Early Disputes: The Bush Report and The World Federation of Scientific Workers

Vannevar Bush

[Pauling and the Guggenheim Foundation]

Linus Pauling and Henry Allen Moe, Secretary of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, lived on opposite coasts but built a close relationship through their shared Guggenheim responsibilities. Over the years, the two spent time at one another’s homes and showed genuine, continuing interest in each other’s families and well-being.

Because of their professional relationship, which mostly involved making judgments on the granting of Guggenheim fellowships, the two also had moments of disagreement. Some of these conflicts emerged out of disputes that had nothing to do with the Foundation, the first arising near the close of World War II and concerning the 1945 Bush Report.

In July 1945, Vannevar Bush, the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, published a response to a request issued by President Franklin Roosevelt. The President had tasked Bush with providing guidance on the best ways to promote science in service of military, medical, public, and private organization. He also wanted Bush to find a way to identify scientific talent in order to maintain the levels of research that had been arrived at during the Second World War. Four committees informed the compilation of Bush’s final report, with Pauling serving on the Medical Advisory Committee and Moe heading the Committee on Discovery and Development of Scientific Talent.

In his cover letter to Roosevelt, Bush acknowledged the importance of research in the social sciences and humanities, but expressed that he did not interpret his original charge as needing to address those areas of study. Moe did not think this was a good idea. In his final committee report, Moe warned against the government steering all of its resources and talents towards promoting the natural sciences and medicine, believing that to do so would ultimately harm the country and the sciences themselves. (“Science cannot live by and unto itself alone,” he wrote.) Because of this disagreement, Moe refused to issue a public endorsement of the Bush Report.

In November a group of scientists – including Pauling – who clearly believed otherwise created the Committee Supporting the Bush Report. This group wrote to President Harry Truman mostly to speak out against proposals made by West Virginia Senator Harley M. Kilgore, and especially the idea that a new program of post-war research support be headed by a single individual or by political appointees. The letter also stated that, despite Truman’s recent comments to the contrary, including the social sciences in the post-war program would be a “serious mistake.”

When Moe saw the letter, he wrote to Pauling, “I am sorry to see that you signed the letter to President Truman for the Committee Supporting the Bush Report!” Pauling was surprised to learn this as he had note yet heard any arguments against the letter and had also not noticed that Moe had declined to add his name. Pauling admitted that he had harbored doubts about the social sciences paragraph, and in fact confided that the language had been softened as a result of objections that he had expressed.

As Pauling thought about it more, he came to further regret his actions. As he admitted to Moe, he had also sent letters to his own Senators and Representatives that contradicted the letter to Truman. “My position as a signer of both documents,” he confided,” is indefensible.”

I became a signer of the letter to President Truman partially through an error in judgment on my part and partially through a misunderstanding about the nature of the revision of Section 8 [the social sciences language] of the letter. I have been hoping that nobody would discover that I have supported both sides in the argument about social sciences, and that the sole effect of my experience would be to educate me.

While this disagreement ended up a minor one with Pauling admitting himself in the wrong, it would not be the last conflict between the two.

In May 1952, knowing that Pauling was encountering difficulties with the U.S. State Department’s passport division, Moe wrote to pass along a few details from a New York Times article that he had seen. The article noted that Secretary of State Dean Acheson would explain why passport applications submitted by several leading scientists had been denied, but that he seemed less inclined to go into detail about Pauling’s case.

With this, Moe also sent a copy of a Times editorial that he thought reasonable. The opinion piece argued that Pauling’s passport be refused because of his position as Vice President of the World Federation of Scientific Workers, an affiliation that caught Moe by surprise. As Moe explained,

You may not like my agreeing with this part of the editorial; but we do not live in an ideal world – and nobody ever did – and in the present temper of the Congress and our fellow citizens, you ought to recognize that the vice-presidency is a suspicious fact. It does not make me suspicious of you; but I have the advantage of knowing you personally. I feel sure that Benjamin Franklin – who certainly was no trimmer – would have counseled against the appearance of evil in your situation; and I will remind you that you sit, at the Philadelphia Society, mighty close to where sat Franklin.

