The SISS Investigations

It was difficult for me to decide that I would refuse to give the names of the people who had returned signatures to me….I had about two hours to think about this matter…during the lunch period. I thought about the fate of the people who had invoked the First Amendment in refusing to conform to the demands of investigating committees, and of the possibility that I would go to jail….I finally decided that I had to decide in such a way as to permit me to keep my respect for myself.
– Linus Pauling. Letter to Chauncey Leake. September 29, 1960.

After the public release of his “Appeal by American Scientists to the Government and Peoples of the World,” an international petition seeking to ban the testing of atomic weaponry, Linus Pauling was labeled by many as “un-American,” and even received several death threats. In the midst of this growing concern about his loyalty, Pauling was subpoenaed and required to appear before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) — the United States Senate’s version of the House Un-American Activities Committee — where he was grilled on the details of his peace activism.

During the investigation, which lasted from June to October 1960, Pauling’s political affiliations were questioned with particular emphasis placed on his associations, real or assumed, with leftist — specifically Communist — organizations. Pauling was also ordered to produce the names of those individuals who helped to circulate the bomb test petition. The scientist refused this request, arguing that such a demand would result in repercussions for the signers and was an infringement on the American public’s right to free speech. Even in the face of contempt of Congress threats, Pauling remained steadfast in his unwillingness to release the names of those who assisted him in circulating the petiion.

Listen: Pauling expresses his hope that the United States can become a world leader in morality

Having conducting two investigative hearings on Pauling and facing the momentum of a building press campaign in favor of Pauling, the Senate committee was forced to desist as public opinion turned toward the scientist. The era of McCarthyism, in which Pauling and his fellow activists had been continually harassed, began to dissipate with the election of President John F. Kennedy shortly after Pauling’s second SISS hearing. Nonetheless, Pauling was outraged by his treatment at the hands of the Senate committee and, in response, released multiple statements decrying the actions of the committee and its chairman, Thomas J. Dodd, and even seriously considered writing a book about the experience. It was a summer of great strain for the Pauling family.

Learn more about this conflict on the Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement website, or by clicking on the multimedia thumbnail links below.

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The SISS Investigations: An Act of Conscience


One Response

  1. […] lives. In the same September 23 letter, Ava Helen talks about Linus’ experience with the Internal Security Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate. It is no light matter to be cited for contempt by the Senate and many lives have ruined in just […]

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