Remembering Jerome Wiesner

Science Advisor Jerome Wiesner sits in his office, 1 February 1963.  Photograph by Cecil Stoughton in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Scanned from original 2 1/4" neg.

Science Advisor Jerome Wiesner sits in his office, 1 February 1963. Photograph by Cecil Stoughton. Original held in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

[Marking the one-hundredth anniversary of Jerome Wiesner’s (1915-1994) birth. Post 1 of 2]

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy spoke at a joint session of Congress to request funds for sending an American to the moon. During his memorable speech, the president stated his belief “that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” In an era of heightened patriotism, the president received staggering support from Congress and the people of the United States alike.

Kennedy’s speech was delivered at the height of the Cold War, a time during which the Soviet Union’s own ambitions to explore outer space were making many Americans uncomfortable. For the most part, Americans believed that it was necessary to match and surpass the Soviet Union’s achievements in space in order to secure the United States’ geopolitical power.

In addition to staying ahead of the Soviet Union’s efforts, Kennedy also hinted that there could be additional benefits to the United States’ space program even beyond Cold War positioning.  The President went so far as to state that space exploration could very well be “the key to our future on Earth.”


Jerome Wiesner, Joseph McConnell, John F. Kennedy and Harlan Cleveland in the Oval Office. Photograph by Cecil Stoughton. Original held in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Jerome Wiesner, Joseph McConnell, John F. Kennedy and Harlan Cleveland in the Oval Office. Photograph by Cecil Stoughton. Original held in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Kennedy’s remarks added fuel to an already heated debate over the proper relationship between science and federal policy. Following a trend that had begun during the First World War, Cold War scientific efforts had become particularly linked to national defense and, in Kennedy’s words, science had “emerged from a peripheral concern of government to an active partner.”

In 1951, well before Kennedy was known to most Americans, President Harry S. Truman had set up the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) to provide counsel on issues regarding science and technology. The committee was charged with conveying a refreshed scientific perspective to the top levels of political decision-making, but its members sometimes found themselves in an awkward position if they disagreed with the established views of those in office.

In February 1961 President Kennedy appointed Jerome Wiesner to the PSAC chairmanship. Wiesner was unique among the roster of past committee chairmen in that many of his ideas proved incongruous both with politicians in Washington and with many Americans at large. Of particular importance, and contrary to the President’s optimistic vision for the future of space travel, Wiesner was not at all convinced that sending a man to the moon would yield great advantages for the U.S., be it in terms of technological development or national defense.

Wiesner agreed that sponsoring technological development was a key to the success of the nation. However, he suggested that a more efficient and more effective mechanism for the government to adequately support science and technology was to provide stipends for post-graduate education. A more educated society, Wiesner argued, would be better equipped to meet its own scientific and technological needs.

The Cold War, however, developed within its own unique historical context, one defined in part by widespread anxiety. One outcome of this pervasive fear was an acceleration by which technologies could be advanced. Beginning with the instruments of war developed during World War II – most notably the atomic bombs – the perceived needs of national security propelled the creation of new technologies at a rate never seen before.

The Soviet Union’s launch into orbit of the Sputnik satellite in October 1957 racheted the levels of American cultural insecurity to new heights. With Sputnik, the American public peered into the night sky and literally saw tangible proof that its main enemy had created technologies that would allow it to surveil the country like never before. The seemingly endless possibilities of this breakthrough convinced many that a failure on the part of the U.S. to invest in science and technology would put the nation at grave risk. This fear ultimately created the cultural context by which it proved possible for President Kennedy to allocate an unprecedented amount money for the Apollo Space Program, now estimated to have cost over $170 billion in contemporary U.S. dollars.

Although the President and a significant portion of the American public were convinced that the space program was key to national security, Wiesner and others held firm in their belief that there existed better alternatives for protecting the nation from potential Soviet threat. Nonetheless, as chair of the PSAC, Wiesner was compelled to accept Kennedy’s determination to pursue the moonshot, and continued to advise the chief executive on other issues of science and technology.


Portraits of participants in the Second Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, March-April, 1958. Jerome Wiesner is depicted at bottom.

