Continuing Objections to the Persian Gulf War


Linus Pauling with the Dalai Lama at a meeting of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Santa Barbara, California, April 6, 1991.

[Part 2 of 2]

By spring 1991, Linus Pauling, at the age of 90, had established himself as a leading critic of the United States’ military incursion into the Persian Gulf, an engagement that had been dubbed “Operation Desert Storm.” Having already published a series of paid advertisements in national and regional media outlets urging the U.S. to pursue a diplomatic solution to Saddam Hussein’s military occupation of Kuwait, Pauling issued his most detailed argument against the conflict in a talk titled “Reflections on the Persian Gulf ‘War.'” This lecture was presented at a meeting of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation on April 6, 1991 and attended by the Dalai Lama, among others.

Components of Pauling’s argument against the war were discussed in our previous blog post on this subject. In today’s post, we’ll dig a little bit deeper into some of the specifics conveyed by Pauling in his April speech and touch on other noteworthy activities in which Pauling engaged as he publicly argued against armed conflict in the Middle East.

Pauling began his discussion of the Gulf “War,” as he termed it, by mentioning the New York Times advertisement that he had placed in January.  He confessed that the multiple ads that he had commissioned were not likely to make a significant impact, but that he felt a moral obligation to speak out.

He then starkly emphasized that the current war was not in fact a war, because

In a war you have opposing forces that fight and there are deaths on both sides and finally one side wins. In the old days perhaps this was a demonstration of the democratic process – the side with the biggest number of fighters won.  [Operation Desert Storm] wasn’t a war. This you could call a massacre or slaughter, perhaps even murder.

Pauling continued by querying the audience, if this is what the practice of war has become, then what shape might future wars take on? For Pauling, the US had set a dangerous precedent for the future: use force to install the government it wants and then leave.

As he dug deeper into his analysis, Pauling made connections to World War I and World War II by noting that a new generation of leaders could have ushered in World War III, but that this was averted through the development of weapons that were increasingly destructive by many orders of magnitude.

The current conflict, however, was different in how it transpired.  First, it was mostly initiated through air power – a dramatically one-sided offensive consisting of some 150,000 U.S. sorties resulting in the deaths of only about 150 American soldiers. Second, the U.S. had previously supplied Iraq with old and outdated weapons for use in its lengthy war with Iran. As a result, American military planners knew that their weaponry was far superior and would not be threatened by Iraqi stockpiles.


Pauling speaking at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation event, Santa Barbara, California, April 6, 1991.

But the crucial question for Pauling was how many Iraqis died?  Pauling estimated the number to be around 300,000, a total which, he emphasized, included children, the elderly, and other civilians. He continued the math by pointing out that these numbers equated to a casualty ratio of 2,000 Iraqis killed for every American.

(Later analyses suggested Pauling’s numbers to be inflated. According to one, the “Gulf War Air Power Survey,” (1993) conducted by Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen and commissioned by the United States Air Force, about 22,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in combat. Further, the Iraqi government estimated 2,300 civilian deaths as a result of the air campaign.)

Given casualty rates so high and so wildly out of proportion, Pauling begged the question: does a war like this make the U.S. and President Bush terrorists?  In asking this, Pauling explained

Terrorists are people who make an ultimatum, a demand of some sort in the form of an ultimatum threatening to kill hostages or other people if the demand is not met.  What did President Bush do?  He issued some ultimatums that were absolute, that by a certain date the Iraqis would have to withdraw from Kuwait, or else.  And ‘or else’ consisted in our killing 300,000 Iraqis, two thousand to one.  It seems to me that our country has become a terrorist country on a very large scale.

Instead, Pauling urged that the U.S. seek out an alternative, one that would create “a future worthy of man’s intelligence” and provide clear evidence that “we are a moral country.”


The remainder of Pauling’s activism against the Gulf War consisted primarily of co-sponsoring or otherwise participating in a variety of petitioning efforts. One of them, “The Scientists Statement of Concern,” which was initiated by Pauling, was signed by forty-seven scientists in the US, Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, Great Britain, and Switzerland. Another, “Scientists and Engineers for Peace in the Middle East,” emphasized the need to pursue social justice and economic development as a route to stability in the region.

A final piece authored by Pauling during this time period deserves mention, in part because of its unique comparison of two very high profile events that were current in March 1991. Simply titled “A Statement” and dictated on March 26, Pauling’s text began

On the 3rd of March 1991 and on many succeeding days there was shown on television a remarkable sequence of pictures of an event that occurred in Los Angeles, California. A young man, 24 years old, had been traveling at high speed in a car. He had been chased by traffic officers, and had finally been run down near Los Angeles. He got out of his car, and apparently had fallen onto the ground. He was surrounded by 15 police and traffic officers. Although he was not resisting, he was beaten by three of these officers, wielding clubs. They struck him 57 times, breaking a bone in his leg and causing many cuts and bruises. The other 12 officers, including the sergeant in charge of the three who were doing the beating, did not intervene.

People all over the world were incensed at this display of brutality. No cases of law violation were filed against the young man who had been beaten. Some of the officers were charged with having themselves violated the law. At the present time the Chief of Police of Los Angeles is under pressure to resign, because of his toleration of this case of police brutality as well as of other cases.

There is, however, another case of egregious brutality that has not been criticized in the same way, but that has instead been welcomed with approbation. This is the case of the overwhelmingly one-sided assault by the United States, abetted by other countries who were to some extent browbeaten into their attitude, against Iraq.

Describing Operation Desert Storm as being “even more one-sided than the attack of the 15 police officers” against Rodney King, Pauling continued his statement in a vein very similar to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation talk that he would give less than two weeks later.

