The Road to Oslo: the Media Passes Judgement

Gaceta Ilustrada, (Madrid) November 2, 1963.

Gaceta Ilustrada, (Madrid) November 2, 1963.

[Examining Pauling’s activities in November 1963 as he prepared to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Part 1 of 2]

The controversy stirred up by the October 25th Life magazine editorial, “A Weird Insult from Norway,” which criticized the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962 to Linus Pauling, continued throughout November as other publications began to weigh in.

In its November 2nd editorial, The Nation attacked Life‘s and much of the mainstream media’s response to Pauling’s Nobel win as superficial. In so doing, they noted how the press normally “flips” when Nobel Prize winners are announced, excitement generated only because of the prize itself and often absent during the years of hard work leading up to a laureate’s receipt of their prize. Pauling’s case had been unusual in that the press flipped in a different way because of the perception that, through his activism, he had overstepped his boundaries as a chemist as well as those of the usual “verbal peacemaking.” Despite these aggrievances, the editors remained confident that Pauling would “take it all with equanimity.”

Ausweg, November 1963.

Ausweg, November 1963.

This notice of support was buttressed by another article in the same issue of The Nation written by Philip Siekevitz, a professor of Biochemistry at Rockefeller University. Titled “Scientists and the Public Weal,” Siekevitz’ piece emphasized scientists’ duty of social responsibility, a duty as important as the commitment to truth in the laboratory. Criticizing the attitude of some scientists regarding this obligation, Siekevitz wrote that scientists like Edward “Teller and Pauling are damned by their colleagues for their politicking not so much because of the side of the political fence each happens to be on, but simply because they talk about scientific matters in a political way.” By stepping out in this manner, Siekevitz argued that scientists could help balance the more destructive aspects of scientific progress that had been evident in the first half of the twentieth century.

An editorial in the November issue of Liberation both lauded and critiqued Pauling’s Peace Prize win. It noted that several American Nobel Peace laureates from the past had “played prominent parts in some war,” so Pauling was a “refreshing variant.” In spite of this, the editorial more critically noted that Pauling “is not a pacifist; nor is he a crusader for unilateral disarmament.” The specific source of their misgivings was Pauling’s actions at the Oxford Conference in January 1963, where he seemed “insensitive to the fact that there may be honest differences of opinion, not dictated by expediency or bureaucratic biases, as to how peace and unity in the work for peace can in fact be promoted.” Pauling, though, could still contribute to “the frankest and closest discussion among all peace workers of the issues involved (including those on which we differ), of the nature of the goal, and of the way by which it can be reached.”

Epoca, November 24, 1963.

Epoca, November 24, 1963.

The European press picked up on the controversy as well. In West Germany, Das Gewissen – one of several media outlets in the country to comment on Pauling’s Nobel – explained to its readers how Pauling’s activism could be so controversial in America. In Spain, Julian Marias wrote in the magazine Gaceta Illustrada that he harbored some reservations about Pauling’s activism, but was still supportive since Pauling had previously warned him about the harmful effects of nuclear fallout. Many others in the European press more simply announced Pauling’s win and impending travels.

Individuals were also able to weigh in on the controversy as Life received several letters to the editor. Some, like Mrs. Norman Yves of Temple City, California, approved of Life’s stance, writing that she was “glad that LIFE had the courage and the integrity to inform the public of the real Linus Pauling” and congratulating its editors “for publishing the truth.” Others, like Robert F. Adam of Emporia, Kansas, appeared indifferent to the controversy, noting “I’m glad that I live in this country where a man can voice his opinion against policies of the government and can accept recognition for these opinions from another country” – not an option, he noted, available in communist countries.

Still others, like Thomas L. Allen of Davis, California, took offense to the portrayal of Pauling by Life, and sought to correct it. Allen drew attention to the 1958 petition that Pauling had written with Edward Condon and Barry Commoner opposing the testing of nuclear weapons, pointing out that it “does not demand the ‘uninspected stoppage of all nuclear tests’; it calls for an ‘international agreement to stop the testing of all nuclear weapons. The question of inspection is not mentioned in the petition.”

In an angry letter of his own to Henry R. Luce, the editor of Life, Pauling agreed with Allen:

As you know, Life Magazine was guilty of an outright lie, in its perfectly clear statement, in its editorial on 25 October 1963, that I had demanded the uninspected stoppage of all nuclear tests.

