Papers for Peace: Vietnam, Linus Pauling, and Thích Nhất Hạnh’s Burning Lotus


[Ed Note: This is the second of three Pauling-related posts authored by SCARC Student Archivist Ethan Heusser for the Rare@OSU blog, which explores the rare book collections held in the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center.]

Though people often come to SCARC to access our collection of two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling’s documents and correspondence, an important but oft-overlooked part of the archive is his personal library. It contains an incredibly diverse amount of material, including history, fiction, science, psychology, drama, and activism. That last category is particularly important given Pauling’s shift toward peace and anti-nuclear activism in his mid-40s; a closer examination of the books in his library from that point onward offers a possible view of the mental landscape that gave his peace activism its sustained intensity.

One salient example is “Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire” by Buddhist monk and activist Thích Nhất Hạnh. Published in 1967, the book offers a piercing look into the real experience of Vietnamese people mid-crisis and how this commonly overlooked mindset contributed to the continually escalating Vietnam conflict.

It begins by discussing “the historical setting” of religion in Vietnam before quickly pivoting to the rise of communist-capitalist tensions as global powers began to get increasingly involved. Hanh uses this context to address inaccurate perceptions held by the American public about Vietnam’s cultural climate; for example, he demonstrates that the majority of NLF (National Liberation Front) soldiers were not in fact fighting for communism, but rather for the end of American occupation. In escalating the conflict for the sake of fighting communism, therefore, the U.S. occupying force only drove the people of Vietnam against it more.

Hanh also undermines the misconception that non-affiliated Vietnamese citizens helped the NLF because of coercion; rather, they assisted the NLF because of the promise of achieving national independence. (In his view, this perspective mainly developed due to the historical presence of French imperialism in Vietnam. He claims that people in Vietnam associate American presence with age-old French oppression, thereby carrying that anger and resentment directly over.)

“Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire” was published at a critical point in American history and in the history of the Vietnam conflict. It complicated the overly-simplistic narrative presented by American media, arguing that the best solution for Vietnam is a neutral one free from the control of both capitalist and communist superpowers. To Hanh, this neutral solution involves establishing an interim government truly representative of the people of Vietnam in order to conduct a free and fair election. He advocates for the emergence of engaged Buddhism as a necessary part of this change. (“Engaged Buddhism” was first coined by Hanh as a philosophy that asks Buddhists to use the principles of their faith to fight injustice and ameliorate inequity.)

There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the edition of “Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire” in our archives, but its presence in Pauling’s personal library can perhaps reveal some of the thoughts and ideas that inspired his anti-Vietnam War activism. Both Linus and Ava Pauling were strong public critics of the Johnson administration’s escalation in Vietnam – and books such as this make it easy to see why. Firsthand accounts from peace activists like Hanh make it difficult to interpret America’s role in the conflict as something other than immoral and ineffective.

It’s inaccurate to assume a person agrees with a book simply because it exists in one’s library – but taking this book in context of the tenor of Pauling’s larger collection as well as the vehement discourse he used in fighting for peace can perhaps shed some light on how the sharing of ideas from peace activists around the world allows for stronger resistance against global injustice.

Pauling, Stanford and Activism – Part 2


Linus Pauling and others protesting the dismissal of H. Bruce Franklin, September 1971. Credit: Stanford University Libraries.

[The seventh and final post in our series on Linus Pauling’s association with Stanford University.]

In the wake of a series of heated and, at times, violent anti-war protests on and near campus, university president Richard W. Lyman moved to have tenured English professor H. Bruce Franklin dismissed from the Stanford faculty. In so doing, Lyman accused Franklin of having incited violence during a speech that he had given. Lyman also viewed Franklin as an enduring threat to others at Stanford.

Linus Pauling disagreed with this course of action and decided to question Lyman directly. In a handwritten note generated in preparation for remarks delivered to the Academic Senate, Pauling stressed that

The ‘misbehavior’ which he [Franklin] is accused was not in connection with his academic duties. It is my understanding that Professor Franklin has not been charged with misbehavior or neglect or malfeasance in connection with his teaching or other academic duties.

Neither did Pauling see “any credible justification” that Franklin was a threat to others. As such, Pauling concluding that Lyman’s case stood as “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violation of the principles of academic freedom and individual rights – a really dangerous introduction of authoritarianism in the University.”

Pauling had also saved a copy of a letter that Franklin wrote to Lyman at the end of February 1971. In it, Franklin accused the president of using the press – and especially the Stanford University media apparatus – as a lever to turn Stanford’s faculty against him. Instead of taking this approach, Franklin felt that Lyman should issue his accusations directly, rather than operating in innuendos such as “acting in an unlawful manner” and “playing a role in tragic events.”

Franklin further noted that these vague charges, as issued by Lyman, would appear in affidavits submitted for his forthcoming court appearance, thus putting Franklin in a position that he characterized as “First the sentence, then the defense, and finally the charges.”


Bruce Franklin at a Stanford University demonstration, February 1971. Credit: Stanford University Libraries.

Franklin’s day before a judge came the next week, but he was not fighting a solitary battle. The day before, Pauling and fifty-four others had appeared in court on his behalf in an attempt to block an injunction that had been issued against him and over 1,000 others. Pauling and his colleagues argued that the injunction would have “no effect on the underlying causes of campus unrest. If anything, it may serve to hinder the analysis and correction of Stanford problems.”

The group further described their action as having been inspired by the lack of a response by academics against the Nazis in the 1930s. In tandem, over 100 members of the Academic Council at Stanford issued their own warning against Lyman’s actions, stating that his decrees would “create an institutional orthodoxy which makes ‘heretics’ out of those who disagree.”

The following day, Franklin made his appearance in court. A subsequent press release described a portion of Franklin’s closing argument in which he stated

I would say frankly that when I read of the bombing of the [U.S.] Senate yesterday [by the Weather Underground], I thought that that was a wonderful act and I understand that according to what is left of our rights in this country, that one supposedly has the right not only to believe that, but to say what I just said. The advocates of free speech are not prepared to allow free speech to people who think those thoughts and say those things… when a peaceful sit-in or advocacy of a strike is threatened as criminal behavior, the state teaches us a lesson – that our revolutionary analysis is correct and that at some time we should advocate immediate armed struggle against the state.

When the petition to the Advisory Board in support of Franklin was delivered at the end of April, faculty members also addressed the Academic Council on the matter. A statement that Pauling saved from this meeting described how faculty were most “concerned with the intimidating effect upon all of us, in carrying out our obligations to our consciences and to the University community, if the exercise of the First Amendment rights on this campus can be penalized by loss of tenure and dismissal.”

They likewise invoked the Nuremberg trials as a precedent to question Henry Cabot Lodge’s role in “criminal war policies,” and cited the First Amendment in support of Franklin having protested Lodge’s appearance at Stanford.

About a month later, with the situation at Stanford beginning to calm down, Pauling gave the commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley, stressing his own commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts. In his address, Pauling stressed a basic belief system that had guided him for decades:

I believe that it is possible to formulate a fundamental principle of morality, acceptable by all human beings, and that this principle of morality can and should be used as a basis for making all decisions. The principle is this: that decisions among alternative courses of action should be made in such ways as to minimize the predicted amounts of human suffering.

In early June, at about the same time as Pauling’s speech, Bruce Franklin was formally suspended from Stanford without pay. That September, at the beginning of the next academic year, Pauling voiced his continuing objection to Franklin’s treatment by adding his name to a “Statement of Faculty Opposed to Political Firings.”


The statement not only addressed the Franklin affair, but also the firing of Sam Bridges, an African-American janitor at the Stanford Medical Center. In so doing, the statement connected the Franklin and Bridges incidents, noting that they were both “sharp reminders of the acute problems of racism and war” and arguing that “the time and energy of the University should be directed towards the solution of the problems, not toward the punishment of protesters.”

Pauling does not appear to have been as involved in the Bridges case, but he did save newspaper clippings and statements issued by Stanford Medical Center officials surrounding the April 1971 affair. According to a Stanford Daily article published after the incident, Bridges had been speaking with fellow employees about racist hiring policies at the medical center.

