Symposia and the Peace Ship: Pauling in Latin America, 1980s.

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, dancing the samba in Brazil, September 1980.

[Part 5 of 5]

The 1980s were a very busy decade for Linus Pauling with regards to trips to Latin America. Over the course of the decade, he attended various scientific symposia in Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela, and also participated in a variety of peace activities – delivering a peace talk in Colombia, meeting with the leaders of several governments, and participating in the “Peace Ship,” a vessel loaded with humanitarian aid provided by the governments of Norway and Sweden, which sailed from Panama to Nicaragua in July and August 1984.

Having participated in the Second International Vitamin C Symposium in 1978, Pauling once again traveled to Brazil in 1980 for the third iteration of this gathering, which took place in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The Symposium ran from September 2-13, with Pauling seated as the guest of honor. He arrived in Manaus on September 4 and did some sightseeing to start off his visit. Later he traveled to Sao Paulo and the conference got underway. He gave the opening speech the day after the Symposium began.

Session titles at the symposium were familiar to those who had followed Pauling’s recent career: “Vitamin C in Immunology,” “Vitamin C in Lipid Metabolism,” “Other Aspects of Vitamin C,” and “Vitamin C in Cancer.” Pauling coordinated and participated in the program on vitamin C and cancer, presenting a paper titled “The Incidence of Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Hairless Mice Irradiated with Ultraviolet Light in Relations to the Intake of Ascorbic Acid.” This paper reported the results of a study that Pauling had conducted along with three other investigators, in which they observed the development of large malignant skin tumors in 700 hairless mice.

According to Pauling’s text, the mice, divided into groups, were “intermittently exposed in a standard way to long-wavelength ultraviolet light over a period of 110 days,” while each group was given a consistent diet containing a different amount of Vitamin C from group to group. At the end of the study, it was determined that a strong correlation existed between the number of tumors that the mice developed and the amount of Vitamin C in their diet.

On September 10, Pauling traveled to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, where he gave the opening speech for the First International Symposium on Recent Advances in Vitamins.  Sessions at this meeting included, “Vitamin A,” “Hipovitominosis and Public Health,” “Vitamin C Complex,” “Microbiological Measurements of Vitamins,” and “Nutrition and Vitamin Deficiencies.” Pauling concluded the symposium with a closing speech and left Rio for home on September 13.

Pauling went to yet another symposium in January 1981, this time in Mexico City and focusing on the subject “Metabolic Treatment of Heart Conditions.” The conference took place at Juarez Hospital in the Mexican capital, and was coordinated by Dr. David Contreras, Chief of Cardiology at the hospital. At this short, two-day meeting, Pauling only gave one lecture, “Treatment of Old Age.”

Pauling with Nobel laureate economist F. A. Hayek at the Darwin Conference, Caracas, Venezuela, November 1982. (El Diario)

After Ava Helen’s death in December 1981, Pauling did not travel to Latin America again until November 1982, when he was invited to a Darwin Symposium in Caracas, Venezuela. He gave a lecture on November 8 at the Central University of Venezuela titled, “Darwin and the Adventure of Thought,” as well as a lecture titled, “The Joy of Research.” In the latter, Pauling talked about his capacity to find joy in scientific discoveries made by others, specifically citing his excitement in learning of the uncovering of clues to the extinction of dinosaurs as found in clay layers. But even more joy, Pauling suggested, could be felt through one’s own process of discovery. As he recounted on a different occasion

When Ernest Lawrence got married…I was an usher at the wedding, in 1931.  I drove back in the car with some people and I said that I was happy because I had in my pocket a crystal of sulvanite, Cu3VS4.  And I had just determined the structure of this and it was a very striking structure; anomalous, it didn’t fit in with my ideas about sulfide minerals.  But I knew what the structure was, nobody else knows, nobody in the world knows what the structure is and they won’t know until I tell them.  This is an example of the feeling of pleasure I had on discovering something new.

