5.18.2017 Doc of the Day

1. Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896.
2. Bertrand Russell, 1950.
3. Frontline, 1995.
train railroad railway
Numero Uno“By the Louisiana statute the validity of which is here involved, all railway companies (other than street railroad companies) carrying passengers in that State are required to have separate but equal accommodations for white and colored persons ‘by providing two or more passenger coaches for each passenger train, or by dividing the passenger coaches by a partition so as to secure separate accommodations.’Under this statute, no colored person is permitted to occupy a seat in a coach assigned to white persons, nor any white person to occupy a seat in a coach assigned to colored persons.  The managers of the railroad are not allowed to exercise any discretion in the premises, but are required to assign each passenger to some coach or compartment set apart for the exclusive use of his race.   If a passenger insists upon going into a coach or compartment not set apart for persons of his race, he is subject to be fined or to be imprisoned in the parish jail.   Penalties are prescribed for the refusal or neglect of the officers, directors, conductors and employees of railroad companies to comply with the provisions of the act.

Only ‘nurses attending children of the other race’ are excepted from the operation of the statute.   No exception is made of colored attendants traveling with adults.  A white man is not permitted to have his colored servant with him in the same coach, even if his condition of health requires the constant, personal assistance of such servant.   If a colored maid insists upon riding in the same coach with a white woman whom she has been employed to serve, and who may need her personal attention while traveling, she is subject to be fined or imprisoned for such an exhibition of zeal in the discharge of duty.

While there may be in Louisiana persons of different races who are not citizens of the United States, the words in the act “white and colored races” necessarily include all citizens of the United States of both races residing in that State. So that we have before us a state enactment that compels, under penalties, the separation of the two races in railroad passenger coaches, and makes it a crime for a citizen of either race to enter a coach that has been assigned to citizens of the other race.

Thus, the State regulates the use of a public highway by citizens of the United States solely upon the basis of race.

However apparent the injustice of such legislation may be, we have only to consider whether it is consistent with the Constitution of the United States.

That a railroad is a public highway, and that the corporation which owns or operates it is in the exercise of public functions, is not, at this day, to be disputed. Mr. Justice Nelson, speaking for this court in New Jersey Steam Navigation Co. v. Merchants’ Bank, 6 How. 344, 47 U. S. 382, said that a common carrier was in the exercise

“of a sort of public office, and has public duties to perform, from which he should not be permitted to exonerate himself without the assent of the parties concerned.”

Mr. Justice Strong, delivering the judgment of

Page 163 U. S. 554

this court in Olcott v. The Supervisors, 16 Wall. 678, 83 U. S. 694, said:

“That railroads, though constructed by private corporations and owned by them, are public highways has been the doctrine of nearly all the courts ever since such conveniences for passage and transportation have had any existence. Very early the question arose whether a State’s right of eminent domain could be exercised by a private corporation created for the purpose of constructing a railroad. Clearly it could not unless taking land for such a purpose by such an agency is taking land for public use. The right of eminent domain nowhere justifies taking property for a private use. Yet it is a doctrine universally accepted that a state legislature may authorize a private corporation to take land for the construction of such a road, making compensation to the owner. What else does this doctrine mean if not that building a railroad, though it be built by a private corporation, is an act done for a public use.”

So, in Township of Pine Grove v. Talcott, 19 Wall. 666, 86 U. S. 676: “Though the corporation [a railroad company] was private, its work was public, as much so as if it were to be constructed by the State.” So, in Inhabitants of Worcester v. Western Railroad Corporation, 4 Met. 564:

“The establishment of that great thoroughfare is regarded as a public work, established by public authority, intended for the public use and benefit, the use of which is secured to the whole community, and constitutes, therefore, like a canal, turnpike or highway, a public easement. It is true that the real and personal property necessary to the establishment and management of the railroad is vested in the corporation, but it is in trust for the public.”

In respect of civil rights common to all citizens, the Constitution of the United States does not, I think, permit any public authority to know the race of those entitled to be protected in the enjoyment of such rights. Every true man has pride of race, and, under appropriate circumstances, when the rights of others, his equals before the law, are not to be affected, it is his privilege to express such pride and to take such action based upon it as to him seems proper. But I deny that any legislative body or judicial tribunal may have regard to the

Page 163 U. S. 555

race of citizens when the civil rights of those citizens are involved. Indeed, such legislation as that here in question is inconsistent not only with that equality of rights which pertains to citizenship, National and State, but with the personal liberty enjoyed by everyone within the United States.

The Thirteenth Amendment does not permit the withholding or the deprivation of any right necessarily inhering in freedom. It not only struck down the institution of slavery as previously existing in the United States, but it prevents the imposition of any burdens or disabilities that constitute badges of slavery or servitude. It decreed universal civil freedom in this country. This court has so adjudged. But that amendment having been found inadequate to the protection of the rights of those who had been in slavery, it was followed by the Fourteenth Amendment, which added greatly to the dignity and glory of American citizenship and to the security of personal liberty by declaring that

“all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside,”

and that

“no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

These two amendments, if enforced according to their true intent and meaning, will protect all the civil rights that pertain to freedom and citizenship. Finally, and to the end that no citizen should be denied, on account of his race, the privilege of participating in the political control of his country, it as declared by the Fifteenth Amendment that

“the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

These notable additions to the fundamental law were welcomed by the friends of liberty throughout the world. They removed the race line from our governmental systems. They had, as this court has said, a common purpose, namely to secure

“to a race recently emancipated, a race that through

Page 163 U. S. 556

many generations have been held in slavery, all the civil rights that the superior race enjoy.”

They declared, in legal effect, this court has further said,

“that the law in the States shall be the same for the black as for the white; that all persons, whether colored or white, shall stand equal before the laws of the States, and, in regard to the colored race, for whose protection the amendment was primarily designed, that no discrimination shall be made against them by law because of their color.”

We also said:

“The words of the amendment, it is true, are prohibitory, but they contain a necessary implication of a positive immunity, or right, most valuable to the colored race — the right to exemption from unfriendly legislation against them distinctively as colored — exemption from legal discriminations, implying inferiority in civil society, Lessening the security of their enjoyment of the rights which others enjoy, and discriminations which are steps towards reducing them to the condition of a subject race.”

It was, consequently, adjudged that a state law that excluded citizens of the colored race from juries, because of their race and however well qualified in other respects to discharge the duties of jurymen, was repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment. Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U. S. 303, 100 U. S. 306, 100 U. S. 307; Virginia v. Rives, 100 U. S. 313; Ex parte Virginia, 100 U. S. 339; Neal v. Delaware, 103 U. S. 370, 103 U. S. 386; Bush v. Kentucky, 107 U. S. 110, 107 U. S. 116. At the present term, referring to the previous adjudications, this court declared that

“underlying all of those decisions is the principle that the Constitution of the United States, in its present form, forbids, so far as civil and political rights are concerned, discrimination by the General Government or the States against any citizen because of his race. All citizens are equal before the law.”

