A Book that Never Was: Pauling’s “Fighting for Peace and Freedom”

peace-freedom

Pauling’s proposed chapter outline of “Fighting for Peace and Freedom,” October 31, 1960.

In 1960 Linus Pauling faced a severe test when he was called before two hearings held by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) and asked to provide a detailed account of the circulation of the United Nations bomb test petition that he and his wife, Ava Helen, sponsored in 1957 and 1958.  The SISS subcommittee was similar in its purview to the more widely known House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which had supported similar efforts in the past.

The Paulings’ petition started out in the United States as an “Appeal by American Scientists to the Government and Peoples of the World,” but as publicity grew, it found an international audience as well.  The petition was submitted to the UN during the heart of the Cold War, and Pauling was called before SISS two years later because some committee members believed the petition to be in alignment with potential communist objectives, mostly because the document did not align with strategies being pursued by the United States military at the time.

Pauling was subpoenaed in June 1960 and, once seated before the committee, was asked to provide the names of all individuals who helped to circulate the bomb test petition across the globe. Pauling refused this request, believing that those who had provided their support to the petitioning effort should not be exposed to the same types of investigations that he was presently facing. Pauling was subpoenaed again in October of that year, and although he was threatened with contempt of Congress, once again he did not reveal the names of his colleagues. By this point, much of the mainstream media was beginning to lean in Pauling’s direction, and the SISS ultimately decided to back off its demands. And so it was that, after a very tense summer, Pauling wound up avoiding legal consequences.


"Dr. Pauling Refuses Senators' Demand for Names of A-Ban Group", The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 22, 1960.

Though he had managed to sidestep legal jeopardy, the SISS experience was an especially bitter one for Pauling. After the first hearing, Pauling was so angry that he briefly considered running for president, seeing no other viable corrective to what he viewed to be an absence of leadership in his country. While this idea quickly passed, Pauling was still moved to action, and during his participation in the second SISS hearing, he made a decision to write a book about his experiences in Congress.  He would title it, Fighting for Peace and Freedom.

Pauling believed that his proposed book would be of interest to a wide readership and would also be a contribution to the public good. He detailed these sentiments in a book proposal that he addressed to August Frugé, director of the University of California Press, on October 4, 1960.  In it, he wrote

I have formed the opinion that people are interested enough in it to be willing to read a book about it, and I plan to begin writing this book.  The book will contain some background material about nuclear war, nuclear tests, the bomb-test petition, and the efforts that I have been making about these matters, and also it will contain an account of my hearing and of legal action in relation to the Internal Security Subcommittee.

Pauling also pointed out that there was precedence for a book of this sort. Specifically, he wanted to model his narrative after Philip Wittenberg’s 1957 publication, The Lamont Case: History of a Congressional Investigation, Corliss Lamont and the McCarthy Hearings, which chronicled Lamont’s appearance before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

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Corliss Lamont

Lamont was an American philosopher and advocate of left-wing and civil liberties causes who frequently clashed with political figures and the CIA during his long life. He was called to testify at McCarthy’s infamous hearings in 1953, during which he denied ever being a Communist, but refused to get into specifics, citing the legal protections provided by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The legal proceedings that arose from his hearing dragged on for two more years and, though Lamont was never formally identified as a communist, he continued to butt heads with the government for several years following.

Using Wittenberg’s book as his model, Pauling proposed that Fighting for Peace and Freedom consist of twelve chapters that would describe the case, present legal documents and a complete transcript of the two hearings, and also include several contextual chapters relating to the whole affair. Pauling felt that it would be useful for readers to have easy access to all this information and, indeed, that it should be made readily available to the public.

The twelve chapter titles that Pauling put forward were as follows:

  1. The Life of a Scientist
  2. The Bomb-Test Petition
  3. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee
  4. My First Hearing—Morning Session
  5. My First Hearing—Afternoon Session
  6. I Go to Court
  7. News Accounts, Editorials, and Advertisements
  8. My Second Hearing—Morning Session
  9. My Second Hearing—Afternoon Session
  10. Senator Dodd’s Crusade
  11. Misuse of Power by Congressional Committees
  12. Peace, Freedom, and Morality

In its proposed form, the book would be lengthy – Pauling put the estimate at about 440 pages, of which roughly 80 would be appendices.  However, he believed he could potentially trim the project down by 10% if need be, without loss of coherence in his argument.  Despite the length of the text and his unrelenting schedule, Pauling hoped to have the manuscript ready to go as soon as possible and aimed to have copy ready to be set in type by December 13, 1960.

