|Dinner -- and Picketing -- at the White House
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.