If you and your magazine had any standards of morality, you would have corrected and retracted this statement, and have apologized for it. All that your magazine has done is to make a statement of acquiescence to a correction in a letter from a correspondent, with an added quibbling statement apparently designed to confuse the reader.

[In this Pauling was referring to Life‘s reply to Allen: “It is true that Dr. Pauling’s petition did not demand an ‘uninspected’ test ban. But it did call for ‘immediate action’ without any reference to inspection, a significant omission because an enforceable inspection system was then the main issue separating the U.S. and Russia.”]

Colleague Victor Herbert suggested that Pauling sue Life “on the grounds that the wording in the Editorial is a deliberate distortion of fact whose wording is calculated to imply you are an extreme leftist.” Pauling’s response was sympathetic but restrained:

I registered a strong complaint with Henry Luce, and asked for a retraction. The retraction was made, in a grudging and quibbling way, in the letters to the editors section. I myself feel that the editorial involved a deliberate distortion – I would use even stronger words; but I am not sure that it would be worthwhile to file a libel suit.

With all the heaviness surrounding the controversy, F. A. Cotton of MIT was able to bring in a bit of levity, writing to Pauling:

May I take this opportunity to express my pleasure at your receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and my admiration for your courageous and important work in alerting humanity to the dangers of nuclear testing. I might also say that for very good positive reasons, as well as to further increase Mr. Luce’s ludicrous frustration, I hope you will soon receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Epoca, November 24, 1963.

Epoca, November 24, 1963.

Surrounded by attention from the press, Pauling took the opportunity to conduct a few interviews despite his busy schedule. Reporter Arthur Herzog from the New York Times had approached Pauling about an interview for an upcoming article that would appear in the paper’s magazine in mid-December. Herzog requested that Pauling come to New York, but Pauling had to decline. To make things easier on Pauling, Herzog said he could come to Pasadena to interview him on November 12th and 13th. While Pauling agreed, he did so reluctantly.

As it turned out, this reluctance was justified. Just a few days before leaving for Norway, Pauling sent a letter to Times editor Arthur Hayes Sulzberger stating that he had

received a telegram from [Herzog] saying that the New York Times has rejected the article that it had commissioned him to do.

I feel that the New York Times owes me an apology for having, through what seems to be misrepresentation, caused me needlessly to interrupt the very important work upon which I was engaged.

Pauling ended his letter by challenging the Times to live up to their reputation:

I feel that it is important that the people of the United States have a newspaper upon which they can rely. My opinion of the New York Times is necessarily determined in considerable part by the actions of the New York Times with respect to me – that is, with respect to matters about which I have personal knowledge. I feel that I may be forced to make some seriously critical statements about the New York Times to the American people.

To avoid any controversy, Sulzberger’s son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, quickly responded to Pauling. The younger Sulzberger’s carefully worded apology referred Pauling to a recent editorial that “is a true expression of the high esteem in which you are held.” The editorial tried to balance what direct criticism it contained of Pauling with representatives of those who held him in “high esteem,” saying that Pauling

is of course one of the world’s great chemist; and when his achievements in that field were recognized by the award of his first Nobel Prize some years ago, no one could have taken exception.


He has not always been wise in his choice of tactics and he has sometimes been reckless. But Gunnar Jahn, chairman of the Norwegian parliamentary committee that chose him for the prize, could well ask yesterday if the nuclear test-ban treaty would have yet been achieved ‘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?’

That scientist was Dr. Pauling. His courage in running against the crowd is now being recognized.

The letter must have been enough for Pauling as he made sure that his New York Times subscription would continue when he moved to Santa Barbara early the next year.

Pauling’s Peace Prize

On October 10, 1963, Linus Pauling received notice that he was to be history's first recipient of two unshared Nobel Prizes.

On October 10, 1963, Linus Pauling received notice that he was to be history’s first recipient of two unshared Nobel Prizes.

