The Challenge of Scientific Discovery

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Linus Pauling, 1967

Fifty years ago, Linus Pauling found himself in a typically busy mode of life. The year 1967 started in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the Paulings visited with their eldest son, Linus Jr. They then spent the next two months travelling through Singapore, India and Sri Lanka, during which Linus delivered a series of lectures, including the Azad Memorial Lecture in New Delhi.

Once the summer arrived, Pauling made use of a one-year leave of absence from the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in order to take a short-term position as a professor of chemistry at the University of California, San Diego. Later, in November, he traveled to New Orleans to accept the Roebling Medal from the American Mineralogical Society.

Pauling was pretty clearly a popular speaker at this point in time. In 1967 alone, he gave roughly thirty lectures that we know of, while also trying to maintain his program of scientific research. In today’s post, we’ll examine a talk that he gave exactly fifty years ago; one that was fairly emblematic of the public speaking that he was doing during this period.


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Program for Pauling’s Snyder Lecture, May 17, 1967

Because he had so many lectures planned for 1967, by November of 1966 Pauling had decided that he would not entertain any more requests. However, after receiving a letter from Hope Powell, the Dean of Student Personnel at Los Angeles City College, in which she invited him to deliver the college’s prestigious William Henry Snyder Lecture, he opted to make an exception and accept the invitation.

This was not Pauling’s first contact with the college. A few years prior, the school had contacted Pauling to inquire into the possibility of his giving their commencement address. Prior commitments rendered him unable to do so, but he suggested that they send a later invitation for another speech.

Powell followed this advice in her 1966 letter, noting that the Snyder lecture was meant to “stimulate the thinking and expand the horizons of our students,” and conveying the eagerness that both the school’s students and faculty felt at the possibility that Pauling might make a visit. In terms of a topic, Powell suggested that Pauling share his views on “the challenges to education and society presented by scientific and technological advances.”


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Los Angeles Nite News, May 15, 1967

Los Angeles City College, originally known as Los Angeles Junior College, was founded in 1929 by William Henry Snyder; by 1966, it enrolled over 18,000 students. The Annual Snyder lecture was founded in 1935 to honor Snyder, a pioneer of the junior college system who made many noteworthy contributions to the field of education. Speakers previous to Pauling had included Robert Millikan, Thomas Mann, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

The Los Angeles City College Collegian was among the newspapers who previewed Pauling’s talk in the days leading up to the event. The Collegian‘s piece relied in particular on foreign languages professor Meyer Krakowski, who was serving as chair of the Lecture Committee, and who pointed out that Pauling – by then a controversial figure to many – was chosen because “his talk is educationally oriented and will appeal to the majority of students.” The article also quoted physicist Hans Bethe, who said of Pauling

Without his awakening of the public conscience on [nuclear testing] there would not have been any pressure on governments, and there would not have been any test ban.

On the morning of May 17th, Pauling arrived on campus for a press conference. An hour later, at 11:00AM, he gave the twenty-ninth annual Snyder Lecture, titled “The Challenge of Scientific Discovery.” Held outside on the school’s baseball field, the event began with the playing of the national anthem by the LACC Band, which was followed by remarks, introductions, and greetings from a series of dignitaries, including the college’s president and the president of the student body.

Meyer Krakowski then introduced Pauling, describing the day’s speaker in glowing terms:

[Pauling] finds no conflict between his position as a scientist and his position as a private citizen. Between his search for truth in science and his search for truth in society there is complete harmony. He firmly believes that science was made for man, and not man for science… Dr. Pauling has been inspired by the challenges of scientific discovery, and he gladly shares with others his enthusiasm and his inspiration.


“I want to talk to you about how science might contribute to your happiness,” Pauling began. In doing so, he described early scientific discoveries including pi, bacteria, and blood circulation that emerged from scientific inquiry spurred by simple curiosity about our world.

