Pauling, Kennedy and Khrushchev: Public Interactions

Pauling speaking to students at San Jose City College, April 12, 1962

[Part 4 of 4]

Linus Pauling’s public relationship with John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev was not dissimilar from his private interactions with the world leaders. As in his correspondence, Pauling was not shy about expressing his displeasure with various actions taken by the two men, and his message remained consistent and clear: the urgent need for nuclear disarmament and the cessation of nuclear weapons testing.

In pursuit of these goals, Pauling made use of his high profile with the media to call attention to the atrocities of nuclear weapons and to hold both leaders accountable for their actions. As time progressed, Pauling also became increasingly direct in his rhetoric, again with the goal of pushing for global denuclearization.

In a speech delivered at San Jose City College in 1962, for example, Pauling urged his audience to write letters to Kennedy urging the U.S. “not to carry out nuclear tests.” Later that year, at Portland State College, Pauling spoke to students about his lack of trust in Kennedy’s public statements supporting disarmament, noting that the president was “at the same time asking for a $6 billion increase in the military budget.” For Pauling, a ramp up of this magnitude was wholly inconsistent with an ethos of nuclear disarmament: “so long as great bombs remain, war will become great war.”

Pauling also engaged publicly with Premier Khrushchev, albeit in somewhat different ways. One prominent instance involved an “open telegram” that Pauling sent to Moscow, and that was also published in multiple newspapers. As one might expect, the telegram focused on Soviet weapons testing, and urged that “you [Khrushchev] stop the plan for carrying out a test explosion of a 50-megaton bomb.” Failure to do so would mean that “several tens of thousands of children all over the world would be born with gross defects” were the test to go forward.

From there, Pauling assuming the role of a public broker. “I have telegraphed President Kennedy,” he wrote, “asking that the United States pledge that it will not carry out additional bomb tests if you revoke further testing.” He then concluded with a plea,

For the sake of human beings all over the world, I beseech the Soviet Union to stop testing bombs and, instead, to redouble its efforts for peace and disarmament.

With the open telegram, Pauling once again sought to raise public awareness about inconsistencies in rhetoric related to nuclear testing, and to serve notice to both leaders of the need to stop testing for the sake of all humanity.

As he calculated his public actions, Pauling took care to show that he was not unilaterally targeting one country or the other. This notion was emphasized in a September 1962 letter to the editor of This Week magazine, in which Pauling stressed that

I have never advocated unilateral disarmament by the United States or unilateral cessation of bomb testing. For years I have vigorously and consistently advocated that all testing of nuclear weapons in the world be brought to an end by means of international agreement, with the best possible systems of international controls and inspections.

This theme was furthered in a different letter penned for the New York Times. In it, Pauling debunks a series of recent comments made by Kennedy on the alleged safety of nuclear weapons; statements that the President had used to justify continued testing. Pauling then turned to Khrushchev, decrying a recent hydrogen bomb test that “will, if the human race survives, reap a toll approaching 20,000,000 grossly defective children and embryonic neonatal deaths.”

Pauling addressed both men once more in yet another 1962 letter, this time published by The National Guardian. Pauling used the piece to argue that “the Soviet nuclear explosion, like the present U.S. series of tests, was carried out for political purposes, and not for the sake of military security.”

For Pauling, the case was closed that neither world leader was seriously interested in disarmament. “Premier Khrushchev and President Kennedy talk about the need for peace, disarmament, and international cooperation,” he wrote, “but the orders that they give are for continued bomb testing.” In this context, the time had come “when we, through duty to ourselves, our children, and our children’s children, must revolt against this irrational and immoral policy of our governments. Through our protests we must force our governments to stop the bomb tests.”

Pauling was not just angry about Kennedy and Khrushchev’s testing programs, he was equally upset about the brinksmanship that they had put on display during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Pauling was, in particular, infuriated by Kennedy’s decision to blockade Cuba, and issued a series of public wires calling the action “horrifying” and placing “all the American people, as well as the people of many other countries, in grave danger of death through nuclear war.”

For Pauling, the blockade was far too provocative and also an indication that Kennedy “has great trust in the rationality of the Russians […] but I don’t have as much trust in Khrushchev as Kennedy does.” Pointing out that “the threat of nuclear destruction can’t be made over and over again,” Pauling feared that Khrushchev might one day soon actually use nuclear weapons against the United States, were he provoked significantly enough. This eventuality was, of course, one that could be avoided were both world leaders capable of seriously discussing disarmament.

To that end, instead of a blockade, Pauling argued for other ideas. Why not, for example, consider the complete removal of Soviet and U.S. military bases near shared borders? More broadly, Pauling urged both leaders to work in the spirit of negotiation rather than retaliation, making clear that he did not “trust the military element in either country.”

No survey of Pauling’s engagements with Kennedy can overlook their most famous interaction, one imbued with cordiality and antagonism in equal measure.

On April 30, 1962, Pauling attended a dinner at the White House honoring all Nobel Prize winners residing in the Western Hemisphere; a total of forty-nine laureates were in attendance. In his remarks, Kennedy judged the guest list as comprising “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House.” The evening clearly put Pauling into a jovial mood as, at one point, he led 175 guests in an impromptu waltz in the East Room.

This act of buoyant spontaneity was quite a juxtaposition from Pauling’s actions earlier in the day. From noon to 3:00 PM that afternoon, Pauling had participated in an anti-nuclear picket protest organized by Women Strike for Peace and held directly in front of the White House. While marching on the line, Pauling posed with two signs: one read “No” with a picture of a mushroom cloud and the other said “Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Macmillan: We Have No Right to Test.” After three hours of protesting, Pauling returned to his hotel to put on black tie and prepare for the Nobel dinner.

