Searching for Truth in Times of War


Corliss Lamont

[Ed Note: This is part 2 of 7 in our series focusing on Linus Pauling’s activism against the Vietnam War. This is also the 600th post to be released on the Pauling Blog. We thank you for your continued readership.]

“As individuals who believe that the only security for America lies in world peace, we wish to ask you why at present the United States is sending its Army, Navy and Air Force to bring death and bloodshed to South Vietnam, a small Asian country approximately 10,000 miles from our Pacific Coast.”

-“An Open Letter to President John F. Kennedy Against U.S. Military Intervention in South Vietnam,” April 11, 1962.

In spring 1962, Linus Pauling was in communication with Corliss Lamont, a philosopher and the director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who was organizing an open letter to President Kennedy (which Pauling ultimately signed) opposing military action in Vietnam. Lamont had written to Pauling share the details of his own correspondence with McGeorge Bundy, the U.S. National Security Advisor. Bundy was highly critical of Lamont’s open letter and had provided documents intended to both enlighten Lamont and dissuade him from taking a strong stance against the U.S. position.

The documents supported the argument that North Vietnam had been making a strenuous effort to conquer South Vietnam. This point of view ran in opposition to a competing reference frame that saw the conflict as being led by South Vietnamese insurgents who were waging a local civil war. Suffice it to say, Lamont remained unconvinced by Bundy’s argument, flatly stating, “I have seldom read more phony materials.”


McGeorge Bundy

In developing his position, Lamont cited Homer Bigart of the New York Times, who had reported in 1962 that only a “small trickle” of arms were actually reaching the National Liberation Front (NLF) fighters from North Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Trail being painfully difficult to navigate. Most NLF weapons, Lamont argued, were “crudely manufactured jungle arsenals” or had otherwise been obtained by raids on the army of the Republic of Vietnam in the south and, increasingly, by raids on American troops, whose numbers in South Vietnam continued to grow.

Additionally, Lamont argued against the American perception that the anti-Diem movement in South Vietnam was exclusively communist. In support, Lamont cited the head of the Democratic Party of South Vietnam, Nguyen Thai Binh, whose Vietnam: The Problem and a Solution supported the claim that a wide array of political groups favored unification under the government in Hanoi.

Bundy, the National Security Advisor, countered on behalf of the White House by pointing to a different New York Times report, this time filed by William Jorden. Bundy interpreted Jorden’s piece as ruling out the possibility that the NLF was a militant expression of a popular movement within South Vietnam seeking independence. Bundy offered no further specific critique or debate on the issue, stating simply that

You will not expect the President to agree with either your premises or your conclusions. For myself, I will say only that the degree of irresponsibility and inaccuracy in this letter is what I would have expected from some of the signatories, but not from all.

Responses from Vietnam to Lamont’s open letter told a different story from that being promoted by McGeorge Bundy.

In May 1962, once Lamont’s open letter had gained a global audience, a communication arrived from Le Quang. The author was a former officer of the Cao Dai Armed Forces, the military wing of a Vietnamese religious sect that acted in opposition to the Diem regime. Le Quang wrote from Paris, where he was living as a political refugee.

“Your cry of alarm has found in us an echo all the more faithful as we are more and more anxious in front of the progressive deterioration of the situation of our country,” he told Pauling. He added that it did not seem that the people of North Vietnam and the people of the United States had established just cause to go to war. Nonetheless, if the Americans continued to support the Diem government, then opposition to it in both North and South Vietnam would, by extension, constitute grounds for conflict between America and Vietnam. Le Quang implored Pauling to please help him put forward this point of view.

In September 1962, Lamont sent another letter to Pauling, this time saying that ten South Vietnamese intellectuals (two doctors and two academics as well as a pharmacist, journalist, architect, engineer and lawyer) had written to thank him for urging President Kennedy to end American involvement, and specifically calling for an end to American support of the Diem regime. The regime hierarchy, they argued, was not fairly representative of the people of South Vietnam who, by the intellectuals’ reckoning, broadly agreed with the need for unity with the north. However, the only way to know if this was indeed true, they said, was to allow the unification vote called for by the Geneva Accords in 1954.

Indeed, it seemed that a cease-fire was likely to be accomplished only if negotiations that upheld the Geneva Accords were carried out. The U.S. policy of rejecting the National Liberation Front from any such discussion was seen by American political figures as necessary, given their belief that the NLF was fundamentally an illegitimate political entity. As such, the United States would recognize only the authority of Diem, a leader whose rise to power and consolidation of control had been supported by the U.S. and whose regime was clearly receiving American military intelligence and policy guidance.

For many South Vietnamese, the U.S.’s position on the NLF appeared to be merely a means for ignoring the voice of the people in any negotiations that might occur. Especially as the war ramped up, this stance helped to crystallize South Vietnamese sentiment against the United States, possibly intensifying local support for communism and strengthening arguments against negotiation. “We firmly believe that no violence can quench a nation, however small, which is struggling for independence,” the group of Vietnamese intellectuals wrote, adding,

The history of the United States since its founding, like that of our country over the past 4,000 years, has clearly proved that the invaders and oppressors, however strong they might be, are always defeated in the end.

