Pauling, Kennedy and Khrushchev: Public Interactions

Pauling speaking to students at San Jose City College, April 12, 1962

[Part 4 of 4]

Linus Pauling’s public relationship with John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev was not dissimilar from his private interactions with the world leaders. As in his correspondence, Pauling was not shy about expressing his displeasure with various actions taken by the two men, and his message remained consistent and clear: the urgent need for nuclear disarmament and the cessation of nuclear weapons testing.

In pursuit of these goals, Pauling made use of his high profile with the media to call attention to the atrocities of nuclear weapons and to hold both leaders accountable for their actions. As time progressed, Pauling also became increasingly direct in his rhetoric, again with the goal of pushing for global denuclearization.

In a speech delivered at San Jose City College in 1962, for example, Pauling urged his audience to write letters to Kennedy urging the U.S. “not to carry out nuclear tests.” Later that year, at Portland State College, Pauling spoke to students about his lack of trust in Kennedy’s public statements supporting disarmament, noting that the president was “at the same time asking for a $6 billion increase in the military budget.” For Pauling, a ramp up of this magnitude was wholly inconsistent with an ethos of nuclear disarmament: “so long as great bombs remain, war will become great war.”


Pauling also engaged publicly with Premier Khrushchev, albeit in somewhat different ways. One prominent instance involved an “open telegram” that Pauling sent to Moscow, and that was also published in multiple newspapers. As one might expect, the telegram focused on Soviet weapons testing, and urged that “you [Khrushchev] stop the plan for carrying out a test explosion of a 50-megaton bomb.” Failure to do so would mean that “several tens of thousands of children all over the world would be born with gross defects” were the test to go forward.

From there, Pauling assuming the role of a public broker. “I have telegraphed President Kennedy,” he wrote, “asking that the United States pledge that it will not carry out additional bomb tests if you revoke further testing.” He then concluded with a plea,

For the sake of human beings all over the world, I beseech the Soviet Union to stop testing bombs and, instead, to redouble its efforts for peace and disarmament.

With the open telegram, Pauling once again sought to raise public awareness about inconsistencies in rhetoric related to nuclear testing, and to serve notice to both leaders of the need to stop testing for the sake of all humanity.


As he calculated his public actions, Pauling took care to show that he was not unilaterally targeting one country or the other. This notion was emphasized in a September 1962 letter to the editor of This Week magazine, in which Pauling stressed that

I have never advocated unilateral disarmament by the United States or unilateral cessation of bomb testing. For years I have vigorously and consistently advocated that all testing of nuclear weapons in the world be brought to an end by means of international agreement, with the best possible systems of international controls and inspections.

This theme was furthered in a different letter penned for the New York Times. In it, Pauling debunks a series of recent comments made by Kennedy on the alleged safety of nuclear weapons; statements that the President had used to justify continued testing. Pauling then turned to Khrushchev, decrying a recent hydrogen bomb test that “will, if the human race survives, reap a toll approaching 20,000,000 grossly defective children and embryonic neonatal deaths.”

Pauling addressed both men once more in yet another 1962 letter, this time published by The National Guardian. Pauling used the piece to argue that “the Soviet nuclear explosion, like the present U.S. series of tests, was carried out for political purposes, and not for the sake of military security.”

For Pauling, the case was closed that neither world leader was seriously interested in disarmament. “Premier Khrushchev and President Kennedy talk about the need for peace, disarmament, and international cooperation,” he wrote, “but the orders that they give are for continued bomb testing.” In this context, the time had come “when we, through duty to ourselves, our children, and our children’s children, must revolt against this irrational and immoral policy of our governments. Through our protests we must force our governments to stop the bomb tests.”


Pauling was not just angry about Kennedy and Khrushchev’s testing programs, he was equally upset about the brinksmanship that they had put on display during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Pauling was, in particular, infuriated by Kennedy’s decision to blockade Cuba, and issued a series of public wires calling the action “horrifying” and placing “all the American people, as well as the people of many other countries, in grave danger of death through nuclear war.”

For Pauling, the blockade was far too provocative and also an indication that Kennedy “has great trust in the rationality of the Russians […] but I don’t have as much trust in Khrushchev as Kennedy does.” Pointing out that “the threat of nuclear destruction can’t be made over and over again,” Pauling feared that Khrushchev might one day soon actually use nuclear weapons against the United States, were he provoked significantly enough. This eventuality was, of course, one that could be avoided were both world leaders capable of seriously discussing disarmament.