This sense of invigorating wonder permeated the whole of Pauling’s talk. At one point, when reflecting on Albert Einstein’s breakthroughs with relativity, Pauling commented that “he must have had a tremendous feeling of happiness when he first had his great idea.” Later, he described a fellow student who, upon learning about the discovery of electron spins, was “so excited he could hardly talk.” He likewise shared his own memories of an important moment in his unraveling the secrets of the chemical bond:

I worked at my desk nearly all that night, so full of excitement that I could hardly write. It is a wonderful feeling to understand something about the world that no one else has ever understood.

From there, Pauling emphasized the ever-evolving nature of science and the fact that new discoveries often overturn old ideas. In doing so, he hastened to point out that this evolution should not be seen as a source of discouragement for a researcher whose work might have been rendered moot. Instead, he urged the students to focus on the overarching quest for truth:

[W]e must try to understand these interesting aspects of the world. … The sources of happiness in this world are not so great that we can afford to neglect any of them, and satisfying one’s intellectual curiosity can be one of the great sources of happiness.

The end of Pauling’s speech was dedicated to a discussion of the intersection between science and morality, a topic to which he had devoted a great deal of thought. He told the students that in his world travels, he had not discerned any real difference in basic human nature, no matter where he was. As such, he declared that “we need to have a fundamental principle of morality that is independent of revelation, superstition, dogma, and creed.” He then added that “as a scientist, I have tried to work on this problem, to derive a basic ethical principle.” This core belief was that all people must work together to decrease the amount of human suffering in the world.

Pauling closed his lecture with a call to action:

I believe that the discoveries made by the scientists have brought the world together in a way that it never was before. The new means of communication and transportation have made the whole of humanity into one great organism. Our loyalty now should be to the whole of humanity. The time has come when we can make the world a great place for all human beings, everywhere, through the use of the resources of the world and the discoveries made by scientists for the benefit of humanity, and not for war, death, and destruction.

The response to Pauling’s talk was effusive in its praise. In a letter penned soon after the event, Dean Powell offered that

In an urban junior college such as ours where there are many disadvantaged students and students of every race, creed, and economic situation, it is particularly important to provide outstanding speakers such as you are, to provide them with mental stimulation and encouragement. Your visit here was thus doubly meaningful.

Meyer Krakowski added

We feel that the three thousand people who heard you…will long remember your enthusiastic discussion of the challenge of scientific discovery and the emphasis you placed on the scientists and society’s responsibility to all humanity.

Perhaps most notably however, LACC’s student government felt the evening to have been so important that they decided to allocate funds to publish a transcript made from a tape recording of the lecture. Pauling received fifty copies of the pamphlet that resulted, and many more were distributed on campus.

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A Lifelong Quest for Peace

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Pauling and Ikeda at Soka University in Los Angeles, 1987

[Part 2 of 2 in a series on Pauling’s interactions with Daisaku Ikeda.]

Linus Pauling’s 1987 meeting with Japanese peace activist Daisaku Ikeda, in which the two discussed their lives and philosophies in great detail, clearly made an impression on both men. Not long after, Ikeda’s assistant, Tomosaburo Hirano, wrote to Pauling again, thanking him for meeting with Ikeda and asking about the possibility of his composing a manuscript for publication in Japan.

Later in 1988, just about a year after their first meeting, Ikeda wrote to Pauling directly to express interest in co-authoring a dialogue in order to “provide some suggestion for the young generation who are to shoulder the responsibility in the 21st century, as well as serve the cause of peace and prosperity of humankind.” The dialogue would be published in an interview format, based on the transcript of their meeting in Los Angeles and supplemented by additional material. The first step toward completion was for Pauling to answer a series of seventy-three questions regarding his outlook on life. Pauling was interested in the project and promptly responded to the questionnaire.