One evening of fun did nothing to stop Pauling from continuing his public crusade again nuclear testing, and eventually he arrived at a major success. In August 1963, a little over a year and a half after the White House dinner, Kennedy and Khrushchev were among the signatories of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which rendered illegal the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere. In recognition of this moment, Pauling wrote to Kennedy to express his gratitude for agreeing to the terms of the treaty and to express his belief that “this agreement will go down in history as one of the greatest events in the history of the world.” And of course, the role that Pauling played in bringing it about did not go overlooked: a few months later, he was traveling to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Pauling, Kennedy and Khrushchev: Other Letters

Pauling’s handwritten drafts of letters to John F. Kennedy and U Thant during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 27, 1962

[Part 3 of 4]

Though his private correspondence John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev focused primarily on matters related to nuclear testing, Linus Pauling also initiated conversations with the two leaders on several other issues.

As with many Americans, Pauling was deeply concerned by the Cuban Missile Crisis and also expressed alarm at the way that American communists were being treated. So too was Pauling troubled by the treatment of the Jewish population in the Soviet Union, as evidenced in his letters to the Soviet Premier. These “remainder” topics from the Pauling correspondence with these two crucial figures is the subject of today’s post.

In October 1962, during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pauling sent a letter of admonishment to the American President. In it, Pauling wrote that he believed that the mere “threat of military action” was liable to create a Soviet “retaliation by nuclear attack,” a reaction that would put all Americans in “grave danger of death through nuclear war.”

One week letter, Pauling drafted by hand an even more forceful letter to Kennedy, in which he “vehemently urge[d] that for the sake of the reputation of the United States as a peaceful, moral, and law-abiding nation, you refrain from ordering the invasion of Cuba.” Notably, on the same piece of paper, Pauling also penned a draft letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations urging him to use his powers to prevent the “great immorality and illegality of an armed invasion of Cuba.”

Earlier that same year, Pauling wrote a different letter to Kennedy urging him to pardon the leader of the Communist Party of the United States, Junius Scales, who had been imprisoned. Pauling argued that Scales’ incarceration was unjust and that his sentencing had weakened the First Amendment of the Constitution. Kennedy offered no reply of consequence – an assistant responded that the President was “glad to have the benefit” of Pauling’s views on the case – but did ultimately commute Scales’ sentence in late 1962.

In addition to issues of nuclear testing and disarmament, Pauling pressed Nikita Khrushchev on the treatment of Jews within the Soviet Union. This communication was prompted by a letter on the topic that Pauling received in early 1963 from his friend, Bertrand Russell, the noted mathematician, philosopher and human rights advocate.

After corresponding with Russell several times to get his input, Pauling finally sent his letter to Khruschev in late 1963. In it, he outlined allegations of imprisonment (and even execution) of Jews for practicing their religion, and attempted to appeal to Khrushchev’s humanity in pushing for change. In doing so, Pauling stressed that his appeal was “one of concern and not of condemnation,” and that a “true test of friendship is the ability to speak frankly without fear of being taken for enemies, or of being misunderstood.” While it does not appear that Khrushchev issued a reply, the number of preliminary drafts that Pauling authored, and the thought that he devoted in approaching the matter, indicate the extent to which the issue was important to Pauling.

Pauling’s private relationship with Kennedy and Khruschev was in many ways quite similar. Pauling condemned both men for their roles in continuing their country’s nuclear testing program, and he held both accountable in bringing the programs to an end. And though his approach to non-nuclear issues with the two men differed a bit, he felt consistently emboldened to take a direct path in expressing his concerns.

In his public relationship with these two individuals, Pauling’s approach at times bordered on the theatrical. Pauling wanted action to be taken, and he knew that the best way to achieve that was to be bold and to make people notice. Our next post will explore this in greater detail.

Letters to Premier Khrushchev

Nikita Khruschev. [Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild]

[Documenting Linus Pauling’s communications with John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev. This is post 2 of 4.]

As we saw in our last post, Linus Pauling expressed intensive objection to U.S. President John F. Kennedy over the nation’s nuclear weapons testing program, but his ire was not solely aimed stateside. In addition to Kennedy, Pauling also pressed hard on Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, whom Pauling viewed as being equally culpable in bringing the world to the brink of disaster.

Over the course of the early 1960s, Pauling wrote multiple harsh letters to Khrushchev, always urging him to stop testing nuclear weapons. Khrushchev eventually responded to Pauling in October 1961, with an eight-page typewritten letter that outlined the Soviet position on testing. In it, Khrushchev put forth the notion that the Soviets wanted to end their program but could not do so, because the British and Americans were not slowing down their testing. As such, to protect the safety of his people, Khrushchev was compelled to continue testing.

To add historical weight to this idea, and to convey the intensity with which it was held, Khruschev went so far as to equate the threat posed to the USSR by the western nuclear alliance ro that of another decidedly bad actor from the past.

Try to understand, dear Mr. Pauling, what the Soviet Union would be like if it continued to refrain, as if nothing at all has happened, from taking additional measures to strengthen its defense capacity, including measures to perfect nuclear weapons, while the NATO powers are responding with threats to its proposal that a German peace treaty be concluded. If we had not taken those measures, we could have committed an act which could not be justified either by history or – even less so – by our people and by the people of those countries which fell victims of invasion by the Hitlerite hordes.

On a philosophical level, Khrushchev was quick to point out that “The Soviet people and the peoples of other Socialist countries that engage in peaceful constructive labor do not need wars.” Likewise, the Soviet government “has repeatedly declared that it is ready to sign a treaty on general and complete disarmament under the most strict international control.” It seemed then, at least from this letter, that Khrushchev might eventually be open to the idea of disarmament and that progress in that direction was a possibility.

