An Outspoken Man

Linus Pauling. 1940s.

Linus Pauling. 1940s.

“Do you think that an American who insists on making up his own mind, who objects to being told what to do, to being pushed around by officious officials, is thereby made un-American? I do not. I think that he is being more American than people who do not object.”
– Linus Pauling. Letter to the Board of Regents, University of Hawaii. March 30, 1951.

Before embarking on his multi-decade long crusade for world peace, Linus Pauling began to address injustices on a decidedly more local level.

December 8, 1941 was a memorable day on the normally quiet Caltech campus. That morning, the campus was bristling with military vehicles manned by the National Guard troops. The Caltech registrar, an officer in the National Guard, had called them in to “defend” the Caltech campus. Notices were posted for an emergency convocation at 10:00 a.m. in Culbertson Hall and students were drafted to guard doors not manned by the National Guard and armed with pick axe handles.

Classrooms were empty and groups were listening to the radio and discussing the evolving news coming from Pearl Harbor. At 10 a.m. we dutifully assembled in Culbertson Hall where our registrar, in full National Guard uniform complete with pistols, gave a most intemperate speech about the dastardly “Japs” that would have done credit to any American Legion hall that day.

Linus Pauling was standing in the back of the hall as he had come in late and interrupted the speech by bursting out with the question “By what authority have you called this impromptu convocation?” He then proceeded to remind the registrar that Caltech was known for being a place of thoughtful and factual reason but the registrar had turned it into a place of pure hysteria. The student body stood up and clapped for Linus. The registrar dismissed the meeting and retreated in some disarray. For many of us, Linus won his Nobel Peace Prize that day!

(Doug Strain, 2000, as quoted in Mead, Clifford and Thomas Hager. Linus Pauling: Scientist and Peacemaker. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2001. 251. [Now available in paperback])

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Paulings worked to aid Japanese-Americans unfairly persecuted by their community and their government. In response, the Pauling home was vandalized and the family threatened. Later in life, as a result of his activism on behalf of a variety of peace efforts, Pauling would be publicly attacked as a Communist and a traitor. Despite the incendiary accusations thrown his way, throughout his life Pauling consistently acted on his own personal beliefs. His convictions eventually resulted in his receipt of the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize, making him the only individual in history with two unshared Nobel prizes.

For more information, please visit the OSU Libraries Special Collections homepage.

One Response

  1. […] perspective on issues of peace and civil liberties. (This older post of ours, titled “An Outspoken Man,” relies heavily on Strain’s recounting of Pauling’s response to the […]

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