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Pauling and Ikeda in dialogue, 1987

Many of the questions developed for the dialogue concerned the evolution of Pauling’s views on war and peace over the course of his life. Pauling began by explaining that, as he was only thirteen years old when World War I started, he had few thoughts about international relations at the time. He did recall the conclusion of the war in 1918, as he participated in a victory parade held in Corvallis, Oregon, where he marched alongside other cadets serving in the Oregon Agricultural College Army Reserve Officers Training Corps.

By the dawn of the Second World War, Pauling was well-established in Pasadena, working at the California Institute of Technology. During the war years he directed much of his energy toward projects sponsored by the explosives division of the National Defense Research Committee, where his research was used to support the killing and maiming of enemy soldiers, including the Japanese. Though he would spend much of his life working to limit the amounts of human suffering on Earth, Pauling commented that he felt satisfaction at the conclusion of the war, heartened that Hitler “and his associates” had been denied their goal of gaining control of the planet.

Nonetheless, despite Pauling’s scientific support for the war effort, it was also the case that when J. Robert Oppenheimer asked him to head the Manhattan Project chemistry department at Los Alamos, he refused. Likewise, after the war’s end, it was the emerging development of nuclear weapons and the ongoing threat of nuclear war that prompted Pauling’s peace activism. Over time, this point of view evolved into a desire to eliminate all war from Earth.


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In 1990, the agreement for the Japanese version of the Pauling-Ikeda dialogue, In Quest of the Century of Life, was finalized, and this version of the book was subsequently published. That same year, Pauling delivered a commemorative lecture at the second Soka University Pacific Basin Symposium, held at the Los Angeles campus of Soka Gakkai University.

Pauling used this talk to reflect on the genesis of his peace activism in some detail. Pauling recalled that, following the detonation of nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the public first became aware of the existence of nuclear weapons. In short order, businessmen’s clubs and other civic groups began to request that Pauling deliver after-dinner talks on the nature of these powerful new weapons. The talks were meant to be purely educational, according to Pauling, and focused mostly on the nature of atomic nuclei and nuclear energy.

Pauling soon discovered however, that as he gave more talks of this kind, he found himself ending them with a short commentary on war in general. In these, he expressed his hope that the existence of nuclear weapons would act as a deterrent to future conflicts, which would instead be handled by an international system of law. Albert Einstein had conveyed a similar sentiment as early as 1946.

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Pauling speaking at Soka University, August 24, 1990.

But with the passage of time, as nuclear stockpiles grew and the magnitude of the bombs being produced increased from 20 kilotons to 20 megatons – more than a thousand times more powerful than the weapons used in Japan – Pauling and many others began to call for global disarmament. While this directive was partially heeded the world’s governments, many large militaries began looking for ways to profit on their slow but steady draw down in arms. As Pauling pointed out, this ambition led to sales of military surplus.

“What do we have going on in the world now?” Pauling queried at the podium.

Wars, a lot of wars. And thousands, tens of thousands of people killed every year in wars…And what does the United States do, and the Soviet Union do, and the Chinese People’s Republic? They all sell advanced military weapons to other countries, the underdeveloped countries, countries that have a lot of money because of oil.

Pauling’s rhetoric had sharpened over the years, and now, before a packed house in Los Angeles, he demanded a change from the military-industrial status quo that had emerged in the wake of the Second World War.

Now we are forced to eliminate from the world forever the vestige of prehistoric barbarism, this curse of the human race, war. We, you and I, are privileged to live at a time in the world’s history, this remarkable extraordinary age, the unique epoch in this history of the world, the epoch of demarcation between the past millennia of war and suffering and the future, the great future of peace, justice, morality, and human well-being. The world community will thereby be freed, not only from the suffering caused by war, but also from hunger, disease, and fear through the better use of the earth’s resources, the discoveries made by scientists and the efforts of human beings through their work. And I am confident that we shall, in the course of time, build a world characterized by economic, political and social justice for all persons and a culture worthy of man’s intelligence.


