4 October 1960
Professor Otto Bastiansen
Institutt for Teoretisk Kjemi
Norges Tekniske Høgskole
I am pleased that you are interested in the history of the development of my ideas
You know that I was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1901, and that I attended the local
schools and then the Oregon State Agricultural College. In 1917-18 I was a cadet
in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, but not old enough to be in the Army itself.
By 1922 I had become the Cadet Major of the Infantry Regiment of the Reserve Officers
Training Corps. Then in May 1922, after thinking about militarism for awhile, I decided
that I did not want to become a reserve officer, and I resigned from my commission
as Cadet Major.
Of course, during the period 1939 to 1945 I was very active in war work. I had been
strongly opposed to the development of Nazism in Germany, and I could see no alternative
to working for the defeat of Germany. I received several awards from the government,
including the highest award given to a civilian, the Presidential Medal for Merit.
The citation for this award is attached.
When the first atomic bombs were exploded, in 1945, I became greatly troubled about
the significance of these terrible weapons, and I began, as did many other scientists,
to give public lectures about nuclear fission and the nature of nuclear war. I have
continued this activity with greater and greater vigor up to the present time. During
the last two or three years I have given public lectures and television and radio
appearances on this subject at the rate of about one hundred per year.
When I was young I was a Republican - that is, a member of the Conservative Party
in America. In this I was just following my mother. In 1932 I began to think about
politics, and became a Democrat. Since that time I have been a member of the Democratic
Party. In 1948, when Henry Wallace ran for the Presidency as a Progressive, I supported
him, and I gave several public addresses in support of his candidacy.
I have decided that I am really a socialist, but I am not able to join the American
Socialist Party - Social Democratic Federation. In order to join the Socialist Party
- Social Democratic Federation, it is necessary that one pledge himself not to take
any political action except in conformity with the constitution, principles, and decisions
of the Socialist Party. I, of course, am not willing to make any such pledge, and
accordingly am prevented from joining. Nevertheless, I shall continue to work for
socialism in America, and to hope that sometime we shall have a good socialist party
that is really democratic and also a power in the land.
During recent years I have become more and more interested in philosophical and ethical
questions. One year ago I gave the Messenger Lectures at Cornell. These lectures
are supposed to be on the evolution of civilization. I chose as my title The Molecular
Basis of Civilization. The lectures were in part scientific, but involved much discussion
of philosophical and ethical questions. I hope that in two or three years from now
I shall have completed preparing them for publication.
I have decided that it is not possible to work for peace without at the same time
working for civil liberties. It is the attack on me that convinced me about this
matter. Senator Dodd is attempting to prevent international agreements that will
lead to a decrease in world tensions and to disarmament, and as part of his effort
he attempts to throttle public discussion by attacking me and the Committee for a
Sane Nuclear Policy. I think that it is necessary to fight back.
I believe that during the next few months I shall probably write an account of my
experiences as a book, which perhaps will have the title Fighting for Peace and Freedom.
I plan that it will be a popular book, designed to strengthen the peace movement in
the United States.
The principal printed document about peace that I have written is my book No More
War!, which has been translated into several foreign languages. I am sending you
a copy of the British edition and also a copy of the American paperback edition under
During the first few years when I was working for peace I did not publish any articles.
My work began to be effective when, in 1946, I became a trustee of the Emergency Committee
of Atomic Scientists, of which Professor Einstein was Chairman. I addressed many
audiences for this Committee.
During recent years many of my addresses have been printed, starting with the address
The Ultimate Decision that I gave at a great meeting in Carnegie Hall, New York, on
13 February 1950.
Under separate cover I am sending you some documents. A list of these documents is
given on the attached sheet.