Specifically, Bridges told his colleagues that he had been prevented from advancing within the hospital while others from the outside had been brought in to fill vacancies for which he was qualified; vacancies that would have served as a step up the ladder for Bridges. Other employees responded with similar stories, and Bridges shared them as well. Not everyone that Bridges spoke with was sympathetic however, and some complained. Within a week of these complaints being issued, Bridges was fired without any possibility of submitting a grievance.

The Black Advisory Council at the medical center investigated the firing and found that there had been several complaints against Bridges for not doing his work and for being verbally abusive. Some of these statements were subsequently withdrawn, an action that precipitated an occupation of the medical center building with the occupiers calling for Bridges to be rehired.

Once the occupation had passed its thirtieth hour, police cleared the space using tear gas and by breaking down the door of the office in which the occupiers had sealed themselves. Afterwards, the medical center allowed Bridges to pursue grievance procedures. He chose not to pursue this option, believing that it would not lead anywhere productive. Instead, he devoted more of his time to coordination efforts with the medical center’s Black Worker’s Caucus.

While the Bridges affair resolved itself fairly quickly, Bruce Franklin’s case dragged into the next year. In January 1972, nearly a year to the day of his initial demonstration again Henry Cabot Lodge, the Faculty Advisory Board voted to formally dismiss Franklin, effective August 1972. With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, Franklin attempted to fight the decision, but to no avail.

Pauling saved a March 1972 article from Science which reported that Franklin “hoped” for violence in response to his dismissal, and that arson and vandalism on campus had indeed followed. The article also quoted Pauling on the decision, which he described as “A great blow, not just to academic freedom, but to freedom of speech.”

Pauling, Stanford and Activism – Part 1


[Part 6 of 7 in our series reviewing Linus Pauling’s years on faculty at Stanford University.]

It should come as no surprise that, while at Stanford, Linus Pauling kept a close watch on political activism, both on and around campus. While much of the material that Pauling saved would suggest that he was mostly an observer, a look through the Stanford Daily archives shows that, in fact, he continued to speak on topics related to peace and non-violent protest.

During the years of Pauling’s association with Stanford, both faculty and students alike were involved in demonstrations related to the Vietnam War, which expanded into Cambodia in early 1970, Pauling’s first academic year in Palo Alto. Pauling collected a number of newspaper clippings documenting the protests and occupations that arose that spring in response. Pauling also retained a copy of a letter that Stanford President Kenneth S. Pitzer had sent to President Richard Nixon in which he asked Nixon not to further extend the United States military’s presence in Southeast Asia, arguing that it would only serve to further polarize the citizens from their government.

Around this time, Pauling also received a letter from a group called The Vigilantes, who wrote

We are coming to Stanford to show you our form of demonstration and violence. The first one to get the bullet between the eyes will be you… We know all about you from San Diego… Your days are numbered… we’ll get you.

Though unsettling, this was far from the first time that Pauling had received a death threat. It is unclear who the group exactly was or why they had decided to target Pauling. Fortunately, nothing more came of their threat.


H. Bruce Franklin being interviewed at a press conference, January 1971. Credit: Stanford University Libraries.

It appears that Pauling kept out of much of the direct action, but remained a close observer of those who did participate in demonstrations and how they were treated. One key incident in particular involved a tenured English professor, H. Bruce Franklin, who had been involved in several demonstrations protesting the U. S. military’s actions in Southeast Asia. Pauling collected and saved numerous press releases, newspaper articles, and other documents related to Franklin.

Franklin appears to have first come to Pauling’s attention in early January 1971. At that time, a group of faculty and students had disrupted a speech given at the Hoover Institute by Henry Cabot Lodge, the U.S. Special Envoy to the Vatican. Previously, Lodge had served as ambassador to Vietnam, having been appointed by President Kennedy in 1963. In this capacity, Lodge was involved in the development of both diplomatic and war strategies relating to the Vietnam up through the late 1960s.

After being interrupted during his speech, Lodge moved to a smaller room to continue his talk, commenting that those who shouted over him were “afraid of the truth.” Bruce Franklin was among those subsequently charged by Stanford’s administration for interfering with the event.

In explaining his actions to Richard W. Lyman, by then the Stanford president, Franklin argued that his own “heckling” was not in any way a punishable offense. Lyman disagreed with Franklin’s use of the term “heckling,” and specified that he had been charged with “deliberately contributing to the disturbance which forced the cancellation of the speech.” Lyman continued,

the gravity of the charge cannot be lessened by giving it an amusing-sounding name, for it is an offense that strikes at the University’s obligation to maintain itself as an open forum.

The Stanford president believed that Franklin’s offense was severe enough as to merit suspension without pay for the academic quarter following the resolution of the case. John Keilch, a 24-year-old University Library staff member who was alleged to have also participated in the demonstration, faced a similar suspension. Six students were likewise punished.


Franklin continued to speak out in the midst of all this. At the end of January, he took part in a demonstration with about 200 others in support of Los Siete — six Latino youths who had been charged with armed robbery and car theft. At the event, demonstrators clashed with police and Franklin was charged with felonious assault for elbowing a police officer in the ribs while the officer pushed Franklin in the back with a baton.

According to the Stanford Daily, Los Siete had previously been acquitted of murdering a police officer, and the new charges of theft had been brought forward following their acquittal. The paper also reported that five police officers had grabbed Franklin, kicking him in the groin and striking him with clubs.

A different newspaper article that was retained by Pauling was far less sympathetic towards Franklin. This piece, which also centered on the Los Siete demonstration, described Franklin as a “proclaimed Maoist” and a member of the “militant” Venceremos, and then printed his home address. Pauling’s reactions to the article are delineated in red ink. He clearly disagreed with the charges brought against Franklin, writing in the margins

Provocation? Marchers had permit for sidewalk. Arrested at RR crossing where sidewalk is not well demarcated from street. Police cars + other cars blocked intersection.

Pauling also drew quotes from the article in support of his position:

“Line of marchers was impeded + some spilled into roadway.” “Franklin elbowed a policeman in the ribs.”

At the end of his notes, Pauling simply wrote, “!FELONIOUS ASSAULT!”

None of this seemed to slow Franklin down. According to a chronology of events created by those supporting his activism, he was also involved in a rally in early February. At this gathering of roughly 750 people, Franklin advocated “shutting down the most obvious machinery of war” on campus, the Stanford Computation Center. In due course, some 150 people – Franklin not included – occupied the center for three hours until it was cleared out by the police.

A second rally of roughly 350 people followed immediately afterwards. Franklin again spoke, telling those in the crowd to return home to form smaller groups and to plan actions that would avoid the attention of the police. The chronology states that, later, “beatings of both conservative and radical students occur, and a high school student is shot in the thigh.”

President Lyman blamed the violence on Franklin, declaring that he “threatens harm to himself and others.” In a Statement of Charges against Franklin, which described the rally in a very different light than the chronology, Lyman wrote,

During the course of the rally, Professor Franklin intentionally urged and incited students and other persons present to engage in conduct calculated to disrupt University functions and business, and which threatened injury to individuals and property. Shortly thereafter, students and other persons were assaulted by persons present at the rally, and later that evening other acts of violence occurred.

In addition to documenting Franklin’s history as they had viewed it, the authors of the chronology created a petition. The intent of this document was that it be presented to Stanford’s Advisory Board, arguing in favor of Franklin’s activities and right to free speech. Linus Pauling’s signature was among those included on this petition.

The Nixon Doctrine and the End of the Vietnam War


An image of the April 24, 1971 March on Washington, as held in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers. The Paulings participated in a companion march held in San Francisco that same day.

[Pauling and the Vietnam War, Part 7 of 7]

“The American people are now learning the truth about the war…our entry into it on a great scale without even a request from South Vietnam…the corruption, the complete absence of a rational and moral goal…and the American people are now determined to bring this madness to an end.”

-Linus Pauling, 1969

In September 1969, Ho Chi Minh died at the age of seventy-nine and was replaced by Premier Pham Van Dong. At this same time, the anti-war movement was gaining considerable strength in the United States. In October, a “Vietnam Moratorium Day” was declared, during which students and faculty alike walked off of campuses across the country to talk about the war with members of their community.