Gibson v. Mississippi,162 U.S. 565.

The decisions referred to show the scope of the recent amendments of the Constitution. They also show that it is not within the power of a State to prohibit colored citizens, because of their race, from participating as jurors in the administration of justice.

It as said in argument that the statute of Louisiana does

Page 163 U. S. 557

not discriminate against either race, but prescribes a rule applicable alike to white and colored citizens. But this argument does not meet the difficulty. Everyone knows that the statute in question had its origin in the purpose not so much to exclude white persons from railroad cars occupied by blacks as to exclude colored people from coaches occupied by or assigned to white persons. Railroad corporations of Louisiana did not make discrimination among whites in the matter of accommodation for travelers. The thing to accomplish was, under the guise of giving equal accommodation for whites and blacks, to compel the latter to keep to themselves while traveling in railroad passenger coaches. No one would be so wanting in candor a to assert the contrary. The fundamental objection, therefore, to the statute is that it interferes with the personal freedom of citizens. “Personal liberty,” it has been well said,

“consists in the power of locomotion, of changing situation, or removing one’s person to whatsoever places one’s own inclination may direct, without imprisonment or restraint unless by due course of law.”

1 Bl.Com. *134. If a white man and a black man choose to occupy the same public conveyance on a public highway, it is their right to do so, and no government, proceeding alone on grounds of race, can prevent it without infringing the personal liberty of each.

It is one thing for railroad carriers to furnish, or to be required by law to furnish, equal accommodations for all whom they are under a legal duty to carry. It is quite another thing for government to forbid citizens of the white and black races from traveling in the same public conveyance, and to punish officers of railroad companies for permitting persons of the two races to occupy the same passenger coach. If a State can prescribe, as a rule of civil conduct, that whites and blacks shall not travel as passengers in the same railroad coach, why may it not so regulate the use of the streets of its cities and towns as to compel white citizens to keep on one side of a street and black citizens to keep on the other? Why may it not, upon like grounds, punish whites and blacks who ride together in streetcars or in open vehicles on a public road

Page 163 U. S. 558

or street? Why may it not require sheriffs to assign whites to one side of a courtroom and blacks to the other? And why may it not also prohibit the commingling of the two races in the galleries of legislative halls or in public assemblages convened for the consideration of the political questions of the day? Further, if this statute of Louisiana is consistent with the personal liberty of citizens, why may not the State require the separation in railroad coaches of native and naturalized citizens of the United States, or of Protestants and Roman Catholics?

The answer given at the argument to these questions was that regulations of the kind they suggest would be unreasonable, and could not, therefore, stand before the law. Is it meant that the determination of questions of legislative power depends upon the inquiry whether the statute whose validity is questioned is, in the judgment of the courts, a reasonable one, taking all the circumstances into consideration? A statute may be unreasonable merely because a sound public policy forbade its enactment. But I do not understand that the courts have anything to do with the policy or expediency of legislation. A statute may be valid and yet, upon grounds of public policy, may well be characterized as unreasonable. Mr. Sedgwick correctly states the rule when he says that, the legislative intention being clearly ascertained,

“the courts have no other duty to perform than to execute the legislative will, without any regard to their views as to the wisdom or justice of the particular enactment.”

Stat. & Const.Constr. 324. There is a dangerous tendency in these latter days to enlarge the functions of the courts by means of judicial interference with the will of the people as expressed by the legislature. Our institutions have the distinguishing characteristic that the three departments of government are coordinate and separate. Each must keep within the limits defined by the Constitution. And the courts best discharge their duty by executing the will of the lawmaking power, constitutionally expressed, leaving the results of legislation to be dealt with by the people through their representatives. Statutes must always have a reasonable construction. Sometimes they are to be construed strictly; sometimes liberally, in order to carry out the legislative

Page 163 U. S. 559

will. But however construed, the intent of the legislature is to be respected, if the particular statute in question is valid, although the courts, looking at the public interests, may conceive the statute to be both unreasonable and impolitic. If the power exists to enact a statute, that ends the matter so far as the courts are concerned. The adjudged cases in which statutes have been held to be void because unreasonable are those in which the means employed by the legislature were not at all germane to the end to which the legislature was competent.

The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is therefore to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached the conclusion that it is competent for a State to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race.

In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case. It was adjudged in that case that the descendants of Africans who were imported into this country and sold as slaves were not included nor intended to be included under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and could not claim any of the rights and privileges which that instrument provided for and secured to citizens of the United States; that, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, they were

“considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant

Page 163 U. S. 560

race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the government might choose to grant them.”

19 How. 60 U. S. 393, 60 U. S. 404. The recent amendments of the Constitution, it was supposed, had eradicated these principles from our institutions. But it seems that we have yet, in some of the States, a dominant race — a superior class of citizens, which assumes to regulate the enjoyment of civil rights, common to all citizens, upon the basis of race. The present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible, by means of state enactments, to defeat the beneficent purposes which the people of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of the Constitution, by one of which the blacks of this country were made citizens of the United States and of the States in which they respectively reside, and whose privileges and immunities, as citizens, the States are forbidden to abridge. Sixty millions of whites are in no danger from the presence here of eight millions of blacks. The destinies of the two races in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens. That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana.

The sure guarantee of the peace and security of each race is the clear, distinct, unconditional recognition by our governments, National and State, of every right that inheres in civil freedom, and of the equality before the law of all citizens of the United States, without regard to race. State enactments regulating the enjoyment of civil rights upon the basis of race, and cunningly devised to defeat legitimate results of the

Page 163 U. S. 561

war under the pretence of recognizing equality of rights, can have no other result than to render permanent peace impossible and to keep alive a conflict of races the continuance of which must do harm to all concerned. This question is not met by the suggestion that social equality cannot exist between the white and black races in this country. That argument, if it can be properly regarded as one, is scarcely worthy of consideration, for social equality no more exists between two races when traveling in a passenger coach or a public highway than when members of the same races sit by each other in a street car or in the jury box, or stand or sit with each other in a political assembly, or when they use in common the street of a city or town, or when they are in the same room for the purpose of having their names placed on the registry of voters, or when they approach the ballot box in order to exercise the high privilege of voting.

