Pauling’s Nobel Peace Prize

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New York Times, October 11, 1963.

[Part 3 of 6]

On October 10, 1963, Linus Pauling received word that he was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In this, he became the first person to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes, a distinction that lives on today.

He and his wife, Ava Helen, were at Deer Flat Ranch – a property that the couple had actually purchased with the funds from Pauling’s 1954 Chemistry Prize – when the Peace Nobel was announced.  Pauling was notified that morning by his daughter Linda, and the unexpected news rendered him speechless.  The Big Sur ranch itself lacked a telephone, and Pauling wound up holding court at a nearby ranger station, granting several interviews and answering calls of congratulation. As reporters began to descend on the Paulings’ rural property, Ava Helen and Linus decided that it would be best to return to Pasadena to deal with whatever awaited them.


 

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Linus Pauling and Gunnar Jahn, 1963.

As noted in Alfred Nobel’s will, a prize was to be set aside each year for “the person who shall have done the most or best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace.”  Pauling won this award in 1963 – receiving the prize that was held over and not awarded in 1962 – for his work on nuclear disarmament and his contributions to the Partial Test Ban Treaty, an agreement between the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union that went into effect on the same day that the Nobel award was announced.

The story of why Pauling received the 1962 prize is interesting, and recounted by Pauling himself.  In a confidential “note to self” that he penned on November 21, 1962 – about eleven months before his Peace Prize announcement – Pauling documented a meeting that he had held that day with Gunnar Jahn.  Jahn was chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee from 1941 to 1966.

In his memo, Pauling wrote

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

And indeed, there was not.

Pauling received two nominations for the Peace Prize in 1961, as well as one more in 1962 and another in 1963.  The year that he received the Prize, he was nominated by Gunnar Garbo, a Norwegian journalist, politician and ambassador.  And although many feel that Linus should have been nominated for the Peace Prize alongside Ava Helen – his long-time collaborator and inspiration in their shared peace effort – none of his Peace nominations was submitted as a split award.


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Flyer for the Biology Department coffee hour honoring Pauling’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. December 3, 1963.

In a marked contrast from his Chemistry Prize, Pauling’s Peace award was not celebrated domestically with a lavish ceremony.  By 1963, Pauling’s activities in the peace realm had led to increased tensions at Caltech, and across the Institute, response to his Peace Prize was mixed at best.  His own research group was overjoyed at the honor, but the Caltech administration was unusually quiet concerning the prize and did not plan any sort of celebration in Pauling’s honor.

Although Linus and Ava Helen both felt that the Prize was vindication enough of the work they had done and the positions that they had taken, neither was at all satisfied with how the situation had unfolded at Caltech.  With the prize money from the Peace award forthcoming, the duo now had the flexibility to leave the Institute and pursue their work elsewhere.  Pauling announced his decision to do exactly this in October, just a week after finding out that he had won the prize, and after forty-one years of employment at Caltech.

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By early December, although he had already cleared out his office, colleagues in the Biology department invited Pauling back to campus for a small gathering over coffee to honor his Nobel Peace Prize. This event proved to be the only recognition of Pauling’s achievement hosted at the Institute.


 

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Image published in Arbeiderbladet, December 11, 1963. Annotaions by Linus Pauling.

Once in Scandinavia, the festivities likewise differed some from what he had experienced in Stockholm in 1954.  Pauling was awarded the Peace Prize on December 10, 1963 at Oslo University in Norway, an event attended by King Olav VI, Crown Prince Harald, and scores of additional Norwegian leaders and diplomats.  (In his will, Nobel decreed that the Peace Prize ceremony be held separately from the other Nobel Prize awards, which take place in Stockholm, Sweden.)

Also presented at the ceremony was the 1963 Peace Prize, granted jointly to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of the Red Cross Societies.  The International Committee had won the Peace Prize twice previously, in 1917 and 1944, and their 1963 centennial played a role in the selection of the two groups for the prize. As Pauling is the only person to have received two unshared Nobel Prizes, so too is the Red Cross unique in having been fundamental to four Peace Prizes – three received or shared by the organization, and another through affiliation with the group’s founder, Henry Dunant, co-honored with the very first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.

At the ceremony, Pauling was called out for his campaign “not only against the testing of nuclear weapons, not only against the spread of these armaments, not only against their very use, but against all warfare as a means of solving international conflicts.”  Gunnar Jahn – Pauling’s champion from a year before – further explained that he was the natural choice for the 1963 award, due to the successful negotiation of the Partial Test Ban Treaty that July in Moscow.

