Aftermath of the October SISS Hearing

Excerpted from The (ACLU) Open Forum, November 1960.

[Part 3 of 3]

The [SISS] hearings shade imperceptibly from the incompetent and absurd to the nasty and sinister; there is some temptation to say that they are simply ludicrous – objectionable, perhaps, as a waste of taxpayers’ money and congressional time, but not on grounds more closely related to liberty.
-Harry Kalven, Jr., 1960.

By most indicators, Linus Pauling seemed to have won his battle with Senator Thomas Dodd and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. Though he had been forced to endure long hours of questioning and testimony, he was, in the end, not punished for withholding the names and correspondence of those associates who assisted him in the circulation of the 1958 United Nations Bomb Test Petition. Not only had he maintained his principled position, he had also avoided a contempt citation, a messy follow-up in the courts and, above all, jail time.

Though most were happy to see a conclusive end to Pauling’s ordeal, many were perplexed by the docile nature of the affair’s conclusion.  Writing in the New York Times, Anthony Lewis echoed the impressions of many in noting that

The purported epic struggle between Dr. Linus Pauling and the Senate Internal Security subcommittee has ended not with a bang but a whimper. What was supposed to be a showdown hearing this week came to no showdown at all. Dr. Pauling was excused without any orders to produce the documents he had refused to produce.

While the hearing failed to fulfill the expectations of many, they were still subject to their own scandal and intrigue. In particular, Dodd’s partially read opening statement became a major point of contention in the hearing’s aftermath. Having initially objected, Pauling and his counsel, in the midst of the hearing, had allowed Dodd to insert his full written opening statement into the official record without reading it aloud. And as it happened, the opening statement that appeared in the record was very much at odds with the one that had been partially read aloud to Pauling and those present at the hearing.  A close analysis suggests that Dodd seems both to have read early parts of the statement selectively and to have strategically stopped reading the opening statement just before blanket accusations of communist influence could be uttered in public.

The modified opening statement transformed the purported purpose of Pauling’s hearing after the fact. Though Pauling was eventually given an opportunity to insert his objections into the official record – he was afforded space for paragraphs no greater in length than those which were being commented on – Dodd’s full statement was made available to press elements outside of the courtroom during the first part of the hearing. Not only was Pauling charged with communist affiliation in the unabridged statement, but Dodd’s tone, reasonable if stern at the trial, took a turn towards the austere.  One extract reads

This committee has a continuing and longstanding interest in all phases of Communist propaganda, because as a part of our legislative duties we must constantly ask ourselves the question: What Communist propaganda activities are being engaged in, or are having an impact upon the internal security of this country, which can be countered either wholly or in part, by legislation? The Communists are constantly developing new techniques and revising old ones. We cannot, at any time, assume that legislation already on the books is giving our country the greatest possible protection from the Communist conspiracy. We must be constantly on the alert to uncover as much as we can of Communist activities and Communist techniques, and then apply ourselves to determine whether what we have found justifies recommendations to the Senate for proposed new legislation.

While Dodd’s complete opening statement was possibly the most outlandish addition to the hearing’s official record, other controversial items were inserted following (and possibly resulting from) Pauling’s vehement post-hearing objections.

Though most of the appendices following the official testimonies for the October hearing are mundane replications of court documents, petition signatures and pre-hearing correspondence, a special final report was included in the last few pages of the full official record.  Compiled following the hearing, the report takes all aspects of recorded testimony into consideration and provides its own final analysis. Given that certain section titles of this report are titled “Dr. Pauling’s role in the international Communist ‘peace’ offensive,” and “The Communists come to the defense of Dr. Pauling,” one can correctly assume that the tenor of the document was hostile toward Pauling’s positions. The conclusion of the report seems to synthesize the final opinion of Dodd and his associates – an opinion reached after months of sour and drawn-out dealings with the famed chemist.

The subcommittee believes that study should be given to the possibility of legislation which will make it more difficult for the Communists, and those who collaborate with the Communists, to abuse the right of petition by utilizing it for their own subversive ends…. The subcommittee therefore recommends that hearings be held for the purpose of examining various legislative possibilities in this area.


Pauling seems not to have yielded any unnecessary ground throughout the hearings, but it is difficult to declare a clear winner in the wake of the conflict. On one hand, Pauling was not forced to comply with the committee’s request to hand over his letters of transmittal, but the committee, in turn, was never forced to acknowledge or admit that its questioning was improper. Likewise, by choosing to not pursue contempt proceedings, the committee was able to avoid a very dangerous constitutional showdown, but was still able to hint at the full extent of its wrath to any future would-be challengers.

Pauling freely discussed his fight with the SISS following the hearings – and strongly considered writing a book about it – frequently framing the experience as an attempt to suppress his constitutional rights.  At a speech delivered one month after his hearing to the Colorado Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Pauling provided an indication of the feelings of injustice that lingered within him.

I believe that Senator Dodd has the right to advocate that a change in our government’s policy be made, but that it is a misuse of his powers as Vice-Chairman of the International Security Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate to harass me and to attempt to suppress me in the exercise of my right as an American citizen to work for international agreements for cessation of nuclear tests and ultimately for universal and total disarmament, with the best possible system of control and inspection.  Let us demand that Congress abolish this committee, which is a disgrace to the Congress of the United States, to the nation itself, and to the American people.

Clearly Pauling felt that he had been subjected to unjust and unfair conduct, and saw that no substantive recourse was being made available to redress it. For some months, his work and speeches following the October hearing were heavy both with mention of Dodd and attempts to help his audience “understand the evil way in which this subcommittee is misusing its powers and subverting the constitution.”

By several accounts, Pauling took the proceedings very personally. And as a consequence, the resentment that he harbored was not slaked simply by public condemnation of Dodd and the subcommittee.

During the year after his hearing, Pauling launched five libel suits against several newspapers and organizations that published what he considered to be defamatory statements. Following a dispute with founder Norman Cousins, Pauling also discontinued his association with the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, and was even on the verge of suing the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a magazine that had been nurtured by Einstein’s Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. His participation in the Pugwash conferences also ended for a time (despite his unwavering defense of them during the hearing), because organizers continued to invite individuals that Pauling no longer viewed favorably.

In the final analysis then, after months of bitter altercation, Senator Dodd and his committee had managed a feat that few others had accomplished – the unsettling of Pauling’s nerve. While at first blush it appeared that he had ended his experience with the SISS as a hero of the peace community, Pauling’s characteristic pride and resolute constitution did not make it through unharmed.


2 Responses

  1. […] Quote: “The [SISS] hearings shade imperceptibly from the incompetent and absurd to the nasty and sinister; there is some temptation to say that they are simply ludicrous – objectionable, perhaps, as a waste of taxpayers’ money and congressional time, but not on grounds more closely related to liberty.“ -Harry Kalven, Jr., 1960. […]

  2. Your work is a very fine thing.

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