Linus Pauling was one of the most famous scientists of his era. In the period immediately following WWII, he became active in efforts to ban the bomb and stop atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. Like Hermann Muller, he had no compunction against using inaccurate information about the health effects of radiation to instill sufficient fear to encourage political actions to stop the testing.
A friend recently shared a copy of a handwritten note that Pauling sent to President John F. Kennedy in March, 1962 as a telegram. I thought it would be worth sharing with you. It illustrates how exaggerated assumptions about the negative health effects of radiation played a role in forcing political leaders to seriously and successfully negotiate an end to race to explode ever larger numbers of nuclear weapons in our common atmosphere.
I have no argument with the ban the bomb effort, but I rue the fact that the activists trained in that effort took on the lessons and tactics in an effort to halt the growth of nuclear energy. The really sad part of the story is the success that the effort had for so many years before some of us learned how to fight back.
Here is the full text of the note:
1 March 1962 Night Letters Durham, NC
President John F. Kennedy, White House:
Are you going to give an order that will cause you to go down in history as one of the most immoral men of all time and one of the greatest enemies of the human race? In a letter to the New York Times, I state that nuclear tests duplicating the Soviet 1961 tests would seriously damage over 20 million unborn children, including those caused to have gross physical or mental defect and also the still births and embryonic, neonatal and childhood deaths from the radioactive fission products and carbon 14. Are you going to be guilty of this monstrous immorality, matching that of the Soviet leaders, for the political purpose of increasing the still imposing lead of the United States over the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons technology?
(Signed) Linus Pauling
To Dr. Jerome Wiesner, Mr. McGeorge Bundy, Dr. Glenn Seaborg
I have sent the following telegram to President Kennedy. (quote it). Linus Pauling