After a trip to Europe (including a visit to the USSR), the Paulings returned in the
fall of 1957 to find a new challenge: a leading scientist was eagerly and publicly
refuting Pauling’s anti-Bomb claims. His name was Edward Teller. The Hungarian-born physicist, dubbed "The Father of the H-bomb" by the press, was
a committed anti-Communist who was certain that ever-more powerful weapons were the
only thing forestalling a Soviet world takeover. He was determined to maintain the
US tactical advantage.
Pauling admired Teller as a scientist, but detested his politics. In February 1958,
on live television, they went to war. The venue was a one-hour debate in the studio
of an educational station in San Francisco. The topic was the development of nuclear
weapons. From the start, both men went on the offensive, with Pauling accusing Teller
of making "many statements that are not true and many statements that are seriously
misleading." Teller responded by highlighting the virtues of nuclear power and saying
of fallout, "This alleged damage which the small radioactivity is causing -- supposedly
cancer and leukemia -- has not been proved to the best of my knowledge by any decent
and clear statistics. . . . It is even possible to my mind that there is no damage."
They seesawed back and forth, Pauling raising specific criticisms, Teller countering
with visions of a rosy, atom-powered future. Pauling seemed to grow increasingly shrill
and humorless as the debate went on; Teller seemed by comparison relaxed and avuncular,
turning Pauling’s questions and accusations aside with irrelevant comparisons or witticisms.
When it was over, Pauling refused to debate him again, "because I consider his debating
methods improper," Pauling said.
Click images to enlarge
Linus Pauling debating Edward Teller on the topic of nuclear fallout: "The Nuclear
Bomb Tests...Is Fallout Overrated?" KQED-TV, San Francisco. February 20, 1958.
Memo from Jonathan Rice to Linus Pauling. February 20, 1958.
"Peace cannot be obtained by wishing for it. We live in the same world with Russia,
who's leader has said he 'wants to bury us' -- and he means it. Disarmament, the cessation
of tests, will not automatically bring us closer to peace."