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Verdensgang (Olso), December 14, 1963.

Despite Jahn’s certainty on the matter, Pauling’s nomination had been made in the face of severe criticism, mostly centering on claims that Pauling was a Communist, that President John F. Kennedy should have received the award, or that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a better choice.  In his acceptance speech, Pauling explained that he believed the award to be a recognition not only of his work but also that “of the many other people who strive to bring hope for permanent peace to a world that now contains nuclear weapons.”

For Pauling, his wife was most prominent among the multitudes who had worked alongside him to pursue peace.  He made special note of her contributions in his formal Response at the Nobel event.

I wish that Alfred Nobel had not been a lonely man. I have not been lonely. Since 1923 I have had always at my side my wife, Ava Helen Pauling. In the fight for peace and against oppression she has been my constant and courageous companion and coworker. On her behalf, as well as my own, I express my thanks to Alfred Nobel and to the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting for the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962 to me.

 


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Pauling’s Nobel Peace medal, obverse.

Designed by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, the Nobel Peace Prize medal features an image of Alfred Nobel that is different from the other medals, though it is accompanied by the same inscription – “Alfred Nobel” and his years of birth and death.  The reverse side of the medal portrays three men forming a fraternal bond and is inscribed with the words Pro pace et fraternitate gentium, which can be translated as “For the peace and brotherhood of men.”  On the outer edge, the words “Prix Nobel de la Paix”, the relevant year, and the name of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate are engraved.

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Pauling’s Peace medal, reverse.

All Nobel Prize medals are accompanied by a diploma and a letter certifying the amount of the given year’s monetary award.  The cash prize in 1962 was $50,000, or approximately $386,204.00 in today’s dollars.  This sum amounted to roughly three years of Pauling’s Caltech salary.

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Pauling’s Nobel Peace certificate.


 

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New York Times, October 11, 1963.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, delivered a day after his Response, Pauling compared the desire of Alfred Nobel himself to create “a substance or a machine with such terrible power of mass destruction that war would thereby be made impossible forever,” to the hydrogen bomb against which the peace movement was working in 1963.  And though the creation and use of the atomic bomb during the Second World War had not led to peace, Pauling remained hopeful that peace would be attained, as nuclear weapons had now made a survivable war impossible.

“I believe that there will never again be a great world war,” he said, “a war in which the terrible weapons involving nuclear fission and nuclear fusion would be used.” Pauling felt that no dispute could justify the use of such a weapon, and that the threat of larger-scale retaliation would prevent first strikes.  This sentiment was present in many of the speeches and articles that he penned during this period.  In his Nobel lecture, Pauling expanded on the idea by explaining that

The world has now begun its metamorphosis from its primitive period of history, when disputes between nations were settled by war, to its period of maturity, in which war will be abolished and world law will take its place.

And just as scientists had played a role in the development of weapons of war, so too would they be central to promoting peace in the nuclear age, because of the power that their informed opinions carried and the research that they could conduct to show just how harmful these bombs were.

In this, Pauling specifically mentioned the Pugwash Conferences series, which he believed “permitted the scientific and practical aspects of disarmament to be discussed informally in a thorough, penetrating, and productive way, and have led to some valuable proposals.”  Because of this, he felt the conferences – with which he had been active – to have been very helpful in seeing the Partial Test Ban Treaty through to ratification.

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Stockholmns Tidinigen, December 19, 1963.

But there was still much work to do, in part because many people had not yet accepted disarmament as a valid route to maintaining peace.  For Pauling, disarmament was only a piece of the solution.  He felt that, for one, China, as the world’s most populous nation, needed to be accepted into the global community and recognized as a nation.  Doing so would allow the Chinese People’s Republic, a nuclear state, to join the disarmament agreement already signed by the United States and Soviet Union.

Pauling further proposed a joint system of control for nuclear stockpiles, one which would require consent from the United Nations before a weapon could be used.  While admittedly a lofty ambition, Pauling believed that “even a small step in the direction of this proposal, such as the acceptance of United Nations observers in the control stations of the nuclear powers” would decrease the probability of war, and doubly so if the proposal was paired with a system of inspection aimed at preventing the further production of biological or chemical weapons.  Advancements in this direction, Pauling believed, not only improved the odds for the long-term survival of the human race, but would also usher in a better life for all humans through the improvement of social, political, and economic systems.