There is a race so different from our own that we do not permit those belonging to it to become citizens of the United States. Persons belonging to it are, with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country. I allude to the Chinese race. But, by the statute in question, a Chinaman can ride in the same passenger coach with white citizens of the United States, while citizens of the black race in Louisiana, many of whom, perhaps, risked their lives for the preservation of the Union, who are entitled, by law, to participate in the political control of the State and nation, who are not excluded, by law or by reason of their race, from public stations of any kind, and who have all the legal rights that belong to white citizens, are yet declared to be criminals, liable to imprisonment, if they ride in a public coach occupied by citizens of the white race. It is scarcely just to say that a colored citizen should not object to occupying a public coach assigned to his own race. He does not object, nor, perhaps, would he object to separate coaches for his race if his rights under the law were recognized. But he objecting, and ought never to cease objecting, to the proposition that citizens of the white and black race can be adjudged criminals because they sit, or claim the right to sit, in the same public coach on a public highway.

Page 163 U. S. 562

The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race while they are on a public highway is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution. It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds.

If evils will result from the commingling of the two races upon public highways established for the benefit of all, they will be infinitely less than those that will surely come from state legislation regulating the enjoyment of civil rights upon the basis of race. We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow citizens, our equals before the law. The thin disguise of “equal” accommodations for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead anyone, nor atone for the wrong this day done.

The result of the whole matter is that, while this court has frequently adjudged, and at the present term has recognized the doctrine, that a State cannot, consistently with the Constitution of the United States, prevent white and black citizens, having the required qualifications for jury service, from sitting in the same jury box, it is now solemnly held that a State may prohibit white and black citizens from sitting in the same passenger coach on a public highway, or may require that they be separated by a “partition,” when in the same passenger coach. May it not now be reasonably expected that astute men of the dominant race, who affect to be disturbed at the possibility that the integrity of the white race may be corrupted, or that its supremacy will be imperiled, by contact on public highways with black people, will endeavor to procure statutes requiring white and black jurors to be separated in the jury box by a “partition,” and that, upon retiring from the courtroom to consult as to their verdict, such partition, if it be a moveable one, shall be taken to their consultation room and set up in such way as to prevent black jurors from coming too close to their brother jurors of the white race. If the “partition” used in the courtroom happens to be stationary, provision could be made for screens with openings through

Page 163 U. S. 563

which jurors of the two races could confer as to their verdict without coming into personal contact with each other. I cannot see but that, according to the principles this day announced, such state legislation, although conceived in hostility to, and enacted for the purpose of humiliating, citizens of the United States of a particular race, would be held to be consistent with the Constitution.

I do not deem it necessary to review the decisions of state courts to which reference was made in argument.   Some, and the most important, of them are wholly inapplicable because rendered prior to the adoption of the last amendments of the Constitution, when colored people had very few rights which the dominant race felt obliged to respect.  Others were made at a time when public opinion in many localities was dominated by the institution of slavery, when it would not have been safe to do justice to the black man, and when, so far as the rights of blacks were concerned, race prejudice was, practically, the supreme law of the land.   Those decisions cannot be guides in the era introduced by the recent amendments of the supreme law, which established universal civil freedom, gave citizenship to all born or naturalized in the United States and residing here, obliterated the race line from our systems of governments, National and State, and placed our free institutions upon the broad and sure foundation of the equality of all men before the law.

I am of opinion that the statute of Louisiana is inconsistent with the personal liberty of citizens, white and black, in that State, and hostile to both the spirit and letter of the Constitution of the United States.   If laws of like character should be enacted in the several States of the Union, the effect would be in the highest degree mischievous.  Slavery, as an institution tolerated by law would, it is true, have disappeared from our country, but there would remain a power in the States, by sinister legislation, to interfere with the full enjoyment of the blessings of freedom to regulate civil rights, common to all citizens, upon the basis of race, and to place in a condition of legal inferiority a large body of American citizens now constituting a part of the political community called the People of the United States, for whom and by whom, through representatives, our government is administered.   Such a system is inconsistent with the guarantee given by the Constitution to each State of a republican form of government, and may be stricken down by Congressional action, or by the courts in the discharge of their solemn duty to maintain the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

For the reasons stated, I am constrained to withhold my assent from the opinion and judgment of the majority.”        Plessy v. Ferguson; decision of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Harlan’s Dissenting Opinion, 1996: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/163/537/case.html.

Numero Dos“I have chosen this subject for my lecture tonight because I think that most current discussions of politics and political theory take insufficient account of psychology.  Economic facts, population statistics, constitutional organization, and so on, are set forth minutely.  There is no difficulty in finding out how many South Koreans and how many North Koreans there were when the Korean War began.  If you will look into the right books you will be able to ascertain what was their average income per head, and what were the sizes of their respective armies.  But if you want to know what sort of person a Korean is, and whether there is any appreciable difference between a North Korean and a South Korean; if you wish to know what they respectively want out of life, what are their discontents, what their hopes and what their fears; in a word, what it is that, as they say, «makes them tick», you will look through the reference books in vain.  And so you cannot tell whether the South Koreans are enthusiastic about UNO, or would prefer union with their cousins in the North.  Nor can you guess whether they are willing to forgo land reform for the privilege of voting for some politician they have never heard of.  It is neglect of such questions by the eminent men who sit in remote capitals, that so frequently causes disappointment.  If politics is to become scientific, and if the event is not to be constantly surprising, it is imperative that our political thinking should penetrate more deeply into the springs of human action.  What is the influence of hunger upon slogans?  How does their effectiveness fluctuate with the number of calories in your diet?  If one man offers you democracy and another offers you a bag of grain, at what stage of starvation will you prefer the grain to the vote?  Such questions are far too little considered.  However, let us, for the present, forget the Koreans, and consider the human race.

All human activity is prompted by desire.  There is a wholly fallacious theory advanced by some earnest moralists to the effect that it is possible to resist desire in the interests of duty and moral principle.  I say this is fallacious, not because no man ever acts from a sense of duty, but because duty has no hold on him unless he desires to be dutiful.  If you wish to know what men will do, you must know not only, or principally, their material circumstances, but rather the whole system of their desires with their relative strengths.

There are some desires which, though very powerful, have not, as a rule, any great political importance.  Most men at some period of their lives desire to marry, but as a rule they can satisfy this desire without having to take any political action.  There are, of course, exceptions; the rape of the Sabine women is a case in point.  And the development of northern Australia is seriously impeded by the fact that the vigorous young men who ought to do the work dislike being wholly deprived of female society.  But such cases are unusual, and in general the interest that men and women take in each other has little influence upon politics.

The desires that are politically important may be divided into a primary and a secondary group. In the primary group come the necessities of life: food and shelter and clothing. When these things become very scarce, there is no limit to the efforts that men will make, or to the violence that they will display, in the hope of securing them. It is said by students of the earliest history that, on four separate occasions, drought in Arabia caused the population of that country to overflow into surrounding regions, with immense effects, political, cultural, and religious. The last of these four occasions was the rise of Islam. The gradual spread of Germanic tribes from southern Russia to England, and thence to San Francisco, had similar motives. Undoubtedly the desire for food has been, and still is, one of the main causes of great political events.

