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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What about the problem of science in the Soviet Union, and the problem of science and peace movements in the Soviet Union? One can compare, for example, your career here and your harassment by the government here with the situation of Sakharov, for example, or with the suppression recently of a burgeoning peace movement there.

I was harassed, of course, in a less blatant way when my passport was refused at the time that the Royal Society of London had arranged a conference of scientists, a two day symposium, on the biochemistry of DNA, and on my ideas. I would be the first speaker. And the second speaker was my associate Professor Cory, and then there were talks from people from many countries for the next two days. I wasn't there because my passport was withheld from me on the grounds that it was not in the best interest of the United States. A statement was made that my anticommunist statements hadn't been strong enough. So, I didn't get to go and to see the X-ray photographs taken by Russell and Franklin, which I would have seen if I had gone to London on that occasion.* And others ... I was prevented from attending various scientific congresses. And, of course, I was threatened by the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Senate with a year in jail for contempt of Senate, when I was being harassed by the Internal Security Subcommittee.

Well, things aren't so bad. I wasn't treated as badly as Russian scientists are treated. I think of Russia... the first time I went to the Soviet Union in 1957, I thought, this is something like Oregon in 1907. My early memories as a boy in Oregon, the simplicity of the people, the simplicity of the life; and I think the Soviet Union just lags behind us in the way that it treats individual human beings, too. We aren't trying to help them to catch up, we try to hinder them in whatever way we can. When I was invited by the Supreme Soviet last month to come to the Soviet Union to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Union, I'm sure I was invited because I had been given the International Lenin Peace Prize ten years after I got the Nobel Peace Prize. I got there and I gave them a list of the people that I wanted to see including Sakharov, who I wanted to talk with. I didn't get to see Sakharov. I had said I would stay ten days, and after six days I got sort of bored. It was the 23rd of December, and I thought of two of my children and their spouses and my grandchildren in California. I sort of wanted to get back. I came home four days early and gave up on it. I didn't see him; didn't go ahead with the last of my program.

There's room for a lot of improvement in the Soviet Union, just as there's room for a lot of improvement in the United States. An important issue in human rights, it seems to me, is the basic human right of having a job, contributing to the work of the world, feeling pride that you are a part of the human race and are doing your part in keeping the human race going, doing work that needs to be done. And yet, here our system depends on having millions, over ten million now, American people out of work. This is a great violation of human rights, the rights of the individual human being. So, there's something wrong with our system. Well, there's a lot wrong with the Soviet system. In No More War I said that I foresee that with cooperation between our nations, working to solve the problems of the world, these systems will change, develop, incorporating into each the better features of the other, until finally, I hope, we'll have a world in which each human being is able to lead a good life. There aren't many people in the world who lead really good lives, you know.

One final question. If you look back at your involvement in the peace movement and your experiences in politics, are there any lessons that you learned about things that you would have done differently, or things that you think you did right that show an example for people presently involved in the movement?

Well, one problem that my wife and I experienced in the peace movement 25 or 30 years ago, is that of difficulty in cooperation. We were not active members of the peace organizations to any great extent. She and I worked by ourselves. We arranged in 1961 an international conference of 60 scientists from 15 countries in Oslo to discuss the issue of the spread of nuclear weapons. We got out a good report giving the reasons for this. And I was pleased that President Kennedy, again, seemed to me to have cribbed from this report when he gave his speech against the spread of nuclear weapons. We included a statement which was signed by all 60 scientists that loyalty to one's own nation is not enough; we now need to be loyal to the human race as a whole. I was afraid when this statement was written that the three people from the Soviet Union, perhaps two or three others from behind the iron curtain, wouldn't sign this statement. But they did sign this statement that we need to have loyalty to the world as a whole. Patriotism is not enough.

How did anticommunism affect the peace movement?

Anticommunism caused trouble in the peace movement. We went to a peace movement in Oxford where my wife and I represented ourselves. We came under our own steam, with our own support, as we did with most of these activities, such as our supporting the symposium against the spread of nuclear weapons. And representatives of many organizations came there. The British had invited representatives from the World Peace Council to come. The Americans refused and they managed to prevent the peace meeting in Oxford from taking place. We were there, the others were there, and it was stopped. There were other occasions, too, where it was said that we must be careful to not join together with groups that are dominated by communists, or by communist sympathizers. Our policy was that we would sign statements that expressed what we believed, no matter who else signed the statements. When Senator Hennings of Missouri held a hearing in which he was checking on the passport office of the State Department, I was called in to testify about my passport being withheld. The Assistant Secretary of State in charge of passport affairs was there to testify before the Senate Committee. He was asked, "How did it happen that Professor Pauling received his passport to go in 1954 to Stockholm to get the Nobel Prize in Chemistry [though he was later denied]? Did he appeal? Was there an appeal?" And the Assistant Secretary of State said, "Well, there was a sort of self-generating appeal. Here, I've just got some documents from the State Department...." Several years after I wrote in under the Freedom of Information Act. He had correspondence in which the State Department officials were discussing whether it would do more damage to the United States to refuse to let me go to get the Nobel Prize, or to let me go to get it, and they decided it was better to let me go to get the Nobel Prize. Well, here, the fact that they objected to my traveling because my anticommunist statements are not strong enough indicates how important this matter of being an anticommunist is. In the peace movement, too, while we want to have peace with the Soviet Union, we don't want to talk with anyone else who wants to have peace as long as we think that he is too friendly to the Soviet Union. Well, to go on with Senator Hennings. Senator Hennings said, speaking to the Assistant Secretary of State, "Your suggestion that Dr. Pauling was following the Soviet line may be wrong. Perhaps the Soviets are following Dr. Pauling's line."

Dr. Pauling, the example of your leadership points to the way that we can move beyond that particularism, that nationalism, toward a universalism. Thank you very much for joining us.

* Footnote: Russell and Franklin's X-rays would have shown Dr. Pauling that his research on the structure of DNA was based on a false hypothesis. By not attending the conference, Dr. Pauling was denied an opportunity to correct his ideas, leaving the field open to James Watson and Francis Crick, who received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their discovery.
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