At Stanford University, Linus Pauling, who had recently taken a position there as a visiting lecturer, was a central figure in this event. On the evening of the moratorium, he delivered a speech in which he proclaimed that the American people were finally learning the truth about the Vietnam War and the United States’ “cold blooded” ambition to retain control of Southeast Asia as part of a Western capitalist “economic sphere.” He delivered a similar message a month later in a talk given at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. A story on the event, published in the Montgomery Advertiser, quoted Pauling as follows:

We – you and I and the majority of Americans – who are going to stop this war, are now face to face in opposition to the small group of rich and powerful people who are using their power to keep the war going, year after year: the people who benefit from the war, the military-industrial complex, the Pentagon and the war contractors who get the 15 billion dollars per year of excess profits on the guns, bombs, Napalm, planes and other instruments of war; and also the politicians, such as President Nixon, who are indebted to them.

The United States’ new President, Richard Nixon, had begun the troop withdrawals that he had promised on the campaign trail the year before. His plan, dubbed the
Nixon Doctrine, was to build up the Army of South Vietnam to the point where they could take over the defense of their own country. This policy came to be known as “Vietnamization.” Meanwhile, China and the Soviet Union continued to supply the North Vietnamese – and by extension the National Liberation Front – with aid. By 1970, Nixon announced that 150,000 U.S. soldiers would be withdrawn over the next year, thus reducing the American troop presence by about 265,500 people from the time when he had entered office.

However, at the same time, Nixon ordered a massive increase in bombing along the Vietnam-Cambodia border, and likewise redeployed many of the withdrawn troops to areas along the coast or just outside of Vietnam. These actions incited huge protests by those outraged by the President’s apparent subversion of his promise to de-escalate the war effort.

Pauling was among those who protested, speaking out in particular against the bombing incursions into Cambodia.  While attending a benefit in support of the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment to End the War, Pauling also declared that it had made him “sick” when Nixon stated before Congress that he would draw down troop numbers, and then, “five days later,” sent aircraft and ground troops to Cambodia. In response, Pauling suggested that everyone in the Bay Area “get sick” and take a week off of work. He explained his rationale as such:

When everyone is sick, the work stops, the economy is slowed down. If there is such an epidemic here, during the next week, it might spread over the whole country! Let our slogan be, “We’re sick of the war.”

Illness of another sort was also on Pauling’s mind. Around the same time that he proposed calling in sick to work, Pauling also recorded a radio address for KPFK-FM in Los Angeles on the subject of defoliant use in Vietnam. By 1968, he explained, 500,000 acres of cropland had been destroyed in Vietnam through the use of herbicides, some of which contained arsenic compounds. Not only did this action purposely lead to the starvation and death of civilians – especially the young and elderly – but Pauling attested that four scientists returning from South Vietnam with samples of food, hair, mother’s milk, and other substances had found them to be contaminated by these highly toxic herbicides.

Moreover, some of the herbicides being used in the war effort were not only very lethal but also very stable, and Pauling emphasized that these poisonous compounds would remain in the ecosystems of Vietnam for many years. Pauling further pointed out that several of the herbicides had been developed deliberately for the purpose of crop destruction as a tool of war by E.J. Kraus, the chairman of the Botany department at the University of Chicago. Pauling saw this as a violation of the proper role of university research, and cast aspersions upon the influence that the military and corporate war profiteers alike were gaining with respect to his academic colleagues’ research agendas.


The Paulings at an unidentified peace rally, possibly the April 24, 1971 San Francisco companion event to the March on Washington.

As these and other horrors of the Vietnam War gained increasing media traction, the anti-war movement, and the concurrent withdrawal of troops, continued. In 1971, Australia and New Zealand withdrew their complements of soldiers, and the American troop count was likewise further reduced to 196,700, with the return of an additional 45,000 troops promised for 1972. But even as this significant drawdown in ground forces was underway, significant U.S. naval and air might remained in the Gulf of Tonkin, as well as in Thailand and Guam.

From Pauling’s perspective, the major problem now hampering on-going peace talks in Paris was President Nixon’s continuing support of Generals Thieu and Ky of South Vietnam, political figureheads who had been put into power following a United States-sanctioned coup that had resulted in the assassination of the previous leader, President Diem. Both the North and many citizens of South Vietnam now refused to acknowledge these men as representatives of the provisional government of South Vietnam, and negotiations predictably suffered as a consequence.

In May 1972, a group based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and calling itself Hostages for Peace organized an extraordinary measure in an attempt to curb the violence in Southeast Asia. The group circulated a pledge which read as follows:

We, the undersigned American citizens, declare our willingness to go to Hanoi and Haiphong, and to declare ourselves Peace Hostages to protect Vietnamese citizens and American prisoners of war from American bombing. We each agree to spend at least two weeks in northern Vietnam until all the bombing of the area of the country stops and until all American military personnel and meteriel are removed from Indochina.

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling signed this pledge, agreeing to use themselves, effectively, as human shields against further American bombardment of North Vietnam. It was a courageous and potentially deadly commitment that the couple would, thankfully, not be called upon to realize.


“Hostages for Peace Pledge.” May 6, 1972.

On January 15, 1973, just weeks after a major bombing offensive had decimated what remained of North Vietnam’s economic and industrial capacity, President Nixon ended all military action against the North. The Paris Peace Accords were signed twelve days later, officially ending direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. A cease-fire was subsequently declared across North and South Vietnam, and U.S. prisoners of war were released. The agreement guaranteed the territorial integrity of Vietnam and, like the Geneva Conference of 1954, called for national elections in the North and the South.

In other words, the conditions that Ho Chi Minh had made clear to Linus Pauling in 1965, and which Pauling had argued in favor of for the past eight years, had now been codified as an international agreement. In that time, it is estimated that anywhere from 800,000 to just over a million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians on all sides were killed, in addition to 200,000 Cambodians and 60,000 Laotians. Over 58,000 U.S. soldiers also lost their lives, with more than 1,500 still missing in action.

Tragically, like the Geneva Accords before them, the Paris Peace Accords were quickly broken. In 1974, the Viet Cong resumed military operations, and South Vietnam’s President Thieu declared that the Paris agreement was no longer in effect.

But this time, no American help arrived. In 1975, President Gerald Ford requested that Congress fund the re-supply of South Vietnam to defeat the National Liberation Front, who were now aided by a formal North Vietnamese invading force that was well-equipped, in large part, by other communist countries. Ford’s request was refused, and on April 27th, 100,000 North Vietnamese troops encircled Saigon, shelling the city while American helicopters evacuated vulnerable South Vietnamese citizens until the North’s tanks finally breached the lines of the South Vietnamese Army and captured the city.

In July 1976, North and South Vietnam were merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and, over the next ten years, more than one million South Vietnamese were sent to reeducation camps, with as many as 165,000 dying as a result.

After the war’s end, Linus Pauling carefully filed away the letters, the posters from various protests and anti-war lectures, and the memories of a long and bitter conflict. Included in these papers was correspondence concerning the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s 26th celebration of nationhood in 1971. Though he was not in Hanoi for the event, Pauling had been in contact with a group that was, National Peace Action Coalition representatives Judy Lerner, David McReynolds, James and Patricia Lafferty, Joseph Urgo, and Ruth Colby.

The group had been met by the Peoples’ Coalition for Peace and Justice of North Vietnam, which hosted their visit. At the birthday celebration, where Premier Pham Van Dong declared the regime of the south fascist and called for the peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to unite to gain, “freedom, independence, peace and friendship, happiness and prosperity” for all of Indochina, the Americans were invited to make a statement of their own. Taking the stage, they articulated their feelings as best as they could:

No words of ours can fully express how deeply we have been moved by the way in which we have been received. We, citizens of a nation that has brought such terrible suffering to the peoples of Indochina, have been received as friends. The people of Vietnam understand that it is the rulers of the United States and not its citizens who are the enemy of the Vietnamese. One of our members is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and it would have been natural if he had been received with hostility. Instead, the guide in the War Museum embraced him with tears in his eyes – a simple human encounter which lifted both men above the level of being Vietnamese or American, to the level of brothers who suffered together in this, the most tragic war America has ever waged.

