Linus Pauling Receives the Nobel Peace Prize

The Pauling family anticipating Linus Pauling's Nobel lecture, December 11, 1963. (Photo credit: Aftenposten)

The Pauling family anticipating Linus Pauling’s Nobel lecture, December 11, 1963. (Photo credit: Aftenposten)

On December 10th, 1963, Linus Pauling accepted the belated Nobel Peace Prize for 1962. Attended by the Norwegian royal family and various government representatives, the ceremonies took place in Festival Hall at the University of Oslo in Norway – separate, as per tradition, from the other Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden. Pauling shared the ceremonies with the winners of the 1963 Nobel Peace Prize – an award split between the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies in commemoration of the centennial of the founding of the Red Cross.

Gunnar Jahn, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, introduced Pauling before presenting him with the prize. In his remarks, Jahn reconstructed the advances and setbacks of the post-war peace movement in which Pauling had so prominently operated since the dropping of atomic bombs by the United States on Japan. Escalating Cold War tensions and the arms race soon rendered as unlikely any hopes for an immediate era of peace. The nascent post-war peace movement, according to Jahn, “lost impetus and faded away. But Linus Pauling marched on: for him retreat was impossible.”

While Pauling”s peace work was surely political in nature, Jahn drew attention to the importance of Pauling’s scientific attitude in researching and determining the effects that atmospheric radiation may have on future generations. Even critics of Pauling, including the physicist and nuclear weapons engineer Edward Teller, did not fundamentally disagree with him concerning the harmfulness of fallout from nuclear tests. Where Teller and Pauling did conflict centered more on questions as to whether or not these harmful effects outweighed the advantages that they provided to the United States with respect to the Soviets. Pauling thought they did; Teller disagreed.

Pauling and Gunnar Jahn, ca. 1963.

Pauling and Gunnar Jahn, ca. 1963.

Jahn then recounted how the public started paying close attention to Pauling in 1958 as he presented to United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld a petition signed by 11,021 scientists from fifty different countries calling for the end of above-ground nuclear weapons testing. Because of the petition, Pauling was called before Congress and questioned about alleged communist ties which, not for the first time, he denied. By Jahn’s estimation, the hearing only served to make Pauling a more popular and sympathetic character and he continued to speak out more and more.

For Jahn, Pauling’s 1961 visit to Moscow, during which he delivered a lecture on disarmament to the Soviet Academy of Science, illustrated Pauling’s importance in propelling the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which came into effect two years later. While there, Pauling unsuccessfully sought to meet with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Unbowed, he instead sent Khrushchev two letters and a draft nuclear test ban agreement. “In the main,” Jahn emphasized, Pauling’s

proposal tallies with the test-ban agreement of July 23, 1963.  Yet no one would suggest that the nuclear-test ban in itself is the work of Linus Pauling… But, does anyone believe that this treaty would have been reached now, if there had been no responsible scientist who, tirelessly, unflinchingly, year in year out, had impressed on the authorities and on the general public the real menace of nuclear tests?

Ultimately, for Jahn, it was as a scientist that Pauling helped move the world toward peace. Looking forward, Pauling’s proposed World Council for Peace Research would bring together bright minds from the sciences and humanities under the auspices of the United Nations in hopes of seeking out new institutional models and paths of diplomacy for a nuclear-armed world. Jahn closed by suggesting that “through his campaign Linus Pauling manifests the ethical responsibility which science – in his opinion – bears for the fate of mankind, today and in the future.”


Associated Press photo published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 10, 1963.

Associated Press photo published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 10, 1963.

After concluding, Jahn called Pauling to the stage; applause and a standing ovation from the crowd quickly followed. After the applause had died down and Jahn presented Pauling with the gold Nobel medal and a certificate, Pauling delivered a brief acceptance speech, calling the prize “the greatest honor that any person can be given.” But Pauling also recognized that his prize was likewise a testament to “the work of many other people who have striven to bring hope for permanent peace to a world that now contains nuclear weapons that might destroy our civilization.”

