|The Committee on Scientific Aids to Learning
Despite official U.S. neutrality, the significance of the chaos in Europe was not
lost on the American public. The academic community in North America, which had a
long tradition of cooperation with the institutions of Western Europe, was horrified
as their respected colleagues became refugees and prisoners of war.
Academics across the country turned their attention to the war and to politics both
at home and abroad. Like many of his peers, Linus Pauling, then a well-respected chemist at the California Institute of Technology, found himself
drawn into the drama of the conflict. Though largely apolitical and only mildly interested
in world affairs beyond scientific research, he was deeply troubled by the rise of
fascism in Europe. Since 1932, he had received reports of growing anti-Semitism from
his colleagues in Germany. He had watched as the Nazi movement swept through Germany's
scientific centers, forcibly removing Jews from the country's academic institutions.
Then on the heels of intolerance and defamation came the rumors of violence and brutality.
Pauling's concern for his colleagues and their families overwhelmed his anti-war tendencies
and he found himself supporting American involvement in the war.
Pauling wasn't the only scientist who believed war was inevitable. The members of
the Committee on Scientific Aids to Learning (CSAL), a group formed to support science-based
education, were equally distracted by the events in Europe. This collection of biologists,
chemists, and physicists found their committee meetings devolving into long discussions
on Hitler, China, and American preparedness.
Vannevar Bush, the director of the Carnegie Institute and member of the CSAL, found himself particularly
invested in the talk of war. He had worked with the National Research Council and
the U.S. Navy during World War I to develop techniques for detecting the German submarines
in the North Atlantic. Through this work, Bush had heard stories of U.S. troops overseas
suffering from malnourishment, second-class weaponry, disease, and poorly distributed
and poorly maintained equipment - all a result of unpreparedness.
To Bush, the Second World War looked to be following the same path as the first.
He predicted another late entry with the American war effort still flatfooted. This
time, though, he knew technology would be a deciding factor in the outcome. World
War II would not - could not - be another trench war won with brute force alone.
And if the United States was to prevail again, it would require a level of preparation
unlike any the nation had seen before. Thankfully, there was a precedent for war
preparations in the U.S.