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Dinner and a Dance

Creative Nonfiction by Melinda Gormley and Melissae Fellet

The White House, April 29, 1962

It had been pleasant weather in Washington DC all day. The air was still warm at 8:00 PM when Linus and Ava Helen Pauling arrived at the White House that evening. Ava Helen wore a floor-length cape over her formal dress, and white gloves covered her arms almost to the elbow. Pauling sported a traditional tuxedo.

Pauling and Ava Helen arrived just before the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had been the lead scientist of the Manhattan Project. Many heads turned toward the two controversial scientists as they waited in the receiving line to greet their hosts, the President and First Lady, John and Jacqueline Kennedy.

Pauling approached President Kennedy. They stood practically eye-to-eye.

“I’m pleased to see you,” the President said. “I understand you’ve been around the White House a couple of days already.”

Pauling likely grinned and nodded, thinking back to earlier that day when he marched with other protesters in front of the White House, holding a sign that read “Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Macmillan, We Have No Right To Test!” Pauling, the 1954 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, had spent the better part of the past decade and a half as an outspoken activist for ending nuclear weapons testing.

He shifted to greet the next person in the receiving line. Jacqueline’s pale mint silk evening gown and bouffant hair defined fashion. She flashed Pauling a large smile and extended her elegantly gloved hand. “Dr. Pauling, do you think it’s right to march back and forth out there where Caroline could see you?”

A hush fell over those nearby. Pauling didn’t quite know how to respond.

“She asked me, ‘Mummy, what has Daddy done wrong now?'” People nearby laughed and the tension broke. Clearly, Pauling’s message had reached the occupants of the White House, from the family’s patriarch to his young daughter.

Side-by-side for most of the evening, Ava Helen and Pauling, like all couples at this dinner honoring Nobel laureates, were seated at different tables for the meal. She approached her table to find she would be eating with many distinguished scientists, one of whom, Willard Libby, held opinions different from her husband and herself. She immediately decided to refrain from talking to him about politics and peace.

Ava Helen took her seat, and the historian and critic Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. sat down next to her, pulling his chair onto her chiffon skirt. It possibly occurred to her that this was going to be a long meal.

As they conversed, Ava Helen found Schlesinger to be antagonistic and unfriendly.

“Do you hold the same opinions as your husband?” he asked.

“I do for the most part,” Ava Helen responded. Last summer, she urged Jacqueline Kennedy, speaking mother-to-mother, to keep her children and the world’s children safe by pushing for a continuance of the moratorium on testing nuclear weapons.

“Can I ask you a question?” Schlesinger asked. Without waiting for her response, he continued: “How can your husband accept an invitation to the White House after what he said to the President?” Schlesinger’s question referred to Pauling’s sharply-worded telegram, sent March 1, 1962, a little less than two months earlier.

In the telegram, Pauling asked the President, “Are you going to give an order that will cause you to go down in history as one of the most immoral men of all time and one of the greatest enemies of the human race?” Ire probably fumed from Pauling as he drafted the telegram. He couldn’t believe that President Kennedy was contemplating breaking his 1960 presidential campaign promises to not test nuclear weapons in the atmosphere.

Pauling’s note continued by referring to the Soviets’ detonation of several nuclear weapons in the atmosphere above Siberia. “In a letter to the New York Times, I state that nuclear tests duplicating the Soviet 1961 tests would seriously damage over 20 million unborn children, including those caused to have gross physical or mental defects and also the stillbirths and embryonic neonatal and childhood deaths from the radioactive fission products and carbon-14.”

Hoping to give President Kennedy some perspective about his decision, Pauling asked in his note, “Are you going to be guilty of this monstrous immorality matching that of the Soviet leaders for the political purpose of increasing the still imposing lead of the United States over the Soviet Union in nuclear technology?”

Throughout dinner, Ava Helen remained good-natured with Schlesinger. “There is nothing personal in either the invitation or the acceptance – Just the President of the U.S. having dinner with a Nobel Laureate.”

Looking tall, thin, and handsome in his tuxedo, Pauling likely approached her table after the meal ended, asking “How was your dinner?”

“Arthur Schlesinger is a clout and a boor!” Although she may not have told her husband this in this moment, she wrote down the exchange and her thoughts of Schlesinger after the evening ended.

Pauling would have smiled and thought to himself how lucky he was to have Ava Helen in his life. It was something he expressed aloud many times. He loved her for her pluckiness and devotion, among many other reasons.

The Air Force Strolling Strings played a lively Latin rhythm as the couple made their way after dinner across the main lobby to the East Room for three dramatic readings by the actor Fredric March. Rather than passing by the band, Pauling asked Ava Helen for a dance. Taking her into his arms he deftly guided her across the checkered floor. Her dark, short hair framed her face in waves and her chiffon dress whispered as she moved across the dance floor. Soon other guests joined them, setting aside political controversies for a little fun.