Pauling went on to draw similarities between himself, the first scientist to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Alfred Nobel, who endowed the Nobel Foundation. Both were chemical engineers interested in scientific nomenclature and atomic structure. Both owned patents on explosive devises – Nobel the inventor of dynamite and Pauling an expert on rocket propellants and explosive powders whose skills came to bear during World War II. And both expanded their interests into biology and medicine as well. Many had described Nobel as a pessimist, but Pauling wished to assure his audience that this was not the case and that, like himself, Nobel was an optimist who saw it as “worthwhile to encourage work for fraternity among nations”


Pauling, holding the case containing his Nobel diploma, being congratulated by Norwegian King Olav V. Image originally published in Morgenbladet, December 11, 1963.

Pauling, holding the case containing his Nobel certificate, being congratulated by Norwegian King Olav V. Image originally published in Morgenbladet, December 11, 1963.

The following day, December 11th, Pauling gave his Nobel Lecture, “Science and Peace.” In it he described how the advent of nuclear bombs was “forcing us to move into a new period in the history of the world, a period of peace and reason.” Development of nuclear weapons showed how science and peace were closely related. Not only were scientists involved in the creation of nuclear weapons, they had also been a leading group in the peace movement, bringing public awareness to the dangers of such weapons.

Pauling recounted how Leo Szilard – whose 1939 letter to President Roosevelt (and co-signed by Albert Einstein) had led to the Manhattan Project – urged Roosevelt in 1945 to control nuclear weapons through an international system, a plea that was issued before the first bombs had been dropped. While Szilard’s appeal fell flat, it was followed, in 1946, by the creation of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, a group overseen by Szilard, Einstein and seven others, including Pauling. Over the next five years, the committee warned of the potentially catastrophic consequences of nuclear war and advocated for the only defense possible: “law and order” along with a “future thinking that must prevent wars.”

Pauling's Nobel certificate, 1963.

Pauling’s Nobel certificate, 1963.

Other groups followed. For Pauling, the Pugwash Conferences, headed by Bertrand Russell from 1957 to 1963, were particularly influential in bringing attention to the harmful effects of nuclear testing and, ultimately, the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty. It was during this time that nuclear fallout, the subject of Pauling’s 1958 petition, became of greater concern. The importance of fallout centered on the potential genetic mutations to which several generations would be exposed. Pauling quoted the recently assassinated President John F. Kennedy to support his point: “The loss of even one human life, or malformation of even one baby – who may be born long after we are gone – should be of concern to us all.”

As matters stood in 1963, Pauling warned that the time to effectively control nuclear weapons was fast slipping away. The test-ban treaty was, Pauling lamented, already two years too late and had not prevented the large volume of testing that took place after the Soviets – who were quickly followed by the United States – had broken the 1959 testing moratorium in 1961. The failure to end testing outright before 1960 led to the explosion of 450 of the 600 megatons detonated during all nuclear tests.

Pauling's Nobel certificate case, 1963.

Pauling’s Nobel certificate case, 1963.

Because of the sheer number of nuclear weapons in existence (Pauling estimated some 320,000 megatons) limited war was not a feasible plan due to “the likelihood that a little war would grow into a world catastrophe,” both immediate and long-term. Abolishing all war was the only way out. But standing in the path of the abolition of war were people in powerful positions who did not recognize the present dangers and the need to end war. Pauling also saw China’s exclusion from the United Nations, which prevented the nation from taking part in any discussions on disarmament, as an additional roadblock to a lasting world peace.

To get around these blockades, Pauling proposed joint national and international control of nuclear weapons as well as an inspection treaty aiming to prevent the development of biological and chemical weapons, which could become a threat of equal measure to nuclear weapons. Additionally, Pauling felt that small-scale wars should be abolished and international laws established to prevent larger nations from dominating smaller ones.

The challenges of the era were great but Pauling ended optimistically:

We, you and I, are privileged to be alive during this extraordinary age, this unique epoch in the history of the world, the epoch of demarcation between the past millennia of war and suffering and the future, the great future of peace, justice, morality and human well-being… I am confident that we shall succeed in this great task; that the world community will thereby be freed not only from the suffering caused by war but also, through the better use of the earth’s resources, of the discoveries of scientists, and of the efforts of mankind, from hunger, disease, illiteracy, and fear; and that we shall in the course of time be enabled to build a world characterized by economic, political, and social justice for all human beings, and a culture worthy of man’s intelligence.