In 1991, the year following Pauling’s Soka University address, Linus Pauling and Daisaku Ikeda, along with Johan Galtung, the Norwegian founder of the discipline of Peace and Conflict Studies, signed the Oslo Appeal. This document urged the United Nations to require that nuclear member states issue a global, joint Nuclear Test Ban Treaty as well as a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; outlaw the production and stockpiling of chemical and biological weapons; prohibit the international weapons trade; and sponsor an international conference to discuss the redirection of resources released through disarmament to support development in the Third World.

Subsequently, Linus Pauling received the Daisaku Ikeda Medal for Peace, awarded by Soka Gakkai International in 1992. Later that year, the English translation of his and Ikeda’s dialogue was published in the West under the title of A Lifelong Quest for Peace.

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Visitors at the San Francisco opening of the “Linus Pauling and the Twentieth Century” exhibit, 1998.

Following Pauling’s death in 1994, Ikeda expressed a desire to honor his friend with a travelling exhibition that would be funded by Soka Gakkai’s resources. The exhibition was initially conceived of as a means for educating the public on ideas in chemistry and as a mechanism for introducing children to Pauling as a role model.

As it moved forward, the exhibit shifted toward honoring all facets of Pauling’s career as a humanitarian, activist, scientist, and medical researcher. Once finalized, the exhibit toured the world for six years. Millions of people saw it in Europe and Japan, as well as multiple locations in the United States, including Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston, and Pauling’s birthplace, Portland, Oregon.

Pauling and Ikeda

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Daisaku Ikeda, 2010

[Part 1 of 2]

“If the people are not misled by false statements by politicians and authorities, they will recognize the need for world peace and their own responsibilities in achieving this goal.”

-Linus Pauling, 1988

In August 1945, Daisaku Ikeda, a resident of Tokyo and the son of a seaweed farmer, witnessed first-hand the devastation that two nuclear bombs wrought upon his homeland. The experience instilled in Ikeda an insatiable yearning to understand and eliminate the sources of war.

In pursuing this ambition, Ikeda studied political science at what is now Tokyo-Fuji University, and committed himself to the pacifist lifestyle of a Nichiren Buddhist. Ikeda’s chosen faith, named after a twelfth-century priest who emphasized the Lotus Sutra as the authoritative text for adherents of Buddhism, was becoming extremely popular among East Asians following World War II. Fundamental to the practice’s message was a strong call to treat others with respect and compassion, recognizing that all will become Buddhas in the end.

Ikeda also joined a new religious organization called the Soka Gakkai, which followed the teachings of Nichiren, and ultimately became the group’s president in 1960. In his capacity as chief executive, Ikeda focused intently on opening Japan’s relationship with China, and establishing the Soka education network of humanistic schools from kindergarten through university. He also began writing a book titled The Human Revolution.

As his tenure moved forward, the Soka Gakkai grew into an international network of communities dedicated to peace and to cultural and educational activities. In 1975, Ikeda founded an umbrella organization known as Soka Gakkai International (SGI) to fund, direct the resources of, and help facilitate communication between the dispersed Soka Gakkai members. In the 1980s, he turned his attentions toward anti-nuclear activism and citizen diplomacy, and it was in this capacity that he came into close contact with Linus Pauling.


Pauling’s first interaction with SGI came in the early 1980s, by which time the non-governmental organization was already actively cooperating with the United Nations’ department of public information to mobilize citizens for mass movements demanding peace. Seeking to increase SGI’s influence in propelling the peace movement, Ikeda decided to initiate communications with Pauling, who was by now splitting the majority of his time at the family ranch in Big Sur, California and the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in Palo Alto. It was at the latter location where Ikeda’s associate, Mr. Tomosaburo Hirano, would make contact with and interview Dr. Pauling.

This meeting proved to be the first step in a lengthy “courtship” that involved extensive correspondence between Pauling’s secretary, Dorothy Munro, and Ikeda’s assistant, Hirano. Indeed, more than six years would pass before Pauling communicated directly with Ikeda and, a bit later on, finally meet Ikeda in person.

