approximately 100,000 by the end of 1964. Nonetheless, the total Allied military presence in the region dwarfed the numbers compiled by the Viet Cong. By the time of the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident on August 2, 1964, more than 600,000 men had been mobilized on behalf of the south, the ARVN being the main contributor.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident involved the exchange of fire between the USS Maddox and several Vietnamese vessels, which took place while the Maddox was engaged in an intelligence mission along North Vietnam’s coast. A second attack was reported two days later in the same area, but the circumstances surrounding both engagements remained unclear. In fact, an undated National Security Association publication that was declassified in 2005 revealed that the August 4th skirmish did not actually take place at all.

Nonetheless, this second “attack” prompted the U.S. Congress to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Signed by President Johnson, this piece of legislation gave the President of the United States the power to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war (and thus without Congressional approval). Although Johnson denied that the resolution amounted to a full-scale declaration of war, the new powers did grant the President the authority to launch unilateral full-scale attacks if he deemed it necessary. Not coincidentally, Chinese military and financial aid began to pour into North Vietnam that same year.


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Linus Pauling, 1965.

By 1965, Linus Pauling was responding to the intensifying geopolitical climate in southeast Asia by offering his time to a number of anti-war conferences and events. One such event, which was fairly typical, came about when the University of British Columbia invited him to come to campus to speak on the responsibilities of scientists in bringing about disarmament. Pauling traveled to Canada that fall and, while there, he met with the Vancouver Ad Hoc Committee to End the War in Vietnam and also conducted an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation outlining his views on peace.

A few months before traveling to Vancouver, Pauling had helped to write and circulate the “Appeal by Recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize,” that we discussed in the first post of this series. Around the same time as his visit to Canada, Pauling released replies to the appeal that had been authored by Secretary U Thant of the United Nations, Pope Paul VI, and representatives of the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, Australia, the Soviet Union, and North Vietnam. No response ever came from South Vietnam or from the People’s Republic of China.

The Nobel laureates’ appeal had called for an immediate cease-fire, to be followed by negotiations between all parties involved. The responses to this call were often addressed directly to Pauling and his fellow co-signatories, and their contents varied dramatically depending on the author and their role in the war.

From the perspective of Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, it was clear that the United States was unnecessarily victimizing a small country that was in the midst of fighting for its freedom. Like the South Vietnamese citizens who had written to Lamont and Pauling in the years prior, Kosygin held that peace could only be granted by observance of the Geneva Accords, which the United States and the Diem regime had both ignored. This position was echoed by Mai Van Bo, a representative of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and by Secretary U Thant of the United Nations.


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Concluding sentence and signature from Ho Chi Minh’s letter to Linus Pauling of November 17, 1965.

However, no response resonated so forcefully as that issued by Ho Chi Minh himself, who wrote to Linus Pauling on November 17th 1965. In his five-page letter, he made it clear that the only viable route to peace was to embrace the four-point solution espoused by the 1965 Statement of the South Vietnam National Liberation Front. The four requirements listed were: the reaffirmation of the basic national rights of the Vietnamese people; a return to the provisions of the 1954 Geneva agreements; allowing the people of South Vietnam to settle South Vietnam’s internal affairs without interference; and allowing North and South Vietnam to pursue reunification without interference.

These broad imperatives were, in places, backed up with a few details for the sake of clarification, but mostly seemed to be purposely vague. For Pauling, this indicated that the conditions for entering into negotiations would be readily met if the United States showed itself to be serious about pursuing a cease-fire. From the perspective of many within the American government however, Ho Chi Minh’s request seemed disingenuous. The NLF, they believed, was merely a front for the activities of North Vietnam, and North Vietnam had no honest intentions of negotiating peace with the south or allowing a fair election.


Ho Chi Minh’s perspective, as relayed in his letter to Pauling, was straightforward in its assumption that the American presence in the region was not interested in the well-being of South Vietnam at all. If this were the case, the letter pointed out, the U.S. would not have supported a regime as brutal as that of Diem’s. For Minh, North and South Vietnam had both struggled to implement the 1954 Geneva agreements only to be thwarted by U.S. imperial aspirations that propped up a fascist dictatorship in the south and intentionally impeded the peaceful unification of Vietnam into an independent and democratic nation. In Minh’s estimation, the American rationale for this was not only to prevent the spread of communism generally, but also to use South Vietnam, “as a springboard for war activities in Laos and for daily provocations in the Kingdom of Cambodia.”

