Ruth Adams interview Nov 30, 1995 (Washington, D.C. by phone)
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
Ruth Adams was a key participant in Pugwash from the very beginning. She was twice editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. She died in 2005.
Metta Spencer: Do you have recollections of times when you observed encounters in Pugwash that influenced policies?
Ruth ADAMS: I’m sure you’ll find people who have such recollections, but I think the way to ask that question is not the one you pose. Rather, over, the years since 1957, what does one see? And I think that the analogy is in part with what we call the “dissident movement” because what Pugwash did was to keep alive a spirit of international community in nations where freedom to move was not easily achieved. And it kept alive in the so-called West again a sense of community in that we didn’t have to continue to live under ______ Western culture and that spirit is essentially the most important contribution of Pugwash.
SPENCER: That’s a point of view I hadn’t heard before. Maybe you can tell me about your own involvement. When and where did you become involved with Pugwash?
ADAMS: I was in Chicago. I had been employed in 1953 as an assistant editor for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. And since I was on the campus of the University of Chicago I rapidly became involved in issues of war and peace, the atom bomb, and weapons and McCarthy, so that working for the Bulletin seemed like an absolutely marvelous opportunity, and I became a close colleague of the editor, Eugene Rabinowitch. And after the failure of governments to internationalize the future of nuclear energy, to agree on tests and so on, I worked with Eugene and Jo from the beginning and was at the first Pugwash conference in a position which women often filled at that time as kind of the administrator-coordinator.
SPENCER: And you continued with that?
ADAMS: Yes. It seems like my whole life was dictated by that and the bomb.
SPENCER: So you must recall a number of conversations and people from very early days. Does anything stick out in your memory as a particularly significant event?
ADAMS: Well, there were so many I would have to think about it. You are quite right. I knew all those scientists who had worked in projects during the war or in peace projects after the war.
SPENCER: You say that Pugwash is serving some of the same functions as the dissident movement. Were there members of the dissident movement whom you met in connection with Pugwash?
ADAMS: No. If they were in that movement, I didn’t know about it. I just meant that, whatever spirit one had in being a scientist, to agree on a fact or on an experiment, there was a conception that reason could be relied upon. And there was an understanding that they were scientists, no matter where they lived, and that borders did not distort truth. During the Cold War that was a very important spirit to keep alive.
SPENCER: Did you know Peter Kapitza?
ADAMS: I remember when we had the first meeting in Moscow, which was in December after Kennedy’s election. Rightly or wrongly, there was a feeling that maybe there would be a change in attitude on an official level. It was the first week of December. The scientists who were going to be part of the Kennedy administration were at that meeting — Jerome Wiesner, Rostow, Doty and others. Leo Szilard was there; he had come from his hospital bed. And there was great excitement about this meeting. On the first morning, Kapitza came. It was the first time that Kapitza and many of his colleagues from pre-war days had been in the same room together. And when he stood up to greet them, tears rolled down his face, and tears rolled down the face of many of the people there. It was a very moving occasion.
SPENCER: He had been in effect secluded in the country, isn’t that right?
ADAMS: It wasn’t in the country. It was in a park. There is now an institute there in Moscow, a beautiful area with a stream and woods. Kapitza had a wonderful house there and it is now a museum. You can visit it. It wasn’t exile at all and it wasn’t house arrest except that he stayed there.
SPENCER: Yes, I understand that he was afraid that something might happen to him on purpose.
ADAMS: Well, I think he was told that he should remain within the boundaries of that park and house.
SPENCER: Was he ever able to travel later and come to meetings abroad?
ADAMS: I think I recall that he and his wife went to England. He was rather old and very frail. The cold war did not make it easy at all, but I think he went to England. You’d have to check with Sergei.
SPENCER: Sergei’s lab in Moscow — that’s not what you’re talking about is it?
ADAMS: That’s on the grounds. I think that was built after the war.
SPENCER: It is near the Academy of Sciences. Did you know Emelyanov?
ADAMS: Yes. He attended during the middle period. There were many wonderful Russian scientists. One has to remember Topchief, who was the vice-president of the academy, was a very courageous man. But Igor Tamm, a wonderful physicist who was a mountain climber, Artsimovich, who was fascinated by _____ (Mexican???) history, art, and poetry, and was truly a literary man. They were wonderful men.
SPENCER: I do have some important things about his role in the ABM discussions — he and Millionshchikov. I never had a chance to interview Sakharov, but I did read his memoirs and it seemed to me that he was not very aware that there were allies— people who thought as he did in some of the same places. He didn’t seem to identify with Artsimovich or Millionshchikov.
ADAMS: He was an angry man. I remember his article — I don’t remember the date of it — which kind of shocked the world about destroying enemies. Do you remember that article? He was a very angry man and I think he must have considered Pugwash to be a compromise group. I don’t know that for a fact. I never asked.
SPENCER: Apparently he did go to one Pugwash group late in life.
ADAMS: But he was strictly a loner.
SPENCER: Yes. I think he did a lot of damage politically, but that is neither here nor there.
ADAMS: [She replied at this point but asked not to be quoted, so I am deleting her answer.]
SPENCER: Mostly, to me it was his role with the deputies in the parliament was to lead opposition against Gorbachev at a time when Gorbachev really needed support. I spoke with Goldansky about it and he seemed to think that Sakharov’s tactics were not well considered. Anyway that is not for the magazine article. Do you remember — apparently some important things happened in Sochi.
ADAMS: I was not at that meeting.
SPENCER: Some important changes in regard to the ABM treaty happened there. Do you have any sense that Pugwash may have had any influence on the INF decisions? I have stories about all kinds of policy changes, including non-provocative defence and the role of Boserup, Neild, and so on. But what I don’t have down very clearly is how —not necessarily Pugwashites but any peaceniks from the West were involved in the decision tto accept the zero option as a way of getting an INF treaty.