Portraits of participants in the Second Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, March-April, 1958. Jerome Wiesner is depicted at bottom.

It was at this time that Wiesner turned to an old friend, Linus Pauling, to inquire into the development of his opinions regarding issues of peace and world affairs.

Wiesner was especially interested in receiving Pauling’s counsel on the issue of nuclear testing. Like Pauling, Wiesner was an advocate of a test ban treaty and he wished to use his committee chairmanship to shade President Kennedy thinking in favor of an international agreement of this sort.

Indeed, Wiesner’s unique position gave him powerful influence over federal science policy for the years of his chairmanship, 1961-1963. These years happened to coincide with a period during which Pauling’s main professional focus was his peace activism, and having a strategically placed ally in the White House proved very beneficial to his many causes.

In corresponding with Wiesner, Pauling articulated his argument that the radiation released by nuclear weapons tests was a clear threat to the environment and to human health. Moreover, on a humanitarian level, Pauling felt strongly that the nuclear arms race, if left unchecked, would inevitably lead to new tragedies on the scale of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, if not worse. Through their exchange of letters, Wiesner and Pauling thus built a relationship rooted in discussion of issues that interested them: both believed in nuclear disarmament and both were interested in sharing their scientific and political arguments with broader audiences.

Page one of a handwritten letter from Linus Pauling to Jerome Wiesner, March 17, 1962.

Page one of a handwritten letter from Linus Pauling to Jerome Wiesner, March 17, 1962.

Once his formal involvement with the PSAC concluded (he was relieved of his position not long before Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963) Wiesner became more vocal in his opinions. In 1965 he published a series of essays, titled Where Science and Politics Meet, that were written during his tenure in the White House and that serve as evidence of Wiesner’s strong belief in nuclear disarmament, among other topics. Later, in the 1980s, Wiesner turned to the media and once again laid out his ideas on disarmament in two articles published in The New York Times.

Pauling and Wiesner continued to discuss the issues that they valued through letters and over the phone well into the 1980s. And while they did not ever formally join efforts – each lived on opposite sides of the country – the documentary evidence indicates that they kept one another in mind. At one point, Pauling even nominated him for an award, the Family of Man Award, because he thought of Wiesner as having played a key role in President Kennedy’s signing the partial test ban treaty, an act which directly led to Pauling’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963.

Colleagues and friends for many decades, Linus Pauling and Jerome Wiesner died within months of one another. Pauling passed away on August 19, 1994 and Wiesner died just over two months later, on October 21st.

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Linus Pauling Receives the Nobel Peace Prize

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

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

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

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

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

Pauling and Gunnar Jahn, ca. 1963.

Pauling and Gunnar Jahn, ca. 1963.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Pauling's Nobel certificate, 1963.

Pauling’s Nobel certificate, 1963.

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

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

Pauling's Nobel certificate case, 1963.

Pauling’s Nobel certificate case, 1963.

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

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

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

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


The Nobel medal, obverse.

The Nobel medal, obverse.

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

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

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

The Nobel medal, reverse.

The Nobel medal, reverse.

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

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

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

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

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

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 India, 1955

Linus Pauling first made tentative plans to travel to India in 1951, but when he fell ill the proposed trip was called off. Pauling’s next attempt to visit the subcontinent was marked by a long struggle with the United States government to obtain a passport. The Indian Science Congress had invited him to partake in its annual conference in 1954 and Pauling accepted the invitation. However, as we’ve discussed before, his own government did not grant Pauling permission to travel until weeks after the event occurred.

Months after the initial disappointment of not being able to attend the conference Pauling, having finally regained his right to travel overseas, wrote to the association asking for the invitation to be renewed. In response the group happily extended an offer for him to visit the following year, 1955, for the next Indian Science Congress in Baroda, even providing a stipend to help pay for his travel expenses.