“They are using our Southern compatriots’ life to test…new types of modern weapons and means of warfare,” Ho Chi Minh continued. “At present, most barbarous means of warfare such as napalm bombs, phosphorous bombs, toxic chemicals, poison gas etc. are being used by the U.S. aggressors to massacre our compatriots in South Viet Nam.” These methods of combat were being tested in Vietnam, Minh believed, because of U.S. military interest in using them around the globe to suppress popular communist revolutions in a variety of developing nations from Southeast Asia to Africa to South America. The grand vision, Minh believed, was a U.S. military presence deployed to ensure global economic hegemony in favor of Western democratic capitalist nations, and in particular the United States.

His perspective shared, Ho Chi Minh ended his letter to Linus Pauling with an appeal of his own; this one to the anti-war protesters in America:

This war besmears the honor and good name of the United States. It is precisely for that reason that, recently, many progressive sections of the American people…have courageously come out against the Johnson Administration’s war of aggression…expressing their resolute refusal to join the army and take part in the massacre of the Vietnamese people. The Vietnamese people highly value this struggle of the American people, and are deeply moved by the valiant sacrifices of Mrs. Helga Hertz and of the other peace fighters, the late Mr. Norman Morrison, the late Mr. Roger Laporte and Mrs. Jankowski. I take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to the American people who are resolutely struggling against the U.S. imperialists’ war of aggression in Viet Nam. I also wish to convey to the martyrs’ families the love and admiration of the Vietnamese people.

Searching for Truth in Times of War

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Corliss Lamont

[Ed Note: This is part 2 of 7 in our series focusing on Linus Pauling’s activism against the Vietnam War. This is also the 600th post to be released on the Pauling Blog. We thank you for your continued readership.]

“As individuals who believe that the only security for America lies in world peace, we wish to ask you why at present the United States is sending its Army, Navy and Air Force to bring death and bloodshed to South Vietnam, a small Asian country approximately 10,000 miles from our Pacific Coast.”

-“An Open Letter to President John F. Kennedy Against U.S. Military Intervention in South Vietnam,” April 11, 1962.

In spring 1962, Linus Pauling was in communication with Corliss Lamont, a philosopher and the director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who was organizing an open letter to President Kennedy (which Pauling ultimately signed) opposing military action in Vietnam. Lamont had written to Pauling share the details of his own correspondence with McGeorge Bundy, the U.S. National Security Advisor. Bundy was highly critical of Lamont’s open letter and had provided documents intended to both enlighten Lamont and dissuade him from taking a strong stance against the U.S. position.

The documents supported the argument that North Vietnam had been making a strenuous effort to conquer South Vietnam. This point of view ran in opposition to a competing reference frame that saw the conflict as being led by South Vietnamese insurgents who were waging a local civil war. Suffice it to say, Lamont remained unconvinced by Bundy’s argument, flatly stating, “I have seldom read more phony materials.”

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McGeorge Bundy

In developing his position, Lamont cited Homer Bigart of the New York Times, who had reported in 1962 that only a “small trickle” of arms were actually reaching the National Liberation Front (NLF) fighters from North Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Trail being painfully difficult to navigate. Most NLF weapons, Lamont argued, were “crudely manufactured jungle arsenals” or had otherwise been obtained by raids on the army of the Republic of Vietnam in the south and, increasingly, by raids on American troops, whose numbers in South Vietnam continued to grow.

Additionally, Lamont argued against the American perception that the anti-Diem movement in South Vietnam was exclusively communist. In support, Lamont cited the head of the Democratic Party of South Vietnam, Nguyen Thai Binh, whose Vietnam: The Problem and a Solution supported the claim that a wide array of political groups favored unification under the government in Hanoi.