As North Vietnam celebrated its independence – an independence that had never been gained by South Vietnam – the American delegation in Hanoi affirmed again that, as the anti-war movement in the United States continued to swell, they would do everything in their power to end the conflict. This was a cause to which Linus and Ava Helen Pauling likewise devoted considerable energy over a full decade, and one that ultimately – through the pressure placed upon the governments involved by many such individuals throughout the world – played an important role in ending the Vietnam War.

Sharpening Rhetoric, Sad Conclusions


Flyer for a joint Chomsky-Pauling presentation, Montreal, 1967

[Pauling and the Vietnam War, part 6 of 7]

As the 1960s moved forward, Linus Pauling’s interest in contributing to an academic circle that resolutely rejected the Vietnam War continued to strengthen. A participant in several past petitions, Pauling co-authored another such document in June 1967, a “Scientists’ Appeal for Vietnam,” signed by a collection of scientific all stars including Nobel laureates Pauling, Lord John Boyd Orr, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Alfred Kastler, André Michel Lwoff, C.F. Powell, Bertrand Russell, R.L.M. Synge, and Albert Szent-Györgyi. Additional signatories included Pauling’s close friend J.D. Bernal, an influential x-ray crystallographer and peace activist; neurologist and president of the Association of Scientific Workers Harry Grundfest; Soviet biochemist Alexander Oparin; and an Indian scientist and activist, S. Hussain Zaheer.

The Scientists’ Appeal decried escalating American violence in Vietnam, pointing out that U.S. aggression was being mounted in direct opposition to strong world opinion against the war. In addition to publicly denouncing American foreign policy in Southeast Asia, each of the appeal’s signatories also reaffirmed their commitment to international science by donating one day’s salary to help buy books for the University of Hanoi and to support the continued functioning of scientific laboratories in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

About a month before the appeal was released, Pauling attended a second Pacem in Terris conference, held this time in Geneva, Switzerland. Working through the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a Santa Barbara-based international think tank where he was a fellow, Pauling helped to coordinate the convocation.

One of the more pressing agenda items on the conference planner’s wishlist was the need to highlight the Vietnamese viewpoint on the war and, if possible, to bring National Liberation Front delegates to the podium for European and American participants to see and hear. In pursuing this, the World Council of Peace acted as intermediary, handling letters between Linus Pauling and the Vietnam Peace Committee. However, citing an inability to travel due to the escalating conflict in North and South Vietnam, neither representatives from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam nor from the National Liberation Front attended the event.


Pauling note to self, May 2, 1967

By the time that Pauling arrived in Geneva, he had established himself as a leading academic voice against the Vietnam War. Perhaps most notably, in an anti-war mobilization that took place in New York in mid-April 1967, Pauling and his wife joined a huge march to the United Nations Plaza, where Pauling then delivered an address to an audience estimated at 300,000 people. In a note to himself written a couple of weeks later, Pauling paraphrased his remarks as follows:

I am ashamed of my country, the United States of America. My country is the richest country in the world. It is the most powerful country in the world. My country now leads the world in militarism, and leads the world in immorality. My country is waging an evil and savage war on the other side of the world, against a small, poor country. We are using jet bombers, napalm, and other cruel weapons to kill and maim the poor people of this country who believe that they are fighting for their freedom and homes against the foreign oppressor. I want to be proud of my country. I want my country to lead the world in morality, not immorality. I hope that this wicked war will soon be brought to an end.

Around the same time, Pauling made another strong statement, this time to the Students for a Democratic Society:

It is the duty of every American to oppose the policy of military aggression in Southeast Asia that is being followed by our government, the government of the United States…We are now waging an immoral and inhumane war, with use of chemical defoliating, nauseating, and lachrymatory agents, phosphorous bombs, and other terrible weapons, against the people of an underdeveloped country who are fighting for freedom and self-determination. Our government has initiated an attack on North Vietnam that may grow into a nuclear catastrophe that would destroy our civilization.

Similarly, in an advertisement published in The New York Review of Books titled “A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority,” Pauling offered his support for the “moral outrage” of young men who found that the American war in Vietnam was so offensive that they could not contribute in any way. It read, in part

Some are resisting openly and paying a heavy penalty, and some are organizing more resistance within the United States and some have sought sanctuary in other countries…We believe that each of these forms of resistance against illegitimate authority is courageous and justified.

The notice was signed by over 100 public figures, Noam Chomsky, Allen Churchill, Allen Ginsberg, Jane Fonda, Ronald Dellums, and Linus Pauling included.


The McMaster University Silhouette, October 20, 1967

As his views about the war sharpened and his rhetoric grew equally pointed, Pauling’s anger at the present situation became increasingly palpable. Speaking on multiple occasions at universities and elsewhere, Pauling made clear that he had abandoned the search for negotiations that had marked his public stance two years prior. In its place was an increasingly polarized viewpoint that had shifted from a hoped for solution to a complex problem, to abject condemnation and disgust.

This point of view was on clear display in August 1967, at a Hiroshima Day demonstration held in Los Angeles. Speaking there in observance of the nuclear attack on Japan some twenty-two years earlier, Pauling took the opportunity to focus on Vietnam.

The crime of Hiroshima was excused by President Truman as needed to save the lives of American soldiers. This is false. It was an act of the Cold War against the Soviet Union….Friends, fellow citizens of the United States of America, my fellow Americans: We are criminals, you and I, the members of Congress, President Lyndon B. Johnson—we are all criminals….If President Johnson had to kill – shoot, burn to death – ten Vietnamese women and children every morning before breakfast, the war would soon end.

But the public did not see the true victims of the war, the war in its totality, nor the cost on both sides, and this, Pauling contended, was one of the many great lies that kept it going.

Moreover, Vietnam was only one part of a bigger picture that Pauling now begged the public to recognize. Rich nations – the United States being chief among them – had profited tremendously from the suppression of human rights campaigns, with profits from investments in poor and underdeveloped countries doubling over the past ten years.

This continuing state of affairs, Pauling argued, was enforced by the might of a United States military that now spanned the globe. Likewise, the U.S. had tactically distributed $48 billion in munitions to militant proxy groups in numerous countries over the past sixteen years.

In short, the scope of the problem was not limited to Vietnam. Rather, Pauling now felt that Vietnam was merely the most tragic and horrific example of what the United States had become in the Cold War Era: a economic and military empire willing to arm groups around the world that were beholden to American interests or, as needed, unleash its own military directly.


Launching an Offensive Against the War


[Pauling and the Vietnam War, Part 5 of 7]

“If President Johnson had to kill – shoot, burn to death – ten Vietnamese women and children every morning before breakfast, the war would soon end.”

-Linus Pauling, 1967

By early 1965, convinced that the United States government was the primary obstacle to initiating a cease-fire and subsequent negotiations in Vietnam, Linus Pauling increasingly began to go on the offensive against the war.

In February, he delivered a major public address at the Pacem in Terris convocation, which was held in New York City, stating that, for thousands of years, throughout “the entire period for which we have historical knowledge,” war was one of the principal causes of human suffering. “I believe that we have now reached the time in the course of the evolution of civilization when war must be abolished from the world,” Pauling thundered from the podium. Armed conflict must be replaced by a system of world law, he added, one “based upon the principles of justice and morality.”

Pauling returned to New York in March to participate in a peace parade and rally, walking with fellow protesters from 5th Avenue to the Central Park mall, where he delivered another speech decrying the war as both immoral and illegal.


Dean Rusk

Developments in Vietnam made it increasingly important that those who opposed the war speak out forcefully. By the summer of 1965, the American ground war had been authorized by President Johnson, an action that marked a profound departure from the administration’s previous insistence that the government of South Vietnam bear the responsibility for defeating the National Liberation Front (NLF). Due to continued losses by and falling enrollment within the army of South Vietnam, U.S. ground troops were deployed in a new strategy that had now switched from defensive to offensive.

