Thomas Hager: I’m interested in what happened at that point in time that led you to become more
involved with political causes. Was the primary motivating factor the question of
the potential of atomic war - was that the overriding concern that you had? Or was
it a more general concern with the way the U.S. government was moving toward sort
of a more repressive form of government - that concern about Communists and so forth?
Linus Pauling: Well, you mean after Roosevelt's death?
Thomas Hager: Yeah.
Linus Pauling: First I think that my concern was aroused because of the nuclear weapons project.
I knew, I remember having mentioned the word "plutonium" to another professor, who
said "well, you shouldn't use that word, it's forbidden." And I don't know how I
heard about plutonium. I wasn't involved in the atomic energy - remember I had turned
down the offer from Oppenheimer, who gave me a little information rather early. And
I picked up some bits of information perhaps from people who thought that I was one
of the persons who knew. At any rate, I didn't know how the atomic bomb project was
going until the 7th of August when I read about it in the newspapers. Then I received
one of the first copies of the Smyth Report, mimeographed copy of the Smyth Report
- later on I received two or three other copies of it. But at any rate, already in
the summer of 1945 I had read the Smyth Report and got information about atomic weapons,
nuclear weapons, and had begun thinking again about the institution of war, and making
calculations about what effect the nuclear weapons would have. This started my thinking
seriously again about the whole matter of the institution of war.
Well, you probably know the story about my having been invited to give a talk about
atomic bombs to a service club in Hollywood...purely about the physics, nuclear physics.
I don't think I said a word about the institution of war except to mention how powerful
the bombs were, 15,000 times or something, I think I said 20,000 times as powerful
as an ordinary one-ton TNT bomb. And I gave that talk, popular talk, several times
and began to introduce comments about war. The comments consisted largely in my quoting
statements by other people from the newspapers or from Time magazine, for example. That was when Ava Helen said to me that my scientific talks
were fine, but these talks that I was giving were pretty poor. The reason was that
I knew what I was talking about, I had complete confidence in my own ideas when I
talked about scientific matters, but when I began talking about these political matters,
I apparently didn't, quoting other people. So I probably should stop, or the alternative,
I decided, I'm not sure if she suggested it, was that I study social and political
and economic questions, the nature of war and so on, to such an extent that when I
spoke I would speak on my own authority.