To that end, instead of a blockade, Pauling argued for other ideas. Why not, for example, consider the complete removal of Soviet and U.S. military bases near shared borders? More broadly, Pauling urged both leaders to work in the spirit of negotiation rather than retaliation, making clear that he did not “trust the military element in either country.”


No survey of Pauling’s engagements with Kennedy can overlook their most famous interaction, one imbued with cordiality and antagonism in equal measure.

On April 30, 1962, Pauling attended a dinner at the White House honoring all Nobel Prize winners residing in the Western Hemisphere; a total of forty-nine laureates were in attendance. In his remarks, Kennedy judged the guest list as comprising “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House.” The evening clearly put Pauling into a jovial mood as, at one point, he led 175 guests in an impromptu waltz in the East Room.

This act of buoyant spontaneity was quite a juxtaposition from Pauling’s actions earlier in the day. From noon to 3:00 PM that afternoon, Pauling had participated in an anti-nuclear picket protest organized by Women Strike for Peace and held directly in front of the White House. While marching on the line, Pauling posed with two signs: one read “No” with a picture of a mushroom cloud and the other said “Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Macmillan: We Have No Right to Test.” After three hours of protesting, Pauling returned to his hotel to put on black tie and prepare for the Nobel dinner.


One evening of fun did nothing to stop Pauling from continuing his public crusade again nuclear testing, and eventually he arrived at a major success. In August 1963, a little over a year and a half after the White House dinner, Kennedy and Khrushchev were among the signatories of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which rendered illegal the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere. In recognition of this moment, Pauling wrote to Kennedy to express his gratitude for agreeing to the terms of the treaty and to express his belief that “this agreement will go down in history as one of the greatest events in the history of the world.” And of course, the role that Pauling played in bringing it about did not go overlooked: a few months later, he was traveling to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Pauling, Kennedy and Khrushchev: Other Letters

Pauling’s handwritten drafts of letters to John F. Kennedy and U Thant during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 27, 1962

[Part 3 of 4]

Though his private correspondence John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev focused primarily on matters related to nuclear testing, Linus Pauling also initiated conversations with the two leaders on several other issues.

As with many Americans, Pauling was deeply concerned by the Cuban Missile Crisis and also expressed alarm at the way that American communists were being treated. So too was Pauling troubled by the treatment of the Jewish population in the Soviet Union, as evidenced in his letters to the Soviet Premier. These “remainder” topics from the Pauling correspondence with these two crucial figures is the subject of today’s post.


In October 1962, during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pauling sent a letter of admonishment to the American President. In it, Pauling wrote that he believed that the mere “threat of military action” was liable to create a Soviet “retaliation by nuclear attack,” a reaction that would put all Americans in “grave danger of death through nuclear war.”

One week letter, Pauling drafted by hand an even more forceful letter to Kennedy, in which he “vehemently urge[d] that for the sake of the reputation of the United States as a peaceful, moral, and law-abiding nation, you refrain from ordering the invasion of Cuba.” Notably, on the same piece of paper, Pauling also penned a draft letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations urging him to use his powers to prevent the “great immorality and illegality of an armed invasion of Cuba.”

Earlier that same year, Pauling wrote a different letter to Kennedy urging him to pardon the leader of the Communist Party of the United States, Junius Scales, who had been imprisoned. Pauling argued that Scales’ incarceration was unjust and that his sentencing had weakened the First Amendment of the Constitution. Kennedy offered no reply of consequence – an assistant responded that the President was “glad to have the benefit” of Pauling’s views on the case – but did ultimately commute Scales’ sentence in late 1962.


In addition to issues of nuclear testing and disarmament, Pauling pressed Nikita Khrushchev on the treatment of Jews within the Soviet Union. This communication was prompted by a letter on the topic that Pauling received in early 1963 from his friend, Bertrand Russell, the noted mathematician, philosopher and human rights advocate.

After corresponding with Russell several times to get his input, Pauling finally sent his letter to Khruschev in late 1963. In it, he outlined allegations of imprisonment (and even execution) of Jews for practicing their religion, and attempted to appeal to Khrushchev’s humanity in pushing for change. In doing so, Pauling stressed that his appeal was “one of concern and not of condemnation,” and that a “true test of friendship is the ability to speak frankly without fear of being taken for enemies, or of being misunderstood.” While it does not appear that Khrushchev issued a reply, the number of preliminary drafts that Pauling authored, and the thought that he devoted in approaching the matter, indicate the extent to which the issue was important to Pauling.