Bundy, the National Security Advisor, countered on behalf of the White House by pointing to a different New York Times report, this time filed by William Jorden. Bundy interpreted Jorden’s piece as ruling out the possibility that the NLF was a militant expression of a popular movement within South Vietnam seeking independence. Bundy offered no further specific critique or debate on the issue, stating simply that

You will not expect the President to agree with either your premises or your conclusions. For myself, I will say only that the degree of irresponsibility and inaccuracy in this letter is what I would have expected from some of the signatories, but not from all.


Responses from Vietnam to Lamont’s open letter told a different story from that being promoted by McGeorge Bundy.

In May 1962, once Lamont’s open letter had gained a global audience, a communication arrived from Le Quang. The author was a former officer of the Cao Dai Armed Forces, the military wing of a Vietnamese religious sect that acted in opposition to the Diem regime. Le Quang wrote from Paris, where he was living as a political refugee.

“Your cry of alarm has found in us an echo all the more faithful as we are more and more anxious in front of the progressive deterioration of the situation of our country,” he told Pauling. He added that it did not seem that the people of North Vietnam and the people of the United States had established just cause to go to war. Nonetheless, if the Americans continued to support the Diem government, then opposition to it in both North and South Vietnam would, by extension, constitute grounds for conflict between America and Vietnam. Le Quang implored Pauling to please help him put forward this point of view.


In September 1962, Lamont sent another letter to Pauling, this time saying that ten South Vietnamese intellectuals (two doctors and two academics as well as a pharmacist, journalist, architect, engineer and lawyer) had written to thank him for urging President Kennedy to end American involvement, and specifically calling for an end to American support of the Diem regime. The regime hierarchy, they argued, was not fairly representative of the people of South Vietnam who, by the intellectuals’ reckoning, broadly agreed with the need for unity with the north. However, the only way to know if this was indeed true, they said, was to allow the unification vote called for by the Geneva Accords in 1954.

Indeed, it seemed that a cease-fire was likely to be accomplished only if negotiations that upheld the Geneva Accords were carried out. The U.S. policy of rejecting the National Liberation Front from any such discussion was seen by American political figures as necessary, given their belief that the NLF was fundamentally an illegitimate political entity. As such, the United States would recognize only the authority of Diem, a leader whose rise to power and consolidation of control had been supported by the U.S. and whose regime was clearly receiving American military intelligence and policy guidance.

For many South Vietnamese, the U.S.’s position on the NLF appeared to be merely a means for ignoring the voice of the people in any negotiations that might occur. Especially as the war ramped up, this stance helped to crystallize South Vietnamese sentiment against the United States, possibly intensifying local support for communism and strengthening arguments against negotiation. “We firmly believe that no violence can quench a nation, however small, which is struggling for independence,” the group of Vietnamese intellectuals wrote, adding,

The history of the United States since its founding, like that of our country over the past 4,000 years, has clearly proved that the invaders and oppressors, however strong they might be, are always defeated in the end.


In March 1963, yet another letter arrived, this time addressed by seventy Vietnamese intellectuals and delivered to sixty-two Americans, including Pauling, who by now was being included directly in these international conversations. The letter’s argument was straightforward: the State of Vietnam in the south and its use of napalm and noxious chemicals (provided by the United States) constituted war crimes according to the international laws of 1922 and 1925, and the articles of the international military tribunals issued in Nuremberg and Tokyo after the Second World War.


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Linus Pauling, 1963.

As the violence in Vietnam intensified, and as he became more deeply involved in these communications with the people of Vietnam, Pauling’s thinking began to shift. Whereas he had initially hoped to uncover the root cause of American involvement in Vietnam, he now saw that the reasons for the conflict, as well as his own opinions on whether or not the United States had any just cause to enter into Vietnam, were inconsequential in the face of the horrors that were transpiring.

In other words, for the purposes of facilitating an end to the violence, it no longer mattered to Pauling who was to blame. It only mattered that the fighting stop. Of course, doing so would require that both sides allow for a cease-fire and enter into negotiations.

Pauling’s task at this point became that of a would-be international arbiter; one hoping to broker the terms necessary for a mosaic of warring factions to enter into negotiations. It was a task that would consume him in the years to come.

Pauling and Vietnam: Father Pire’s Appeal for Humanity

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Father Georges Dominique Pire with a map and model of refugee villages in Europe.

