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 4 of 8

The Test Ban Treaty

On another occasion when you were in the Soviet Union, you actually wrote a letter to Khrushchev which included a draft treaty which was very similar to the partial test ban that was eventually adopted in 1963.

Yes. I didn't get to talk with Premier Khrushchev then. There was an appointment set up for me, and then it was canceled, and it's hard to know why these things are done. But, in fact, in 1961, which is when this occurred, my wife and I were there for a scientific, biochemical, congress, but we said we would like to speak at a peace meeting, a public meeting. The Soviet Peace Committee put out posters announcing the meeting and we went to it, to the Hall of Scientists that holds a thousand people. We had a film -- "The Peace Movement in Southern California" -- showing a demonstration of 2,000 or 3,000 people marching with banners and meeting in a park and my speaking to them, and then my wife talked and I talked. I said that the Soviet Union had just exploded a 60-megaton bomb which I estimated over the course of generations (because these gene mutations last, are passed on) would cause a million children to be born with gross physical or mental defects who would not have been defective otherwise, and would cause perhaps just as many people to develop cancer or another disease. And that I thought it immoral and unethical for nations to do this damage to the human race. I think that was the last atomic bomb that they exploded, but I'm not sure. At any rate, the bomb test treaty negotiations were going on and very quickly, the next year, the treaty was signed and it went into effect in October of 1963.

The Nobel Committee in awarding you the Peace Prize pointed out that the language that President Kennedy used in his speech announcing the signing of the partial test ban was very similar to the language that you had used in defining the debate and in fact, the language you just used in describing your speech in the Soviet Union. Was this an instance of power listening to science?

I think so. President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy held a dinner for recipients of the Nobel Prize. On the day before, and in fact on the day of the dinner, my wife and I had demonstrated outside the White House against the bomb tests. When we came through the reception line, Mrs. Kennedy said, "Do you think it is right, Dr. Pauling, to march back and forth with your sign outside the White House so that Caroline says to me, 'Mummy, what has Daddy done wrong now?'" And then she introduced me to President Kennedy who said, "Dr. Pauling, I hope that you will continue to express your opinions." And that was about at time that he became aware that the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons was really the wrong thing to do and began applying political pressure to the Senate to approve the test ban treaty, and began deciding to instruct his negotiators to sign the test ban treaty.

Do you think that if he had lived the progress on arms control would have been more significant since he had gone through this process of negotiating this treaty -- and then of course, he had gone through the Cuban missile crisis as well.

I think he had a real understanding of the significance of nuclear weapons and very great concern for his responsibility. And I believe that he admired Khrushchev for his restraint. They handled that missile crisis well. I think he could understand the feeling of Khrushchev and the other Soviet leaders that if the United States had rockets armed with nuclear warheads in Turkey and other places close to the Soviet Union, why shouldn't the Soviet Union put them in Cuba? But, of course, it was the wrong thing to do. It's good that there was some restraint over the spread of nuclear weapons.

Next page: Science versus Politics: The Arms Race

© Copyright 1996, Regents of the University of California