The First Gulf War: Pauling Speaks Out


[Part 1 of 2]

Sparked by Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, and his subsequent refusal to comply with a U.S. demand that he withdraw from the region by mid-January 1991, the first Persian Gulf War began on January 17, 1991 with an operation known as Desert Storm.

In the lead-up to this military engagement, Linus Pauling established himself as a prominent critic of American posturing in the Gulf.  Just shy of his ninetieth birthday, Pauling returned to the world stage first by publishing a broadly circulated statement and open letter addressed to President George H.W. Bush, and later by giving a collection of interviews and speeches excoriating American policy in the Gulf. This body of activism reflected the anti-war stance that Pauling had assumed for more than four decades and served as a final demonstration of his ambition that war be ended once and for all.

Pauling’s initial pieces included little in the way of discussion of the precise issues at hand, but instead used the Persian Gulf War as an opportunity to highlight and amplify his broader views on war and peace. Later on, as battlefield engagement became a reality, Pauling’s writing and rhetoric made greater use of concrete examples in developing a specific point of view that resisted the American military campaign.

Pauling’s opening salvo, “Stop the Rush to War,” took the form of a full-page advertisement that was published in the New York Times on January 9, 1991. In this publication, Pauling emphasized that ultimatums or deadlines issued to the Hussein regime were unlikely to prove helpful. Instead, Pauling felt that the situation called for negotiations and economic pressures, which would ultimately lead to a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

For Pauling, one thing was clear: war would not work. In the Times piece, Pauling argued against military conflict by employing the fear of the potential use of bombs, poison gas, lethal bacteria, and even nuclear weapons, which would release fallout all over the world.  He argued that no cause could ever justify this kind of war. As an alternative, Pauling encouraged the reader to take personal action to persuade their leaders and those of other nations to stop the build-up to war.

Pauling’s New York Times appeal prompted the drafting of a petition that was authored in conjunction with the Institute for Peace and International Security in the United States and Naturwissenschaftler für den Frieden (Scientists for Peace) in Germany.  Pauling also contributed a greeting message that was read at the Naturwissenschaftler für den Frieden Congress, held in Muenster on January 28, 1991. In it, Pauling emphasized that international involvement was crucial to promoting peace and ending the threat of war.

On January 17, 1991, President Bush announced that the defensive posture that had been assumed by the U.S. military since August 1990 (“Operation Desert Shield”) had shifted into a phase of active combat, the aforementioned Operation Desert Storm. The next day, Pauling authored “An Open Letter to President Bush,” which called for specific actions to be taken in order to stop the further escalation of a war that had now effectively been declared.

The open letter appeared in the January 24th and 28th editions of Roll Call, a Washington D.C.-based newspaper that claimed readership on Capitol Hill, where it was delivered twice weekly. In addition to its publication in Roll Call, a copy of the letter was sent directly to the President.


Albert Schweitzer and Linus Pauling at the Schweitzer compound, Lambéréne, Gabon. 1959.

Employing a series of concise statements, Pauling made it very clear that to kill and maim is immoral, as is war in general. He further explained that war causes human suffering and that it is our job as humans – and certainly as world leaders – to decrease the amount of suffering that exists in the world. In this, Pauling reflected the point of view of Albert Schweitzer, a philosophical role model for Pauling whose emphasis on minimizing human suffering emerged as a crucial component of Pauling’s thinking and rhetoric during his years as an activist.

Similar to the previously published “Rush to War” piece, Pauling also emphasized his fears over the unintended consequences that might arise should a collection of terrifying weapons of war be deployed. Likewise, he concluded once again that negotiation was the just and moral route to peace in the Persian Gulf.



Linus Pauling, 1991.

Pauling’s next major statement on the war came in April 1991 and was delivered in the form of a speech titled, “Reflections on the Persian Gulf ‘War.'” Pauling gave this speech in Santa Barbara, California at a meeting of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which was honoring him with a lifetime achievement award. In it, he collected a series of ideas that he had been developing over the previous months, and also issued a more pointed critique of the Persian Gulf War as a specific and perilous moment in human history.

Later excerpted in an article titled “Use Strength for Morality” and published in the July-August 1991 issue of The Human Quest, Pauling’s talk began with an analysis of President Bush’s so-called “New World Order,” which Pauling defined as depending upon rule through terror and the installation of friendly governments in strategically important foreign nations.

Pauling’s lecture also reflected an earlier interview with TIME magazine in which he had questioned the concept of a “just war.” In the conversation, Pauling explained that war may be justified when the suffering brought about by the act of war yields more long-term benefit or a higher purpose than the levels of suffering already extant in a given region.

With respect to the Gulf War, Pauling was deeply concerned that the Bush administration had failed to discuss issues of human rights and democracy in the country of Kuwait. Instead, the White House had only made the case that the family of the Kuwaiti emir needed to once again be restored to power.

For Pauling, the U.S. should have been far less concerned about the emir’s circumstances and much more interested in supporting democracy for the Kuwaiti people. As in his earlier statements, Pauling reemphasized the moral imperative for the United States to apply diplomatic and economic pressures in bringing about change. The chosen alternative, military incursion, would lead only to the waste of human lives and the possibility of escalation from conventional war to nuclear engagement.

In Pauling’s view, the clearly superior route for President Bush was to align himself on the side of morality.  Were he to do so, Bush could proclaim that “I set such a high value on human life and morality that I have decided the time has come to enter into discussions about all these world problems and save tens of thousands of lives.”  Likewise, there should be no concern about losing face. Indeed, Pauling argued that the “macho” stance for President Bush would entail a shift away from his pro-war policy, because it would take far more courage to resist war than to escalate it.