Pauling also took pains to point out that Fighting for Peace and Freedom was not going to be a scholarly study; rather, it would be written in an intimate and personal manner.  Furthermore, as Pauling explained to the University of California Press’ Los Angeles editor, Robert Y. Zachary, the writing would be “restrained, and perhaps even to make use occasionally of understatements.” Zachary and August Frugé, director of the press, were both interested in the project and looked forward to reading the manuscript once Pauling had it completed.

As it turned out, California was not the only press that was interested in pursuing Pauling’s newest book. Pauling also approached Cornell, a university press with a known predilection for printing works that dealt with issues concerning civil rights.  Cornell, which had also published Pauling’s monumental Nature of the Chemical Bond beginning in 1939, was also interested in reading the manuscript when it was ready.

Despite these favorable responses and his own initial vigor in pursuing the project, Pauling never completed the manuscript; indeed, there is no indication that he ever even started it. There is no obvious indication as to what happened, although it would seem likely that the very cluttered nature of his calendar halted any momentum in its tracks. Pauling’s letter to Zachary was mailed on November 2, 1960 and proposed a December 13 deadline.  During that span of less than one and a half months, Pauling made trips to Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, Washington, British Columbia, and Illinois.

Amidst this heavy press of work, one might suppose that, just as with his aborted interest in pursuing the presidency, Pauling’s zest for writing the book started to flag, and by the end of the year, the story of Pauling’s appearance before the SISS had increasingly become old news.  As such, it remains for us today to continue wondering exactly how he would have characterized his Congressional hearings in the larger fight for peace and freedom.

 

The Petition

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling working on “An Appeal by American Scientists to the Government and Peoples of the World”. 1957.

Creative Nonfiction by Melinda Gormley and Melissae Fellet.

St. Louis, March 15, 1957

Sun streamed in through a stained glass window of the chapel at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri on a pleasant and sunny Wednesday afternoon in mid-May 1957. About 1,000 people listened to Linus Pauling, the 1954 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, deliver a fiery speech urging an end to nuclear weapons testing. The years of political activities were taking their toll on 56-year-old Pauling. His white hair was thinning and deep wrinkles lined his forehead, yet he still dressed smartly in a suit and tie.

“If you explode a bomb in the upper atmosphere, you can’t control it,” Pauling explained to the rapt crowd. “The fallout radiation, Strontium-90, and similar things, spread over the world, drop down,” he noted with sing-song, rapid delivery. “Everybody in the world now has Strontium-90 in his bones, radioactive material, AND NOBODY had it…15 years ago…10 years ago. Strontium-90 did not exist. This is a new hazard to the human race, a new hazard to the health of people, and scientists need to talk about it.”

Strontium-90 was a particularly insidious component of fallout particles because it behaved like calcium in the body, seeping into bones and teeth and emitting radiation for decades. Scientists knew that large doses of radiation damaged human DNA and caused cancer. However, little research had been done on the health impacts of long-term exposure to low levels of radiation released by fallout. That left scientists concerned about the potential for genetic mutations due to fallout radiation, but they were unable to make definitive statements about health effects should innocent people be exposed to the radioactive particles.

Pauling, however, was confident that there was enough information to support what his conscience already knew: nuclear weapons tests were not worth the risk to one person, let alone humanity.

The assembly greeted Pauling’s message with an uproarious standing ovation. Some people filed out of the chapel. Others lingered. “What can I do?” “What actions can we take?” asked several of the students and faculty members.

These questions got Pauling thinking about a conversation he’d had the day before with Barry Commoner, a fellow activist and professor of biology at the university. Like Pauling, Commoner was outspoken about the need to stop testing nuclear weapons. The men had discussed writing a petition and getting it signed by American scientists. They hoped a public pronouncement would bring attention to the issue by revealing that many scientists agreed about the dangers of fallout. If thought leaders were forced to discuss the matter, then action, preferably ending weapons tests, might be possible.

Sitting around the dinner table at Barry Commoner’s home on the evening after Pauling’s speech, the conversation again turned to what scientists could do. Pauling suggested writing an appeal, sending it to American scientists asking them to sign it.

After eating, some scribbled phrases and others wrote paragraphs for the petition. Pauling turned their ideas into a short statement of 248 words that called for an international agreement to stop the testing of nuclear bombs between the three main powers, the United States, Soviet Union, and Great Britain.

