|Intolerance on the Home Front
Despite the intense outpouring of American support for the persecuted Jews in Europe
and the widespread condemnation of Nazism and its overt racism, World War II brought
forth any number of demonstrations of the American public's own capacity for intolerance.
Many Americans were swept up by a patriotic fervor that led them to champion legislation
against German, Italian, and Japanese nationals, boycott immigrant-owned businesses,
and sometimes resort to violence.
On December 8, 1941, armed National Guard troops were stationed on the Caltech campus
and students were equipped with garden tools and instructed to protect the Institute.
News of the attack on Pearl Harbor was everywhere and the campus was on the verge
of panic. At 10:00 a.m., an emergency convocation was called by the Caltech registrar,
himself a National Guard officer. At the meeting, the registrar lectured the audience
on the evils of the Japanese enemy. Pauling, who had arrived late, interrupted the
man mid-speech, demanding "By what authority have you called this impromptu convocation?"
He proceeded to address both the registrar and the assembly, declaring the registrar's
words and actions as unbecoming of a member of an institution of higher learning.
In response, Pauling received a standing ovation from the students. The meeting was
thus disbanded, with the embarrassed registrar retreating to his office.
In 1942 the U.S. government instituted the forced internment of more than 100,000
Japanese Americans settled along the West Coast, an act that horrified the Paulings.
Ava Helen joined the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, helping
to create brochures and petition congressmen against the internment camps. Linus'
war work and his frequent trips to Washington, D.C. made it difficult for him to engage
in volunteer activities. Nevertheless, he was deeply concerned by the racial implications
of Executive Order 9066 and wished to respond in some way. In order to prevent local
Japanese American graduate students from being interred, Pauling launched a personal
letter-writing campaign, requesting East Coast fellowships for selected students.
This effort was largely unsuccessful. The Japanese had been badly stigmatized and
universities were hesitant to accept students of questionable loyalty.
Frustrated by the intolerance apparent in American law and society, the Paulings felt
that it was their responsibility to help those around them as best as they could.
In the spring of 1945, the Paulings hired a young Japanese gardener at the behest
of the ACLU. The man had joined the U.S. Army and was to ship out from Pasadena within
a week but, until then, he needed work. On March 7, 1945, the Pauling's oldest son
discovered graffiti on their mailbox and garage. "AMERICANS DIE BUT WE LOVE JAPS"
was scrawled across the garage door. Two days later, Pauling received an anonymous
letter that read, "We happen to be one of a groupe [sic] who fully intend to burn
your home, tire [sic] and feather your body unless you get rid of that jap." Alarmed,
Pauling contacted local law enforcement and demanded that an officer be sent to guard
his family while he was out of town. After initial resistance from the local sheriff,
Ava Helen contacted the ACLU, which came to the Paulings' aid and applied pressure
to the Pasadena police.
No other threats of this type were ever made, but the experience was significant for
the Paulings, especially Linus, who was shocked at the presence of such deep intolerance
in his very own neighborhood. Pauling had learned a very powerful lesson about the
effects of fear and propaganda. He had seen first hand the human capacity for injustice
and, equally important, witnessed the power of a rational group of individuals to
correct that injustice. World War II gave Pauling the opportunity to see the workings
of American politics and society at both their best and worst, an experience that
would inform much of his work for the next fifty years.