The reality was something different though, and the Soviet testing program continued. In August 1962, Pauling wrote again to Khrushchev, this time echoing Khrushchev’s own words from the October 1961 letter. In it, Pauling urged that

…the Soviet government reconsider its decision and exert its great influence in the struggle for peace rather than in its preparation for catastrophic war.

When this plea received no reply, Pauling pushed again. In his next letter he once more exhorted that

I cannot believe that any person or any nation in the world would benefit from the decision to resume the testing of nuclear weapons. I beg that you and your associates in the governments take this matter under consideration again.

Mikhail Menshikov

This time around, the Soviets issued a response, though it came to Pauling via the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Mikhail Menshikov. In this letter, Menshikov repeated and expanded upon Khruschev’s earlier argument, stating that the Soviets viewed the U.S. and the British as the real threats, because they had not scaled down their testing efforts. And while acknowledging the validity of Pauling’s plea, Menshikov again argued that the Soviets could not stop their testing program because of their need to protect themselves from the western nuclear powers. Quoting Menshikov:

In the face of unconcealed threats to use arms against the Soviet Union, at the time when the Western powers are feverishly speeding up the arms race[…][we hope] that the peoples will realize the forced character of our decisions, will realize that we had no other choice.

Menshikov also acknowledged that “we are aware of the consequences of the nuclear weapon tests for living organisms” before suggesting that “…at present it is far more dangerous to allow certain circles to push the world unimpededly to the abyss of World War III.” The ambassador concluded with the notion that “Any person who will look at the facts without prejudice will have to admit that it is the USA and Great Britain that are responsible.”  

Menshikov’s letter made clear that the Soviet Union was never going to stop testing without securing an agreement from the U.S. and the U.K. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the letter also marks the end of Pauling’s private correspondence with Khrushchev on the issue of nuclear testing. But this is not to suggest that Pauling gave up. Instead, he shifted his rhetoric for disarmament into the public sphere, where he could not be so easily ignored.

Letters to President Kennedy

Excerpt from Pauling’s “night letter” to John F. Kennedy, March 1962

[With this post, we begin an examination of Linus Pauling’s relationship with President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev during tense times. This is part 1 of 4.]

The private relationships that Linus Pauling maintained with U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were surprisingly similar, despite the fact that the two figureheads were personally very different, and that they represented highly divergent values and interests. For Pauling however, both men were key proponents of testing nuclear weapons, and because of that, both needed to be lobbied to work toward disarmament.

In the few short years that the Kennedy and Khrushchev administrations overlapped, Pauling wrote to both men relentlessly, urging each to stop testing nuclear weapons. The tone with which Pauling addressed both men was nearly identical, cementing the fact that Pauling viewed this issue as being of the utmost importance. However, the response and subsequent correspondence between Pauling and the two world leaders differed markedly.

Pauling and Khrushchev corresponded frequently on the topic of disarmament, even agreeing, at times, about the need to do more. Kennedy, on the other hand, never formally responded to Pauling’s pleas, though he did seem to want to enlist Pauling as a science advisor and even an ally. Nothing of the sort ever materialized, though the two did engage socially.

Ultimately the story of Pauling, Kennedy and Khrushchev is one of Pauling’s enduring activism and perseverance, even in the face of generally indifferent responses to his warnings of doom and demise. While this series will explore his communications with both leaders, today’s post focuses more intently on Kennedy.

At multiple points during the Kennedy presidency, Pauling sent letters pleading that the United States cease its nuclear testing program. Often these letters were prompted by Kennedy’s public rhetoric surrounding nuclear issues. On November 11, 1962 for example, Kennedy made a public address to veterans at Arlington National Cemetery where he commented on the state of affairs, suggesting that, “The only way to maintain peace is to be prepared in the final extreme.” In a printed edition of Kennedy’s speech, Pauling scrawled this particular passage in the margins, and then wrote in large block letters that “SUCH A POLICY WILL MEAN THE END OF CIVILIZATION.” For Pauling, clearly, this was not merely rhetoric; this was the potential end of life on Earth.

The speech prompted Pauling to write a “Night Letter” to Kennedy, with copies sent to several of his scientific advisors. In it, Pauling offers Kennedy a stark choice: either stop the American testing program or “go down in history as one of the most immoral men of all time and one of the greatest enemies of the human race.” Pauling based his argument on his calculation that the Carbon-14 fallout from continued testing would be the source of birth defects for more than 20 million children yet to be born. Accordingly, were Kennedy to continue down this path, he would personally be “guilty of this monstrous immorality, matching that of the Soviet leaders.”

This incendiary tone was perhaps extreme, but certainly characteristic of the peril that Pauling sought to emphasize in his Kennedy letters. In a different exchange, Pauling criticized a series of interviews that Kennedy had given to LIFE magazine in which he seemed to represent nuclear radiation as being relatively benign. For Pauling, statements of this sort would only “have the effect of increasing the danger to our nation and to the American people.” Kennedy’s response, as authored by National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, implied that the LIFE article had taken the President out of context and was not representative of his actual views. Regardless, the interview had already been published and the proverbial damage was done.

Ava Helen Pauling, by now a high profile activist herself, took a different tack from her husband. Instead of excoriating Kennedy for his decisions, Ava Helen wrote that he could potentially “become the greatest president that the United States has ever had” were he to successfully end the testing of nuclear weapons.

She also wrote a letter to the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, issuing a plea on behalf of the health and safety of the world’s children. In the letter, Ava Helen leaned heavily on a “mother to mother” connection, while painting a decidedly grim portrait. Absent a ban on nuclear tests, Strontium-90 would continue to build up in the bones of children and create all manner of ill health effects. Though it may seem rash, Ava Helen urged the first lady to support what she believed to be a sensible path in pushing for a test ban treaty.

Carbon copy of different letters written to Khruschev and Kennedy, as typed on the same piece of paper.