Their circumstances finally settled, Linus and Ava Helen made their way eastward for a world tour, with a stop in India sandwiched between a stay in Israel and a trip to Japan.  While stationed in India from January through mid-February, the Paulings spent much of their time visiting scientific institutions and meeting with prominent academics and politicians. They made it to cities all over the country: beginning in Ahmedabad, they traveled to Baroda, then Bombay, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Poona, New Delhi, Lucknow, Benares (Varanasi), Allahabad and Calcutta.

Amidst all of the meetings though, the couple still scheduled plenty of time to take in the sights and experience Indian culture; attending folk dances, visiting tombs and temples, and watching the sun rise over the Taj Mahal. The Paulings likewise marveled at Buddhist murals in the Ajanta caves and explored the Elephanta and Eldora caves as well.

Major cities (marked in red) visited by the Paulings during their 1955 trip to India.

After arriving in Ahmedabad on January 2, one of Pauling’s first orders of business was, at last, attending the Indian Science Congress in Baroda, which began on January 3. Pauling, who spoke on hemoglobin and sickle-cell anemia, was the only American invited to address the full Congress. In his interactions with the Indian scientists, Pauling made a point of dispelling certain prevailing misconceptions about Americans, such as the notion that all U. S. scientists were working on developing bombs. Pauling pointed out that the number of scientists devoted to such projects was a far cry from the majority, and that many were working instead on important advancements in areas such as medicine.

In the wake of his successful participation in the Ahmedabad conference, Pauling’s itinerary quickly became crammed full of visits to laboratories, institutes, and universities – the University of Bombay, Delhi University, and Osmania University among them.  At times he was delivering two lectures a day. He mostly delivered the same lecture, a variation on his Nobel address “Modern Structural Chemistry,”  but also made spoke on current research in metals, ferromagnetism and proteins.

Pauling likewise visited the Indian Cancer Research Center to talk about antibodies and met with V. R. Khanolkar, widely recognized as a pathbreaking figure in the fields of pathology and medical research in India. Stops were also made at both the National Chemical Laboratory in Poona and the National Physical Laboratory. At a press conference in Allahabad, where the Indian National Academy of Sciences was located, Pauling proposed a resourceful method to approach nuclear disarmament that would utilize the energy stored in weapons. He also urged that India spend more money on scientific research.

On one notable occasion, the Paulings were able to get away from the scientific barnstorm in favor of a jeep ride to a rural village where the locals were building a school. Ava Helen was given the honor of laying the cornerstone for the first educational facility ever erected in the village. The villagers had also just finished constructing their first town meeting place. Linus was impressed by the rapid improvements in the country’s technology as well as the enthusiasm with which its people seemed to be adopting changes. The Indian government as well as private organizations – in particular the Ford Foundation, a U.S. organization – were funding improvement projects all throughout rural India, and the villagers that the Paulings encountered were notably appreciative of these contributions.

Another major highlight of the trip was the opportunity to dine with Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, who had been a leader in the Indian independence movement and a protégé of Mahatma Gandhi. In a series of notes that he compiled recounting his time abroad, Pauling had great things to say about Nehru, writing

He gave me the impression of having great mental powers, excellent judgment, and complete sincerity. In my opinion Nehru is one of the greatest men in the world, and I think the future historians may well give him a major share of the credit for avoiding a third world war.

Prior to meeting him, the Paulings had listened to Nehru give a few speeches and had come away favorably impressed by his description of India’s approach to peace as “a positive, constructive approach, not a passive, negative, natural approach.” This perspective, they felt, had contributed to stable relations with Britain after Indian independence, and also with France after India took control of Pondicherry, formerly a French colony. Nehru was also a fan of the Paulings and, in the last letter that he wrote to his Council of Scientific and Industrial Research – composed days before his death in 1964 – asked that they be invited to visit again and give lectures .

As the Cold War dragged on, Pauling had become not just an important scientific figure but a political one as well, earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963. He had earned the Gandhi Peace Award one year prior.

In 1964 nuclear disarmament was a pressing issue. After Nehru’s death that year, Pauling wrote an article titled “The Contribution of India to the Achievement of World Peace.”  In it, Pauling applauded India for its resistance of pressures to build and store weapons. Nehru’s successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, maintained this theme in announcing that, unlike many other countries of the era, India would not participate in stockpiling nuclear weapons. Inspired by the nation’s attitude, Pauling suggested that India should take the lead in an effort to bring the Chinese People’s Republic into the United Nations, noting that in his 1955 visit he had heard Nehru speak with conviction about the compelling need to admit communist China to the U.N.

