Oral History Transcript — Dr. Dan Bolef
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Dan Bolef; January 21, 1997
ABSTRACT: Bolef's story is that of a lifetime activist. He discusses his early years and the influence of his parents; his graduate years at Columbia University; his view of science after the atomic bomb; Sputnik, his work at Westinghouse; his transition to Washington University; his involvement in the movement to control nuclear weapons; his anti-Viet Nam war activism; participation in the Civil Rights Movement.
Session I | Session II
Catt:The first question I would like to ask is it okay if we tape record the interview?
Bolef:Yes, it is.
Catt:The second issue is at when I come to use transcripts or excerpts interview for my dissertation, I will check those with you in the form of a complete transcript of this so you can check it for accuracy, or if there are things you donít want used publicly, that will come to you, and also I will have a release form that I will send to you to say that okay, I have looked this over and we come to terms with that.
Bolef:Okay, I appreciate that.
Catt:Okay, first question for the interview is describe your familyís history as an in activism. You can take this as far back as you want and you can broaden this out as far as you want: immediate family, distant relatives. And I can give you a few examples of activism from the past: union organizers, womanís movement.
Bolef:Right. Actually Iíll restrict myself to my father and mother, who were immigrants, came in early twentieth century to Philadelphia, and were a working class people. My father was a painter and paper hanger and my mother was a garden worker. And both of them became involved, especially my mother, in organizing labor. She was she must have been arrested at least a dozen times for being on picket lines, and ended up being president of the local ILGWU, International Ladies Garden Workersí Union in Philadelphia. So that influenced me a great deal. I would hear them talking and discussing the issues and the tactics, and in fact there were some times small group leaders in her house to discuss things. So I was brought up in a union family. A union organizing family.
Catt:And were you yourself ever involved? Did you go along with your mother or —?
Bolef:Oh, no I really didnít. I was busy with school.
Catt:I would assume that it wasnít pressed upon you at this time.
Bolef:Never. My parents never, never encouraged or discouraged me from thinking anything but for myself. They encouraged me to think about social issues, but never insisted on a particular point of view. They were very opened. Wanted me to think for myself.
Catt:And it was openly discussed at dinner?
Bolef:Oh, yes. Oh my, all the time.
Catt:Thatís very interesting. Iím curious as to your father, how did he react to your mother?
Bolef:He was all in favor of it. She was more aggressive than he. She was more outgoing than he. He was more of a back room tactician. So they would discuss everything he was doing, and she would listen to him and she would make up her own mind. He was totally supportive of her.
Catt:And why did they immigrate, do you know? Did they ever —
Bolef:Yes, they immigrated because he became of age and was due to be inducted into the Czarís army in Russia, and he was going to refuse. If you refuse to serve in the Czarís army you were shot you were executed. Not just put in prison. So he had to immigrate here in order to only serve for his own principles.
Catt:That leads to my next question, which is where were they raised?
Bolef:They were raised in Moldavia.
Catt:Can you tell me where it is please?
Bolef:Moldavia was a part of the Russia. It is now a separate country. It is the Republic of Moldavia, although both Russia and Romania claim that Moldavia belongs to them. But it is a second Republic. Itís between Romania and Ukraine.
Catt:Okay. May I ask if you were religious?
Bolef:They were Jewish.
Catt:And were you raised along those lines?
Bolef:No, I was raised as an Agnostic.
Catt:Agnostic. And I am just curious as to —?
Catt:Well, at present, sure.
Bolef:At present I am married to a lady, my second wife, who was brought up in probably the most pious Catholic family in the United States in South Dakota, and it would be impossible for her to marry anybody but a Catholic. So I am now a Catholic. But when I converted from Agnostic to Catholic, I told my wife (her name is Regina Birchem) that I would become the RC under certain circumstances. She and I are the only that know them, that we both knew that RC for me stood for Radical Catholic.
Catt:Iím RC incidentally, so that and I see myself as how you define it. So religion wasnít really pressed upon you to be followed, and it wasnít orthodox. Did you have other relatives in the country? As you were growing up?
Catt:And were they Jewish as well?
Bolef:Oh, my grandfather was a Rabbi. My motherís father was a Rabbi. Which meant in those days what a Rabbi meant was the old interpretation and he was a religious scholar. So in his generation that meant that he stayed in a home and read books and became learned of God while his poor wife had to go out and support the family. So yes, I had other relatives.
Catt:And there was never any —
Bolef:Never any difficult with it.
Catt:Okay. You grew up in Philadelphia.
Bolef:I grew up in Philadelphia.
Catt:Working class neighborhood? Mostly blue collar?
Bolef:Yes, blue collar exclusively. Never owned a house. My parents never owned a home or a car.
Catt:And how did you become interested science? And here you are it seems like very into politics or labor or relations with this —
Bolef:Well, I grew up in the depression. I went to high school in Philadelphia and got one, two scholarships. One to Tech University and one to Penn State. I took the one with Tech University because I could ride a street car to Temple, I couldnít of course to go Penn State. And I majored — but I took mainly English and History the first two years besides the required courses. In fact I ended up being a grader more for the papers for the English professor. And then when I started my junior year, which must have been 1941 or so, or Ď40 or Ď41, my father asked me what are you going to do for a living. And when I inquired around I realized there werenít many positions available for an English major. English teachers all worked for historians. So I decided I didnít want to become a public school teacher, so I decided to go with the science. Not because I was good at it or that I particularly liked it, but because I could get a job in science. So I transferred to Penn State and majored in Physics.
Bolef:Why physics? I thought about chemistry, and I tried earth science and I didnít like the professors, so and I had nothing to do with biology so I ended up in physics. Iím not sure why.
Catt:Were any of your childhood heroes or idols, were they scientists? Einstein, Mendel, [???], [???], as getting a lot of attention?
Bolef:None of them were.
Catt:Every year it seems like physicists are unlocking a secret, every year something new is coming along.
Bolef:No, I wasnít terribly into hero worshiping. I read mostly social sciences, and in fact my hero was Shakespeare. I won a Shakespeare prize in high school and did a lot of writing. So, no, I donít remember any heroes in science. The closest was Betrand Russell. Russell is a scientist. A philosopher of science.
Catt:Did you ever tinker with radio sets or anything like that? Iím thinking at this time you have people like Feynman and others from their biographies are always mentioning, I got interested in science because I tinkered with radio, and there is a lot of interesting how does this thing work, and from that you just get the natural question and the same time the media saying that Einstein is —
Bolef:No, I didnít have any tools or room to take them with me. I was in a very small apartment, three room apartment, and my brother and I were in a little room. No I did very little of that.
Catt:Thatís very atypical.
Bolef:I did it because I had to get a job.
Catt:So are you switching your junior year to go to Penn State?
Bolef:Yes. Started my junior year. Started my junior year at Penn State.
Catt:Okay. Unfortunately about the same time the United States is getting in the Second World War
Bolef:Yes, involved in the War, and in the middle of my senior year, I could no longer resist and I enlisted in it.
Catt:And briefly what did you do? Iím assuming from Ď42 to Ď45 you were in the service?
Bolef:It was Ď43 to Ď46. January Ď43.
Catt:Did you do work in the scientific capacity or were you —?
Bolef:I ended up in the 106th Infantry Division, which had been organized in Indiana for shipment overseas. It was a southern town.
Catt:I was thinking Bloomington. Columbus?
Bolef:I don't know. Anyway, in Indiana.
Bolef:Evansville, yeah. And a camp close to Evansville, and organized there. I was in a completely different area. I was in Georgia, actually training with the 82nd Airborne, and was sent to Evansville in order to fill out the ranks of the 106th Infantry division could be shipped overseas. Landed in England. The D-Day occurred, but we werenít part of it. We were the backup troops. Trained in England again. Then we were shipped to replace the second division in western Belgium in an area called the Ardennes. The Ardennes Forest. Of course that was supposed to be a quiet area where a rookie division could learn the ropes and not be threatened.
Catt:This was in the winter of —?
Bolef:Within months the major battle of World War II opened on our front against our division and it is noted in the history of the United States that suffered more losses than ours. We lost two-thirds of our men, killed or captured. And that was the Battle of the Bulge and I survived.
Catt:And were you captured?
Bolef:I was captured and got away.
Catt:And escaped? Off the record Iíd like to hear that story if you donít mind.
Bolef:Off the record.
Catt:Well I take it then you stayed in until —?
Bolef:Well, the division was destroyed so that individuals and small squads and companies had had enough men were assigned to other divisions. I was assigned to the, interesting enough, to the [???], which had been brought in, and we were in charge of prisoners, looking after the prisoners. And then they intended to reorganize the 106th, sent us back to the French Coast. There were still enclaves of the German troops holding out, and we were sent their holding troops to keep them from breaking out just then. Stay on the line there really. Saw any action. But after they surrendered, we became — the bare bones of the 106th Infantry Division became prison camp troops. Heidelberg in Germany took care of and ran a prison camp for Germans there, then went further east and then they decided we had seen enough. I had five battle stars and we were sent to Camp Lucky Strike on the French Coast to be re-assigned, up to the Pacific. And we were there on August 6th, 1945. So instead of being re-assigned we were sent back into the United States and ultimately discharged. January 1946.
Catt:What was your reaction when you heard the news?
Bolef:Oh, I had an article which mentions that. My reaction was not so different from the reactions of most of the men around me. We shouted and cheered when we heard the atomic bomb had dropped on Russia. It was one of the great sins of my life.
Catt:And I imagine that it held a little more than a special meaning for you because you were at this time, your studies in physics.
Bolef:Yeah, oh yes.
Catt:And all of a sudden a physicist is pushed to the lime light. Well, what is this weapon, who gave it to us?
Catt:It was a physicist.
Bolef:No, I have written a good deal about that in some of my articles on nuclear weapons in the war.
Catt:Well you come back to the United States in early Ď46.
Bolef:Oh yeah, I have to finish Penn State. Oh, I moved to New York City because of my wife I had married in Ď44, my wife had gotten a job as head librarian at Bellevue Hospital in New York. She lived in an apartment on 165th and [???]. It was a long way. So I moved to New York, but actually lived at Penn State for the remainder of that year to finish my senior year at Penn State. And then I went to Columbia University.
Catt:Why Columbia? I mean obviously thatís a —
Bolef:My wife was there, and it had a good physics department. Phenomenal physics department. And I could afford it because I had a job that covered all the tuition.