In March 1963, yet another letter arrived, this time addressed by seventy Vietnamese intellectuals and delivered to sixty-two Americans, including Pauling, who by now was being included directly in these international conversations. The letter’s argument was straightforward: the State of Vietnam in the south and its use of napalm and noxious chemicals (provided by the United States) constituted war crimes according to the international laws of 1922 and 1925, and the articles of the international military tribunals issued in Nuremberg and Tokyo after the Second World War.


Linus Pauling, 1963.

As the violence in Vietnam intensified, and as he became more deeply involved in these communications with the people of Vietnam, Pauling’s thinking began to shift. Whereas he had initially hoped to uncover the root cause of American involvement in Vietnam, he now saw that the reasons for the conflict, as well as his own opinions on whether or not the United States had any just cause to enter into Vietnam, were inconsequential in the face of the horrors that were transpiring.

In other words, for the purposes of facilitating an end to the violence, it no longer mattered to Pauling who was to blame. It only mattered that the fighting stop. Of course, doing so would require that both sides allow for a cease-fire and enter into negotiations.

Pauling’s task at this point became that of a would-be international arbiter; one hoping to broker the terms necessary for a mosaic of warring factions to enter into negotiations. It was a task that would consume him in the years to come.

Pauling and Vietnam: Father Pire’s Appeal for Humanity


Father Georges Dominique Pire with a map and model of refugee villages in Europe.

[Ed Note: Today we begin an in-depth examination of Linus Pauling’s activism in opposition to the Vietnam War. This is post 1 of 7.]

“Our present object is not to apportion blame among the groups of combatants. The one imperative is that this crime against all that is civilized in the family of man shall cease.”

-“An Appeal by Recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize,” 1965

On the 27th of April, 1965, Father Georges Dominique Pire wrote a letter to all of his fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipients from Aberdeen, Scotland. The letter intended to rally this group in opposition to the Vietnam War. At the time, public opinion in the United States overwhelmingly supported the recent deployment of troops to Vietnam, as ordered by President Lyndon Johnson.This commitment would be increased by December, bringing the total number of U.S. military personnel in Vietnam to nearly 200,000.

Linus Pauling, who had been awarded the Peace Prize in December 1963 for his work ushering in a partial nuclear test ban treaty, read Pire’s letter with a heavy heart. Pauling had received notification of his award just as President John F. Kennedy began to increase American involvement in Southeast Asia, and only a month later the President was assassinated. This series of events paved the way for a new Commander in Chief, Lyndon Johnson, to further expand the American presence in the region.

By 1965, with casualties mounting and the political landscape becoming more polarized, Father Pire implored his fellow Peace Prize laureates to act in whatever capacity they might muster on behalf of peace for all of humanity. A Belgian friar who had fled the German advance during World War II, Pire knew first-hand the horrors of combat and had practiced – as well as preached – his message of peace by providing aid to refugees. In addressing the Peace laureates, the friar formed his lengthy letter around the story of Cain and Abel as recorded in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Then Cain said to his brother, “Let us go out together,” and while they were out in the open, Cain turned upon his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is thy brother, Abel?” Cain said, “I cannot tell. Is it for me to keep watch over my brother?” But the answer came, “What hast thou done?”

As Pire’s retelling of the story concludes, the Lord says, “The blood of thy brother has found a voice that cries out to me from the ground.”

For Father Pire, it was the blood that was being spilled in Vietnam that had a voice. “Each one of us must be ready to reply to this question which is put to us all,” he said. “You now have a line of conduct to follow – to be the voice of the voiceless, to give the strong a guilty conscience, to sensitize public opinion, to show your brothers the way by walking straight yourselves.” It was a call that did not fall on deaf ears, and Linus Pauling in particular took up the mantle of peace in a personal crusade against the violence escalating in Vietnam.


Drawing of the eight Nobel Peace laureates who signed the 1965 Vietnam appeal. Clockwise from top: Albert Schweitzer, Norman Angell, Philip Noel-Baker, Boyd Orr, Georges Dominique Pire, A.J. Luthuli, Linus Pauling, Martin Luther King, Jr.

In August 1965, eight out of the ten living Nobel Peace Laureates signed a joint plea urging the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam and urging the world to reach an accord on Southeast Asia. This historic appeal was signed by Sir Norman Angell, Lord Boyd Orr, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Father Georges Dominique Pire, Philip Noel-Baker, Chief A. J. Luthuli, Linus Pauling, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Only Prime Minister Lester Pearson of Canada and United Nations official Dr. Ralph Bunche declined the invitation to sign the appeal, both stating that their positions prevented them from endorsing the document, but that they would nonetheless do everything in their power to promote a settlement or cease-fire.

The appeal was published in news outlets around the world, from Pravda in Russia to the L.A. Times in the United States. It read:

The war in Vietnam challenges the conscience of the world. None of us can read day after day the reports of the killing, the maiming, and the burning without calling for this inhumanity to end. Our present object is not to apportion blame among the groups of combatants. The one imperative is that this crime against all that is civilized in the family of man shall cease.

Peace is possible. Both sides say that they accept the essentials of the Geneva Agreement. Then why not meet to seek a political settlement? Why not an immediate cease-fire?

In the name of our common humanity, we, the under-signed recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, appeal to all the Governments and parties concerned to take immediate action to achieve a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement of this tragic conflict.


Ho Chi Minh, 1946.

