Although the theology behind this way of looking at events soon dissolved, this view of the news lasted longer. ‘The skilled and faithful journalist,’ James Parton observed in 1866, ‘recording with exactness and power the thing that has come to pass, is Providence addressing men.’ The story is told of a Southern Baptist clergyman before the Civil War who used to say, when a newspaper was brought in the room, ‘Be kind enough to let me have it a few minutes, till I see how the Supreme Being is governing the world.’ Charles A. Dana, one of the great American editors of the nineteenth century, once defended his extensive reporting of crime in the New York Sun by saying, ‘I have always felt that whatever the Divine Providence permitted to occur I was not too proud to report.’
Of course, this is now a very old‑fashioned way of thinking. Our current point of view is better expressed in the definition by Arthur MacEwen, whom William Randolph Hearst made his first editor of the San Francisco Examiner: ‘News is anything that makes a reader say, ‘Gee whiz!”‘ Or, put more soberly, ‘News is whatever a good editor chooses to print.’
We need not be theologians to see that we have shifted responsibility for making the world interesting from God to the newspaperman. We used to believe there were only so many “events” in the world. If there were not many intriguing or startling occurrences, it was no fault of the reporter. He could not be expected to report what did not exist.
Within the last hundred years, however, and especially in the twentieth century, all this has changed. We expect the papers to be full of news. If there is no news visible to the naked eye, or to the average citizen, we still expect it to be there for the enterprising newsman. The successful reporter is one who can find a story, even if there is no earthquake or assassination or civil war. If he cannot find a story, then he must make one‑by the questions he asks of public figures, by the surprising human interest be unfolds from some commonplace event, or by “the news behind the news.” If all this fails, then he must give us a “think piece embroidering of well‑known facts, or a speculation about startling things to come.
This change in our attitude toward “news” is not merely a basic fact about the history of American newspapers. It is a symptom of a revolutionary change in our attitude toward what happens in the world, how much of it is new, and surprising, and important. Toward how life can be enlivened, toward our power and the power of those who inform and educate and guide us, to provide synthetic happenings to make up for the lack of spontaneous events. Demanding more than the world can give us, we require that something be fabricated to make up for the world’s deficiency. This is only one example of our demand for illusions.
Many historical forces help explain how we have come to our present immoderate hopes. But there can be no doubt about what we now expect, nor that it is immoderate. Every American knows the anticipation with which he picks up his morning newspaper at breakfast or opens his evening paper before dinner, or listens to the newscasts every hour on the hour as he drives across country, or watches his favorite commentator on television interpret the events of the day. Many enterprising Americans are now at work to help us satisfy these expectations. Many might be put out of work if we should suddenly moderate our expectations. But it is we who keep them in business and demand that they fill our consciousness with novelties, that they play God for us.
The new kind of synthetic novelty which has flooded our experience I will call “pseudo‑events.” The common prefix “pseudo” comes from the Greek word meaning false, or intended to deceive. Before I recall the historical forces which have made these pseudo‑events possible, have increased the supply of them and the demand for them, I will give a commonplace example.
The owners of a hotel, in an illustration offered by Edward L. Bernays in his pioneer Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923), consult a public relations counsel. They ask how to increase their hotel’s prestige and so improve their business. In less sophisticated times, the answer might have been to hire a new chef, to improve the plumbing, to paint the rooms, or to install a crystal chandelier in the lobby. The public relations counsel’s technique is more indirect. He proposes that the management stage a celebration of the hotel’s thirtieth anniversary. A committee is formed, including a prominent banker, a leading society matron, a well‑known lawyer, an influential preacher, and an “event” is planned (say a banquet) to call attention to the distinguished service the hotel has been rendering the community. The celebration is held, photographs are taken, the occasion is widely reported, and the object is accomplished. Now this occasion is a pseudo‑event, and will illustrate all the essential features of pseudo‑events.
This celebration, we can see at the outset, is somewhat — but not entirely —misleading. Presumably the public relations counsel would not have been able to form his committee of prominent citizens if the hotel had not actually been rendering service to the community. On the other hand, if the hotel’s services had been all that important, instigation by public relations counsel might not have been necessary. Once the celebration has been held, the celebration itself becomes evidence that the hotel really is a distinguished institution. The occasion actually gives the hotel the prestige to which it is pretending.
It is obvious, too, that the value of such a celebration to the owners depends on its being photographed and reported in newspapers, magazines, newsreels, on radio, and over television. It is the report that gives the event its force in the minds of potential customers. The power to make a reportable event is thus the power to make experience. One is reminded of Napoleon’s apocryphal reply to his general, who objected that circumstances were unfavorable to a proposed campaign: “Bah, I make circumstances!” The modern public relations counsel —‑and he is, of course, only one of many twentieth‑century creators of pseudo‑events — has come close to fulfilling Napoleon’s idle boast. “The counsel on public relations,” Mr. Bernays explains, “not only knows what news value is, but knowing it, he is in a position to make news happen. He is a creator of events.”
The intriguing feature of the modem situation, however, comes precisely from the fact that the modem news makers are not God. The news they make happen, the events they create, are somehow not quite real. There remains a tantalizing difference between man‑made and God‑made events.
A pseudo‑event, then, is a happening that possesses the following characteristics:
(1) It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it. Typically, it is not a train wreck or an earthquake, but an interview.
(2) It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measured by how widely it is reported. Time relations in it are commonly fictitious or factitious; the announcement is given out in advance ‘for future release’ and written as if the event had occurred in the past. The question, ‘Is it real?’ is less important than, ‘Is it newsworthy?’
(3) Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous. Its interest arises largely from this very ambiguity. Concerning a pseudo‑event the question, ‘What does it mean?’ has a new dimension. While the news interest in a train wreck is in what happened and in the real consequences, the interest in an interview is always, in a sense, in whether it really happened and in what might have been the motives. Did the statement really mean what it said? Without some of this ambiguity a pseudo‑event cannot be very interesting.
(4) Usually it is intended to be a self‑fulfilling prophecy. The hotel’s thirtieth‑anniversary celebration, by saying that the hotel is a distinguished institution, actually makes it one. …
UNTIL RECENTLY we have been justified in believing Abraham Lincoln’s familiar maxim: ‘You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.’ This has been the foundation‑belief of American democracy. Lincoln’s appealing slogan rests on two elementary assumptions. First, that there is a clear and visible distinction between sham and reality, between the lies a demagogue would have us believe and the truths which are there all the time. Second, that the people tend to prefer reality to sham, that if offered a choice between a simple truth and a contrived image, they will prefer the truth.
Neither of these any longer fits the facts. Not because people are less intelligent or more dishonest. Rather because great unforeseen changes — the great forward strides of American civilization — have blurred the edges of reality. The pseudo‑events which flood our consciousness are neither true nor false in the old familiar senses. The very same advances which have made them possible have also made the images — ‑however planned, contrived, or distorted — more vivid, more attractive, more, impressive, and more persuasive than reality itself.
We cannot say that we are being fooled. It is not entirely inaccurate to say that we are being ‘informed.’ This world of ambiguity is created by those who believe they are instructing us, by our best public servants, and with our own collaboration. Our problem is the harder to solve because it is created by people working honestly and industriously at respectable jobs. It is not created by demagogues or crooks, by conspiracy or evil purpose. The efficient mass production of pseudo‑events — in all kinds of packages, in black‑and white, in technicolor, in words, and in a thousand other forms — is the work of the whole machinery of our society. It is the daily product of men of good will. The media must be fed! The people must be informed! Most pleas for ‘more information’ are therefore misguided. So long as we define information as a knowledge of pseudo‑events, ‘more information’ will simply multiply the symptoms without curing the disease.
The American citizen thus lives in a world where fantasy is more real than reality, where the image has more dignity than its original. We hardly dare face our bewilderment, because our ambiguous experience is so pleasantly iridescent, and the solace of belief in contrived reality is so thoroughly real. We have become eager accessories to the great hoaxes of the age. These are the hoaxes we play on ourselves.
