One World Away: Kiang’s Great Unity and Pauling’s Press for Peace

KIC Image 0001 (4).jpg

[Ed Note: With the conclusion of the academic year here at Oregon State University, we say goodbye to Student Archivist Ethan Heusser, who has written extensively on the Special Collections and Archives Research Center’s rare book collections at our sister blog, Rare@OSU. Today and over the next three weeks, we will share three Pauling-related posts that Ethan wrote over the course of his tenure working for us.]

Many Americans – and people around the globe – experienced the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s as an age of political uncertainty and social turmoil. It was a powerful time: everywhere the specter of disaster loomed, yet that fear brought with it a unique capacity for change enabled by commonplace desperation. In the United States alone, mounting resistance to the Vietnam War built confidence among grass-roots activist organizations for their efficacy in up-ending the status quo. And while mutually assured destruction terrified the world, the threat of nuclear war also inspired many thinkers and activists to strive for equally bold solutions. In the light of world chaos and potential mass destruction, the idea of building a global government and abolishing nationalism seemed especially promising – far more promising than what the United Nations seemed ultimately able to provide.

It’s no surprise, then, to see a large proliferation in world peace literature in the Cold War era. Some publications were mild and innocuous, but many took the form of bold declarations and manifestos about the urgent need for radical change.

An excellent example of the latter is One World: The Approach to Permanent Peace on Earth and the General Happiness of Mankind by John Kiang. Self-described as “a manifesto of revolution for world union with the evolutionary law of group expansion as a guiding theory,” it examines shifting technologies and living conditions to build a larger argument in favor of a unified humanity. From that perspective, nations and nation-states can only be seen as counter-productive: the deep-seated but fundamentally arbitrary veil of nationalism impedes sincere appeals to common humanity and mutual accountability.

Although the core text is fairly concise, this copy of One World is a scholarly edition from 1984, replete with extensive sources, commentary, and analysis:

KIC Image 0001 (5).jpg

In this work we see the role that cultural context can play in international movements: though not explicitly outlined, One Worldcontains thematic and rhetorical ties to the utopic vision of “Great Unity” in China. Great Unity represents the goal of creating a Chinese society of mutual accountability and selflessness – a cohesive community where people work to help others rather than harm them.

First described in classic Chinese texts going back millennia, Great Unity was popularized by Sun Yat-Sen in the early 20th century. In doing so, it was used to help build a cultural momentum in favor of a shift towards a communist ideal. The Great Unity message was adopted overtly in China’s national anthem in 1937; though later supplanted with another song in the People’s Republic of China during the Chinese Civil War, it remains in use by Taiwan to this day.

John Kiang left China in 1949 in the wake of the earth-shattering Chinese Civil War. It seems fair to suggest that he nevertheless brought the culturally-specific vision of world peace, prosperity, and harmony with him stateside. It’s hard for those of us living in our countries of birth to imagine the inner turmoil he must have felt during that time, working for global peace a world away while his homeland was experiencing such complete upheaval and division. Perhaps that effort helped him, in some way, to bring his home with him and improve the world as a result.

These efforts manifested in One World. Though a relatively obscure book, One World at last found some degree of traction once it found its way into the hands of two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling – surprisingly, Pauling was willing to attach his name to it in the form of a guest introduction.

KIC Image 0003 (3).jpg

As a famous peace activist, Pauling was a prime recipient of unsolicited manuscripts, book ideas, calls for action, and reference requests. But of all of the texts he received and was asked to endorse, why would he choose one such as this?

KIC Image 0006.jpg

A large factor was undoubtedly Kiang’s persistent correspondence with Pauling. He wrote with Pauling repeatedly between 1983-4, praising Pauling’s efforts and experience and asking for an introduction to One World. Pauling consistently refused, citing his lack of expertise in Kiang’s specific subject area. This pseudo-humble approach to refusing unsolicited (and often wacky) manuscripts was trademark for Pauling during his peak social activism years. Then, somehow, everything changed for One World. Somehow, Pauling changed his mind. We have as proof Pauling’s written introduction documented in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Collection, along with letters and cards from the Kiang family thanking him for his collaboration:

KIC Image 0001 (3).jpg

Even when meticulously compiled and researched, correspondence collections can still resist post hoc scrutiny. We hold a substantial set of letters between the two activists, but we lack the connection point between the “before” and “after” of when Pauling agreed to add his name to Kiang’s One World project. Was it a letter that went missing? A phone call? An in-person visit? Kiang later sent Pauling a photo of a meeting between them, but the context for how and when it happened is largely absent.

