Searching for Truth in Times of War

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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.”

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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.


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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.

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A Book that Never Was: Pauling’s “Fighting for Peace and Freedom”

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Pauling’s proposed chapter outline of “Fighting for Peace and Freedom,” October 31, 1960.

In 1960 Linus Pauling faced a severe test when he was called before two hearings held by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) and asked to provide a detailed account of the circulation of the United Nations bomb test petition that he and his wife, Ava Helen, sponsored in 1957 and 1958.  The SISS subcommittee was similar in its purview to the more widely known House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which had supported similar efforts in the past.

The Paulings’ petition started out in the United States as an “Appeal by American Scientists to the Government and Peoples of the World,” but as publicity grew, it found an international audience as well.  The petition was submitted to the UN during the heart of the Cold War, and Pauling was called before SISS two years later because some committee members believed the petition to be in alignment with potential communist objectives, mostly because the document did not align with strategies being pursued by the United States military at the time.

Pauling was subpoenaed in June 1960 and, once seated before the committee, was asked to provide the names of all individuals who helped to circulate the bomb test petition across the globe. Pauling refused this request, believing that those who had provided their support to the petitioning effort should not be exposed to the same types of investigations that he was presently facing. Pauling was subpoenaed again in October of that year, and although he was threatened with contempt of Congress, once again he did not reveal the names of his colleagues. By this point, much of the mainstream media was beginning to lean in Pauling’s direction, and the SISS ultimately decided to back off its demands. And so it was that, after a very tense summer, Pauling wound up avoiding legal consequences.


"Dr. Pauling Refuses Senators' Demand for Names of A-Ban Group", The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 22, 1960.

Though he had managed to sidestep legal jeopardy, the SISS experience was an especially bitter one for Pauling. After the first hearing, Pauling was so angry that he briefly considered running for president, seeing no other viable corrective to what he viewed to be an absence of leadership in his country. While this idea quickly passed, Pauling was still moved to action, and during his participation in the second SISS hearing, he made a decision to write a book about his experiences in Congress.  He would title it, Fighting for Peace and Freedom.

Pauling believed that his proposed book would be of interest to a wide readership and would also be a contribution to the public good. He detailed these sentiments in a book proposal that he addressed to August Frugé, director of the University of California Press, on October 4, 1960.  In it, he wrote

I have formed the opinion that people are interested enough in it to be willing to read a book about it, and I plan to begin writing this book.  The book will contain some background material about nuclear war, nuclear tests, the bomb-test petition, and the efforts that I have been making about these matters, and also it will contain an account of my hearing and of legal action in relation to the Internal Security Subcommittee.

Pauling also pointed out that there was precedence for a book of this sort. Specifically, he wanted to model his narrative after Philip Wittenberg’s 1957 publication, The Lamont Case: History of a Congressional Investigation, Corliss Lamont and the McCarthy Hearings, which chronicled Lamont’s appearance before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

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Corliss Lamont

Lamont was an American philosopher and advocate of left-wing and civil liberties causes who frequently clashed with political figures and the CIA during his long life. He was called to testify at McCarthy’s infamous hearings in 1953, during which he denied ever being a Communist, but refused to get into specifics, citing the legal protections provided by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The legal proceedings that arose from his hearing dragged on for two more years and, though Lamont was never formally identified as a communist, he continued to butt heads with the government for several years following.

Using Wittenberg’s book as his model, Pauling proposed that Fighting for Peace and Freedom consist of twelve chapters that would describe the case, present legal documents and a complete transcript of the two hearings, and also include several contextual chapters relating to the whole affair. Pauling felt that it would be useful for readers to have easy access to all this information and, indeed, that it should be made readily available to the public.

