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 2 of 8

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

How important was the fact that you had not really been in government service? Do you think that made it easier for you to draw some of these conclusions and for you to speak publicly about them?

Yes. Of course, I had in a sense been in government service in that I took leave one summer from the Institute in order to go to the Central Explosives Research Laboratory.

This was during the war?

During the war. And I had a large number of government contracts that I was responsible for. But I didn't have classified information about atomic bombs. I could talk about them as freely as I wanted, I thought. After my first talk, I think the second day after my first talk, an FBI man turned up in my office and said, "Who gave you information about how much plutonium or uranium 235 there is in an atomic bomb?" And I said, "Nobody, I figured it out." So, I wasn't bothered thereafter. But, if I had had classified information, we concede that I might well have been restrained from speaking to the public about the need to get control over war the way that I was speaking.

And, over the next decade and a half, both you and your wife [Ava Helen Pauling] were very active in lecturing and holding conferences and for petitioning the government and making known to the public the issues involved in these new weapons.

Yes. My wife had been interested in social, political, and economic problems ever since she was a teenage girl. She used to argue with a friend of the family, one of the judges of the Oregon State Supreme Court.

So she was very supportive of your efforts, and in fact, would direct a lot of her own speeches to the women's perspective on these issues.

Yes. I'm sure that if I had not married her, I would not have had this aspect of my career -- working for world peace. It was her influence on me and her continued support that caused me to continue. In fact, I have said that during the McCarthy period when many people gave up, especially scientists, I continued because I had to retain the respect of my wife.

And what drove her? Was it her academic background or her humanistic concern about the fate of the world?

Well, I think largely her humanistic concerns. She had had some training as a chemist, and during the Second World War she worked as an assistant to Professor Hagamsmith on a war project developing rubber. And she had a general interest in science and was very able, very smart, but she was really concerned about human beings. The humanistic concern she had was very great.

The lectures that you both gave, were very similar to what we see today being done on a larger scale by the Physicians for Social Responsibility: exposing the public to the horrors of nuclear war.

Yes, but when you say on a larger scale, I'm not even sure of that, because we gave hundreds of lectures about world peace. And, there were other people, too. Norman Cousins gave a great number of lectures. There was great activity twenty-five years ago in this field.

Next page: Public Criticism and Peace Activism

© Copyright 1996, Regents of the University of California