Pauling’s next trip to Latin America was for the International Symposium on Vitamins in Nutrition and Therapy, held in Cartagena and Bogotá, Colombia, in 1983. Pauling arrived in Bogotá on November 22, and went to Cartagena the next day. After returning to Bogotá on the 27th he met with President Belisario Betancur, who led the country from 1982 to 1986. Pauling also gave a speech, “The Necessity of World Peace,” in Cartagena. In it he discussed the terrifying possibility of a third World War and how it might result in the extermination of the human race. He commented that cooperation was necessary in order for world’s superpowers to survive, since retaliation would be suicide.

During his speech, Pauling also made mention of the Korean airlines crisis of 1983, in which Korean Airlines Flight 007 was shot down by Soviet interceptors over the Sea of Japan after entering Soviet airspace around the time of a planned missile test. All the passengers and crew on board were killed, including Lawrence McDonald, a member of the United States House of Representatives. The Soviet Union eventually claimed that the aircraft was on a spy mission. According to Pauling, “President Reagan saved the world by not taking retaliatory military action, as was urged on him by the right-wingers in the U.S.”


El Mundo, July 25, 1984.

In 1984 the Nicaraguan government was struggling to rebuild itself under a new government, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), after suffering a bloody oppression under the Somoza family’s 43-year dictatorship, and a civil war from 1978 to 1979. Opposing the FSLN were the U. S.-backed Contras, guerrilla fighters engaged in violent struggle with the Sandinistas. Amidst the chaos, the government of Norway, along with a small group of Nobel laureates, decided to help the suffering people of Nicaragua by delivering a shipload of humanitarian aid in the summer of 1984.

The Peace Ship, as it was called, started its journey in Panama City on July 23 with a press conference, before sailing up to Port Corinto, Nicaragua. Passengers on board the Norwegian ship W/V Falknes included Pauling; Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Betty Williams, winners of the Nobel Peace Prize; George Wald, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine; and the leaders of various religious groups.

Those on board sent a message “To People of Conscience, From the Peace Ship,” which stated,

[this ship] carries instruments for health and life, not implements of war; medicines, educational materials, fertilizers, small fishing boats and paper donated by the governments of Norway, Sweden and non-governmental organizations to facilitate Nicaragua’s forthcoming [November 1984] national election.

Pauling and Wald also sent a telegram to President Reagan, informing him of their mission and noting their intent to issue a statement in Managua backing “the right of self-determination, support for the efforts of the Contadora Group to bring peace to the region, the cessation of all foreign intervention, and the withdrawal of all foreign advisers from the region.”

After the Peace Ship arrived in Nicaragua, Pauling and Wald rode to Managua in a Land Cruiser driven by Daniel Ortega Saavedra, a member of the Junta of National Construction that ran the FSLN. At the time, Ortega was running for President of Nicaragua and he would eventually win the November elections that year, the first presidential election held in the country’s history. Pauling commented in his notes that as they drove through the countryside, Ortega and his men were on the lookout for Contras who might attack, and kept submachine guns on the floor of the Land Cruiser. Pauling said of Nicaragua, “It is a miserably poor country. I felt about as bad concerning conditions there as I had about India…”

Accompanied by Ortega and Wald, Pauling visited a small hospital in Managua in which wounded soldiers who had been injured by the Contra forces were being treated, and also visited the medical school in León. He likewise gave a lecture at a medical conference in Managua celebrating the fifth anniversary of the National Health Service.

Pauling also went on a trip to the countryside to visit an active volcano, which he found to be home to flocks of green parakeets. This trip was hosted by Humberto Ortega Saavedra, Daniel Ortega’s brother and the commander-in-chief of Nicaragua’s armed forces.

Pauling flew out of Managua on August 4, but experienced some complications during his trip home: his passport was confiscated as he traveled from one airport to another, and was not returned to him until his arrival in San Francisco. He commented in a letter to his children that he suspected he was being harassed as a result of his and Wald’s telegram to President Reagan, sent while on board the Peace Ship.