KIC Image 0003.jpg

Another probable factor is that the content and message of the book aligned well with Pauling’s driving fears for the future. As Pauling writes in his introduction, “[Kiang’s] principal message is that war has now ruled itself out.” For Pauling, the atom bomb meant that “a war in which the existing nuclear weapons were used would with little doubt mean the end of our civilization, and possibly the end of the human race.” Perhaps that in itself built enough common ground between two men of different backgrounds and fields of expertise to collaborate – if only in a minor way – on what must have felt like a higher calling. (Pauling’s endorsement would be used in later work by John Kiang as well, but always from a distanced position.)

On a general level, One World embodies the slippery way that ideas persist, spread, and evolve. Just like how John Kiang built his own vision upon seeds planted by Sun Yat-Sen and many authors before him, it will be fascinating to witness how the Cold War push towards internationally-regulated peace and world government will rear its head again on the world stage in the decades to come.

KIC Image 0002 (4).jpg

Clarence Streit


[Part 2 of 3]

The idea of a unifying world government may seem difficult to imagine, yet political thinkers have considered the possibility at different moments throughout history. One such moment came about during World War II, when the unity and mutual support of nations was seen as essential to both the Allied and the Axis powers.

Earlier, in 1920, the League of Nations was created in Geneva as a conservative acknowledgement of the need for an international governing authority. The League, however, quickly lost its footing after a brief period of promise in the 1930s.

In Europe to report on the weakening of the League was an American journalist, Clarence Streit. Though he served as a first-hand witness to the failure of an international political organization, the experience only inspired Streit to develop a new plan for an alternative international authority. Ultimately, after ten years working as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, Streit gave up his position in favor of devoting his energies, full time, to becoming one of the United States’ leading advocates for a world government.

Born in 1896 in the city of California, Missouri, Clarence Kirschmann Streit received an early jumpstart to his career as a journalist when, in 1911, he and his family moved to Missoula, Montana. It was there that he founded Konah, the Sentinel High School newspaper, which to this day stands as one of the nation’s leading high school news publications, in addition to being one of the oldest. Later on, Streit earned a bachelor’s degree from what is now Montana State University, where he continued to pursue journalism as editor of the college newspaper.

In 1917 Streit volunteered for war service – joining some of the first Americans to land in Europe during World War I – and his involvement with both the media and the military led him to think more deeply about socio-political affairs. He was later awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, which allowed him to pursue a graduate degree in History at Oxford University. His work as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times marked the beginning of Streit’s professional career as a journalist. And as he reported on the issues that brought about the crumbling of the League of Nations, Streit began planning his own proposal for an international governing force.


The vehicle for spreading Streit’s ideas was a book, Union Now, first published 1939. Written amidst the run-up to World War II, Streit’s book urged the United States government and its people to consider a union of interdependence between the United States and the United Kingdom. The text couched this idea in the context of patriotism, arguing that the plan’s primary aim was to protect the United States from the spread of totalitarianism and to promote peace throughout the world.

Union Now specifically proposes extending the principles of the U.S. Constitution to all of the world’s democracies, including British dominions and French colonies. Streit argued that the immediate threat of Hitler’s invasion of Britain represented a threat to the United States as well. Streit believed that if Britain were to be overtaken by Hitler’s forces, the United States would become Germany’s next target. Based on these premises, Streit proposed that the United States needed to join forces with Britain and to form a single government; one based not on nationalism but on the protection of democracy.

Interdependence was Streit’s key word when promoting this idea; he believed that each nation could maintain its national identity while supporting its sister democracies. As such, the union of the United States and Britain would not undo the efforts of the founders of the United States. Rather, it would represent a protection and prolongation of democracy.