A keen observer of world politics, Pauling had been following the situation in Vietnam as it had developed. Importantly, he was aware of Vietnam’s tumultuous political history, which is crucial to understanding how the Vietnam War came to pass.

Formerly part of the French colony of Indo-China, which included most of modern Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam came under the control of Japan in September 1940. This in turn sparked the rise of the Viet Minh, an army led by a Communist revolutionary figure, Ho Chi Minh. By August 1945, Emperor Bao Dai – who had been elevated into power by the Japanese – voluntarily abdicated the throne, paving the way for the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in North Vietnam and a declaration of Vietnamese independence from both Japan and France.

Of particular interest to Pauling was the notion that, contrary to contemporary portrayals in the American media, the DRV seemed at its inception to be anything but totalitarian. On the same token, the DRV did not appear to be entirely communist. Rather, the DRV established a constitution which required at least a 25% voter turnout to legitimate results, and which gave all Vietnamese over the age of 18 the right to vote. In 1946, the areas controlled by the DRV hosted elections with a participation rate later determined to be 89%. The result of these ballots was a split cabinet, with the Communist-Workers’ Party occupying just over half of the governing body.

With war in Europe ended, however, France reasserted its influence over the northern half of Vietnam – the area now controlled by the independent DRV. In an effort to neutralize President Ho Chi Minh’s influence on the population, France supported the return to power of Emperor Bao Dai and created the State of Vietnam in the south as part of a “unified” Vietnam that included the neighboring kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia. Ruling from Saigon, this French-sanctioned state was anti-communist and perceived by the north as a representing a return to colonial control.

The State of Vietnam was granted independence from France in 1949, legitimizing it in the eyes of the world as the official government of all of Vietnam. By 1950, American military advisors had arrived in Saigon to provide the State of Vietnam with support. Meanwhile, the communist north was backed by the Peoples’ Republic of China and, to a lesser extent, by the Soviet Union. Hostilities ensued and, over the course of four years of fighting, the Viet Minh gradually regained and cemented control over the northern half of the modern state of Vietnam. In 1954, a series of agreements called the Geneva Accords ended the armed conflict between north and south. Although the French then evacuated the State of Vietnam, the would-be nation remained divided.


Ngo Dinh Diem

The Geneva Accords stated that nationwide elections were to be held in 1956 – by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and by the State of Vietnam in the south – on the specific issue of unification under a common government. This mandate for elections proved to be a crucial issue for Linus Pauling and others who questioned the legitimacy of American involvement in Vietnam, largely because the promised elections never took place.

Instead, the State of Vietnam in the south was dismantled and reorganized as the Republic of Vietnam in 1955. The republic’s new president, Ngo Dinh Diem, consolidated power quickly through a series of elections that were highly criticized and decried as fraudulent. Since the Republic of Vietnam was a new nation that had never agreed to the terms that had ended the previous war, the Diem regime announced that it would not participate in the Geneva-mandated elections to unify the country.

During this time, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) that was operating under Diem’s command was already receiving American financial support and working with U.S. advisors in their struggle against proponents of communism. The north Vietnamese government responded by initiating a campaign to unify with the south by force. Thus began the Second Indochina War, commonly known in the United States as the Vietnam War.


“An Open Letter to President John F. Kennedy Against U.S. Military Intervention in South Vietnam”, April 11, 1962.

Pauling had publicly pronounced his stance against military involvement in Vietnam as early as 1962. In that year, he signed an open letter to President Kennedy that was published in four major newspapers and included the endorsements of fifteen other eminent public figures and humanitarians. The letter expressed concern over Kennedy’s financial and military commitment to the preservation of capitalism in South Vietnam, a commitment that had been gradually increasing since 1954.

In deciding to involve itself militarily in the conflict, U.S. officials claimed that violence against the Diem regime in the south was not the outgrowth of a local rebellion or civil war, but rather an invasion of military forces from the north seeking to oppress southern populations under the yoke of communism. From Pauling’s perspective, North Vietnamese military action and supply lines supported its forces in much the same way that the United States and France had previously supported the State of Vietnam and its antecedents in the south. However, it quickly became clear that it was a regional guerrilla force developing in the south, the National Liberation Front – known to Americans as the Viet Cong – that predominantly fought the war.

The presence of the Viet Cong lent a tension to Pauling’s judgement on whether or not American involvement was justifiable. On one hand, significant numbers of North Vietnamese infantry were not clearly or directly involved – this only came about years later following the onset of U.S. bombing raids in the north. However, it was also the case that the National Liberation Front (NLF) of South Vietnam had been created by the DRV as a tool for fomenting continuing communist revolutionary sympathies in the south. This occurred despite the fact that the army of the DRV, the Viet Minh, had been comprised of both communist and non-communist forces and that many of these non-communists had settled in the south following the independence of North Vietnam, but prior to later American relocation efforts. The extent to which the NLF constituted a foreign invading force as opposed to an externally organized command structure that served to coordinate a willing and local insurgency in South Vietnam would be the crux of the debate between Pauling and the Johnson administration in determining the way toward peace.

The complexities of the situation were not readily known to the American public in April 1962, when the Kennedy open letter was printed in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Post. And so it was that, on the eve of his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, Linus Pauling was already attempting to bring what he believed to be an immoral and unconstitutional war to the forefront of the American consciousness.