In his reply, Pauling took pains to note that, when he was originally questioned, the State Department had not asked him about this affiliation, and that furthermore, his proposed travel had nothing to do with the organization. Even so, Pauling explained, he had only recently become affiliated with the group as he was nominated by the American Association of Scientific Workers to be Vice President of the World Federation the previous year. He never received any notice as to whether he had actually been elected or not, only a notice that the board was to meet in England in March. Pauling hesitated in responding because of the short notice and his own lack of clarity about his standing. Then the British government stopped the meeting from happening, at which point he believed the whole conversation moot.

As further justification of its irrelevance to his case, Pauling added that the World Federation had been founded by the Association of Scientific Workers in Great Britain, was comprised of sixteen organizations from fourteen countries, and was recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization. Its purpose was to promote peaceful applications of science and to push for international scientific cooperation in accordance with UNESCO. None of these aims struck Pauling as being un-American.

Pauling likewise argued that neither the British nor the American associations were “communist-dominated,” though branches in other parts of the world – with which Pauling had only a passing acquaintance – may have been. The World Federation had also made an effort to increase participation by non-Communist nations, but strove to do so without cutting off ties from Eastern Europe or Asia.

After the World Federation meeting had been canceled by the British government, Pauling wrote to the American Association that he no longer wanted to be considered for Vice President. Regardless,

It seems to me that international organizations of this sort constitute the best hope that we have for the future. I feel that international organizations of scientists could be especially effective. The Iron Curtain and what might be called the [Senator Pat] McCarren Curtain seem to operate more strongly against scientists than against other people.

Moe does not appear to have replied to Pauling’s letter, but once Pauling was able to obtain a passport and travel to Europe, Moe wrote again to learn more about his trip. Pauling responded that it had been a success. Notably, on his journeys through France, England, and Scotland, he had been able to speak with most of the people working on protein structures that he would have otherwise seen at an earlier Royal Society conference that he was unable to attend because of his passport troubles.

As an outcome of these conversations, Pauling had resolved some difficulties that he was encountering with his proposed structure for hair, horn, fingernails, and similar proteins. Pauling expected that he would have enjoyed similar results had he been able to go to the Royal Society meeting, but that a breakthrough of this sort would have required many months work had he not been able to go to Europe at all. The tenor of this exchange leads one to conclude that the conflict between Pauling and Moe had been extinguished.

Pauling’s passport difficulties happened early in the same year that the House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations and Comparable Organizations, also known as the Cox Committee, requested information from the Guggenheim Foundation. While Pauling and Moe were able to reconcile their differences peaceably around the Bush Report and the World Federation of Scientific Workers, the Cox Committee and the stress surrounding it would bring up issues that were much more difficult to resolve.

The Price of Affiliation

Linus Pauling, 1950s

[Part 2 of 2]

Nearly halfway through the twentieth century, many scientists who had held classified security clearances during the Second World War were being blacklisted from their profession. Post-war, the clearance process for work on classified projects became subject to increased scrutiny, a duty which fell under the dual jurisdiction of regional personnel security boards and the military. The boards could revoke clearance upon examination of an applicant’s personal information, and could choose not to present evidence for their conclusions.

In such instances where an applicant wished to challenge the decision, an appeal could be issued to the Industrial Employment Review Board (IERB), which allowed individuals to present their case in person. Civilian scientists that came before the board were judged by a military review panel, whose decision on the matter was final.

As a part of his general duties after the war, Linus Pauling worked on a committee that reviewed grant requests for Caltech’s Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, many of which involved classified information for work on restricted projects supported by the Department of Defense. Because of new Caltech policies, people in Pauling’s position were required to submit an application for low level security clearance, a stipulation which Pauling agreed to but otherwise took little interest in.

On July 31, 1951 however, Pauling was notified by the IERB that his most recent request for clearance to work with classified military information had been denied. Before explaining his rights to appeal the decision, the reasons for his denial were freely expressed by the board:

Information indicates that you have been a member of the Communist Party and close associate of Communist Party members from 1943 to the present time; you have also been affiliated with or a member of numerous organizations which espouse Communist Party ideologies and on many occasions you have openly defended known Communists and Communist ideologies.