The twelve chapter titles that Pauling put forward were as follows:

  1. The Life of a Scientist
  2. The Bomb-Test Petition
  3. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee
  4. My First Hearing—Morning Session
  5. My First Hearing—Afternoon Session
  6. I Go to Court
  7. News Accounts, Editorials, and Advertisements
  8. My Second Hearing—Morning Session
  9. My Second Hearing—Afternoon Session
  10. Senator Dodd’s Crusade
  11. Misuse of Power by Congressional Committees
  12. Peace, Freedom, and Morality

In its proposed form, the book would be lengthy – Pauling put the estimate at about 440 pages, of which roughly 80 would be appendices.  However, he believed he could potentially trim the project down by 10% if need be, without loss of coherence in his argument.  Despite the length of the text and his unrelenting schedule, Pauling hoped to have the manuscript ready to go as soon as possible and aimed to have copy ready to be set in type by December 13, 1960.

Pauling also took pains to point out that Fighting for Peace and Freedom was not going to be a scholarly study; rather, it would be written in an intimate and personal manner.  Furthermore, as Pauling explained to the University of California Press’ Los Angeles editor, Robert Y. Zachary, the writing would be “restrained, and perhaps even to make use occasionally of understatements.” Zachary and August Frugé, director of the press, were both interested in the project and looked forward to reading the manuscript once Pauling had it completed.

As it turned out, California was not the only press that was interested in pursuing Pauling’s newest book. Pauling also approached Cornell, a university press with a known predilection for printing works that dealt with issues concerning civil rights.  Cornell, which had also published Pauling’s monumental Nature of the Chemical Bond beginning in 1939, was also interested in reading the manuscript when it was ready.

Despite these favorable responses and his own initial vigor in pursuing the project, Pauling never completed the manuscript; indeed, there is no indication that he ever even started it. There is no obvious indication as to what happened, although it would seem likely that the very cluttered nature of his calendar halted any momentum in its tracks. Pauling’s letter to Zachary was mailed on November 2, 1960 and proposed a December 13 deadline.  During that span of less than one and a half months, Pauling made trips to Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, Washington, British Columbia, and Illinois.

Amidst this heavy press of work, one might suppose that, just as with his aborted interest in pursuing the presidency, Pauling’s zest for writing the book started to flag, and by the end of the year, the story of Pauling’s appearance before the SISS had increasingly become old news.  As such, it remains for us today to continue wondering exactly how he would have characterized his Congressional hearings in the larger fight for peace and freedom.

 

Pauling Obtains His FBI File

Corliss Lamont

[Part 3 of 7]

On March 8, 1971, several people broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole hundreds of files from classified record storage. Information from these files was gradually leaked to the press, and in time newspaper articles began divulging information about COINTELPRO, an FBI operation that targeted both groups and individual U.S. citizens considered to be subversive by the Bureau and other government entities. Aside from its discriminatory selection of targets, the operation became controversial largely for its use of wiretapping and other intrusive techniques. The turn of events led to COINTELPRO’s dismantling, but the story was kept alive by a number of complementary developments taking place across the nation.

Amidst the furor  surrounding the Watergate scandal, the public was also made aware of the Central Intelligence Agency’s efforts to overthrow democratically elected foreign governments, as well as the agency’s direct support of several infamous dictatorships. The public disillusionment that followed these disclosures set the stage for a number of committees seeking to investigate improprieties initiated by both the CIA and the FBI.

Another blow to FBI secrecy came on May 2, 1972. That morning J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Bureau for 48 years, was found dead in his bedroom after suffering from a heart attack. The FBI was put under new leadership, and without Hoover’s powerful presence to fend off critics, the Bureau found itself increasingly vulnerable to congressional oversight.

A number of committee hearings were held over the next several years to investigate FBI conduct from the previous decades. Initially these were relatively discreet, though in time two committees succeeded in uncovering a substantial portion of previously classified FBI conduct. Much of the sensitive information uncovered by these committees was eventually released and leaked to the public.

Having aired new revelations about domestic FBI spying practices, members of Congress pursued further legislative measures to address public concerns and dismay. In 1974 the Privacy Act was passed and important amendments were made to the Freedom of Information Act, which in turn enabled citizens to access copies of their own personal FBI files.