The message proved timely. The next day most major American newspapers announced on their front page: Britain Explodes Its First Hydrogen Bomb in Pacific. These “dirty” bombs were 1,000 times more powerful than the first atomic bombs. They also released a greater amount of radioactive fallout. As of that day—May 15, 1957—all three nations addressed in the petition had tested hydrogen bombs.

Back in St. Louis, the scientists agreed on the final text of their appeal. They mimeographed it, attached a cover letter, and mailed copies of the petition to colleagues with similar politics and passions. Within one week, Pauling received several signed petitions at his house in Pasadena, California.

He prepared more copies of the petition, this time including the names of the first 25 signers. With the help of his wife, students and others at Caltech, they mailed out many copies of the petition, each with the names of the first twenty-five signers.

Envelope after envelope arrived at the Paulings’ house. It’s possible the mailbox overflowed with them because within ten days Pauling and his wife, Ava Helen, had signatures from more than 2,000 American scientists. The response overwhelmed them (and likely the mailman too!). Each envelope contained a petition with one, five, ten, twenty, and sometimes thirty or more, signatures. Sheets of paper piled up on the Paulings’ desk.

In early June, Pauling sent a copy of the petition with a list of the 2,000 signatures to Chet Holifield, a California congressman and chairman of the subcommittee studying the hazards of fallout. The press picked up the story, reporting it widely.

The petition also found support overseas. European scientists crossed out “American” in the title and first sentence of the petition, signed the altered version, and returned it to Pauling. Forty Belgian scientists of the Free University of Brussels signed a proclamation declaring their support for the petition.

Pauling and his wife, Ava Helen, hired a secretary to expand the campaign sending about 500 more letters and petitions to scientists around the world. Their effort more than quadrupled the number of signees.

In mid-January 1958, just eight months after his speech in St. Louis, Pauling and Ava Helen traveled to New York City to present the petition to the head of the United Nations. The next day the front page of New York Times reported “9,000 Scientists of 43 Lands Ask Nuclear Bomb Tests Be Stopped.” Linus Pauling with lots of help from family and friends had converted the passion sparked by one speech into the largest organized political movement among scientists in a decade.

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.

Barry Commoner, 1917-2012

Barry Commoner, ca. 1960s.

On September 30, 2012, Barry Commoner, an important environmentalist and key collaborator with Linus Pauling on the famous United Nations bomb test petition, died in Manhattan.

Commoner, born on May 28, 1917 in Brooklyn, was interested in science from a young age, spending hours examining life through the lens of a microscope. He worked his way through college and earned his bachelor’s degree in Zoology from Columbia University in 1937. From there he took his Ph. D. in cellular biology from Harvard University in 1941.

After receiving his doctorate, Commoner taught for a few years at Queen’s College, to which he would return later in life. He served in the Naval Air Corps during World War II and moved on to teaching at Washington University in St. Louis shortly after war’s end. In 1966 he became the founding director of the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, a research institute that continues to this day to investigate and remedy occupational and environmental threats to public health.

Commoner was not just an influential scientist, but a noteworthy grassroots activist as well. He has been called “the Paul Revere of Ecology” and the “father of the environmental movement” for promoting awareness of key environmental issues such as radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing, the consequences of nuclear energy, waste management and recycling, and the overall environmental impact of human existence.  He strongly believed in the importance of democracy and the need to empower informed choice through the free dissemination of scientific information. He advocated for scientific collaboration on key issues which affect the global population.


Original sponsors of the United Nations Bomb Test Petition.

Commoner’s first major activity as an activist was thrust upon him following Linus Pauling’s famed anti-nuclear speech at Washington University on May 15, 1957. Directly after the lecture, Pauling, Commoner and a fellow professor, Edward Condon, met in Commoner’s office to draft the “Appeal by American Scientists to the Governments and Peoples of the World,” a petition demanding the cessation of nuclear bomb testing worldwide. The three scientists were inspired by mounting evidence of negative health consequences caused by radioactive fallout from nuclear tests conducted in Earth’s atmosphere. This petition was immediately signed by about 100 scientists at Washington University.