[Above: Pauling diary entry regarding the confiscation of his passport. 4 Aug 84 In Mexico City my passport was taken & kept by the Mexican Immigration.  I got on Mexicana 970 for SF, but kept asking for my passport. I think that a flight [?] is on it- I saw a US passport. He put it in a long envelope & told me that I would receive it after Mazatlan.  It [sic] Mazatlan I was told that I could stay aboard the plane.* Only then did I have the idea that the US govt was confiscating my passport,  with the collaboration of the Mexican govt. *All other passengers got out to go through immigration, etc.]

After his return to the U.S., Pauling continued to act on behalf of Nicaragua’s struggle for peace and freedom. He supported the International Committee of the Support of War Victims of Nicaragua, and endorsed a resolution authored by two doctors, Robin W. Briehl and Kenneth Barnes, which opposed the “U.S.-directed violations of human rights and interference with scientific development in Nicaragua.” This resolution was submitted for consideration to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and urged the U.S. government to stop funding the Contras, as well as aid in the safe release of a kidnapped medical brigade.

While Pauling continued to advocate on behalf of various Latin American causes, his voyage on the peace ship marked his last major trip to the region.  So concluded a long string of memorable activities and experiences that had begun some thirty-five years before.

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Women’s Liberation, a Cruise to Acapulco and a Visit to Cuba: The 1970s

Ava Helen Pauling with participants at the Congress of Women of America. Bogota, Colombia, July 1970.

[Part 4 of 5]

After visiting Chile for the Technical University’s Summer School in 1970, Linus and Ava Helen Pauling traveled to Latin America several more times throughout the decade.  In July 1970, Ava Helen visited Bogotá, Colombia on a rare solo trip, to participate in the Third Congress of Women of America. The Congress was held by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and lasted for five days.

WILPF was founded in1915 by a group of women from twelve countries and has worked for peace and gender equality ever since then. Key objectives for the Colombian League in 1970 included women’s rights, especially concerning marriage and divorce, and the education of women. Topics discussed at the Third Congress included the relationship between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., the Colombian economy, population control, the equitable use of resources, and balancing the distribution of wealth. The group also addressed the economic plight of Colombian women and social problems such as sexual taboos, complete education and family planning.

The Paulings next went to Tijuana, Mexico, in March 1972 for a conference sponsored by the Chemistry Association of Tijuana, where Linus received a certificate of appreciation and attended various meetings. While there he also gave his speech “Science and the Future of Humanity,” a version of which he had delivered two years earlier in Chile.

Ava Helen also gave a speech in Tijuana, titled “The Liberation of Women.” In her talk, Ava Helen first noted that the last fifteen years had seen an increase in the struggle for the liberation of oppressed people all over the world, including women, and that “[t]he Women’s Movement has developed so rapidly that it is difficult to keep up with their various activities.” A small grievance, but one about which she felt strongly, was the difference in titles for women and men – “Miss,” if a woman is unmarried and “Mrs.” if they are married, while men are always simply called “Mr.” Although this was a minor problem, Ava Helen said, she would rather be called “Ms.”

She then listed four demands that had attained currency within the women’s liberation movement. The first was that women should receive equal pay for equal work; according to Ava Helen, in 1965, women received only 60 percent of the salary of men, for the same work. The second demand was equal opportunity in employment, without discrimination. Third, the movement wanted working women to have access to 24-hour child care centers “[i]n order to do their jobs well.” The fourth and final demand was free and freely available abortion. “Women are demonstrating in all countries for the repeal of abortion laws,” said Ava Helen, specifically citing the 1971 Women’s National Abortion Action Coalition demonstration in Washington D. C., in which 3,000 women participated.

Along with these four demands, Ava Helen also presented a collection of major concerns being discussed within women’s liberation circles.  These included “nutrition in general, nutrition for the pregnant woman, free lunches for school children, nursery schools, adequate housing, and a guaranteed income for everyone.”

Ava Helen finished her speech by suggesting that, “[women] are becoming politically sophisticated and ever more aware that they, in working for their own freedom from discrimination and oppression, are working for the freedom of all humankind.” On that note, it was clear that Ava Helen and Linus were on the same page politically, which was to be expected since Ava Helen was a guiding force behind much of her husband’s activism.