Pseudo-events from their very nature tend to be the more interesting and more attractive than spontaneous events. Therefore in American public life today pseudo-events tend to drive all other kinds events out of our consciousness or at least to overshadow them. Earnest, well‑informed citizens seldom notice that their experience of spontaneous events is buried by pseudo‑events. Yet nowadays, the more industriously they work at “informing” themselves the more this tends to be true.
In his now‑classic work, Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann in 1922 began by distinguishing between “the world outside and the pictures in our heads.” He defined a “stereotype” as an oversimplified pattern that helps us find meaning in the world. As examples he gave the crude “stereotypes we carry about in our heads,” of large and varied classes of people like “Germans,” “South Europeans,” “Negroes,” “Harvard men,” “agitators,” etc. The stereotype, Lippmann explained, satisfies our needs and helps us defend our prejudices by seeming to give definiteness and consistency to our turbulent and disorderly daily experience. In one sense, of course, stereotypes — the excessively simple, but easily grasped images of racial, national, or religious groups — are only another example of pseudo‑events. But, generally speaking, they are closer to propaganda. For they simplify rather than complicate. Stereotypes narrow and limit experience in an emotionally satisfying way; but pseudo‑events embroider and dramatize experience in an interesting way. This itself makes pseudo‑events far more seductive; intellectually they are more defensible, more intricate, and more intriguing. To discover how the stereotype is made to unmask the sources of propaganda‑is to make the stereotype less believable. Information about the staging of a pseudo‑event simply adds to its fascination.
Lippmann’s description of stereotypes was helpful in its day. But he wrote before pseudo‑events had come in full flood. Photographic journalism was then still in its infancy. Wide World Photos had just been organized by The New York Times in 1919. The first wirephoto to attract wide attention was in 1924, when the American Telephone and Telegraph Company sent to The New York Times pictures of the Republican Convention in Cleveland which nominated Calvin Coolidge. Associated Press Picture Service was established in 1928. Life, the first wide‑circulating weekly picture news magazine, appeared in 1936; within a year it had a circulation of 1,000,000,’ and within two years, 2,000,000. Look followed, in 1937. The newsreel, originated in France by Path6, had been introduced to the United States only in 1910. When Lippmann wrote his book in 1922, radio was not yet reporting news to the consumer; television was of course unknown.
Recent improvements in vividness and speed, the enlargement and multiplying of news‑reporting media, and the public’s increasing news hunger now make Lippmann’s brilliant analysis of the stereotype the legacy of a simpler age. For stereotypes made experience handy to grasp. But pseudo‑events would make experience newly and satisfyingly elusive. In 1911 Will Irwin, writing in Collier’s, described the new era’s growing public demand for news as “a crying primal want of the mind, like hunger of the body.” The mania for news was a symptom of expectations enlarged far beyond the capacity of the natural world to satisfy. It required a synthetic product. It stirred an irrational and undiscriminating hunger for fancier, more varied items. Stereotypes there had been and always would be; but they only dulled the palate for information. They were an opiate. Pseudo‑events whetted the appetite; they aroused news hunger in the very act of satisfying it.
In the age of pseudo‑events it is less the artificial simplification than the artificial complication of experience that confuses us. Whenever in the public mind a pseudo‑event competes for attention with a spontaneous event in the same field, the pseudo‑event will tend to dominate. What happens on television will overshadow what happens off television. Of course I am concerned here not with our private worlds but with our world of public affairs.
Here are some characteristics of pseudo‑events which make them overshadow spontaneous events:
(1) Pseudo‑events are more dramatic. A television debate between candidates can be planned to be more suspenseful (for example, by reserving questions which are then popped suddenly) than a casual encounter or consecutive formal speeches planned by each separately.
(2) Pseudo‑events, being planned for dissemination, are easier to disseminate and to make vivid. Participants are selected for their newsworthy and dramatic interest.
(3) Pseudo‑events can be repeated at will, and thus their impression can be re‑enforced.
(4) Pseudo‑events cost money to create; hence somebody has an interest in disseminating, magnifying, advertising, and extolling them as events worth watching or worth believing. They are therefore advertised in advance, and rerun in order to get money’s worth.
(5) Pseudo‑events, being planned for intelligibility, are more intelligible and hence more reassuring. Even if we cannot discuss intelligently the qualifications of the candidates or the complicated issues, we can at least judge the effectiveness of a television performance. How comforting to have some political matter we can grasp!
(6) Pseudo‑events are more sociable, more conversable, and more convenient to witness. Their occurrence is planned for our convenience. The Sunday newspaper appears when we have a lazy morning for it. Television programs appear when we are ready with our glass of beer. In the office the next morning, Jack Paar’s (or any other star performer’s) regular late‑night show at the usual hour will overshadow in conversation a casual event that suddenly came up and had to find its way into the news.
(7) Knowledge of pseudo‑events—of what has been reported, or what has been staged, and how‑becomes the test of being “informed.” News magazines provide us regularly with quiz questions concerning not what has happened but concerning “names in the news”—what has been reported in the news magazines. Pseudo‑events begin to provide that “common discourse” which some of my old‑fashioned friends have hoped to find in the Great Books.
(8) Finally, pseudo‑events spawn other pseudo‑events in geometric progression. They dominate our consciousness simply because there are more of them, and ever more.
By this new Gresham’s law of American public life, counterfeit happenings tend to drive spontaneous happenings out of circulation. The rise in the power and prestige of the Presidency is due not only to the broadening powers of the office and the need for quick decisions, but also to the rise of centralized news gathering and broadcasting, and the increase of the Washington press corps. The President has an ever more ready, more frequent, and more centralized access to the world of pseudo‑events. A similar explanation helps account for the rising prominence in recent years of the Congressional investigating committees. In many cases these committees have virtually no legislative impulse, and political sometimes no intelligible legislative assignment. But they do have an almost unprecedented power, possessed now by no one else in the Federal government except the President, to make news. Newsmen support the committees because the committees feed the newsmen: they live together in happy symbiosis. The battle for power among Washington agencies becomes a contest to dominate the citizen’s information of the government. This can most easily be done by fabricating pseudo‑events.
A perfect example of how pseudo‑events can dominate is the recent popularity of the quiz show format. Its original appeal came less from the fact that such shows were tests of intelligence (or of dissimulation) than from the fact that the situations were elaborately contrived‑with isolation booths, armed bank guards, and all the rest‑and they purported to inform the public. The application of the quiz show format to the so‑called “Great Debates” between Presidential candidates in the election of 1960 is only another example. These four campaign programs, pompously and self‑righteously advertised by the broadcasting networks, were remarkably successful in reducing great national issues to trivial dimensions. With appropriate vulgarity, they might have been called the $400,000 Question (Prize: a $100,000‑a‑year job for four years). They were a clinical example of the pseudo‑event, of how it is made, why it appeals, and of its consequences for democracy in America.
In origin the Great Debates were confusedly collaborative between politicians and news makers. Public interest centered around the pseudo‑event itself: the lighting, make‑up, ground rules, whether notes would be allowed, etc. Far more interest was shown in the performance than in what was said. The pseudo‑events spawned in turn by the Great Debates were numberless. People who had seen the shows read about them the more‑ avidly, and listened eagerly for interpretations by news commentators. Representatives of both parties made “statements” on the probable effects of the debates. Numerous interviews and discussion programs were broadcast exploring their meaning. Opinion polls kept us informed on the nuances of our own and other people’s reactions. Topics of speculation multiplied. Even the question whether there should be a fifth debate became for a while a lively “issue.”
The drama of the situation was mostly specious, or at least had an extremely ambiguous relevance to, the main (but forgotten) issue: which participant was better qualified for the Presidency. Of course, a man’s ability, while standing under klieglights, without notes, to answer in two and a half minutes a question kept secret until that moment, had only the most dubious relevance‑if any at all‑to his real qualifications to make deliberate Presidential decisions on long‑standing public questions after being instructed by a corps of advisers. The great Presidents in our history (with the possible exception of F.D.R.) would have done miserably; but our most notorious demagogues would have shone. A number of exciting pseudo‑events were created‑for example, the Quemoy‑Matsu issue. But that, too, was a good example of a pseudo‑event: it was created to be reported, it concerned a then‑quiescent problem, and it put into the most factitious and trivial terms the great and real issue of our relation to Communist China.