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The Lucky Dragon

The Lucky Dragon. Image extracted from

The Lucky Dragon. Image extracted from “The Voyage of the Lucky Dragon,” by Ralph E. Lapp.

Creative Nonfiction by Melinda Gormley and Melissae Fellet.

Bikini Atoll, March 1954.

On March 1, 1954, about three minutes after sunrise, a brilliant orange-colored flash lit up the sky. The sky glowed red and yellow.

“The sun is rising in a strange fashion. Hurry up and see it,” someone yelled.

Sanjiro Masuda suspected it was two to three minutes before the yellow faded. A dull red glow remained, “like a piece of iron cooling in the air,” he recalled. Then, he realized that the color could not be from the sun because it was rising in the west.

Five minutes later, a deafening sound of many thunders roared through the sky. The sailors saw a mushroom-shaped cloud and the sky darkened. “Pikadon,” which means atomic bomb, crossed Masuda’s mind, before he returned to his nets. There was work to be done.

A few hours later, white ash began raining down, covering the boat, the fishermen, and the water all around them. It fell for several hours.

Ash fell in Captain Tadaichi Tsutsui’s eyes, causing them to sting. He inhaled the ash, and the particles stayed in his nose even after blowing it several times. He felt warmer than usual, though he figured it was due to sunburn or windburn.

Bathing the white ash off was hard. The sailors scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. Yet the ash stuck to their skin.

Captain Tsutsui’s concern for his crew grew as the day wore on. He ordered the steam trawler’s anchor pulled so they could begin the 2,000-mile voyage home.

The crew ate from the catch, although by the first night, few had an appetite. There was talk of pikadon, but few gave it serious consideration.

Still feeling hot three days later, the faces of some began to turn a dark grey.

Masuda’s face and hands started to swell and his body itched. The parts of his body that were exposed the day of the explosion suffered the most. He collected some of the ash into oilskin paper, intending to give it to someone for analysis when he got home.

Again someone suggested it was pikadon, but not all believed it true.

Some sailors complained of headaches and nausea. More experienced unbearable itching and terrible pain. Huge, irregular blisters started to appear on the skin of some. The men had washed their bodies, but not the gear. Their fishing nets and the boat’s ropes had also been covered with ash, and the men continued to touch it as they worked on the deck during the trip home.

Two weeks after the strange events had begun, the boat docked at Yaizu, about 120 miles southeast of Tokyo. Many of the fishermen were severely sick. All twenty-three went to the nearby Kyoritsu hospital. Dr. Toshisuke Oii prescribed a topical ointment for the burns and then called some experts at Tokyo University. The experts ordered the boat and its cargo quarantined, but not quickly enough.

The Lucky Dragon’s catch, about 16,500 pounds of tuna and shark, was distributed to Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and elsewhere. Geiger counters supported what many feared: The boat was highly radioactive. Concerned that radioactive tuna and shark was for sale, health officials frantically hunted for it. Some was recovered. More than 4,000 pounds of suspect fish was buried in Tokyo; in Sapporo City, 14 tuna were buried after two were found to be contaminated.

But some of the catch had already sold. Six families in Sagamihara who had eaten raw tuna experienced stomachaches, numbness and diarrhea.

Eight other tuna boats in the Pacific Ocean along with the Lucky Dragon were also found to be radioactive. One fish merchant, expressing his worries about the impact this event would have on his business, also captured concerns about the global and long-term consequences of fallout. “This is just the catch from the Fortunate Dragon. What of all the rest of the fish in the sea? A tuna can travel 35 miles an hour.”

Masuda and his shipmate Tadashi Yamamoto had the worst burns. Both men were taken to Tokyo University Hospital. Doctors passed a Geiger counter over the top of Masuda’s head. It registered 6,500 counts. His head was shaved and the count reduced to 654. His pain was still tremendous. Pus oozed from his ears and eyes. His face was blackened and blistered. His hands resembled baseball mitts.

The ashes Masuda collected register 40,000 clicks per minute – 400 times higher than the planet’s largest naturally-occurring background radiation.

Japan was frenzied. Nine years had passed since the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Pikadon had returned, and now the bombs had greater destructive power.

Details about the explosion that coated the Lucky Dragon in radioactive ash were revealed when the American press started covering the story 17 days after the blast. The United States had detonated a hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll, a remote collection of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The thermonuclear explosion was 750 times larger than the bomb detonated on Hiroshima, and its power surprised scientists.