Pauling’s private relationship with Kennedy and Khruschev was in many ways quite similar. Pauling condemned both men for their roles in continuing their country’s nuclear testing program, and he held both accountable in bringing the programs to an end. And though his approach to non-nuclear issues with the two men differed a bit, he felt consistently emboldened to take a direct path in expressing his concerns.

In his public relationship with these two individuals, Pauling’s approach at times bordered on the theatrical. Pauling wanted action to be taken, and he knew that the best way to achieve that was to be bold and to make people notice. Our next post will explore this in greater detail.

Letters to Premier Khrushchev

Nikita Khruschev. [Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild]

[Documenting Linus Pauling’s communications with John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev. This is post 2 of 4.]

As we saw in our last post, Linus Pauling expressed intensive objection to U.S. President John F. Kennedy over the nation’s nuclear weapons testing program, but his ire was not solely aimed stateside. In addition to Kennedy, Pauling also pressed hard on Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, whom Pauling viewed as being equally culpable in bringing the world to the brink of disaster.

Over the course of the early 1960s, Pauling wrote multiple harsh letters to Khrushchev, always urging him to stop testing nuclear weapons. Khrushchev eventually responded to Pauling in October 1961, with an eight-page typewritten letter that outlined the Soviet position on testing. In it, Khrushchev put forth the notion that the Soviets wanted to end their program but could not do so, because the British and Americans were not slowing down their testing. As such, to protect the safety of his people, Khrushchev was compelled to continue testing.

To add historical weight to this idea, and to convey the intensity with which it was held, Khruschev went so far as to equate the threat posed to the USSR by the western nuclear alliance ro that of another decidedly bad actor from the past.

Try to understand, dear Mr. Pauling, what the Soviet Union would be like if it continued to refrain, as if nothing at all has happened, from taking additional measures to strengthen its defense capacity, including measures to perfect nuclear weapons, while the NATO powers are responding with threats to its proposal that a German peace treaty be concluded. If we had not taken those measures, we could have committed an act which could not be justified either by history or – even less so – by our people and by the people of those countries which fell victims of invasion by the Hitlerite hordes.

On a philosophical level, Khrushchev was quick to point out that “The Soviet people and the peoples of other Socialist countries that engage in peaceful constructive labor do not need wars.” Likewise, the Soviet government “has repeatedly declared that it is ready to sign a treaty on general and complete disarmament under the most strict international control.” It seemed then, at least from this letter, that Khrushchev might eventually be open to the idea of disarmament and that progress in that direction was a possibility.


The reality was something different though, and the Soviet testing program continued. In August 1962, Pauling wrote again to Khrushchev, this time echoing Khrushchev’s own words from the October 1961 letter. In it, Pauling urged that

…the Soviet government reconsider its decision and exert its great influence in the struggle for peace rather than in its preparation for catastrophic war.

When this plea received no reply, Pauling pushed again. In his next letter he once more exhorted that

I cannot believe that any person or any nation in the world would benefit from the decision to resume the testing of nuclear weapons. I beg that you and your associates in the governments take this matter under consideration again.


Mikhail Menshikov

This time around, the Soviets issued a response, though it came to Pauling via the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Mikhail Menshikov. In this letter, Menshikov repeated and expanded upon Khruschev’s earlier argument, stating that the Soviets viewed the U.S. and the British as the real threats, because they had not scaled down their testing efforts. And while acknowledging the validity of Pauling’s plea, Menshikov again argued that the Soviets could not stop their testing program because of their need to protect themselves from the western nuclear powers. Quoting Menshikov:

In the face of unconcealed threats to use arms against the Soviet Union, at the time when the Western powers are feverishly speeding up the arms race[…][we hope] that the peoples will realize the forced character of our decisions, will realize that we had no other choice.

Menshikov also acknowledged that “we are aware of the consequences of the nuclear weapon tests for living organisms” before suggesting that “…at present it is far more dangerous to allow certain circles to push the world unimpededly to the abyss of World War III.” The ambassador concluded with the notion that “Any person who will look at the facts without prejudice will have to admit that it is the USA and Great Britain that are responsible.”  