Appeals for Peace in Croatia


The New York Times appeal of January 14, 1992.

[Pauling and Yugoslavia, Part 2 of 2]

Three years after Linus Pauling’s 1988 visit to Yugoslavia, tensions in the country boiled over. Though it may have been justified in its desire to protect ethnic Serbs based on the atrocities that occurred during World War II, the incursion of the Yugoslav People’s Army into newly independent Croatia did little but add fuel to the conflagration.

By the time a cease-fire agreement was brokered in 1992, several of Croatia’s major cities had been bombed and Dubrovnik, a city of major cultural importance, had been the target of several attacks. Even the institute where Linus Pauling delivered his 1957 lecture, “The Structure of Water,” came under threat of bombing in late 1991, as Serbian nationalists accused the institute of producing nuclear weapons.

As the conflict broadened, Pauling began collecting media reports and analyses. One article, published in The European and titled “Lies Within the Balkan War of Words,” claimed that Croatia was exaggerating minor conflicts with Serbs in the area while using the media to portray themselves as victims in the eyes of the world. Raymond Kent, an emeritus professor of history at U.C. Berkeley, had brought this article to Pauling’s attention while cautioning Pauling that he might be the target of Croatian propaganda efforts due to his recent travels and the awards that he had received while in Croatia.

Pauling’s response to this perceived threat was to lend his signature to the “Appeal for Peace in Croatia,” a document sponsored by a group called Truth in Croatia and published in the New York Times on October 11, 1991. Citing the deaths of over 2,000 people, with 100,000 more made refugees, the document appealed “to men and women of conscience to speak up against indifference to the plight of Croatian people, who are facing…the threat of their own extinction.”


Fax received by Pauling on November 18, 1991.

The October 11th appeal inspired both respect and reproach from those harboring an interest in the widening crisis in the Balkans. The Croatia-friendly nature of the document drew both skepticism and outright condemnation from a variety of critics. Probably the appeal’s highest profile signatory, Pauling received several letters from colleagues as well as members of the community who felt compelled to express their shock and anger. Many accused him of outright ignorance, often citing World War II and the atrocities committed by Croatians against Serbians during that time period.

Displaying the persistence that characterized his earlier peace activism, Pauling was neither intimidated nor did he show any signs that he was ready to back down. In a note to himself, Pauling described one encounter in particular with his old friend and colleague, Harden McConnell, and his wife Sophia.

Sophia gave me a good calling down for coming down on the side of the Croatians rather than the Serbians. Her main argument was that a century ago the Croatians were killing off Serbians. I said ‘well, why don’t we try moving into a new world instead of just going to war bombarding Dubrovnik?’

Harden McConnell, a former colleague of Pauling’s at Caltech and later a professor of chemistry at Stanford, frequently swapped papers with Pauling and had also stood by his side in protesting the Vietnam war. Likewise, Sophia McConnell had been close friends with Ava Helen prior to her death in 1981. That the McConnells disagreed with Pauling on the issue of Croatia did not seem to affect their friendship in the slightest. Notably, Pauling continued to nominate McConnell for multiple awards including, in 1993, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Where the appeal was concerned, however, Pauling strongly felt that he was aligning himself on the side of peace, and he was not afraid to voice his opinion on the matter. Calls to see the other side and accusations that he was portraying a multidimensional issue from only one perspective inspired little in the way of a reaction. While this tenacity of vision was typical of Pauling, his comment to Sophia reflected a hope that Pauling had always maintained for the future.


A note to Pauling written on an LPISM fundraising letter and sent to Pauling by a donor.

Perhaps nourished by his focus on discovery in his scientific endeavors, Pauling approached his peace work with the attitude that the only way humanity might make up for past mistakes is by creating a future in which these mistakes are not possible. Though he received a fair amount of criticism for the one-sided nature of the Croatia appeals, the spirit motivating Pauling’s involvement had little to do with choosing sides. Rather, he was much more interested in emphasizing the need for a better way to resolve world conflict, and he knew that this process began with awareness.


Greeting card sent to Pauling by photographer Milena Sorée, November 1991. The affixed photograph was taken by Sorée in Croatia.

As time moved forward and more information about the Croat-Serb conflict became available, Pauling began to receive less criticism and more gratitude. Several U.S.-based correspondents, as well as multiple Croatians trapped in war-torn parts of Yugoslavia, sent Pauling their thanks. Some of these were form letters, simply addressed “Dear Sir” or “Dear Colleague” with Pauling’s name filled in. Many more, however, were personalized cards or handwritten letters recognizing Pauling’s contribution toward a peaceful resolution of the fighting in Yugoslavia. In certain cases, even people who didn’t agree with Pauling’s stance recognized his good intentions and commended his willingness to raise his voice in the name of peace.

Over time, new updates on the destruction in Yugoslavia came pouring in, as did requests that he “raise his voice again.” To this, Pauling responded by signing an even larger appeal, published in the New York Times and containing the names of over one hundred Nobel Laureates appealing for peace in Yugoslavia. Interestingly, only six laureates who signed had received their Nobel Prize for peace. Instead, the largest number of signatories had earned Nobel Prizes for their work in the sciences: thirty-four in physics, twenty-seven in chemistry, and another twenty-seven in medicine.