[Ed Note: Today we begin an in-depth examination of Linus Pauling’s activism in opposition to the Vietnam War. This is post 1 of 7.]

“Our present object is not to apportion blame among the groups of combatants. The one imperative is that this crime against all that is civilized in the family of man shall cease.”

-“An Appeal by Recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize,” 1965

On the 27th of April, 1965, Father Georges Dominique Pire wrote a letter to all of his fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipients from Aberdeen, Scotland. The letter intended to rally this group in opposition to the Vietnam War. At the time, public opinion in the United States overwhelmingly supported the recent deployment of troops to Vietnam, as ordered by President Lyndon Johnson.This commitment would be increased by December, bringing the total number of U.S. military personnel in Vietnam to nearly 200,000.

Linus Pauling, who had been awarded the Peace Prize in December 1963 for his work ushering in a partial nuclear test ban treaty, read Pire’s letter with a heavy heart. Pauling had received notification of his award just as President John F. Kennedy began to increase American involvement in Southeast Asia, and only a month later the President was assassinated. This series of events paved the way for a new Commander in Chief, Lyndon Johnson, to further expand the American presence in the region.

By 1965, with casualties mounting and the political landscape becoming more polarized, Father Pire implored his fellow Peace Prize laureates to act in whatever capacity they might muster on behalf of peace for all of humanity. A Belgian friar who had fled the German advance during World War II, Pire knew first-hand the horrors of combat and had practiced – as well as preached – his message of peace by providing aid to refugees. In addressing the Peace laureates, the friar formed his lengthy letter around the story of Cain and Abel as recorded in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Then Cain said to his brother, “Let us go out together,” and while they were out in the open, Cain turned upon his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is thy brother, Abel?” Cain said, “I cannot tell. Is it for me to keep watch over my brother?” But the answer came, “What hast thou done?”

As Pire’s retelling of the story concludes, the Lord says, “The blood of thy brother has found a voice that cries out to me from the ground.”

For Father Pire, it was the blood that was being spilled in Vietnam that had a voice. “Each one of us must be ready to reply to this question which is put to us all,” he said. “You now have a line of conduct to follow – to be the voice of the voiceless, to give the strong a guilty conscience, to sensitize public opinion, to show your brothers the way by walking straight yourselves.” It was a call that did not fall on deaf ears, and Linus Pauling in particular took up the mantle of peace in a personal crusade against the violence escalating in Vietnam.


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Drawing of the eight Nobel Peace laureates who signed the 1965 Vietnam appeal. Clockwise from top: Albert Schweitzer, Norman Angell, Philip Noel-Baker, Boyd Orr, Georges Dominique Pire, A.J. Luthuli, Linus Pauling, Martin Luther King, Jr.

In August 1965, eight out of the ten living Nobel Peace Laureates signed a joint plea urging the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam and urging the world to reach an accord on Southeast Asia. This historic appeal was signed by Sir Norman Angell, Lord Boyd Orr, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Father Georges Dominique Pire, Philip Noel-Baker, Chief A. J. Luthuli, Linus Pauling, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Only Prime Minister Lester Pearson of Canada and United Nations official Dr. Ralph Bunche declined the invitation to sign the appeal, both stating that their positions prevented them from endorsing the document, but that they would nonetheless do everything in their power to promote a settlement or cease-fire.

The appeal was published in news outlets around the world, from Pravda in Russia to the L.A. Times in the United States. It read:

The war in Vietnam challenges the conscience of the world. None of us can read day after day the reports of the killing, the maiming, and the burning without calling for this inhumanity to end. Our present object is not to apportion blame among the groups of combatants. The one imperative is that this crime against all that is civilized in the family of man shall cease.

Peace is possible. Both sides say that they accept the essentials of the Geneva Agreement. Then why not meet to seek a political settlement? Why not an immediate cease-fire?

In the name of our common humanity, we, the under-signed recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, appeal to all the Governments and parties concerned to take immediate action to achieve a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement of this tragic conflict.


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Ho Chi Minh, 1946.