Within a week, Commoner had formulated a plan to collect the signatures of scientists nationwide by sending out Pauling’s finalized petition to contacts a multiple universities. By the end of June, 2,000 signatures had been obtained and Commoner and Pauling began to spread the petition all over the world. “We were all as pleased as you must have been to discover how many signatures had been obtained on the Appeal,” Commoner wrote to Pauling at the time. “We are all quite convinced that the Appeal expresses a very widely held view among scientists.”

He was right: by January 13, 1958 the petition had been signed by 9,235 people and by July 3, 1958 it had been signed by 11,038 people from 49 nations.

Linus Pauling sent copies of the massive petition to President Dwight Eisenhower and United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, but initially received little support from either the federal government or the UN.  Congressional hearings on nuclear fallout held contemporary to the petition did not yield sufficient evidence to stop the United States’  testing program, leaving the community of activists to continue their fight.


Time magazine cover, February 2, 1970.

Barry Commoner was a vocal proponent of the widespread dissemination of scientific information to the public. He believed that as many people as possible should be involved in the dialogue over moral decisions, such as the hazards of fallout and the political necessity of nuclear bomb testing. In a speech given at a symposium of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Committee on the Social Impacts of Science, held in Indianapolis on December 29, 1957, Commoner advocated for continued research on nuclear testing and for open communication about this research.

What appears to trouble the public is not that political opponents have disagreed on the nuclear test issue, but that the opinions of scientists have been marshaled on both sides of the debate. This appears to violate science’s traditional devotion to objectively discernible truth…In this situation the available facts are often not sufficient conclusively to support or contradict a given explanatory idea, and therefore opposing ideas will for the time flourish together…The remedy is apparent if not easy: more research…What we call a scientific truth emerges from the scientists’ insistence on free publication of their own observations. This permits the rest of the scientific community to check the data and evaluate the interpretations so that eventually a commonly held body of facts and ideas come into being…The development of a scientific truth is a direct outcome of the degree of communication which normally exists in science…The public must be given enough information about the need for testing and the hazards of fallout to permit every citizen to decide for himself whether nuclear tests should go on or be stopped…scientists must take pains to disclaim any special moral wisdom on this matter [because]…a public informed on this issue is the only true source of moral wisdom that must determine our nation’s policy on the testing – and the ultimate use of – nuclear weapons.

In February 1958, Commoner began to organize The Citizen’s Committee for Atomic Information to educate the people of St. Louis about the realities of radioactive fallout. This committee, along with two St. Louis area dental schools, went on to conduct the Baby Tooth Survey, which investigated the concentrations of Strontium-90 found in the human body as a result of nuclear fallout.  This philosophy of promoting grassroots direct democracy would guide Commoner’s environmental efforts for the rest of his life.

Although the United Nations Bomb Test Petition did not affect immediate policy change, it did yield important lasting effects. In 1963, Linus Pauling won the Nobel Peace Prize for his nuclear test ban petition efforts. The prize came in the wake of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited above-ground nuclear explosions and was signed to by the governments of the U.S., U.K. and U.S.S.R. This treaty was influenced both by the bomb test petition and by the Baby Tooth Survey.

Barry Commoner spent the rest of his life advocating for social justice in many areas, including environmental pollution, war, and racial and sexual inequality – all of which he believed were interconnected issues. He wrote five books about the intersection of environmental causes and social politics and ran for U.S. President as the head of his own Citizen’s Party in 1980, receiving 234,000 votes. Commoner advocated a prevention-based approach to environmental sustainability that never fully caught on politically in the U.S., but which a growing number now believe may be a key to solving many of the economic and environmental problems that we face today.

Aftermath of the June SISS Hearing

"Nobel Winner Defies Probers," Baltimore Sun, June 22, 1960.

[Part 5 of 5]

Shortly after his first appearance before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, Linus Pauling’s counsel succeeded in postponing the scheduled follow-up hearing from August to October, 1960. The extra time gave Pauling room to plan for his upcoming defense, and to resume plans he had made before being served with the SISS subpoena.

In due course, he attended rallies and events to which he had previously been committed, making sure to discuss his dispute with Senator Thomas Dodd whenever a chance presented itself. He also encouraged people to write to their representatives in protest of his treatment, and gave many critical interviews to the media. Pauling was gaining popular support, evident in part from the positive mention he received in editorials and letters to the editor across the country, including this write-up in the Washington Post.

Justice is best served at times by those who defy authority. Prof. Linus Pauling offered a splendid illustration of the point, we think, when he refused the other day to give the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee the names of persons who had helped him circulate a petition in favor of the abandonment of nuclear weapons tests.