Linus Pauling aboard the S. S. Fairsea, April 1977.

The next time the Paulings returned to Latin America, it was purely for scientific reasons, although it may have appeared otherwise. Linus was invited to give two lectures while on the Preventive Medicine Cruise to Mexico in 1977, which went from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta, and from there to Acapulco and Mazatlan. The cruise included sixty passengers and lasted for ten days, from April 13th to the 23rd, although the Paulings only took part until April 18th, owing to prior engagements.

In his two lectures aboard the S.S. Fairsea, Pauling discussed biochemical specificity in nature, massive doses of vitamin C in alleviating cancer distress, and biochemical individuality and immunology. Other lecturers on the cruise included Theron Randolph, a physician allergist, and Virginia Livingston Wheeler, a physician who specialized in cancer research. The trip curriculum consisted of a thirty-hour educational program in the sub-specialties of preventive and orthomolecular medicine, as well as clinical ecology and cancer immunology.

A year later, in 1978, the Paulings returned to Latin America, this time to Havana, Cuba, to take part in the Fifth Cuban Congress on Oncology, which ran from March 19-27.  There Pauling gave a talk titled, “Nutrition and Cancer,” in which he discussed the benefits of ingesting vitamin C and other nutrients in order to increase cancer survival times. He noted that

[a]s much as 75 grams of vitamin C per day has been administered, both intravenously and orally, to patients with advanced cancer, and there is some evidence that the larger intakes are considerably more effective than the usual intake of 10 grams per day.

After giving his lecture, Linus and Ava Helen enjoyed a fun next few days, attending a recital featuring the National Ballet of Cuba, enjoying the music of a Cuban Folklore Ensemble and going to the nightclub “Tropicana.” For the Paulings, this trip was the culmination of a long desire to see Cuba, a wish that had always been thwarted previously, due to the U.S. blockade of its communist neighbor.

Later that same year, Linus was invited to be the guest of honor at the Second International Vitamin C Symposium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Pauling gave the opening speech on August 24, and voiced his belief that the world was entering into the Megavitamin or Orthomolecular Age. He also acted as chairman of a workshop on Vitamin C and cancer research. The purpose of the Brazil gathering was to discuss the role of vitamin C in virus diseases, lipid metabolism, cancer, neurological diseases, and diseases associated with collagen. Pauling accepted the honor of delivering the closing address of the symposium as well.

As they traveled to different parts of Latin America in the 1970s, Linus and Ava Helen were a team to be reckoned with: together they advocated for women’s rights, presented on the issue of overpopulation, spoke out against militarism, and spread information about cancer and the effectiveness of vitamins in increasing good health. Emboldened by their combined knowledge and principals, they proved a powerful duo in their quest to make the world a better place.

Science and the Future of Humanity: Chile, 1970

Mr. Ireland, Ava Helen Pauling, Linus Pauling and Enrique Kirberg, Chile, January 1970.

[Part 3 of 5]

Perhaps because he traveled so often, Linus Pauling sometimes found himself visiting volatile places at dangerous times. One such example was a trip to Chile in 1970, taken when he and Ava Helen were invited to the Universidad Técnica del Estado for the university’s Summer School.

The Paulings were asked to attend by Professor Enrique Kirberg, the Rector of the university, who had visited Pauling in the States and was very enthusiastic to host him as a guest speaker for the Summer School. During this time, Chile was still under the leadership of President Eduardo Frei Montalva, who had been elected in 1964 but who, by 1967, was experiencing opposition from both conservatives and leftists. That political atmosphere was such that, as Pauling noted in his diary, he and Ava Helen were escorted everywhere by three detectives with guns at their hips, who even followed them on a tourist trip into the mountains.

The Paulings arrived in Pudahuel, Chile, on January 8 and the inauguration of the Summer School took place on January 9.  Pauling spoke at the inauguration, delivering his lecture “Science and the Future of Humanity” entirely in Spanish, taking forty minutes. In this speech, which he gave often, he stated that scientists ought to be involved with politics, disarmament policy, and international relations, and that they should be concerned with morality and justice, since science is so closely intertwined with morality and ethics. Pauling opined that scientists were not using their knowledge efficiently enough to benefit humanity, and argued that people should follow the Golden Rule, but should also go beyond it, to minimize the suffering of humans and animals, as well as to conserve natural resources.