Pauling further delineated his previously expressed point of view arguing against ultimatums. In Pauling’s estimation, a series of threats were never going to prove persuasive for Saddam Hussein, whom Pauling judged to be lacking any fear over the potential deaths of soldiers or civilians. Likewise, the need to shift toward discussion was only exacerbated by the strong possibility that military conflict in the Gulf would serve to inflame the long-simmering Arab-Israeli conflict. With the end of the Cold War now at hand, the moral role of the United States as the dominant world power was to discourage regional wars rather than actively engaging in them.

The Nixon Doctrine and the End of the Vietnam War


An image of the April 24, 1971 March on Washington, as held in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers. The Paulings participated in a companion march held in San Francisco that same day.

[Pauling and the Vietnam War, Part 7 of 7]

“The American people are now learning the truth about the war…our entry into it on a great scale without even a request from South Vietnam…the corruption, the complete absence of a rational and moral goal…and the American people are now determined to bring this madness to an end.”

-Linus Pauling, 1969

In September 1969, Ho Chi Minh died at the age of seventy-nine and was replaced by Premier Pham Van Dong. At this same time, the anti-war movement was gaining considerable strength in the United States. In October, a “Vietnam Moratorium Day” was declared, during which students and faculty alike walked off of campuses across the country to talk about the war with members of their community.

At Stanford University, Linus Pauling, who had recently taken a position there as a visiting lecturer, was a central figure in this event. On the evening of the moratorium, he delivered a speech in which he proclaimed that the American people were finally learning the truth about the Vietnam War and the United States’ “cold blooded” ambition to retain control of Southeast Asia as part of a Western capitalist “economic sphere.” He delivered a similar message a month later in a talk given at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. A story on the event, published in the Montgomery Advertiser, quoted Pauling as follows:

We – you and I and the majority of Americans – who are going to stop this war, are now face to face in opposition to the small group of rich and powerful people who are using their power to keep the war going, year after year: the people who benefit from the war, the military-industrial complex, the Pentagon and the war contractors who get the 15 billion dollars per year of excess profits on the guns, bombs, Napalm, planes and other instruments of war; and also the politicians, such as President Nixon, who are indebted to them.

The United States’ new President, Richard Nixon, had begun the troop withdrawals that he had promised on the campaign trail the year before. His plan, dubbed the
Nixon Doctrine, was to build up the Army of South Vietnam to the point where they could take over the defense of their own country. This policy came to be known as “Vietnamization.” Meanwhile, China and the Soviet Union continued to supply the North Vietnamese – and by extension the National Liberation Front – with aid. By 1970, Nixon announced that 150,000 U.S. soldiers would be withdrawn over the next year, thus reducing the American troop presence by about 265,500 people from the time when he had entered office.

However, at the same time, Nixon ordered a massive increase in bombing along the Vietnam-Cambodia border, and likewise redeployed many of the withdrawn troops to areas along the coast or just outside of Vietnam. These actions incited huge protests by those outraged by the President’s apparent subversion of his promise to de-escalate the war effort.

Pauling was among those who protested, speaking out in particular against the bombing incursions into Cambodia.  While attending a benefit in support of the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment to End the War, Pauling also declared that it had made him “sick” when Nixon stated before Congress that he would draw down troop numbers, and then, “five days later,” sent aircraft and ground troops to Cambodia. In response, Pauling suggested that everyone in the Bay Area “get sick” and take a week off of work. He explained his rationale as such:

When everyone is sick, the work stops, the economy is slowed down. If there is such an epidemic here, during the next week, it might spread over the whole country! Let our slogan be, “We’re sick of the war.”

Illness of another sort was also on Pauling’s mind. Around the same time that he proposed calling in sick to work, Pauling also recorded a radio address for KPFK-FM in Los Angeles on the subject of defoliant use in Vietnam. By 1968, he explained, 500,000 acres of cropland had been destroyed in Vietnam through the use of herbicides, some of which contained arsenic compounds. Not only did this action purposely lead to the starvation and death of civilians – especially the young and elderly – but Pauling attested that four scientists returning from South Vietnam with samples of food, hair, mother’s milk, and other substances had found them to be contaminated by these highly toxic herbicides.

Moreover, some of the herbicides being used in the war effort were not only very lethal but also very stable, and Pauling emphasized that these poisonous compounds would remain in the ecosystems of Vietnam for many years. Pauling further pointed out that several of the herbicides had been developed deliberately for the purpose of crop destruction as a tool of war by E.J. Kraus, the chairman of the Botany department at the University of Chicago. Pauling saw this as a violation of the proper role of university research, and cast aspersions upon the influence that the military and corporate war profiteers alike were gaining with respect to his academic colleagues’ research agendas.


The Paulings at an unidentified peace rally, possibly the April 24, 1971 San Francisco companion event to the March on Washington.

As these and other horrors of the Vietnam War gained increasing media traction, the anti-war movement, and the concurrent withdrawal of troops, continued. In 1971, Australia and New Zealand withdrew their complements of soldiers, and the American troop count was likewise further reduced to 196,700, with the return of an additional 45,000 troops promised for 1972. But even as this significant drawdown in ground forces was underway, significant U.S. naval and air might remained in the Gulf of Tonkin, as well as in Thailand and Guam.

From Pauling’s perspective, the major problem now hampering on-going peace talks in Paris was President Nixon’s continuing support of Generals Thieu and Ky of South Vietnam, political figureheads who had been put into power following a United States-sanctioned coup that had resulted in the assassination of the previous leader, President Diem. Both the North and many citizens of South Vietnam now refused to acknowledge these men as representatives of the provisional government of South Vietnam, and negotiations predictably suffered as a consequence.

