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