Pauling likewise stated that war must be abolished and replaced by worldwide laws based on an accepted principal ethic. According to Pauling, “The misuse of a great part of the world’s wealth, and the poor distribution of the rest, is one of the greatest causes of human suffering.” He spoke out against the Vietnam War, noting that although militarism is a major cause of suffering in the world, a large number of powerful countries continued to spend too much money on military build-up.

Another grievance that Pauling presented in his talk was the size of the world’s population: in 1970 it was only about 4 billion, but Pauling believed, at the time, that the world had already surpassed its optimum population. Global malnutrition was his evidence for this supposition. His solution to the problem of overpopulation was to diminish it little by little, until it would reach the ideal number of one billion in the year 2200. At this population level, Pauling reasoned, all humans could lead a pleasant life.

Pauling concluded his speech with the opinion that scientists needed to become altogether more involved in society by doing a number of things: adopting political standings, educating the public by explaining problems and solutions, educating the leaders of the government, and gaining an understanding of worldwide problems. Pauling also believed that, as informed political groups, scientists should press the government and voters to make better choices.  Young peoples’ protests gave him hope for the future, since he was sure they would not give up hope even when they grew old. He had faith that the young people of the 1970s would make changes in the world to make it more just and moral.

After the inauguration of the Summer School at the State Technical University, the Paulings took a short trip to the beautiful city of Pucón, in the shadow of the Villarrica volcano. After spending a few days there, they returned to Santiago and the university, where Pauling met with groups of students, and later with the Committee for Peace.  On January 19, he received the National Congressional Medal of the Senate. That same day, he visited the Central Chemistry Laboratory, met with more students, and later met with professors and Chilean scientists. While in Chile, Pauling also had the opportunity to meet Salvador Allende, who would be elected President of Chile in September of 1970. The Summer School conferences at the Technical University of the State would take place on the 20th, 21st and 22nd of January and the Paulings flew home to the U.S. on Friday the 23rd.

After Chile’s military coup in 1973, Allende’s government was overthrown and General Augusto Pinochet assumed power. Amidst this upheaval, the Rector of the Technical University of the State, Enrique Kirberg, whom Pauling had met and befriended, was arrested by the government.  Kirberg was then taken to Dawson Island, a component of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in the Strait of Magellan, that is subjected to Antarctic weather and was used to house political prisoners suspected of being communist activists. He remained on the island for more than a year, living in camp conditions, before being returned to Santiago where he was found guilty of tax fraud and given a long prison sentence.

When Pauling caught wind of his friend’s plight in 1974, he wrote a letter to General Augusto Pinochet, President of the Military Junta in Chile, inquiring about Kirberg’s whereabouts and asking that he be permitted to leave the country if he wished. Kirberg was eventually freed and, in 1975, Pauling received a letter of gratitude from his friend, thanking him for being a part of the peace movement which contributed to his release from prison.

Although Pauling would not return to Chile, he did serve as a sponsor for the National Coordinating Center in Solidarity with Chile, which contributed to the struggle for democracy during the military dictatorship. He also supported the Office for Political Prisoners and Human Rights in Chile during the late 1970s, and co-sponsored the Madrid World Conference in Solidarity with Chile in 1978.

The 1960s: The Nuclear-Free Zone, Oppression in Argentina and Molecules in Mexico

Illustration appearing in El Mercurio (Santiago, Chile), January 1962.

[Part 2 of 5]

In January 1962, Linus Pauling visited Chile in order to give an address at the Seventh International Summer School at the University of Concepción, and also to accept a certificate of honorary membership in the Chilean Society of Chemistry, one of many such honorary memberships that he received during his lifetime. While in Chile, the Paulings participated in the Summer School and also visited the Catholic University, the Technical University, the University of Chile in Santiago, the Experimental Station of the Institute of Agronomy in Chillán, and several other scientific institutions. Both Linus and Ava Helen gave lectures at many of the institutions they visited.

