The Story of 1960

[A look back 50 years in honor of the Pauling birthday anniversary on February 28th.]

Throughout most of 1959, Linus and Ava Helen Pauling were actively engaged in several peace-related activities, including a nuclear test ban treaty being deliberated in Geneva. Certain developments preceding the New Year made it clear, however, that a full nuclear test ban treaty (atmosphere, water and underground) was unlikely to be negotiated. Richard Lippman, a good friend and ally of Pauling, passed away suddenly around the same time. Quite understandably, the two events had a depressive effect on Pauling. When he and Ava Helen visited their Big Sur ranch the following January in 1960, Pauling decided to go for a walk early one Saturday morning.

After following a deer trail for some time, Pauling became lost and then stuck on a cliff under a large rock formation. He found himself surrounded by slippery blue shale, and the unstable rocks shifted towards the cliff edge every time he tried to move. Ava Helen contacted the Forrest Service in the evening when her husband failed to come back or return her shouts. Pauling heard searchers at one point in the evening, but his voice wouldn’t carry up to the would-be rescuers above him. That night he slept under a map that he had with him, and tried to keep warm in the freezing fog.

He was found the next morning in “high spirits,” but was deeply shaken by the ordeal. He attempted to go back to work the following Monday, but was forced to return home after a short time in his office, fully conscious but unable to speak. He had been terrified by his night on the cliff, and it seems that after years of internalization, the unsettling experience was forcing him to confront many repressed emotions. His physician diagnosed Pauling’s condition as shock, and ordered him to rest for a few days. During the ensuing weeks of recovery, he was more emotionally vulnerable than his family had ever seen him.

Meanwhile, after negotiations had stalled in Geneva, the international moratorium on nuclear testing expired at the end of 1959. The expiration catalyzed a strong re-emergence of proponents for renewed nuclear bomb testing, and the force of the new movement compelled Pauling and his wife back into the nuclear test-ban arena. The Paulings attended several protests and in June Linus gave a speech to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Afterwards he was handed several fliers, newspaper clippings and an array of other papers which he stuffed into his pockets while answering questions. Back at his hotel room that night, he was sorting through everything when he noticed a subpoena that had been handed to him during the post-speech discourse. It stated that he was to appear before an executive session of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee two days from then, on Monday, June 20.

Subpeona issued to Linus Pauling by the Internal Security Subcommittee of the United States Senate. June 20, 1960.

Pauling immediately called Abraham Lincoln Wirin, a lawyer who had assisted him with a number of legal disputes, to discuss his options in addressing the subpoena. The day before Pauling was to appear before the subcommittee, he held a press conference, and successfully lobbied to have the first executive session opened to the public. After being sworn in, it became clear why Pauling had been summoned. Several years prior, he had submitted a nuclear test ban petition to the UN with a substantial number of signatures. The petition was initially an appeal by American scientists but was later circulated in many other countries, several of them governed by Communist parties, for an expanded petition response. The subcommittee wanted to know how he’d done it, and if he utilized the help of any communist organizations. Pauling politely answered every question, but when it came to divulging the names of those who had helped to collect more than one signature, he became openly concerned. After some questioning and a short recess, Pauling stood and said:

The circulation of petitions is an important part of our democratic process. If it is abolished or inhibited, it would be a step toward a police state. No matter what assurances the subcommittee might give me concerning the use of names, I am convinced the names would be used for reprisals against these enthusiastic, idealistic, high-minded workers for peace.

The acting chairman, Senator Thomas Dodd, gave Pauling until August 9 to come up with a list of names. Wirin succeeded in getting the deadline postponed to October 11, and Linus and Ava Helen  continued to travel and deliver speeches. Pauling received a great deal of support from many academics, members of the press and fellow Nobel Prize winners as well as a great number of constituents who wrote letters of protest to Dodd and other senators. When asked to relinquish the requested names at the October hearing, Pauling refused. He was not given a contempt citation, as was somewhat expected, but instead subjected to a loyalty inquiry. After five hours of questioning related to his presumed affiliation with the Communist party and party members, Pauling was allowed to leave.

As the Dodd confrontation was entering its final stages, Pauling remained on the offensive. Though it appeared to most that he had won, Pauling took the matter very personally. He continued to attack Dodd publicly and began campaigning for the abolition of investigatory committees, even mounting several libel suits against newspapers and organizations that had released material reflecting allegations and positions taken by the SISS. Pauling came into conflict with past associates and organizations, and became a more open critic of American society generally. He had resigned his chairmanship at Caltech several years before to focus more of his time on personal pursuits, and his political crusades grew more public after years of partial restraint. He was still supported by an array of old associates, though many became concerned with Pauling’s new disposition.

Linus Pauling speaking at a peace march in MacArthur Park, Los Angeles, California. 1960. Photo by Robert Carl Cohen.

Linus Pauling’s rescue from a cliff and his confrontation with the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee – events which were both widely publicized and of enormous import to Pauling’s life – overshadowed most of his other activities in 1960. He made frequent appearances in all forms of media throughout the year, and gave a considerable number of speeches.  He remained very active in the nuclear test ban arena, and even spoke to ambassadors from the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union during a July visit to Geneva.

Though he came out relatively unscathed from his activities, the SISS confrontation soured Pauling in a way, and further radicalized his positions. For the time being however, he remained popular within the establishment. The following year he was among the American scientists honored by Time magazine as “Men of the Year,” received the title of Humanist of the Year from the American Humanist Society, and would participate in a number of high-profile conferences and protests. But despite this series of mostly positive outcomes, 1960 was a difficult year that significantly influenced the direction of Pauling’s ever evolving demeanor.

For more on Pauling’s peace work, see the website Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement: A Documentary History.

2 Responses

  1. Please correct the caption on my photo of Dr. Pauling speaking at a peace rally. The location was not “Westlake Park, Beverly Hills,” but “MacArthur Park, Los Angeles”.
    http://radfilms.com/pauling_gallery_4.html

  2. The Weekly Smörgåsbord #2…

    This week’s selection of blog posts: “A WTF Scientific Paper from Edinburgh, 1884” — A fascinating report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. “The Story of 1960” and “…

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