A keen observer of world politics, Pauling had been following the situation in Vietnam as it had developed. Importantly, he was aware of Vietnam’s tumultuous political history, which is crucial to understanding how the Vietnam War came to pass.

Formerly part of the French colony of Indo-China, which included most of modern Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam came under the control of Japan in September 1940. This in turn sparked the rise of the Viet Minh, an army led by a Communist revolutionary figure, Ho Chi Minh. By August 1945, Emperor Bao Dai – who had been elevated into power by the Japanese – voluntarily abdicated the throne, paving the way for the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in North Vietnam and a declaration of Vietnamese independence from both Japan and France.

Of particular interest to Pauling was the notion that, contrary to contemporary portrayals in the American media, the DRV seemed at its inception to be anything but totalitarian. On the same token, the DRV did not appear to be entirely communist. Rather, the DRV established a constitution which required at least a 25% voter turnout to legitimate results, and which gave all Vietnamese over the age of 18 the right to vote. In 1946, the areas controlled by the DRV hosted elections with a participation rate later determined to be 89%. The result of these ballots was a split cabinet, with the Communist-Workers’ Party occupying just over half of the governing body.

With war in Europe ended, however, France reasserted its influence over the northern half of Vietnam – the area now controlled by the independent DRV. In an effort to neutralize President Ho Chi Minh’s influence on the population, France supported the return to power of Emperor Bao Dai and created the State of Vietnam in the south as part of a “unified” Vietnam that included the neighboring kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia. Ruling from Saigon, this French-sanctioned state was anti-communist and perceived by the north as a representing a return to colonial control.

The State of Vietnam was granted independence from France in 1949, legitimizing it in the eyes of the world as the official government of all of Vietnam. By 1950, American military advisors had arrived in Saigon to provide the State of Vietnam with support. Meanwhile, the communist north was backed by the Peoples’ Republic of China and, to a lesser extent, by the Soviet Union. Hostilities ensued and, over the course of four years of fighting, the Viet Minh gradually regained and cemented control over the northern half of the modern state of Vietnam. In 1954, a series of agreements called the Geneva Accords ended the armed conflict between north and south. Although the French then evacuated the State of Vietnam, the would-be nation remained divided.


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Ngo Dinh Diem

The Geneva Accords stated that nationwide elections were to be held in 1956 – by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and by the State of Vietnam in the south – on the specific issue of unification under a common government. This mandate for elections proved to be a crucial issue for Linus Pauling and others who questioned the legitimacy of American involvement in Vietnam, largely because the promised elections never took place.

Instead, the State of Vietnam in the south was dismantled and reorganized as the Republic of Vietnam in 1955. The republic’s new president, Ngo Dinh Diem, consolidated power quickly through a series of elections that were highly criticized and decried as fraudulent. Since the Republic of Vietnam was a new nation that had never agreed to the terms that had ended the previous war, the Diem regime announced that it would not participate in the Geneva-mandated elections to unify the country.

During this time, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) that was operating under Diem’s command was already receiving American financial support and working with U.S. advisors in their struggle against proponents of communism. The north Vietnamese government responded by initiating a campaign to unify with the south by force. Thus began the Second Indochina War, commonly known in the United States as the Vietnam War.


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“An Open Letter to President John F. Kennedy Against U.S. Military Intervention in South Vietnam”, April 11, 1962.

Pauling had publicly pronounced his stance against military involvement in Vietnam as early as 1962. In that year, he signed an open letter to President Kennedy that was published in four major newspapers and included the endorsements of fifteen other eminent public figures and humanitarians. The letter expressed concern over Kennedy’s financial and military commitment to the preservation of capitalism in South Vietnam, a commitment that had been gradually increasing since 1954.

In deciding to involve itself militarily in the conflict, U.S. officials claimed that violence against the Diem regime in the south was not the outgrowth of a local rebellion or civil war, but rather an invasion of military forces from the north seeking to oppress southern populations under the yoke of communism. From Pauling’s perspective, North Vietnamese military action and supply lines supported its forces in much the same way that the United States and France had previously supported the State of Vietnam and its antecedents in the south. However, it quickly became clear that it was a regional guerrilla force developing in the south, the National Liberation Front – known to Americans as the Viet Cong – that predominantly fought the war.