Pauling felt that he had been subjected to a great injustice. Though he had remained calm and civil during the questioning, his anger took little time to surface after the encounter. He resented the hearing in a general sense, and was particularly embittered by a few particular aspects of the experience. He took his time reading over the hearing transcripts, slowly digesting the implications of the Subcommittee’s line of questioning. After combing through his testimony, Pauling wrote a letter to the SISS that was eventually attached to his testimony, and thus made part of the public record. The letter expressed his sense of victimization, detailing six specific points from the Subcommittee questioning that he found to be exceptionally inappropriate.

Pauling took special offense to the title that was given to his hearing, “Communist Infiltration and Use of Pressure Groups,” a decision by the Subcommittee that seemed particularly baleful and malfeasant. Pauling emphasized that the Subcommittee had both no substantive reason to suspect that he was involved with communism or communist conspiracy, and that no new evidence connecting him to communist activity was revealed by the end of the hearing.

Another criticism that Pauling listed was a question posed by the Subcommittee, which suggested that he had omitted Soviet signatures from the United Nations Bomb Test Petition when it was released to the press. The Subcommittee had in fact obtained a complete copy of the petition, which included the Soviet signatures, three months prior to the hearing. Pauling considered these three months ample time to clarify such an obvious error well before his questioning, and made his perception of the matter explicit:

Damage was done to me by your false statement and by my having been questioned on the basis of your false statement. No matter whether the false statement was made (by your Chief Counsel) through gross carelessness or through malignancy, I protest this action.

A similar point of contention involved a letter that the Subcommittee introduced into the record, which it had received from a staff member of the United Nations. It stated that while Pauling had listed a certain number of petition signatures in his original press release, the United Nations had only received a portion of that number – an error that, as it turned out, was attributable to the UN. Though the staff member’s mistake was eventually clarified for the record, Pauling was later informed that the Subcommittee had been previously aware of the error. Indeed, a complete and accurate list of the names, matching those specified in Pauling’s press release, had been in front of the Subcommittee during the hearing. Pauling accused the Subcommittee members of intentionally entering the untrue statement into the record in order to damage him, by defaming his reputation and casting doubt upon his integrity.

"Opinions Split on Dr. Pauling," Los Angeles Mirror News, July 6, 1960.

Lastly, Pauling addressed the Subcommittee’s threat, by intimation, of imprisonment. During the hearing, a Subcommittee member had asked Pauling if he was familiar or acquainted with Dr. Willard Uphaus. The question was posed after Pauling had displayed a continued reluctance to reveal the list of individuals who had delivered more than one signature to the petition. Pauling answered that he did know of Dr. Uphaus, though he made no open recognition of the question’s implication. Dr. Uphaus was, at the time of the hearing, in jail for a transgression – contempt of court – similar to the one it seemed Pauling was about to commit. Pauling closed his letter to the SISS with a biting critique of the question and its inference:

I consider this veiled threat, this intimation of the fate that awaited me if I did not conform to the demands of the Subcommittee, to be unworthy of the Senate of the United States of America. My respect for Senator [Norris] Cotton would be greater than it now is if he had said straightforwardly that for me to refuse to give the Subcommittee the information demanded by it might lead to my citation for contempt of the Senate and to a prison sentence. I prefer straightforward statements of fact to veiled threats and attempted intimidation. I prefer the forthright search for the truth to the sort of trickery and misrepresentation that in my opinion has been revealed by the proceedings in my hearing before your Subcommittee.

On top of his continued interactions with the press and his efforts to revise the published hearing testimony for the public record, Pauling also took direct legal action after the first hearing. In particular, he sought a declaratory court judgment that would affirm his right to refuse the Subcommittee’s request. In so doing, he was attempting to clarify his position and reduce his risk in the matter, but the District Court and Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia both ruled against him. He appealed and, at the start of his second hearing in October, his case was pending before the US Supreme Court.

Pauling also continued to travel during the interlude between his hearings, visiting London and Geneva, where he furthered the discussion of an atomic test-ban treaty with American, British and Soviet officials. He received a great deal of support during the trip, and the pressure from the hearing, as well as the threat of imprisonment, seemed to lessen as a result.