Catt:Were there other institutions that you applied to?
Bolef:No, just Columbia.
Catt:Just Columbia, okay. It was an obvious questions; I knew the answer before instead I had to ask if there were. Your activism, were you politically active in any way? At either Penn State before you got to Columbia, or Iím assuming trying to readjust and study?
Bolef:It well I was actually at Columbia University. I was a member of several student activist groups. I recall the American Student Union (ASU). And one other semi-religious group. McMichael, a man named McMichael had organized an anti-war group for students. Iím sorry I have forgotten the name of it, sorry. So I at the University I was active in at least two groups that opposed — didnít oppose the war so much as supported anti — they actually were (Iím trying to recall), the American Student Union was especially interested in economic and social issues, having to do with poverty and racism, that sort of thing. The reason I say opposed the war because I wasnít opposed to the war after we once got involved because of my opposition to Nazism, considering my Jewish background. And so I was never really a part of the anti-war movement of WWII. I was not in favor of war in general because of my fatherís influence and my own reading prior to WW II, but my enlistment was consistent with my approach to that particular war.
Catt:Given the context?
Catt:You talk about social issues and this anti-war organization. Did you read anything that would be considered socialist or communist? I think things in the Ď50s and later in the Ď60s will —
Bolef:Iím actually sure that many of the readers and activists in these groups, especially the American Student Union, were associated were associated with some of the radical parties; I just never really became a part of that. And yes, I have read in radical literature. In fact my son, my oldest son remembers and keep reminding me that I have probably one of the earliest and best collections of The Monthly Review (and I am sure you are familiar The Monthly Review) that anybody can think of. I am going to donate it to a library one of these days. So I read (Paul) Baran and (Paul) Sweezy. Who was the other one? Iíll think of his name. And admired them
Catt:Baran, would you spell it?
Bolef:Baran. B-A-R-A-N, Paul Baran an economist in California. And Sweezy also, Paul Sweezy, yes. Iím trying to think of the other editor of the case. I admired them and read them carefully. Yes, they were a big influence to me. They were part of the orthodox radical faction. Actually those reviews were more critical and independent. As far as I know they were always critical of the staff for example.
Catt:A little misleading. Okay, you go to Columbia and —
Bolef:You asked about Penn State. At Penn State I was so busy catching up in science and mathematics, and also working part time to pay my rent and food because my parents couldnít afford to give me any money (in fact I sent them money) that I wasnít active in anything there. In fact I was a member of the ROTC.
Catt:Seeing that twenty years later itís a little incongruous.
Bolef:Right. I was an active and a voluntary member of the ROTC.
Catt:Okay. I guess I should ask about your wife.
Bolef:Oh, I grew up with — oh, I met my wife in one of those student organizations at Temple University. Her name was Doris, her maiden name was Sappir, S-A-P-P-I-R. She also came from an agnostic Jewish family and working class. And we became friends and were married after I joined the Army. In fact, I married her on leave from one of the bases I was serving at.
Catt:And I take it she continued with her studies at Temple until she finished and then went to New York —
Bolef:She finished at Temple and actually became a camp follower. She came with me. She was at South Carolina at the infantry training camp a few miles from Spartanburg, South Carolina from where [???] was born. The camp name escapes me at the moment. But anyway, she was with me there for at least three or four months and lived with me for a short while in Columbus, Georgia. But then she went back, especially when I went overseas. She went to New York that way.
Catt:And I take it she was also politically active?
Bolef:She was much more politically active than I, much more.
Catt:Okay, then you finished at Penn State, and you go to Columbia.
Bolef:Went to Columbia and essentially I took my Ph.D. there. Particularly in those days they sort of handed it to you on the run. As far as I know. In my program there was no examination at all, no thesis, no masters, you just got it after you spent enough time there. I actually worked up on my Ph.D.
Catt:You started Fall of Ď46?
Bolef:Fall Ď46, yes. And I enjoyed in immensely the professors were all, most of them strikingly talented and capable people. Among them were people who became very famous. Like Professor Charles Townes, the inventor of the laser, won the Nobel Prize and for physics. And I. I. Rabi who had already won the Nobel Prize for physics. He was the most famous member of the department, and was an incompetent teacher. My official thesis advisor was I. I. Rabi. And Polykarp Kusch, who won a Nobel prize for measuring the key factor of an electron while I was there. And in fact, I had an unusual experience of having five people on my thesis and all being Nobel Physics prize winners. Everyone on my thesis committee. I ended up doing research in an odd field called molecular beams, which was at that time strictly academic. There were no applications that anybody could envision. And it was associated with I. I. Rabi, who had been one of the leaders in that field. The man who was actually running the molecular beams lab approach was Polykarp Kusch. Extraordinarily talented experimentalist and one of the most pleasant, outgoing, encouraging physicists I have ever met. A pleasure to be with. He was in practice my thesis advisor. But because Rabi was away, he was first advisor to General McArthur in Japan and head of the Presidentís counsel in Science in Washington. So he was never there, we never saw him. So I finished my thesis on molecular beams of some exotic compounds like thallium chloride, and then took a job at Westinghouse.
Catt:How did you get interested in solid states as what we consider today? Would that be along in that time?
Bolef:All questions you are asking me sort of bring out the worst in me. Because the answer is opportunism. When I went to Westinghouse (Research Laboratories) in 1952, clearly they werenít interested in electrobeams. There were no applications to Westinghouse in electrobeams. But they were interested in solid state physics and encouraged me to do basis research in solid physics. [Would you shut that off a minute?]
Catt:We were talking about opportunism, but then you mentioned Norman (F.) Ramsey.
Bolef:Yes, actually Norman Ramsey was at Columbia University when I was there. In fact I took several of his courses as I picked that up, Charlie Townes. They were both excellent lecturers. Rabi was hopeless inept, but those two were Town lectures and Ramsey unfortunately left for Harvard. Otherwise I would have done my thesis under him. He was also in molecular beams. At Westinghouse I was fortunate to join the physics department. At that time, in 1952 when —
Catt:Can I interrupt just for a second?
Catt:Well, let me take it from this standpoint. How did you end up at Westinghouse?
Bolef:Somebody recommended that I apply there because they needed people at the research laboratories. They were just starting up a large effort, and I donít quite remember who it was; one of my professors suggested it. But I donít remember who it was. But I applied over the phone, I called up and they said we would like you to come out for an interview. I think when I interviewed they hired me immediately.
Catt:So obviously going to Westinghouse, it is strictly research.
Catt:Okay, so when you were going into getting your Ph.D., did you aspire to go into academics and to teach and do research? Or in going back to the reasons you got into some employment, and I was here with the Ph.D.
Bolef:I was interested in continuing research. I really — but then despite my unusual beginning and not having had much experience with hands on work. By then I had become enamored of laboratory work and enjoyed it very much and wanted to continue that. And I thought that basic research industry would be would allow me to do that. And in fact those were the days following on the discovery of the transistorant [?] laboratories, that encouraged laboratory directors to permit basic research, which was motivated by the researcher for himself or herself. So that when we came to this physics department at Westinghouse we were told given a laboratory, given technicians, given access to shop and to electronic equipment, and told to do what we wanted to do. Those were unusual days. And for five or six years I did what I wanted to do and didnít publish a thing. And they werenít unhappy with me because they saw that at least I was striving and I was building up interesting instrumentation, and interacting with others there, so that I was tolerated. Before actually succeeding and in an effort that I and my collaborator had started.
Catt:Can I ask you a question about activism in Columbia while you were there?
Bolef:Activism in Columbia?
Catt:Were you active in any organizations, being a graduate student in physics at one of the nations and the worldís leading university physics faculty at that time obviously is going to consume a lot of time and effort. Very tasking, but also New York is a very vibrant rich city, in the late Ď40, especially after the Soviet Union acquires the atomic bomb. The Cold War starts, people start to become —
Bolef:Everything you say had reverberates, but I was a late bloomer. Partially because I was so absorbed in my studies and my family and in commuting, because we couldnít afford to live in New York City we lived in barracks, converted barracks, a veterans project, across the Hudson River into New Jersey and upward and back to New York. A place called Camp Shanks, S-H-A-N-K-S, Camp Shanks, New York, which had been converted to barracks for veterans. And I remember we didnít even have a car for a while. We had an arrangement (we all had arrangement), but there was a corner at 120 a 116th street and Broadway where we stayed long enough you would always get picked up by somebody going to Camp Shanks. Either coming or going, you would stand at another corner at the Camp. So then we lived way out, we had our first child, and I was extraordinarily busy catching up trying to learn to do physics and I didnít have time. I didnít do a thing as far as participate, although I did take time to read literature.
Bolef:During part the last four or five years that I was Westinghouse I also worked as an instructor mainly at the New York Maritime School at Fort Schuyler. I was just a full time faculty member. So that I had that job, plus my research, plus my family, plus commuting. Except by the time I got that job we had moved from Camp Shanks to a an apartment in a housing project, middle class housing project in Queens. So I was commuting from Queens rather than Camp Shanks. We were getting up in the world. My wife still worked.
Catt:Iím just curious did you know Martin Perl at the time?
Bolef:I did not know Martin Perl.
Catt:He graduated in Ď55, so he may have come in. Just curiosity.
Bolef:I probably did know him, but I donít remember.
Catt:Okay, okay. That makes sense obviously that studies, looking after a family, the commute, and then once you are done whatís the next step. Did your find, whoís doing your research, was it ever, did Professor Ramsey or Townes or Rabi or any of them ever talk about social responsibility of being a physicist? I mean looking back on the Manhattan Project, a lot of them. I mean, I wonít say second thoughts are thinking about, well, what have we just done? We have changed the course of human history. And was this ever discussed either in passing or intellectual or just over coffee?
Bolef:Well we students had impressions, yes, over coffee and at seminars, and even from lectures we had impressions so of our professors. Townes was a nominalists coming across as a very, I wonít say patriotic, that word is too vague as being a faith or applications of physics and in the military, he wasnít all concerned about the implications of that. Rabi and Kusch were very concerned with the use to which research and science were put. Rabi especially since he was the science advisor to the Presidents and Generals, and because of his role in the Oppenheimer affairs. He didnít talk too much about the Oppenheimer affair to us at all, even though he was a key player in the issue, as you well know. It is perhaps uncalled for to point out that Rabi was a very human being. And that when you were with him, close to him, is outstanding characteristics was his fowl humor. He loved to tell jokes, and he loved tell dirty jokes. And thatís not for publication.