The fishermen had been 71 miles from the detonation point and 14 miles outside the restricted area set by the US government. Their injuries were a sign that scientists had more to learn about how radiation spread following a nuclear explosion. The United States continued to test. In less than 60 days after the Bikini Atoll test, the US planned to detonate another bomb. This one would be four times more powerful than the previous weapon.

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.

The Pauling-Teller Debate: Fear and Loathing

Annotations by Linus Pauling, 1963.

Annotations by Linus Pauling, 1963.

[Part 5 of 5]

Once his televised debate with Edward Teller was concluded, Linus Pauling stated that the two would never meet again in a format of this type, as Pauling “considered [Telller’s] debating methods improper.”  And though the two would indeed never again confront one another in public, tensions continued to build, if mostly on the side of Pauling.

In the lectures that he gave over the decades that followed, Pauling would regularly make a point of countering Teller’s arguments.  Seeking to circulate his opposing viewpoint as widely as possible, Pauling likewise often wrote published responses to Teller’s articles and penned just as many (or more) unpublished letters to the editors of various journals that had printed Teller’s work.

In marginalia notes written on a 1963 New York Times article titled “Teller Test-Ban Warning,” which Teller published nearly five years after the debate took place, Pauling’s animosity toward his opponent is perfectly clear. Reacting to Teller’s statement, “I hope that patriotic Congressmen of both parties will resist the pressure of a public frightened by crisis and misled by the mirage of peace,” Pauling expresses himself with an uncommon level of vitriol.

HERE THE DEVIL IS SPEAKING, THE PERSONIFICATION of EVIL, THE FOE of MORALITY & GOODNESS, THE ENEMY of HUMANITY.


Program for an event sponsored by the New York chapter of SANE, 1959. Pauling has annotated: "We will all fry together when we fry/Three billion sizzling platters"; "We will all go together when we go/I dedicate this song to the man who has done so much to make the golden dream a reality - Dr. Edward Teller"

Program for an event sponsored by the New York chapter of SANE, 1959. Pauling has annotated: “We will all fry together when we fry/Three billion sizzling platters”; “We will all go together when we go/I dedicate this song to the man who has done so much to make the golden dream a reality – Dr. Edward Teller”

After the debate, Pauling pursued his activist platform in much the same vein as in his encounter with Teller, continuing to make the same points of contention and state the same facts.  But in doing so, he not only countered points made by Teller, he also began to argue against essentially anyone who spoke out positively on issues of nuclear weapons development or a future nuclear war.

In one such instance, his article “The Dead Will Inherit the Earth,” published in Frontier in November 1961, Pauling attacked prevailing arguments made in favor of fallout shelters and their ability to save large percentages of American lives.  Where Life magazine had suggested that fallout shelters might lead to survival rates as high as 95%, with Teller pegging the number closer to 90%, Pauling placed his own estimate at 0% within one year of hostilities. Such was Pauling’s estimation of the magnitude of any nuclear war that might be waged using the weapons that had been stockpiled and mobilized at that time.


Detail from "Enforcing an Atom Test Ban: Scientists Testify Before Joint Atomic Energy Comittee," Science, April 29, 1960. Annotation by Pauling.

Detail from “Enforcing an Atom Test Ban: Scientists Testify Before Joint Atomic Energy Comittee,” Science, April 29, 1960. Annotation by Pauling.

Indeed, the late 1950s were a unique moment in world history, a time period during which the future was uncertain both in terms of geopolitics as well as the continued health and well-being of humanity. At the heart of these tensions resided, of course, the development of weapons far more powerful than anything ever seen before. While, during World War II, nuclear devices were initially viewed as symbols of strength and as a hope for peace, for many they quickly came to embody all that is negative in human society after they were used in Japan.

Though their viewpoints on nuclear weapons clearly resided on polar opposites of this dichotomy, a singular menace lay at heart of much of Teller and Pauling’s rhetoric: the threat of a third World War, one which would be far worse than any previous war, potentially resulting in the elimination of human life from the planet.  This potential for crisis was a key factor in the escalation and continuation of the Cold War.

Both Pauling and Teller used these Cold War fears to bolster their arguments – clearly their positions would have carried far less weight without them.  In doing so, both men attempted, in their own specific ways, to use data and statements of fact to alleviate public ignorance surrounding nuclear technologies.  On the same token, both men also relied on a lack of conclusive data to make assumptions that would further support his point of view.