The television medium shapes this new kind of political quiz-show spectacular in many crucial ways. Theodore H. White has proven this with copious detail in his The Making of the President 1960 (1961). All the circumstances of this particular competition for votes were far more novel than the old word “debate” and the comparisons with the Lincoln Douglas Debates suggested. Kennedy’s great strength in the critical first debate, according to White, was that he was in fact not “debating” at all, but was seizing the opportunity to address the whole nation; while Nixon stuck close to the issues raised by his opponent, rebutting them one by one. Nixon, moreover, suffered a handicap that was serious only on television: he has a light, naturally transparent skin. On an ordinary camera that takes pictures by optical projection, this skin photographs well. But a television camera projects electronically, by an “image‑orthicon tube” which has an x‑ray effect. This camera penetrates Nixon’s transparent skin and brings out (even just after a shave) the tiniest hair growing in the follicles beneath the surface. For the decisive first program Nixon wore a make‑up called “Lazy Shave” which was ineffective under these conditions. He therefore looked haggard and heavy‑bearded by contrast to Kennedy, who looked pert and clean‑cut.
This greatest opportunity in American history to educate the voters by debating the large issues of the campaign failed. The main reason, as White points out, was the compulsions of the medium. “The nature of both TV and radio is that they abhor silence and ‘dead time.’ All TV and radio discussion programs are compelled to snap question and answer back and forth as if the contestants were adversaries in an intellectual tennis match. Although every experienced newspaperman and inquirer knows that the most thoughtful and responsive answers to any difficult question come after long pause, and that the longer the pause the more illuminating the thought that follows it, nonetheless the electronic media cannot bear to suffer a pause of more than five seconds; a pause of thirty seconds of dead time on air seems interminable. Thus, snapping their two‑and‑a‑half‑minute answers back and forth, both candidates could only react for the cameras and the people, they could not think.” Whenever either candidate found himself touching a thought too large for two‑minute exploration, he quickly retreated. Finally the television‑watching voter was left to judge, not on issues explored by thoughtful men, but on the relative capacity of the two candidates to perform under television stress.
Pseudo‑events thus lead to emphasis on pseudo‑qualifications. Again the self‑fulfilling prophecy. If we test Presidential candidates by their talents on TV quiz performances, we will, of course, choose presidents for precisely these qualifications. In a democracy, reality tends to conform to the pseudo-event. Nature imitates art.
We are frustrated by our very efforts publicly to unmask the pseudo‑event. Whenever we describe the lighting, the make‑up, the studio setting, the rehearsals, etc., we simply arouse more interest. One newsman’s interpretation makes us more eager to hear another’s. One commentator’s speculation that the debates may have little significance makes us curious to hear whether another commentator disagrees.
Pseudo‑events do, of course, increase our illusion of grasp on the world, what some have called the American illusion of omnipotence. Perhaps, we come to think, the world’s problems can really be settled by ‘statements,’ by ‘Summit’ meetings, by a competition of ‘prestige,’ by overshadowing images, and by political quiz shows.
Once we have tasted the charm of pseudo‑events, we are tempted to believe they are the only important events. Our progress poisons the sources of our experience. And the poison tastes so sweet that it spoils our appetite for plain fact. Our seeming ability to satisfy our exaggerated expectations makes us forget that they are exaggerated.” Daniel Boorstin, “From News Gathering to News Making: A Flood of Pseudo-Events;” a chapter from The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America
Numero Dos—“I believe that there will never again be a great world war – a war in which the terrible weapons involving nuclear fission and nuclear fusion would be used. And I believe that it is the discoveries of scientists upon which the development of these terrible weapons was based that is now forcing us to move into a new period in the history of the world, a period of peace and reason, when world problems are not solved by war or by force, but are solved in accordance with world law, in a way that does justice to all nations and that benefits all people.
Let me again remind you, as I did yesterday in my address of acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962, that Alfred Nobel wanted to invent ‘a substance or a machine with such terrible power of mass destruction that war would thereby be made impossible forever.’ Two thirds of a century later scientists discovered the explosive substances that Nobel wanted to invent the fissionable substances uranium and plutonium, with explosive energy ten million times that of Nobel’s favorite explosive, nitroglycerine, and the fusionable substance lithium deuteride, with explosive energy fifty million times that of nitroglycerine. The first of the terrible machines incorporating these substances, the uranium-235 and plutonium-239 fission bombs, were exploded in 1945, at Alamogordo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Then in 1954, nine years later, the first of the fission-fusion-fission superbombs was exploded, the 20-megaton Bikini bomb, with energy of explosion one thousand times greater than that of a 1945 fission bomb.
This one bomb, the 1954 superbomb, contained less than one ton of nuclear explosive. The energy released in the explosion of this bomb was greater than that of all of the explosives used in all of the wars that have taken place during the entire history of the world, including the First World War and the Second World War.
Thousands of these superbombs have now been fabricated; and today, eighteen years after the construction of the first atomic bomb, the nuclear powers have stockpiles of these weapons so great that if they were to be used in a war hundreds of millions of people would be killed, and our civilization itself might not survive the catastrophe.
Thus the machines envisaged by Nobel have come into existence, and war has been made impossible forever.
The world has now begun its metamorphosis from its primitive period of history, when disputes between nations were settled by war, to its period of maturity, in which war will be abolished and world law will take its place. The first great stage of this metamorphosis took place only a few months ago – the formulation by the governments of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, after years of discussion and negotiation, of a Treaty3banning the testing of nuclear weapons on the surface of the earth, in the oceans, and in space, and the ratification and signing of this treaty by nearly all of the nations in the world.
I believe that the historians of the future may well describe the making of this treaty as the most important action ever taken by the governments of nations, in that it is the first of a series of treaties that will lead to the new world from which war has been abolished forever.
We see that science and peace are related. The world has been greatly changed, especially during the last century, by the discoveries of scientists. Our increased knowledge now provides the possibility of eliminating poverty and starvation, of decreasing significantly the suffering caused by disease, of using the resources of the world effectively for the benefit of humanity. But the greatest of all the changes has been in the nature of war the several million fold increase in the power of explosives and corresponding changes in methods of delivery of bombs.
These changes have resulted from the discoveries of scientists, and during the last two decades scientists have taken a leading part in bringing them to the attention of their fellow human beings and in urging that vigorous action be taken to prevent the use of the new weapons and to abolish war from the world.
The first scientists to take actions of this sort were those involved in the development of the atomic bomb. In March, 1945, before the first nuclear explosion had been carried out, Leo Szilard prepared a memorandum4 to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt5 in which he pointed out that a system of international control of nuclear weapons might give civilization a chance to survive. A committee of atomic scientists, with James Franck6 as chairman, on June 11, 1945, transmitted to the U.S. Secretary of War a report urging that nuclear bombs not be used in an unannounced attack against Japan, as this action would prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on control of these weapons7.
In 1946 Albert Einstein, Harold Urey, and seven other scientists8 formed an organization to educate the American people about the nature of nuclear weapons and nuclear war. This organization, the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists (usually called the Einstein Committee), carried out an effective educational campaign over a five-year period. The nature of the campaign is indicated by the following sentences from the 1946 statement by Einstein:
“Today the atomic bomb has altered profoundly the nature of the world as we know it, and the human race consequently finds itself in a new habitat to which it must adapt its thinking… Never before was it possible for one nation to make war on another without sending armies across borders. Now with rockets and atomic bombs no center of population on the earth’s surface is secure from surprise destruction in a single attack… Few men have ever seen the bomb. But all men if told a few facts can understand that this bomb and the danger of war is a very real thing, and not something far away. It directly concerns every person in the civilized world. We cannot leave it to generals, senators, and diplomats to work out a solution over a period of generations… There is no defense in science against the weapon which can destroy civilization. Our defense is not in armaments, nor in science, nor in going underground. Our defense is in law and order… Future thinking must prevent wars.”9
During the same period and later years, many other organizations of scientists were active in the work of educating people about nuclear weapons and nuclear war; among them I may mention especially the Federation of American Scientists (in the United States)10, the Atomic Scientists’ Association (Great Britain), and the World Federation of Scientific Workers (with membership covering many countries).