The Nobel medal, obverse.

The Nobel medal, obverse.

The response to Pauling’s speech by the American press was fairly tame. Most headlines simply issued variations on “Pauling Gets His Prize.” A handful of headlines delved into the substance of Pauling’s lecture, one noting “Pauling Accepts Award, Sees World without War in Sight.” Others emphasized the means by which he sought to end war, e.g. “Pauling Urges UN Veto Power on Nuclear Arms.”

The substance of the articles, most of which relied upon Associated Press copy, continued to focus on Pauling’s past controversies and suspected communism. From his lecture, the reports tended to highlight his homage to the late President Kennedy and the dollar amount of his prize. When Pauling’s policy proposals came up, mostly in larger papers that did not rely on the Associated Press, China’s admission to the United Nations and UN veto power over the use of nuclear weapons were seen as relevant and potentially controversial.

Absent from the press coverage was any discussion of the science of Pauling’s lecture. This included his claims concerning the harmful health effects of nuclear weapons as well as his descriptions of the increases in size and number of nuclear weapons. No article mentioned “genetic mutations” or “megatons” as Pauling had done in his lecture.

The Nobel medal, reverse.

The Nobel medal, reverse.

One bit of critical commentary, published in the Wall Street Journal, came out a week after Pauling’s speech. Author William Henry Chamberlin dismissed Pauling’s views on peace as both unpopular and overly simplistic. Pauling’s reasoning ran counter to the thinking of all US presidents since Truman – namely, that the only avenue to peace is to make as many weapons as the Soviets. Chamberlin noted that even scientists – specifically Edward Teller – agreed.

In Chamberlin’s estimation, Pauling was merely an alarmist. Further, Pauling had no impact whatsoever on the Partial Test Ban Treaty. The idea for the treaty had emerged out of the governments of the United States and Great Britain long ago and its delay in ratification was due solely to foot-dragging from the Soviets. Chamberlin also discounted Pauling’s claim to be a representative of a world-wide movement for peace by characterizing his efforts as “a one-man crusade.”

Pauline Gebelle as pictured in the Portland Oregonian, December 17, 1963.

Pauline Geballe as pictured in the Portland Oregonian, December 17, 1963.

Contrary to Chamberlin’s stance, on the same day the Portland Oregonian published a short article profiling Pauling’s freshman physiography teacher at Washington High School, Pauline Geballe. Pauling pointed to her as one who had helped to ignite his interest in science and the two had kept in touch over the years. Geballe herself, through the League of Women Voters, was also part of the peace movement. On behalf of the group, she had recently queried Pauling for insight into questions of disarmament. Pauling responded by sending her a copy of No More War! from which Geballe read aloud the next time the group met. Geballe and her colleagues seemed to evidence that, just as he had been stating for the previous two months and likewise in his Nobel acceptance speech, Pauling was merely a representative of a much larger movement, if still a polarizing and extremely prominent one.

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The Peril of the Hydrogen Bomb

 

 

[Part 1 of 2]

“The question of an atomic war is not an ordinary political question. It is of equal concern to the left-winger, the right-winger, and the man in the middle of the road. The hydrogen bomb would not discriminate – it would kill them all. This problem, of an atomic war, must not be confused by minor problems, such as communism vs. capitalism, the existence of dictatorships, the trend toward socialism, the problem of race and class discrimination. It is a problem that overwhelms them – and if it can be solved, they too can be solved.”

-Linus Pauling, 1950.

In January 1950, President Harry S. Truman announced that the U.S. military was pursuing the development of an incredibly powerful atomic bomb. The new and mysterious weapon was rumored to be many times more destructive than any nuclear weapon that had yet been detonated. The declaration was a heavy blow to Linus Pauling and others already opposed to nuclear weapons production, a movement which was now further isolated from official U.S. policy.