Menshikov’s letter made clear that the Soviet Union was never going to stop testing without securing an agreement from the U.S. and the U.K. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the letter also marks the end of Pauling’s private correspondence with Khrushchev on the issue of nuclear testing. But this is not to suggest that Pauling gave up. Instead, he shifted his rhetoric for disarmament into the public sphere, where he could not be so easily ignored.

The Oslo Conference

Group portrait of participants at the Oslo Conference. 1961.

[Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Oslo Conference. Part 2 of 2]

In early spring of 1961, Linus Pauling and his wife Ava Helen, along with a committed group of friends and volunteers, were busy preparing for their conference against the spread of nuclear weapons, scheduled to take place in Oslo, Norway, from May 2-7. As practical necessities for the conference such as travel and lodging were gradually accounted for, an expressed priority for Pauling and other planners was the need to shape perceptions of the event with greater heed to its larger political context. In their correspondence, the planning group continually stressed that the conference itself was to be non-political, since, in Pauling’s words, “the spread of nuclear weapons is a non-political problem, really a problem of danger to humanity and civilization as a whole.”

The list of individuals invited to the event was thoughtfully organized in order to limit potential (and anticipated) claims of politicization by critics of non-proliferation. The title of the event, the “Conference to Study the Problem of the Possible Spread of Nuclear Weapons to More Nations or Groups of Nations,” was likewise crafted with diligent care and focus, albeit without regard to practical length.  In time, however, to conference planners, attendees and future references, the gathering would simply be known as the “Oslo Conference.”

Shortly before the conference was to take place, the Paulings and their associates received word from the Norwegian Nobel Committee that permission had been granted to hold their event at the Norwegian Nobel Institute. The general plan for the conference entailed studying the spread of nuclear weapons as a problem over several days of seminar-style gatherings, and then to form a scholarly statement about the problem which would be issued to the public. No organizations were allowed to directly sponsor the conference – another safeguard to repel claims of politicization – and attendees were advised that they had been selected as participants because of their expertise, knowledge and experience, rather than their professional positions, status or affiliations.

In the run-up to Oslo, a number of people wrote to the conference planners asking whether or not the event would be open to the public, as many wished to witness the discussions and conference discourse, even if they were barred from participating directly. Though Pauling and other planners were grateful for the interest expressed in such inquiries, they ultimately decided to hold a closed conference. According to Pauling, the meetings were to be kept private so that

Participants might have the greatest possible freedom to discuss the important questions that will be taken up, from every point of view, and to reach some conclusions on which they could all agree, without being hindered by public knowledge of preliminary and perhaps contradictory statements made in the course of discussion.

Pauling let it be known to interested parties that public participation would take place after the drafting of the statement, most likely at the University of Oslo, and following the culmination of the conference. But even with these pronouncements, Pauling was compelled during the conference to reiterate this point. Though spouses of participants were allowed to attend, several attendees brought friends during the first day of the conference and were rebuked accordingly.

Just as the image of the conference was carefully shaped in the weeks and months preceding it, so too were the themes and perspectives that were planned to guide the event’s proceedings. Though they had around five days to do so, creation of the final conference statement was carefully planned from the outset of the gathering. The process was structured such that suggestions for material that participants wanted to see incorporated into a preliminary draft of the conference statement were to be given to members of a Drafting Committee at the beginning of the conference. After this was done, there were to be several days of presentations and discussion, during which an initial draft of the conference statement would be composed and reviewed. The final day of the conference was set aside for concluding remarks, discussion, last minute changes, and voting for approval or rejection of the final statement.

A segment of the crowd gathered for the Oslo demonstration, May 1961.

As it turned out, the statement was approved unanimously by the conference-goers on May 7th, and presented that evening to a gathering of the public at the University of Oslo. After reading the statement, those present conducted a peaceful demonstration through the streets of Oslo in recognition of the collective effort toward the furtherance of world peace.

While the statement discusses several themes relating to the issue of disarmament from various perspectives, the final statement lists five points meant to synthesize the final conclusions of the conference:

  1. Each addition to the numbers of nations armed with nuclear weapons drives its neighbors toward acquiring similar arms.
  2. As nuclear weapons pass into more hands, the chance increases that a major war will be started by some human error or technical accident.
  3. The spread to more nations increases the chance of deliberate initiation of nuclear war.
  4. Increase in the number of nuclear powers would further increase the difficulty of achieving disarmament.
  5. After it obtains nuclear weapons, a nation becomes a more likely target in any nuclear war.