Bolef:And so it was fun being with him. But when I said that he didnít play a major role in our research I mean it. He once walked in with a British Nobel prize winner and described the machine that two of us were working on, the necker [?] beam machine, and he wouldnít let us describe it. Father and Son, they both won a Nobel Prize in crystallography.
Catt:Thomson? G. P. Thomson?
Bolef:No it wasnít G. P. Thomson. And we stood there restraining ourselves while he described the machine. And after he left we broke down because he had everything backwards, he described the machine incorrectly. But Rabi was good humor and understanding. His main problem in life was getting his three daughters married. So he would talk more about that than about physics. Anyway, that wasnít typical of Kusch. Kusch was an outstandingly ethical, moral person in his behavior with his colleagues and students. And we all were not surprised when they when he was head of the department to hear a loud raucous noise in his department, and we rushed down there and there was Kusch, who was a medium-sized man, pushing a big man out of his office and yelling at him, ďYou bastard, get the hell out of here. We wonít have anything to do with you or your money.Ē And he was turning down a million dollars that somebody wanted to contribute to the physics department with just a mild condition that this man placed on his money, mainly that no Jews or Blacks get any of his money. And Kusch yelled and shouted and called him all sorts of names and told him to get the hell out and never come back, and that was typical of Kusch, the way he behaved as ethical and moral principles came first, he was a good role model for most of us. Off the record? So we werenít very close to these professors. And Rainwater and Ramsey and Kusch were probably the three people, and maybe C. S. Wu, were mainly the people that I remember as being openly concerned about the atomic bomb, about the uses to which their research would be put. I never considered that in the most radical, but I admired them for being concerned and outspoken.
Catt:Did you join — and obviously you joined the American Physical Society. How about organizations such as the Federation of American Scientists.
Bolef:No, no, no, I was not a member of any other organization, but he APS in my graduate school days. That all changed drastically when I came from Pittsburgh. I became a member of everything.
Catt:How did you, youíre coming to Pittsburgh, you are coming to an industrial research laboratory. Obviously there is some guidelines that say, ďLook Dr. Bolef, we will give you a lab, we will give you the where with all to do your research, the freedom to pursue whatever you want to do,Ē but obviously they want something for their investment, whether itís patent rights, or I donít know.
Catt:How was that handled and what were your feelings on that?
Bolef:Dan Albert, was who was the head of the department at that time at University of Illinois and became a professor there, encouraged us to do what we wanted, but also encouraged us to be part of — to be concerned with the laboratory mission and to related to other people in other departments, and to serve and to act as consultants to people in the applied departments who came to talk to us we did a lot of that. Metallurgy, low temperature physics, solid state physics, and so on. In fact when the laser was discovered, or shortly after, we were all encouraged to think along those lines and I have four or five patents on masers and lasers. Which had nothing to do with the research I was doing, but because I had been interested in how does this work when I was at Columbia and had kept informed of it, I spent time looking into it. In fact, Peter Chester, an Englishman working in the laboratories and myself wrote two articles on two level masers, and one of them was a tutorial sort of article written for the proceedings at the IEEE and Townes. I met Townes at a meeting shortly after it was published and he said that was the article he was assigning to all students who came into his class because he thought it was a good review of the field. So you see I was doing things in semi-applied areas that could possibly help [???] [???]. I think that help make my other work acceptable to them, namely my research in nuclear acoustic resonance, which for the first five years my research had no successful application. So I was publishing in certain areas of consultantship I might say. And getting patents in fact so impressed was the laboratory that when they formed a basic research committee so that the basic research area could meet periodically with the management of the laboratories. I was the first chairman of that committee.
Catt:But this is also at a time when McCarthyism and purges of the Red Scare is going on you are one left with leanings obviously with heightened responses going on in the Soviet Union. This is on Question number 5. When you come to Pittsburgh, I donít really see it as being a seed bed for a lot of left wing politics or political activism, but also I look at your vitae and in the early Ď50s this is when you joined the FAS. Iím just curious as to what your reaction to McCarthyism, especially you mentioned a little bit about the Oppenheimer hearings. I know Rabi was pressed to support Oppenheimer he went as far as he thought he could go without, Iíve heard this other way without him endangered himself and I know you didnít you didnít stand up to the government.
Bolef:Rabi? But he was there. He went out of his way to support Oppenheimer as a person as any scientists. I am not familiar with all of the details. My focus was on nuclear war. When I came to Pittsburgh I was asked to write a review of a book that reviewed the dropping of the atomic bomb, and it was published in the Pittsburgh paper.
Catt:Is it entitled ďHiroshima: Decision on Bomb Came by Default?Ē
Bolef:Thatís right. In 1960 — thatís later than I thought. And even before then, before 1960, I had started to read and be aware of developments in nuclear weapons especially — a little bit of a nuclear issue, mostly in nuclear weapons — and was appalled by what I read as to the rapid development and deployment of nuclear weapons. And so I joined the Federation of American Scientists, I joined the SSRS (Society for Social Responsibility in Science), I started reading literature. I think at that time I even became a subscriber to the magazine I read most in my whole life, which was The Nation magazine, all because that's one I subscribed to the longest and so I was appalled and frightened at the developments in nuclear weaponry, and started to talk a good deal about it to my fellow scientists. One of them was a Quaker named Cameron Satterthwaite, and Cameron and I decided to do something about it. We got a number of physicists together from Carnegie Tech and from Mellon Institute (they were separate at the time) from the University of Pittsburgh, where he close associates because he was a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. [telephone interruption]
Catt:We were talking about how do I want to say professor Satterthwaite from Illinois, Pittsburgh and the FAS, and nuclear weapons. Iím sorry.
Bolef:Yeah, actually Satterthwaite and I sat together with people we knew from the other scientific organizations. He and I agreed that it was necessary for us, and we thought other scientists in Pittsburgh would also want to be involved, in educating the public concerning nuclear weapons. To the fact that we were especially upset by the by the campaign orchestrated from Washington at the time, Washington D.C., that shelters could would work, and that in case of a nuclear we would be okay because we were building a huge network of shelters for people. And Cameron and I knew that this was errant nonsense. We had legislature and were aware of everything that happened in Germany and in Japan contradicted this. Cameron had actually worked for the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge. So we start talking to people and found a welcomed response from the University of Pittsburgh, now known as Carnegie Tech, formed this organization whose name I forget, Scientists for Nuclear Information, something of the sort, and issued a huge booklet, I think it was the second one issued in the United States after the one in St. Louis by Collin and his group, on the effects of the nuclear blast on Pittsburgh. I have it upstairs, it is a one hundred page document. And each one of us, Irving Janis, Cam Satterthwaite, myself, Lincoln Wolfenstein, took responsibility for a chapter. My chapter was on fallout shelters and the book was a huge success. It got a mass publicity in the press, was widely circulated in Pittsburgh, partially because one of my best friends was John Loften (?), who was one of the editors at the Pittsburgh Post at the time and was a strong supporter of ours. This group continued and our main function was to give talks at least a half dozen of us would give two or three talks a week to community groups, church groups, business menís groups, schools. I remember it kept me busy for at least for a couple of years. And then finally we decided to convert and become a chapter of the Federation of American Scientists. And that turned out to be a huge success because Cam Satterthwaite ended up in one for a term as President of FAS, Lincoln Wolfenstein ended up being president for term of the FAS, and I ended up being active on the board and head of nominations committee, so that the Pittsburgh group — and Manfred (A.) Biondi was a member of the council of the FAS so the Pittsburgh chapter I think became one of the most prominent chapters in the Federation of American Scientists. It all started from this little discussion of Cameron Satterthwaite and myself at Westinghouse that maybe we should educate people on the effects of nuclear weapons. Pittsburgh Study Group for Nuclear Information, The Effects of Nuclear War on the Pittsburgh Area, (privately published June 1, 1962).
Catt:How did Westinghouse react to — this increase the activism obviously it was after work hours I would assume?
Bolef:Westinghouse tolerated us. We did not have meetings at Westinghouse. Everyone knew what we were doing because it was a close relationship with the Universities and Westinghouse, and a good fraction of the physics department at Westinghouse joined this organization, including Biondi who was the head of the physics department after Alfred left. Biondi became head of my department at Westinghouse after Alfred left for Illinois, and Biondi, the head of the department, was a member of our group. So it wasnít something we were doing sort of secretly. On the other hand, we never had official meetings at Westinghouse, we never used Westinghouse facilities. We acted properly I think. Zener, who was a part of the time, Clarence Zener, was director of Westinghouse Laboratories. I think he was tolerant of our activities. He never joined anything, but he was tolerant. I took time, however, away from research, but by then I felt it was necessary for me.
Catt:So I guess your general impression of what was going on up to Sputnik was that there was an arms race going on. You were very much against the [???] development?
Bolef:I was against the development of the nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear weapons. The threatening use of nuclear weapons. And I tried to keep up the date with the literature in Scientific American and other places and the books and articles that were written, so that in my speeches and in my articles I opposed the development of nuclear weapons and deployment of nuclear weapons.
Catt:How did you view someone like Edward Teller? Obviously he was advocating the Super against Oppenheimer.
Bolef:Well it was worse than that, because in all even long after that after the Oppenheimer trial happened after the development of the hydrogen bomb, Teller was sort of a promoter of almost every development and use of nuclear physics to develop new weapons. And of course ended up pushing the Stars Wars program. I learned that early on in my graduate days at Columbia, meeting Townes, novice physicist and novice teacher who had strong in my view, right wing attitudes, I learned oh well, this is human beings susceptible to the same influences in their maturing process and their politics that all human beings are. Not very smart often in their understanding of society, what was good for people. And not very tolerant of other views but their own inflated ideas that they as scientists know best for what is necessary for human beings. Teller was the most extreme example of that. The worst thing I could ever say in life is to characterize a group of people by calling them The Germans or The Jews or The Hungarians. But I got a kick out of calling Teller a Wigner. Wigner was a modest version of Teller.
Catt:And the reason I may have misled you a little bit by bringing Teller up. He represents at the time in the Ď50s where American Society has an image of a physicist. On one hand you have the quiet demure Oppenheimer, the theoretician who reads Sanskrit poetry on one hand. And then you have Teller whoís got the hands on application, patriotic we need to have the strong stick view. And so you can almost imprint on those two characterizations of the physicists. One of the questions is how did you perceive the public image of the physicists at the time? And hospital does that change because of what happens to Oppenheimer? Obviously I think this is going to change when we get into the Ď60s shortly.