Summing Up

The 1958 debate, coupled with the books that both Pauling and Teller wrote later that year, demonstrate the broad diversity of ideas and tensions that surrounded the development and testing of nuclear weapons during the Cold War.  Likewise, the story of the confrontation that emerged between these two men is central to understanding arguments over the continuation or cessation of weapons testing and development, and the emotional nature of the Cold War era.

Teller professed a desire to believe in Pauling’s position that the U.S. could maintain peace through international cooperation, but he was never able to arrive at this point.  On the contrary, Teller, hardened by his own personal experiences as a Hungarian national, felt that the Communist bloc could not be trusted and that the U.S. ultimately had to keep the upper hand in nuclear technologies to keep its enemies in check. Teller viewed this tactic as the only route to avoiding a third World War. Deterrence, of course, required more weapons, and in order for new weapons to be developed, nuclear tests needed to continue.

As vehemently opposed as they were to one another’s perspectives, Pauling and Teller shared much in common. Their stances both emanated from their their views on the leading role that science should play in daily life, the need for scientists to be involved in the development of public policy, and the importance of developing policy through public dialogue.

Both men were also essentially arguing for the same, or similar, outcomes: the education of the public on scientific matters and a quick end to tensions with the Soviet Union.  Pauling and Teller likewise attempted to reach their rhetorical goals through a “translation” of science into language that laymen could understand. And although both hoped to change the minds of the public using reason and a better understanding of the facts at hand, each man ended up playing on fears in order to get their points across.

Though they went about it in very different ways, Linus Pauling and Edward Teller were both trying to prevent a third World War. Both agreed that war brings out the worst in humanity and that the next World War portended dire consequences.  But as the debate unfolded, their vastly different perspectives brought emotions to the surface, at times revealing personal beliefs on nuclear weapons and on each other. For Pauling, the animosity that he felt remained consistent throughout his life, as he continued to be publicly critical of Teller’s work and role in the development of the hydrogen bomb.

 

The Pauling-Teller Debate: Two Books That Followed

nuclear-future

Our Nuclear Future: Facts, Dangers and Opportunities. 1958.

[Part 4 of 5]

In the months following their televised 1958 debate, Linus Pauling and Edward Teller both published books that they believed would serve to educate the public on the real dangers associated with atomic development and testing.  And though their formal debate had long since passed, both men continued to spar with one another through their writings. As Ralph E. Lapp put it in his review of Pauling’s book,

Any meaningful review of Mr. Pauling’s No More War! must be related not only to the U.N. Report on Atomic Radiation but also Mr. Teller’s Our Nuclear Future published earlier this year.  As a matter of fact, No More War! might well be subtitled ‘A Reply to Edward Teller.’

Each book worked hard to couch its arguments in terms that readers, no matter their background, could understand.  Both books also sought to help citizens differentiate between “imaginary dangers,” “risks which are more real,” and risks that had been most neglected.  The two books likewise made use of Cold War fears over a potential war with the Soviet Union and pointed out that a future war of this sort would be far worse than anything experienced to date. In this, just as had been the case with their television appearance, Pauling and Teller alike used similar approaches to argue for very different points of view: Pauling emphasizing the need for disarmament and cooperation, Teller arguing in favor of peace assured through military might.


"No More War!" 1958.

“No More War!” 1958.

A primary goal of Edward Teller and Albert Latter’s book, Our Nuclear Future: Facts, Dangers and Opportunities, was to outline the science behind the development of nuclear weapons, as articulated for a lay audience. Teller felt a book of this sort was the best way to combat rising fear in the culture, and that it would allow readers to both understand the nature of radioactivity and to rationally assess the risks (relatively benign ones, in Teller’s view) posed by nuclear tests.

Conversely, throughout his book, No More War!, Linus Pauling discussed the harm that would befall current and future generations as a direct result of continued nuclear testing.  He also emphasized the idea of a single global community and the need to think responsibly about the entire world. This approach is clear from the outset, as Pauling writes in his preface

We are living through that unique epoch in the history of civilization when war will cease to be the means of settling great world problems…It is the development of great nuclear weapons that requires that war be given up, for all time…that from the giant of the kiloton nuclear bomb to the megaton monster…we can see for ourselves that our own future and the future of the human race depend upon our willingness and ability to cooperate, to work together in a worldwide attack on the great world problems.

Pauling’s emphasis on the need for humanity to remain united and to work together courses through the entire book.


Figure comparing estimates of wordwide fallout, as included in No More War!

Figure comparing estimates of wordwide fallout, as included in No More War!