To understand the import of Truman’s announcement, it is first necessary to understand the reaction mechanics of the various types of atomic bombs then in development. The cores of first generation atomic bombs were composed of concentrated and heavily enriched uranium or plutonium isotope spheres. Though several methods were devised to catalyze the nuclear reactions necessary for an atomic blast, the first atomic test at Alamogordo, New Mexico used TNT implosion for detonation. When the first atomic bomb was detonated during “the Trinity test,” TNT charges surrounding the bomb caused an explosion on all sides of the radioactive material, forcing it to compress and destabilize its molecular composition. Fission resulted from the splitting of radioactive nuclei, subsequently unleashing a chain reaction that released unprecedented amounts of force.

A different method was used to begin the chain reaction within “Little Boy,” the first atomic bomb ever used in combat. To initiate the Little Boy reaction, a specially tailored gun barrel was used to shoot a uranium projectile into a sphere of enriched uranium.

The hydrogen bomb, in contrast, used principles of both fission and fusion. Fusion, the process by which the sun generates such vast quantities of light and heat, is a process wherein the nuclei of light elements are fused to form heavier elements. This fusion of light elements is capable of liberating far more energy than is atomic bomb fission; however a large amount of energy is required to initiate the reaction.

The first hydrogen bombs were more or less conventional Little Boy-style atomic weapons surrounded by densely packed atoms of hydrogen and other light elements. The primary purpose of the atomic bomb that formed the core of a hydrogen bomb then, was essentially to catalyze an even larger reaction.

In order to help people understand the differences in explosive magnitude created by atomic bombs versus hydrogen bombs, Linus Pauling often compared their relative power to scalable amounts of TNT.  In his book No More War! (1958), Pauling wrote

The Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs had explosive energy somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 tons of TNT. Each of them was accordingly about 15,000 or 20,000 times more powerful than a one-ton blockbuster. Each was about 1,000 times as powerful as the greatest of the great bombs with conventional explosives used in the Second World War.

The bomb that could destroy the greatest city in the world and kill ten million people is not something imaginary. Bombs of this sort – hydrogen bombs and super-bombs – have been made and have been exploded. Bombs have been tested that have an explosive power as great as 15 megatons – an explosive power equivalent to 15 million tons of TNT, 15 million one-ton blockbusters.

Each one of these bombs is one-thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb or the Nagasaki bomb. Each one of them has an explosive energy five times as great as that of all of the bombs used in the Second World War.

Pauling had been gravely concerned about the possibility of atomic war between the United States and Russia well before development of the hydrogen bomb. However, the destructive potential of a single hydrogen bomb, as well as the conclusiveness of the decision to pursue its development, gave him much greater cause for concern. Pauling was alarmed by the post-war escalation of international tensions, and feared that production of such powerful weapons could instigate an accelerated arms race, ushering in an era shadowed even further by the threat of full-scale nuclear war. Pauling believed that heightened diplomacy and improved international relations were the keys to finding an agreeable solution, and that the development of the hydrogen bomb sowed new doubts about the feasibility of a peaceful, institutionally backed solution.

 

Harold Urey, 1930s

 

As discussion of the hydrogen bomb became more public, the possibility of consensus on the matter grew ever more remote. The seemingly irreconcilable positions surrounding hydrogen bomb policy led to the fracturing and destabilization of several associations, including the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists (ECAS). The ECAS, chaired by Albert Einstein, spent a substantial amount of time and energy addressing the need to place atomic weapons under international oversight, stressing the growing importance of an effective world government.

Many members of the ECAS, including Pauling, were vehemently opposed to the development of the hydrogen bomb. Others, particularly Harold Urey, favored pursuit of the new weapon, arguing that the Soviet Union would begin production of the bomb regardless of U.S. intentions. This difference of opinion turned out to be too great, and the ensuing debate was in part responsible for Urey’s resignation from the group. Afterwards, faced with a number of other difficulties, the committee chose to disband.

The severity of Pauling’s disagreement with Harold Urey and others became altogether too much to contain. Pauling gave hundreds of speeches during the 1950s which addressed the pressing threat of deteriorating international relations and atomic war. While his speeches and talks stressed the dangers of the hydrogen bomb, nuclear weapons proliferation and world war, they also accentuated peaceful negotiation as the only realistic solution.  As he noted in his 1954 talk “The World Problem and the Hydrogen Bomb

…Atomic energy should be used for the welfare and not the destruction of mankind. The statement of Mr. Churchill that ‘atom bombs are a terrible means of maintaining the rule of law in the world’ is no longer valid. The atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb have become powerful weapons of destruction in the hands of powerful nations, opposed to one another. If international affairs continue along the lines characteristic of the whole past history of the world, we shall sooner or later see the outbreak of a hydrogen-bomb war. No nation will benefit from such a war – it may be expected confidently that a hydrogen-bomb war, if it comes, will result in the destruction of most of the cities in the world, the death of hundreds of millions of people, the end of the present civilized world.