The entire experience of India seems to have made a favorable and lasting impression on the Paulings.  In a letter to a fellow scientist written upon his return home, Pauling specifically pointed out that “We were greatly impressed by India – not only by the scientific men, some of whom are really fine, but also by the political leaders.”  It should come as no surprise then, that the Paulings made a return visit in 1967.  This visit will be the subject of our next post in our continuing series devoted to the Paulings’ international travels.

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.

A New Petition and Preparations for Oslo

Linus Pauling holding a copy of the 1961 appeal.

[Ed Note: May 2011 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Oslo Conference Against the Spread of Nuclear Weapons.  The is Part 1 of a two part series devoted to the Oslo Conference.]

“Can there be any rational goal other than general and complete disarmament? Is it reasonable to plan to attempt to survive the catastrophe of megaton war? Is it sensible or even possible to entertain the idea of making international agreements to abolish megaton weapons and to fight ‘limited’ wars with only conventional or kiloton weapons? Would the world be safe under a permanent ‘balance of terror,’ reached by international agreement about ‘arms control’ rather than disarmament – two great arrays of rockets, with megaton warheads, ever poised, ready to achieve the destruction of their allotted halves of the world, the death of their allotted hundreds of millions of human beings?”

– Linus Pauling. Opening Address, Conference Against the Spread of Nuclear Weapons, Oslo, Norway, May 2, 1961.

At the beginning of 1961, Linus Pauling was pictured on the cover of Time magazine, one of several U.S. scientists collectively chosen as Time’s men of the year. John F. Kennedy had just defeated Richard Nixon for the U.S. presidency, and only three months had passed since Pauling’s final confrontation with Senator Thomas Dodd and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee.

Pauling’s troubles with SISS had centered largely on his efforts, three years prior, to circulate an international petition to halt the testing of nuclear weapons, a document that was eventually submitted to the United Nations with the signatures of around 11,000 of the world’s scientists. The petition contributed substantial momentum to a temporary international test ban treaty signed by the U.S. and Soviet Union, which was followed by approximately three years of seemingly productive international negotiations in Geneva, Switerland, the focus of which was the negation of nuclear testing.

While Pauling felt that great progress had been made following the November 1958 decision to temporarily halt nuclear weapons tests, he grew uneasy with the rise of new developments around the world.  In particular, Pauling was alarmed by what he saw as a renewed and calculated domestic campaign to resume atomic testing in the United States. Likewise, in the aftermath of the test-detonation of a nuclear weapon by the government of France, serious discussions about the sharing of U.S. nuclear weapons with NATO nations began to hasten in earnest.

Around the beginning of January 1961, Pauling and his wife Ava Helen decided – as Linus put it in a later speech – to “take whatever action [they], as individual human beings, could take toward the achievement of permanent and true peace in the world.” Because of the success that the couple had enjoyed with their first international petition three years prior, the Paulings felt that another attempt was merited, and set about writing and circulating a second petition. This document, an “Appeal to Stop the Spread of Nuclear Weapons,” was initially addressed to both the United Nations and to the individual governments of the world.  It warned

The world is now in great danger. A cataclysmic nuclear war might break out as the result of some terrible accident or of an explosive deterioration in international relations such that even the wisest national leaders would be unable to avert the catastrophe. Universal disarmament has now become the essential basis for life and liberty for all people.

The new petition focused on the increased difficulty of effecting universal disarmament, as new nations or groups of nations came into possession of nuclear weapons. The document likewise urged the era’s nuclear powers to reject the transfer of nuclear weapons to other nations or political alliances, and encouraged non-nuclear nations to voluntarily refrain from seeking them. Lastly, the petition called upon all nations, whether they possessed nuclear weapons or not, to “increase their efforts to achieve total and universal disarmament with a system of international controls and inspection such as to insure to the greatest possible extent the safety of all nations and all people.”