This drastic change was deemed necessary as the NLF was seen by U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, as a front for North Vietnamese hostilities and nothing more. Moreover, the the North’s aggression was not meant to unify the nation under a democratic regime, but represented instead a policy of communist expansion that enjoyed at least tacit support from China and Russia.

Rusk’s premise was one that Pauling had specifically rejected. In particular, Pauling pointed out that Rusk’s opinion on the plausibility of negotiations either distorted or, at times, ignored the actual position of the NLF, a stance that had been made clear in August 1965 and which made headlines in Europe, if not the United States.

The crucial detail that the Rusk and the American media had failed to communicate was that the NLF’s Five Point Declaration – a document based on the four-point plan that Ho Chi Minh had earlier communicated to Pauling and to the world – did not stipulate that U.S. troops be withdrawn as a precondition to negotiations. In fact, it called only for a freeze in the build-up of American troops, for a concurrent cease-fire, and for American agreement that the NLF to be brought to the negotiating table as a direct party or state entity. The NLF’s end goal for any ensuing negotiations would be a return to the 1954 Geneva Accord, an agreement that Washington had once purported to support as well.

The failure to act on or even move toward this opportunity was, for Pauling, a clear indication that the United States was not interested in ending the conflict. In December, Pauling wrote a statement to this effect, which was divided into two parts and aired on WPTR radio in Albany, New York. In the broadcast, Pauling reiterated these beliefs in an attempt to correct the broad American assumption that the North Vietnamese were not inclined to enter negotiations.


McGeorge Bundy

Prior to 1965, some of the most prominent academics commenting on the war were doing so in support of the war effort. Among them were McGeorge Bundy, William Bundy and W.W. Rostow, each of whom was an academic who held a position of influence on foreign policy in Vietnam. With the deployment of American troops in 1965, an equal and opposite cohort of thinkers had coalesced, and Pauling got the idea of calling for a meeting between representatives of this group, of which he was a part, and the Bundy group.

Pauling’s argument against the Bundy point of view was that a war could not be fought without clear enemies and allies. Assuming this, and based on the United States’ stated policy as well as the targets that it had already struck, it was unclear how enemy was being discriminated from ally. Indeed, insurgent groups were being attacked at undisclosed targets in not only South Vietnam, but also North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, a fact that was largely hidden from public view in the United States.

Likewise, the United States was increasingly acting as a lone military force: though Washington encouraged its allies to contribute troops, and while Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines had all agreed to do so, major allies including Canada and the United Kingdom had declined the request

Meanwhile, the political situation in South Vietnam was becoming increasingly unstable. Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky and a figurehead Chief of State, General Nguyen Van Thieu, had risen to power following the assassination of President Diem and a series of internal coups that followed. Further complicating matters was the face that war in Vietnam was never declared, and Pauling argued forcefully that, as such, American military action continued to be undertaken, in effect, unconstitutionally.

The issue of legality extended to international law as well, with the U.S. acting in apparent violation of the charter of the United Nations, which required members to refrain from the use of force until all attempts to settle a dispute were exhausted. Likewise, the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which defined crimes against humanity, and the Geneva Accords of 1954 all seemed to have been violated by the United States’ entry into the conflict.

Pauling’s position against the war was encapsulated in a a personal letter that he sent to McGregor Bundy in April 1965. If the real reason that a cease-fire was not possible was the communist aspiration for victory by force, Pauling asked, then would the United States in fact support free elections in Vietnam even if doing so resulted in a democratically elected and unified communist Vietnam?

If an answer came, it does not remain extant. Regardless, by the middle of the 1960s, Pauling had increasingly come to agree with the point of view that the war in Vietnam was principally being fought to contain communism and to protect American economic interests.

If this were true, then the American government, under both Kennedy and Johnson, had deliberately misled the American people – a suspicion that was confirmed for Americans in 1971 with the unsanctioned release of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. Pauling’s shifting perspective and his increasingly vocal activities during this time displayed his growing lack of confidence in his country’s leadership, another example of the broken trust that many other Americans were feeling as the 1960s moved forward.

Struggling to Find Common Ground


George W. Ball and President Lyndon Johnson, ca. 1965. Image credit: George W. Ball Papers, Princeton University.

[Pauling and the Vietnam War, Part 4 of 7]

Almost as soon as he had received it, Linus Pauling sent a copy of Ho Chi Minh’s letter of November 17, 1965 to U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. While the letter contained some “strongly worded” rhetoric about the United States, Pauling wrote, these were to be expected from the leader of a small country that was undergoing significant aerial bombardment from a world power.

In Pauling’s view, the more loaded statements made in the letter were relatively unimportant. Rather, Pauling highlighted Ho Chi Minh’s aspirations for peace as the crux of his response, pointing out that his four-point prescription for resolution was not described as a prerequisite for the initiation of negotiations. Indeed, Pauling took pains to note (perhaps with some measure of concern) that Minh had not called for negotiations as a means to achieve a peaceful resolution at all. Nonetheless, he believed that the Vietnamese leader’s hopes for peace in his country could prevail if the United States initiated negotiations for strategic withdrawal and cease-fire.

The response from Washington to Pauling’s letter came not from President Johnson himself, but from the administration’s Under Secretary of State, George W. Ball. Ball’s stated position was much the same as that conveyed to Pauling and Corliss Lamont by McGeorge Bundy in 1962. Ball wrote that, in its dealings with the North Vietnamese, the United States government had given its support to “every one of the many efforts to open the way to unconditional negotiation.”

In this, Ball implied that the inability to negotiate a cease-fire was not the fault of the US, but rather the doing of the National Liberation Front, or perhaps the North Vietnamese government in Hanoi. Pauling questioned this implication, arguing instead that since the United States did not view the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam as a legitimate political entity and viable negotiating partner, the U.S. shared at least some culpability in perpetuating the war.

Though addressed by George Ball, Pauling responded directly to President Johnson:

The possibility that this belief is correct is supported by the last paragraph in the letter sent to me by Under Secretary Ball, which reads as follows: ‘We give the same support to your appeal. We hope it may help to persuade the government of Hanoi and the government of Peking that this conflict should be moved to the conference table.’ I am accordingly writing to ask you the following question: Does the United States government refuse to negotiate with all of the governments and parties concerned in the war in Vietnam, including the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, or is the government of the United States willing to negotiate with all of the governments and parties concerned in this tragic conflict?

The response to Pauling’s letter came, once again, from George Ball, and he did not directly answer Pauling’s question. Rather, Ball replied that the National Liberation Front was “exactly what its name connotes,” a front for North Vietnamese aggression against South Vietnam. From the perspective of the White House, the NLF held no standing under international law, enjoyed only coerced support from the people of South Vietnam, and had no ability to survive except as a tool of the regime in Hanoi.

“To this day, Hanoi is directing its activities and supplying it with essential men and materiel,” Ball lamented, adding that, “if the North Vietnamese regime were to decide to negotiate in good faith on an unconditional basis, it would find no difficulty in making a place for representatives of the Liberation Front on its own delegation.”

For the United States, the key term that might lead to negotiations was that the revolutionaries leading the resistance in South Vietnam speak at the negotiating table solely through the established leadership of the North Vietnamese government. Crucially, the American government claimed that it was willing to respect the conventions of the Geneva Accords, which both North Vietnam and the NLF also wished to see respected. Since both sides seemed to agree on this and yet no cease-fire had come about, Pauling concluded that the United States was not being honest in stating its support for a return to the 1954 accords.

Fellow Nobel Peace laureate Philip Noel-Baker, a member of the House of Commons in England, concurred. Noel-Baker wrote to Pauling to say that he “warmly” agreed with Pauling’s view that the point to be cleared up was whether or not Ho Chi Minh was making pre-conditions for the discussions about a cease-fire – such as a demand for the withdrawal of American troops – for negotiations to begin. Like Pauling, Baker and others in the British government believed that Hanoi and the NLF were more than willing to come to the table if they were allowed to do so. He concluded that it was “disingenuous of your Government and mine to throw doubt on the point.”


Ho Chi Minh in his study.