Pauling promptly requested a hearing before the board. He was soon notified of his options, and provided with an extended justification for his clearance denial. The reply from the review board included a detailed listing of Pauling’s many suspected connections to communism and communist organizations. The itemization noted, among other transgressions, his affiliations with the Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, the National Council of the Arts Sciences and Professions, the Progressive Citizens of America, and a lengthy list of people and causes that had received Pauling’s support or opposition over the previous several years. Nearly all of the listings had been cited by the Attorney General of the United States as subversive and/or communist. Having presented the lengthy list, the Executive Officer of the IERB, Donald Mare, concluded that

The foregoing information and all the investigative evidence in your case file, when considered in connection with the duties of your position as a research consultant on classified information of the Department of Defense at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, indicates that you might voluntarily or involuntarily act against the security interests of the United States, and that your employment in that position might constitute a danger to national security.

Pauling was informed that the board would be hearing cases on the West Coast during the week of November 12, at which point he scheduled an appearance. Caltech President Lee DuBridge did not immediately reply to Pauling’s inquiry about Caltech-funded legal defense and delayed the assignment of a lawyer to Pauling, thus forcing Pauling to find his own. The event precipitated one of Pauling’s first close interactions with Abraham Lincoln Wirin, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who would provide him with vital legal counsel over the next several decades.

A. L. Wirin

At his appearance before the IERB, Pauling read a thirteen-page statement about his life, beliefs and the value of his work to the nation. After further discussion and examination of his character witnesses, the board ended the hearing inconclusively, informing Pauling and his counsel that a follow-up hearing would be pursued later in Washington, D.C.

Several days before his next hearing was scheduled to take place, Pauling met with Mr. Wirin and President DuBridge. At this meeting, DuBridge informed Pauling that the whole controversy with the IERB had resulted from an administrative oversight. DuBridge had discovered that Pauling’s name was mistakenly added to a list of researchers requesting top secret clearance for a hydrogen bomb research program called Project Vista. It seems that the mistake had made the entire discussion of Pauling’s affiliations a moot point, as the low level security classification required for Pauling’s position would likely have passed through the clearance process without incident.

After some discussion, DuBridge agreed that the basic “Confidential” clearance would likely continue to be satisfactory for Pauling’s work on the division’s Contracts Committee. He wrote a letter to that effect, clarifying the list error, which Pauling promptly delivered to the IERB. After presenting DuBridge’s letter to the Board, Pauling’s clearance was shortly reinstated.

Though the troubling events ended mostly in his favor, Pauling was understandably shaken by the ordeal. Had the low-level security clearance not been reinstated, Pauling’s ability to operate effectively in his position at Caltech would have been greatly jeopardized. Pauling was cowed by the experience, and after talking with his wife Ava Helen, decided to tone down the political aspects of his public profile.

Shortly thereafter, Pauling resigned from the NCASP, then declined a nomination from the American Association of Scientific Workers for a continued position as one of the organization’s vice-presidents. Pauling also resigned his vice-presidency of the World Federation of Scientific Workers, citing an inability to effectively perform his duties as an officer.  Nonetheless, even as he distanced himself from several people and organizations, Pauling found himself under continued scrutiny from investigators and other interested parties.

Though Pauling felt a pressing need to withdraw from some of his controversial associations, it was not long before he began to re-initiate contact. Pauling accepted the National Vice-Presidency of AAScW for 1952-53, less than a year after his initial refusal, and continued to receive and save AAScW newsletters throughout the 1950s. He also maintained contact with J. D. Bernal and others within the World Federation of Scientific Workers well into the 1980s. While the events of 1951 proved that Pauling could be temporarily intimidated or constrained, they also demonstrated his resilient commitment to peace-related activism and organization.

Pauling and the Peace Groups

Logo of the World Federation of Scientific Workers

[Part 1 of 2]

By 1950, largely as a result of information sharing between the FBI, the Tenney Committee, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and others, Linus Pauling’s name was high on the lists of congressional investigatory bodies harboring an interest in U.S. communist subversion. Because of his position and professional stature, Pauling was commonly referenced during discussions of communist infiltration within scientific institutions. Several consequences resulted from the attention, including a number of canceled speaking engagements across the country.

Most of the charges leveled against him were familiar, centering on his affiliation with suspected communists and communist fronts.  And over time the repercussions of these accusations began to escalate. As the controversies failed to abate, many of those close to Pauling professionally and otherwise – particularly Caltech president Lee DuBridge – became ever more weary of Pauling’s notoriety.