But man differs from other animals in one very important respect, and that is that he has some desires which are, so to speak, infinite, which can never be fully gratified, and which would keep him restless even in Paradise. The boa constrictor, when he has had an adequate meal, goes to sleep, and does not wake until he needs another meal. Human beings, for the most part, are not like this. When the Arabs, who had been used to living sparingly on a few dates, acquired the riches of the Eastern Roman Empire, and dwelt in palaces of almost unbelievable luxury, they did not, on that account, become inactive. Hunger could no longer be a motive, for Greek slaves supplied them with exquisite viands at the slightest nod. But other desires kept them active: four in particular, which we can label acquisitiveness, rivalry, vanity, and love of power.

Acquisitiveness – the wish to possess as much as possible of goods, or the title to goods – is a motive which, I suppose, has its origin in a combination of fear with the desire for necessaries. I once befriended two little girls from Estonia, who had narrowly escaped death from starvation in a famine. They lived in my family, and of course had plenty to eat. But they spent all their leisure visiting neighbouring farms and stealing potatoes, which they hoarded. Rockefeller, who in his infancy had experienced great poverty, spent his adult life in a similar manner. Similarly the Arab chieftains on their silken Byzantine divans could not forget the desert, and hoarded riches far beyond any possible physical need. But whatever may be the psychoanalysis of acquisitiveness, no one can deny that it is one of the great motives – especially among the more powerful, for, as I said before, it is one of the infinite motives. However much you may acquire, you will always wish to acquire more; satiety is a dream which will always elude you.

But acquisitiveness, although it is the mainspring of the capitalist system, is by no means the most powerful of the motives that survive the conquest of hunger. Rivalry is a much stronger motive. Over and over again in Mohammedan history, dynasties have come to grief because the sons of a sultan by different mothers could not agree, and in the resulting civil war universal ruin resulted. The same sort of thing happens in modern Europe. When the British Government very unwisely allowed the Kaiser to be present at a naval review at Spithead, the thought which arose in his mind was not the one which we had intended. What he thought was, «I must have a Navy as good as Grandmamma’s». And from this thought have sprung all our subsequent troubles. The world would be a happier place than it is if acquisitiveness were always stronger than rivalry. But in fact, a great many men will cheerfully face impoverishment if they can thereby secure complete ruin for their rivals. Hence the present level of taxation.

Vanity is a motive of immense potency. Anyone who has much to do with children knows how they are constantly performing some antic, and saying «Look at me». «Look at me» is one of the most fundamental desires of the human heart. It can take innumerable forms, from buffoonery to the pursuit of posthumous fame. There was a Renaissance Italian princeling who was asked by the priest on his deathbed if he had anything to repent of. «Yes», he said, «there is one thing. On one occasion I had a visit from the Emperor and the Pope simultaneously. I took them to the top of my tower to see the view, and I neglected the opportunity to throw them both down, which would have given me immortal fame». History does not relate whether the priest gave him absolution. One of the troubles about vanity is that it grows with what it feeds on. The more you are talked about, the more you will wish to be talked about. The condemned murderer who is allowed to see the account of his trial in the press is indignant if he finds a newspaper which has reported it inadequately. And the more he finds about himself in other newspapers, the more indignant he will be with the one whose reports are meagre. Politicians and literary men are in the same case. And the more famous they become, the more difficult the press-cutting agency finds it to satisfy them. It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the influence of vanity throughout the range of human life, from the child of three to the potentate at whose frown the world trembles. Mankind have even committed the impiety of attributing similar desires to the Deity, whom they imagine avid for continual praise.

But great as is the influence of the motives we have been considering, there is one which outweighs them all. I mean the love of power. Love of power is closely akin to vanity, but it is not by any means the same thing. What vanity needs for its satisfaction is glory, and it is easy to have glory without power. The people who enjoy the greatest glory in the United States are film stars, but they can be put in their place by the Committee for Un-American Activities, which enjoys no glory whatever. In England, the King has more glory than the Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister has more power than the King. Many people prefer glory to power, but on the whole these people have less effect upon the course of events than those who prefer power to glory. When Blücher, in 1814, saw Napoleon’s palaces, he said, «Wasn’t he a fool to have all this and to go running after Moscow.» Napoleon, who certainly was not destitute of vanity, preferred power when he had to choose. To Blücher, this choice seemed foolish. Power, like vanity, is insatiable. Nothing short of omnipotence could satisfy it completely. And as it is especially the vice of energetic men, the causal efficacy of love of power is out of all proportion to its frequency. It is, indeed, by far the strongest motive in the lives of important men.

Love of power is greatly increased by the experience of power, and this applies to petty power as well as to that of potentates. In the happy days before 1914, when well-to-do ladies could acquire a host of servants, their pleasure in exercising power over the domestics steadily increased with age. Similarly, in any autocratic regime, the holders of power become increasingly tyrannical with experience of the delights that power can afford. Since power over human beings is shown in making them do what they would rather not do, the man who is actuated by love of power is more apt to inflict pain than to permit pleasure. If you ask your boss for leave of absence from the office on some legitimate occasion, his love of power will derive more satisfaction from a refusal than from a consent. If you require a building permit, the petty official concerned will obviously get more pleasure from saying «No» than from saying «Yes». It is this sort of thing which makes the love of power such a dangerous motive.

But it has other sides which are more desirable. The pursuit of knowledge is, I think, mainly actuated by love of power. And so are all advances in scientific technique. In politics, also, a reformer may have just as strong a love of power as a despot. It would be a complete mistake to decry love of power altogether as a motive. Whether you will be led by this motive to actions which are useful, or to actions which are pernicious, depends upon the social system, and upon your capacities. If your capacities are theoretical or technical, you will contribute to knowledge or technique, and, as a rule, your activity will be useful. If you are a politician you may be actuated by love of power, but as a rule this motive will join itself on to the desire to see some state of affairs realized which, for some reason, you prefer to the status quo. A great general may, like Alcibiades, be quite indifferent as to which side he fights on, but most generals have preferred to fight for their own country, and have, therefore, had other motives besides love of power. The politician may change sides so frequently as to find himself always in the majority, but most politicians have a preference for one party to the other, and subordinate their love of power to this preference. Love of power as nearly pure as possible is to be seen in various different types of men. One type is the soldier of fortune, of whom Napoleon is the supreme example. Napoleon had, I think, no ideological preference for France over Corsica, but if he had become Emperor of Corsica he would not have been so great a man as he became by pretending to be a Frenchman. Such men, however, are not quite pure examples, since they also derive immense satisfaction from vanity. The purest type is that of the eminence grise – the power behind the throne that never appears in public, and merely hugs itself with the secret thought: «How little these puppets know who is pulling the strings.» Baron Holstein, who controlled the foreign policy of the German Empire from 1890 to 1906, illustrates this type to perfection. He lived in a slum; he never appeared in society; he avoided meeting the Emperor, except on one single occasion when the Emperor’s importunity could not be resisted; he refused all invitations to Court functions, on the ground that he possessed no court dress. He had acquired secrets which enabled him to blackmail the Chancellor and many of the Kaiser’s intimates. He used the power of blackmail, not to acquire wealth, or fame, or any other obvious advantage, but merely to compel the adoption of the foreign policy he preferred. In the East, similar characters were not very uncommon among eunuchs.