In December 1965, Pauling responded to Ho Chi Minh and reported that his letter of November 17th had been interpreted in a variety of ways. Depending on the point of view of the reader, different conclusions could be reached from the letter on the crucial point of whether or not the North Vietnamese were actually willing to enter into negotiations unconditionally. Pauling pressed his correspondent for more details:

I accordingly now write to ask you the following question: Is the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Vietnam willing to begin negotiations that would lead to a cease-fire and a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam War without making any conditions as prerequisites to the beginning of the discussions?

As indicated in his exchange with Philip Noel-Baker, the core issue for Pauling was whether North Vietnam would require that American troops withdraw entirely, or require that all the conditions of the Geneva Accords of 1954 be upheld, before negotiations began.

In February 1966, another letter arrived from Hanoi. After apologizing for delays in his response due to difficulties in North Vietnam with communications, Ho Chi Minh addressed Pauling’s question:

The way to peace is: The United States must stop their aggression. It must strictly respect the fundamental national rights of the Vietnamese people as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Viet Nam. That is the way which has been clearly pointed out by the March 22, 1965 Statement of the South Viet Nam National Liberation and the four-point stand of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam… If the U.S. Government really wants a peaceful settlement, it must recognize the four-point stand of the government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam…it must end definitively and unconditionally the air raids and all other war acts against the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.

Another telegram, this one arriving in May 1967, reaffirmed this stance. The Vietnamese people, Minh declared, had produced their “Four Point Stand,” which embodied the main principles and provisions put forth by the 1954 Geneva Accords on Vietnam. “In my reply to U.S. President Johnson I made clear our goodwill and charter serious path to talks between DV and USA,” Minh communicated in the telegram. “USA must unconditionally stop bombing and all other war acts. But US Authorities do not want peace, and are intensifying war in both zones of Vietnam.”

Crucial Correspondence


[An examination of Linus Pauling’s activism against the Vietnam War. Part 3 of 7.]

“The continuation of the savagery of the Vietnam War is unworthy of the dignity of man.”

-Linus Pauling, 1965

In 1964, Linus Pauling’s colleague in anti-Vietnam War activism, Corliss Lamont, sent a copy of his 1962 open letter against Vietnam to President Lyndon Johnson. Pauling added his support to Lamont’s action, expressing his agreement with Lamont’s plea that the new President change course and disengage from a policy of military escalation had already “deteriorated almost beyond belief.”

President Johnson did not change course, however. Under his administration, U.S. involvement in Vietnam swelled, as did the corresponding antiwar movement around the world. It was in this atmosphere that Linus and Ava Helen Pauling elevated their own activities and became outspoken opponents of the conflict.

From 1961 to 1964, U.S. troop levels in Vietnam rose precipitously from just over 3,000 to more that 23,000 soldiers in country. Meanwhile, the ranks of the National Liberation Front (or Viet Cong) grew at a decidedly more rapid pace, from around 5,000 fighters in 1959 to approximately 100,000 by the end of 1964. Nonetheless, the total Allied military presence in the region dwarfed the numbers compiled by the Viet Cong. By the time of the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident on August 2, 1964, more than 600,000 men had been mobilized on behalf of the south, the ARVN being the main contributor.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident involved the exchange of fire between the USS Maddox and several Vietnamese vessels, which took place while the Maddox was engaged in an intelligence mission along North Vietnam’s coast. A second attack was reported two days later in the same area, but the circumstances surrounding both engagements remained unclear. In fact, an undated National Security Association publication that was declassified in 2005 revealed that the August 4th skirmish did not actually take place at all.

Nonetheless, this second “attack” prompted the U.S. Congress to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Signed by President Johnson, this piece of legislation gave the President of the United States the power to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war (and thus without Congressional approval). Although Johnson denied that the resolution amounted to a full-scale declaration of war, the new powers did grant the President the authority to launch unilateral full-scale attacks if he deemed it necessary. Not coincidentally, Chinese military and financial aid began to pour into North Vietnam that same year.


Linus Pauling, 1965.

By 1965, Linus Pauling was responding to the intensifying geopolitical climate in southeast Asia by offering his time to a number of anti-war conferences and events. One such event, which was fairly typical, came about when the University of British Columbia invited him to come to campus to speak on the responsibilities of scientists in bringing about disarmament. Pauling traveled to Canada that fall and, while there, he met with the Vancouver Ad Hoc Committee to End the War in Vietnam and also conducted an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation outlining his views on peace.

A few months before traveling to Vancouver, Pauling had helped to write and circulate the “Appeal by Recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize,” that we discussed in the first post of this series. Around the same time as his visit to Canada, Pauling released replies to the appeal that had been authored by Secretary U Thant of the United Nations, Pope Paul VI, and representatives of the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, Australia, the Soviet Union, and North Vietnam. No response ever came from South Vietnam or from the People’s Republic of China.

The Nobel laureates’ appeal had called for an immediate cease-fire, to be followed by negotiations between all parties involved. The responses to this call were often addressed directly to Pauling and his fellow co-signatories, and their contents varied dramatically depending on the author and their role in the war.

From the perspective of Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, it was clear that the United States was unnecessarily victimizing a small country that was in the midst of fighting for its freedom. Like the South Vietnamese citizens who had written to Lamont and Pauling in the years prior, Kosygin held that peace could only be granted by observance of the Geneva Accords, which the United States and the Diem regime had both ignored. This position was echoed by Mai Van Bo, a representative of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and by Secretary U Thant of the United Nations.


Concluding sentence and signature from Ho Chi Minh’s letter to Linus Pauling of November 17, 1965.

However, no response resonated so forcefully as that issued by Ho Chi Minh himself, who wrote to Linus Pauling on November 17th 1965. In his five-page letter, he made it clear that the only viable route to peace was to embrace the four-point solution espoused by the 1965 Statement of the South Vietnam National Liberation Front. The four requirements listed were: the reaffirmation of the basic national rights of the Vietnamese people; a return to the provisions of the 1954 Geneva agreements; allowing the people of South Vietnam to settle South Vietnam’s internal affairs without interference; and allowing North and South Vietnam to pursue reunification without interference.

These broad imperatives were, in places, backed up with a few details for the sake of clarification, but mostly seemed to be purposely vague. For Pauling, this indicated that the conditions for entering into negotiations would be readily met if the United States showed itself to be serious about pursuing a cease-fire. From the perspective of many within the American government however, Ho Chi Minh’s request seemed disingenuous. The NLF, they believed, was merely a front for the activities of North Vietnam, and North Vietnam had no honest intentions of negotiating peace with the south or allowing a fair election.

Ho Chi Minh’s perspective, as relayed in his letter to Pauling, was straightforward in its assumption that the American presence in the region was not interested in the well-being of South Vietnam at all. If this were the case, the letter pointed out, the U.S. would not have supported a regime as brutal as that of Diem’s. For Minh, North and South Vietnam had both struggled to implement the 1954 Geneva agreements only to be thwarted by U.S. imperial aspirations that propped up a fascist dictatorship in the south and intentionally impeded the peaceful unification of Vietnam into an independent and democratic nation. In Minh’s estimation, the American rationale for this was not only to prevent the spread of communism generally, but also to use South Vietnam, “as a springboard for war activities in Laos and for daily provocations in the Kingdom of Cambodia.”

“They are using our Southern compatriots’ life to test…new types of modern weapons and means of warfare,” Ho Chi Minh continued. “At present, most barbarous means of warfare such as napalm bombs, phosphorous bombs, toxic chemicals, poison gas etc. are being used by the U.S. aggressors to massacre our compatriots in South Viet Nam.” These methods of combat were being tested in Vietnam, Minh believed, because of U.S. military interest in using them around the globe to suppress popular communist revolutions in a variety of developing nations from Southeast Asia to Africa to South America. The grand vision, Minh believed, was a U.S. military presence deployed to ensure global economic hegemony in favor of Western democratic capitalist nations, and in particular the United States.