In May 1972, a group based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and calling itself Hostages for Peace organized an extraordinary measure in an attempt to curb the violence in Southeast Asia. The group circulated a pledge which read as follows:

We, the undersigned American citizens, declare our willingness to go to Hanoi and Haiphong, and to declare ourselves Peace Hostages to protect Vietnamese citizens and American prisoners of war from American bombing. We each agree to spend at least two weeks in northern Vietnam until all the bombing of the area of the country stops and until all American military personnel and meteriel are removed from Indochina.

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling signed this pledge, agreeing to use themselves, effectively, as human shields against further American bombardment of North Vietnam. It was a courageous and potentially deadly commitment that the couple would, thankfully, not be called upon to realize.


“Hostages for Peace Pledge.” May 6, 1972.

On January 15, 1973, just weeks after a major bombing offensive had decimated what remained of North Vietnam’s economic and industrial capacity, President Nixon ended all military action against the North. The Paris Peace Accords were signed twelve days later, officially ending direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. A cease-fire was subsequently declared across North and South Vietnam, and U.S. prisoners of war were released. The agreement guaranteed the territorial integrity of Vietnam and, like the Geneva Conference of 1954, called for national elections in the North and the South.

In other words, the conditions that Ho Chi Minh had made clear to Linus Pauling in 1965, and which Pauling had argued in favor of for the past eight years, had now been codified as an international agreement. In that time, it is estimated that anywhere from 800,000 to just over a million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians on all sides were killed, in addition to 200,000 Cambodians and 60,000 Laotians. Over 58,000 U.S. soldiers also lost their lives, with more than 1,500 still missing in action.

Tragically, like the Geneva Accords before them, the Paris Peace Accords were quickly broken. In 1974, the Viet Cong resumed military operations, and South Vietnam’s President Thieu declared that the Paris agreement was no longer in effect.

But this time, no American help arrived. In 1975, President Gerald Ford requested that Congress fund the re-supply of South Vietnam to defeat the National Liberation Front, who were now aided by a formal North Vietnamese invading force that was well-equipped, in large part, by other communist countries. Ford’s request was refused, and on April 27th, 100,000 North Vietnamese troops encircled Saigon, shelling the city while American helicopters evacuated vulnerable South Vietnamese citizens until the North’s tanks finally breached the lines of the South Vietnamese Army and captured the city.

In July 1976, North and South Vietnam were merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and, over the next ten years, more than one million South Vietnamese were sent to reeducation camps, with as many as 165,000 dying as a result.

After the war’s end, Linus Pauling carefully filed away the letters, the posters from various protests and anti-war lectures, and the memories of a long and bitter conflict. Included in these papers was correspondence concerning the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s 26th celebration of nationhood in 1971. Though he was not in Hanoi for the event, Pauling had been in contact with a group that was, National Peace Action Coalition representatives Judy Lerner, David McReynolds, James and Patricia Lafferty, Joseph Urgo, and Ruth Colby.

The group had been met by the Peoples’ Coalition for Peace and Justice of North Vietnam, which hosted their visit. At the birthday celebration, where Premier Pham Van Dong declared the regime of the south fascist and called for the peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to unite to gain, “freedom, independence, peace and friendship, happiness and prosperity” for all of Indochina, the Americans were invited to make a statement of their own. Taking the stage, they articulated their feelings as best as they could:

No words of ours can fully express how deeply we have been moved by the way in which we have been received. We, citizens of a nation that has brought such terrible suffering to the peoples of Indochina, have been received as friends. The people of Vietnam understand that it is the rulers of the United States and not its citizens who are the enemy of the Vietnamese. One of our members is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and it would have been natural if he had been received with hostility. Instead, the guide in the War Museum embraced him with tears in his eyes – a simple human encounter which lifted both men above the level of being Vietnamese or American, to the level of brothers who suffered together in this, the most tragic war America has ever waged.

As North Vietnam celebrated its independence – an independence that had never been gained by South Vietnam – the American delegation in Hanoi affirmed again that, as the anti-war movement in the United States continued to swell, they would do everything in their power to end the conflict. This was a cause to which Linus and Ava Helen Pauling likewise devoted considerable energy over a full decade, and one that ultimately – through the pressure placed upon the governments involved by many such individuals throughout the world – played an important role in ending the Vietnam War.

Sharpening Rhetoric, Sad Conclusions


Flyer for a joint Chomsky-Pauling presentation, Montreal, 1967

[Pauling and the Vietnam War, part 6 of 7]

As the 1960s moved forward, Linus Pauling’s interest in contributing to an academic circle that resolutely rejected the Vietnam War continued to strengthen. A participant in several past petitions, Pauling co-authored another such document in June 1967, a “Scientists’ Appeal for Vietnam,” signed by a collection of scientific all stars including Nobel laureates Pauling, Lord John Boyd Orr, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Alfred Kastler, André Michel Lwoff, C.F. Powell, Bertrand Russell, R.L.M. Synge, and Albert Szent-Györgyi. Additional signatories included Pauling’s close friend J.D. Bernal, an influential x-ray crystallographer and peace activist; neurologist and president of the Association of Scientific Workers Harry Grundfest; Soviet biochemist Alexander Oparin; and an Indian scientist and activist, S. Hussain Zaheer.

The Scientists’ Appeal decried escalating American violence in Vietnam, pointing out that U.S. aggression was being mounted in direct opposition to strong world opinion against the war. In addition to publicly denouncing American foreign policy in Southeast Asia, each of the appeal’s signatories also reaffirmed their commitment to international science by donating one day’s salary to help buy books for the University of Hanoi and to support the continued functioning of scientific laboratories in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

About a month before the appeal was released, Pauling attended a second Pacem in Terris conference, held this time in Geneva, Switzerland. Working through the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a Santa Barbara-based international think tank where he was a fellow, Pauling helped to coordinate the convocation.