Indeed, increases in the mutation rate and the threats that they posed to the human race comprised Pauling’s central argument in favor of ceasing nuclear tests.  Pauling believed that there was no safe threshold amount of radiation that a person could receive; any amount could prove harmful and potentially lead to leukemia, bone cancer, or other diseases linked to radiation. Conceptualized in this way, radiation was likened by Pauling as something worse than a poison.  For Pauling, a person could not receive a small, harmless dose of radiation like they could with certain poisons that are only dangerous in large quantities taken at one time.  Rather, radiation is a cumulative toxin and the lower values measured as fallout from nuclear tests were potentially just as damaging as high exposures, just not as immediately apparent.

At the other end of the spectrum, Teller downplayed the risks of fallout, basing his argument on the fact that environmental radiation is nothing new.  On the contrary, it has existed since the beginning of the Earth, meaning that every human, plant, and animal in existence is subjected daily to radioactivity and always has been and always will be.  In formulating his argument, Teller placed additional emphasis on the number of ways that environmental radiation can be taken up by the body and how geographic location influences these processes.  He also stressed that radiation could be acquired from seemingly trivial man-made sources as well, sources that most people thought little about.  Teller stated these man-made sources, such as medical x-rays or even wristwatches with illuminated hands, were more harmful than was the radioactivity from testing fallout.


Pauling's annotated copy of  Our Nuclear Future, with a New York Times review of the book tipped in.

Pauling’s annotated copy of Our Nuclear Future, with “a very poor” New York Times review of the book tipped in.

In writing No More War!, one of Pauling’s major objectives was to dispel any notion that there was wide disagreement among scientists as to the actual effects of radiation on humans. In doing so, he pointedly sought to discredit Teller and the Atomic Energy Commission as holding fringe opinions. When discussing Teller, he was especially critical, not only of his calculations and scientific acumen, but also of his views on democracy and education of the citizenry, views which Pauling claimed to be “out of place.”

Partly to combat increasing fears about environmental radioactivity, Teller suggested ramping up research and development of so-called “clean weapons” – i.e., weapons that did not produce radioactive fallout upon detonation. Teller believed clean weapons to be necessary and potentially very useful for purposes far beyond application in war.  A clean weapon might be used, for instance, to build a harbor.  Throughout Our Nuclear Future, Teller is clear in his advocacy of developing new weapons and testing them to make sure that they work.

Pauling strongly disagreed with Teller’s ideas concerning the development of a clean bomb, which Teller identified as a top reason why testing needed to continue.  Pauling likewise took offense at the use of the word “clean,” pointing out that so-called clean weapons still held the potential to kill millions of innocent people.  Furthermore, these new weapons were only promoting the culture of continued testing and thus, further radioactive fallout.


Though neither Our Nuclear Future nor No More War! pretended to be a cool analysis of fact, both used similar techniques, often based in scientific analysis, to try and persuade readers toward one of two very different points of view.  Both books also might be viewed as an extension of the debate that had been televised between Pauling and Teller in February 1958, with the two scientists continuing to jockey for position through a different public forum.

And while it is clear that Pauling and Teller were never going to agree on the fundamental nuclear issues of the time, both of their books made an impact. The New York Times placed both volumes on its list of outstanding books for the year and, in a different article, named both as among the necessary books with which to acquaint oneself in seeking to understand the nuclear debate.

The Pauling-Teller Debate: Coming Face-to-Face

 

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

[Part 3 of 5]

An informed citizen is a good citizen.  This was a belief held by both Linus Pauling and Edward Teller.  As scientists the two likewise believed that the information they presented to the public must be specific and stripped of rhetoric. On the same token, it was also their obligation to spell out to the public their sense of the threats that loomed during the Cold War and to motivate their audience to respond to those threats. Perhaps most importantly, both men believed it imperative that the information that they provided be up-to-date and reflective of the idea that science is the most reliable source of information for the public.

In many respects then, Pauling and Teller were operating from principles that would seem to have been very close to one another. That the two men would present such differing viewpoints from such a similar basis of belief is illustrative of the confusion that prevailed in American society concerning fallout and nuclear weapons at the time of the Pauling-Teller debate.


The one and only televised debate between Linus Pauling and Edward Teller was held in San Francisco on February 20, 1958, and broadcast live by KQED television, a public broadcasting station located in the city. From the get-go, Pauling had a hard time.