Like many other Nobel Prize winners, Linus Pauling discovered that he had been awarded the Peace Prize in a dramatic way. The news was announced on October 10th, 1963, while Pauling was at his Big Sur ranch – an intentionally secluded space lacking a telephone to say nothing of a television. He, Ava Helen and some friends had already planned on celebrating that morning, as October 10th would also mark the formal beginning of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which put an end to above-ground nuclear tests among the world’s major nuclear powers. As he wrote in his research notebook:

Ava Helen and I had come to the ranch with Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Durr. We had bought a bottle of champagne, which we planned to drink to celebrate the treaty. At 8:15am, as we were sitting down to breakfast, the forest ranger, Ralph Haskin, came to the cabin. He said that Linda had telephoned and had asked that Ava Helen and I both come to the ranger station and telephone her. I asked if he knew what was the matter, and he said that he thought that it wasn’t serious. (Linda had told him and asked him not to tell us.) We finished breakfast, drove to the station, and telephoned Linda. She said that I had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962. (She first asked me if I had heard the news. I said no.) I spent most of the day at the station, answering the telephone and giving interviews. We forgot to open the champagne. On 11 October, we drove to Carmel. Ralph Atkinson had champagne at hand. It’s our first celebration.

The fact that Pauling received the 1962 prize in 1963 is extremely telling. As Pauling wrote in a confidential note to self:

On the morning of Tuesday 13 Nov., Gunnar Jahn [then chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee] telephoned me at the Bristol Hotel, Oslo, and asked us to come to his office at 11 A.M. There he said to Ava Helen and me, in the presence of his secretary, Mrs. Elna Poppe, “I tried to get the Committee…to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962 to you; I think you are the most outstanding peace worker in the world. But only one of the four would agree with me. I then said to them ‘If you won’t give it to Pauling, there won’t be any Peace Prize this year.'”

And indeed there was not.

Life magazine, October 25, 1963.

Life magazine, October 25, 1963.

Jahn’s conflict with his colleagues was symbolic of the differing attitudes with which news of Pauling’s Peace Prize was greeted, especially in America. While the public and many of Pauling’s friends sent him a flood of congratulatory letters and telegraphs, pro-nuclear scientists, much of the mainstream media and official agents of the U.S. government were unhappy about Pauling’s accolade.

Perhaps most famously, on October 25th, 1963, Life Magazine published an editorial titled “A Weird Insult from Norway,” which, as one might imagine, criticized the Nobel committee’s decision. The critique attacked Pauling’s prize from two directions. First, the editors pointed out that the recognition of Pauling’s peace work by the Norwegian committee was, in effect, a condemnation of contemporary research on nuclear science. The magazine argued that if efforts to ban nuclear tests were deemed worthy of respect, then efforts to promote nuclear research were conversely discredited. By this logic, Pauling’s Nobel Peace Prize was presumed to be an insult to other scientists engaged in nuclear weapons research.

Second, the Life editorial sought to undermine Pauling’s importance to the nuclear disarmament movement. The magazine stressed that the real reason why the Partial Test Ban Treaty came into being was not because Pauling’s famous 1958 appeal finally changed the minds of governments, but rather because President Kennedy’s firm stance against the construction of missile bases in Cuba during October of the previous year had, to a large degree, helped shape sentiment in favor of disarmament on a global scale.

While Pauling received many letters of support from those who were outraged by the editorial, few were quite so colorful as that penned by his friend Ernst Scharrer. Scharrer, at the time a faculty member at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, began by dismissing as folly the logic behind Life‘s critique. From there Scharrer compared the editors’ published opinion to Adolf Hitler’s response to Carl von Ossietzky’s 1935 Peace prize. As Hitler secretly began rearming Germany, in the process ignoring the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, Ossietzky revealed the news to the world by publishing details of the militarization. When this effort won Ossietzky the Nobel Peace Prize, Hitler declared that, henceforth, German citizens were forbidden to accept Nobel prizes. Though of lesser consequence, Scharrer’s point was that Life‘s critique was similarly unjustified, partisan and petty.

Linus Pauling debating Edward Teller on the topic of nuclear fallout: “The Nuclear Bomb Tests…Is Fallout Overrated?” KQED-TV, San Francisco. February 20, 1958.

What explains the divergence of views over Pauling’s peace efforts? To answer this, it helps to go back to the central questions of the nuclear test debate.