On July 15, 1955, a powerful statement, called the Mainau Declaration, was issued by fifty-two Nobel laureates11. This statement warned that a great war in the nuclear age would imperil the whole world, and ended with the sentences: “All nations must come to the decision to renounce force as a final resort of policy. If they are not prepared to do this, they will cease to exist.”
A document of great consequence, the Russell-Einstein Appeal, was made public by Bertrand Russell12 on July 9, 1955. Russell, who for years remained one of the world’s most active and effective workers for peace, had drafted this document some months earlier, and it had been signed by Einstein two days before his death, and also by nine other scientists. The Appeal began with the sentence: “In the tragic situation which confronts humanity, we feel that scientists should assemble in conference to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction…” And it ended with the exhortation: “There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal, as human beings, to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”13
This Appeal led to the formation of the Pugwash Continuing Committee, with Bertrand Russell as chairman, and to the holding of a series of Pugwash Conferences (eleven during the years 1957 to 1963). Financial support for the first few conferences was provided by Mr. Cyrus Eaton14, and the first conference was held in his birthplace, the village of Pugwash, Nova Scotia.
Among the participants in some of the Pugwash Conferences have been scientists with a close connection with the governments of their countries, as well as scientists without government connection. The Conferences have permitted the scientific and practical aspects of disarmament to be discussed informally in a thorough, penetrating, and productive way and have led to some valuable proposals. It is my opinion that the Pugwash Conferences were significantly helpful in the formulation and ratification of the 1963 Bomb Test Ban Treaty.
Concern about the damage done to human beings and the human race by the radioactive substances produced in nuclear weapons tests was expressed with increasing vigor in the period following the first fission-fusion-fission bomb test at Bikini on March 1, 1954. Mention was made of radioactive fallout in the Russell-Einstein Appeal and also in the statement of the First Pugwash Conference. In his Declaration of Conscience issued in Oslo on April 24, 1957, Dr. Albert Schweitzer described the damage done by fallout and asked that the great nations cease their tests of nuclear weapons15. Then on May 15, 1957, with the help of some of the scientists in Washington University, St. Louis, I wrote the Scientists’ Bomb Test Appeal, which within two weeks was signed by over two thousand American scientists and within a few months by 11,021 scientists, of forty-nine countries. On January 15, 1958, as I presented the Appeal to Dag Hammarskjöld16 as a petition to the United Nations, I said to him that in my opinion it represented the feelings of the great majority of the scientists of the world. The Bomb Test Appeal consists of five paragraphs. The first two are the following:
“We, the scientists whose names are signed below, urge that an international agreement to stop the testing of nuclear bombs be made now.
Each nuclear bomb test spreads an added burden of radioactive elements over every part of the world. Each added amount of radiation causes damage to the health of human beings all over the world and causes damage to the pool of human germ plasm such as to lead to an increase in the number of seriously defective children that will be born in future generations.”17
Let me now say a few words to amplify the last statement, about which there has been controversy. Each year, of the nearly 100 million children born in the world, about 4,000,000 have gross physical or mental defects, such as to cause great suffering to themselves and their parents and to constitute a major burden on society. Geneticists estimate that about five percent, 200,000 per year, of these children are grossly defective because of gene mutations caused by natural high-energy radiation – cosmic rays and natural radioactivity, from which our reproductive organs cannot be protected. This numerical estimate is rather uncertain, but geneticists agree that it is of the right order of magnitude.
Moreover, geneticists agree that any additional exposure of the human reproductive cells to high-energy radiation produces an increase in the number of mutations and an increase in the number of defective children born in future years, and that this increase is approximately proportional to the amount of the exposure.
The explosion of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere liberates radioactive fission products-cesium 137, strontium go, iodine 131, and many others. In addition, the neutrons that result from the explosion combine with nitrogen nuclei in the atmosphere to form large amounts of a radioactive isotope of carbon, carbon 14, which then is incorporated into the organic molecules of every human being. These radioactive fission products are now damaging the pool of human germ plasma and increasing the number of defective children born.
Carbon 14 deserves our special concern. It was pointed out by the Soviet scientist O.I. Leipunsky in 1957 that this radioactive product of nuclear tests would cause more genetic damage to the human race than the radioactive fallout (cesium 137 and other fission products), if the human race survives over the 8,000-year mean life of carbon 14. Closely agreeing numerical estimates of the genetic effects of bomb-test carbon 14 were then made independently by me and by Drs. Totter, Zelle, and Hollister of the United States Atomic Energy Commission18. Especially pertinent is the fact that the so-called “clean” bombs, involving mainly nuclear fusion, produce when they are tested more carbon 14 per megaton than the ordinary fission bombs or fission-fusion-fission bombs.
A recent study by Reidar Nydal, of the Norwegian Institute of Technology in Trondheim, shows the extent to which the earth is being changed by the tests of nuclear weapons. Carbon 14 produced by cosmic rays is normally present in the atmosphere, oceans, and biosphere, in amount as to be responsible for between one and two percent of the genetic damage caused by natural high-energy radiation. Nydal has reported that the amount of carbon 14 in the atmosphere has been more than doubled because of the nuclear weapons tests of the last ten years, and that in a few years the carbon-14 content of human beings will be two or three times the normal value, with a consequent increase in the gene mutation rate and the number of defective children born.
Some people have pointed out that the number of grossly defective children born as a result of the bomb tests is small compared with the total number of defective children and have suggested that the genetic damage done by the bomb tests should be ignored. I, however, have contended, as have Dr. Schweitzer and many others, that every single human being is important and that we should be concerned about every additional child that is caused by our actions to be born to live a life of suffering and misery. President Kennedy in his broadcast19 to the American people on July 26, 1963, said: “The loss of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby – who may be born long after we are gone – should be of concern to us all. Our children and grandchildren are not merely statistics towards which we can be indifferent.”
We should know how many defective children are being born because of the bomb tests. During the last six years I have made several attempts to estimate the numbers. My estimates have changed somewhat from year to year, as new information became available and as continued bomb testing increased the amount of radioactive pollution of the earth, but no radical revision of the estimates has been found necessary.
It is my estimate that about 100,000 viable children will be born with gross physical or mental defects caused by the cesium 137 and other fission products from the bomb tests carried out from 1952 to 1963, and 1,500,000 more, if the human race survives, with gross defects caused by the carbon 14 from these bomb tests. In addition, about ten times as many embryonic, neonatal, and childhood deaths are expected-about 1,000,000 caused by the fission products and 15,000,000 by carbon 14. An even larger number of children may have minor defects caused by the bomb tests; these minor defects, which are passed on from generation to generation rather than being rapidly weeded out by genetic death, may be responsible for more suffering in the aggregate than the major defects.
About five percent of the fission-product effect and 0.3 percent of the carbon-14 effect may appear in the first generation; that is, about 10,000 viable children with gross physical or mental defects, and 100,000 embryonic, neonatal, and childhood deaths.
These estimates are in general agreement with those made by other scientists and by national and international committees. The estimates are all very uncertain because of the deficiencies in our knowledge. The uncertainty is usually expressed by saying that the actual numbers may be only one-fifth as great or may be five times as great as the estimates, but the errors may be even larger than this.
Moreover, it is known that high-energy radiation can cause leukemia, bone cancer, and some other diseases. Scientists differ in their opinion about the carcinogenic activity of small doses of radiation, such as produced by fallout and carbon 14. It is my opinion that bomb-test strontium 90 can cause leukemia and bone cancer, iodine 131 can cause cancer of the thyroid, and cesium 137 and carbon 14 can cause these and other diseases. I make the rough estimate that, because of this somatic effect of these radioactive substances that now pollute the earth, about 2,000,000 human beings now living will die five or ten or fifteen years earlier than if the nuclear tests had not been made. The 1962 estimate of the United States Federal Radiation Council was 0 to 100,000 deaths from leukemia and bone cancer in the U.S. alone, caused by the nuclear tests to the end of 1961.
