The Paulings and Japan: Roots of a Fruitful Relationship

Dining in Japan, 1955.

“As a scientist I am interested in Japan and primarily in the universities…[I am] greatly impressed by the natural and cultural richness of the country… [where] scientific work is of the highest quality…Science of the modern world has been accelerated here by the atom-bomb and radiation…Because of this, hopefully steps will be made towards the goal of permanent world peace.”

-Linus Pauling, 1955

Japan was a favored spot for research, vacation, and lecture for Linus Pauling and his wife, Ava Helen. Generally speaking, the Japanese held the couple in high esteem, a major factor in Pauling having maintained close contacts with many of the country’s leading scientists.

The public’s adoration also resulted in the extension of numerous invitations to Pauling to deliver lectures and attend conferences. He was invited to visit on multiple occasions by a wide variety of Japanese societies and committees, and followed through a documented nine times. Each of the trips, spanning some thirty-one years, involved at least one of three agenda items: vitamin C, chemistry research, or the struggle for world peace and nuclear disarmament.  Today’s post focuses on the Paulings travel to Japan in the 1950s.  Future posts will detail later trips as well as certain Japanese individuals who became important to Pauling and his work.

Pauling manuscript on Japanese scientists and science, March 10, 1955.

The first proposed trip to East Asia was scheduled for 1953. Linus Pauling was supposed to travel to Tokyo from February to March of that year, but it was cancelled due to his chronic passport difficulties. Instead, 1955 marked the first of many ventures to Japan. While there from February to March, Linus and Ava Helen visited Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.

The 1955 trip in particular was dedicated to delivering lectures on the chemical bond, hemoglobin and proteins. The first lectures that Pauling gave took place at Tokyo University. There, he spoke on structural chemistry as well as the hemoglobin molecule and its correlation to health and disease. These lectures were also repeated to the general public of nation’s capital, as well as at Osaka University. In between lectures Pauling also attended seminars on proteins.

This was the only of Pauling’s Japanese trips that was solely associated with topics in chemistry. In his future visits, chemistry was typically brought up in some form, but time was more frequently occupied with topics of the atomic age, the peace movement and, in later years, vitamin C.

Linus Pauling lecturing on hemoglobin. Tokyo, Japan. February 26, 1955.

The main purpose for visiting Japan in August 1959 was to attend the Hiroshima 5th World Conference against Atom and Hydrogen Bombs. Pauling began his trip by participating in a march at the Hiroshima Peace Park, followed by a brief lecture titled “Physical and Biological Aspects of Radon” at Hiroshima University.

For the 5th World Conference, Pauling also edited and approved “The Hiroshima Appeal” which demanded that all nations cease the testing and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. A note attached to the Appeal indicates that Pauling found the document to be just and did not understand how individuals might not support it. He then, on August 7, 1959, wrote his own manifesto titled “The Scientist’s Appeal,” which also asked that nuclear tests be stopped and that science not be “used in any ways incompatible with the principles of humanity.”

Pauling’s stance and his participation in the Hiroshima conference sparked conversation back in the United States. In the Chicago Daily News for instance, journalist Keyes Beech wrote an article titled “Pauling Denies ‘Left’ Role at Hiroshima,” in which the scientist discussed his comments and thoughts on disarmament, while denying claims that he was being used as a tool of political propaganda by communist hardliners allegedly present at the Hiroshima Conference.

In a letter that he later wrote to his friend, Dr. Gunther Anders of Austria, he further discussed the conference. In particular, he stated that he felt strongly about continuing to work with the Japan Council and its head, Dr. Kaoru Yasui. Pauling also suggested that China be made a member of the United Nations so that provisions could be implemented to prevent China from developing its own cache of nuclear arms.

After the conference concluded, Pauling gave a talk in the Grand Lecture Hall of Politics and Economics Department of Hiroshima University titled, “Our Choice: Atomic Death or World Law.” In it he advocated for a world government (a “path of reason”) that would bring peace, and condemned the use of nuclear weapons and the dysfunction of “insensate militarism.” These ideals were extended in additional meetings with the Japanese Committee of the Pugwash Conference, and collections of other scientists and academics.

In these conversations Pauling reiterated his stance that it is the scientist’s duty to understand the physical reality of nuclear war and to relay its horrors to the world. To further his support of these convictions he held a meeting on peace in Tokyo, participated in the march at the Peace Park in Hiroshima, and gave a lecture titled “Physical Biological Aspects of Radiation” at Hiroshima University.

In Pauling’s view, understanding the consequences of nuclear detonations and radioactive fallout was crucial to furthering the general public’s realization of just how destructive atomic weapons are. He believed this to be a social responsibility of scientists, and in his last few days in Japan he met with colleagues in Hiroshima, Osaka, and Kyoto to stress the point.

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