Pauling and Einstein

Today, in honor of the Albert Einstein exhibit being hosted at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, we’re taking a look at the relationship between the famed physicist and another of the twentieth century’s most publicly prominent scientists, Linus Pauling.

The details of Einstein’s biography are, by now, well established.  Born in Ulm, Germany in 1879, the toddler scarcely spoke until the age of three. As a young adult, he studied at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich and worked odd jobs after graduation until acquiring a position as a patent examiner.

In 1905 he published four papers that formed the foundation of his most widely recognized work, including the landmark paper which theorized the relationship between energy and mass (E=mc²) and another which described the dual-state nature of light as consisting of both particles and waves. After becoming an assistant professor at the University of Zurich, he advanced quickly within the ranks of Central European academia. He was appointed Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Physical Institute and Professor at the University of Berlin in 1914. A year later, he completed his initial work on the general theory of relativity.  After renouncing his German citizenship for political reasons, Einstein moved to Princeton, New Jersey in 1933, where he had accepted what would be his final position at the newly created Institute for Advanced Study.

Though he eventually spent twenty-three years in Princeton, Einstein visited his future home for the first time in 1921 to deliver the Stafford Little lecture series on the theory of relativity, and to accept an honorary degree. He was forty-two at the time, and received the Nobel Prize for physics the following year. Twenty-three years later, Linus Pauling followed his example, delivering the Vanuxem Lectures on “The Structure and Biological Properties of Molecules” at Princeton in 1954. He accepted his first Nobel prize, for chemistry, that same year.

Pauling first met Einstein in 1927 and gradually became better acquainted with the celebrated figure through intermittent contacts at Caltech, where Einstein spent several winters in the early 1930s.  One particular classroom encounter was deemed newsworthy by the day’s media.  As recounted in a 1931 New York Times article

Last Winter Dr. Einstein was an interested listener while Dr. Pauling discussed his chemical bond research.  After the lecture, reporters noted that the German sage asked Dr. Pauling a number of questions.  ‘I’m afraid I’m not up on the chemical bond,’ Dr. Einstein was heard to say.  ‘I shall have to brush up on the subject before taking more of your time.’

Excerpt from an unknown publication, 1931.

The two eventually shared more extensive and personal interaction following Pauling’s agreement to serve on the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists (ECAS), which Einstein founded along with the physicist Leo Szilard. The ECAS was formed in the wake of the 1946 release of a widely circulated telegram impelling the need to “harness the atom for the benefit of mankind, and not for humanity’s destruction.” Einstein, having worked for peace in various respects since 1914, became deeply involved in the movement to pacify international atomic policy following the end of the Second World War.

While Einstein and Szilard were primarily responsible for the creation of the ECAS, it received the backing of the Federation of American Scientists from the moment of its inception. The ECAS raised funds for the National Committee on Atomic Information, but also produced informational material for professionals and the general public. Those in the Committee sought mainly to increase public understanding of the scientific facts of atomic energy and their implications for society, but also warned about the dangers of extreme nationalism and atomic war. Pauling was invited to join the group shortly after its creation, at which time his name was added to the Committee’s broadly distributed appeals.

It is clear from numerous sources that Pauling greatly admired both Einstein and his work. And as gleaned from the experiences of others, it seems that Einstein held Pauling in a somewhat similar esteem. According to Alexander Rich, a post-doctoral fellow of Pauling’s who visited Princeton in 1951, when discussing Pauling, Einstein commented “Ah, that man is a real genius!”

Similarly, Einstein seemed sympathetic with and appreciative of Pauling’s many difficulties with the U.S. government, particularly during his fight for a passport.  In one exchange of letters, Einstein wrote

It is very meritorious of you to fight for the right to travel. The attitude of the government corresponds, of course, to the state of transition toward a kind of totalitarian state in which we find ourselves.  The fact that independent minds like you are being rebuked equally by official America and official Russia is significant and to a certain degree also amusing.