President Kennedy, of course, was not the only person who needed to be held accountable for nuclear weapons testing. In Pauling’s mind, nothing of consequence would happen unless both Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev came to mutual agreement.

At various points – and in a somewhat literal manifestation of their equal status in Pauling’s mind – Pauling drafted letters to both Khrushchev and Kennedy on the same piece of paper. On other occasions, Pauling chose to question the leaders’ motivations. Notably, in 1962 Pauling sent a telegram to Kennedy urging that he end nuclear testing in the United States. In it, Pauling also insisted that the testing that Kennedy had already approved had not been driven by Khrushchev’s actions – a motivation that Kennedy had publicly declared – but rather because he was “forced by the U.S. militarists, the military-industrial complex” to do so. Nuclear testing then, was nothing more than an extension of a longer striving for military superiority and power. In Pauling’s view, this was deeply immoral and wholly unacceptable.

Pauling and Sakharov

[Part 2 of 2]

Linus Pauling’s relationship with the scientist and peace activist Andrei Sakharov – a kindred spirit whom he never met – began in unusual fashion. In 1978 Pauling was in Moscow attending the International Conference on Biochemistry and Molecular Biology when an unidentified man handed him a letter written in Russian. As Pauling later recounted, the man, “who spoke with a pronounced Central European accent,” said that the letter was from Andrei Sakharov, and that Pauling “should have it translated by some reliable person.”

Pauling accepted the letter and, about a month later, had it translated by Sakharov’s son-in-law, Efrem Yankelevich, a US-based activist in his own right who helped to give Sakharov a “voice” to the world during his years in exile.

Page 1 of Sakharov’s handwritten letter to Pauling, 1978

But before Pauling could get the letter translated, Sakharov sent it to several news agencies for wider distribution. In it, Sakharov asked for Pauling’s support in the push to help free three Soviet scientists – physicist Yuri Orlov, mathematician Alexander Bolonkin, and biologist Sergei Kovalev – all of whom had been sentenced to terms in labor camps for acts of political dissidence.

Unfortunately, in addition to the original text, the published letter admonished Pauling for a perceived lack of action, and a claim that he was ignoring Sakharov’s plea for support. In actual fact, Pauling had been traveling when the letter was published and hadn’t even received a copy of the translation by the time of the letter’s release. Understandably, he was frustrated for having been called out by Sakharov in this way.

Wishing to set the record straight, Pauling penned an editorial for publication in Physics Today, which was already planning to run an article on Pauling’s receipt of the Lomonosov Gold Medal. In a note appended to the editorial, Pauling stressed that “no changes be made in my letter, unless I have given approval. This is a delicate matter.”

The piece was published, without changes, in the magazine’s December 1978 issue. In it, Pauling confessed that he felt duped and bombarded by Sakharov’s tactics and chided that “in the future he should be more careful in his selection of advisors and agents.”

That said, Pauling also took pains to make clear that he supported Sakharov’s activist work and noted that, in the past, he had written letters in support of Soviet scientists who had been wrongly imprisoned. Nonetheless, in this particular instance Pauling did not follow through on Sakharov’s request, choosing not to write letters asking for the release of the three scientists in question.

Time moved forward but Sakharov refused to let the issue fade. Two years later, in 1981, he sent several letters – including a handwritten message handed to Pauling via his son-in-law, Yankelevich – repeating the same urgent call to action in support of the three Soviet scientists. Some of these letters even included personal statements from the scientists themselves, and Yankelevich appears to have added updates on their lives. For Sergei Kovalev, the situation appeared to be deteriorating rapidly as he was reportedly suffering from tuberculosis as well as partial paralysis. 

In addition to the personal handwritten notes, Sakharov once again published a separate public letter to Pauling, which appeared in translated form in the now defunct Freedom Appeals magazine. In this instance, Sakharov sought to enlist Pauling’s support for the release of biologist Sergei Kovalev and his daughter-in-law, Tatiana Osipova.

While Sakharov’s initial correspondence had been fairly dry, this latest published letter was more emotional. Addressing Pauling, Sakharov wrote,

I know neither your political views nor the extent to which you may be sympathetic to the Soviet regime. But what I am asking of you is not politics. To save honest and courageous people who are about to perish is the duty of humaneness and a question of honor. Please make good use of your prestige; appeal to Soviet leaders and to the leaders of Western countries. Please do what you can.

This new approach seems to have made an impact, if in an oblique way. Even though Pauling once again did not act to free the imprisoned Soviet scientists – Sergei Kovalev was eventually released by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 – he did eventually come to the aid of a different Soviet intellectual: Andrei Sakharov himself.

Gerhard Herzberg

In 1980, just five years removed from his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, Sakharov was sent into exile in the city of Gorky, and was routinely subjected to harassment and isolation in the years that followed. In April 1981, Pauling and Gerhard Herzberg, a fellow Nobel Chemistry laureate, sent a letter to Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev and the Canadian Ambassador to the Soviet Union demanding the “end of [Sakharov’s] confinement.” In the message, Pauling and Herzberg explained that their letter was not a publicity stunt, and that there would be “no communication about it to the ‘media.'”

Instead the authors put forth that, “every society needs its critics if it is to diagnose successfully and overcome its problems […] Surely your nation is mighty enough to tolerate a patriotic critic of the stature of Andrei Sakharov.” Pauling and Herzberg concluded by harkening back to the dark years of gulags and secret police, exhorting to Brezhnev that “Surely you do not want a return to Stalinism.”

Later in 1981, after having been in exile for a year, Sakharov began a hunger strike to demand that his daughter-in-law, Liza, be permitted to move to the U.S. to be with her husband, Sakharov’s son Alexei. As he initiated this protest, Sakharov sent a letter to his foreign colleagues rallying them for support. Though this plea was of a personal nature, Sakharov explained that

I consider the defense of our children just as rightful as the defense of other victims of injustice, but in this case it is precisely me and my public activities which have been the cause of human suffering.