Bolef:I think many of my students thought physicists at university and colleagues in other departments felt that physicists had gotten out of hand and had abandoned their consciousness and morals in favor of pursuing technical ends. And I think some of them were aware of the really balanced, modest, capable physicist, like Hans Bethe, who was concerned about what was happening and were also extremely well known. But the Tellers and the Wigners, and the many physicists that they knew who were working and funded by military funds sort of created an image which has dominated their view of physics as being handmaidens of the military and easy marks for McNamara and others who wanted to build up a nuclear force. I had to fight that myself.
Catt:I like how you put that. So Sputnik comes along and all of a sudden there is a change in the publicís perception. All of a sudden we had been leading or we were on top scientifically (now and this lumping science and technology together). All of a sudden our nemesis has a superior technology that we donít have we were caught unaware and the money just starts to be thrown at scientists in unbelievable amounts. How did you react to Sputnik and how did you react to the change it had on science?
Bolef:That whole history of the whole fabricated mťlange of lies, beginning early on, that the Russians were ahead of us, or that they caught up with us and are forging ahead, that they could destroy the United States, thatís often the course they expect is an embarrassment which in our history which I strongly deplore. I think that the advisors in Washington, the military scientific advisors in Washington, impressed upon the politicians and presidents the fact that the USSR was just an extraordinarily capable technologically and scientifically giant out there that could and would happily attack us and destroy us, and therefore we have to forge ahead and develop all of the new weapons we could, including these battlefield nuclear weapons, neutron bombs. And these monstrous submarines and triton submarines. All this hype that was first used on the statesmen and politician and then on the American public to me is a sad and awful chapter in our history. And the scientists, they knew about it. They joined in the chorus, supported it, or else kept quiet because our money, I say our advisedly at this point, I was involved in that research, our money came from fifty or sixty percent of the Department of Defense. I have written the articles of this, some have been published some had not been published, so that my views had at least been recorded. I find it a very distasteful chapter in American history. That we had the gaps — we have the bomb gaps, missile gap, the defense the ABM gaps — all sorts of gaps. All were as far as I know all of them were lies, and fictions made up to spur on our own development on nuclear weaponry. So that is unpleasant for me to think of us as participating for decades in this fraud of the American people. Most scientists did it, but did it quietly went about their work and didnít contradict the hype that was out there.
Catt:Which gets us to my question, about your own research and who was funding it? You had mentioned working at Westinghouse obviously Westinghouse is funding it, but perhaps indirectly was the military throwing money your way we are talking about in the late Ď50s. And if so, was this addressed? You talk with colleagues and saying why are we was the directors at the Westinghouse you were at this time you were talking to your spokesman for the lab, going to the management, were they intimating, ďWell, Dr. Bolef, we would like to see some activity along these lines or in this area.Ē They can be very subtle about it; they donít have to be you will work here. And if so, how were those issues — were they either being talk amongst you and your colleagues — or how were you handling this situation?
Bolef:You will be pleased to know that you are right on the ball path because everything you said is applied namely in the late Ď50s the transistor phenomenon had worn thin by the late Ď50s, because we werenít inventing new transistors and Westinghouse laboratory wasnít becoming famous within Westinghouse for inventing especially making applied discovery. So the pressure was put on us in the basic research department or physics department to get grants out there to go to the company. And sure enough, I got grant money. Lotus, it was only the last couple of years at my stay at Westinghouse in Ď60 to Ď62, but John de Klerk, who is my partner at the time and I received grant from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the headquarters of the AFOSR (Air Force Office of Scientific Research). And they were interested in our acoustic work, ultrasonic work. And the man that gave it to us was an ultrasonic man himself. So you are actually right, there was pressure on us to do that. And so far as I know nine-tenths or perhaps ten-tenths of all the sponsorship was military or was aided from the military at Westinghouse in research laboratories at the time. I worried about it, I thought about it, I talked about it with people in the FAS chapter at the time. But I did not turn down the money. And that had a persistent because when I went to St. Louis it was repeated as well. So you might say that in those first few years of receiving government money at Westinghouse, my attitudes — just my ability to justify taking money on a basis that I was doing basic research which did not directly produce weapons or contribute to weapons, that justification was enough to permit my conscious to take money. And I was making the distinction between using the money for creating weaponry or using money to do scientific research, basic scientific research. I later renounced that view.
Catt:Especially since you were working for an industrial lab, since they are essentially for applications. Iím not here to judge. I missed one question if we could just for the record. Did you know any one during the Ď50s was black-listed or persecuted because of their political beliefs during the Ď50s?
Bolef:The only person I knew and had seen only fleetingly, but I was to meet him later on to know him much better, was E. U. Condon. Because it may surprise you even you to know that E. U. Condon was a Westinghouse person. He had work in the early or late Ď40s perhaps at Westinghouse, had set up some of the research there, and later on had been a continuing consultant at Westinghouse and visited Westinghouse regularly, to consult with them and give them advice. He was paid by Westinghouse. And so we in the research laboratories were aware of that connection and therefore when E. U. Condonís case came up, the fabricated case on being un-American, some of us were quite concerned. Later on of course I was going to Washington University Physics Department where he was chairman of the department.
Catt:[Stop a minute.] Okay we were talking about going into the Ď50s and military funding for research and now there are some movements some events started to happen towards the end of the decade, and I was just curious to your reaction to them. These are trying to get to whatís going to stimulate and motivate you to become more active in the Ď60s, and there is just a few episodes given the revolutions, big large — one of the revolutions quote unquote starts to take place in the Ď60s people say would you try and mimic or copy what was going on. Of course the culture revolution in China and Cuba, the free speech movement, the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile crisis obviously with nuclear weapons being aimed at each other. If you could just talk about some of the impressions that you got, or if any of these really stand out?
Bolef:Well, I was really concentrating on Vietnam and on the nuclear issue. I greeted the Czech revolt and was appalled at the veracity of the Russians in the Eastern Europe, Hungary especially. I did not participate in any of the civil rights marches. I supported them. We have the equivalence in St. Louis. We had smaller movements regarding Civil Rights, free speech, and free speech especially in connection with a professor who was being essentially dismissed for his political views. And so instead of going out and joining any of these national movements, I really stayed in St. Louis area and in Pittsburgh and worked with groups there. For example, both in Pittsburgh and in St. Louis I helped set up the first time in these two cities, ďpeace centers,Ē which were store front places stacked by volunteers and occasionally a staff member was paid so that people could come in and volunteer to do to engage in campaigns to join us in boycotts to sign petitions or just to support what we were doing there. So that I tended to concentrate on movements and activities that were concentrated in civics.
Catt:Perhaps I should push you back up a little bit and talk about the transition to Washington University, how that transpired and why did you go there and you mentioned about being going there with tenure.
Bolef:Well, I was part of the exodus. The scientist who had come in about the same time I did or about a little later realized as I did that our freedom to do what we wanted to do with own limited support was vanishing. Westinghouse was becoming much more focused on applied work, assisted and go out and get grants, and only those who got grants could continue to do basic research. It wasnít worth it for most people there who were senior and who could get jobs at Universities to stay there. So the best people, Dan Albert, B. S. Chandrasekhar, Cameron Satterthwaite, chose to leave. And finally I left too. I was offered a number of jobs actually. I was offered a job at the University of California Irvine, and several others but I found Washington University attractive and decided to go there. And they offered me a full sponsorship for tenure, laboratory facilities, and lots of room. I had a graduate student even before I came there. A grad student came to Westinghouse actually and worked for me that summer and continued to work with me at Washington University. So it was a healthy transition.
Catt:And plus you had mentioned that well, no Iím sorry I was going to say E. U. Condon was the chair of the department but —
Bolef:Oh actually Condon was not the chair. He had left the semester before me, he had had a heart attack I think and he took leave, he was still part of the Washington University faculty but he kept leave for that year and didnít got Bolder until a year or two later. But his house is two doors down from where I bought my house, and so I would see him and he would stop in and we became acquainted. He rented out the house, but would come back and check on it. Another of the reasons I went there was that the head of the department and the man who became first dean and then vice Chancellor were both physicists who were active in my field. (Richard) Dick Norberg was head of the department, and George Pake, a very well-known nuclear [???] [???] was there. He became Vice Chancellor. And they were very supportive.
Catt:Now tell me with full tenure, and well, as being a professor was that something very much extraordinary?
Bolef:I believe it was. Yes, it was extraordinary. Today even more so, Iím not sure. Then it was. Especially since I hadnít really talked anywhere except as a graduate student, so that I didnít have the credentials. But afterwards I inquired about it, I was told very clearly that I was brought there because they needed somebody to rejuvenate their solid state research program, and thatís why they didnít care less if I was a good teacher or not. ďMarch 4Ē: Note: This was the nation-wide ďresearch moratoriumĒ first conceived by students (Science Action Coordinating Committee) and faculty (Union of Concerned Scientists) at MIT, and held March 4, 1969. Also called ďScientistsí Day of Concern.Ē
Catt:Can you recall what events or experiences (I know this is going to be detailed) that led to your radicalization? That led you to start becoming more active or when you got to Washington University?