Though the two men often shared a similar drive and purpose, subtleties differentiated their opinions about how best to influence certain issues, including international atomic policy. Both men desired lasting world peace, but Einstein placed more emphasis and a greater sense of urgency on the creation of a world governing body. Pauling was a proponent of world government, but spent a great deal of his time supporting more specific issues and causes. In this vein, Pauling once invited Einstein to join a new organization, Everybody’s Committee to Outlaw War, but Einstein declined, arguing:

I surely do not need to assure you that, in principle, I am wholeheartedly on your side. I believe, however, that in the present situation a mere declaration to outlaw war would be quite ineffective. Even if it were possible to create a mass movement around this slogan, it is clear that competitive armament and the danger of war cannot be prevented without a world government which has sufficient power and independence.

While the two held different perspectives on methods for pursuing peace, Pauling enjoyed a relationship with Einstein that was unique among his fellows at the ECAS. Though often not present for Committee meetings, when in Princeton the Paulings used whatever time they could to visit with Einstein.  Late in life, Pauling would recount the general nature of these meetings.

We discussed, not science, but mainly world affairs for about an hour every evening. We came to know him quite well. I think he liked my wife especially. They both had excellent senses of humor. When anything funny about national leaders and their behavior – or about anything else for that matter – was said, he would laugh uproariously…. His reasonableness and his remarkable sense of humor impressed me most in his association with me and my wife.

As Einstein aged and Pauling became more involved in world affairs, their relationship was subject to intermittent gaps. Following years of sparse and ill-documented exchanges, Pauling was inspired to take notes after his last visit to Einstein’s home in November of 1954. Pauling wrote that the two had discussed a range of familiar topics, including their experiences with the ECAS as well as Einstein’s sincere regret at having urged President Roosevelt to pursue the development of atomic weapons.

Pauling diary notes, November 1954.

In his final years, Einstein continued to study and work. He diligently attempted to finish his decades-long pursuit, the complete formulation of a unified field theory which would bring together all of the laws of physical force – such as gravity and electromagnetism – into a “pure field theory.” He also kept up on current events, and one of his final actions was to sign what came to be known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, a non-partisan appeal by scientists (including Pauling) for world peace and the abolition of war. He died shortly afterward at Princeton on April 18, 1955.

On May 12, at a function sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Pauling spoke in front of an audience that had assembled to honor the memory of the late Einstein. During the 25-minute speech, Pauling discussed Einstein’s accomplishments, their time together at the ECAS and the ongoing struggle for peace and humanity against war and, in particular, the hydrogen bomb. Pauling likewise shared with the audience portions of his last conversation with Einstein, and closed with some thoughts on the unique level of respect and admiration that he felt towards the man.

The greatest inspiration that I myself received from Einstein came not from his science but from his general outlook on the world – his expressed feelings about social and political questions, and especially about war. . . I think that Einstein was as clear-headed when he thought about international affairs as when he thought about physics, and I trusted his judgment beyond that of any other man.

The Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists

Group portrait of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, as published in the New York Times, November 18, 1946.

Perhaps my own work for world peace would not have been very effective if I had not been invited to become a member of the board of trustees of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists … Before then, I had made some public talks about nuclear weapons and nuclear war; but it was Einstein’s example that inspired my wife and me to devote energy and effort to pacifist activities.

-Linus Pauling, 1992

Largely as a result of efforts made by renowned physicists Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, an organization was formed in 1946 to aid public understanding of pressing atomic issues. It was called the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists (ECAS), and its main function ultimately was to raise and direct funds for public education.  Along with Einstein and Szilard, the group’s trustees included Harold Urey, Hans Bethe, Thorfin Hogness, Philip Morse, Victor Weisskopf and Linus Pauling.

Until two atomic bombs were dropped on Japanese cities, the American public had been essentially unaware of the unprecedented advances being made by atomic scientists. In light of this general gap in knowledge, members of the ECAS sought to inform the general public about international atomic policy and the magnitude of the danger that atomic weapons posed to human beings everywhere. With Einstein serving as its active chairman, and a well-known group of scientists backing him up, the committee launched its appeals for support.