Over the course of those six years, Hirano met with Pauling for two more interviews, focusing primarily on Pauling’s views on peace, but also, to a lesser degree, on his scientific work. Extracts from these sessions were often published in the Seikyo Simbun Press – the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper in Japan – for which Hirano served as associate editor. The pieces typically highlighted Pauling’s work toward nuclear disarmament and were often published in tandem with Ikeda’s release of new strategic proposals bearing titles such as “A New Proposal for Peace and Disarmament” and “Toward A Global Movement for a Lasting Peace.”


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Pauling and Ikeda pictured together in an article published in the Kanagawa Shimbun newspaper, February 2005.

Finally, at the end of 1986, Pauling received a New Year’s card from Ikeda. The following year, during a trip to Los Angeles, Ikeda requested a personal meeting with Pauling, which Pauling obliged. Face to face at last, the two men developed an instant rapport with one another, quickly exhausting the allotted time for their meeting with discussion (aided by a translator) of a wide range of subjects: science, peace, childhood and adult life. The conversation even drifted into Pauling’s hobby of collecting and studying different editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Ikeda was fascinated by Pauling’s warm recollections of major figures such as Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Bertrand Russell and, of course, Ava Helen Pauling, whose life and accomplishments Pauling cited as having been directly responsible for his peace activism. The two also talked about Pauling’s Nobel Peace Prize lecture, in which he had said that he believed the world had inevitably to move into a new period of peace and reason, that no great world war would again threaten the globe, and that problems should be solved by world law to benefit all nations and people.

In that same lecture, Pauling emphasized that, were it up to him, he would prefer to be remembered as the person who discovered the hybridization of bond orbitals, rather than through his work toward reducing nuclear testing and stimulating action to eliminate war. Nonetheless, Pauling considered the Nobel Peace Prize to be the highest honor that had ever received, in particular because of the onus that it placed upon him to continue that work. By contrast, Pauling felt that his Nobel Chemistry Prize, awarded in 1954, had plainly been earned for work already accomplished.

Over the course of their conversation, Ikeda also learned that being dedicated to peace, for Pauling, meant working toward the prevention of suffering for all human beings. In this, Pauling’s point of view as a humanist matched up well with Ikeda’s Buddhist philosophy. Specifically, Ikeda’s faith taught that one should regard others’ sufferings as their own and should seek out to eliminate it – a principle also expressed in the teachings of Christ, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and in the Analects of Confucius, and more generally known as the Golden Rule.

Though Pauling was an avowed atheist, Ikeda pointed out that he did not feel his own religion to be an impediment to his rationality – the same rationality that Pauling believed guided his own desire for peace. Rather, Ikeda argued that

Religions must make every effort to avoid both bias and dogma. If they fail in this, they lose the ability to establish a sound humanism and can even distort human nature. The twenty-first century has no need of religions of this kind.

So concluded the long-awaited first meeting between two men of like interests. The communications and collaborations that were still to come will be explored in our next post.

Dinner in Camelot: What an Evening 55 Years Ago Tells us Today

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Science News Letter, May 12, 1962

[Ed Note: Today we are pleased to publish this guest post authored by Joseph A. Esposito, who served in three presidential administrations. His book on the Nobel Prize dinner will be published in 2018 by Fore Edge, an imprint of the University Press of New England.]

As the nation grapples with polarization and rancor, it is instructive to look at the state of discourse a half century ago.  Perhaps there is no better prism to do so than the dinner that President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy hosted for Nobel Prize winners and other American intellectuals fifty-five years ago, on April 29, 1962.

Coming at the mid-point of the Kennedy presidency, this dinner honored forty-nine Nobel laureates and spoke to the accomplishments of America while at the height of its power during the Cold War era. In the background, foreign and domestic challenges faced the country as the rivalry with the Soviet Union was intense and growing; race relations were frayed and becoming increasingly violent; and a number of important social issues were just emerging.