The theme of the Concepción Summer School was “The Man of Today, His Problems and His Future.” Pauling gave the opening address, titled “The Impact of Science on Man of Today and Man of the Future.” In this lecture, Pauling expressed his belief that mankind had accumulated enough knowledge to control the world instead of being controlled by it, but that with this knowledge came the power to destroy civilization. He thesis was a familiar one to those who had followed Pauling’s activism:

I believe in the philosophy of humanism – that the chief end of human life is to work for the happiness of man upon this earth, to work for the welfare of all humanity, to apply new ideas, scientific progress, for the benefit of all men – those now living and those still to be born.

One factor that works against the happiness of man, Pauling believed, is the variation in income which exists worldwide – a few people live in luxury while many suffer in poverty. He pointed out that economic injustice is “perpetuated by the oppressive powers of dictatorial governments,” and expressed his hope that these oppressive governments would give way to liberal and democratic governments.

In the same speech, Pauling also commented on the rapid progress of science and the new understanding of diseases caused by gene mutation, such as sickle-cell anemia and phenylketonuria. Some gene mutations, he added, are caused by the presence of radioactive materials released by nuclear bomb testing. Pauling continued, “I come now to the greatest of all the problems raised by the progress of science – the problem of preventing the destruction of civilization in a nuclear war.” He noted that the U. S. was in possession of 100,000 megatons of bombs, while only 20,000 megatons would be needed to decimate Russia. Likewise, Pauling estimated that the Soviets had produced 50,000 megatons of bombs, but that just 10,000 would be enough to destroy the U. S.

Pauling stressed to his Chilean audience that a nuclear war would not only destroy the U. S. and Russia, but would affect the Southern Hemisphere as well, in the form of nuclear fallout and genetic mutations. The only way to proceed in order to save the human race, Pauling concluded, was through complete disarmament, which must be supported not only by nations, but by individual people as well. “The survival of the whole human race now depends upon whether or not we can work together for the common good,” he concluded, stressing that world peace can only be achieved if nations adopt the moral values of individuals. After spending almost three busy weeks in Chile, Linus and Ava Helen returned home to California on January 22.

When Hurricane Flora hit Cuba in 1963, pounding the country for four days, Pauling attempted to visit in order to provide emergency disaster relief. However, the U.S. government did not allow him to travel to the Communist country, so instead, he and Ava Helen had to settle for supporting the Cuban people from afar. Pauling was also a member of Fair Play for Cuba, which was an organization that protested the trade embargo that the U.S. had placed on Cuba.

That same year, Linus was invited by Professor N. Matkovsky, of the International Institute for Peace in Vienna, to visit the leaders of various Latin American countries. The purpose of the visit was to support the presidents of Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Mexico in their publication of a declaration to make all of Latin America a nuclear-free zone. The declaration had been signed by the five countries on May 1st, 1963, and would lead to the ratification of the Treaty of Tlatelolco in 1967, which would prohibit nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, and include thirty-three parties. Linus and Ava Helen accompanied Professor Matkovsky on his mission as guest observers, but they also had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of a few countries. Delegations took place on August 15 in Rio de Janeiro; the Paulings stayed in Brazil for about 3 days, and flew to Chile on the 20th.

Linus Pauling and Arturo Illia, as published in Consejo Argentino de la Paz, October 1963.

Later in August, Pauling spoke with Arturo U. Illía, the President-elect of Argentina, to address the prevention of a devastating war and the preservation of peace in the world. A few days after he spoke with Illía, Pauling gave a speech to Pharmacy and Biochemistry faculty at the National University of Argentina entitled “Molecular Structure and Evolution.”

A month after the Paulings returned home, they learned that more than fifty women workers for peace in Rosario, Argentina had been arrested, some of them individuals to whom the Paulings had spoken during their visit to Buenos Aires. Linus wrote a letter to Illía, asking him to take action on the arrest of the women. In the letter, Pauling named a few of the women that he and Ava Helen had met and demanded that they and the rest of the women be set free. He also expressed concern about the extreme action the government had taken in recent weeks.