One of the more pressing agenda items on the conference planner’s wishlist was the need to highlight the Vietnamese viewpoint on the war and, if possible, to bring National Liberation Front delegates to the podium for European and American participants to see and hear. In pursuing this, the World Council of Peace acted as intermediary, handling letters between Linus Pauling and the Vietnam Peace Committee. However, citing an inability to travel due to the escalating conflict in North and South Vietnam, neither representatives from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam nor from the National Liberation Front attended the event.


Pauling note to self, May 2, 1967

By the time that Pauling arrived in Geneva, he had established himself as a leading academic voice against the Vietnam War. Perhaps most notably, in an anti-war mobilization that took place in New York in mid-April 1967, Pauling and his wife joined a huge march to the United Nations Plaza, where Pauling then delivered an address to an audience estimated at 300,000 people. In a note to himself written a couple of weeks later, Pauling paraphrased his remarks as follows:

I am ashamed of my country, the United States of America. My country is the richest country in the world. It is the most powerful country in the world. My country now leads the world in militarism, and leads the world in immorality. My country is waging an evil and savage war on the other side of the world, against a small, poor country. We are using jet bombers, napalm, and other cruel weapons to kill and maim the poor people of this country who believe that they are fighting for their freedom and homes against the foreign oppressor. I want to be proud of my country. I want my country to lead the world in morality, not immorality. I hope that this wicked war will soon be brought to an end.

Around the same time, Pauling made another strong statement, this time to the Students for a Democratic Society:

It is the duty of every American to oppose the policy of military aggression in Southeast Asia that is being followed by our government, the government of the United States…We are now waging an immoral and inhumane war, with use of chemical defoliating, nauseating, and lachrymatory agents, phosphorous bombs, and other terrible weapons, against the people of an underdeveloped country who are fighting for freedom and self-determination. Our government has initiated an attack on North Vietnam that may grow into a nuclear catastrophe that would destroy our civilization.

Similarly, in an advertisement published in The New York Review of Books titled “A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority,” Pauling offered his support for the “moral outrage” of young men who found that the American war in Vietnam was so offensive that they could not contribute in any way. It read, in part

Some are resisting openly and paying a heavy penalty, and some are organizing more resistance within the United States and some have sought sanctuary in other countries…We believe that each of these forms of resistance against illegitimate authority is courageous and justified.

The notice was signed by over 100 public figures, Noam Chomsky, Allen Churchill, Allen Ginsberg, Jane Fonda, Ronald Dellums, and Linus Pauling included.


The McMaster University Silhouette, October 20, 1967

As his views about the war sharpened and his rhetoric grew equally pointed, Pauling’s anger at the present situation became increasingly palpable. Speaking on multiple occasions at universities and elsewhere, Pauling made clear that he had abandoned the search for negotiations that had marked his public stance two years prior. In its place was an increasingly polarized viewpoint that had shifted from a hoped for solution to a complex problem, to abject condemnation and disgust.

This point of view was on clear display in August 1967, at a Hiroshima Day demonstration held in Los Angeles. Speaking there in observance of the nuclear attack on Japan some twenty-two years earlier, Pauling took the opportunity to focus on Vietnam.

The crime of Hiroshima was excused by President Truman as needed to save the lives of American soldiers. This is false. It was an act of the Cold War against the Soviet Union….Friends, fellow citizens of the United States of America, my fellow Americans: We are criminals, you and I, the members of Congress, President Lyndon B. Johnson—we are all criminals….If President Johnson had to kill – shoot, burn to death – ten Vietnamese women and children every morning before breakfast, the war would soon end.

But the public did not see the true victims of the war, the war in its totality, nor the cost on both sides, and this, Pauling contended, was one of the many great lies that kept it going.

Moreover, Vietnam was only one part of a bigger picture that Pauling now begged the public to recognize. Rich nations – the United States being chief among them – had profited tremendously from the suppression of human rights campaigns, with profits from investments in poor and underdeveloped countries doubling over the past ten years.

This continuing state of affairs, Pauling argued, was enforced by the might of a United States military that now spanned the globe. Likewise, the U.S. had tactically distributed $48 billion in munitions to militant proxy groups in numerous countries over the past sixteen years.

In short, the scope of the problem was not limited to Vietnam. Rather, Pauling now felt that Vietnam was merely the most tragic and horrific example of what the United States had become in the Cold War Era: a economic and military empire willing to arm groups around the world that were beholden to American interests or, as needed, unleash its own military directly.


Launching an Offensive Against the War


[Pauling and the Vietnam War, Part 5 of 7]

“If President Johnson had to kill – shoot, burn to death – ten Vietnamese women and children every morning before breakfast, the war would soon end.”

-Linus Pauling, 1967

By early 1965, convinced that the United States government was the primary obstacle to initiating a cease-fire and subsequent negotiations in Vietnam, Linus Pauling increasingly began to go on the offensive against the war.

In February, he delivered a major public address at the Pacem in Terris convocation, which was held in New York City, stating that, for thousands of years, throughout “the entire period for which we have historical knowledge,” war was one of the principal causes of human suffering. “I believe that we have now reached the time in the course of the evolution of civilization when war must be abolished from the world,” Pauling thundered from the podium. Armed conflict must be replaced by a system of world law, he added, one “based upon the principles of justice and morality.”

Pauling returned to New York in March to participate in a peace parade and rally, walking with fellow protesters from 5th Avenue to the Central Park mall, where he delivered another speech decrying the war as both immoral and illegal.


Dean Rusk

Developments in Vietnam made it increasingly important that those who opposed the war speak out forcefully. By the summer of 1965, the American ground war had been authorized by President Johnson, an action that marked a profound departure from the administration’s previous insistence that the government of South Vietnam bear the responsibility for defeating the National Liberation Front (NLF). Due to continued losses by and falling enrollment within the army of South Vietnam, U.S. ground troops were deployed in a new strategy that had now switched from defensive to offensive.