But there was optimism.  Certainly this dinner celebrated American achievement and a belief that the United States could tackle and surmount any problem.  And surely part of that feeling was due to the leadership exhibited by the president.  Kennedy, whatever his flaws, was a charismatic figure who used words to inspire while understanding the need to be conciliatory and pragmatic in dealing with public issues.

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Pasadena (California) Star-News, April 29, 1962

Prior to the dinner, Linus Pauling, the 1954 Nobel laureate in Chemistry, had been picketing the White House for the previous two days because of stalled nuclear test ban talks with the Soviet Union and the announcement that the United States would resume its own testing following a four-year halt.  After picketing on the Sunday that the event was to be held, Pauling and his activist wife, Ava Helen, changed for dinner and headed to the White House.

In the receiving line, Kennedy greeted Pauling cordially, commending him for expressing his views. Pauling was ambivalent about Kennedy, but enjoyed himself that evening, even leading the dancing.

As the dinner was being held, the Tony Awards were also being presented in New York.  The award for drama went to the play “A Man for All Seasons,” which is about Thomas More, who placed principle over loyalty to his government; Paul Schofield was honored with a Tony for his role as the lead character.  Linus Pauling might have smiled about the coincidence.  Pauling subsequently received a second Nobel Prize for Peace, the culmination of years’ worth of social activism such as he had exhibited that day.   A nuclear test ban agreement was signed in 1963.

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Time, May 11, 1962.

James Baldwin was another guest at the White House dinner.  Baldwin, then thirty-seven years old, had already written several books, including Notes of a Native Son.  He would interact with Robert Kennedy at the Nobel event, and this conversation would have important implications for the civil rights movement.  One year later, Baldwin and Robert Kennedy met with African American leaders in New York.  The meeting was acrimonious, but it proved educational for the attorney general. Eighteen days later, President Kennedy delivered his famous civil rights speech in which he envisioned the future Civil Rights Act. As it turned out, his brother was alone among his advisors in supporting this televised address.

Also present at the White House gathering was J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had run afoul of McCarthyism and had his security clearance revoked by the Eisenhower administration. Having spent the past eight years in political purgatory, Oppenheimer was invited by Kennedy to the gala dinner.  The President understood the value of reconciliation and redemption; the following year, Kennedy selected the “Father of the Atomic Bomb” for the prestigious Fermi Award.

Indeed, the dinner brought together some of the nation’s greatest minds.  Among the collection of writers present were Robert Frost, Pearl Buck, John Dos Passos, William Styron, and Katherine Anne Porter, whose A Ship of Fools became the number one bestseller that day.  The scientists in the room included Glenn Seaborg, responsible for the discovery of ten elements; several others associated with the Manhattan Project; and a veritable who’s who of American physicists, chemists, biologists and medical researchers.  Astronaut John Glenn, the hero of the hour who had recently orbited the Earth, was also there.

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Much has been made about Camelot, a focus that will surely intensify during the upcoming centennial of John F. Kennedy’s birth. And while images of the 1,036-day presidency of the young leader will forever be intertwined with his untimely, tragic death, it is also clear that Kennedy could uplift the nation through soaring words, measured action, and the ability to bring together people who sought only America’s best interests.  A partisan when necessary, he also understood civility and the value of respectful dialogue.

So too was Linus Pauling a man who respected principal and the exchange of ideas.  While he appreciated that special evening in 1962 and had been hopeful of the young president’s potential, he was not reluctant to speak out about the great issues of the day. Above all, Linus Pauling was a distinguished scientist and a committed activist for peace.  He was truly “a man for all seasons.”  We can learn much from him as well.

Continuing Objections to the Persian Gulf War

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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.

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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.”


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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

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[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.

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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.


 

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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

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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.


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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.

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“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.