This second appeal, published on January 14, 1992, appeared on a full page of the New York Times shortly before a cease-fire between Serbia and Croatia was declared, the fifteenth in a succession of many unsuccessful attempts to stop the fighting long enough to negotiate a formal agreement between the two countries. In fact, the conflict within Yugoslavia did not see any form of resolution until the year after Pauling died.

A few months after the Nobel Laureate appeal was published, Pauling’s main contact in Croatia during his 1988 trip, Z.B. Maksić, issued a statement on behalf of the Croatian Pugwash group that capitalized on Pauling’s efforts to raise awareness. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Maksić asserted that “communism is still alive and well in Belgrade,” a suggestion that struck a nerve in the western world and solidified many western opinions on the subject.

In September 1992, the United Nations announced that it was expelling Yugoslavia until Belgrade recognized Croatia and Bosnia as independent nations, a statement that outraged Serbians. The conflict eventually came to a close with the Dayton Accords of 1995, at which the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia agreed on a generalized framework for peace in their troubled region.

Pauling and Yugoslavia


J.D. Bernal, Linus Pauling and an unidentified individual in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, 1957.

[Part 1 of 2]

On October 11, 1991, an appeal appeared in The New York Times containing Linus Pauling’s name and a brief description of recent atrocities that had occurred in Croatia. At the time, Croatia was a newly independent country that was struggling, along with Slovenia and eventually Bosnia-Herzegovina, to maintain and strengthen its hard-won independence. Immediately following Croatia’s free elections in June 1991, the Yugoslav People’s Army had invaded and attacked on the grounds that they needed to protect Serbians living in the new Croatia. This conflict would later come to be known as the Croatian War of Independence.

The New York Times appeal, originally conceived by Professor Ivo Banac, of Yale University and Stanimir Vuk-Pavlović, of Mayo Medical School, had less than thirty signatures on it, most of them from professors at major universities in the United States. It was Banac’s wish that the appeal exclude politicians, in order to keep the focus of the document on peace.  In considering potential signatories, Vuk- Pavlović thought of Pauling first, and Pauling responded to the idea with speed and enthusiasm. Notably, poets Joseph Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz, as well as actress Meryl Streep, also signed.

Banac’s original goal in publishing the appeal was mainly to raise awareness, as many people in the United States knew nothing of the conflict. Likewise, since Croatia’s free elections resembled democratic elections, Banac felt that it would be relatively easy to drum up stateside support for Croatia’s efforts in the war against the Yugoslav People’s Army, which was a relic of communist Yugoslavia. It had not been that long ago, after all, that Yugoslavia was united under a single communist leader, Josip Broz, a major figure in twentieth century history who became more commonly known as Tito.

Under Tito’s leadership, Yugoslavia had appeared to outsiders to be relatively peaceful. Europeans and Americans alike traveled to the country in the late 1950s and generally declared their approval as Tito rolled out his five-year plan, which was geared to catalyze industrialization and promote economic prosperity. Pauling himself visited in 1957 to deliver the opening address at the International Symposium on Hydrogen Bonding, where the lectures he subsequently attended inspired and invigorated him.

It was Tito’s death in 1980 that brought about an era of chaos to Yugoslavia. Considered by many to have been a benevolent dictator who had governed the country since the conclusion of World War II, Tito did not leave behind an obvious successor. Amidst this leadership vacuum, nationalist sentiments within the communist party were quickly stripped away.

Once the mask of national unification had been removed, a collection of serious underlying fissures was revealed. Centuries of conflict between different regions, ethnicities, and religions still existed within the country and, absent Tito, quickly widened to split Yugoslavia apart. Conflict between Croatia and Serbia seemed to many the greatest danger, due in part to lingering anger over the Croatian government’s alliance with the Nazi party during the second World War, an affiliation which led to the killing of more than 100,000 Serbs at the Jasenovac concentration camp and elsewhere. Worsening matters, throughout the 1980s, politician Slobodan Milošević gave a number of inflammatory speeches that served to stir up nationalist sentiments among Serbians.


Linus Pauling and others at a vitamin C manufacturing facility at the Pliva Pharmaceutical Works, Zagreb, Yugoslavia, September 1988.

Pauling traveled to Croatia in 1988 to receive a series of awards and recognitions (notable among them, an honorary doctorate from the University of Zagreb, which was only the sixty-second such degree conferred by the university in its 320-year history) as well as formal induction into the Croatian Chemical Society. Though none of Yugoslavia’s republics had yet made a decisive move toward independence, Pauling’s 1988 visit was riddled with evidence of political, social and economic instability.

Most notably, during his 1957 trip, financial accommodations had been provided for himself and for Ava Helen, making his attendance at the hydrogen bond symposium not only possible, but comfortable. By contrast, his 1988 trip came about only after a series of conversations about financial assistance had been conducted. Throughout this process, Pauling’s primary contact in Croatia, Z.B. Maksić, made a few references to the financial hardships that were then widespread throughout Yugoslavia. Maksić answered Pauling’s request to bring his daughter and her husband with apprehension, and politely informed him that the pair would have to be covered by whatever means Pauling could supply. Pauling eventually applied for a Fulbright Grant, at Maksić’ suggestion, to cover their travelling expenses as well as his own. When this grant application proved a success, Maksić remarked that the monies had given Pauling “double coverage” and suggested that he use the funds to also pay for his own accommodations once he arrived.