From its beginning, the ECAS attempted to further understanding of the atomic era, rather than serve as a body which sought to either make or influence policy. As was often present in their solicitations and public releases, the committee listed a set of facts that they claimed were accepted by all scientists. As listed in the group’s “Statement of Purpose,” these facts included the following:

  1. Atomic bombs can now be made cheaply and in large number. They will become more destructive.
  2. There is no military defense against atomic bombs, and none is to be expected.
  3. Other nations can rediscover our secret processes by themselves.
  4. Preparedness against atomic war is futile and, if attempted, will ruin the structure of our social order.
  5. If war breaks out, atomic bombs will be used, and they will surely destroy our civilization.
  6. There is no solution to this problem except international control of atomic energy and, ultimately, the elimination of war.

Shortly after its formation, the ECAS became a working committee within the Federation of American Scientists, following the restructuring of the Federation in 1947. Aside from providing funding for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and its sponsoring Federation of American Scientists, the ECAS lent substantial support to the National Committee on Atomic Information. The National Committee on Atomic Information was a grouping of over 60 national organizations, and millions of members, who shared the common purpose of improving communications between atomic scientists and the public.

Promotional image for “Atomic Power!” a newsreel produced under the “March of Time” imprint, 1946.

Laden as it was with a distinguished membership, the ECAS enjoyed substantial coverage in the mainstream news, especially during the enthusiastic initial days of the committee’s establishment. As a result, the committee was provided with many opportunities to present carefully crafted platform statements in the form of press releases. The committee also produced several films and organized a number of conferences that advocated creation of a world government.  Their most common practice, however, remained the public release of materials that warned against nuclear war and the dangers of extreme nationalism.

The committee was officially disbanded in 1951, nearly five years after its formation. In his book No More War!, Linus Pauling wrote that the committee ceased to function in 1950, largely because of the strain it put on Albert Einstein. And though the burden placed on Einstein was likely a contributing factor, the demise of the organization was at heart more political and financial.

As donations in support of nuclear non-proliferation activism began to diminish, the committee found itself unable to provide support for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Even the costs of special committee meetings began to impose a great strain on the organization’s operating funds.

Perhaps more importantly, as the rift between the United States and the Soviet Union continued to grow, members of the committee found it increasingly difficult to reach consensus among themselves. In particular, many committee members harbored strong and opposing views concerning the U.S. government’s intention to develop and produce the hydrogen bomb. Likewise, while the committee agreed in general that some form of world government was necessary to prevent atomic war, opinions contrasted sharply on the question of how such a system should be organized and implemented.

In a letter marked August 16, 1951, Linus Pauling was asked for his signature to legally disband the committee, and the final meeting of the Board of Trustees was held on September 8.

After disbandment, Pauling continued to communicate with several former committee members, especially Albert Einstein. On November 16, 1954, not long after he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Pauling made his final visit to Einstein in Princeton, New Jersey. According to notes made by Pauling after his visit, the two talked about a range of familiar topics, including atomic weapons, foreign policy and their former committee. Einstein also told Pauling that his one great mistake in life was signing a letter to Franklin Roosevelt, recommending that the United States proceed with the development of atomic weapons.

Though Pauling was, more often than not, absent from official committee meetings and functions, the lessons that he learned as a member of the ECAS stayed with him for the rest of his life.  So too, as it turns out, did a large cache of records created by the committee.  When Albert Einstein died in 1955, his personal ECAS files were turned over to Frank Aydelotte, an erstwhile head of Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study, when Einstein worked in his final years.  Upon Aydelotte’s death shortly thereafter, Einstein’s personal files were sent to Linus Pauling.  They are now part of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers.

Look Familiar?

Life magazine has recently published a series of never-before-seen photographs that document Albert Einstein’s environs on the day that he died.  Taken by photographer Ralph Morse, the images and captions presented on the Life website are interesting for any number of reasons. (See, for instance, this canny meditation on the value of a bottle of scotch.) In particular, the image above, which shows Einstein’s Princeton University office in its final state, piqued our interests and got us to thinking about Linus Pauling’s work areas.