The foregoing estimates are for 600 megatons of bombs. We may now ask : At what sacrifice is the atmospheric test of a single standard 20-megaton bomb carried out? Our answer, none the less horrifying because uncertain, is: with the sacrifice, if the human race survives, of about 500,000 children, of whom about 50,000 are viable but have gross physical or mental defects; and perhaps also of about 70,000 people now living who may die prematurely of leukemia or some other disease caused by the test.
We may be thankful that most of the nations of the world have, by subscribing to the 1963 treaty, agreed not to engage in nuclear testing in the atmosphere. But what a tragedy it is that this treaty was not made two years earlier! Of the total of 600 megatons of tests so far, three-quarters of the testing, 450 megatons, was done in 1961 and 1962. The failure to formulate a treaty in 1959 or 1960 or 1961 was attributed by the governments of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union to the existing differences of opinion about methods of inspection of underground tests. These differences were not resolved in 1963; but the treaty stopping atmospheric tests was made. What a tragedy for humanity that the governments did not accept this solution before taking the terrible step of resuming the nuclear tests in 1961!
I shall now quote and discuss the rest of the nuclear test ban petition of six years ago.
“So long as these weapons are in the hands of only three powers, an agreement for their control is feasible. If testing continues, and the possession of these weapons spreads to additional governments, the danger of outbreak of a cataclysmic nuclear war through the reckless action of some irresponsible national leader will be greatly increased.
An international agreement to stop the testing of nuclear bombs now could serve as a first step toward a more general disarmament and the ultimate effective abolition of nuclear weapons, averting the possibility of a nuclear war that would be a catastrophe to all humanity.
We have in common with our fellowmen a deep concern for the welfare of all human beings. As scientists we have knowledge of the dangers involved and therefore a special responsibility to make those dangers known. We deem it imperative that immediate action be taken to effect an international agreement to stop the testing of all nuclear weapons.”
How cogent is this argument? Would a great war, fought with use of the nuclear weapons that now exist, be a catastrophe to all humanity? Consideration of the nature of nuclear weapons and the magnitude of the nuclear stockpiles gives us the answer: it is Yes.
A single 25-megaton bomb could largely destroy any city on earth and kill most of its inhabitants. Thousands of these great bombs have been fabricated, together with the vehicles to deliver them.
Precise information about the existing stockpiles of nuclear weapons has not been released. The participants in the Sixth Pugwash Conference, in 1960, made use of the estimate 60,000 megatons. This is 10,000 times the amount of explosive used in the whole of the Second World War. It indicates that the world’s stockpile of military explosives has on the average doubled every year since 1945: My estimate for 1963, which reflects the continued manufacture of nuclear weapons during the past three years, is 320,000 megatons.
This estimate is made credible by the following facts. On November 12, 1961, the U.S. Secretary of Defense20 stated that the U.S. Strategic Air Command then included 630 B-52’s, 55 B-58’s, and 1,000 B-47’s, a total of 1,685 great bombers. These bombers carry about 50 megatons of bombs a piece – two 25-megaton bombs on each bomber. Accordingly, these 1,685 intercontinental bombers carry a load totaling 84,000 megatons. I do not believe that it can be contended that the bombs for these bombers do not exist. The Secretary of Defense also stated that the United States has over 10,000 other planes and rockets capable of carrying nuclear bombs in the megaton range. The total megatonnage of nuclear bombs tested by the Soviet Union is twice that of those tested by the United States and Great Britain, and it is not unlikely that the Soviet stockpile is also a tremendous one, perhaps one-third or one-half as large as the U.S. stockpile.
The significance of the estimated total of 320,000 megatons of nuclear bombs may be brought out by the following statement: if there were to take place tomorrow a 6-megaton war, equivalent to the Second World War in the power of the explosives used, and another such war the following day, and so on, day after day, for 146 years, the present stockpile would then be exhausted – but, in fact, this stockpile might be used in a single day, the day of the Third World War.
Many estimates have been made by scientists of the probable effects of hypothetical nuclear attacks. One estimate, reported in the 1957 Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Radiation of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy of the Congress of the United States, was for an attack on population and industrial centers and military installations in the United States with 250 bombs totaling 2,500 megatons. The estimate of casualties presented in the testimony, corrected for the increase in population since 1957, is that sixty days after the day on which the attack took place ninety-eight million of the 190 million American people would be dead, and twenty-eight million would be seriously injured but still alive; many of the remaining seventy million survivors would be suffering from minor injuries and radiation effects.
This is a small nuclear attack made with use of about one percent of the existing weapons. A major nuclear war might well see a total of 30,000 megatons, one-tenth of the estimated stockpiles, delivered and exploded over the populated regions of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the other major European countries. The studies of Hugh Everett and George E. Pugh21, of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Division, Institute of Defense Analysis, Washington, D.C., reported in the 1959 Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Radiation, permit us to make an estimate of the casualties of such a war. This estimate is that sixty days after the day on which the war was waged, 720 million of the 800 million people in these countries would be dead, sixty million would be alive but severely injured, and there would be twenty million other survivors. The fate of the living is suggested by the following statement by Everett and Pugh: “Finally, it must be pointed out that the total casualties at sixty days may not be indicative of the ultimate casualties. Such delayed effects as the disorganization of society, disruption of communications, extinction of livestock, genetic damage, and the slow development of radiation poisoning from the ingestion of radioactive materials may significantly increase the ultimate toll.”
No dispute between nations can justify nuclear war. There is no defense against nuclear weapons that could not be overcome by increasing the scale of the attack. It would be contrary to the nature of war for nations to adhere to agreements to fight “limited” wars, using only “small” nuclear weapons – even little wars today are perilous, because of the likelihood that a little war would grow into a world catastrophe.
The only sane policy for the world is that of abolishing war.
This is now the proclaimed goal of the nuclear powers and of all other nations.
We are all indebted to the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain for their action of formulating a test ban agreement that has been accepted by most of the nations of the world. As an American, I feel especially thankful to our great President, John F. Kennedy, whose tragic death occurred only nineteen days ago. It is my opinion that this great international agreement could not have been formulated and ratified except for the conviction, determination, and political skill of President Kennedy.
The great importance of the 1963 Test Ban Treaty lies in its significance as the first step toward disarmament. To indicate what other steps need to be taken, I shall now quote some of the statements made by President Kennedy in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on the 26th of September, 1961.
“The goal (of disarmament) is no longer a dream. It is a practical matter of life or death. The risks inherent in disarmament pale in comparison to the risks inherent in an unlimited arms race…
Our new disarmament program includes:…
First, signing the test-ban treaty by all nations…
Second, stopping production of fissionable materials and preventing their transfer to (other) nations;…
Third, prohibiting the transfer of control over nuclear weapons to other nations;
Fourth, keeping nuclear weapons from outer space;
Fifth, gradually destroying existing nuclear weapons;
And Sixth, halting… the production of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles, and gradually destroying them.”
The first of these goals has been approached, through the 1963 treaty, but not yet reached. Six weeks ago, by the vote ninety-seven to one, the Political Committee of the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution asking that the eighteen-nation Disarmament Committee take supplementary action to achieve the discontinuance of all test explosions of nuclear weapons for all time. We must strive to achieve this goal.
The fourth action proposed by President Kennedy, that of keeping nuclear weapons from outer space, was taken two months ago, in the United Nations, through a pledge of abstention subscribed to by many nations.
Action on the third point, the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons, could lead to a significant diminution in international tensions and in the chance of outbreak of a world war. The 1960 treaty making Antarctica a nuclear-free zone provides a precedent. Ten Latin American nations have proposed that the whole of Latin America be made into a second zone free of nuclear weapons; and a similar proposal has been made for Africa. Approval of these proposals would be an important step toward permanent peace.
Even more important would be the extension of the principle of demilitarization to Central Europe, as proposed by Rapacki, Kennan22, and others several years ago. Under this proposal the whole of Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, and perhaps some other countries would be largely demilitarized, and their boundaries and national integrity would be permanently assured by the United Nations. I am not able at the present time to discuss in a thorough way the complex problem of Berlin and Germany; but I am sure that if a solution other than nuclear destruction is ever achieved, it will be through demilitarization, not remilitarization.