His perspective shared, Ho Chi Minh ended his letter to Linus Pauling with an appeal of his own; this one to the anti-war protesters in America:

This war besmears the honor and good name of the United States. It is precisely for that reason that, recently, many progressive sections of the American people…have courageously come out against the Johnson Administration’s war of aggression…expressing their resolute refusal to join the army and take part in the massacre of the Vietnamese people. The Vietnamese people highly value this struggle of the American people, and are deeply moved by the valiant sacrifices of Mrs. Helga Hertz and of the other peace fighters, the late Mr. Norman Morrison, the late Mr. Roger Laporte and Mrs. Jankowski. I take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to the American people who are resolutely struggling against the U.S. imperialists’ war of aggression in Viet Nam. I also wish to convey to the martyrs’ families the love and admiration of the Vietnamese people.

Searching for Truth in Times of War


Corliss Lamont

[Ed Note: This is part 2 of 7 in our series focusing on Linus Pauling’s activism against the Vietnam War. This is also the 600th post to be released on the Pauling Blog. We thank you for your continued readership.]

“As individuals who believe that the only security for America lies in world peace, we wish to ask you why at present the United States is sending its Army, Navy and Air Force to bring death and bloodshed to South Vietnam, a small Asian country approximately 10,000 miles from our Pacific Coast.”

-“An Open Letter to President John F. Kennedy Against U.S. Military Intervention in South Vietnam,” April 11, 1962.

In spring 1962, Linus Pauling was in communication with Corliss Lamont, a philosopher and the director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who was organizing an open letter to President Kennedy (which Pauling ultimately signed) opposing military action in Vietnam. Lamont had written to Pauling share the details of his own correspondence with McGeorge Bundy, the U.S. National Security Advisor. Bundy was highly critical of Lamont’s open letter and had provided documents intended to both enlighten Lamont and dissuade him from taking a strong stance against the U.S. position.

The documents supported the argument that North Vietnam had been making a strenuous effort to conquer South Vietnam. This point of view ran in opposition to a competing reference frame that saw the conflict as being led by South Vietnamese insurgents who were waging a local civil war. Suffice it to say, Lamont remained unconvinced by Bundy’s argument, flatly stating, “I have seldom read more phony materials.”


McGeorge Bundy

In developing his position, Lamont cited Homer Bigart of the New York Times, who had reported in 1962 that only a “small trickle” of arms were actually reaching the National Liberation Front (NLF) fighters from North Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Trail being painfully difficult to navigate. Most NLF weapons, Lamont argued, were “crudely manufactured jungle arsenals” or had otherwise been obtained by raids on the army of the Republic of Vietnam in the south and, increasingly, by raids on American troops, whose numbers in South Vietnam continued to grow.

Additionally, Lamont argued against the American perception that the anti-Diem movement in South Vietnam was exclusively communist. In support, Lamont cited the head of the Democratic Party of South Vietnam, Nguyen Thai Binh, whose Vietnam: The Problem and a Solution supported the claim that a wide array of political groups favored unification under the government in Hanoi.

Bundy, the National Security Advisor, countered on behalf of the White House by pointing to a different New York Times report, this time filed by William Jorden. Bundy interpreted Jorden’s piece as ruling out the possibility that the NLF was a militant expression of a popular movement within South Vietnam seeking independence. Bundy offered no further specific critique or debate on the issue, stating simply that

You will not expect the President to agree with either your premises or your conclusions. For myself, I will say only that the degree of irresponsibility and inaccuracy in this letter is what I would have expected from some of the signatories, but not from all.

Responses from Vietnam to Lamont’s open letter told a different story from that being promoted by McGeorge Bundy.

In May 1962, once Lamont’s open letter had gained a global audience, a communication arrived from Le Quang. The author was a former officer of the Cao Dai Armed Forces, the military wing of a Vietnamese religious sect that acted in opposition to the Diem regime. Le Quang wrote from Paris, where he was living as a political refugee.

“Your cry of alarm has found in us an echo all the more faithful as we are more and more anxious in front of the progressive deterioration of the situation of our country,” he told Pauling. He added that it did not seem that the people of North Vietnam and the people of the United States had established just cause to go to war. Nonetheless, if the Americans continued to support the Diem government, then opposition to it in both North and South Vietnam would, by extension, constitute grounds for conflict between America and Vietnam. Le Quang implored Pauling to please help him put forward this point of view.

In September 1962, Lamont sent another letter to Pauling, this time saying that ten South Vietnamese intellectuals (two doctors and two academics as well as a pharmacist, journalist, architect, engineer and lawyer) had written to thank him for urging President Kennedy to end American involvement, and specifically calling for an end to American support of the Diem regime. The regime hierarchy, they argued, was not fairly representative of the people of South Vietnam who, by the intellectuals’ reckoning, broadly agreed with the need for unity with the north. However, the only way to know if this was indeed true, they said, was to allow the unification vote called for by the Geneva Accords in 1954.

Indeed, it seemed that a cease-fire was likely to be accomplished only if negotiations that upheld the Geneva Accords were carried out. The U.S. policy of rejecting the National Liberation Front from any such discussion was seen by American political figures as necessary, given their belief that the NLF was fundamentally an illegitimate political entity. As such, the United States would recognize only the authority of Diem, a leader whose rise to power and consolidation of control had been supported by the U.S. and whose regime was clearly receiving American military intelligence and policy guidance.

For many South Vietnamese, the U.S.’s position on the NLF appeared to be merely a means for ignoring the voice of the people in any negotiations that might occur. Especially as the war ramped up, this stance helped to crystallize South Vietnamese sentiment against the United States, possibly intensifying local support for communism and strengthening arguments against negotiation. “We firmly believe that no violence can quench a nation, however small, which is struggling for independence,” the group of Vietnamese intellectuals wrote, adding,

The history of the United States since its founding, like that of our country over the past 4,000 years, has clearly proved that the invaders and oppressors, however strong they might be, are always defeated in the end.

In March 1963, yet another letter arrived, this time addressed by seventy Vietnamese intellectuals and delivered to sixty-two Americans, including Pauling, who by now was being included directly in these international conversations. The letter’s argument was straightforward: the State of Vietnam in the south and its use of napalm and noxious chemicals (provided by the United States) constituted war crimes according to the international laws of 1922 and 1925, and the articles of the international military tribunals issued in Nuremberg and Tokyo after the Second World War.


Linus Pauling, 1963.

As the violence in Vietnam intensified, and as he became more deeply involved in these communications with the people of Vietnam, Pauling’s thinking began to shift. Whereas he had initially hoped to uncover the root cause of American involvement in Vietnam, he now saw that the reasons for the conflict, as well as his own opinions on whether or not the United States had any just cause to enter into Vietnam, were inconsequential in the face of the horrors that were transpiring.

In other words, for the purposes of facilitating an end to the violence, it no longer mattered to Pauling who was to blame. It only mattered that the fighting stop. Of course, doing so would require that both sides allow for a cease-fire and enter into negotiations.

Pauling’s task at this point became that of a would-be international arbiter; one hoping to broker the terms necessary for a mosaic of warring factions to enter into negotiations. It was a task that would consume him in the years to come.

Pauling and Vietnam: Father Pire’s Appeal for Humanity


Father Georges Dominique Pire with a map and model of refugee villages in Europe.

[Ed Note: Today we begin an in-depth examination of Linus Pauling’s activism in opposition to the Vietnam War. This is post 1 of 7.]

“Our present object is not to apportion blame among the groups of combatants. The one imperative is that this crime against all that is civilized in the family of man shall cease.”

-“An Appeal by Recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize,” 1965

On the 27th of April, 1965, Father Georges Dominique Pire wrote a letter to all of his fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipients from Aberdeen, Scotland. The letter intended to rally this group in opposition to the Vietnam War. At the time, public opinion in the United States overwhelmingly supported the recent deployment of troops to Vietnam, as ordered by President Lyndon Johnson.This commitment would be increased by December, bringing the total number of U.S. military personnel in Vietnam to nearly 200,000.

Linus Pauling, who had been awarded the Peace Prize in December 1963 for his work ushering in a partial nuclear test ban treaty, read Pire’s letter with a heavy heart. Pauling had received notification of his award just as President John F. Kennedy began to increase American involvement in Southeast Asia, and only a month later the President was assassinated. This series of events paved the way for a new Commander in Chief, Lyndon Johnson, to further expand the American presence in the region.