The new petition was sent out to scientists that had supported the previous effort, and Pauling promptly received over 700 responses within one month, including replies from thirty-eight Nobel Prize winners and 110 members of the National Academy of Sciences. Pauling turned over his collection of responses to Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nations, on February 16th, 1961.

While the Paulings were happy with the initial response to their appeal, they sought more support from people worldwide, using a series of subsequent press releases to spread the word. The petition was printed in various newspapers around the country and circulated among several nations around the world. While the document was initially signed by 700 people from 40 different nations, with renewed efforts, the the total number of signatories quickly began to approach 10,000.


During the writing and initial circulation stages of the 1961 appeal, the Paulings admitted to harboring many peace- and disarmament-related questions that they wished to see considered with more vigor. In light of their experiences with the Pugwash Conferences, the couple decided that non-proliferation was a topic worthy of its own event, ideally one where “scientists and other informed people from many countries [would] meet to study and analyze some aspects of the present great world problem.”  In actuality though, Pauling and his wife thought of their efforts as a supplement to the Pugwash meetings, rather than a gathering of its own.

Geneva was the first city considered as an ideal location to hold the conference, but after some thought the Paulings decided that it was more of a place for negotiations between nations, and eventually settled on Oslo, Norway instead. Oslo maintained worldwide significance as an International City of Peace, home to the Norwegian Nobel Committee since 1901 and the Norwegian Nobel Institute since 1905.  Moreover, a very important additional determinant for the location was the substantial amount of practical support that was extended to the Paulings in advance by their friend, Professor Otto Bastiansen, along with a good number of other Norwegian volunteers involved with a Norwegian group known as “the Thirteen.” As for the timing of the meeting, it fell into a convenient niche between the 6th Pugwash Conference in Moscow and the 7th Pugwash Conference in the U.S.  Even more importantly, the conference was set to culminate on the day before a major NATO meeting was to take place in Geneva.

Otto Bastiansen. Portrait by H. Stenstadvold / BONO 2010

The NATO meeting, a spring gathering of the Ministerial Council lasting from May 8 to 10, was the first meeting directed by a new Secretary-General of NATO, Dirk U. Stikker. The principle theme of the meeting was reportedly “the general awareness of the global character of the communist threat,” but particular focus was given over to aid for poorer nations, and the potential transfer of five Polaris nuclear missile submarines and eighty Polaris nuclear warheads to NATO forces in Europe. A final goal of the meeting was to address efforts to achieve disarmament with the Soviet Union, in particular the need to ensure policy consistency among NATO allies. While all topics were generally relevant to their aims, it was this last goal in particular that Pauling and his associates hoped to influence with their conference in Oslo.

After several weeks of intense planning and coordination, the Paulings managed to find twenty-five individuals from fifteen different countries who were willing to help sponsor the event and cover most expenses. As the conference drew near, planners extended invitations to scientists and other people with applicable special knowledge – in all, sixty scientists (both physical and social) from fifteen nations agreed to attend.

The Federation of American Scientists

Honorary Membership Card, Federation of American Scientists -- Los Angeles Chapter. 1962.

“We feel strongly that the university people of America must use their knowledge and their influence to assist in the formulation of sound international and national policy to give permanent security in progress and peace.”

– Charles D. Coryell, “To the Scientists who have endorsed the formation of the Federation of Atomic Scientists,” December 13, 1945

After two American atom bombs were dropped on Japan in August 1945, the world was both shocked and intrigued by the destructive force that had been unleashed. At the same time, many of the atomic scientists that were involved with the creation of the bombs at Los Alamos were soon devastated. Though they had carefully formulated the destructive energy that was to be released by the bombs, actually seeing the ruin left in their wake was a different experience entirely. Certain of these scientists, many of whom had already been involved in discreet discussion about the impact of this new atomic science, decided that something had to be done. Their general goal was to educate the public about the effects and implications of this mysterious new technology.

