“I say that hundred of thousands of people have had or will have their lives cut short by perhaps ten years, twenty years because of the bomb tests that have already been made.”
– Linus Pauling. “Linus Pauling Address,” Jimmy Jones Recording Studios. June 4, 1957.
During the 1950s, Linus and Ava Helen Pauling were extremely active in educating the public on the dangers of radioactive fallout caused by nuclear weapons tests, delivering hundreds of speeches all around the world. As Cold War anxieties increased and the United States and Soviet Union increased military production, the Paulings condemned the production of atomic weapons and encouraged their audiences to join them in speaking out against the arms race.
In May 1957, following a well-received speech at Washington University, Linus Pauling, Edward Condon and Barry Commoner decided to appeal directly to the scientific community. They drafted the “Appeal by American Scientists to the Governments and Peoples of the World,” a petition, signed by scientists, advocating against the testing of atomic weapons. Within a week, they had begun a large scale campaign, the three men and Ava Helen Pauling mailing copies of the petition to members of the American scientific community.
Having gathered the signatures of over 2,000 scientists, Linus Pauling released the petition on June 3, sending copies to the United Nations and U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower. Ignoring a series of attacks on his character and loyalties, Pauling expanded his mailing program, acquiring signed petition forms from scientists in dozens of additional countries. By early 1958, the Paulings had received more than 9,000 signatures, making international headlines in the process. Those in support of the petition included some of the most prominent scientific personalities of the era: Salvador Luria, Albert Szent-Györgyi, Harold Urey and Max Delbrück to name just a few of the Nobel laureates who joined the effort.
(One of the lesser-known Nobel Prize winners to sign, William P. Murphy (Medicine, 1934), is of particular interest in that, circa 1905, he and Pauling lived in the same small eastern Oregon farming community of Condon, a town of perhaps 1,000 residents that would produce three Nobel Prizes.)
Partly as a result of the momentum generated by Pauling’s petitioning, in August 1963 the Partial Test Ban Treaty prohibiting above-ground nuclear explosions was signed by Soviet Premiere Nikita Khruschev and U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Dr. Pauling was awarded the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in prompting this accord.
Listen: Ava Helen discusses the importance of a testing ban
Read much more about this fascinating tale at the Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement website. Or click on the thumbnail below for a direct link to video related to the Bomb Test Petition.