Though Senator Dodd attempted to address Pauling’s growing campaign against the Subcommittee, increasing his rate of public retaliation as the second hearing date grew closer, he found that he could not match Pauling’s intensity and drive. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, Pauling was trying very hard to avoid jail time. At the same time, he was defending his reputation (and thus his very livelihood) as a scientist, academic and activist. Dodd’s political gambit for an increased share of national spotlight, however much buttressed by honest concerns about communist subversion, was no match for Pauling’s grasp of the situation’s severity.

As the second hearing drew closer, Pauling’s resolve continued to strengthen. Pauling’s supporters, on the other hand, remained anxious, as the outcome of his fate, which lay at the discretion of Senator Dodd and the SISS, remained elusive.

The SISS Ordeal: Background to a Trying Time

Pauling testifies before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, 1960.

[Ed Note: June 21, 2010 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Pauling’s first appearance before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee.  We are marking the occasion with a five-part series that tells the story of this important and traumatic experience.]

[Part 1 of 5]

In 1956 and 1957, Linus Pauling helped organize a petition which protested against above-ground nuclear bomb testing by the world’s nuclear powers. The project was first endorsed only by American scientists, but became an international appeal shortly after the completion of a robust initial release.

Though many found the display inspirational, others questioned the petition’s motives and organization. Pauling was not alone in crafting the document, but much of both the praise and the criticism that it generated was directed at him. The petition remained a contentious issue into the following decade, as Pauling became entangled with members of the United States Senate over questions concerning the petition’s distribution.

As was the standard for him after World War II, Linus Pauling was kept busy in the late 1950s by a frenzied mixture of research, public speaking and social demonstration. He remained actively engaged in academia, but was directing more and more attention to nuclear non-proliferation issues.

Pauling’s main concern at the time was the tepid response from public officials and the Atomic Energy Commission to what he viewed to be a major problem – radioactive fallout from atomic bomb detonations. After conferring with two scientific colleagues, Barry Commoner and Edward Condon, it was concluded that, because of their insight and technical knowledge of the dangers involved, the nation’s scientists bore a special responsibility to speak out about nuclear testing.

As a result, Pauling and several associates began circulating a petition. Copies were distributed to individual scientists across several states, and soon large swaths of scientists from several universities and institutions began responding en masse. The petition’s purpose was made very clear from the outset of its introduction:

We, the American scientists whose names are signed below, urge that an international agreement to stop the testing of nuclear bombs be made now.

The initial document, “Appeal by American Scientists to the Government and Peoples of the World,” came back to Pauling adorned with over two-thousand signatures, including those of several prominent members of the scientific community. After a short interlude, the petition was supplemented by an international version, ultimately raising the total to a tally of more than 13,000 signatures.

The endeavor was seen as a huge success by advocates, but it also instigated a new movement against Pauling, one propelled by several public agencies and officials. In particular, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) began focusing more attention on Pauling, though it was not the first time he had found a place on their agenda. In 1955 the SISS released a tract titled “The Communist Party of the United States of America: What It Is, and How It Works.” Linus Pauling’s name was on a list of individuals said to be among the most active participants and supporters of communist fronts.

Similarly, when Pauling and his associates released their nuclear test ban petition in June 1957, they were met with substantial criticism from a wide variety of opinion makers. Initially Pauling’s scientific authority on the issue was the primary in question. Soon enough though, Pauling was being accused of communist conspiracy, and was subpoenaed by the SISS to discuss the potential role of communist organizations in the petition’s distribution. Pauling expressed his willingness to appear before the subcommittee, but unforeseen senatorial politics eventually interceded, forcing a temporary delay of his compulsory appearance in Washington, DC.

The SISS itself was essentially the Senate version of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), having served similar purposes in the past. Indeed, in 1960 the committee was composed of many staff members recycled from past HUAC activities. Most notably, Senator Thomas Dodd, chairman of the Subcommittee at the time, conferred regularly with former HUAC investigator Benjamin Mandel. Senator Dodd and others were also working periodically with the FBI in a joint effort against suspected communist subversion.

Before they refocused on Pauling, Dodd and the SISS were popularly credited with instigating the dissolution of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), a collection of locally oriented anti-bomb protest groups. Dodd worked discretely with SANE’s national leadership in providing the organization with an ultimatum:  either cull itself of alleged communist membership or risk a prolonged investigation by federal authorities. SANE’s leadership chose to impose loyalty oaths, a move that split the entire organization, leaving the severed parts largely incapacitated. After the subcommittee’s apparent victory, Dodd and his counsel were emboldened enough to focus their full attentions on Pauling.