Opposing viewpoints on these questions were summed up in a televised debate between Linus Pauling and Edward Teller titled “Fallout and Disarmament” and broadcast on San Francisco’s KQED-TV in 1958. Teller spoke for the pro-nuclear camp in first explicitly stating that, as with Pauling, peace was his goal. The focus of the controversy, then, was how best to bring about a world in peace. The conflict centered on whether the process should involve nuclear weapons. The still somewhat unknown side effects associated with the manufacture and testing of nuclear weapons also made this in an issue of pitched debate. It was known that nuclear bombs could crush islands into dust and spread them into the atmosphere over the course of a few seconds. What’s more, rare, toxic elements were also clearly created alongside the release of large amounts of radiation. But no one knew exactly what might happen to our bodies when exposed to regular, if lower, levels of these atomic-era materials.

Faced with this uncertainty, the two sides came into conflict on the question of what the development of nuclear weapons might bring to American society. Edward Teller thought them beneficial in that the ability to manufacture these massive weapons meant that the U.S. could match and possibly overcome the Soviet Union in terms of military strength. It was this balance between the two military superpowers, Teller claimed, that would guarantee peace. In the absence of this dynamic, war was presumed to be inevitable, with the side that failed to develop a matching nuclear capacity finding itself at a distinct disadvantage. For Teller, the arms race necessitated the testing of nuclear weapons. The real stake was military strength – peace was based on force. In addition, and of major consequence to his position, Teller maintained a very optimistic view on the health effects of prolonged exposure to fallout levels of radiation. He even pointed out the possibility that increased mutations resulting from fallout could be regarded as a source for enhanced evolution of species.

Pauling couldn’t have disagreed more vehemently. He thought the construction of nuclear weapons to be a bane of world society and emphasized the environmental and health costs imposed by the development of such weapons. Morality was another of Pauling’s weapons with which to attack Teller’s arguments. If it was understood that developing weapons to strengthen national security came at the cost of decreases in public health and environmental stability, the effort, even if well-intentioned, was morally corrupt and ought to be brought to a close as soon as possible. Furthermore, as a fundamental principle, world conflicts should be settled at the negotiating table instead of the battlefield. Pauling also expended much energy in compiling evidence on the ill effects of increased environmental radiation. One example that he often cited was the increase in the incidence of children born with birth defects after World War II and its nuclear conclusion. By directing his audience’s attentions to the impact of atomic gamesmanship on future generations, Pauling stressed the seriousness of the issue and re-emphasized the morality of his argument.

Editorial cartoon published in the York Gazette and Daily by Walt Partymiller, September 20, 1962.

The crux of the Pauling-Teller debate was still in play by the time that Pauling received the 1963 prize. While Life magazine was criticizing the decision of Norway’s Nobel committee to reward Pauling’s peace work, his emphasis on moral action was being enthusiastically supported by his friends and many others in the public arena. In particular, Pauling’s concern over the harmful health effects of atmospheric radiation on future generations gained a lot of attention among the public. This positive response was reflected in many letters of congratulation from ordinary people who wholeheartedly endorsed Pauling’s appeals. Typical was an October 13th, 1963 letter, written by a widow with two boys:

To me you have been vindicated in the eyes of the world. These stupid, loud-mouthed patriots, as they consider themselves, should have to eat their words. I am not a college educated person, and I do not pretend to know what the ultimate outcome of this testing program would be, but I have read enough to make me very fearful as you are. I think we all should consider the future generations – not just ourselves, as you did. But few would be as brave and heroic as you, and would ‘stick our necks out’ as you did. You are a truly great American and a great humanitarian, which is more important! Someday people will speak of you as the great man you really are. I feel so relieved that you have won this prize, as I have been very bitter over the criticism of you. I have resented it so much, but now I feel people will change in their opinion of you…if they don’t, these few ‘screwballs’ you should not care. Most of us are as happy as if we won that prize ourselves. I know I am! Usually it seems, they wait until you die to relent and say a person is truly great and deserves the highest honor. So I feel so grateful that this was done while you still can appreciate the fact that you are considered by many a hero, if there ever was one!

The contrast between the critique of Pauling’s peace prize from Life and the support that he received from much of the public displayed again the pivot point of the nuclear test debate, an issue whose resolution was still many years in the future.  For the remainder of 2013, as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of Pauling’s second Nobel award, we will explore his preparation for Oslo throughout the months of November and December 1963 as he continued to speak and write, often at great personal cost, during a turbulent time in world history.

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.