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

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Science versus Politics: The Arms Race

Why has it been so difficult to bridge this gap between the insights of scientists and the thinking and actions of our political leaders? Looking at the history of the peace movement in the 1950s, it's as if we're re-living all of this today.

That's right. It looks as though we haven't learned anything from the history of the last twenty-five years. When the three-stage hydrogen bomb had been developed, the individual warheads became a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombs. Ten or twenty thousand times more powerful than the one-ton blockbusters with which most of the bombings were done in the Second World War. The stockpiles had already become irrationally great. Twenty-five years ago the analysts all talked about a ten thousand megaton attack on the United States, and a ten thousand megaton counterattack on the Soviet Union, and were making estimates that perhaps 80 percent of the people would be dead 60 days after the attack. We still talk about ten thousand megaton attacks. It hasn't changed very much in that respect. The need for détente was clear. And, of course, we went through a period of a number of years when the relationship was better. But changes were still being made in the development of nuclear weapons, usually with the United States taking the lead, just as we had a five-year lead initially on building atomic bombs. We introduced the anti-ballistic missile, but this development was stopped by treaty. That is one case where a good treaty was made between the United States and the Soviet Union.

We introduced the idea of MIRV, multiple independently directable re-entry vehicles with nuclear warheads. So that a single big rocket, instead of carrying a 20-megaton bomb that would destroy Moscow or any other city, could be made more effective because there aren't many 20-megaton targets. Instead, it could carry perhaps 16 small rockets, each with its own one-megaton bomb (twenty or twenty-five times as big as the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bomb) -- big enough for most cities -- and with computers programmed in such a way that 16 different targets could be destroyed. Now, a few years later, the Soviet Union hasn't quite caught up with us on MIRVing their big rockets, but they're well on their way. So now we have the Cruise missile. I was in Moscow the 23rd of December, three weeks ago, when Andropov gave his talk in which he said that they were willing to cut down on intermediate-range missiles to the number that the West had -- Britain, France, the United States -- and would continue to cut down if we were willing to cut down. But he went on to become very tough then -- I suppose he has to under the circumstances with a tough opponent in the United States -- and he said that they were well on their way towards completing the development of their own Cruise missile if we went ahead with our 7,000 Cruise missiles. Very dangerous business: they would soon have an equal number.

So the race has gone on.

Yes. He said they would keep up with us. Of course, President Reagan says we will keep ahead of the Soviet Union. What is going to happen if these two great nations are not able to get enough sense to stop this waste of money and this increasing of the danger of nuclear war breaking out? As these weapons, the delivery vehicles, the whole system, become more and more complicated, the chance that there will be a technological or psychological accident that initiates the catastrophic interchange of these terribly destructive weapons becomes greater and greater, so that we get in more and more danger that a nuclear war will break out. When the world is destroyed, it'll be by accident, not by design, not by the direct decision of Reagan or Andropov, but by accident.

Why then have the politicians, the political leaders on both sides, failed to heed the warning about these dangers? When one goes through this history or reads your book No More War, published in 1958, one finds that the issues have been on the table since early times in this new era.

The arguments in my book are essentially the same. I talked about a twenty thousand megaton bomb war, ten thousand from each side, and that's what we still talk about, and the other dangers and the needs for making the world a safer place. Arguments are still just as good twenty-five years after this book was published. Why haven't we got control? The Soviet Union, first the people and the government, fear war. They don't want to have a war. They're afraid, also, of attack by the western powers, the expressed statement that we're out to destroy communism. And they're more afraid than we are, because they know what war is. There were 50 times as many people in the Soviet Union killed in the Second World War as Americans killed in the Second World War. They experienced the destruction of their own country. So I think that they feel that they have to try to keep up with the United States and not tempt our militarists.

Now, our position has been made pretty clear. Year after year, or decade after decade, from 30 years ago, our gross national product is twice that of the Soviet Union. We fear that communism will take over the world. Khrushchev and other communists believe that communism is so good a system that it's inevitable that it will take over; we don't agree with that, so we fear communism and think that we must prevent the takeover. We're twice as affluent as the Soviet Union, have twice the gross national product of the Soviet Union. The burden of militarism, even if it were great for us, would be twice as great for them.

A few months ago President Reagan issued a national security directive that repeats the statement that we must apply economic pressure, military pressure, diplomatic pressure, propagandistic pressure on the Soviet Union with the hope of eliminating it from the world. In fact, he said to the British Parliament in London that by applying this pressure we ultimately shall achieve the goal of leaving Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history. I'm quoting President Reagan. So we have a goal: applying pressure by increasing military expenditures until finally they become intolerable for the Soviet Union. I read one statement by a commentator back in Connecticut who said President Reagan's plan to spend 1.6 trillion dollars on militarism in the next five years to bankrupt the Soviet Union already in its first year has come close -- has brought the United States to the verge of bankruptcy, not only economically, but also morally and spiritually.

Next page: Science versus Politics: Moving beyond Militarism

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