Union Now further points out that, although interdependence had never been tested before, it was not out of the question. Prior to the year 1776, Streit notes, a federal union of former British colonies would have seemed a bizarre idea, but eventually that very community became a successful government. Streit felt that a federal union of interdependent democratic states would work equally as well and could become a means to prevent the tragedies of war. In this, worldwide federal union would protect democracy abroad while serving as an extension of the work of the founders of the United States.

Although radical, Streit’s proposal was well-received by many. Not long after the book’s publication, chapters of the Federal Unionist Club began appearing throughout the U.S., its members dedicated to discussing and promoting Streit’s proposal of interdependence. Chapters across the country collected membership fees to organize national conferences and to distribute pamphlets, again pushing to spread the word of Streit’s ideas on interdependence. The Club itself offered its members and leaders alike the chance to get involved in efforts to make sure that President Roosevelt was aware of Streit’s proposal. Not surprisingly, the increase of Federal Unionist Club chapters correlated with the increase of Union Now copies mailed to the Roosevelt family.

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling were among the supporters of Streit’s proposal and both were members of the Pasadena chapter of the Federal Unionist Club. During a visit to their alma mater, Oregon State College (OSC), the Paulings likewise encouraged the college community to start a chapter of the Federal Unionist Club in Corvallis. Correspondence suggests that the Paulings further discussed the idea with various professors and students after their visit, though the club never did make it to the college campus.

Rear free end paper of the OSU circulating copy of Union Now.

Rear free end paper of the OSU circulating copy of Union Now.

Streit’s proposal, however, was certainly well known at OSC. In September 1939, just a few days after the start of the Second World War, the college library’s copy of Union Now was checked out for the first time and was rarely seen back in the stacks for more than three years. A charging slip, still in the book today, indicates that between 1939 and November 1942 the book was persistently checked out. It appears that the book’s circulation was impacted only by American entry in the war, for it regained its original popularity in the fall of 1945, soon after the war officially ended.

Though it did not come to pass in the way that he envisioned, Clarence Streit’s proposal caused people across the country to both reconsider the limits of the United States Constitution and to ponder whether other republics could benefit from it. For their part, the Paulings’ involvement in the dissemination of Streit’s ideas marked an important first step of their public involvement in world affairs.

Indeed, World War II was a period that drove many Americans – including Streit and the Paulings – to become more politically proactive. For Linus and Ava Helen, this was also a time when they began to discover the extent to which their participation could influence broader decisions being made by the politicians of their time.

Union Now


[Part 1 of 3]

The onset of World War II drastically changed the course of Linus Pauling’s career. As was characteristic of much of 20th century warfare, the Second World War took place not only on the battlefield but also in the world’s scientific laboratories, as national governments invested their hopes and resources in the work of scientists and engineers supporting the war effort.

In the early 1940s, Pauling’s focus accordingly shifted from molecular structure towards a broad program of war-related research, including work on a substitute for blood serum and the development of an instrument capable of detecting the partial pressure of oxygen. The war wound up affecting Pauling’s career in many positive ways, but it also complicated the relationship between his personal views and his profession as a scientist.

Until 1940 Pauling had been fairly conventional in his world view; he limited his work to the objective processes of the scientific method and allowed politicians to deal with public affairs. At the suggestion of his wife Ava Helen, however, Linus began to read political theorists and joined organizations that aimed to engage their members in conversations about the issues facing society.

Pauling quickly found himself influenced by the authors that Ava Helen suggested. Interested in presenting his opinions, Pauling took a significant step forward in 1940 by speaking to the Federal Unionist club, an organization that aimed to promote the ideas proposed in Clarence Streit’s book, Union Now, published in 1939.

The talk, which Pauling delivered at a Pasadena junior high school on July 22, 1940, was the first important non-scientific presentation that Pauling had given during his professional career. In many respects, the lecture marked the beginning of Pauling’s public life as an activist.


Clarence Streit’s book proposed that the spread of totalitarian regimes was inevitable unless the world’s democracies – by which he primarily meant English-speaking republics – joined forces to protect their mutual concerns. As such, at a time when it was far from clear that the U.S. would enter into combat, Streit argued that it was in the best interest of the United States to support Great Britain’s struggle against Adolf Hitler in order to protect itself from Hitler’s increasing power.