Bolef:Actually I had been active in Pittsburgh, as you know from my previous question, in organization as being part of the committee, the committee to publicize the effects of nuclear war. We put out a thick brochure/pamphlet which was widely circulated. We gave many talks in Pittsburgh and the group actually became an FAS chapter, one of the leading FAS chapters and I ended up being very active in the FAS. So I started my activism, anti-nuclear activism in Pittsburgh. But you are absolutely right, in Pittsburgh I had not spoken up against the Vietnam War at all. It was entirely European but there were a couple of course, you know very well, mainly that the threat of using nuclear weapons especially against a poor starving country like Vietnam was not small in my mind, so there was a coupling. When I came to St. Louis the first thing I did was to look up Barry Commoner. And Virginia Brodine. Because even though the Committee for Nuclear Information is usually coupled with Barry Commonerís name, the driving force behind it and the organizing genius was Virginia Brodine, who was not a scientist at all, but a community person who was working at it full time. B-R-O-D-I-N-E. She has just published a novel, she lives in Washington state now. And I immediately was welcomed by them and became part of their group. And over the years in fact that move affected my life fairly dramatically because at no time was I not involved in some environmental activity. Not just anti-nuclear, but environmental as well. For example, I became president of the coalition for the environment, which was the only environmental group in St. Louis and Missouri for a while in 1980 and was on the board for perhaps fifteen years. So that my involvement with Barry Commoner and Virginia Brodineís group led to a lasting interesting environment. Which of course if related to nuclear energy on nuclear war, in my mind. I guess what galvanized me — itís difficult to say about Vietnam. It could be that I am one of these people who from my upbringing canít stand being ashamed of activities that either I engaged in or that I am part of. My country people, I vote for engage in and I had I read a great deal about the Vietnam War, I kept up with it. I can read French so I read the reports of the Great French Vietnam reporter (whose name escapes me at the moment) and the American reports who were telling the truth, many of them. One of who died in remembering Vietnam and it was in escapable for me that this was a war that a personís conscious could not support. A practice in particular that galvanized me was Catonsville, Maryland, when Daniel Berrigan and a group around him especially Catholic sisters poured blood on the [???] [???] files. They did it in a non-violent way and Dan gave perhaps the greatest speech of his time. And in his speech he called the Vietnam the land of burning babies — land of burning children. And it was rare that I gave a talk on Vietnam that I did not quote Dan Berriganís — a portion of Dan Berriganís speech. And in fact I ended up being one of the contacts for his group in St. Louis and when he came to St. Louis he would stay at my house.
Catt:The group being? I just wanted to say Resist, but thatís not it.
Bolef:No that was not it. Daniel Berriganís was an amorphous group. Dan doesnít believe in large organizations. It was a group of supporters who supported his and people around him out of resistance movements. And the reason I was a part of it was because Joan Malone, who was a sister of Loretta in St. Louis, became active protesting the draft, and I was a strong supporter of hers.
Catt:Did you know Bill Davidon at this time?
Bolef:I knew him, Iím not sure at that time, but oh yes, I knew him at that time. Because even in Pittsburgh I had become a member, strong supporter and admirer of the SSRS, and in fact this was the first scientific ulterior organization I had belonged to. And I respected it very much. It had a great effect on me especially with respect to non-violence and being a Quaker sort of view of war. Itís not that I adopted it completely, but it certainly has affected me throughout the years. Yes. As I can recall Bill was involved with the SSRS.
Catt:So 1949 was the establishing year, right? He was a president I think of the society at this time, and also good friends with [???].
Bolef:Thatís right. But again, we did this independently, I donít have a single letter from Bill Davidon and he doesnít have one from me. He doesnít remember my name, it wonít bother me the slightest bit, I did my thing first in Pittsburgh and then in St. Louis and he did his. I respect him for that. Because as far as Iím concerned acting locally trying to influence and help people around you but trying to have an effect on global manners is the crucial method of being effective.
Catt:So to get back to events or experiences that led to radicalization which is something we will have to define down the road, Iíll say the nuclear issue, and from that radical means striking up the roots of something, itís a standard definition we will throw out, well, itís striking at the roots of what — who is it somebodyís policy, or is it usually the government has a stance on a certain issue and do you disagree with that? Vietnam is a great example for all that.
Bolef:Oh, yes, strongly. Yes, I was definitely striking at the roots.
Catt:Some of the nuclear issues were coming before Vietnam.
Bolef:Nuclear issues, yes, I was striking at the roots of our policy there. And in the Ď80s after the period that you are particularly interested in, I spent full time on the nuclear war issue, the buildup of our arsenals and McNamaraís horror scheme of building 400 nuclear weapons. As turned out as you know to be 400 for each arm of the service and then went hay wire after that. I fought that from the very beginning there is nothing — those two episodes that have influenced me more than anything else in my life with respect to my attitude toward governmental infective action were first my personal experience as an infantry man in World War II, and second the dropping of the bomb the Russians. Those two in retrospect have influenced me as much as anything else in my views of what I can support and what I must oppose. And I have a very strong and biased view of the Cold War. That view is that the United States insisted — we in the United States — insisted building up a nuclear force which is so gross, so unnecessary, and so threatening to human kind that we must assume the major part of the blame, not this third or even fourth world country which is the other half of the Cold War and then Russia. Even though certainly they are part of it. So then I definitely took a radical view of our nuclear policies, I felt that it was all wrong that we were the threat to world peace and I should do anything I could to inform people.
Catt:And Iím sure it was something or someone like Barry Goldwater in the Ď64 Presidential election saying well and to mean that you wouldnít have any qualms about using such weapons in Vietnam to end that war.
Catt:He was promising to get out of Vietnam, but the way he was going about doing it — here is someone who is running for the National office, for the for the most powerful position in the U.S. politics and you are thinking well, is there anyone else that could be out there to step up.
Bolef:Right and Nixonís, Nixonís attitude later on was suspected as Dien Bien Phu.
Catt:Dien Bien Phu?
Bolef:Was became known. So yes, I have a guilt strong guilt feeling about my cheering the Camp Buckley strike on the coast of France when I was a soldier being transferred to the Pacific hearing the news of the dropping of the atomic bomb that will never — I will never stop being ashamed of that. Vietnam I think followed from my radical opposition to nuclear weapons. And from my experience in World War II and from the reading I did on the nature of the origins of Vietnam. For example, we are fortunate to live in a relatively open society. There is no secret if you wanted to read the proper sources of how we got into Vietnam. The two senders, one from Alaska, and one from Washington, the only two who voted against the Declaration of Force knew what had happened, and I learned from them. Iím embarrassed as hell for that.
Catt:Gruening is one of them.
Bolef:Gruening from Alaska, right. A marvelous, a beautiful man from Washington State.
Catt:I was thinking Jackson, but thatís not —
Bolef:No not Jackson. Jackson is a bastard.
Catt:Heís on the opposite side of it.
Bolef:And I listened and read these people I was very aware of what they were doing I read The Nation magazine. I occasionally read the New York Times. I even read some Radical literature, I read I passed on a few people youíve met have a complete collection of the Monthly Review. A magazine edited by Hubertman (?) and Sweezy, which took a radical view of these events, they were one hundred percent in favor of getting out. That was not my attitude — my attitude was against the war.
Catt:When you first heard about it.
Bolef:When I first heard about it, exactly.
Catt:I was thinking it was Ď64 at the Gulf — or at Ď65 at the Gulf of Tonkin.
Bolef:Ď65 right. The whole thing occurred to me as a fraud and I sympathize and I support Vietnam veterans they deserve much more sympathy and support than we ever given them. It is not they I blame, no, I blame the Bundyís and the Nixons and the Kennedys and the McNamaras and others.
Catt:Sort of skipping ahead a couple of questions, in national elections, I take it you werenít voting Democratic or Republican.
Bolef:I voted Democratic when McGovern ran, I was a strong supporter of McGovern, yes. Yes. I usually voted I voted for McGovern. Who else?
Catt:Well in Ď64 it would be Johnson, but in Ď68 is when McCarthy is getting a lot of support, and of course, Humphrey ends up getting nomination from Democratic party.
Bolef:Yes, I actually half-heartedly supported Humphrey. Humphrey halfly, but strongly supported McGovern. Was a great (and still am) a great, great admirer of Senator Fulbright, who established the figure and he seemed always says the right thing. Always. A fine, fine man.
Catt:Did you ever vote for third party candidates?
Bolef:I almost certainly did.
Catt:Dick Gregory is always a name that gets thrown out as that.
Bolef:I donít know the details but I certainly did. Under certain circumstances.
Catt:Well this is a long answer, is going to entail, but your experiences during the war regarding the draft, deferred status for graduate students, I know that you were a lot you were very active, and if you could just describe some of those.
Bolef:St. Louis was one of the worst had one of the worst reputations in the United States for draft penalties. They had two judges to all the cases were referred. I guess the agreement among the Federal judges. They became feared and hated by many students. So that most students who refused to be drafted ended up with maximum penalties, which were five years. And not community service but five years in jail. I think very few served the entire five years in retrospect. So that fear of that penalty sort of put a damper on many of the student efforts to escape the draft. Many left St. Louis. We, local people like the Quakers, some professors on campus, students and community people set up a peace institute on Delmar. Iím sorry, not a peach, a Peace Center, St. Louis Peace Center on Delmar,. Ivan Logan and Eldora Spiegelberg were two of the leading people in that. They are both still alive and active in when this actually was Peace and Freedom. Eldora was a Quaker. And I helped Steve Graham and I set up the draft counseling center there within the Peace Center. Steve Graham was a graduate student in ancient studies at Washington University who ended up becoming director of the Mega Press [?] service committee district in Baldwin in Colorado, may still be for all I know. And he was one of the most active graduate students on campus. And he and I were instrumental in setting that up and we got people to take courses. Some of them would go to Philadelphia and go to the CCCO (Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors) or to the AFAC. They were equivalent of course to learn draft counseling. But after a while we taught ourselves we had our own sessions, we would have six week sessions in which we taught people to be draft counselors and eventually Steve and I would drop out of it and do other things. I opposed the draft not selectively for students on campus, but because it enabled us to follow people to fight the Vietnam War. And I was very vocal about it. But I ended up exclusively counseling and working with people in the military. That was because of my strong feelings about the military. Mainly, having served in the military four years, I empathize with people who found it impossible after they joined the military or after they were drafted found it impossible to be sent someplace where they had to kill. That was a dominating factor. So I ended up being the one counselor, the only one in St. Louis that I know of who spent my time counseling people in the military.
Catt:And Iím sure the military would have a different view of your activities. Was there ever I donít want to say civil suits or criminal suits brought against you for this? Or did they even know about it?
Bolef:Yes, they knew about it.
Catt:And that just come from the government coming to the Chancellor of Washington University and saying you have this professor, he is doing this, you should do something about it, or would they threaten to do action on their own via law enforcement in St. Louis?
Bolef:Itís complicated at Iím not sure how the investigative agencies knew about it, but they learned fairly quickly, almost immediately that I was counseling the military. And they told me that they knew, they told me to be careful through a lawyer, who was the main lawyer I used in referring the military people for help. You have to have a lawyer a psychiatrist, priest or minister, and a doctor, all available, depending on what reasons the people in the military gave. And this letter told me that they had called and that they knew exactly what I was doing, and they know supposedly what I was doing, and they hoped that I wouldnít do anything illegal. By that they meant advising people to go to Canada or Sweden. I never did.
Catt:This conscientious objection was still a viable way.