Shortly after returning to the United States, Pauling appeared at the Conference of Greater New York Peace Groups, and discussed the results of the Oslo Conference in front of a large audience at Carnegie Hall. He stressed the wide range of opinions and perspectives brought forth by each conference participant, and the difficulties encountered and overcome in achieving unanimous approval of the statement. While Pauling strongly supported the results of the conference, as well as the feasibility of the final statement’s goals and recommendations, he clarified that achieving these goals would easily require ten years, but likely more. Through all his idealism, Pauling seems not to have suffered from delusions about the difficulty of this task, reminding his audience that “we must work; but we have a hard job!”


Pauling’s words turned out to be prescient as, in the wake of the conference, a number of developments took place that infuriated him and temporarily dampened his resolve. For one, as part of more complicated international political maneuverings, the Soviet Union announced plans to resume testing of nuclear weapons, followed shortly thereafter by similar stated intentions from the United States. Pauling subsequently set about writing letters to Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy, imploring them not to resume testing; he received no answer from the Kennedy administration, and was delivered a largely apologetic reply from Khrushchev. In his letter to Pauling, Khrushchev suggested that the decision to resume testing was a painful one, but necessary due to the movement into European waters of American Polaris submarines and nuclear missiles.

Pauling became nearly distraught when the Soviet government detonated a 50-megaton atomic bomb, an action that Pauling had implored, with particular emphasis, the Soviet government not to pursue. The fallout from such an explosion, Pauling reasoned,

…could cause damage to the pool of human germ plasm such that during coming generations, several tens of thousands of children would be born with gross physical or mental defect, who would be normal if the bomb test were not carried out.

After the detonation of the 50-megaton bomb, followed by a number of additional less-substantial but still extremely powerful explosions, Pauling began criticizing the Soviet Union at a level that was virtually unparalleled in his previous approach to internationally oriented dialogue. The U.S. also was not spared from similar denunciations by Pauling, but he was particularly disturbed by the magnitude of the Soviet endeavor after years of seemingly productive discussions towards disarmament in Geneva.

Though Pauling became extremely disillusioned by the decision of both nations to resume testing, he was eventually rewarded for his sustained efforts. In 1963, following resumed negotiations, the United States and Soviet Union signed a partial test ban treaty that halted the testing of nuclear weapons in the ocean, in space and in the atmosphere. Pauling’s impact on this development was formally recognized several weeks later when he received word that he had been chosen as recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

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.

Pauling and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s: The Thawing of Frosty Relations

As the dynamics of Soviet dogma evolved, the enmity surrounding the so-called “resonance controversy” simmered down, and by the late 1960s Pauling had gone from being a disparaged name in Soviet chemistry to a respected scientist and much-admired advocate of nuclear test bans and international peace.

Pauling’s first visit to the Soviet Union in 1957 did a great deal to rehabilitate his scientific reputation among Soviet scientists.  In his Pauling Chronology, Dr. Robert Paradowski notes that “Russia remind[ed] Pauling of Eastern Oregon, and the Russian people seem[ed] to him like Western Americans. ”

This visit was swiftly followed by his election to the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1958 – along with Detlev Bronk, the head of the National Academy of Sciences, Pauling was the first American to receive full recognition from the Soviet Academy.  Predictably, the honor was likewise enough to raise the eyebrow of the U.S. media, including the New York Times, which suggested that “it is impossible in today’s world position simply and naively to ignore the political implications” of the decoration.

Linus and Ava Helen traveled to the Soviet Union a second time in 1961 to attend the second centenary celebrations of the Academy of sciences, where they took the opportunity to deliver a handful of lectures, and to see more of the country, including a visit to Siberia and the shores of Lake Baikal.

The early 1960s also saw the reacceptance of Pauling’s formerly disgraced popularizer, Ia. K. Syrkin, back into the Soviet Academy of Sciences. By 1970 Pauling was recognized by the Soviet government for his peace activism with the Lenin Peace Prize, a honor bestowed upon foreign individuals conducting notable work in furthering international peace. Eight years later the Soviet Academy of Sciences decided to formally recognize Pauling’s scientific achievements by awarding him the Lomonosov Gold Medal, the highest award the Academy gave.

Lenin Peace Prize medal, June 15, 1970

Lenin Peace Prize medal, June 15, 1970

Lomonosov Medal, awarded by the Presidium of the Academy of the USSR, September 1978.