In addition to the open letter, which was broad and impersonally written, Sakharov sent a direct message to Pauling, imploring him specifically to support the release of his daughter-in-law. Ultimately the campaign worked, and before the year had concluded Liza was granted an exit visa to live in the United States.

But the victory did not come without a cost. Namely, as a penalty for having gone on the hunger strike, Sakharov was stripped of all his accolades by the Soviet government. In reaction to this, an international campaign, initated by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee – a non-governmental organization dedicated to insuring that human rights are respected and practiced worldwide – solicited prominent scientists to urge Premier Brezhnev to release Sakharov from exile and allow him to return to his home in Moscow.

Pauling’s letter to Leonid Brezhnev, August 1981

Pauling, clearly aware of Sakharov’s plight, agreed to write a second letter to Brezhnev, and promptly sent the appeal arguing for Sakharov’s release on the grounds of human rights violations. Delivered in August 1981, the letter apparently fell on deaf ears.

By 1983 Sakharov had been in exile for three years and his health was beginning to decline. Pauling’s earlier attempts to secure his release had not worked, so he adopted new tactics. In mid-1983, Pauling sent a telegram to the Soviet Academy of Sciences and to then Soviet premier, Yuri Andropov, offering Sakharov a job as a research associate in theoretical physics at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in Palo Alto. Justifying this offer, Pauling told news reporters that “I feel sympathy for Sakharov as a person who gets into trouble for criticizing his own country.” Upon learning of the offer, Sakharov publicly announced that he was willing to emigrate, but the Soviets declined to grant Sakharov an exit visa, citing “state secrets” connected to his scientific work on the hydrogen bomb during World War II.

In 1986 Sakharov was finally released amidst the Gorbachev regime’s policies of glasnost and perestroika. The famed scientist and activist promptly returned to Moscow, and in 1989 he died in his home. While it seems that Pauling’s attempts to free Sakharov did not ultimately work, and there is no documentary evidence that their relationship advanced in the years following his release, it is worth mentioning that Pauling received an advance copy of Sakharov’s memoirs prior to their posthumous publication in 1990. It is not clear if Pauling requested the copy, but his receipt of the volume is a suggestion that, even in death, Sakharov remained with Pauling.

Andrei Sakharov: An Overview

[Part 1 of 2]

Esteemed scientist, subject to ridicule in his home country, becomes outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons testing and wins Nobel Peace Prize with activist wife by his side. Without thinking twice, one might quickly assume this to be a short summary of the life of Linus Pauling, but it also suffices nicely as a capsule biography of the Soviet physicist and activist, Andrei Sakharov.

Indeed, the lives of these two men were striking in their similarity. Both were famous scientists – Sakharov a nuclear physicist and Pauling a chemist – and, following World War II, both became very outspoken critics of the nuclear arms race. Both were likewise criticized by their governments for their rhetoric and world view, and both eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize for their activist work. It is no surprise then, that the lives of these two men intersected more than once and that their relationship seemed to be based on a mutual understanding that their lives were unique, yet in some ways intertwined.

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, born in 1921, spent the early chapters of his scientific career advancing research that directly led to the development of the Soviet hydrogen bomb. Regarded to be the “great equalizer” in the arms race against the United States, the first successful H-bomb tests were celebrated as a significant milestone within the Soviet Union, and Sakharov’s contributions to the project led to his receiving multiple accolades from Soviet leadership, including both the Lenin and the Stalin prizes.

Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner, 1988. Credit: New York Times photograph.

As time moved forward however, decorations of this sort did nothing to quell Sakharov’s growing concerns about nuclear weapons and the threat that they posed to world safety. Sakharov soon channeled his worry into activism and protest, often rallying around the cause of nuclear disarmament. During this period, the recently widowed Sakharov also met his second wife, Yelena Bonner, who was an activist in her own right. The couple remained married and worked together until Sakharov’s death in 1989.

Sakharov’s protests were not always about nuclear weapons; he was also very concerned about human rights violations and was not shy about vocalizing his opinions. These activities were not embraced by the Soviet regime – outspoken criticism of the government was never welcome in the USSR – but for a time Sakharov’s voice was not entirely silenced by the government, probably because of his well-established prominence on the global stage, which included his receipt of the 1975 Nobel Prize for Peace.

Official tolerance had its limits though, and when Sakharov protested his country’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 he had crossed the proverbial line. Within a year, and despite receiving public support from respected colleagues including Nobel laureate Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov was banished from his Moscow home and exiled to the city of Gorky, which was then a closed city to foreigners, and is now known as Nizhny Novgorod. Frequent reminders of governmental censure and dissatisfaction followed from there, including restrictions on telephone and visitor access, unannounced raids of his apartment, and force-feedings during hunger strikes.

Nonetheless, Sakharov endured and managed to find ways to spread his message around the world. Eventually, in 1986, under the promise of glasnost and perestroika, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev freed Sakharov from exile and allowed him to return to Moscow. Sakharov died just three years later at the age of 68.

Andrei Sakharov’s life was punctuated by moments of great passion and defined by an unbreakable determination. Throughout all of the hardships that he endured, he never wavered in his dedication to the causes that he believed in, a trait that he had in common with Linus Pauling. But despite the many similarities that these two men shared, they did not formally interact with one another until the late 1970s, several decades after they had both begun to speak out against a common foe: nuclear weapons. Sakharov, it seems, was the first to reach out and initiate a relationship between the two men. The specifics of this connection will be explored in greater depth next week.