ADAMS: Who do you think the peaceniks were in Pugwash?
SPENCER: All of Pugwash, but I am saying that …
ADAMS: They really weren’t . They were using the rhetoric of the Cold War, and the need to buy the cold war culture, in order to find some way out of the mess, which they all agreed upon. But arms control was not disarmament; it was not a repudiation of nuclear weapons; it was a way of making them more acceptable because they could be controlled a bit. It was never a solution to a nuclear world. So you had scientists and people at Pugwash who probably had very diverse views. It was never an easy situation, nor was it a peaceful situation, nor were the people necessarily peaceniks in Pugwash. I think Jo Rotblat certainly was a peacenik, but —
SPENCER: I meant that there were peaceniks beyond Pugwash too who may have had a very important role to play in other decisions.
ADAMS: I mean, I think Randy Forsberg’s efforts had an enormous impact in the United States.
SPENCER: I agree.
ADAMS: And that was quite a different impact than Pugwash. Pugwash always tried to work through the official government negotiators, if you will, and to influence them. And I think at the beginning they were right because probably nobody would have listened to them. And I think at the end of the Cold War there were people in all those countries who had been influenced by scientists, here and there, across the Pacific and Atlantic. The true worth of Pugwash was only understood when the cold war was over.
All I’m saying is that the arms control struggle — that is, the negotiations ( such as: Are we going to go down to this level? What is non-provocative defence? etc.) had a life of its own, became a culture. And it was not a very satisfactory culture to people who wanted to see the world approach a better understanding, approach disarmament, conflict resolution. And the real spirit of Pugwash wasn’t really recognized until the Cold War was over and you had people able to really come forward to mobilize for peace. They haven’t been successful, but I think the understanding of what is necessary to have a peaceful world is better now than it has ever been.
SPENCER: Do you remember one of the serious debates between the arms controller and the disarmament wings of Pugwash? Do you remember hearing it put in those terms?
ADAMS: In the West, the people for complete and (what was the word?) ______ disarmament?
SPENCER: Unilateral disarmament? Which I think was a very bad word.
ADAMS: Yes, a dirty, dirty world. But what was the word I want? Complete and something else. “Total?” Isn’t that funny, I can’t think of the word. But if you used that term, you were a stooge and a tool of the communist system. And I remember Leo Szilard and his effort to set up the Council for a Livable World was very careful to disassociate himself from the use of that term.
SPENCER: So as to keep credibility with the arms controllers?
ADAMS: That’s right.
SPENCER: You know this Sudoplatov book with all these bad stories? Do you have anything to say about that from personal experience?
ADAMS: I think it’s sheer nonsense. It demonstrates a legacy of the Cold War that one would attempt to use the openness of a Niels Bohr in talking to somebody as a spying episode. I think it shows how deeply abusive the culture of the Cold War was.
SPENCER: So you never saw a shred of evidence that that could be true? And everything they said indicated that they would have regarded such a thing as reprehensible if it had been going on? The people like Szilard and — let’s see, who else did he accuse?
ADAMS: Oh, Fermi and Oppenheimer and …
SPENCER: Oppenheimer had his own cross to bear — or sickle to carry — earlier, but I just wonder.
ADAMS: I think, and the people I know who know the authors of this book and the narrator of the book, think it’s sheer fantasy. It’s the kind of thing that came out of fifty years of investment, not only in weapons but in a kind of intelligence service of secrecy which — certainly in this country and it must be the same in the Soviet Union and Britain — distorted all the values of openness, of free speech, you name it.
SPENCER: I know Jo Rotblat but tell me more about him — about his own personal life. He’s been sick, you know.
ADAMS: Can you tell me what’s the trouble?
SPENCER: That’s what I wonder. Tom Milne told me he’s been ill but he’s getting better, but I haven’t heard anyone say what’s been wrong with him.
ADAMS: He may have the flu.
SPENCER: I got the idea that it was worse than the flu because within days after the announcement of the prize there were people trying to invite him to give a lecture and so on. Tom Milne was answering his mail for him, saying that he’s not well enough to read or answer it himself.
ADAMS: I don’t know. Joe is 83. I hope he’s all right. I should call Tom. I will when I get back to Berlin. I’m sure he would go to receive that award in a wheel chair. He came from Poland through the underground. I think he lost family there. He doesn’t talk about it — never did. He lived with his sister, who kept house for him in London. He loves his niece, a doctor. He has led a personal life which has been very private and I think in many respects rather limited. He has devoted his life to science and to peace, he truly has. If there’s more, I don’t know about it. I was with him this summer in Hiroshima. He gave a wonderful presentation there. I don’t have a copy of the speech.
I do have a story to tell you. There is an American scientist, Freeman Dyson, who came here from Britain. I think you know him.
SPENCER: Yes, I’ve met him.
ADAMS: He’s a brilliant man. He was giving a seminar in Washington on the day that the Nobel Prize for Peace was announced. A friend of mine was there. Toward the end of the seminar, Dyson was talking about the Nobel prize and said, “There’s one man who should have gotten it all these years — Jo Rotblat.” And one man back in the audience said, “Freeman, he just got it!” I heard this today and I’m sure it’s true.
SPENCER: (laughter). He had been nominated before, hadn’t he?
ADAMS: Oh, I’m sure. Pugwash has been nominated many times. But you know, one person said, “Oh, now with Pugwash and Jo, they can now nominate. We’ll get new names!”
SPENCER: Thank you very much. You’re going back to Berlin.
ADAMS: I’m going back Saturday. I’m here for four board meetings.