This drastic change was deemed necessary as the NLF was seen by U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, as a front for North Vietnamese hostilities and nothing more. Moreover, the the North’s aggression was not meant to unify the nation under a democratic regime, but represented instead a policy of communist expansion that enjoyed at least tacit support from China and Russia.

Rusk’s premise was one that Pauling had specifically rejected. In particular, Pauling pointed out that Rusk’s opinion on the plausibility of negotiations either distorted or, at times, ignored the actual position of the NLF, a stance that had been made clear in August 1965 and which made headlines in Europe, if not the United States.

The crucial detail that the Rusk and the American media had failed to communicate was that the NLF’s Five Point Declaration – a document based on the four-point plan that Ho Chi Minh had earlier communicated to Pauling and to the world – did not stipulate that U.S. troops be withdrawn as a precondition to negotiations. In fact, it called only for a freeze in the build-up of American troops, for a concurrent cease-fire, and for American agreement that the NLF to be brought to the negotiating table as a direct party or state entity. The NLF’s end goal for any ensuing negotiations would be a return to the 1954 Geneva Accord, an agreement that Washington had once purported to support as well.

The failure to act on or even move toward this opportunity was, for Pauling, a clear indication that the United States was not interested in ending the conflict. In December, Pauling wrote a statement to this effect, which was divided into two parts and aired on WPTR radio in Albany, New York. In the broadcast, Pauling reiterated these beliefs in an attempt to correct the broad American assumption that the North Vietnamese were not inclined to enter negotiations.


McGeorge Bundy

Prior to 1965, some of the most prominent academics commenting on the war were doing so in support of the war effort. Among them were McGeorge Bundy, William Bundy and W.W. Rostow, each of whom was an academic who held a position of influence on foreign policy in Vietnam. With the deployment of American troops in 1965, an equal and opposite cohort of thinkers had coalesced, and Pauling got the idea of calling for a meeting between representatives of this group, of which he was a part, and the Bundy group.

Pauling’s argument against the Bundy point of view was that a war could not be fought without clear enemies and allies. Assuming this, and based on the United States’ stated policy as well as the targets that it had already struck, it was unclear how enemy was being discriminated from ally. Indeed, insurgent groups were being attacked at undisclosed targets in not only South Vietnam, but also North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, a fact that was largely hidden from public view in the United States.

Likewise, the United States was increasingly acting as a lone military force: though Washington encouraged its allies to contribute troops, and while Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines had all agreed to do so, major allies including Canada and the United Kingdom had declined the request

Meanwhile, the political situation in South Vietnam was becoming increasingly unstable. Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky and a figurehead Chief of State, General Nguyen Van Thieu, had risen to power following the assassination of President Diem and a series of internal coups that followed. Further complicating matters was the face that war in Vietnam was never declared, and Pauling argued forcefully that, as such, American military action continued to be undertaken, in effect, unconstitutionally.

The issue of legality extended to international law as well, with the U.S. acting in apparent violation of the charter of the United Nations, which required members to refrain from the use of force until all attempts to settle a dispute were exhausted. Likewise, the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which defined crimes against humanity, and the Geneva Accords of 1954 all seemed to have been violated by the United States’ entry into the conflict.

Pauling’s position against the war was encapsulated in a a personal letter that he sent to McGregor Bundy in April 1965. If the real reason that a cease-fire was not possible was the communist aspiration for victory by force, Pauling asked, then would the United States in fact support free elections in Vietnam even if doing so resulted in a democratically elected and unified communist Vietnam?

If an answer came, it does not remain extant. Regardless, by the middle of the 1960s, Pauling had increasingly come to agree with the point of view that the war in Vietnam was principally being fought to contain communism and to protect American economic interests.

If this were true, then the American government, under both Kennedy and Johnson, had deliberately misled the American people – a suspicion that was confirmed for Americans in 1971 with the unsanctioned release of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. Pauling’s shifting perspective and his increasingly vocal activities during this time displayed his growing lack of confidence in his country’s leadership, another example of the broken trust that many other Americans were feeling as the 1960s moved forward.

Struggling to Find Common Ground


George W. Ball and President Lyndon Johnson, ca. 1965. Image credit: George W. Ball Papers, Princeton University.

[Pauling and the Vietnam War, Part 4 of 7]

Almost as soon as he had received it, Linus Pauling sent a copy of Ho Chi Minh’s letter of November 17, 1965 to U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. While the letter contained some “strongly worded” rhetoric about the United States, Pauling wrote, these were to be expected from the leader of a small country that was undergoing significant aerial bombardment from a world power.

In Pauling’s view, the more loaded statements made in the letter were relatively unimportant. Rather, Pauling highlighted Ho Chi Minh’s aspirations for peace as the crux of his response, pointing out that his four-point prescription for resolution was not described as a prerequisite for the initiation of negotiations. Indeed, Pauling took pains to note (perhaps with some measure of concern) that Minh had not called for negotiations as a means to achieve a peaceful resolution at all. Nonetheless, he believed that the Vietnamese leader’s hopes for peace in his country could prevail if the United States initiated negotiations for strategic withdrawal and cease-fire.

The response from Washington to Pauling’s letter came not from President Johnson himself, but from the administration’s Under Secretary of State, George W. Ball. Ball’s stated position was much the same as that conveyed to Pauling and Corliss Lamont by McGeorge Bundy in 1962. Ball wrote that, in its dealings with the North Vietnamese, the United States government had given its support to “every one of the many efforts to open the way to unconditional negotiation.”