I have been hoping that, after a period during which the authorities of the Republic of Argentina suppressed the rights of individual human beings and carried out many oppressive actions, your nation would take its place among the civilized nations of the world, would recognize the rights of individual human beings, and would abandon the dictatorial and oppressive policies that are characteristic of governments in backward nations.

He echoed his appeal in letters to the current President at the time, Arturo Mor Roig, and to Raul Andrada, a judge in Argentina’s federal court, but his entreaties went ignored.

Pauling's greeting to the National School of Chemical Sciences, Mexico, as reprinted in Gaceta de la Universidad, July 13, 1964.

Pauling’s next visit to Latin America came about in May 1964, to help celebrate the Congress of the Centenary of the National Academy of Medicine in Mexico City. At the Academy, Pauling gave a speech as the guest of honor, “Abnormal Hemoglobin Molecules and Molecular Disease.” In this talk, he first established that the molecules that make up our DNA are the most important molecules in the world, since “[t]he pool of human germ plasm is a precious heritage of the human race.” Pauling then discussed various molecular diseases, such as phenylketonuria, which was responsible at the time for one percent of the institutionalized “mentally defective” individuals in the U. S.

According to Pauling, the disease occurs when both the mother and the father of an infant carry a gene for phenylketonuria, in which case the offspring has a fifty percent chance of inheriting the defective gene. If the infant does inherit the gene, he or she would have it in a double dose, which would inhibit him or her from being able to manufacture the enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of phenylalanine to tyrosine. As a result, if the infant ate a food containing protein, phenylalanine would build up in the bloodstream and interfere with the growth and function of the brain. The only way to treat this disease, Pauling continued, is to eat a diet of protein hydrosylate from which most of the phenylalanine has been removed. This treatment must be carried out within the first year of life, or mental retardation occurs, and the diet must be followed for the rest of the patient’s life.

After detailing the dangers and the solutions for phenylketonuria, Pauling held that, likewise, other molecular diseases could be controlled, such as sickle-cell anemia. Sickle-cell anemia is similar to phenylketonuria in that it is a molecular disease, but different in that individuals who carry only one sickle-cell gene, called heterozygotes, are protected against malaria.

Pauling rounded out his trip to Mexico by delivering another talk, titled “Molecules and Evolution,” at the National School of Anthropology.  Pauling also spent a great deal of his time in Mexico discussing the devastating effects of nuclear war, repeating his conviction that the United Nations should have custody and control of radioactive substances produced by the United States and Russia.  This work done, the Paulings left Latin American behind for a while, not returning to the region until a trip to Chile in 1970.  That visit will be the subject for our next post in this series.

The Paulings in Latin America, 1940s – 1950s

La Prensa, (Mexico City) September 6, 1949.

[Part 1 of 5]

Throughout his long career as a scientist and peace advocate, Linus Pauling’s work took him all over the world, not excluding Latin America, to which he traveled multiple times. In fact, of the nineteen countries which today constitute Latin America, the only ones which Pauling did not visit were Ecuador, Honduras, Paraguay and Uruguay.

During his trips to the southern hemisphere he typically gave speeches on familiar topics including hemoglobin, the architecture of molecules, orthomolecular medicine, nuclear weapons and, of course, vitamin C. He also frequently advocated for human rights, speaking out against the incarceration of intellectuals in Argentina in the 1960s, urging the leaders of Latin America to resist the acquisition of nuclear weapons, and stressing the necessity for world peace and cooperation. Along the way, Pauling also received many awards, including membership in the Chilean Chemistry Society, the National Medal of the Chilean Senate and honorary citizenship of Puerto Rico.

In September 1949, on one of his earliest trips to Latin America, Pauling traveled to Mexico City to attend the Western Continental Congress for Peace. At the conference, Pauling delivered an address as the United States delegate, as well as a second speech titled, “Man – An Irrational Animal.”