Bolef:Oh, yes, yes. Except perhaps in about Iíd say twenty percent of the cases the young men were able, mainly from California where they had refused to get on a plane to Vietnam. So that put me in an embarrassing position. The investigative agencies — letís see, I told the university what I was doing. I was a full professor, I had tenure. In retrospect I have been told this, in fact I have it written for my seventieth birthday people wrote things in a book for me that I was highly regarded for my morally conscientious stand against the war. They hesitated to make a case against me because of that.
Catt:And sure, that makes sense. There was a lot of other I donít say richer targets for them to go after, but your right, you are a full professor, you are a scientist.
Catt:You are not, you are not using violence you are using working within the system. What are you really doing wrong?
Bolef:I never committed a violent act. Except in the army. So yes, I think they were being — Later on actually I was accused within the university of committing a violent act, of being part of the group that burnt down the ROTC building which I had nothing to do with. What was I had a lot to do with because people who were influenced by what we said probably did, I have no direct evidence, but I personally had nothing to do with the act itself. It surprised me. And the university set up an in-house ??? for deciding whether students would be banished from the university or suspended, and also to judge whether the professors would be punished in some way. They couldnít leave me off the hook because I was too public, so they assigned the Dean of a law school to defend me. And I was exonerated.
Catt:One of the cases whose name may ring a bell, Jeffrey Schevitz, or Schepenheim?
Catt:Open sociology, every university has its tenure case that comes up, and of course and of course the person under question is usually very active and has taken an active role and Jeff Schevitz is one that actually listed as the point of contact for science for the people and it starts in a large view. But he gets denied tenure.
Bolef:Yes, Jeff left sort of peacefully. The man who didnít leave peacefully was his colleague in the socialized department, whose case became the most publicized case in the history of Washington University. Tenure denial. It went on for years, several years. He demanded a trial. There was an official trial, and the only one in my time at Washington University. He was a strong community activist, a great teacher, a very strong and outspoken man. The information on his case fills a whole book case in the library of Washington University. And he couldnít afford a lawyer, so he got people from the outside from around the country to come and help him, but he needed a lawyer right there in St. Louis, somebody who would support him publicly and at the trial. So he chose an experienced legal person from the physics department and myself, and used me to gain his points. Because he was he was his own lawyer except when we had to interrogate important people like the Dean or the head of the Department and when he turned to me and he said you do it. So he made me the fall guy. It was alright. Iíll tell you his name in a moment, it is a famous case. The most famous. Jeff left peacefully. This man did not leave peacefully. He became famous later on because he was black-balled in the entire University Community of the United States and Canada and could not get a job. So he retired in northern California homesteaded up there with his wife and four boys. And actually went back to the beginning of the nineteenth century and built his own house, lived what they grew on the land, refused to send their children to school, the children never attended public school, and then he suddenly hit the headlines because two of his children who had been educated entirely at home and never gone to public school, both of them adopted one who had been a native American, native birth, was accepted to Harvard University and got enormous publicity. Colfax was his name.
Bolef:And in my archives at Washington University, is the hidden story of the Dave Colfax trial, not the official archives which the university has down in the basement. Mine tell slightly differently than theirs archives. It wasnít a happy time for me because (you donít mind my using pejorative words) he was a real radical as compared to the mild kind I represent. And so he wasnít adverse to using people. And he used me.
Catt:Well, we are going to talk a lot more about Washington University and what was going on in a second. But you come to Wash U with tenure with the rank full professor, and immediately, if not immediately you become active in other issues in an around St. Louis leading up to the Colfax trial, which I believe is probably about Ď69, maybe Ď70. How were you being received in the physics department. First of all was there a jealousy that youíre coming in with tenure and then also you are starting to expend some energies in other areas besides physics. Were you keeping up with your research? If not was this putting pressure on you was there movements within the department to say we need to do something with professor BOLEF, because of this — heís not being credited upon but the department of physics. Did you ever feel, because you said besides this one graduate student and myself, we were the only two, quote unquote radicals in the department. Iím interested in the rapport you had with your colleagues.
Bolef:We going up a ratís nest.
Catt:Which we donít have to talk about.
Bolef:Oh yes, we can, Iím not adverse to that. Members of the department were not jealous of me when I first came for being appointed a full professor because they said I was desperately needed there science group had fallen down to a low level and they needed somebody to resuscitate it. Thatís why they brought me in for research and purposes they didnít care whether I could teach or not. And so when I got there two students immediately, two graduate students were half finished with their work in the areas immediately asked to be my students. And I took them on. One of them had three months of Westinghouse before I left and had worked there and learned the techniques. Another one I sent back to Westinghouse later on to learn how to grind and polish crystals because I had set up a crystal polishing effort there and could teach him how to do it. So that I put an enormous amount of time and energy into setting up an ultrasonics laboratory with the temperature of ultrasonic and nuclear acoustics resonance laboratory. And to be frank with you, for a period of time I was probably the most sought after professor in the department for photographic students. Soon after me, Bob Walker came and set up a space physics and he became the star of the physics department. He and I were friends, there was not jealousy there at all — I supported him one hundred percent and he supported me. But no, I was very happy as far as my position in the physics department was concerned. And remained active scientifically although much of my time was spent doing political things. But certainly I have to have brilliant students, extremely capable students, many of whom should have been left largely on their own to work because thatís the way they were best with encouragement from me. And the reason I got such good students throughout my time there from 1962 to Ď82 was because I didnít compete with them. Never did I take a discovery made by them and put my name first on a paper for it. They were always given the major credit for their discoveries. So that as you know as a graduate student that has more to do with whether you grants than anything else, whether you have a reputation for competing with your own students. I never did that. So I have thirteen graduate students while I was at Washington University which is not a huge number in twenty years but sufficient to make me feel good about. I could have had fifty, but I just didnít have any money grants or the time. And a number of students who came to me I turned over — I referred to a junior colleague of mine, name Ronald (K.) Sunders who is still there as a professor, who was my research associate. When I first came in, he was from Cornell and very fine, capable experimentalist who went into my field whole heartedly. So that to get back to your question. I was asked to run at least for a membership in some of the leading committees on campus, including a Senate Council, which essentially was the leading faculty administration group on campus. A very strong democratic group had advised the Chancellor. The Chancellor did not sit in on the Senate Council meeting but the Deans did. I was a member of the Senate Council, I was a member of other leading committees on campus because when I came here I was a full professor and I had no enemies. So that made it automatic that I would be a full tenure. Within five years, four or five years, as a result of my activities, word was passed (and I know this because I have friends who could tell me this), word was passed never again would Dan Bolef ever be a member of any committee at Washington University. And I never was after that 1972 or 3. So that the University attitude to me was clear and resulted from my outspoken support of the students and their protest against the war and against the ROTC on campus. Within the department, students and technicians and even secretaries would come up to me and say, ďDr. Bolef, or Dan, why do you feel so strongly about this?Ē they would ask me. And I would try to educate them and I would try to spend time with them. Some would respect me others would not, one professor, a very [???] professor, hated me to the point that if I were on an elevator and we would stop a floor and he would want to get on and if he saw me in there he wouldnít get on; he refused to be in the same elevator with me. There were other attitudes he took that way even worse. For example, I once had to go into his room, into his office for some reason and found him throwing darts at a target on the wall, a large cork target. The target was covered with a large, and enlarged photograph, not of me fortunately but of Barry Commoner. He was throwing darts at Barry Commoner. Anyway, that didnít make me very happy. I wasnít popular with him. One of the physicists ended up being an associate Chancellor at the University, and we would be at Gordon Conferences together, as we in the same field, and in fact he had hired me.
Catt:This wasnít George Pake was it?
Bolef:This was George Pake. And George who is a fine, fine man, I mean really a good person, but his political views were quite different than mine. He came up to me after one meeting that I chaired at the Gordon Conference and said Dan, you do such damn good physics. Why donít you stick to it instead of destroying the university. Do you know that you probably cost the university a hundred million dollars so far? He was exaggerating. Donations he meant. So that unspoken attitudes like that he happened to speak it because he was, he knew that I respected him, and he could say it without our friendship being affected, but Iím sure that behind the scenes that was a predominant attitude.
Catt:I take it you were never — were you ever chair of a department?
Bolef:No, no possibility.
Catt:Was there ever an effort, even though you had tenure, to have you dismissed? Itís rare even those efforts would take place, but at this time?
Bolef:Yes, but let me described them. First of all, to finish up this department, I did get poison pen letters, and mostly from physics graduate students, several. I have one of them up stairs still. They were so crude and filthy that it was difficult to comprehend. Hatred to the point of almost sounding demented. There were a number of letters to the editor, both of the local newspaper and of the campus newspaper, especially the campus newspaper, signed by senior people of the Washington University community. I remember a particular biologist not Barry Commoner, darn it, a biologist who said, and in this particular letter she, said canít the university get rid of this idiot who is trying to destroy the university? Just put him on trial and throw him out of the university. That I think was a very common attitude among the member of faculty who felt their grants threatened. This particular incident happened after I publicly in a speech at the medical school to a group of medical students and physicians who were concerned about the war, in a speech in which I renounced my military funding. Like all physicists, I had gotten funds from any group that would give me funds. Among them were the AFOSR, ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency). Those two come to mind. ARPA and AFOSR. And I said that I was giving up those grants and never take money from a military source. And the humor generated by at that — sarcasm and humor, mostly sarcasm, generated by that speech probably outweighs everything else I have ever said because nationwide I have clippings from the Atlanta Constitution and other newspapers making fun of this odd professor who was biting the hand that feeds him. Anyway when something like that went.
Bolef:In the introduction to it I supported the MIT students who had put out, when was that—
Catt:1969, that was the March 4 [???] ?
Bolef:Thatís right, thatís right. I supported them, and it was in support of them that I made the speech and gave up my grant money. I have to say that I wasnít losing all that much because my main support always had been like eighty to ninety percent of it had been the National Science Foundation. But as a footnote please let me say that in many of my speeches and my writings I have carefully tried to make no distinction between NSF and the others. Namely in retrospect I feel in getting support taking support from the government from any agency is almost the equivalent of supporting the Vietnam military effort. So on that naive enough to think that that I was that my act was a heroic act. In many ways a true radical (pardon the expressions) can say this guy was playing games, namely I was playing games by giving up a small portion of my military money because NSF the distinction was very, very unclear between the NSF and the others. Tenuous is a better word.
Catt:We are still talking about Wash U.