Despite these quibbles over money, Maksić and Pauling remained cordial toward each other, both during the trip and after. Regional interest was high in Pauling’s most recent book, How to Live Longer and Feel Better (1986) and, at Maksić’ request, he wrote a foreword to the Croatian edition later that year. Maksić later reciprocated by penning a dedication to Pauling in “Six Decades of the Hybridization Concept,” a collection of scientific papers from Yugoslavia that was slated to be published as an edited volume in the early 1990s. Ultimately, Pauling’s relationship with Yugoslavia was a positive one and he felt a strong connection with Croatia in particular after his 1988 trip was concluded.

Dr. Michael Kenny, Resident Scholar

Dr. Michael Kenny

Dr. Michael Kenny

Dr. Michael Kenny, emeritus professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University, recently completed a term as Resident Scholar in the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center. Kenny is the twenty-fourth individual to have conducted work at OSU under the auspices of this program.

Part of Kenny’s scholarly background is in the eugenics movement, and it is this prism that framed his interest in conducting research in the Pauling Papers. Kenny was specifically interested in investigating the changing cultural milieu in which Linus Pauling worked and the ways that this environment may have impacted Pauling’s thinking on issues associated with eugenics.

Kenny was likewise very keen to examine the rhetoric that Pauling used during the years in which the dangers of nuclear fallout were an item of active debate. As it turns out, much of this rhetoric assumed a tone similar to that used by eugenicists contemporary to Pauling. That said, with Pauling and certain of these contemporaries, the use of this rhetoric was not motivated by anything like the ideals that we now commonly associate with the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century.

Rockefeller Foundation administrator Warren Weaver.

Rockefeller Foundation administrator Warren Weaver.

In his research, Kenny leaned in part on a secondary source, Lily Kay’s The Molecular Vision of Life (1993), which examined the development of molecular biology at Caltech during its infancy in the 1930s. Pauling was a central figure in this important chapter of scientific history, having shifted his research program to focus on “the science of life” – specifically, the determination of various protein structures – as funded during the Depression years by the Rockefeller Foundation.

As Kay pointed out in her book, the Rockefeller Foundation harbored a pre-existing interest in eugenics which may have propelled its desire to fund work in the burgeoning field of molecular biology. Rockefeller administrator Warren Weaver, who was Pauling’s main contact with the funding organization, wrote specifically of the Foundation’s interest in exploring “social controls through biological understanding,” and himself considered molecular biology to be the “only way to sure understanding and rationalization of human behavior.”

In his correspondence with Pauling, Weaver likewise suggested that “you are well aware of our interests in the possible biological and medical applications of the research in question.” Queried about the Rockefeller Foundation’s interest in eugenics by Lily Kay in 1987, Pauling replied, “I do not have much to say here,” noting that “my own interest in medical chemistry resulted from my interest in molecular structure.”

James V. Neel

James V. Neel

One major outcome of Pauling’s research on protein structures was his discovery that sickle cell anemia is a molecular disease. This work was conducted in parallel to similar investigations carried out by the human geneticist James V. Neel, a major twentieth century scientist who discovered that sickled cells are the result of a heterozygous mutation that, when it becomes homozygous, leads to sickle cell disease.

For Kenny, James Neel provides a bridge of sorts in the scholarly analysis of Pauling. In addition to his work on sickle cell traits, Neel also was involved in ethnographic research on the indigenous Yanomami population in Brazil. This study was funded by the United States Atomic Energy Commission in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was motivated by the U.S. government’s desire to more fully understand the consequences that atmospheric radiation might portend for the human gene pool.

The debate over radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons tests during this time was fierce and continually hamstrung by a lack of concrete data. Linus Pauling, of course, was a key figure in the debate, and as Kenny and others have pointed out, he and his opponents used essentially the same data to draw very different conclusions from one another. Indeed, both sides were effectively engaging in the politics of risk assessment in arguing over the likely genetic implications for future generations of radioactive fallout released into the atmosphere by the nuclear testing programs of the era.

Hermann Muller

Hermann Muller

In developing and espousing his strong anti-testing point of view, Pauling was heavily influenced by Hermann Muller, a Nobel Laureate geneticist who is perhaps best known for proving the mutagenic effects of x-rays on fruit flies. According to Kenny, Muller was pretty clearly a eugenicist who spoke often of the need to maintain the purity of the pool of human germ plasm.

For Muller, essentially all mutations caused by radiation were to be viewed as a negative. While he acknowledged that natural selection is indeed the result of mutations that occur over the course of time, Muller believed that an increase in the rate of mutation is very likely to result in negative consequences. In arguing this, Muller pointed out that many mutations are buried and do not emerge until specific reproductive combinations come to pass. As Pauling and James Neel showed in the 1940s, sickle cell anemia is one such situation where this is the case.

Kenny points out that Muller’s ideas are imprinted all over Pauling’s 1958 book, No More War!, and in this book, as well as in his speeches, Pauling frequently used language that drew upon that of Muller and other eugenicists of his time. “I believe that the nations of the world that are carrying out nuclear tests are sacrificing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people now living,” he wrote, “and of hundreds of thousands of unborn children. These sacrifices aren’t necessary.” On other occasions, Pauling more directly echoed Muller, arguing that “we are the custodians of the human race, we have the duty of protecting the pool of human germ plasm against willful damage.”