Following a speech given to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in the spring of 1960, Pauling was handed several fliers, a poem, some news clippings and other random papers while answering people’s questions. That night, after returning to his hotel room, he found a subpoena addressed to him within the clutter.

Subpeona issued to Linus Pauling by the Internal Security Subcommittee of the United States Senate. June 20, 1960.

The subpoena adjured his appearance before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee on June 21st, two days from then, to address:

Communist participation in, or support of, propaganda campaign against nuclear testing, and other Communist or Communist-front activity with respect to which you [Pauling] may have knowledge.

Abraham Lincoln Wirin, a lawyer who had helped Pauling through an earlier dispute, flew directly to Washington, DC the next day. The duo discussed Pauling’s options and decided to utilize the press as much as possible, a tactic that had proven fruitful for Pauling in the past. Though Pauling was given very short notice, he and Wirin were able to devise what seemed to be a simple but promising broader strategy. They decided to make the entire affair as public as possible, cooperate to whatever extent was appropriate, and maintain the integrity of Pauling’s constitutional rights. Though he was alarmed, Pauling felt reasonably prepared for the engagement ahead of him.

Pauling and Environmental Justice

Promotional flyer for Linus Pauling's Verve recording on fallout and nuclear warfare. 1960.

(Ed. note: Toshihiro Higuchi of Georgetown University, a 2009 Pauling Resident Scholar award winner, spent a month in Oregon State University’s Valley Library this past summer working with the Pauling Papers. The following is excerpted from his final research report.)

Archival research is always full of unexpected discoveries about the past, and my project at OSU was no exception. Of particular surprise was Linus Pauling’s deep involvement in environmental justice through the Fallout Suits, twice attempted in 1958 and in 1962.

While the courts of justice have always marked turning points in the history of racial and gender justice – Brown v. Board and Roe v. Wade, to name but a few – “an appeal to law” has been long underappreciated among scholars in their studies of peace activism and environmentalism. Pauling’s Fallout Suits, indeed, are usually considered as a sideshow overshadowed by his more famous worldwide petition campaign among scientists.

Two archival boxes in the Pauling papers regarding the Suits, however, revealed the judicial aspect of Pauling’s risk knowledge and grassroots activism regarding the danger of radioactive fallout.

brochure

Fallout Suits brochure, 1958.

While both the executive and legislative branches adopted a “wait and see” policy in hope of ascertaining the nature and extent of fallout hazards, Pauling and other “risk entrepreneurs,” acting against the inertia in the majority opinion and the pressure of time, found the judiciary branch as the only untried venue of power. The courts of justice alone could establish a legal fact about hazards and link it to an immediate action – injunction. This unique character of the judiciary power was believed to break the impasse in the other branches because of the inconclusiveness of scientific proof.

The legal recourse, however, was by no means simply tactical. The plaintiffs identified the legal source of the fallout problem – it was the conflict of interest and the absence of due process of law which placed the atomic energy agencies of all three nuclear powers above the rule of law in the name of national security. In the course of the legal fight, the plaintiffs in the Fallout Suits also posed a fundamental challenge to court jurisprudence. The unprecedented nature and scope of risk involved in nuclear fallout pointed to a new direction of jurisprudence beyond the traditional tort law.

The Fallout Suits, in short, aimed at no less than a sweeping legal groundwork for environmental justice at the time when there was no National Environmental Protection Act. Indeed, some archival findings revealed an unknown parallelism between the Fallout Suits and the DDT litigation, both intending to bring about a groundbreaking change in court jurisprudence.

autoradiograph

Autoradiograph used to measure radioactive fallout, 1953.

My study in Corvallis also points to a promising direction of future research: the life-long association of Linus Pauling with litigation. Without doubt, many remember such an association as an unnecessary burden upon Pauling, as most cases related to libel and defamation.

As the case of the Fallout Suits vividly shows, however, Pauling was far from a passive victim in the courts. Indeed, Pauling successfully threatened to bring the case to court at the same time that the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee was using the tactics of red-baiting in its attempt to force him to disclose the names of those who collected signatures for the United Nations Bomb Test petition.

In the course of his involvement in numerous legal cases, Pauling became extremely well-versed with legal resources and approaches. Indeed, the Pauling papers include a vast amount of material relating to Pauling’s legal cases. Further research on this legal dimension of Pauling’s life and career would promise fruitful results.