Pauling’s “Immoral Man”: Nuclear Testing, the Nature of Leadership, and Letters to the Kennedys

[This is post 3 of 3 originally authored by SCARC Student Archivist Ethan Heusser for the Rare@OSU blog.]

For internationally renowned scientist and activist Linus Pauling, the early 1960s represented a time of feverish peace work that matched the dangers and necessities of an ever-escalating international crisis. One of the most interesting (and complicated) examples of his correspondence to world leaders during this time was to President John F. Kennedy.

Most of Pauling’s communications with JFK happened during his tenure as President of the United States between 1961-63. (Pauling, meanwhile, was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1963.) The topics of their letters varied widely between nuclear disarmament, nuclear test bans, international peace treaties, and even the Cuban Missile Crisis itself.


Though Pauling’s letters frequently asserted an authoritative tone, the two did not always maintain the level of peership this might imply; many of Pauling’s letters went unanswered, and those that did get replies were sometimes written by others on Kennedy’s behalf.


Pauling was often vehemently critical of President Kennedy’s policies and public relations efforts regarding the cold war and nuclear disarmament, attacking his moral character for failing to take strong enough action to de-escalate rising nuclear tension.


It’s also worth noting that Ava Helen Pauling played a similar role in advocacy to the Kennedys; she wrote Mrs. Kennedy with a similar message about the threat of nuclear weapons, albeit focusing specifically on the impact this might have on her own children. The Paulings’ two-pronged approach is emblematic of their larger team effort.


Nevertheless, Pauling’s lengthy diatribes and urgings to the Kennedys ended abruptly after the infamous assassination in 1963. Of particular significance is a brief letter written to the First Lady three days later, within which Pauling expresses remorse over the death “of our great President, John F. Kennedy.”


The tone of that letter is hard to interpret due to its pithiness, but the typically stoic manner in which Pauling writes reveals here a brief moment of vulnerability. For all his “urgings” and his attacks on Kennedy’s moral character, Pauling clearly also had a certain amount of faith in Kennedy’s ability to listen to reason, make compassionate decisions, and lead the nation through moments of immense political pressure. Not only that, but as someone familiar with death threats due to activism, it’s hard to imagine Linus Pauling seeing November 22nd as anything other than a sobering and uncertain experience. The long and difficult relationship between them was snuffed out, but the legacy of the work, unfortunately, needed more than ever to be continued.

Papers for Peace: Vietnam, Linus Pauling, and Thích Nhất Hạnh’s Burning Lotus


[Ed Note: This is the second of three Pauling-related posts authored by SCARC Student Archivist Ethan Heusser for the Rare@OSU blog, which explores the rare book collections held in the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center.]

Though people often come to SCARC to access our collection of two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling’s documents and correspondence, an important but oft-overlooked part of the archive is his personal library. It contains an incredibly diverse amount of material, including history, fiction, science, psychology, drama, and activism. That last category is particularly important given Pauling’s shift toward peace and anti-nuclear activism in his mid-40s; a closer examination of the books in his library from that point onward offers a possible view of the mental landscape that gave his peace activism its sustained intensity.

One salient example is “Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire” by Buddhist monk and activist Thích Nhất Hạnh. Published in 1967, the book offers a piercing look into the real experience of Vietnamese people mid-crisis and how this commonly overlooked mindset contributed to the continually escalating Vietnam conflict.

It begins by discussing “the historical setting” of religion in Vietnam before quickly pivoting to the rise of communist-capitalist tensions as global powers began to get increasingly involved. Hanh uses this context to address inaccurate perceptions held by the American public about Vietnam’s cultural climate; for example, he demonstrates that the majority of NLF (National Liberation Front) soldiers were not in fact fighting for communism, but rather for the end of American occupation. In escalating the conflict for the sake of fighting communism, therefore, the U.S. occupying force only drove the people of Vietnam against it more.

Hanh also undermines the misconception that non-affiliated Vietnamese citizens helped the NLF because of coercion; rather, they assisted the NLF because of the promise of achieving national independence. (In his view, this perspective mainly developed due to the historical presence of French imperialism in Vietnam. He claims that people in Vietnam associate American presence with age-old French oppression, thereby carrying that anger and resentment directly over.)

“Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire” was published at a critical point in American history and in the history of the Vietnam conflict. It complicated the overly-simplistic narrative presented by American media, arguing that the best solution for Vietnam is a neutral one free from the control of both capitalist and communist superpowers. To Hanh, this neutral solution involves establishing an interim government truly representative of the people of Vietnam in order to conduct a free and fair election. He advocates for the emergence of engaged Buddhism as a necessary part of this change. (“Engaged Buddhism” was first coined by Hanh as a philosophy that asks Buddhists to use the principles of their faith to fight injustice and ameliorate inequity.)

There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the edition of “Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire” in our archives, but its presence in Pauling’s personal library can perhaps reveal some of the thoughts and ideas that inspired his anti-Vietnam War activism. Both Linus and Ava Pauling were strong public critics of the Johnson administration’s escalation in Vietnam – and books such as this make it easy to see why. Firsthand accounts from peace activists like Hanh make it difficult to interpret America’s role in the conflict as something other than immoral and ineffective.

It’s inaccurate to assume a person agrees with a book simply because it exists in one’s library – but taking this book in context of the tenor of Pauling’s larger collection as well as the vehement discourse he used in fighting for peace can perhaps shed some light on how the sharing of ideas from peace activists around the world allows for stronger resistance against global injustice.

One World Away: Kiang’s Great Unity and Pauling’s Press for Peace

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[Ed Note: With the conclusion of the academic year here at Oregon State University, we say goodbye to Student Archivist Ethan Heusser, who has written extensively on the Special Collections and Archives Research Center’s rare book collections at our sister blog, Rare@OSU. Today and over the next three weeks, we will share three Pauling-related posts that Ethan wrote over the course of his tenure working for us.]