Bolef:The effort to get me dismissed or be put up on charges for some reason failed, I think part of the reason failed is, if you donít mind my saying it, I was too popular on campus. I was a popular figure not only among students, but even among some of the faculty. Iíll give you one example of which I am very proud of. The head of the German Department a very famous scholar named Egon Schwarz. He was not as outspoken as I but he obviously felt the same way I did, he just didnít act in the same ways that I did. One day at a faculty meeting I had just offered a motion on which on which a vote was being taken. I had forgotten the exact motion but it had to do with faculty attitudes towards ROTC. And as the Dean was saying all of those in favor say of Dan Bolefís motion. Egon Schwarz walked into the room he was late as he walked into the room he raised his hand, and everybody in the room laughed but thatís the sort of compliment that I could receive from good people like Egon Schwarz. So I think that I was popular enough the University was a little loath to take me on.
Catt:And plus you were, as Professor Pake had already mentioned to you, you were doing good work, you were doing good research, you were producing students.
Bolef:Actually, I produced more students than any other professor in the physics department, except for perhaps Bob Walker.
Catt:So scholarly you were doing well, letís say and also at this time, an issue thatís getting thrown around, really being pressed is the notion of academic freedom. Here you are, at university. What is the hallmark, the cornerstone of the university is academic freedom, and what are you doing, you are exercising that by merging your politics with your science, letís say if I can say itís.
Bolef:Pat, Iím sure Iím sure you are giving the main reason for why I wasnít harassed more than I was. By the way I never put pressure on my students. I was always open with them as to what my attitudes were and I still remember Bob Melcher, who ended up being an executive at IBM and a very well-known physicist, I still remember Bob Melcher, one of my most brilliant graduate students, questioning me about my attitudes toward Vietnam. And then one day he had to go off to the roof of the physics building and put up an antenna for one of his experiments. And about a week later one of the technicians came down and was laughing, and I asked him what he was laughing about, he said, ďDan, you know what that Bob did?Ē I said no. He said, ďHe spent time and wrapped that antennae into his I the form of a peace symbol.Ē So I thought that very good about that. I thought that was the only political act that Bob ever committed.
Catt:Thatís taking it to a different level.
Bolef:He wasnít trying to carry favor with me.
Catt:I wonder if he got the same results experimentally that he was hoping for. How did he explain that nominally?
Bolef:Iím not sure.
Catt:Okay, yeah, the dismissal — Iím sure Iíve heard — Iím sure that was there, because of what you were saying, in what you were doing, just a few movements were going on at the time, and that of course you can pick these up and talk more specifically. But did you ever join the New University Conference or was there ever a movement at Wash U to have a radical faculty caucus, letís say a radical faculty college, an institution or an organization where a radical members like yourself could come together and have some solidarity? I now University Conference at Chicago is promoting this view that there is enough of out there that it could be a viable force.
Bolef:We did that through another medium. Pat, whenever any of these possibilities came up, including the University Conference, and the whatís the group at MIT?
Catt:Union of Concerned Scientist.
Bolef:Union of Concerned Scientist, the strike that they called. Whenever these came up they were always certain number of faculty especially in sociology, philosophy.
Catt:History. I know there was Mark Selden.
Bolef:Who supported and played a role in that. Biology, Garland Allen for example. Somehow they never lasted long, until a man named William Sloane Coffin, a prominent minister from New York visited us and gave a talk. And he said, ďYou know, what this university needs is what has been initiated and set up in some other campuses in the east — a committee to support resistance.Ē To coordinate with the local people and with the students with the community groups and support resistance against the Vietnam War. And he was absolutely up front and honest as to what these groups did. They were independent and they related to resist and Cambridge. And somehow that rang a bell which ended up being a long-lasting organization known as the St. Louis Committee to Support Resistance for at least ten years. And it was in that that I was most active. And there were other faculty who were very active in it. Dick Hazelton in the English department was most notable. Gerald Martin in the English department, who was denied tenure. Two of my good friends in the lawsuit department; I will think of their names. Gar(land) Allen in biology. There was a nucleus of faculty who was mainly run by students and community people with faculty helping out where we could. It was under that group that I did my GI counseling. It was that group that group that set up the draft counseling. The St. Louis Committee to Support Resistance happened to be in St. Louis, the group that united community students and faculty. At least a half a dozen faculty.
Catt:So there was never an agency presence.
Bolef:So far as I know, it was never a long lasting chapter of group as you see them.
Catt:Were you opposed to NUC, or did you just think that —
Bolef:No, not that I supported and corresponded with people involved in. Itís just that we had so much energy and time.
Catt:When you say joined, itísÖ?
Catt:Organized. Again, probably not a great big shock to you are a conservative or I want to say thatís too loaded, but your faculty your peers, your colleagues, and thatís, ďOh geeze, here goes Dan doing something else again.Ē
Bolef:Yeah, they were worried about me and cast dispersions from the time I was spending there. But I kept probably too I published something in eighty papers in my time at Washington University, and was nominated for a number of national organizations. So that I think itís not that I was untouchable but that I was productive enough that they didnít have a good reason. But a different reason was that there was only one department chairman in all the years I was Washington University in the physics department. Only one. Same department chairman for twenty years. He was an extraordinary named Richard Norbury who happened to be in my field, a more related field. Who supported in the Vietnam War one hundred percent, except that all the military money he could get encouraged to get more military money. Thought I was a nut. And supported me one hundred percent, that it is my right to do the things I did. Just an extraordinary person. His daughter and son, one son, became converts to me, not to him, in their point of view and became strong activists. Heís still around he is still doing physics. Heís not head of the department he is still as fine a person as he was then. The reason I was most detested by the administration was that when the new Chancellor Danforth came in and tried to occupy his office, he found it occupied by the Black students who protested their treatment on campus, and part the Vietnam War, but mainly their treatment on campus, discrimination and so on. There were several junior professors who joined them non-tenured professors who joined in on the sitting, but there was only one tenured professor there, and that was I. And thatís probably why he hates more than anything else because he physically tried to get into his office. Bill Danforth and I on the surface were friends and talked to each other, but I know he resented that betrayal by me that I was there in his office, supporting the Black students.
Catt:You mentioned that Rennie Davis was the —
Bolef:Rennie Davis was the one in Chicago.
Catt:Well, this again, is a talking about impressions, involvement, and actions. To the new left, the students were democratic society, this whole student movement in general that starts to pick up in Ď65. What were your impressions on that? Because on one hand as a faculty member, your job is to teach and so you expect some system — I donít want to say a discipline, but values from students that have come. I mean Washington University as a private university not a state university, so there are distinctions there. It has an academic reputation as being a leader in the country, and so you have students who are coming to Wash U, you would think primarily, for education. At the same time the events, the political events, the social events of the time were starting to pull attention away from that objective of the university.
Bolef:I supported and enjoyed the political activist, the protest activities of groups like the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), and the Du Bois Club, which was to the left of the SDS on campus. And especially a group called Students for Peace, which was partially Quaker sponsored group. The man who was most active in it has become a famous historian, heís at Rutgers University. I forgot his name for a moment. But a very, very fine person. I knew all of the SDS leaders and related to them, and attended some of their open meetings. And in retrospect, and in partly even then, found them in part, not a large part but in part, disgusting. The SDS leadership was one thousand percent male. They were loud, boisterous, loved to orate. Treated women like chattels. I didnít relate to the group very well at all. To the individuals I did, but not to the group. So that Washington University at least, the SDS had no official support, but I didnít spend much time with them or work with them particularly. Unfortunately — well fortunately, they were the initiators of larger student anti-Vietnam movement took over. You may have heard this from Gar and others, but the main meeting place there Holmes Lounge, students would meet like five hundred students and have open discussion of what to do about the War, what sort of demonstrations they would support. And it was open to anybody, university people to come in, I would come in a listen, so that that activity was superb, it was democratic, anybody could get up and talk, and it was dominated by any small group like the SDS. It had gotten too big for them. I did not have much to with the SDS as an origination group, I am looking for the name of the person who I saw it here, I chaired most of those Holmes Lounge meetings. As many of them were women as men in the Holmes Lounge meeting, so it was a very nonsexist democratic group of people.
Catt:Which are you talking about women, womenís liberation is really starting to take off about Ď67, Ď68.
Bolef:I guess so. It took a long time to hit the Washington University. And so that in those days that you are talking about, Ď67 to Ď73, I wasnít too aware of womenís liberation. On the other hand, there were wonderful models of women. They were both on the faculty among the students, but off campus in the Womenís International League for Peace and Freedom, so that I am not surprised that you say that. The outstanding woman on campus that comes to mind is Evelyn Hu-de Hart. She was married to Dean de Hart. Sheís now head of a large institute in the University of Colorado in Boulder, but she was a member of the history department with Mark Selden. And she was also head of the womenís studies later on. So Evelyn and I were close friends. So I know there were women like her there. There were others who come to mind.
Catt:And the Black Power movement, the Black Panthers, weíve talked a little bit off the record.
Bolef:Yes, I was active with the Black Power movement in particular with the movement called ACTION, all capitals, which was formed by Percy Green, a local St. Louis activist, Black activist, who had been fired by McDonnell Douglas. And that was a very democratic open effective group of people which remained a Black movement but received strong support from a number of Whites, especially from White Catholic Sisters, who chained themselves to the department doors, to demonstrate their support for Percy Green. And I spent a lot of time helping in ways that they asked me to help, that particular group of people. Draft counseling, bail bonds, etc.
Catt:Again this could be another source of I wonít say reprises of recrimination against you. Missouri is not seen or can be seen as a southern almost state in some ways where the race issue really can become more pushed to the forefront than say in California or in Massachusetts. The further south you go, it becomes more of a volatile issue. And here you are, you are not making too many friends by your activism against the War, and now you are coming seemingly active in this.
Bolef:Thatís right, I think they thought that Iíve went off the cliff on that one. And what you are saying must I think—
Catt:And now because you are starting to — itís not just a university academic subject anymore, you are expanding your activism.
Bolef:Thatís how they got Dave Colfax. On that basis that he went out in the community and essentially became a strong supporter and coordinator of black womenís groups. And they told him that didnít qualify him to become a tenured sociology professor. So you are actually right. I was already tenured so they couldnít. But they got Colfax mainly on his Black support activities in the community.
Catt:Black Pantherís, we talked a little bit about them.
