Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement Narrative  
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Dinner -- and Picketing -- at the White House
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By the spring of 1962 there was much reason for pride in the peace movement. The voluntary moratorium on atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, for instance, continued to be adhered to while test-ban talks between the US and USSR sputtered along in Geneva. The Kennedy administration appeared to support the moratorium. Then, on March 2, President Kennedy shocked the Paulings and other peace activists when he announced that US atmospheric tests would resume in April. Pauling fired off a telegram to the White House, reading, "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?" He followed it with a series of heated speeches assailing the decision, crying, "Anger and shame -– anger with my government and shame for my country." He accused Kennedy of being more evil than Khrushchev.

But the pendulum of American public opinion was once again swinging back toward a harder line with the Communists, thanks in part to Castro’s successful revolution in Cuba and continued Communist moves in Asia. Kennedy’s decision -- which in some circles was seen as a prod to get the Soviets more serious about the Geneva test ban talks -- was widely supported across the political spectrum. Even what remained of the old FAS came out in favor. Pauling stood alone, the most prominent scientist to vehemently and vocally oppose the decision.

Kennedy responded by inviting him to dinner. Pauling was one of forty-nine Nobel laureates asked to spend a White House evening honoring the nation’s best and brightest intellects. The Paulings happily accepted. Then, the day before the dinner, Pauling joined three thousand picketers outside the White House, carrying a sign imploring Kennedy not to resume testing. He picketed again the next morning, then changed into evening clothes and accompanied Ava Helen to dine with the President. In the receiving line, Kennedy greeted Pauling with a quip: "I understand you’ve been around the White House a couple of days already." Pauling grinned and answered yes. Kennedy added, "I hope you will continue to express your feelings." The two men shook hands. It was a wonderful evening of fine food, drink, dancing, and celebrating the power of rational thought.

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Video Clip  Video: An Eventful Day at the White House. 1996. (0:15) Transcript and More Information

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See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to John F. Kennedy. March 1, 1962. 
See Also: Invitation to a White House dinner held in honor of U.S. Nobel Prize Winners. April 29, 1962. 
See Also: "Far from the Briar Patch." May 11, 1962. 

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"It Takes Lots of Courage." September 20, 1962.


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White House Dinner Menu. April 29, 1962.

"Mrs. Kennedy said, 'Dr. Pauling do you think that it is right to march back and forth out there in front of the White House carrying a sign and cause Caroline to say, 'Mummy, what has Daddy done wrong now?'' I thought that was pretty clever."

Linus Pauling
June 1977
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