So given all of this, was Pauling a eugenicist? For Kenny, the answer is no, or at least not “an old fashioned eugenicist in any clear sense.” Rather, Kenny sees Pauling as being one of many transitional figures (fellow Peace laureate Andrei Sakharov is another) working along a historical continuum that exists between the eugenicists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and contemporary ideas including genetic counseling and genetic engineering.  One of the more intriguing quotes that Kenny uncovered was Pauling’s statement that

Natural selection is cruel and man has not outgrown it. The problem is not to be solved by increasing mutation rate and thus increasing the number of defective children born, but rather by finding some acceptable replacement for natural selection.

For Kenny, Pauling’s suggestion of a possible replacement for natural selection anticipated contemporary techniques that are now deployed to minimize or negate what would otherwise be devastating hereditary diseases in newborn children. For expectant parents currently opting in favor of genetic counseling, as for Pauling in his day, the goal is to minimize the amount of human suffering in the world, not by proscription or law, but by choice. This ambition, which is global and cosmopolitan in nature – and not dissimilar to contemporary activism concerning global climate change – stands in stark contrast to the racist or nationalist motivations that fueled the eugenics of a different era.

For more on the Resident Scholar Program at the OSU Libraries, see the program’s homepage.

Life at the Big House


Pauling’s schematic of the Big House at Deer Flat Ranch, April 1964.

[The story of Deer Flat Ranch, part 3 of 3]

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling stayed in the Old Cabin when at Deer Flat Ranch from 1956 to 1964, and during much of this period, visiting family members would often sleep in the barn. By 1961, a pre-designed kit home had been constructed for guests to use. Located down the gorge from the barn, at the foot of Salmon Cone, the house came to be called China Camp, named after the adjacent beach.

That same year, Pauling began conversations with Dr. Gustav Albrecht of Caltech, a former student of Pauling’s, about acting as chief architect on the design of a new home on the property. Albrecht worked with John Gamble Associates and, once construction began, lived in the Old Cabin for several months to supervise the building according to Pauling’s specifications.


A view of the Big House near its entryway.

By 1964, the “Big House” was complete. It was an unorthodox home, filled with angled windows of multiple types that offered numerous views of the Pacific Ocean. The home likewise featured dueling his and hers studies, as well as a garage that was specifically built to shelter a car while also housing Pauling’s collection of scientific journals. Book cases were everywhere and, as time moved forward, the decor came to be dominated by framed honorary doctorates lining the hallways and mounted in every room. A massive stone fireplace separated the kitchen from the living room, and a large, westward-facing deck became a focal point for social gatherings. The unusual space proved difficult to maintain, but for the Paulings it was heaven on earth nonetheless.


Looking southwest from the living room.

The Big House was built at the end of a new road that had been bulldozed from the Old Cabin west to a nearby glade that the Paulings called “Eucalyptus Hollow.” By the time that most of the construction was completed, excavations on the Pauling land had revealed that a small village of Salinan Indians, dating back thousands of years, had once been located in the area where the Big House was built. More artifacts were discovered under the Old Cabin, which was rebuilt and, a decade later, joined by a new caretaker’s house. Pauling held on to several of the Salinan artifacts as well as a small collection of human remains, all of which were repatriated once Pauling’s papers were donated to Oregon State University.

Kids and grandkids visiting during and immediately following the construction, and were often volunteered to perform various duties on the property. Linus Pauling Jr., his wife Stephanie, and Stephanie’s daughter Carrie were frequent visitors throughout the 1970s. During this time they assisted in finishing floor moldings and tiles at the Big House, which sported a decorative copper diving screen based on the mezzanine foyer in Dulles National Airport, as well as a specially made copper roof.


Dining on the deck, 1971.

The Big House was as a sanctuary, and it was understood that even family visitors were not to barge in unannounced. Rather, Ava Helen would run a dish towel up a nearby flagpole when she was ready to receive visitors, usually in the late morning.

During visits with family, Pauling tended to focus his conversation on scientific matters, while it was Ava Helen who worked to bring the family together, particularly relishing her role as a grandmother. Catching fish from the Pacific Ocean and cooking under gas lights in the wilderness of California’s coastal forests, visitors often felt a sense of living in the pioneer past. Linus and Ava Helen reveled in this sensation themselves, and after 1966 they were spending fully half of their time at the Big House.


Ava Helen’s Artcraft stove.

With advancing age came thoughts of retirement, and Linus and Ava Helen began to imagine that they might move to the ranch full-time by Pauling’s 70th birthday, or perhaps his 75th. Pauling was, unsurprisingly, consistently non-committal about the idea of giving up his career in science, no matter how old he grew. The ranch, however, offered an appealing happy medium where he could continue to pursue a scientific agenda while lessening the pace and clutter of his very public life.

By 1976, when Ava Helen was diagnosed with cancer, the pair seemed to treasure their time at Deer Flat Ranch all the more; Ava Helen took up the guitar and bought a grand piano, and children and grandchildren came to visit often. Pauling, however, could never truly be removed from science, and spent much of his time at the ranch working on theoretical papers.