I come now to other motives which, though in a sense less fundamental than those we have been considering, are still of considerable importance. The first of these is love of excitement. Human beings show their superiority to the brutes by their capacity for boredom, though I have sometimes thought, in examining the apes at the zoo, that they, perhaps, have the rudiments of this tiresome emotion. However that may be, experience shows that escape from boredom is one of the really powerful desires of almost all human beings. When white men first effect contact with some unspoilt race of savages, they offer them all kinds of benefits, from the light of the gospel to pumpkin pie. These, however, much as we may regret it, most savages receive with indifference. What they really value among the gifts that we bring to them is intoxicating liquor which enables them, for the first time in their lives, to have the illusion for a few brief moments that it is better to be alive than dead. Red Indians, while they were still unaffected by white men, would smoke their pipes, not calmly as we do, but orgiastically, inhaling so deeply that they sank into a faint. And when excitement by means of nicotine failed, a patriotic orator would stir them up to attack a neighbouring tribe, which would give them all the enjoyment that we (according to our temperament) derive from a horse race or a General Election. The pleasure of gambling consists almost entirely in excitement. Monsieur Huc describes Chinese traders at the Great Wall in winter, gambling until they have lost all their cash, then proceeding to lose all their merchandise, and at last gambling away their clothes and going out naked to die of cold. With civilized men, as with primitive Red Indian tribes, it is, I think, chiefly love of excitement which makes the populace applaud when war breaks out; the emotion is exactly the same as at a football match, although the results are sometimes somewhat more serious.

It is not altogether easy to decide what is the root cause of the love of excitement. I incline to think that our mental make-up is adapted to the stage when men lived by hunting. When a man spent a long day with very primitive weapons in stalking a deer with the hope of dinner, and when, at the end of the day, he dragged the carcass triumphantly to his cave, he sank down in contented weariness, while his wife dressed and cooked the meat. He was sleepy, and his bones ached, and the smell of cooking filled every nook and cranny of his consciousness. At last, after eating, he sank into deep sleep. In such a life there was neither time nor energy for boredom. But when he took to agriculture, and made his wife do all the heavy work in the fields, he had time to reflect upon the vanity of human life, to invent mythologies and systems of philosophy, and to dream of the life hereafter in which he would perpetually hunt the wild boar of Valhalla. Our mental make-up is suited to a life of very severe physical labor. I used, when I was younger, to take my holidays walking. I would cover twenty-five miles a day, and when the evening came I had no need of anything to keep me from boredom, since the delight of sitting amply sufficed. But modern life cannot be conducted on these physically strenuous principles. A great deal of work is sedentary, and most manual work exercises only a few specialized muscles. When crowds assemble in Trafalgar Square to cheer to the echo an announcement that the government has decided to have them killed, they would not do so if they had all walked twenty-five miles that day. This cure for bellicosity is, however, impracticable, and if the human race is to survive – a thing which is, perhaps, undesirable – other means must be found for securing an innocent outlet for the unused physical energy that produces love of excitement. This is a matter which has been too little considered, both by moralists and by social reformers. The social reformers are of the opinion that they have more serious things to consider. The moralists, on the other hand, are immensely impressed with the seriousness of all the permitted outlets of the love of excitement; the seriousness, however, in their minds, is that of Sin. Dance halls, cinemas, this age of jazz, are all, if we may believe our ears, gateways to Hell, and we should be better employed sitting at home contemplating our sins. I find myself unable to be in entire agreement with the grave men who utter these warnings. The devil has many forms, some designed to deceive the young, some designed to deceive the old and serious. If it is the devil that tempts the young to enjoy themselves, is it not, perhaps, the same personage that persuades the old to condemn their enjoyment? And is not condemnation perhaps merely a form of excitement appropriate to old age? And is it not, perhaps, a drug which – like opium – has to be taken in continually stronger doses to produce the desired effect? Is it not to be feared that, beginning with the wickedness of the cinema, we should be led step by step to condemn the opposite political party, dagoes, wops, Asiatics, and, in short, everybody except the fellow members of our club? And it is from just such condemnations, when widespread, that wars proceed. I have never heard of a war that proceeded from dance halls.

What is serious about excitement is that so many of its forms are destructive. It is destructive in those who cannot resist excess in alcohol or gambling. It is destructive when it takes the form of mob violence. And above all it is destructive when it leads to war. It is so deep a need that it will find harmful outlets of this kind unless innocent outlets are at hand. There are such innocent outlets at present in sport, and in politics so long as it is kept within constitutional bounds. But these are not sufficient, especially as the kind of politics that is most exciting is also the kind that does most harm. Civilized life has grown altogether too tame, and, if it is to be stable, it must provide harmless outlets for the impulses which our remote ancestors satisfied in hunting. In Australia, where people are few and rabbits are many, I watched a whole populace satisfying the primitive impulse in the primitive manner by the skillful slaughter of many thousands of rabbits. But in London or New York some other means must be found to gratify primitive impulse. I think every big town should contain artificial waterfalls that people could descend in very fragile canoes, and they should contain bathing pools full of mechanical sharks. Any person found advocating a preventive war should be condemned to two hours a day with these ingenious monsters. More seriously, pains should be taken to provide constructive outlets for the love of excitement. Nothing in the world is more exciting than a moment of sudden discovery or invention, and many more people are capable of experiencing such moments than is sometimes thought.