In this, Ball implied that the inability to negotiate a cease-fire was not the fault of the US, but rather the doing of the National Liberation Front, or perhaps the North Vietnamese government in Hanoi. Pauling questioned this implication, arguing instead that since the United States did not view the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam as a legitimate political entity and viable negotiating partner, the U.S. shared at least some culpability in perpetuating the war.

Though addressed by George Ball, Pauling responded directly to President Johnson:

The possibility that this belief is correct is supported by the last paragraph in the letter sent to me by Under Secretary Ball, which reads as follows: ‘We give the same support to your appeal. We hope it may help to persuade the government of Hanoi and the government of Peking that this conflict should be moved to the conference table.’ I am accordingly writing to ask you the following question: Does the United States government refuse to negotiate with all of the governments and parties concerned in the war in Vietnam, including the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, or is the government of the United States willing to negotiate with all of the governments and parties concerned in this tragic conflict?

The response to Pauling’s letter came, once again, from George Ball, and he did not directly answer Pauling’s question. Rather, Ball replied that the National Liberation Front was “exactly what its name connotes,” a front for North Vietnamese aggression against South Vietnam. From the perspective of the White House, the NLF held no standing under international law, enjoyed only coerced support from the people of South Vietnam, and had no ability to survive except as a tool of the regime in Hanoi.

“To this day, Hanoi is directing its activities and supplying it with essential men and materiel,” Ball lamented, adding that, “if the North Vietnamese regime were to decide to negotiate in good faith on an unconditional basis, it would find no difficulty in making a place for representatives of the Liberation Front on its own delegation.”

For the United States, the key term that might lead to negotiations was that the revolutionaries leading the resistance in South Vietnam speak at the negotiating table solely through the established leadership of the North Vietnamese government. Crucially, the American government claimed that it was willing to respect the conventions of the Geneva Accords, which both North Vietnam and the NLF also wished to see respected. Since both sides seemed to agree on this and yet no cease-fire had come about, Pauling concluded that the United States was not being honest in stating its support for a return to the 1954 accords.

Fellow Nobel Peace laureate Philip Noel-Baker, a member of the House of Commons in England, concurred. Noel-Baker wrote to Pauling to say that he “warmly” agreed with Pauling’s view that the point to be cleared up was whether or not Ho Chi Minh was making pre-conditions for the discussions about a cease-fire – such as a demand for the withdrawal of American troops – for negotiations to begin. Like Pauling, Baker and others in the British government believed that Hanoi and the NLF were more than willing to come to the table if they were allowed to do so. He concluded that it was “disingenuous of your Government and mine to throw doubt on the point.”


Ho Chi Minh in his study.

In December 1965, Pauling responded to Ho Chi Minh and reported that his letter of November 17th had been interpreted in a variety of ways. Depending on the point of view of the reader, different conclusions could be reached from the letter on the crucial point of whether or not the North Vietnamese were actually willing to enter into negotiations unconditionally. Pauling pressed his correspondent for more details:

I accordingly now write to ask you the following question: Is the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Vietnam willing to begin negotiations that would lead to a cease-fire and a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam War without making any conditions as prerequisites to the beginning of the discussions?

As indicated in his exchange with Philip Noel-Baker, the core issue for Pauling was whether North Vietnam would require that American troops withdraw entirely, or require that all the conditions of the Geneva Accords of 1954 be upheld, before negotiations began.

In February 1966, another letter arrived from Hanoi. After apologizing for delays in his response due to difficulties in North Vietnam with communications, Ho Chi Minh addressed Pauling’s question:

The way to peace is: The United States must stop their aggression. It must strictly respect the fundamental national rights of the Vietnamese people as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Viet Nam. That is the way which has been clearly pointed out by the March 22, 1965 Statement of the South Viet Nam National Liberation and the four-point stand of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam… If the U.S. Government really wants a peaceful settlement, it must recognize the four-point stand of the government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam…it must end definitively and unconditionally the air raids and all other war acts against the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.

Another telegram, this one arriving in May 1967, reaffirmed this stance. The Vietnamese people, Minh declared, had produced their “Four Point Stand,” which embodied the main principles and provisions put forth by the 1954 Geneva Accords on Vietnam. “In my reply to U.S. President Johnson I made clear our goodwill and charter serious path to talks between DV and USA,” Minh communicated in the telegram. “USA must unconditionally stop bombing and all other war acts. But US Authorities do not want peace, and are intensifying war in both zones of Vietnam.”

Crucial Correspondence


[An examination of Linus Pauling’s activism against the Vietnam War. Part 3 of 7.]

“The continuation of the savagery of the Vietnam War is unworthy of the dignity of man.”

-Linus Pauling, 1965

In 1964, Linus Pauling’s colleague in anti-Vietnam War activism, Corliss Lamont, sent a copy of his 1962 open letter against Vietnam to President Lyndon Johnson. Pauling added his support to Lamont’s action, expressing his agreement with Lamont’s plea that the new President change course and disengage from a policy of military escalation had already “deteriorated almost beyond belief.”

President Johnson did not change course, however. Under his administration, U.S. involvement in Vietnam swelled, as did the corresponding antiwar movement around the world. It was in this atmosphere that Linus and Ava Helen Pauling elevated their own activities and became outspoken opponents of the conflict.