The concerned scientists began their task in small steps. First, they held informal discussions about the potential peril of aggressive atomic policy and disseminated information to the public through speeches and written material. Out of this emerged the Federation of American Scientists, formed in 1945 – a loose association of sixteen member associations from around the country.

The scientists were soon forced into action, responding to a bill that was being deliberated by Congress. Under the controversial proposed legislation, titled the May-Johnson bill after its sponsors, it was argued that little would stop the military from dominating the affairs of atomic energy and science. The Federation of American Scientists, and a number of small discussion groups from around the country including the Association of Pasadena Scientists, joined together to inform the congressional debate and to influence the legislation.

A splinter group, the Federation of Atomic Scientists formed as a result in 1946.  Its main objectives were to hinder further use of atomic weapons and to establish a cooperative system of international control to safeguard world peace. Aside from basic moral objections, the group argued that the American monopoly over atomic technology would be fleeting, and that continued development of nuclear weapons would lead to a global arms race.

As debate raged on, the newly risen advocacy groups helped to create a bill in opposition to May-Johnson, called the McMahon bill, that would place civilian scientists in charge of atomic energy development in the U.S., and create an Atomic Energy Commission. Though consensus within the scientific community was split between the two bills, McMahon eventually won out and was made into law.

During the next couple of years, many scientists that had gotten involved with atomic politics began to focus once again on conventional research and experimentation. Having played its part in the defeat of the May-Johnson bill, the Federation of American Scientists and other groups saw an precipitous drops in membership levels. As funding sources dried up and agendas became less clear, the Federation of Atomic Scientists and a number of other associations, including the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, melded together under the banner of the Federation of American Scientists. This transformation allowed a number of loosely connected partnerships to be re-fashioned, and it was decided that the main group focus would be that of an educational organization.

Under its new structure, the Federation of American Scientists continued its advocacy and initiated publication of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, famous for its “Doomsday Clock.” During this process of revitalization, the Federation developed more cohesive guidelines and chartered a revised constitution. In a document released by the Federation in 1949, the aims and trajectory of the organization were explicitly detailed:

The Federation of American Scientists is formed to meet the increasingly apparent responsibility of scientists in promoting the welfare of mankind and the achievement of a stable world peace. . . The need for a more active political role of scientists has been brought into sharp focus by the atomic bomb. An immediate concern of the Federation must therefore be the problem of atomic energy.

The Federation continued to educate others about the biological effects of nuclear detonations, and served as a forum for concerned scientists. The group stood actively against the use of atomic weapons for destructive purposes, focusing in particular on radioactive fallout and the horrifying dangers inherent to nuclear conflict. The Federation also advocated for nuclear test-ban agreements, though its positions were often more moderate than the views expressed by Linus Pauling and others.

Though Pauling was typically in agreement with the general activities and agenda of the Federation of American Scientists, he spent very little time actually working with the organization. He maintained consistent contact with its members, was a sponsoring member of the Los Angeles chapter, and received the Federation newsletters. He was also a member of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists – which became a working committee of the overall organization under Albert Einstein – but he was rarely present for meetings or events. Pauling also read and kept several issues of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and remained connected to the organization in some form or another for most of his life.

As time went on however, there areas of substantial disagreement emerged between the man and the Federation, especially as Pauling became a more polarizing figure in American politics. In particular Pauling was at odds with the Federation of American Scientists and many within the scientific community, when a majority of scientists began to accept the re-escalation of atomic bomb testing in the 1960s.

As anti-communist sentiments and increased opposition to peaceful relations with the Soviet Union rose, the influence of the FAS began to diminish. As the years passed, the organization evolved and adapted to changing circumstances, undergoing a number of substantial changes. In the latter part of the 20th century, it was decided that the organization should become more multi-disciplinary, and associate with a number of organizations with similar aims. In its own words, the Federation of American Scientists now “provides timely, nonpartisan technical analysis on complex global issues that hinge on science and technology.” Though some focus remains on atomic weapons, the organization now tackles a myriad of issues, thus continuing a tradition started by concerned scientists over sixty years ago.

For more on the early development of the Federation of American Scientists, see the website Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement: A Documentary History.