By 1965, with casualties mounting and the political landscape becoming more polarized, Father Pire implored his fellow Peace Prize laureates to act in whatever capacity they might muster on behalf of peace for all of humanity. A Belgian friar who had fled the German advance during World War II, Pire knew first-hand the horrors of combat and had practiced – as well as preached – his message of peace by providing aid to refugees. In addressing the Peace laureates, the friar formed his lengthy letter around the story of Cain and Abel as recorded in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Then Cain said to his brother, “Let us go out together,” and while they were out in the open, Cain turned upon his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is thy brother, Abel?” Cain said, “I cannot tell. Is it for me to keep watch over my brother?” But the answer came, “What hast thou done?”

As Pire’s retelling of the story concludes, the Lord says, “The blood of thy brother has found a voice that cries out to me from the ground.”

For Father Pire, it was the blood that was being spilled in Vietnam that had a voice. “Each one of us must be ready to reply to this question which is put to us all,” he said. “You now have a line of conduct to follow – to be the voice of the voiceless, to give the strong a guilty conscience, to sensitize public opinion, to show your brothers the way by walking straight yourselves.” It was a call that did not fall on deaf ears, and Linus Pauling in particular took up the mantle of peace in a personal crusade against the violence escalating in Vietnam.


Drawing of the eight Nobel Peace laureates who signed the 1965 Vietnam appeal. Clockwise from top: Albert Schweitzer, Norman Angell, Philip Noel-Baker, Boyd Orr, Georges Dominique Pire, A.J. Luthuli, Linus Pauling, Martin Luther King, Jr.

In August 1965, eight out of the ten living Nobel Peace Laureates signed a joint plea urging the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam and urging the world to reach an accord on Southeast Asia. This historic appeal was signed by Sir Norman Angell, Lord Boyd Orr, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Father Georges Dominique Pire, Philip Noel-Baker, Chief A. J. Luthuli, Linus Pauling, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Only Prime Minister Lester Pearson of Canada and United Nations official Dr. Ralph Bunche declined the invitation to sign the appeal, both stating that their positions prevented them from endorsing the document, but that they would nonetheless do everything in their power to promote a settlement or cease-fire.

The appeal was published in news outlets around the world, from Pravda in Russia to the L.A. Times in the United States. It read:

The war in Vietnam challenges the conscience of the world. None of us can read day after day the reports of the killing, the maiming, and the burning without calling for this inhumanity to end. Our present object is not to apportion blame among the groups of combatants. The one imperative is that this crime against all that is civilized in the family of man shall cease.

Peace is possible. Both sides say that they accept the essentials of the Geneva Agreement. Then why not meet to seek a political settlement? Why not an immediate cease-fire?

In the name of our common humanity, we, the under-signed recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, appeal to all the Governments and parties concerned to take immediate action to achieve a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement of this tragic conflict.


Ho Chi Minh, 1946.

A keen observer of world politics, Pauling had been following the situation in Vietnam as it had developed. Importantly, he was aware of Vietnam’s tumultuous political history, which is crucial to understanding how the Vietnam War came to pass.

Formerly part of the French colony of Indo-China, which included most of modern Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam came under the control of Japan in September 1940. This in turn sparked the rise of the Viet Minh, an army led by a Communist revolutionary figure, Ho Chi Minh. By August 1945, Emperor Bao Dai – who had been elevated into power by the Japanese – voluntarily abdicated the throne, paving the way for the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in North Vietnam and a declaration of Vietnamese independence from both Japan and France.

Of particular interest to Pauling was the notion that, contrary to contemporary portrayals in the American media, the DRV seemed at its inception to be anything but totalitarian. On the same token, the DRV did not appear to be entirely communist. Rather, the DRV established a constitution which required at least a 25% voter turnout to legitimate results, and which gave all Vietnamese over the age of 18 the right to vote. In 1946, the areas controlled by the DRV hosted elections with a participation rate later determined to be 89%. The result of these ballots was a split cabinet, with the Communist-Workers’ Party occupying just over half of the governing body.

With war in Europe ended, however, France reasserted its influence over the northern half of Vietnam – the area now controlled by the independent DRV. In an effort to neutralize President Ho Chi Minh’s influence on the population, France supported the return to power of Emperor Bao Dai and created the State of Vietnam in the south as part of a “unified” Vietnam that included the neighboring kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia. Ruling from Saigon, this French-sanctioned state was anti-communist and perceived by the north as a representing a return to colonial control.

The State of Vietnam was granted independence from France in 1949, legitimizing it in the eyes of the world as the official government of all of Vietnam. By 1950, American military advisors had arrived in Saigon to provide the State of Vietnam with support. Meanwhile, the communist north was backed by the Peoples’ Republic of China and, to a lesser extent, by the Soviet Union. Hostilities ensued and, over the course of four years of fighting, the Viet Minh gradually regained and cemented control over the northern half of the modern state of Vietnam. In 1954, a series of agreements called the Geneva Accords ended the armed conflict between north and south. Although the French then evacuated the State of Vietnam, the would-be nation remained divided.


Ngo Dinh Diem

The Geneva Accords stated that nationwide elections were to be held in 1956 – by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and by the State of Vietnam in the south – on the specific issue of unification under a common government. This mandate for elections proved to be a crucial issue for Linus Pauling and others who questioned the legitimacy of American involvement in Vietnam, largely because the promised elections never took place.

Instead, the State of Vietnam in the south was dismantled and reorganized as the Republic of Vietnam in 1955. The republic’s new president, Ngo Dinh Diem, consolidated power quickly through a series of elections that were highly criticized and decried as fraudulent. Since the Republic of Vietnam was a new nation that had never agreed to the terms that had ended the previous war, the Diem regime announced that it would not participate in the Geneva-mandated elections to unify the country.

During this time, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) that was operating under Diem’s command was already receiving American financial support and working with U.S. advisors in their struggle against proponents of communism. The north Vietnamese government responded by initiating a campaign to unify with the south by force. Thus began the Second Indochina War, commonly known in the United States as the Vietnam War.


“An Open Letter to President John F. Kennedy Against U.S. Military Intervention in South Vietnam”, April 11, 1962.

Pauling had publicly pronounced his stance against military involvement in Vietnam as early as 1962. In that year, he signed an open letter to President Kennedy that was published in four major newspapers and included the endorsements of fifteen other eminent public figures and humanitarians. The letter expressed concern over Kennedy’s financial and military commitment to the preservation of capitalism in South Vietnam, a commitment that had been gradually increasing since 1954.

In deciding to involve itself militarily in the conflict, U.S. officials claimed that violence against the Diem regime in the south was not the outgrowth of a local rebellion or civil war, but rather an invasion of military forces from the north seeking to oppress southern populations under the yoke of communism. From Pauling’s perspective, North Vietnamese military action and supply lines supported its forces in much the same way that the United States and France had previously supported the State of Vietnam and its antecedents in the south. However, it quickly became clear that it was a regional guerrilla force developing in the south, the National Liberation Front – known to Americans as the Viet Cong – that predominantly fought the war.

The presence of the Viet Cong lent a tension to Pauling’s judgement on whether or not American involvement was justifiable. On one hand, significant numbers of North Vietnamese infantry were not clearly or directly involved – this only came about years later following the onset of U.S. bombing raids in the north. However, it was also the case that the National Liberation Front (NLF) of South Vietnam had been created by the DRV as a tool for fomenting continuing communist revolutionary sympathies in the south. This occurred despite the fact that the army of the DRV, the Viet Minh, had been comprised of both communist and non-communist forces and that many of these non-communists had settled in the south following the independence of North Vietnam, but prior to later American relocation efforts. The extent to which the NLF constituted a foreign invading force as opposed to an externally organized command structure that served to coordinate a willing and local insurgency in South Vietnam would be the crux of the debate between Pauling and the Johnson administration in determining the way toward peace.

The complexities of the situation were not readily known to the American public in April 1962, when the Kennedy open letter was printed in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Post. And so it was that, on the eve of his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, Linus Pauling was already attempting to bring what he believed to be an immoral and unconstitutional war to the forefront of the American consciousness.