Many Americans – and people around the globe – experienced the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s as an age of political uncertainty and social turmoil. It was a powerful time: everywhere the specter of disaster loomed, yet that fear brought with it a unique capacity for change enabled by commonplace desperation. In the United States alone, mounting resistance to the Vietnam War built confidence among grass-roots activist organizations for their efficacy in up-ending the status quo. And while mutually assured destruction terrified the world, the threat of nuclear war also inspired many thinkers and activists to strive for equally bold solutions. In the light of world chaos and potential mass destruction, the idea of building a global government and abolishing nationalism seemed especially promising – far more promising than what the United Nations seemed ultimately able to provide.

It’s no surprise, then, to see a large proliferation in world peace literature in the Cold War era. Some publications were mild and innocuous, but many took the form of bold declarations and manifestos about the urgent need for radical change.

An excellent example of the latter is One World: The Approach to Permanent Peace on Earth and the General Happiness of Mankind by John Kiang. Self-described as “a manifesto of revolution for world union with the evolutionary law of group expansion as a guiding theory,” it examines shifting technologies and living conditions to build a larger argument in favor of a unified humanity. From that perspective, nations and nation-states can only be seen as counter-productive: the deep-seated but fundamentally arbitrary veil of nationalism impedes sincere appeals to common humanity and mutual accountability.

Although the core text is fairly concise, this copy of One World is a scholarly edition from 1984, replete with extensive sources, commentary, and analysis:

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In this work we see the role that cultural context can play in international movements: though not explicitly outlined, One Worldcontains thematic and rhetorical ties to the utopic vision of “Great Unity” in China. Great Unity represents the goal of creating a Chinese society of mutual accountability and selflessness – a cohesive community where people work to help others rather than harm them.

First described in classic Chinese texts going back millennia, Great Unity was popularized by Sun Yat-Sen in the early 20th century. In doing so, it was used to help build a cultural momentum in favor of a shift towards a communist ideal. The Great Unity message was adopted overtly in China’s national anthem in 1937; though later supplanted with another song in the People’s Republic of China during the Chinese Civil War, it remains in use by Taiwan to this day.

John Kiang left China in 1949 in the wake of the earth-shattering Chinese Civil War. It seems fair to suggest that he nevertheless brought the culturally-specific vision of world peace, prosperity, and harmony with him stateside. It’s hard for those of us living in our countries of birth to imagine the inner turmoil he must have felt during that time, working for global peace a world away while his homeland was experiencing such complete upheaval and division. Perhaps that effort helped him, in some way, to bring his home with him and improve the world as a result.

These efforts manifested in One World. Though a relatively obscure book, One World at last found some degree of traction once it found its way into the hands of two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling – surprisingly, Pauling was willing to attach his name to it in the form of a guest introduction.

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As a famous peace activist, Pauling was a prime recipient of unsolicited manuscripts, book ideas, calls for action, and reference requests. But of all of the texts he received and was asked to endorse, why would he choose one such as this?

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A large factor was undoubtedly Kiang’s persistent correspondence with Pauling. He wrote with Pauling repeatedly between 1983-4, praising Pauling’s efforts and experience and asking for an introduction to One World. Pauling consistently refused, citing his lack of expertise in Kiang’s specific subject area. This pseudo-humble approach to refusing unsolicited (and often wacky) manuscripts was trademark for Pauling during his peak social activism years. Then, somehow, everything changed for One World. Somehow, Pauling changed his mind. We have as proof Pauling’s written introduction documented in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Collection, along with letters and cards from the Kiang family thanking him for his collaboration:

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Even when meticulously compiled and researched, correspondence collections can still resist post hoc scrutiny. We hold a substantial set of letters between the two activists, but we lack the connection point between the “before” and “after” of when Pauling agreed to add his name to Kiang’s One World project. Was it a letter that went missing? A phone call? An in-person visit? Kiang later sent Pauling a photo of a meeting between them, but the context for how and when it happened is largely absent.

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Another probable factor is that the content and message of the book aligned well with Pauling’s driving fears for the future. As Pauling writes in his introduction, “[Kiang’s] principal message is that war has now ruled itself out.” For Pauling, the atom bomb meant that “a war in which the existing nuclear weapons were used would with little doubt mean the end of our civilization, and possibly the end of the human race.” Perhaps that in itself built enough common ground between two men of different backgrounds and fields of expertise to collaborate – if only in a minor way – on what must have felt like a higher calling. (Pauling’s endorsement would be used in later work by John Kiang as well, but always from a distanced position.)

On a general level, One World embodies the slippery way that ideas persist, spread, and evolve. Just like how John Kiang built his own vision upon seeds planted by Sun Yat-Sen and many authors before him, it will be fascinating to witness how the Cold War push towards internationally-regulated peace and world government will rear its head again on the world stage in the decades to come.

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Pauling, Stanford and Activism – Part 2


Linus Pauling and others protesting the dismissal of H. Bruce Franklin, September 1971. Credit: Stanford University Libraries.

[The seventh and final post in our series on Linus Pauling’s association with Stanford University.]

In the wake of a series of heated and, at times, violent anti-war protests on and near campus, university president Richard W. Lyman moved to have tenured English professor H. Bruce Franklin dismissed from the Stanford faculty. In so doing, Lyman accused Franklin of having incited violence during a speech that he had given. Lyman also viewed Franklin as an enduring threat to others at Stanford.

Linus Pauling disagreed with this course of action and decided to question Lyman directly. In a handwritten note generated in preparation for remarks delivered to the Academic Senate, Pauling stressed that

The ‘misbehavior’ which he [Franklin] is accused was not in connection with his academic duties. It is my understanding that Professor Franklin has not been charged with misbehavior or neglect or malfeasance in connection with his teaching or other academic duties.