The view from the kitchen.

A year later, Pauling looked to be making good on notions of retirement, and was considering removing himself from day-to-day operations at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, which Art Robinson was leading as president. However, an administrative battle with Robinson that arose over the future of the Institute provided Pauling with a compelling reason to remain highly involved, and he never did fully extricate himself from administrative duties at the Institute that bore his name.


Ava Helen and Linus in their living room, celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary, June 1973.

In retrospect, it seems unlikely that a man of Pauling’s industry, interests and ego could ever remove himself completely from the world of science and retire to the ranch full time. Indeed, after Ava Helen passed away in 1981, he ramped up his scientific program, working both at the ranch and in Palo Alto, California for the remainder of his life.

As he grew older, the rustic pioneer charm of the ranch faded somewhat for Pauling. The land around the gas service station was found to be eroding at an alarming rate, and it was eventually abandoned. Likewise, the number of cattle and ranch hands slowly dwindled. Eventually, only a single caretaker remained on the property, Steve Rawlings, who also acted as Pauling’s personal nurse during his final years.

Nonetheless, Pauling continued to spend a majority of his time at the property, reading, writing, and dreaming of a peaceful world guided by the light of scientific reason. It seems fitting then that when Linus Pauling passed away, in August 1994, it was in the Big House at Deer Flat Ranch, surrounded by his family.

Deer Flat Ranch: A Kind of Paradise


Linus Pauling harvesting abalone, 1963.

[The story of Deer Flat Ranch: Part 2 of 3]

In the years immediately following Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s purchase of Deer Flat Ranch, the space quickly fulfilled its potential as a refuge from an extremely busy existence. A few years after buying the property, Ava Helen told her husband

Do you know, we have been here for one week, you and I, without seeing a single other person? This is the first time in our 40-odd years of marriage that this has happened.

More than a refuge even, the ranch gradually emerged as a kind of paradise for the Paulings. One could reliably harvest ten abalone off the adjacent rocks at low tide, and Linus found that he greatly enjoyed harvesting these sea snails with his wife, pounding them shoreside to tenderize them for dinner.

At the ranch, a horse and a goat kept the cattle company, and marine life including otters and sea lions frequented the beaches. The Paulings also enjoyed collaborating on landscaping chores at the ranch, a pleasure that continued for Linus even after a 1960 incident that resulted in poison oak rashes on both arms.



Outside the old cabin at Deer Flat Ranch, 1962. Photo by Arthur Dubinsky.

During his solo trips to the property, Pauling frequently withdrew into a world of history and philosophy. Pauling’s literary and intellectual interests ranged far and wide, and his reading included the poetry of the Greek atomist Lucretius, the rhetoric and philosophy of the great Roman orator, Cicero, and the metaphysical proto-evolutionary poetry of Charles Darwin’s uncle, Erasmus Darwin. Pauling’s Deer Flat reading list also included a history of British chemistry, as well as Bertrand Russell’s essay, In Praise of Idleness, within which Pauling underlined the quote, “A busy man doesn’t think.”

While at the ranch in the early fifties, Pauling also made note of re-reading Frederick Metcalf Thomas’s Estragia para la Supervivencia, a work developed from Thomas’s thesis. Pauling had read the thesis several years earlier and had even suggested it to Albert Einstein, who followed up on Pauling’s tip and liked it so much that he subsequently wrote the preface for the text, once it was published as a book. While going through the work again at Deer Flat Ranch, Pauling underlined another quote that surely resonated with him: “The enslavement of scientists will not provide a solution for world problems.”


The Paulings at their ranch, 1964. Photo by Arthur Herzog.

Though Pauling clearly understood the importance of leisure and relaxation, work was still never far from his mind on these visits, be it chemistry, medicine, or world affairs. By 1962, Pauling was writing the third edition of his successful textbook, College Chemistry, entirely at the ranch, typically devoting one week per month to the project while at the Old Cabin, undisturbed by the outside world.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Pauling also spent his time at the ranch thinking about a wide range of problems in chemistry. Among these were the promotion energy of hydrogen atoms; dihedral angles in H2O2 and other molecular structures; the stability of the N2 molecule; electron bonds; antiferromagnetic theory; and much, much more. The bulk of Pauling’s research notebooks from this period consist of musings on current papers in chemistry representing significant problems, and he seemed to want to deduce the solutions to all of them, sitting in his cabin with nothing but a pen, paper, slide rule, and the crashing of the nearby waves.

When the nuclear test ban treaty that Pauling had worked so hard to make a reality went into effect on October 10, 1963, Linus and Ava Helen were at the ranch with their close friends and fellow activists, Clifford and Virginia Durr. The couple had gathered at the ranch with the intent to open a bottle of champagne in celebration of the implementation of the treaty. Before they could pop the bubbly however, the Paulings’ ranch manager, Dale Haskin, arrived at the cabin saying that Linus and Ava Helen’s daughter Linda had called the ranger station trying to get ahold of them.

Upon arriving at the station and returning her call (there were still no phone lines at Deer Flat Ranch at that time), Linda revealed to her father that it had just been announced that he was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and that it would be bestowed in Oslo in two months time. Linus spent the rest of the day at the ranger station receiving calls and granting interviews, becoming so busy that he and his guests forgot to open their champagne.