Bolef:Black Pantherís, I donít remember working with Black Panthers except when they visited to help the local groups. But I had mentioned to you privately before a number of students about five or six including a biology graduate student named David Aronowitsch, went to Chicago and became active with the Black Panthers and called us, called me and Gar whenever they needed support, and we tried to be that support.
Catt:The next question deals with anti-war activities. Weíve been talking about your counseling, but letís talk a little bit about ROTC because this is a situation that goes on in Washington University. I guess first of all, why were you so opposed — or were you opposed to ROTC on campus and is so, why? And then if you could just elaborate or discuss some of the efforts in history behind it.
Bolef:I mentioned to you that I was an ROTC member at Penn State, voluntarily, and used that training to get purpose when I went into the infantry in World War II. Students were opposed to ROTC strongly because they felt this was Washington Universityís contribution to the Vietnam War. When we looked to the DOD, we got back students that just got back a response that something like (Iím guessing now because of my memory) something like seventy to eighty percent of all the Second Lieutenants sent to Vietnam came out of ROTC. I may be wrong on this, but that is the figures I remember. So at that time, the students had had the right to say that the universities were contributing strongly to the Vietnam War. I came at it — I supported them in that, but personally within my complex reasoning, I came up — one reason was hypocrisy. I was still in the Senate Counsel; my term hadnít expired. I resigned two days after this episode. I was still in the senate counsel, and some members of the senate counsel drafted a resolution strongly condemning students for a rioting, which means gathering together in the Quadrangle to protest the Vietnam War. There was no damage to the University, it was just an unauthorized gathering. And they drew up a resolution strongly condemning them, and proposing that five or seven of the students be expelled, including Steve Graham, one of my best friends. I came prepared with the resolution which said I am against violence, just as you are, those that drew up that resolution. Therefore, I trust you will also support this resolution which was a resolution condemning ROTC on campus and the contribution we were making to supporting the Vietnam War. So I introduced the resolution saying that the ROTC should be shut down on campus because of the violence that we were contributing to the Vietnam War and the killing of Vietnamese and Americans. They adjourned the meeting, but fortunately there was a faculty meeting the next day and that was when I publicly proposed my resolution. So it was more my reaction to the hypocrisy of claiming that the students had been violent and they have to be expelled, some of them have to be expelled, when their violence if anything was minor was compared to what I felt we were contributing in by producing officers from ROTC for Vietnam. So I was driven part by that. The students had preceded me by a lot in the opposition to ROTC
Catt:And you had given speeches I guess?
Bolef:Oh I had been giving — I was speaking supporting — In the Holmes Lounge for example, supporting the students in the opposition to ROTC. And when the senate counsel refused to deal with the issue at all, even had a vote on it, on my resolution to vote, I resigned from the senate counsel and never again served on a committee at Washington University. I resigned publicly. I wrote a letter to the student newspaper.
Catt:And just for our purposes, this is all happening 1970, I believe? So the chronology of what weíre looking at was 1970 regarding the protest. Now we had a point about— (Note: Prof. Bolef is referring to Cindy Glover, ďWashington University from 1968-1971: Hotbed of Radical Antiwar and Civil Rights Activism,Ē Washington University Student Life, 104 (14 September 1993), on p. 3.)
Bolef:Yes Rennie Davis was invited by SDS and students in general, who werenít being used by SDS. It was a large group of students who had been meeting in Holmes Lounge, where it says that White protesters here left Brookings to occupy Holmes Lounge. Thatís misleading because Holmes Lounge was an open area which is open to all students. And itís true that the students would go in 300 or 400 of them and in an orderly way to conduct a meeting so that other students couldnít use the lounge, thatís true. But it was occupied just like I would I would occupy if I went in and sat on a sofa and read a book. So it wasnít occupied in a violent way. After a series of meetings in Holmes Lounge, the student group who werenít being manipulated it was a very democratic organization usually the chair person that was almost Terry, his last name I forget, or his woman friend, his lady friend, whom I first name I forget also was Terry was an excellentÖ On March 22, 1970, the inscription in Student Life resume [?] 1993 is incorrect until March 22, because it says that the students, roughly 150, then proceeded to the ROTC building on the west end of campus. Demonstrators threw rocks and chanted while helmeted police officers tried to disburse the crowd. Five students were arrested. I was there throughout that part of it at least, and what happened is that demonstrators, many more than 150, gathered at the ROTC building on Big Bend and 5th Avenue on the northwest corner of Washington University campus and protested. There were speeches, there was shouting, there was chanting. I personally did not see any rocks thrown, either at the building or at the police. Then the Clayton police showed up, not the campus police, the Clayton Police, in helmets and riot gear with batons. A large number of them and ahead of the police, de Salvio, said he would give the students five minutes to disperse or else he would arrest them. Most of them were on university property, a few were on the side walk of Bid Bend, a few may have been on the street. Within thirty seconds to a minute after de Salvio made that announcement, the police pulled down their helmets, raised their clubs and raided into the crowd of students and started beating. Not five minutes, but in a few seconds. Steve Graham grabbed me and took me physically into the campus up the stairs away from the crowd. And that was when the famous episode of the graduate student Bob Zeffert, was beat on the head. Bob Zeffert was beat on the head. He was not an activist. He had never taken part in any of the demonstrations, he had not been in Brookings that day, he was just an observer. Was beat on the head so that he had to be hospitalized. That made him a radical. But it was a police riot in my mind rather than a student riot right there at the ROTC building. So thatís the demonstration I remember. I donít remember or wasnít at the demonstration at which 3000 people cheered the burning of the — yes, I wasnít at that, I assume that is correct.
Catt:That was the May 5th, 1970, at Kent State.
Bolef:Yeah, I do knowÖI do know, and so does the University, that a small group of people met in an apartment late the previous night, decided that the aiding and abetting of the police riot by the University deserved some response. I wasnít there, but deserved some response, and went out and burned down the ROTC building in the wee hours of the morning. And my own impression is that the Black student who was jailed for five or ten years, the young Black man from St. Louis who had had nothing to do wasnít at this meeting and planning and he may have shown either by accident or because he had heard about it, but wasnít responsible for it. But he was jailed for it. He was a scape goat. Thatís my own impression.
Catt:What was your reaction to Kent State and to Jackson State?
Bolef:We were furious at what had been done to the students. And I think this triggered off a great deal of resentment and desire to do something equivalent. What I did personally after I came on the scene at one of the riots, I think it was the March 22 riot, when the police were harassing and arresting students, what I did was get to my car and I drove around the perimeter of the University, down Forsythe, Steinker, Forest Park, and down Big Bend with Steve Graham in the car with me, and we picked up any students who flagged us down because they were fearful of getting arrested and we took them home. Thatís what I did.
Catt:And non-violence was your credo at that time, and all of a sudden now, war this is when the war people start talking about the war being brought home.
Bolef:I think the students were nonviolent until the police moved in on them. The burning down of the building I think was a reaction to Kent State and Jackson State.
Catt:How did you view this violence on campus? I mean obviously you —
Bolef:Oh, as I said before Iím a great admirer of Daniel Berrigan. He said it much better than I. He said we are damaging property, we are not killing people. He made a not a fine, but a pertinent and gross distinction between damaging property like secto service files, or later in my mind the ROTC buildings, where no people were killed or hurt even, except by the police later on. And killing people. And so my nonviolence did not extend to nonviolence to property.
Catt:In 1970, in April as a matter of fact, probably less than two weeks later, the bombing of the Army Math Research center at Madison Wisconsin, and you have a string of bombings at scientific institutions. You have some at Stanford, you have some at Harvard. This is getting at my question of one of the hall marks of the student movement.
Bolef:Yeah, I feel there is a distinction between damaging property, but only if it doesnít involve injuring people. And the bombings are gross ways of protesting because it is essentially imitating those whom you are protesting against. So that I never, never approved of bombing of the Wisconsin Center, especially since anybody notice that guards there work all hours of the night. That was a gross, indecent, stupid thing to do, and illustrates the fact that it is so easy for those who protest violence to fall into the same crime of committing violence. It is the easiest thing in the world. Especially for men.
Catt:In 1970 is when the vote comes for ROTC, the faculty vote. Could you describe that a little bit?
Bolef:Well, because of the student demands largely, not my own activities which would support them, but because of the strong student demands for demonstrations, a vote was taken by the faculty to — as I remember was a liberal arts faculty.
Bolef:On the entire faculty, Engelhardís faculty.
Bolef:Right. And according to this resume in Student Life, the vote was a 150 to 60 to terminate all ROTC activities on the Washington University campus as of June 30, 1970. If that happened, as I assume it did, it didnít last long, because after a few years, the — Oh, hereís the key point. — The faculty of Arts and Science has voted 150 to 60 terminate (quote) ďto terminate all ROTC activities on the Washington University campus as of June 30, 1970.Ē You should know, Pat, that to get home from Washington University, to walk home I had to cross Forest Park Blvd. and walk down two blocks of street then I was home. At the corner of Forest Park and the street I walked down is a building off campus which became the ROTC headquarters.
Catt:I remember walking by it.
Bolef:So I lived two blocks over, I passed it every day. So I know that we won, I know the students won that battle. Thatís being sarcastic.
Catt:Was this the meeting that Gar Allen stood up and relinquished his five minutes to you?
Bolef:I think it was; I wonít swear by it. I think it was. It was a beautiful movement, I have always treasured him for doing that. Because the Dean (or Chancellor ratherÖno, Dean), the Dean refused to look in my direction he stayed look at the other half of the group and Gar Allen noting that I kept my hand up all the time, was called and yielded to me and I was able to move the resolution. But it wasnít like that. It was a student doing that.
Catt:And you were just — yes. Which gets me back to talking about the new left or the student movement and counter culture, I donít know if you can equate the two, but the view of if you donít trust anyone over thirty, i.e. someone who is mature, and also the reviews on science and technology and here you are in sympathy acting with these organizations acting with the movement in certain ways. But now when they start to react against science and technology in other words saying itís an institution itís controlled by the government by the establishment, that put you in a dilemma, because on the one hand you may have agreed with the general aims, but now when they start talking about the use of science and technology or those within it, it becomes a little more personal. How did you handle that? Or was that issue ever raised for you?
Oh I think it was raised for me. First of all the committee supports resistance in general. Students of course were part of the masses here, thatís a part of that. But the group I work with consisted of community people especially some faculty and by not stretch of the imagination could you call that group a new left group. They were anti-war, anti-Vietnam War, in particular very community oriented wanted to educate —
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