President Kennedy, President Johnson, Chairman Khrushchev, Prime Minister Macmillan23, and other national leaders have proclaimed that, to prevent the cataclysm, we must move toward the goal of general and complete disarmament, we must begin to destroy the terrible nuclear weapons that now exist, and the vehicles for delivering them. But instead of destroying the weapons and the delivery vehicles, the great nations continue to manufacture more and more of them, and the world remains in peril.
Why is no progress being made toward disarmament? I think that part of the answer is that there are still many people, some of them powerful people, who have not yet accepted the thesis that the time has now come to abolish war. And another part of the answer is that there exists a great nation that has not been accepted into the world community of nations – the Chinese People’s Republic, the most populous nation in the world. I do not believe that the United States and the Soviet Union will carry out any major stage of the process of disarmament unless that potentially great nuclear power, the Chinese People’s Republic, is a signatory to the disarmament agreement; and the Chinese People’s Republic will not be a signatory to such a treaty until she is accepted into the community of nations under conditions worthy of her stature24. To work for the recognition of China is to work for world peace.
We cannot expect the now existing nuclear weapons to be destroyed for several years, perhaps for decades. Moreover, there is the possibility, mentioned by Philip Noel-Baker in his Nobel lecture in 1959, that some nuclear weapons might be concealed or surreptitiously fabricated, and then used to terrorize and dominate the disarmed world25; this possibility might slow down the program of destroying the stockpiles.
Is there no action that we can take immediately to decrease the present great danger of outbreak of nuclear war, through some technological or psychological accident or as the result of a series of events such that even the wisest national leaders could not avert the catastrophe?
I believe that there is such an action, and I hope that it will be given consideration by the national governments. My proposal is that there be instituted, with the maximum expedition compatible with caution, a system of joint national-international control of the stockpiles of nuclear weapons; such that use could be made of the American nuclear armaments only with the approval both of the American government and of the United Nations, and that use could be made of the Soviet nuclear armament only with the approval both of the Soviet government and of the United Nations. A similar system of dual control would of course be instituted for the smaller nuclear powers if they did not destroy their weapons.
Even a small step in the direction of this proposal, such as the acceptance of United Nations observers in the control stations of the nuclear powers, might decrease significantly the probability of nuclear war.
There is another action that could be taken immediately to decrease the present great hazard to civilization. This action would be to stop, through a firm treaty incorporating a reliable system of inspection, the present great programs of development of biological and chemical methods of waging war.
Four years ago the scientists participating in the Fifth Pugwash Conference concluded that at that time the destructive power of nuclear weapons was far larger than that of biological and chemical weapons, but that biological and chemical weapons have enormous lethal and incapacitating effects against man and could also effect tremendous harm by the destruction of plants and animals. Moreover, there is a vigorous effort being made to develop these weapons to the point where they would become a threat to the human race equal to or greater than that of nuclear weapons. The money expended for research and development of biological and chemical warfare by the United States alone has now reached 100 million dollars per year, an increase of sixteenfold in a decade, and similar efforts are probably being exerted in the Soviet Union and other countries.
To illustrate the threat, I may mention the plans to use nerve gases that, when they do not kill, produce temporary or permanent insanity, and the plans to use toxins such as the botulism toxin, viruses such as the virus of yellow fever, or bacterial spores such as of anthrax, to kill tens or hundreds of millions of people.
The hazard is especially great in that, once the knowledge is obtained through a large-scale development program such as is now being carried out, it might well spread over the world and might permit some small group of evil men, perhaps in one of the smaller countries, to launch a devastating attack.
This terrible prospect could be eliminated now by a general agreement to stop research and development of these weapons, to prohibit their use, and renounce all official secrecy and security controls over microbiological, toxicological, pharmacological, and chemical- biological research. Hundreds of millions of dollars per year are now being spent in the effort to make these malignant cells of knowledge. Now is the time to stop. When once the cancer has developed and its metastases have spread over the world, it will be too late.
The replacement of war by law must include not only great wars but also small ones. The abolition of insurrectionary and guerrilla warfare, which often is characterized by extreme savagery and a great amount of human suffering, would be a boon to humanity.
There are, however, countries in which the people are subjected to continuing economic exploitation and to oppression by a dictatorial government, which retains its power through force of arms. The only hope for many of these people has been that of revolution, of overthrowing the dictatorial government and replacing it with a reform government, a democratic government that would work for the welfare of the people.
I believe that the time has come for the world as a whole to abolish this evil, through the formulation and acceptance of some appropriate articles of world law. With only limited knowledge of law, I shall not attempt to formulate a proposal that would achieve this end without permitting the possibility of the domination of the small nations by the large nations. I suggest, however, that the end might be achieved by world legislation under which there would be, perhaps once a decade, a referendum, supervised by the United Nations, on the will of the people with respect to their national government, held, separately from the national elections, in every country in the world.
It may take many years to achieve such an addition to the body of world law. In the meantime, much could be done through a change in the policies of the great nations. During recent years insurrections and civil wars in small countries have been instigated and aggravated by the great powers, which have moreover provided weapons and military advisers, increasing the savagery of the wars and the suffering of the people. In four countries during 1963 and several others during preceding years, democratically elected governments, with policies in the direction of social and economic reform, have been overthrown and replaced by military dictatorship, with the approval, if not at the instigation., of one or more of the great powers. These actions of the great powers are associated with policies of militarism and national economic interest that are now antiquated. I hope that the pressure of world opinion will soon cause them to be abandoned and to be replaced by policies that are compatible with the principles of morality, justice, and world brotherhood.
In working to abolish war, we are working also for human freedom, for the rights of individual human beings. War and nationalism, together with economic exploitation, have been the great enemies of the individual human being. I believe that, with war abolished from the world, there will be improvement in the social, political, and economic systems in all nations, to the benefit of the whole of humanity.
I am glad to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Norwegian Storting [Parliament] for its outstanding work for international arbitration and peace during the last seventy-five years. In this activity the Storting has been the leader among the parliaments of nations. I remember the action of the Storting in 1890 of urging that permanent treaties for arbitration of disputes between nations be made, and the statement that ‘the Storting is convinced that this idea has the support of an overwhelming proportion of our people. Just as law and justice have long ago replaced the rule of the fist in disputes between man and man, so the idea of settling disputes among peoples and nations is making its way with irresistible strength. More and more, war appears to the general consciousness as a vestige of prehistoric barbarism and a curse to the human race.’
Now we are forced to eliminate from the world forever this vestige of prehistoric barbarism, this curse to the human race. We, you and I, are privileged to be alive during this extraordinary age, this unique epoch in the history of the world, the epoch of demarcation between the past millennia of war and suffering, and the future, the great future of peace, justice, morality, and human well-being. We are privileged to have the opportunity of contributing to the achievement of the goal of the abolition of war and its replacement by world law. I am confident that we shall succeed in this great task; that the world community will thereby be freed not only from the suffering caused by war but also, through the better use of the earth’s resources, of the discoveries of scientists, and of the efforts of mankind, from hunger, disease, illiteracy, and fear; and that we shall in the course of time be enabled to build a world characterized by economic, political, and social justice for all human beings and a culture worthy of man’s intelligence.” Linus Pauling, “Science & Peace;” Nobel Peace Prize lecture, 1963
Numero Tres—“I am delighted to have been invited to reminisce on our meetings. In a way this is an appropriate place for me to do so. I went to my first AMS meetings while a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati.
During Thanksgiving 1935 I hitchhiked from Cincinnati to Lexington, Kentucky, for this purpose. There I encountered Fritz John and his wife, recent refugees from Nazi Germany. They invited me to sleep on the couch in their living room, which I was glad to do. Leon Cohen was also then at the University of Kentucky, and also very friendly to a beginning graduate student. Their friendship, which was to become long-standing, still evokes a warm glow.