Interwoven with many other political motives are two closely related passions to which human beings are regrettably prone: I mean fear and hate. It is normal to hate what we fear, and it happens frequently, though not always, that we fear what we hate. I think it may be taken as the rule among primitive men, that they both fear and hate whatever is unfamiliar. They have their own herd, originally a very small one. And within one herd, all are friends, unless there is some special ground of enmity. Other herds are potential or actual enemies; a single member of one of them who strays by accident will be killed. An alien herd as a whole will be avoided or fought according to circumstances. It is this primitive mechanism which still controls our instinctive reaction to foreign nations. The completely untravelled person will view all foreigners as the savage regards a member of another herd. But the man who has travelled, or who has studied international politics, will have discovered that, if his herd is to prosper, it must, to some degree, become amalgamated with other herds. If you are English and someone says to you, «The French are your brothers», your first instinctive feeling will be, «Nonsense. They shrug their shoulders, and talk French. And I am even told that they eat frogs.» If he explains to you that we may have to fight the Russians, that, if so, it will be desirable to defend the line of the Rhine, and that, if the line of the Rhine is to be defended, the help of the French is essential, you will begin to see what he means when he says that the French are your brothers. But if some fellow-traveller were to go on to say that the Russians also are your brothers, he would be unable to persuade you, unless he could show that we are in danger from the Martians. We love those who hate our enemies, and if we had no enemies there would be very few people whom we should love.

All this, however, is only true so long as we are concerned solely with attitudes towards other human beings. You might regard the soil as your enemy because it yields reluctantly a niggardly subsistence. You might regard Mother Nature in general as your enemy, and envisage human life as a struggle to get the better of Mother Nature. If men viewed life in this way, cooperation of the whole human race would become easy. And men could easily be brought to view life in this way if schools, newspapers, and politicians devoted themselves to this end. But schools are out to teach patriotism; newspapers are out to stir up excitement; and politicians are out to get re-elected. None of the three, therefore, can do anything towards saving the human race from reciprocal suicide.

There are two ways of coping with fear: one is to diminish the external danger, and the other is to cultivate Stoic endurance. The latter can be reinforced, except where immediate action is necessary, by turning our thoughts away from the cause of fear. The conquest of fear is of very great importance. Fear is in itself degrading; it easily becomes an obsession; it produces hate of that which is feared, and it leads headlong to excesses of cruelty. Nothing has so beneficent an effect on human beings as security. If an international system could be established which would remove the fear of war, the improvement in everyday mentality of everyday people would be enormous and very rapid. Fear, at present, overshadows the world. The atom bomb and the bacterial bomb, wielded by the wicked communist or the wicked capitalist as the case may be, make Washington and the Kremlin tremble, and drive men further along the road toward the abyss. If matters are to improve, the first and essential step is to find a way of diminishing fear. The world at present is obsessed by the conflict of rival ideologies, and one of the apparent causes of conflict is the desire for the victory of our own ideology and the defeat of the other. I do not think that the fundamental motive here has much to do with ideologies. I think the ideologies are merely a way of grouping people, and that the passions involved are merely those which always arise between rival groups. There are, of course, various reasons for hating communists. First and foremost, we believe that they wish to take away our property. But so do burglars, and although we disapprove of burglars our attitude towards them is very different indeed from our attitude towards communists – chiefly because they do not inspire the same degree of fear. Secondly, we hate the communists because they are irreligious. But the Chinese have been irreligious since the eleventh century, and we only began to hate them when they turned out Chiang Kai-shek. Thirdly, we hate the communists because they do not believe in democracy, but we consider this no reason for hating Franco. Fourthly, we hate them because they do not allow liberty; this we feel so strongly that we have decided to imitate them. It is obvious that none of these is the real ground for our hatred. We hate them because we fear them and they threaten us. If the Russians still adhered to the Greek Orthodox religion, if they had instituted parliamentary government, and if they had a completely free press which daily vituperated us, then – provided they still had armed forces as powerful as they have now – we should still hate them if they gave us ground for thinking them hostile. There is, of course, the odium theologicum, and it can be a cause of enmity. But I think that this is an offshoot of herd feeling: the man who has a different theology feels strange, and whatever is strange must be dangerous. Ideologies, in fact, are one of the methods by which herds are created, and the psychology is much the same however the herd may have been generated.

You may have been feeling that I have allowed only for bad motives, or, at best, such as are ethically neutral. I am afraid they are, as a rule, more powerful than more altruistic motives, but I do not deny that altruistic motives exist, and may, on occasion, be effective. The agitation against slavery in England in the early nineteenth century was indubitably altruistic, and was thoroughly effective. Its altruism was proved by the fact that in 1833 British taxpayers paid many millions in compensation to Jamaican landowners for the liberation of their slaves, and also by the fact that at the Congress of Vienna the British Government was prepared to make important concessions with a view to inducing other nations to abandon the slave trade. This is an instance from the past, but present-day America has afforded instances equally remarkable. I will not, however, go into these, as I do not wish to become embarked in current controversies.

I do not think it can be questioned that sympathy is a genuine motive, and that some people at some times are made somewhat uncomfortable by the sufferings of some other people. It is sympathy that has produced the many humanitarian advances of the last hundred years. We are shocked when we hear stories of the ill-treatment of lunatics, and there are now quite a number of asylums in which they are not ill-treated. Prisoners in Western countries are not supposed to be tortured, and when they are, there is an outcry if the facts are discovered. We do not approve of treating orphans as they are treated in Oliver Twist. Protestant countries disapprove of cruelty to animals. In all these ways sympathy has been politically effective. If the fear of war were removed, its effectiveness would become much greater. Perhaps the best hope for the future of mankind is that ways will be found of increasing the scope and intensity of sympathy.

The time has come to sum up our discussion. Politics is concerned with herds rather than with individuals, and the passions which are important in politics are, therefore, those in which the various members of a given herd can feel alike. The broad instinctive mechanism upon which political edifices have to be built is one of cooperation within the herd and hostility towards other herds. The co-operation within the herd is never perfect. There are members who do not conform, who are, in the etymological sense, «egregious», that is to say, outside the flock. These members are those who have fallen below, or risen above, the ordinary level. They are: idiots, criminals, prophets, and discoverers. A wise herd will learn to tolerate the eccentricity of those who rise above the average, and to treat with a minimum of ferocity those who fall below it.

As regards relations to other herds, modern technique has produced a conflict between self-interest and instinct.  In old days, when two tribes went to war, one of them exterminated the other, and annexed its territory.  From the point of view of the victor, the whole operation was thoroughly satisfactory.  The killing was not at all expensive, and the excitement was agreeable.  It is not to be wondered at that, in such circumstances, war persisted.  Unfortunately, we still have the emotions appropriate to such primitive warfare, while the actual operations of war have changed completely.  Killing an enemy in a modern war is a very expensive operation.  If you consider how many Germans were killed in the late war, and how much the victors are paying in income tax, you can, by a sum in long division, discover the cost of a dead German, and you will find it considerable.  In the East, it is true, the enemies of the Germans have secured the ancient advantages of turning out the defeated population and occupying their lands.  The Western victors, however, have secured no such advantages.  It is obvious that modern war is not good business from a financial point of view.  Although we won both the world wars, we should now be much richer if they had not occurred.  If men were actuated by self-interest, which they are not–except in the case of a few saints–the whole human race would cooperate.  There would be no more wars, no more armies, no more navies, no more atom bombs.   There would not be armies of propagandists employed in poisoning the minds of Nation A against Nation B, and reciprocally of Nation B against Nation A.  There would not be armies of officials at frontiers to prevent the entry of foreign books and foreign ideas, however excellent in themselves.  There would not be customs barriers to ensure the existence of many small enterprises where one big enterprise would be more economic.  All this would happen very quickly if men desired their own happiness as ardently as they desired the misery of their neighbours.  But, you will tell me, what is the use of these utopian dreams?   Moralists will see to it that we do not become wholly selfish, and until we do the millennium will be impossible.