Moving forward, Streit believed that the world’s democracies would likewise best be served by uniting under one federal government that operated under a “Declaration of Interdependence” and was charged with continuing to insure the collective good of its constituents. Federalist Union clubs, such as the one with which the Paulings were aligned as members, sprung up around the country with the goal of sparking discussion of Streit’s proposals.

Linus and Ava Helen were chief members of the Pasadena Chapter of the Federal Unionist Club and they encouraged the opening of new chapters elsewhere, including at their alma mater, Oregon State College.  In many ways, the Federal Unionist Club provided an ideological haven for the couple.

However, even after becoming a member, Linus remained quiet about his political opinions; mainly because he thought of himself as a physical chemist rather than a political thinker. Furthermore, Pauling understood the need to be cautious on matters of public policy – Caltech and Pasadena were both relatively conservative communities at the time, and Streit’s ideas on collective action and, ultimately, world government, were considered liberal by most and radical by some.


Pauling’s 1940 lecture marked a turning point in his public persona. Titled “The Immediate Need for Interdemocracy Federal Union and Mr. Streit’s Proposed Declaration of Interdependence,” the talk was delivered to members of the local Federal Unionist club. The presentation was significant for many reasons: not only did it mark his first non-scientific lecture as a Caltech professional, it also served as the first political statement that he had made before a larger audience.

Previously, Pauling had deemed politics too arbitrary and charged with personal interpretation to present in any objective or even purely informative manner. A scientist first and foremost, Pauling was used to and comfortable with presenting scientific data to his audiences rather than more personal opinions. Ava Helen’s interest and involvement in social and political movements, however, combined with changing times to slowly steer her husband towards a more active role in these types of activities.

Excerpt of Pauling's preparation for his Union Now talk, July 1940.

Excerpt of Pauling’s preparation for his Union Now talk, July 1940.

Standing in front of his audience at McKinley Junior High School may have evoked in Linus memories of his experiences in college oratory. During his junior year at Oregon Agricultural College, Pauling was chosen as class orator and the following year he delivered the senior class oration, an opportunity that he seized to urge his fellow classmates to take responsibility for the knowledge that they had acquired and to use it for the improvement of society.

This sense of responsibility shone through in his involvement in the Federal Unionist club, an environment which put Pauling in a position to think more deeply about World War II. The war was rapidly becoming the driving force behind his research and it was impossible for Pauling to ignore the political implications of his work. Unlike his past experiences with science-based lectures, the lecture given to the Federal Unionist club allowed Pauling to express his passion for a different type of subject and served to jumpstart a career defined by both scientific research and political involvement.

Union Now was not the only text that influenced Pauling’s shifting attitudes towards political affairs; he had also read The Social Function of Science, authored by his good friend, the English crystallographer and biologist J.D. Bernal. This text helped to further develop Pauling’s ideal of scientists as citizens who are also active contributors to the public’s understanding of science and technology. The engaged scientist as public citizen, Pauling believed, would make an important contribution to the citizenry’s ability to understand and analyze the widespread conflict and political turmoil that developed as a consequence of World War II.

Pauling prepared for his speech well in advance – an extant manuscript dated three and a half months before the lecture suggests that he invested a significant amount of time to thinking and writing about Union Now. And while much of the talk is devoted to a discussion of the details of Streit’s book, Pauling incorporates rhetoric of his own throughout. Near the beginning of the piece, he writes

Now there is being waged a great war between democracy and totalitarianism, to decide between the free way and the slave way. And this war may well determine, as Hitler says it will, the course of the world for the next thousand years. Through the development of methods of transportation and of technology in general, the world has effectively become so small that world rule is to be expected soon. The great decision which will be made before many years – surely during the present century, and possibly within the coming decade – is whether the world will be ruled by totalitarian masters or whether it will be a free democratic state.

When Pauling finally stood before the audience of the Federal Unionist Club and explained Streit’s proposals, it became clear that, through the influence of Ava Helen and the authors that she had introduced, Linus had at last become the scientist that he was indeed destined to be – not just an educated researcher, but also an active citizen. As we continue to explore this idea over the next two posts, we’ll learn more about Clarence Streit the man, as well as Ava Helen Pauling’s active involvement with the Federal Unionists.