The presence of the Viet Cong lent a tension to Pauling’s judgement on whether or not American involvement was justifiable. On one hand, significant numbers of North Vietnamese infantry were not clearly or directly involved – this only came about years later following the onset of U.S. bombing raids in the north. However, it was also the case that the National Liberation Front (NLF) of South Vietnam had been created by the DRV as a tool for fomenting continuing communist revolutionary sympathies in the south. This occurred despite the fact that the army of the DRV, the Viet Minh, had been comprised of both communist and non-communist forces and that many of these non-communists had settled in the south following the independence of North Vietnam, but prior to later American relocation efforts. The extent to which the NLF constituted a foreign invading force as opposed to an externally organized command structure that served to coordinate a willing and local insurgency in South Vietnam would be the crux of the debate between Pauling and the Johnson administration in determining the way toward peace.

The complexities of the situation were not readily known to the American public in April 1962, when the Kennedy open letter was printed in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Post. And so it was that, on the eve of his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, Linus Pauling was already attempting to bring what he believed to be an immoral and unconstitutional war to the forefront of the American consciousness.

Appeals for Peace in Croatia

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The New York Times appeal of January 14, 1992.

[Pauling and Yugoslavia, Part 2 of 2]

Three years after Linus Pauling’s 1988 visit to Yugoslavia, tensions in the country boiled over. Though it may have been justified in its desire to protect ethnic Serbs based on the atrocities that occurred during World War II, the incursion of the Yugoslav People’s Army into newly independent Croatia did little but add fuel to the conflagration.

By the time a cease-fire agreement was brokered in 1992, several of Croatia’s major cities had been bombed and Dubrovnik, a city of major cultural importance, had been the target of several attacks. Even the institute where Linus Pauling delivered his 1957 lecture, “The Structure of Water,” came under threat of bombing in late 1991, as Serbian nationalists accused the institute of producing nuclear weapons.

As the conflict broadened, Pauling began collecting media reports and analyses. One article, published in The European and titled “Lies Within the Balkan War of Words,” claimed that Croatia was exaggerating minor conflicts with Serbs in the area while using the media to portray themselves as victims in the eyes of the world. Raymond Kent, an emeritus professor of history at U.C. Berkeley, had brought this article to Pauling’s attention while cautioning Pauling that he might be the target of Croatian propaganda efforts due to his recent travels and the awards that he had received while in Croatia.

Pauling’s response to this perceived threat was to lend his signature to the “Appeal for Peace in Croatia,” a document sponsored by a group called Truth in Croatia and published in the New York Times on October 11, 1991. Citing the deaths of over 2,000 people, with 100,000 more made refugees, the document appealed “to men and women of conscience to speak up against indifference to the plight of Croatian people, who are facing…the threat of their own extinction.”


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Fax received by Pauling on November 18, 1991.

The October 11th appeal inspired both respect and reproach from those harboring an interest in the widening crisis in the Balkans. The Croatia-friendly nature of the document drew both skepticism and outright condemnation from a variety of critics. Probably the appeal’s highest profile signatory, Pauling received several letters from colleagues as well as members of the community who felt compelled to express their shock and anger. Many accused him of outright ignorance, often citing World War II and the atrocities committed by Croatians against Serbians during that time period.

Displaying the persistence that characterized his earlier peace activism, Pauling was neither intimidated nor did he show any signs that he was ready to back down. In a note to himself, Pauling described one encounter in particular with his old friend and colleague, Harden McConnell, and his wife Sophia.

Sophia gave me a good calling down for coming down on the side of the Croatians rather than the Serbians. Her main argument was that a century ago the Croatians were killing off Serbians. I said ‘well, why don’t we try moving into a new world instead of just going to war bombarding Dubrovnik?’