Mock-up of the Pauling office, OSU Special Collections.

As reconstructed in the permanent display adjacent to the Special Collections reading room, one notices a few similarities between the two set-ups, the desk and chalkboard chief among them.  Both men also likely shared a fondness for slide rules, though we don’t know if Einstein made as prolific use of Dictaphones as did Pauling.  One important difference:  Pauling, an ardent anti-smoker, would never have included a pipe or an ashtray among his office possessions, as did Einstein.

The display also gives the impression that Pauling was a neat and tidy sort, apparently unlike his colleague and friend Professor Einstein.  This impression is rather misleading.  Though a very precise thinker, an organized researcher and a superb administrator, Pauling didn’t exactly keep his work space in pristine condition.   Note, for example, the large stacks of papers in this 1957 photo of Pauling in his office at Caltech’s Crellin Laboratory. (click to enlarge)

Pauling in his office at the Crellin Laboratory, Caltech, 1957. Photo by Phil Stern.

The situation hadn’t improved much by 1977, though in his defense, Pauling was receiving huge volumes of mail by this time.

Pauling in his Portola Valley office, 1977.

Finally, here’s a shot from 1991, taken at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine.  It is a good approximation of what Pauling’s office probably looked like at the time of his death, some three and a half years later.

Linus Pauling and a guest in his office at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, 1991.

For those who might be interested, the contents of Pauling’s desk contemporary to the end of his tenure at Caltech have been cataloged into box 1.034 of the Pauling Biographical series.

1961 and 1962 Now Live on Linus Pauling Day-by-Day

Group portrait of participants at the Oslo Conference. 1961

We recently completed and uploaded two more years of the ever-expanding Linus Pauling Day-by-Day project.  With the addition of 1961 and 1962, more than three decades of Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s lives are now chronicled in exquisite detail.  The mammoth site currently includes summaries of over 92,000 documents and features 1,851 illustrations and 2,289 full-text transcripts.

The years 1961 and 1962 bore witness to the Paulings’ continuing tilt away from scientific research in favor of a pitched agenda of peace activism.  Both were likewise incredibly busy years littered with international travel, worldwide acclaim and periods of heavy tumult.  The energy that the Paulings expended over this period of time surely took its toll – in their letters to colleagues, both Linus and Ava Helen commonly remark of being overwhelmed with work and on the brink of exhaustion.  Their labors did not go unnoticed, however, and their frenzy of activity in 1961 and 1962 surely added to the dossier for which Linus Pauling would receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963.

Many of the Paulings efforts during these years have been chronicled on this blog or on our Documentary History sites.  Among them, in 1961 Linus Pauling published his theory of anesthesia, worked with Ava Helen in organizing the Oslo Conference against nuclear testing, and continued to dialogue with both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev about matters of nuclear weapons policy.  The next year saw more of the same, including the famous “White House incident,” many more awards (including an honorary high school diploma) and nearly 2,700 unsolicited write-in votes for U. S. Senator from California.  In the midst of it all, the Paulings traveled almost non-stop, from Toronto to Honolulu, Paris to Cleveland, Moscow, Chile, Dallas and many points in between.

Linus Pauling Day-by-Day documents this blizzard of activity while simultaneously attempting to shed light on some of the lesser-known components of the Paulings’ personal and professional matters.  Indeed, one of the true delights of working in an archive of such breadth as the Pauling Papers is the opportunity to uncover and make available documents of a more esoteric nature.  And so it is that we find Pauling hazarding a guess in response to a question about birds losing their sense of direction when flying through a radar area.  Likewise, readers may be interested in a short discussion about a treatment for catatonic schizophrenia, his notes on Albert Einstein’s belief in God, and his gratitude upon receiving a particularly thoughtful birthday gift.  The illustrations selected for the Day-by-Day project are full of such nuggets.

Work is completed on the Day-by-Day project on a nearly continuous basis here in the OSU Libraries Special Collections.  The data for 1963 and 1964 is close to complete and should be launched sometime later this year, with plenty more to come shortly thereafter.  For those interested in the background and technical mechanics of this ambitious effort, see this series of blog posts published in 2009.