As the debate commenced, Pauling opened with a plea to prevent nuclear war, and emphasized the pressing need that prevention start now.  Pauling’s speech was stilted and awkward though, and he stumbled over his words despite appearing to have been well-rehearsed.  For whatever reason, in his opening statement, Pauling did not come across like a man who was used to speaking in front of others about these ideas, although he gradually appeared more relaxed as the debate progressed.

Edward Teller and Linus Pauling with members of the media and a television crew at their 1958 debate.

Teller also began his opening statement in a staccato cadence similar to that used by his opponent, though he quickly warmed up to the audience and began to speak more candidly.  Teller also succeeded in letting his emotions show more clearly than did Pauling. Although this is not how most scientists of the era would think to present themselves, the display of emotions likely came across as more appealing to the debate audience.

One of the main points that Pauling tried to emphasize in the debate was that the cessation of nuclear development and testing would require the agreement of many people, both inside and outside of the U.S.  Pauling called for a collective effort “to solve international disputes by the application of man’s power of reason in a way that is worthy of the dignity of man.” He went on:

We must solve them by arbitration, negotiation, the development of international law, the making of international agreements that will do justice to all nations and to all peoples and will benefit all nations and all people

This process naturally would require large amounts of work on behalf of many people. Indeed, in order to achieve peace and stability, Pauling argued that levels of resources equivalent to those committed to create nuclear weapons needed to be expended in support of coming to an agreement. A commitment, in other words, “comparable to that of the forty billion dollars a year that we put into armaments.”  Pauling also pointed out that the Soviets had already proposed a cessation in nuclear weapons testing and an end to weapons stockpiling, so neither idea was too radical or forward thinking.

A lasting agreement would also have to transcend political systems.  Pauling saw no problems with coming to terms with the Soviet Union, or any other nation, regardless of politics and policies.  On the contrary, he believed “that we need to have different kinds of political systems…[and] that the way to settle the problem of the differences is not to kill off most of the people in the world, or a large fraction of the people in the world with these terrible nuclear weapons.”

Though Pauling mostly spoke in positive and inclusive tones, he often strayed from this approach to criticize Teller, at times going line-by-line through one or another of Teller’s articles. And while an important part of Pauling’s strategy appears to have been to attack Teller’s previous public statements, he failed to expand beyond this tactic to address certain of the larger issues at hand, such as radioactive fallout or a nuclear weapons test ban.


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San Francisco Chronicle, February 21, 1958.

As the debate moved forward, it was Teller who became more and more precise on the topic of harm from fallout, though this would seem to have been a point of rhetoric favoring Pauling’s point of view. It was at this point that Teller was able to take firm command of the proceedings. As he outlined his arguments, he did not try to discredit or attack Pauling, but instead worked to align himself with his opponent by focusing on their similarities instead of their differences, by characterizing their differences as misconceptions, and by emphasizing the ambiguities in the data they were both using.

Conversely, throughout the evening Pauling painted Teller as a warmonger, quoting him as saying “we must meet the Russians wherever they choose to attack.”  Pauling interpreted this statement as an expression of need to prepare for nuclear war. Teller countered that he supported the development of a wide range of weapons as a means to stave off any possibility of attack.  If the U.S. had developed weapons to deal with any possible scenario, Teller’s logic went, the Soviets would be too afraid to ever attack.

Teller also argued that no one could possibly know for sure what potential harm might arise from nuclear weapons tests, a counterpoint diametrically opposed from Pauling’s dire warnings of negative health impacts from radioactive fallout. Teller pointed out that nuclear weapons had not been around long enough for adequate research to be conducted and that, just as researchers were only then starting to evaluate the results of industrialization, only time would tell what to make of the nuclear age.

For Teller, the threat of a potential attack was a bigger deterrent to a test ban than were the possible threats of continued testing. Likewise, as its military strength improved, the U.S. would become stronger and the world more stable.  Teller agreed with Pauling’s position that the world needed to strive for peace based on mutual understanding.  However, as Teller put it

Peace based on force buys us the necessary time. And in this time we can work for better understanding, for closer collaboration, first with the countries which are closest to us, which we understand better, our allies, the Western countries, the NATO countries, which believe in human liberties as we do.  Then, as soon as possible, with the rest of the free world, and eventually, I hope, with the whole world, including Russia, even though it may take years to come.

Teller concluded the debate by reflecting on the situation in his native Hungary, his own love of liberty, and his belief that continued testing was an exercise of democratic freedom.  His very last line, “I am talking for my freedom, for his [Pauling’s] freedom, and for the freedom of all of us,” emphasized the collective nature of his stance.  So ended the televised debate between Pauling and Teller, but their public engagement with one another was far from concluded.