In his delegate’s address, Pauling pointed out that the purpose of the conference was to work towards “permanent, world-wide peace” as well as to foster more effective cooperation between the people of the Americas. From his perspective as a scientist, Pauling felt that he could see order everywhere in the natural world, except for the seeming self-destructiveness of the human race. Pauling felt that the fight for peace included the fight for human rights, and that it was every individual’s responsibility to contribute. However, he believed that scientists should play a special role, suggesting that “the world looks to science for the ultimate solution of the threatening natural problems that menace it.”

At the Mexico City conference, Pauling also argued that scientists needed more freedom in order to focus their energy on solving problems such as world hunger, rather than on the preparation for and conducting of war. He likewise stressed that the United Nations needed to be more powerful, so that it could not be dominated by one or two great powers. To do this, Pauling rationalized, participating nations should transfer part of their sovereignty to the UN in order to form a democratic world government. At the end of the address, Pauling again stressed that world peace must be a democratic and collective undertaking, proclaiming that

It is we, the people, who now have the duty of working for peace, for the welfare and happiness of human beings everywhere. If another devastating world war comes, it will be because we, the people of the world, have failed. We must not fail.

On the same day that he delivered his address as a delegate, Pauling also gave a second speech “Man – An Irrational Animal.” In this talk, he reiterated his “deep interest in the structure of the material world,” and appreciation of the harmony and the workings of nature, but again suggested that the world of man was an anomaly to nature’s pattern of balance and structure. Pauling lamented that “we see groups of men, who make up the nations of the world, devoting the material wealth of the world and the intellectual powers of man, the ‘rational’ animal, not for the welfare of mankind, but for destruction.”

He attributed most of the problems that existed during the time to the struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States, pointing out that nearly ten percent of the world’s income was being used for war or preparation for war. He also stressed that, in the U. S., the fear of communism or any form of liberal thought was prohibiting many scientists from finding work in universities and the private sector alike. Pauling’s solution to the problems of the era was to propose that more funds be channeled toward UNESCO’s peace efforts, and that less be spent on war.

Pauling’s participation in the Mexico City assembly managed to rankle both the U. S. government as well as his fellow delegates.  As it turns out, unbeknownst to Pauling, the Western Continental Congress for Peace was  a Communist-organized gathering, and was accurately criticized as such back home.  In biographer Thomas Hager‘s words,

…that, of course, did not bother the Paulings.  They loved Mexico City – Ava Helen was becoming an admirer of folk art from around the world and spent time combing the mercados for pieces to add to her collection – but were less enthusiastic about the meeting, which seemed to consist of speech after long-winded speech defending the Soviet Union and attacking the United States.  His keynote address ranged from standard socialist anti-imperialism…to a purposeful and carefully evenhanded denouncement of both the United States’ and USSR’s policies of curtailing freedom and preparing for war.  The audience, expecting another one-sided attack on the Yankees, responded with lukewarm applause.

Pauling’s next visit to Latin America came about in May 1955, when Linus and Ava Helen were invited to a conference at the University of Puerto Rico by the Chancellor of the University, Jaime Benitez. At the meeting, Pauling gave three speeches: “The Hemoglobin Molecule in Health and Disease,” “The Structure of Proteins,” and “Technology and Democracy.”

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling posing with an unidentified group. Los Canos, Puerto Rico, 1955.

In “Technology and Democracy” – of the three, the only talk that he did not give on a regular basis to many other groups – Pauling commented that it was impossible for people to consider themselves “cultured” if they did not know about the sciences as well as about the rest of the world. He argued that “non-scientists, too, should be people of culture who have an understanding of the world, and this they cannot be without a knowledge of science.” Pauling also urged that more science be included in the curricula of elementary schools, and at a more advanced level. Pauling felt that people should be more interested in science because “knowledge of the nature of the world in which we live contributes to our happiness.”

Pauling’s trips to Mexico and Puerto Rico were just the beginning of an extensive political and scientific relationship that he maintained with Latin America.  In the coming weeks, we will take a closer look at several of his Ava Helen’s many visits to countries south of the border, from the 1960s through the 1980s.