Harden McConnell, a former colleague of Pauling’s at Caltech and later a professor of chemistry at Stanford, frequently swapped papers with Pauling and had also stood by his side in protesting the Vietnam war. Likewise, Sophia McConnell had been close friends with Ava Helen prior to her death in 1981. That the McConnells disagreed with Pauling on the issue of Croatia did not seem to affect their friendship in the slightest. Notably, Pauling continued to nominate McConnell for multiple awards including, in 1993, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Where the appeal was concerned, however, Pauling strongly felt that he was aligning himself on the side of peace, and he was not afraid to voice his opinion on the matter. Calls to see the other side and accusations that he was portraying a multidimensional issue from only one perspective inspired little in the way of a reaction. While this tenacity of vision was typical of Pauling, his comment to Sophia reflected a hope that Pauling had always maintained for the future.

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A note to Pauling written on an LPISM fundraising letter and sent to Pauling by a donor.

Perhaps nourished by his focus on discovery in his scientific endeavors, Pauling approached his peace work with the attitude that the only way humanity might make up for past mistakes is by creating a future in which these mistakes are not possible. Though he received a fair amount of criticism for the one-sided nature of the Croatia appeals, the spirit motivating Pauling’s involvement had little to do with choosing sides. Rather, he was much more interested in emphasizing the need for a better way to resolve world conflict, and he knew that this process began with awareness.


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Greeting card sent to Pauling by photographer Milena Sorée, November 1991. The affixed photograph was taken by Sorée in Croatia.

As time moved forward and more information about the Croat-Serb conflict became available, Pauling began to receive less criticism and more gratitude. Several U.S.-based correspondents, as well as multiple Croatians trapped in war-torn parts of Yugoslavia, sent Pauling their thanks. Some of these were form letters, simply addressed “Dear Sir” or “Dear Colleague” with Pauling’s name filled in. Many more, however, were personalized cards or handwritten letters recognizing Pauling’s contribution toward a peaceful resolution of the fighting in Yugoslavia. In certain cases, even people who didn’t agree with Pauling’s stance recognized his good intentions and commended his willingness to raise his voice in the name of peace.

Over time, new updates on the destruction in Yugoslavia came pouring in, as did requests that he “raise his voice again.” To this, Pauling responded by signing an even larger appeal, published in the New York Times and containing the names of over one hundred Nobel Laureates appealing for peace in Yugoslavia. Interestingly, only six laureates who signed had received their Nobel Prize for peace. Instead, the largest number of signatories had earned Nobel Prizes for their work in the sciences: thirty-four in physics, twenty-seven in chemistry, and another twenty-seven in medicine.

This second appeal, published on January 14, 1992, appeared on a full page of the New York Times shortly before a cease-fire between Serbia and Croatia was declared, the fifteenth in a succession of many unsuccessful attempts to stop the fighting long enough to negotiate a formal agreement between the two countries. In fact, the conflict within Yugoslavia did not see any form of resolution until the year after Pauling died.

A few months after the Nobel Laureate appeal was published, Pauling’s main contact in Croatia during his 1988 trip, Z.B. Maksić, issued a statement on behalf of the Croatian Pugwash group that capitalized on Pauling’s efforts to raise awareness. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Maksić asserted that “communism is still alive and well in Belgrade,” a suggestion that struck a nerve in the western world and solidified many western opinions on the subject.

In September 1992, the United Nations announced that it was expelling Yugoslavia until Belgrade recognized Croatia and Bosnia as independent nations, a statement that outraged Serbians. The conflict eventually came to a close with the Dayton Accords of 1995, at which the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia agreed on a generalized framework for peace in their troubled region.

Pauling and Yugoslavia

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J.D. Bernal, Linus Pauling and an unidentified individual in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, 1957.

[Part 1 of 2]

On October 11, 1991, an appeal appeared in The New York Times containing Linus Pauling’s name and a brief description of recent atrocities that had occurred in Croatia. At the time, Croatia was a newly independent country that was struggling, along with Slovenia and eventually Bosnia-Herzegovina, to maintain and strengthen its hard-won independence. Immediately following Croatia’s free elections in June 1991, the Yugoslav People’s Army had invaded and attacked on the grounds that they needed to protect Serbians living in the new Croatia. This conflict would later come to be known as the Croatian War of Independence.

