Linus Pauling Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Peace Movement in Historical Perspective; Conversation with  Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling; 1/18/83 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Tom Rush

Page 1 of 8


Dr. Pauling, welcome to Berkeley.

Thank you.

I wonder if you might recall for us the early days of the peace movement right after the Second World War. You were a member of Einstein's Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, one of the first efforts.

That's right. I got interested in world peace in 1945. I had been working during the Second World War, and for a little while earlier than that, a year or two earlier, on war projects. I still was Professor/Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, but I had about 20 contracts with the Office of Scientific Research and Development. Oppenheimer asked me to come to Los Alamos as head of the chemistry section of the atomic bomb project, and I decided not to do it. I had so much going on in Pasadena, including continuing teaching chemistry and this large amount of war work. When the atomic bombs were dropped, exploded, over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, I was very soon asked by the Rotary Club in Hollywood to talk about nuclear fission, about the nature of these weapons. I was able to do so because I had not been connected with the atomic energy project and had no classified information about these weapons. So I began giving talks, popular talks, to groups of that sort which were purely education, descriptive in nature, with little political content. Rather soon, they began to involve the expression of my own ideas -- I don't remember just how early it was that I was able to quote Albert Einstein as saying that now that a single bomb can destroy a whole city and a single rocket can lob it over, the time has come when we must give up war. But then I was asked to join the Board of Trustees of the Einstein Committee, the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, which consisted only of the Board of Trustees, half a dozen scientists, Albert Einstein as chairman and Harold Urey as vice chairman. So every few months I went with my wife to Princeton to a meeting of this board, and later I began making lecture tours, partially along with Leo Szilard. We would show a film which the committee had made, the first film about atomic bombs explaining what nuclear war would be. Just a little atomic bomb of the Hiroshima - Nagasaki type then. And Leo Szilard would give a talk and I would speak, too, about the necessity to understand what had happened in the world now that the means of waging war had changed in such an astounding way.

And very early on, you were advocating against the production of the hydrogen bomb, even in the late 40s.

I opposed the construction of the hydrogen bomb on the, I think, rather reasonable grounds that an ordinary atomic bomb could destroy a whole city, even the biggest cities. It could do much damage, perhaps kill a million people out of the 10 million in a large city, and that there was no need to accelerate the arms race by developing weapons a thousand times more powerful.

Next page: The Role of Ava Helen Pauling in Linus Pauling's Peace Work

© Copyright 1996, Regents of the University of California