That Christmas the AMS winter meeting was in St. Louis. Again I hit the highways, now to make my first visit to the city where my parents had met and married. En route, J. L. Doob (whom I had come to know while using the Columbia University mathematics library) picked me up. As you know, he later became President of the AMS. In this capacity, he designated me as his representative to the Mathematical Sciences Conference Board on the occasion when another commitment prevented his personal participation. This was the only time any AMS President has appointed me to any committee or function. The membership has twice elected me to serve as a member-at-large of the Council, following my nomination by petition, so I don’t feel neglected by my colleagues.
Back to St. Louis. In those days even the winter meetings were what we would now regard as quite small. There was room enough for the American Economics Association (AEA) to hold its meetings also at Washington University at the same time. By chance, I picked up the flyer announcing an AEA luncheon for 85 cents at which there were to be three speakers. The following morning there was a correction. The three speeches were cancelled and the price raised to $1.00. I have always wondered whether the initial listing (or threat) of three speeches had been intended as a ploy to prepare the way for the then high price for a luncheon.
Another experience with a meeting luncheon has stuck in my mind. Still a graduate student, I ventured to an AMS meeting at Columbia University while home in New York during a vacation. Of course, students didn’t go to the associated luncheon, held at the faculty club. On the way back to the afternoon session, a couple of us passed by just as D. J. Struik, whose wonderful talk yesterday at this meeting evoked a standing ovation, was descending the club steps. I asked the usual stupid question: ‘How was the lunch?’ A happy smile lit up his face: ‘Far better than I expected; the food was mediocre.’
Not all events connected with AMS meetings were that cheerful or that light. Some of the things of which I’ll speak now will require a willingness to face ourselves as we were. To prepare for this, I have chosen a few lines from the official poem read by its author, Maya Angelou, at the inauguration of President Clinton:
“History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.”
The welcome, or, rather, lack of welcome, to minorities and women lasted over a long period of time at our meetings. Unless we are willing to face this in these days of backlash, we’ll be living this all over again. Here are some examples from the AMS and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).
This was first made a matter of record in 1951 when I was teaching at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, a leading historically Black university. The Southeast regional meeting of the MAA took place with Vanderbilt University as host. There was an official banquet at which the national President of the MAA was the speaker. Using rather vulgar language, the chair of the local arrangements committee, a Vanderbilt professor, said that no tickets would be available to Negro members. I’m using the polite version of the word he employed.
On April 20, 1951, my department sent a letter to the Board of Governors of the MAA and (well aware that the AMS behaved no better) also to the Council of the AMS, describing the situation and making certain suggestions. Then, with a covering note, I sent it to Science, there being no AMS or MAA outlets for letters then. They appeared on August 10, 1951. (See Attachment 1.) It was reprinted (together with quite a bit of related material) as an appendix to the book Black Mathematicians and their Works .
The April letter’s first paragraph formulates what would appear to be minimum obligations owed by any organization to its members. Further on, it explains why such conditions need to be made explicit and then continues by citing precedents in place in other professional organizations. Finally, it establishes that the by-laws we requested were entirely practicable even in terms of the law and practices of that time. (See p. 91, .)
Unfortunately, neither the AMS nor the MAA has ever pioneered in facing these issues. Other major organizations, such as the American Psychological Association, including at least one which was entirely southern-based (Southern College Personnel Association), were already behaving much better than we were. However, the demand from the Mathematics Department at Fisk University, supported by colleagues elsewhere, did bring some action. Policy statements were adopted calling for meetings to be run so that all could participate. That was a step forward, but a rather gingerly one. The concept of participation seems to have quite different meanings for different people. The statements included wording to the effect that where accommodations are provided for some they will be provided for all. But what does that mean?
This necessitated a second letter on December 17, 1951. (See Attachment 2.) It recorded that the Fisk Department was pleased at the anti-discrimination affirmation by then adopted by the MAA, but pointed out that implementation was lacking and repeated the need for the procedures already requested in the April 20, 1951, letter (Attachment 1). This time the letter added some AMS history to emphasize the need for definite, unambiguous, enforceable policy.
It records, e.g., that “When the Society met at the University of Georgia in 1947, not one Negro was present.” After I wrote that letter, I learned that there was more to the story than that. Actually, one had wanted to participate. This was J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr., present in this room, who, many years later, was elected to the AMS Council and, more importantly, to the National Academy of Engineering.
In 1947 Wilkins was a few years past the Ph. D. he had earned at the University of Chicago slightly before his nineteenth birthday. He received a letter from the AMS Associate Secretary for that region urging him to come and saying that very satisfactory arrangements had been made with which they were sure he’d be pleased: they had found a “nice colored family” with whom he could stay and where he would take his meals! The hospitality of the University of Georgia (and of the AMS) was not for him. This is why the meeting there was totally white.
In 1951 I would be informed by the Secretary of MAA’s Southeastern section that in all the twenty years in which he held that post not a single Black mathematician had attempted to participate in any way in MAA meetings in that region — until my Fisk colleagues and I did so that year, only to be excluded from the official banquet addressed by the MAA national President.
The University of Georgia figures again in this same period in another example of AMS insensitivity to its Black constituency. In 1951 the AMS sold its library to the University of Georgia, which was the highest of six bidders. A careful search of AMS records does not disclose any assurances given — or even sought — that all AMS members, regardless of race, would be able to use it. This was at a time of intense segregation mandated by Georgia state law. (At the other four U.S. institutions bidding, access would not have been a problem.)
In that period, David Blackwell, then at Howard University, later to become the first Black member of the National Academy of Sciences, the first on the AMS Council, the first (and only) to serve as a Vice President (now no longer active in AMS), attempted to attend an AMS meeting in the Washington area. He drove to the meeting, but it took only twenty minutes for him to decide to turn around and drive right back home.
W.W.S. Claytor, a distinguished point-set topologist, suffered even more unpleasant experiences at AMS meetings, with the result that he became unwilling to attend any. The two letters following reveal much about both the universities and the AMS in that time. The first letter is to Virginia Newell, who, as an editor of Black Mathematicians and Their Works, had sought information from the late Walter R. Talbot, himself an early Black PhD in mathematics. He, in turn, forwards a letter written by Claytor’s widow, a university professor in another discipline:
Dear Mrs. Newell:
I was just about to give up on getting a write-up on Claytor and tell you that I had lost count on the number of times I had been promised the requested information. Then the enclosed material came yesterday as the mailing cover will show. I have made some pencil marks on the papers. I remember when Claytor was on a post-doctoral at Michigan and they had a vacancy for which he was qualified. They would not offer him the position, and the student newspaper took up the issue but to no avail. I believe that incident in discrimination was one of the main chilling, if not killing, points in the research career of a brilliant mathematician. There are references in the literature to his work, but he lost his spirit. I wish Mae had included that item, but I wouldn’t want to burden her with more questions or requests. Needless to say, I hope you can find a way to include Mae’s contributions on Claytor. He definitely belongs among the top few of our research persons even with his short career of doing research. His spirit was broken by discrimination.
Good wishes always.
Walter R. Talbot
I am sorry about being late with this but it is just difficult for me to write about Bill. I am still at the point where I do not like to go back and think. In order to get much of this material, I had to go to what I call our memory books and looking at pictures and sort of reliving Bill; it just hurts a bit too much. I hope this is O.K. There is so much I just cannot put on paper. Even writing about Bill and his presentation at the Math Society, I thought about the days Bill used to tell me how owing to the Black-White mess, he had to stay at a private home when the others were at the hotel where the Association met. Over the years when the color-line became less, he never would attend any more meetings. Kline used to come to see us periodically and try to get Bill to go with him but I guess the hurt went too deeply with him. After he left, I found old papers and letters he had when Kline was trying to get him in Princeton as a Fellow and whew, again it was the color mess. At Princeton, the administration said the students might object to a “culud” person which was a laugh, they would never have known it. I do hope what I have written is O.K.
[Mrs. William Claytor]
The Canadian and US governments have apologised, as indeed they should, for the internment of their citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. I know of no plans to apologize for the generations of slavery and discrimination inflicted upon those of African descent. Some day there will be an African country with the same economic and political clout as contemporary Japan. Then we can look forward to similar apologies to the descendants of Africa. But our mathematical organizations could apologize for past behavior before then.