In spite of the difficulties that these attentions imposed upon him and the Institute, Pauling continued to produce substantive scientific research. He steadily published new findings, making especially impressive strides in his work with protein structures. Ironically, though he was continually bombarded by accusations of communist subversion in relation to his non-professional activities, his scientific work was simultaneously under ardent attack by Lysenko-era Soviet scientists. His theories were also being challenged by several leading British scientists, forcing him to spend a great deal of his time addressing criticism. Indeed, he was so busy at the height of this work that he postponed a trip to Europe and turned down a visiting professorship at Harvard.

Nonetheless, Pauling continued to receive widespread acclaim for his work. Among other honors at the time, he was invited to speak at an international scientific conference where he received spectacular coverage in the press. The positive coverage, as well as the success of his research, helped maintain the stability of Pauling’s position at Caltech.

Throughout most of the extended controversy surrounding his affiliations, Pauling remained a member and contributor to several different groups and causes. He gave what he could to those he deemed worthy and discriminated very little when choosing his associations – a tendency which often caused trouble with Caltech administrators and investigatory committees alike. One such controversial group was the National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions (NCASP), a national advocacy organization formed from the constitution of the Progressive Citizens of America. The organization was involved in Henry Wallace‘s presidential campaign with the Progressive Party – a campaign that Pauling supported and likely the primary motivation for Pauling’s membership.

The NCASP acted in the tradition of what it saw as the fight for national progress and welfare that had been assumed by American artists, scientists and professionals for most of the country’s history. Claiming basic non-partisanship but advocating for New Deal-era policies, the NCASP emphasized the important role of qualified individuals working in support of progressive political programs. The organization was intentionally composed of diverse professionals and supported peaceful governance, international cooperation, economic security, notions of universal equality, social welfare, and enforcement of constitutional rights. The NCASP made contributions to political campaigns, distributed educational material, conducted research and supported community activities. It also busied itself with the organization of peace conferences and petitions against abusive committee practices, and was heavily involved with protests against the persecution of the “Hollywood 10.”

Pauling also held membership in the American Association of Scientific Workers (AAScW), an American affiliate of the World Federation of Scientific Workers. The AAScW was founded primarily to strengthen the relationship between science, scientists and the rest of society. The organization sought to improve public education on scientific matters, safeguard the exercise of independent scientific endeavor and promote scientific involvement in the pursuit of public welfare. It was an organization of scientists parallel in scope and ideals to contemporary bodies in England and other parts of Europe. Pauling was first approached by the AAScW in 1939, however he declined admittance because of the organization’s opposition to American involvement in the growing European war. He later accepted a nomination as vice-president, and maintained steady contact with the organization’s action committees and national secretary.

The World Federation of Scientific Workers (WFSW) was made up of sixteen organizations of scientific workers from 14 different countries, including the U.S., Britain, the U.S.S.R., China, France and India. It was founded by members of the Association of Scientific Workers in Great Britain, and fully recognized by the United Nations as an international non-governmental organization. The WFSW was a strong advocate of international cooperation, especially as concerned nuclear technology and atomic weapons non-proliferation, but also sought the improvement of international relations through scientific institutions. It worked to organize scientists world-wide and establish higher principles for the social responsibility of scientific workers. The controversial organization held many international conferences, which were often opposed and obstructed by the national governments hosting them.  The group also published an official journal, Scientific World.

John Desmond Bernal, (1901-1971) a renowned British crystallographer, was very active in the organization. Bernal and his colleagues were competing with Pauling and his associates to further the analysis of protein structures, however the two men exercised mutual professional respect and maintained a lasting friendship. Indeed, one year after Bernal’s death, Pauling would write of his friend

He impressed me then [in 1930] as the most brilliant scientist that I had ever met, and I have retained this impression, which was substantiated by the many later discussions that I had with him.

Bernal was the author of The Social Function of Science, a book that was highly critical of predominant conceptions of scientific application, and an inspiration to Pauling amidst his future struggles. Pauling joined the WFSW near the beginning of the 1950s, but had little time to spare for practical participation. He volunteered as much of himself as he could after joining, but was more involved with the organization later in life as its acting Vice President.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at the price that Pauling paid for his membership in each of these groups and the pressures that ultimately led to his distancing himself from all three.