The New York Times appeal, originally conceived by Professor Ivo Banac, of Yale University and Stanimir Vuk-Pavlović, of Mayo Medical School, had less than thirty signatures on it, most of them from professors at major universities in the United States. It was Banac’s wish that the appeal exclude politicians, in order to keep the focus of the document on peace.  In considering potential signatories, Vuk- Pavlović thought of Pauling first, and Pauling responded to the idea with speed and enthusiasm. Notably, poets Joseph Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz, as well as actress Meryl Streep, also signed.

Banac’s original goal in publishing the appeal was mainly to raise awareness, as many people in the United States knew nothing of the conflict. Likewise, since Croatia’s free elections resembled democratic elections, Banac felt that it would be relatively easy to drum up stateside support for Croatia’s efforts in the war against the Yugoslav People’s Army, which was a relic of communist Yugoslavia. It had not been that long ago, after all, that Yugoslavia was united under a single communist leader, Josip Broz, a major figure in twentieth century history who became more commonly known as Tito.


Under Tito’s leadership, Yugoslavia had appeared to outsiders to be relatively peaceful. Europeans and Americans alike traveled to the country in the late 1950s and generally declared their approval as Tito rolled out his five-year plan, which was geared to catalyze industrialization and promote economic prosperity. Pauling himself visited in 1957 to deliver the opening address at the International Symposium on Hydrogen Bonding, where the lectures he subsequently attended inspired and invigorated him.

It was Tito’s death in 1980 that brought about an era of chaos to Yugoslavia. Considered by many to have been a benevolent dictator who had governed the country since the conclusion of World War II, Tito did not leave behind an obvious successor. Amidst this leadership vacuum, nationalist sentiments within the communist party were quickly stripped away.

Once the mask of national unification had been removed, a collection of serious underlying fissures was revealed. Centuries of conflict between different regions, ethnicities, and religions still existed within the country and, absent Tito, quickly widened to split Yugoslavia apart. Conflict between Croatia and Serbia seemed to many the greatest danger, due in part to lingering anger over the Croatian government’s alliance with the Nazi party during the second World War, an affiliation which led to the killing of more than 100,000 Serbs at the Jasenovac concentration camp and elsewhere. Worsening matters, throughout the 1980s, politician Slobodan Milošević gave a number of inflammatory speeches that served to stir up nationalist sentiments among Serbians.


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Linus Pauling and others at a vitamin C manufacturing facility at the Pliva Pharmaceutical Works, Zagreb, Yugoslavia, September 1988.

Pauling traveled to Croatia in 1988 to receive a series of awards and recognitions (notable among them, an honorary doctorate from the University of Zagreb, which was only the sixty-second such degree conferred by the university in its 320-year history) as well as formal induction into the Croatian Chemical Society. Though none of Yugoslavia’s republics had yet made a decisive move toward independence, Pauling’s 1988 visit was riddled with evidence of political, social and economic instability.

Most notably, during his 1957 trip, financial accommodations had been provided for himself and for Ava Helen, making his attendance at the hydrogen bond symposium not only possible, but comfortable. By contrast, his 1988 trip came about only after a series of conversations about financial assistance had been conducted. Throughout this process, Pauling’s primary contact in Croatia, Z.B. Maksić, made a few references to the financial hardships that were then widespread throughout Yugoslavia. Maksić answered Pauling’s request to bring his daughter and her husband with apprehension, and politely informed him that the pair would have to be covered by whatever means Pauling could supply. Pauling eventually applied for a Fulbright Grant, at Maksić’ suggestion, to cover their travelling expenses as well as his own. When this grant application proved a success, Maksić remarked that the monies had given Pauling “double coverage” and suggested that he use the funds to also pay for his own accommodations once he arrived.

Despite these quibbles over money, Maksić and Pauling remained cordial toward each other, both during the trip and after. Regional interest was high in Pauling’s most recent book, How to Live Longer and Feel Better (1986) and, at Maksić’ request, he wrote a foreword to the Croatian edition later that year. Maksić later reciprocated by penning a dedication to Pauling in “Six Decades of the Hybridization Concept,” a collection of scientific papers from Yugoslavia that was slated to be published as an edited volume in the early 1990s. Ultimately, Pauling’s relationship with Yugoslavia was a positive one and he felt a strong connection with Croatia in particular after his 1988 trip was concluded.