From 1961 to 1964, U.S. troop levels in Vietnam rose precipitously from just over 3,000 to more that 23,000 soldiers in country. Meanwhile, the ranks of the National Liberation Front (or Viet Cong) grew at a decidedly more rapid pace, from around 5,000 fighters in 1959 to approximately 100,000 by the end of 1964. Nonetheless, the total Allied military presence in the region dwarfed the numbers compiled by the Viet Cong. By the time of the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident on August 2, 1964, more than 600,000 men had been mobilized on behalf of the south, the ARVN being the main contributor.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident involved the exchange of fire between the USS Maddox and several Vietnamese vessels, which took place while the Maddox was engaged in an intelligence mission along North Vietnam’s coast. A second attack was reported two days later in the same area, but the circumstances surrounding both engagements remained unclear. In fact, an undated National Security Association publication that was declassified in 2005 revealed that the August 4th skirmish did not actually take place at all.

Nonetheless, this second “attack” prompted the U.S. Congress to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Signed by President Johnson, this piece of legislation gave the President of the United States the power to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war (and thus without Congressional approval). Although Johnson denied that the resolution amounted to a full-scale declaration of war, the new powers did grant the President the authority to launch unilateral full-scale attacks if he deemed it necessary. Not coincidentally, Chinese military and financial aid began to pour into North Vietnam that same year.


Linus Pauling, 1965.

By 1965, Linus Pauling was responding to the intensifying geopolitical climate in southeast Asia by offering his time to a number of anti-war conferences and events. One such event, which was fairly typical, came about when the University of British Columbia invited him to come to campus to speak on the responsibilities of scientists in bringing about disarmament. Pauling traveled to Canada that fall and, while there, he met with the Vancouver Ad Hoc Committee to End the War in Vietnam and also conducted an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation outlining his views on peace.

A few months before traveling to Vancouver, Pauling had helped to write and circulate the “Appeal by Recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize,” that we discussed in the first post of this series. Around the same time as his visit to Canada, Pauling released replies to the appeal that had been authored by Secretary U Thant of the United Nations, Pope Paul VI, and representatives of the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, Australia, the Soviet Union, and North Vietnam. No response ever came from South Vietnam or from the People’s Republic of China.

The Nobel laureates’ appeal had called for an immediate cease-fire, to be followed by negotiations between all parties involved. The responses to this call were often addressed directly to Pauling and his fellow co-signatories, and their contents varied dramatically depending on the author and their role in the war.

From the perspective of Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, it was clear that the United States was unnecessarily victimizing a small country that was in the midst of fighting for its freedom. Like the South Vietnamese citizens who had written to Lamont and Pauling in the years prior, Kosygin held that peace could only be granted by observance of the Geneva Accords, which the United States and the Diem regime had both ignored. This position was echoed by Mai Van Bo, a representative of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and by Secretary U Thant of the United Nations.


Concluding sentence and signature from Ho Chi Minh’s letter to Linus Pauling of November 17, 1965.

However, no response resonated so forcefully as that issued by Ho Chi Minh himself, who wrote to Linus Pauling on November 17th 1965. In his five-page letter, he made it clear that the only viable route to peace was to embrace the four-point solution espoused by the 1965 Statement of the South Vietnam National Liberation Front. The four requirements listed were: the reaffirmation of the basic national rights of the Vietnamese people; a return to the provisions of the 1954 Geneva agreements; allowing the people of South Vietnam to settle South Vietnam’s internal affairs without interference; and allowing North and South Vietnam to pursue reunification without interference.

These broad imperatives were, in places, backed up with a few details for the sake of clarification, but mostly seemed to be purposely vague. For Pauling, this indicated that the conditions for entering into negotiations would be readily met if the United States showed itself to be serious about pursuing a cease-fire. From the perspective of many within the American government however, Ho Chi Minh’s request seemed disingenuous. The NLF, they believed, was merely a front for the activities of North Vietnam, and North Vietnam had no honest intentions of negotiating peace with the south or allowing a fair election.

Ho Chi Minh’s perspective, as relayed in his letter to Pauling, was straightforward in its assumption that the American presence in the region was not interested in the well-being of South Vietnam at all. If this were the case, the letter pointed out, the U.S. would not have supported a regime as brutal as that of Diem’s. For Minh, North and South Vietnam had both struggled to implement the 1954 Geneva agreements only to be thwarted by U.S. imperial aspirations that propped up a fascist dictatorship in the south and intentionally impeded the peaceful unification of Vietnam into an independent and democratic nation. In Minh’s estimation, the American rationale for this was not only to prevent the spread of communism generally, but also to use South Vietnam, “as a springboard for war activities in Laos and for daily provocations in the Kingdom of Cambodia.”

“They are using our Southern compatriots’ life to test…new types of modern weapons and means of warfare,” Ho Chi Minh continued. “At present, most barbarous means of warfare such as napalm bombs, phosphorous bombs, toxic chemicals, poison gas etc. are being used by the U.S. aggressors to massacre our compatriots in South Viet Nam.” These methods of combat were being tested in Vietnam, Minh believed, because of U.S. military interest in using them around the globe to suppress popular communist revolutions in a variety of developing nations from Southeast Asia to Africa to South America. The grand vision, Minh believed, was a U.S. military presence deployed to ensure global economic hegemony in favor of Western democratic capitalist nations, and in particular the United States.

His perspective shared, Ho Chi Minh ended his letter to Linus Pauling with an appeal of his own; this one to the anti-war protesters in America:

This war besmears the honor and good name of the United States. It is precisely for that reason that, recently, many progressive sections of the American people…have courageously come out against the Johnson Administration’s war of aggression…expressing their resolute refusal to join the army and take part in the massacre of the Vietnamese people. The Vietnamese people highly value this struggle of the American people, and are deeply moved by the valiant sacrifices of Mrs. Helga Hertz and of the other peace fighters, the late Mr. Norman Morrison, the late Mr. Roger Laporte and Mrs. Jankowski. I take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to the American people who are resolutely struggling against the U.S. imperialists’ war of aggression in Viet Nam. I also wish to convey to the martyrs’ families the love and admiration of the Vietnamese people.