I do not wish to seem to end upon a note of cynicism.  I do not deny that there are better things than selfishness, and that some people achieve these things.  I maintain, however, on the one hand, that there are few occasions upon which large bodies of men, such as politics is concerned with, can rise above selfishness, while, on the other hand, there are a very great many circumstances in which populations will fall below selfishness, if selfishness is interpreted as enlightened self-interest.

And among those occasions on which people fall below self-interest are most of the occasions on which they are convinced that they are acting from idealistic motives.  Much that passes as idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power.  When you see large masses of men swayed by what appear to be noble motives, it is as well to look below the surface and ask yourself what it is that makes these motives effective.  It is partly because it is so easy to be taken in by a facade of nobility that a psychological inquiry, such as I have been attempting, is worth making.  I would say, in conclusion, that if what I have said is right, the main thing needed to make the world happy is intelligence.  And this, after all, is an optimistic conclusion, because intelligence is a thing that can be fostered by known methods of education.”        Bertrand Russell, “What Desires Are Politically Important?” Nobel Literary Laureates Lecture, 1950: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1950/russell-lecture.html.

Numero Tres“Karen Silkwood died on November 13, 1974 in a fatal one-car crash.  Since then, her story has achieved worldwide fame as the subject of many books, magazine and newspaper articles, and even a major motion picture.  Silkwood was a chemical technician at the Kerr-McGee’s plutonium fuels production plant in Crescent, Oklahoma, and a member of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers’ Union.  She was also an activist who was critical of plant safety.  During the week prior to her death, Silkwood was reportedly gathering evidence for the Union to support her claim that Kerr-McGee was negligent in maintaining plant safety, and at the same time, was involved in a number of unexplained exposures to plutonium.  The circumstances of her death have been the subject of great speculation.After her death, organs from Silkwood’s body were analyzed as part of the Los Alamos Tissue Analysis Program at the request of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the Oklahoma City Medical Examiner.  Silkwood’s case was important to the program because it was one of very few cases involving recent exposure to plutonium.  It also served to confirm the contemporary techniques for the measurement of plutonium body burdens and lung burdens.  The following account is a summary of Silkwood’s exposure to plutonium at the Kerr-McGee plant and the subsequent analysis of her tissues at Los Alamos.


In the evening of November 5, plutonium-239 was found on Karen Silkwood’s hands. Silkwood had been working in a glovebox in the metallography laboratory where she was grinding and polishing plutonium pellets that would be used in fuel rods. At 6:30 P.M., she decided to monitor herself for alpha activity with he detector that was mounted on the glove box. The right side of her body read 20,000 disintegrations per minute, or about 9 nanocuries, mostly on the right sleeve and shoulder of her coveralls. She was taken to the plant’s Health Physics Office where she was given a test called a “nasal swipe”. This test measures a person’s exposure to airborne plutonium, but might also measure plutonium that got on the person’s nose from their hands. The swipe showed an activity of 160 disintegrations per minute, a modest positive result.

The two gloves in the glovebox Silkwood had been using were replaced. Strangely, the gloves were found to have plutonium on the “outside” surfaces that were in contact with Silkwood’s hands; no leaks were found in the gloves. No plutonium was found on the surfaces in the room where she had been working and filter papers from the two air monitors in the room showed that there was no significant plutonium in the air. By 9:00 P.M., Silkwood’s cleanup had been completed, and as a precautionary measure, Silkwood was put on a program in which her total urine and feces were collected for five days for plutonium measurements. She returned to the laboratory and worked until 1:10 A.M., but did no further work in the glove boxes. As she left the plant, she monitored herself and found nothing.

Silkwood arrived at work at 7:30 A.M. on November 6. She examined metallographic prints and performed paperwork for one hour, then monitored herself as she left the laboratory to attend a meeting. Although she had not worked at the glovebox that morning, the detector registered alpha activity on her hands. Health physics staff members found further activity on her right forearm and the right side of her neck and face, and proceeded to decontaminate her. At her request, a technician checked her locker and automobile with an alpha detector, but no activity was found.

On November 7, Silkwood reported to the Health Physics Office at about 7:50 in the morning with her bioassay kit containing four urine samples and one fecal sample. A nasal swipe was taken and significant levels of alpha activity (1,000 to 4,000 dpm on her hands, arm, chest, neck, and right ear). A preliminary examination of her bioassay samples showed extremely high levels of activity (30,000 to 40,000 counts per minute in the fecal sample). Her locker and automobile were checked again, and essentially no alpha activity was found.

Following her cleanup, the Kerr-McGee health physicists accompanied her to her apartment, which she shared with another laboratory analyst, Sherri Ellis. The apartment was surveyed. Significant levels of activity were found in the bathroom and kitchen, and lower levels of activity were found in other rooms. In the bathroom, 100,000 dpm were found on the toilet seat, 40,000 dpm on the floor mat, and 20,000 dpm on the floor. In the kitchen, they found 400,000 dpm on a package of bologna and cheese in the refrigerator, 20,000 dpm on the cabinet top, 20,000 dpm on the floor, 25,000 dpm on the stove sides, and 6,000 dpm on a package of chicken. In the bedroom, between 500 and 1000 dpm were detected on the pillow cases and between 500 and 2,000 dpm on the bed sheets. However, the AEC estimated that the total amount of plutonium in Silkwood’s apartment was no more than 300 micrograms. No plutonium was found outside the apartment. Ellis was found to have two areas of low level activity on her, so Silkwood and Ellis returned to the plant where Ellis was cleaned up.

When asked how the alpha activity got into her apartment, Silkwood said that when she produced a urine sample that morning, she had spilled some for the urine. She wiped off the container and the bathroom floor with tissue and disposed of the tissue in the commode. Furthermore, she had taken a package of bologna from the refrigerator, intending to make a sandwich for her lunch, but then carried the bologna into the bathroom and laid it on the closed toilet seat. She remembered that she had part of her lunch from November 5 in the refrigerator at work and decided not to make the sandwich, so returned the bologna to the refrigerator. Between October 22 and November 6, high levels of activity had been found in four of the urine samples that Silkwood had collected at home (33,000 to 1,600,000 dpm), whereas those that were collected at the Kerr-McGee plant or Los Alamos contained very small amounts of plutonium if any at all.