Lomonosov Medal, awarded by the Presidium of the Academy of the USSR, September 1978.

As might have been expected, Pauling did not hesitate to use his increasing fame in the Soviet Union to continue his advocacy for nuclear testing bans and better cooperation between the Soviet Union and the United States. His correspondence with Nikita Khrushchev, as contained in the Pauling archive, provides a revealing look into the increasingly intimate relationship between advocacy and diplomacy that helped define Pauling’s later peace work.

Draft of a letter from Linus Pauling to Nikita Khruschev, October 18, 1961.

Draft of a letter from Linus Pauling to Nikita Khruschev, October 18, 1961.

Khruschchev's response to Pauling, October 27, 1961.

Khruschchev's response to Pauling, October 27, 1961.

Learn more at the website “Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement,” available via the Linus Pauling Online portal.

Pauling and the Presidents

rhetoric of Ronald Reagan. January 26, 1984

Notes re: rhetoric of Ronald Reagan. January 26, 1984

I respectfully request that you grant me an appointment in order that I may talk with you for a short while about the present opinion that scientists hold about the testing of nuclear weapons, and related questions, and about the petition urging that an international agreement to stop the testing of nuclear weapons be made, as a first step toward a more general disarmament.”
– Linus Pauling. Letter to Dwight D. Eisenhower. February 19, 1958.

Linus Pauling felt the international peace movement to be the single most important cause of its time. As a result, he believed peace work to be deserving of the attentions of political and social leaders around the globe, none more so than that of the U.S. Presidents who controlled the most powerful military in the world.

Over the course of his life as an activist, Pauling had occasion to correspond with every U.S. President from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton. Pauling’s requests were often ignored and his letters unanswered, but his convictions demanded that the leaders of his country understand the need for peace.

Pauling believed that, as members of a democratic nation, American citizens had the right to maintain discourse with their nation’s leaders. As a result, Pauling often addressed open letters to public officials as a means of bringing the public into the discussion.

The earliest example of this approach is the “Open Letter to President Truman,” issued on February 9, 1950, in which Pauling and his co-authors state that the President’s “decision to manufacture the hydrogen bomb has thrown a shadow of horror across the homes and minds of all Americans.”

More than forty years later, “An Open Letter to President Bush,” (January 18, 1991), written solely by Pauling, reached a similar conclusion about the ongoing hostilities of Operation Desert Storm

“The war in the Middle East is getting out of hand. It may become a great war, fought not only with high explosives but also with poison gas, bacteria and nuclear weapons. It may liberate worldwide radioactive fallout, damaging the whole human race.”

Pauling also wrote a great deal of private correspondence to his nation’s chief executive, including a series of unsuccessful appeals to President Eisenhower for an Oval Office appointment to discuss the United Nations Bomb Test Petition, (Pauling later concluded that Eisenhower had been a dupe of Edward Teller) and a similar request to President Johnson regarding the Vietnam War.

(Pauling likewise wrote a number of emotionally-charged letters to President John F. Kennedy, the nature of which will be discussed in a future post on this blog.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pauling did not harbor a great deal of goodwill for President Nixon, attacking him (in biographer Tom Hager’s words) “for everything from the bombing of Cambodia to his policy in Pakistan – then [telling] reporters that Nixon should take more vitamin C.” Pauling also assumed, with much justification, that Nixon himself had twice denied Pauling the National Medal of Science, despite the recommendations of the President’s own advisory group. Not until the second year of the Ford administration would Pauling be granted this highly prestigious decoration.

Of all the American Presidents, Pauling seemed to most enjoy pillorying Ronald Reagan, a fellow Californian whose career Pauling had closely followed over three decades. These excerpts from a series of untitled notes written in the 1980s are characteristic of Pauling’s attitude toward the fortieth U.S. President.

“President Reagan. I’ve wondered what his problem is. When I was his age, my hair was white. I saw him on TV saying that we had to increase our nuclear destructive power. He didn’t have a single gray hair. He seems to have a simple problem. I think that he is a case of arrested development…”

It is important to note that Pauling did not limit his communications to leaders within the United States. At various points in his life, he corresponded with the likes of North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh and Nikita Khrushchev, former premier of the Soviet Union. In his mind, global solutions required a global dialogue and, with varying degrees of effectiveness, Pauling pursued this end for most of his life.

Read more about Pauling’s relationships with world leaders on the website “Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement.”