Neither did Pauling see “any credible justification” that Franklin was a threat to others. As such, Pauling concluding that Lyman’s case stood as “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violation of the principles of academic freedom and individual rights – a really dangerous introduction of authoritarianism in the University.”

Pauling had also saved a copy of a letter that Franklin wrote to Lyman at the end of February 1971. In it, Franklin accused the president of using the press – and especially the Stanford University media apparatus – as a lever to turn Stanford’s faculty against him. Instead of taking this approach, Franklin felt that Lyman should issue his accusations directly, rather than operating in innuendos such as “acting in an unlawful manner” and “playing a role in tragic events.”

Franklin further noted that these vague charges, as issued by Lyman, would appear in affidavits submitted for his forthcoming court appearance, thus putting Franklin in a position that he characterized as “First the sentence, then the defense, and finally the charges.”


Bruce Franklin at a Stanford University demonstration, February 1971. Credit: Stanford University Libraries.

Franklin’s day before a judge came the next week, but he was not fighting a solitary battle. The day before, Pauling and fifty-four others had appeared in court on his behalf in an attempt to block an injunction that had been issued against him and over 1,000 others. Pauling and his colleagues argued that the injunction would have “no effect on the underlying causes of campus unrest. If anything, it may serve to hinder the analysis and correction of Stanford problems.”

The group further described their action as having been inspired by the lack of a response by academics against the Nazis in the 1930s. In tandem, over 100 members of the Academic Council at Stanford issued their own warning against Lyman’s actions, stating that his decrees would “create an institutional orthodoxy which makes ‘heretics’ out of those who disagree.”

The following day, Franklin made his appearance in court. A subsequent press release described a portion of Franklin’s closing argument in which he stated

I would say frankly that when I read of the bombing of the [U.S.] Senate yesterday [by the Weather Underground], I thought that that was a wonderful act and I understand that according to what is left of our rights in this country, that one supposedly has the right not only to believe that, but to say what I just said. The advocates of free speech are not prepared to allow free speech to people who think those thoughts and say those things… when a peaceful sit-in or advocacy of a strike is threatened as criminal behavior, the state teaches us a lesson – that our revolutionary analysis is correct and that at some time we should advocate immediate armed struggle against the state.

When the petition to the Advisory Board in support of Franklin was delivered at the end of April, faculty members also addressed the Academic Council on the matter. A statement that Pauling saved from this meeting described how faculty were most “concerned with the intimidating effect upon all of us, in carrying out our obligations to our consciences and to the University community, if the exercise of the First Amendment rights on this campus can be penalized by loss of tenure and dismissal.”

They likewise invoked the Nuremberg trials as a precedent to question Henry Cabot Lodge’s role in “criminal war policies,” and cited the First Amendment in support of Franklin having protested Lodge’s appearance at Stanford.

About a month later, with the situation at Stanford beginning to calm down, Pauling gave the commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley, stressing his own commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts. In his address, Pauling stressed a basic belief system that had guided him for decades:

I believe that it is possible to formulate a fundamental principle of morality, acceptable by all human beings, and that this principle of morality can and should be used as a basis for making all decisions. The principle is this: that decisions among alternative courses of action should be made in such ways as to minimize the predicted amounts of human suffering.

In early June, at about the same time as Pauling’s speech, Bruce Franklin was formally suspended from Stanford without pay. That September, at the beginning of the next academic year, Pauling voiced his continuing objection to Franklin’s treatment by adding his name to a “Statement of Faculty Opposed to Political Firings.”


The statement not only addressed the Franklin affair, but also the firing of Sam Bridges, an African-American janitor at the Stanford Medical Center. In so doing, the statement connected the Franklin and Bridges incidents, noting that they were both “sharp reminders of the acute problems of racism and war” and arguing that “the time and energy of the University should be directed towards the solution of the problems, not toward the punishment of protesters.”

Pauling does not appear to have been as involved in the Bridges case, but he did save newspaper clippings and statements issued by Stanford Medical Center officials surrounding the April 1971 affair. According to a Stanford Daily article published after the incident, Bridges had been speaking with fellow employees about racist hiring policies at the medical center.

Specifically, Bridges told his colleagues that he had been prevented from advancing within the hospital while others from the outside had been brought in to fill vacancies for which he was qualified; vacancies that would have served as a step up the ladder for Bridges. Other employees responded with similar stories, and Bridges shared them as well. Not everyone that Bridges spoke with was sympathetic however, and some complained. Within a week of these complaints being issued, Bridges was fired without any possibility of submitting a grievance.

The Black Advisory Council at the medical center investigated the firing and found that there had been several complaints against Bridges for not doing his work and for being verbally abusive. Some of these statements were subsequently withdrawn, an action that precipitated an occupation of the medical center building with the occupiers calling for Bridges to be rehired.

Once the occupation had passed its thirtieth hour, police cleared the space using tear gas and by breaking down the door of the office in which the occupiers had sealed themselves. Afterwards, the medical center allowed Bridges to pursue grievance procedures. He chose not to pursue this option, believing that it would not lead anywhere productive. Instead, he devoted more of his time to coordination efforts with the medical center’s Black Worker’s Caucus.

While the Bridges affair resolved itself fairly quickly, Bruce Franklin’s case dragged into the next year. In January 1972, nearly a year to the day of his initial demonstration again Henry Cabot Lodge, the Faculty Advisory Board voted to formally dismiss Franklin, effective August 1972. With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, Franklin attempted to fight the decision, but to no avail.

Pauling saved a March 1972 article from Science which reported that Franklin “hoped” for violence in response to his dismissal, and that arson and vandalism on campus had indeed followed. The article also quoted Pauling on the decision, which he described as “A great blow, not just to academic freedom, but to freedom of speech.”