Time went on and episodes continued. I remember yet another, in 1960, when A. Shabazz and S.C. Saxena, both on the faculty of Atlanta University (now Clark-Atlanta), and their graduate student W.E. Brodie were subjected yet again to jimcrow treatment at the spring meeting of the Southeastern Section of MAA. This, it should be noted, was several years after AMS and MAA commitments to the contrary. They had not been warned in advance that such discourtesy would be in store. The three left in protest.
And so in 1969 the National Association of Mathematicians (NAM) came into being to address the needs of the Black mathematical community. This was a turbulent period. A group of more or less left-oriented mathematicians established the Mathematicians Action Group (MAG) that same year. We were motivated largely by concern over the Vietnam war, the militarization of mathematics, the lack of democracy in the AMS, the existence of racism and sexism, and related social issues as they impinged on mathematicians and vice versa.
This led to the liveliest Business Meeting (New Orleans, January 1969) that the Society has ever had. I noticed Everett Pitcher smiling just now when I made that remark. He was at that time AMS Secretary and was sporting a beard; more of that in a moment. In the summer of 1968 there had been what an official commission of enquiry was later to denounce as a police riot. This was at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Richard Daley, the father of the present Mayor, was Mayor then. The police were called out against grass roots delegations, including one involving mathematicians, there to protest the US government’s undeclared war against Vietnam. The wild and brutal behavior of the police shocked the world: massive use of tear gas, random and vicious beatings of demonstrators, onlookers and passers-by. Anybody with a beard was beaten.
What did all this have to do with the AMS? Our next spring (regional) meeting was scheduled for Chicago and a great many of us were determined that the AMS should not go about “business as usual.” So MAG, of which I was a member, decided to call upon the Society to move the Spring 1969 meeting away from Chicago in protest. MAG designated me to introduce such a motion at the January 25, 1969, AMS Business Meeting. Secretary Pitcher’s report on that Business Meeting is included as Attachment 3 .
Well over 400 members attended that Business Meeting, an enormous contrast to the typical attendance. After extensive debate, the motion to move the upcoming meeting that I made on behalf of MAG passed decisively. It called upon the AMS Executive Committee to move the meeting, since the business meeting itself lacked the power to do so. That Committee had rejected earlier an individual request to make the move, but fortunately recognized the feeling among the members and complied. The new venue, by the way, was Cincinnati.
MAG brought other current issues formulated in five resolutions to the New Orleans Business Meeting, these via Ed Dubinsky who is also at this meeting. The texts of these resolutions, which for technical reasons could not come to an immediate vote, are included in Attachments 3 and 4. The AMS Council voted by 29–1 to dissociate itself from these resolutions and introduced Resolution B, which it regarded as contradictory to the five MAG resolutions. (See Attachment 4.) It then held a hasty referendum, simultaneously calling upon the membership to defeat the five and adopt the allegedly contradictory Resolution B. (See Attachment 4.) And that is what happened. No time for discussion was allowed. I submitted a letter on these resolutions and their handling which the Notices refused to publish. It then came out in the MAG Newsletter with an explanation of the context. (See Attachment 5.)
I could say a lot about this, but I’ll restrain myself, except for comments on Resolution 5, which read:
“Whereas the shortage of mathematicians in North American Universities is different and greater among black and brown Americans than among whites, and whereas this situation is not improving, be it resolved that the AMS appoint a committee composed of black and third world mathematicians to study this problem and other problems concerning black and third world mathematicians, and report their conclusions and recommendations to the Society.”
Just imagine! The Council called for the defeat by a vote of 29-1 of such a resolution. And offered no substitute. No wonder NAM was established that same year. Fortunately, with the growth of members’ demands and the existence of NAM, changes began. Eventually, the substance of that resolution was adopted. Resolution 4 also rose from the ashes of defeat as the current Notices letters section now attests.
The spirit of Resolution 5, representing sensitivity to the anguish of the Black community, can be found in another lively Business Meeting. This had its roots in the establishment in 1972 of a reciprocity agreement with the South African Mathematical Society. Strong objections were made when this became known. I am not aware of all of them, but I recall a letter from Gail Young to the January 1974 meeting of the AMS Council to which I had just been elected. I moved that the agreement be cancelled and a lively discussion ensued. From the observers’ seats James A. Donaldson, Chair of the Howard University Mathematics Department and later a Council member, emphasized that Black members of the AMS could not “avail themselves fully and equally of the privileges of membership in the South African Mathematical Society”. Donaldson stressed that the AMS would be inflicting another insulting discrimination on Black members and predicted that many would not wish to remain members under such offensive circumstances.
Ultimately, my motion to cancel the agreement passed. But more was to come. At a subsequent meeting, the Council (despite strong objection from some members) decided to eliminate all reciprocity agreements and institute individual foreign memberships in their stead. (See Attachment 6.) This would have taken the sting out of the anti-apartheid stance that the cancellation of the agreement with South Africa had placed on record. Fortunately, the Bylaws required securing the consent of a Business Meeting when a new class of membership is created.
Postponed from the August 1976 Business Meeting because of vagueness, the Council proposal was debated — and defeated — in the January 1977 Business Meeting, a very vigorous gathering. The members were in no mood to soften the anti-apartheid implications of the cancellation of the South African agreement, nor did they wish to lose their participation rights in mathematical societies abroad as a result of cancellation of all reciprocity agreements. So there is a genuine function for serious business meetings; they don’t all have to be pro-forma.
History knows many turns. Now South Africa has a government led by those imprisoned or exiled by the apartheid regimes. So, on May 3, 1994, I wrote to the AMS officers asking them to put before the Council a proposal to offer the South African Mathematical Society a reciprocity agreement and recounting some of the foregoing background. Somehow or other, the Secretary thought that he could just do it, without reference to the Council. My letter was not circulated, nor was the item placed on the agenda. However, Vice President Jean Taylor, apprised of this, raised the issue. On her motion the Council authorized the establishment of this reciprocity agreement.
Now the Society is in the happy historical position of having deliberately distanced itself from apartheid South Africa and then having promptly offered its friendship to a South Africa distancing itself from its gruesome past. The vote in the January 1977 Business Meeting gave us this opportunity.
If I have not referred explicitly to the important role of our women colleagues as a collective in the Business Meetings of our Society, it is because Alice Schafer, an early President of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) has done so at this session, not for want of appreciation. They as individuals, and the AWM as an organization, have added much to the profession, including our meetings and the leadership of our organization. The programs and discussions they have organized have raised essential issues and mobilized activity. I have mentioned NAM, but not enough. These two organizations bring systematically before the AMS and the MAA activities and views which would otherwise die on the vine if raised at all.
What they have done and do is needed by and is beneficial to the entire Society. This is obvious enough in terms of combatting discrimination, encouraging affirmative action to overcome past discrimination, and developing activities to these ends. But they bring also a spirit of democracy embracing all our activities.
Just one example: Alice Schafer recounted how Mary Gray, founding AWM President, opened meetings of the Council. These meetings had been completely closed, no uninvited observers permitted. Her insistence on the right to observe what is being done in our collective name has established that right for the entire membership and helped create a more open Society, even if democratic norms are yet to be fully realized. Now those of us who are not on Council can observe and even contribute to the discussions.
It has been an arduous process, one in which the end remains elusive yet. The atmosphere has changed. No longer would we meet where jimcrow rules or where overt sexism is proclaimed. There is recognition of the obligation to meet where all our members can be comfortable, safe, and welcome. This was demonstrated by the overwhelming agreement to move the January 1995 meetings away from Colorado when that state adopted an amendment removing human rights protections from homosexuals. How different was that discussion from those of earlier years when some of us sought decent treatment for our Black colleagues!
True, the atmosphere has changed. But has it changed enough? The position of female and minority mathematicians and the opportunities for members of these communities to become mathematicians are still far short of what they should be. Unemployment afflicts our successors and we don’t know what to do about it.
We can’t go back to where we were, but we cannot stay where we are. Langston Hughes, the poet laureate of Black America, commented often that ‘White folks are always talking about how far we have come; Black folks are always knowing how far we have to go.'” Lee Lorch, “The Painful Path Toward Inclusiveness;” an American Mathematical Society Special Session,1994