Science and the Future of Humanity: Chile, 1970

Mr. Ireland, Ava Helen Pauling, Linus Pauling and Enrique Kirberg, Chile, January 1970.

[Part 3 of 5]

Perhaps because he traveled so often, Linus Pauling sometimes found himself visiting volatile places at dangerous times. One such example was a trip to Chile in 1970, taken when he and Ava Helen were invited to the Universidad Técnica del Estado for the university’s Summer School.

The Paulings were asked to attend by Professor Enrique Kirberg, the Rector of the university, who had visited Pauling in the States and was very enthusiastic to host him as a guest speaker for the Summer School. During this time, Chile was still under the leadership of President Eduardo Frei Montalva, who had been elected in 1964 but who, by 1967, was experiencing opposition from both conservatives and leftists. That political atmosphere was such that, as Pauling noted in his diary, he and Ava Helen were escorted everywhere by three detectives with guns at their hips, who even followed them on a tourist trip into the mountains.

The Paulings arrived in Pudahuel, Chile, on January 8 and the inauguration of the Summer School took place on January 9.  Pauling spoke at the inauguration, delivering his lecture “Science and the Future of Humanity” entirely in Spanish, taking forty minutes. In this speech, which he gave often, he stated that scientists ought to be involved with politics, disarmament policy, and international relations, and that they should be concerned with morality and justice, since science is so closely intertwined with morality and ethics. Pauling opined that scientists were not using their knowledge efficiently enough to benefit humanity, and argued that people should follow the Golden Rule, but should also go beyond it, to minimize the suffering of humans and animals, as well as to conserve natural resources.

Pauling likewise stated that war must be abolished and replaced by worldwide laws based on an accepted principal ethic. According to Pauling, “The misuse of a great part of the world’s wealth, and the poor distribution of the rest, is one of the greatest causes of human suffering.” He spoke out against the Vietnam War, noting that although militarism is a major cause of suffering in the world, a large number of powerful countries continued to spend too much money on military build-up.

Another grievance that Pauling presented in his talk was the size of the world’s population: in 1970 it was only about 4 billion, but Pauling believed, at the time, that the world had already surpassed its optimum population. Global malnutrition was his evidence for this supposition. His solution to the problem of overpopulation was to diminish it little by little, until it would reach the ideal number of one billion in the year 2200. At this population level, Pauling reasoned, all humans could lead a pleasant life.

Pauling concluded his speech with the opinion that scientists needed to become altogether more involved in society by doing a number of things: adopting political standings, educating the public by explaining problems and solutions, educating the leaders of the government, and gaining an understanding of worldwide problems. Pauling also believed that, as informed political groups, scientists should press the government and voters to make better choices.  Young peoples’ protests gave him hope for the future, since he was sure they would not give up hope even when they grew old. He had faith that the young people of the 1970s would make changes in the world to make it more just and moral.

After the inauguration of the Summer School at the State Technical University, the Paulings took a short trip to the beautiful city of Pucón, in the shadow of the Villarrica volcano. After spending a few days there, they returned to Santiago and the university, where Pauling met with groups of students, and later with the Committee for Peace.  On January 19, he received the National Congressional Medal of the Senate. That same day, he visited the Central Chemistry Laboratory, met with more students, and later met with professors and Chilean scientists. While in Chile, Pauling also had the opportunity to meet Salvador Allende, who would be elected President of Chile in September of 1970. The Summer School conferences at the Technical University of the State would take place on the 20th, 21st and 22nd of January and the Paulings flew home to the U.S. on Friday the 23rd.

After Chile’s military coup in 1973, Allende’s government was overthrown and General Augusto Pinochet assumed power. Amidst this upheaval, the Rector of the Technical University of the State, Enrique Kirberg, whom Pauling had met and befriended, was arrested by the government.  Kirberg was then taken to Dawson Island, a component of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in the Strait of Magellan, that is subjected to Antarctic weather and was used to house political prisoners suspected of being communist activists. He remained on the island for more than a year, living in camp conditions, before being returned to Santiago where he was found guilty of tax fraud and given a long prison sentence.

When Pauling caught wind of his friend’s plight in 1974, he wrote a letter to General Augusto Pinochet, President of the Military Junta in Chile, inquiring about Kirberg’s whereabouts and asking that he be permitted to leave the country if he wished. Kirberg was eventually freed and, in 1975, Pauling received a letter of gratitude from his friend, thanking him for being a part of the peace movement which contributed to his release from prison.

Although Pauling would not return to Chile, he did serve as a sponsor for the National Coordinating Center in Solidarity with Chile, which contributed to the struggle for democracy during the military dictatorship. He also supported the Office for Political Prisoners and Human Rights in Chile during the late 1970s, and co-sponsored the Madrid World Conference in Solidarity with Chile in 1978.

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