In March 1976, the philosopher and activist Corliss Lamont wrote an article for publication in The Nation, which detailed his personal experience of applying for and reading through his FBI file. Lamont discussed the means by which he used the Freedom of Information Act to access 274 pages of his 1,526 page Bureau file, and the sometimes amusing but generally troubling information that his reading uncovered. He discovered acquaintances that had been harassed, travel that had been recorded and even cancelled checks that were regularly retrieved from his local bank. As if to predict the path that Linus Pauling would soon follow, Lamont sternly ended his piece with the following:

The most serious part of the documents deals with the bureau’s weird attempts to prove that I was a member of the Communist Party, an organization I never dreamed of joining. In this unceasing attempt, the FBI relied primarily on various ex-Communist perjurers.

The FBI’s treatment of me is characteristic of its harassment over the years of tens of thousands of Americans who held liberal or leftist views. The bureau’s anti-democratic practices not only violate our civil liberties but also drain away tens of millions of dollars, a senseless waste of the taxpayers’ money – for what? The accumulation of vast files of useless information.

Less than two weeks after the publication of Lamont’s article, Linus Pauling wrote to Francis Heisler for assistance. Heisler, a Carmel, California volunteer attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, had counseled Pauling on a number of legal matters since the late 1950s. In his letter to Heisler, Pauling provided an impassive request for the transfer of his up-to-then classified FBI information.

I think that it might be worthwhile for me to get what information I can about the FBI record for me, and perhaps also for my wife, Ava Helen Pauling. If you think that this is a good idea, would you enter into correspondence with the Director of the FBI, with this end in view?

I would think that it would be desirable to get as much material as possible. At any rate, it would be interesting to know how big my file is.

Though Pauling began the process of requesting his FBI files in 1976, it took several years and substantial correspondence to receive them. In the meantime, he began petitioning other agencies, including the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Armed Forces, the Department of State, the National Archives and a host of other government bodies in order to see what they had tucked away in their own separate files devoted to him.

In early 1977, as part of this effort, Pauling sent a letter to the CIA requesting information as to whether his mail had been opened during an operation that was officially ended in 1973. Under the code name HTLINGUAL, CIA agents had opened, read and copied 215,000 first class letters that were sent by or to various American citizens over a period of about 20 years. Attaching an article titled “Did the CIA open your mail?” Pauling wrote his letter under the auspices of the Freedom of Information Act, literally demanding to know if any of his mail had been tampered with under the specified covert operation.  Pauling also became particularly interested in the events surrounding the various difficulties that he had encountered with his passport.

Letter from Linus Pauling to the CIA, January 10, 1977.

While Pauling was aided by various encounters with published material that made him aware of his ability to request previously classified files, he also received help from a number of acquaintances familiar with the protocols inherent to the Freedom of Information Act. For example, attached to a series of forms issued by the Department of State, correspondent Herman Berg shared with Pauling the specifics of how to request the desired information:

Here is your chance to find out the details about what happened to your passport in the 1950s. Enclosed is the material to launch Freedom of Information Request #8903183 with the State Department.

The search part might entail Secretary of State Dean Acheson as well as other department heads. It is also where the real meat might be, as well as running up the meter.

From 1977 to 1989, Pauling received a variety of responses to his inquiries. Aside from his massive FBI file, Pauling also acquired a substantial cache of content from the CIA and State Department. These files highlight more specifically the interactions that occurred between the FBI and other intelligence gathering agencies, and also present much of the information that is redacted in large portions of Pauling’s FBI files.

The entire process seems to have been arduous and wearying on Pauling’s end, (likely as well for those responsible for retrieving and copying his files) and it was also fairly expensive. All in all Pauling wrote hundreds of dollars worth of checks to the various agencies in order to receive copies of his files. It appears, however, that the information was easily worth the cost, as Pauling seems never to have hesitated to pay whatever price necessary to more fully understand a portion of his harried past.