The 1960s: The Nuclear-Free Zone, Oppression in Argentina and Molecules in Mexico

Illustration appearing in El Mercurio (Santiago, Chile), January 1962.

[Part 2 of 5]

In January 1962, Linus Pauling visited Chile in order to give an address at the Seventh International Summer School at the University of Concepción, and also to accept a certificate of honorary membership in the Chilean Society of Chemistry, one of many such honorary memberships that he received during his lifetime. While in Chile, the Paulings participated in the Summer School and also visited the Catholic University, the Technical University, the University of Chile in Santiago, the Experimental Station of the Institute of Agronomy in Chillán, and several other scientific institutions. Both Linus and Ava Helen gave lectures at many of the institutions they visited.

The theme of the Concepción Summer School was “The Man of Today, His Problems and His Future.” Pauling gave the opening address, titled “The Impact of Science on Man of Today and Man of the Future.” In this lecture, Pauling expressed his belief that mankind had accumulated enough knowledge to control the world instead of being controlled by it, but that with this knowledge came the power to destroy civilization. He thesis was a familiar one to those who had followed Pauling’s activism:

I believe in the philosophy of humanism – that the chief end of human life is to work for the happiness of man upon this earth, to work for the welfare of all humanity, to apply new ideas, scientific progress, for the benefit of all men – those now living and those still to be born.

One factor that works against the happiness of man, Pauling believed, is the variation in income which exists worldwide – a few people live in luxury while many suffer in poverty. He pointed out that economic injustice is “perpetuated by the oppressive powers of dictatorial governments,” and expressed his hope that these oppressive governments would give way to liberal and democratic governments.

In the same speech, Pauling also commented on the rapid progress of science and the new understanding of diseases caused by gene mutation, such as sickle-cell anemia and phenylketonuria. Some gene mutations, he added, are caused by the presence of radioactive materials released by nuclear bomb testing. Pauling continued, “I come now to the greatest of all the problems raised by the progress of science – the problem of preventing the destruction of civilization in a nuclear war.” He noted that the U. S. was in possession of 100,000 megatons of bombs, while only 20,000 megatons would be needed to decimate Russia. Likewise, Pauling estimated that the Soviets had produced 50,000 megatons of bombs, but that just 10,000 would be enough to destroy the U. S.

Pauling stressed to his Chilean audience that a nuclear war would not only destroy the U. S. and Russia, but would affect the Southern Hemisphere as well, in the form of nuclear fallout and genetic mutations. The only way to proceed in order to save the human race, Pauling concluded, was through complete disarmament, which must be supported not only by nations, but by individual people as well. “The survival of the whole human race now depends upon whether or not we can work together for the common good,” he concluded, stressing that world peace can only be achieved if nations adopt the moral values of individuals. After spending almost three busy weeks in Chile, Linus and Ava Helen returned home to California on January 22.

When Hurricane Flora hit Cuba in 1963, pounding the country for four days, Pauling attempted to visit in order to provide emergency disaster relief. However, the U.S. government did not allow him to travel to the Communist country, so instead, he and Ava Helen had to settle for supporting the Cuban people from afar. Pauling was also a member of Fair Play for Cuba, which was an organization that protested the trade embargo that the U.S. had placed on Cuba.

That same year, Linus was invited by Professor N. Matkovsky, of the International Institute for Peace in Vienna, to visit the leaders of various Latin American countries. The purpose of the visit was to support the presidents of Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Mexico in their publication of a declaration to make all of Latin America a nuclear-free zone. The declaration had been signed by the five countries on May 1st, 1963, and would lead to the ratification of the Treaty of Tlatelolco in 1967, which would prohibit nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, and include thirty-three parties. Linus and Ava Helen accompanied Professor Matkovsky on his mission as guest observers, but they also had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of a few countries. Delegations took place on August 15 in Rio de Janeiro; the Paulings stayed in Brazil for about 3 days, and flew to Chile on the 20th.

Linus Pauling and Arturo Illia, as published in Consejo Argentino de la Paz, October 1963.

Later in August, Pauling spoke with Arturo U. Illía, the President-elect of Argentina, to address the prevention of a devastating war and the preservation of peace in the world. A few days after he spoke with Illía, Pauling gave a speech to Pharmacy and Biochemistry faculty at the National University of Argentina entitled “Molecular Structure and Evolution.”

A month after the Paulings returned home, they learned that more than fifty women workers for peace in Rosario, Argentina had been arrested, some of them individuals to whom the Paulings had spoken during their visit to Buenos Aires. Linus wrote a letter to Illía, asking him to take action on the arrest of the women. In the letter, Pauling named a few of the women that he and Ava Helen had met and demanded that they and the rest of the women be set free. He also expressed concern about the extreme action the government had taken in recent weeks.

I have been hoping that, after a period during which the authorities of the Republic of Argentina suppressed the rights of individual human beings and carried out many oppressive actions, your nation would take its place among the civilized nations of the world, would recognize the rights of individual human beings, and would abandon the dictatorial and oppressive policies that are characteristic of governments in backward nations.

He echoed his appeal in letters to the current President at the time, Arturo Mor Roig, and to Raul Andrada, a judge in Argentina’s federal court, but his entreaties went ignored.

Pauling's greeting to the National School of Chemical Sciences, Mexico, as reprinted in Gaceta de la Universidad, July 13, 1964.

Pauling’s next visit to Latin America came about in May 1964, to help celebrate the Congress of the Centenary of the National Academy of Medicine in Mexico City. At the Academy, Pauling gave a speech as the guest of honor, “Abnormal Hemoglobin Molecules and Molecular Disease.” In this talk, he first established that the molecules that make up our DNA are the most important molecules in the world, since “[t]he pool of human germ plasm is a precious heritage of the human race.” Pauling then discussed various molecular diseases, such as phenylketonuria, which was responsible at the time for one percent of the institutionalized “mentally defective” individuals in the U. S.

According to Pauling, the disease occurs when both the mother and the father of an infant carry a gene for phenylketonuria, in which case the offspring has a fifty percent chance of inheriting the defective gene. If the infant does inherit the gene, he or she would have it in a double dose, which would inhibit him or her from being able to manufacture the enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of phenylalanine to tyrosine. As a result, if the infant ate a food containing protein, phenylalanine would build up in the bloodstream and interfere with the growth and function of the brain. The only way to treat this disease, Pauling continued, is to eat a diet of protein hydrosylate from which most of the phenylalanine has been removed. This treatment must be carried out within the first year of life, or mental retardation occurs, and the diet must be followed for the rest of the patient’s life.

After detailing the dangers and the solutions for phenylketonuria, Pauling held that, likewise, other molecular diseases could be controlled, such as sickle-cell anemia. Sickle-cell anemia is similar to phenylketonuria in that it is a molecular disease, but different in that individuals who carry only one sickle-cell gene, called heterozygotes, are protected against malaria.

Pauling rounded out his trip to Mexico by delivering another talk, titled “Molecules and Evolution,” at the National School of Anthropology.  Pauling also spent a great deal of his time in Mexico discussing the devastating effects of nuclear war, repeating his conviction that the United Nations should have custody and control of radioactive substances produced by the United States and Russia.  This work done, the Paulings left Latin American behind for a while, not returning to the region until a trip to Chile in 1970.  That visit will be the subject for our next post in this series.

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