The amount of plutonium at Silkwood’s apartment raised concern. Therefore, Kerr-McGee arranged for Silkwood, Ellis, and Silkwood’s boyfriend, Drew Stephens, who had spent time at their apartment, to go to Los Alamos for testing. On Monday, November 11, the trio met with Dr. George Voelz, the leader of the Laboratory Health Division. He explained that all of their urine and feces would be collected and that several whole body and lung counts would be taken. They would also be monitored for external activity.

The next day, Dr. Voelz informed Ellis and Stephens that their tests showed a small but insignificant amount of plutonium in their bodies. Silkwood, on the other hand, had 0.34 nanocuries of americicium-241 (a gamma-emitting daughter of plutonium-241) in her lungs. Based on the amount of americium, Dr. Voelz estimated that Silkwood had about 6 or 7 nanocuries of plutonium-239 in her lungs, or less than half the maximum permissible lung burden (16 nanocuries) for workers. Dr. Voelz reassured Silkwood that, based upon his experience with workers that had much larger amounts of plutonium in their bodies, she should not be concerned about developing cancer or dying from radiation poisoning. Silkwood wondered whether the plutonium would affect her ability to have children or cause her children to be deformed. Dr. Voelz reassured her that she could have normal children.

Silkwood, Ellis, and Stephens returned to the Oklahoma City on November 12. Silkwood and Ellis reported for work the next day, but they were restricted from further radiation work. After work that night, Silkwood went to a union meeting in Crescent, Oklahoma. At the end of the meeting, at about 7 P.M., she left alone in her car. At 8:05, the Oklahoma State Highway Patrol was notified of a single car accident 7 miles south of Crescent. the driver, Karen Silkwood, was dead at the scene from multiple injuries. An Oklahoma State Trooper who investigated the accident reported that Silkwood’s death was a result of a classic, one-car sleeping-driver accident. Later, blood tests performed as part of the autopsy showed Silkwood had 0.35 milligrams of methaqualone (Quaalude) per 100 milliliters of blood at the time of her death. That amount id almost twice the recommended dosage for inducing drowsiness. About 50 milligrams of undissolved methaqualone remained in her stomach.

At the request of the AEC and the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner, Dr. A. Jay Chapman, who was concerned about performing an autopsy on someone reportedly contaminated with plutonium, a team from Los Alamos was sent to make radiation measurements and assist in the autopsy. Dr. Voelz, Dr. Michael Stewart, Alan Valentine, and James Lawrence comprised the team. Because Silkwood’s death was an accident, the coroner did not legally need consent from the next of kin to perform the autopsy. However, Silkwood’s father was contacted and he gave permission for the autopsy over the telephone. The autopsy was performed November 14, 1974, at the University Hospital in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Appropriate specimens were collected, preserved, and retained by Dr. Chapman for his pathological and toxicological examination. At the request of the coroner and the AEC, certain organs and bone specimens were removed, packaged, frozen, and brought back to Los Alamos for analysis of their plutonium content. Because Silkwood had been exposed to plutonium and had undergone in vivo plutonium measurements, her tissue was also used in the Los Alamos Tissue Analysis Program to determine her actual plutonium body burden, the distribution of the plutonium between different organs of her body, and the distribution within her lung. On November 15, small samples of the liver, lung, stomach, gastrointestinal tract, and bone were selected and analysed. The date, shown in Table 1, indicated clearly that there were 3.2 nanocuries in the liver, 4.5 nanocuries in the lungs, and a little more than 7.7 nanocuries in her whole body. These measurements agreed well with the in vivo measurements made before Silkwood’s death (6 or 7 nanocuries in the lung and a little more than 7 nanocuries in the whole body).

There was no significant deposition of plutonium in any other tissues, including the skeleton. The highest concentrations measured were in the contents of the gastrointestinal tract (0.05 nanocurie/gram in the duodenum and 0.02 nanocurie/gram in a small fecal sample taken from the large intestine.) This demonstrated that she had ingested plutonium prior to her death.

With the exception of the left lung, the remaining unanalyzed tissues were repackaged and kept frozen until it was determined whether or not additional analyses were required.  The left lung was thawed, inflated with dry nitrogen until it was approximately the size that it would have been in the chest, and re-frozen in that configuration.  It was packed in an insulated shipping container in dry ice and sent to the lung counting facility at the Los Alamos Health Research Laboratory.  The data were then compared with the in vivo measurements made prior to her death.  As expected, without the ribs and associated muscle attenuating the x-rays from the americium-241, the results for the left lung measured postmortem were about 50 per cent higher, but not inconsistent with the in vivo result.

Some of the most interesting observations made during Silkwood’s tissue analysis were: 1) the distribution of plutonium-239 within her lung and 2) the concentration of plutonium in the lung relative to that in the tracheobronchial lymph nodes (TBLN).  After the frozen left lung was returned to the Tissue Analysis Laboratory, the superior lobe was divided horizontally into sections.  Those sections were further divided into two parts: the outer layer of the lung (pleura and sub-pleural tissue) and the inner soft tissue of the lung (parenchyma).  The plutonium concentrations in the inner and outer parts of Silkwood’s lung were about equal, in stark contrast with another case examined under the Tissue Analysis Program in which the concentration in the outer part of the lung was 22.5 times higher than that in the inner part.  That difference was an indication that Silkwood had probably been exposed within 30 days prior to her death, whereas the other case had been exposed years prior to death.  Furthermore, the concentration of plutonium in Silkwood’s lung was about 6 times greater than that in the lymph nodes, whereas in typical cases that ratio would be about 0.1.  Both of those results indicated that Silkwood had received very recent exposure and supported the view that the plutonium tends to migrate from the inner part to the outer part of the lung and to the lymph nodes over time.

The saga of Karen Silkwood continued for years after her death.  Her estate filed a civil suit against Kerr-McGee for alleged inadequate health and safety program that led to Silkwood’s exposure.  The first trial ended in 1979, with the jury awarding the estate of Silkwood $10.5 million for personal injury and punitive damages.  This was reversed later by the Federal Court of Appeals, Denver, Colorado, which awarded $5000 for the personal property she lost during the cleanup of her apartment.  In 1986, twelve years after Silkwood’s death, the suit was headed for retrial when it was finally settled out of court for $1.3 million.  The Kerr-McGee nuclear fuel plants closed in 1975.”       Frontline, “The Karen Silkwood Story;” 1995: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/interact/silkwood.html.