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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Gleb B. Udintsev

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Interview with Dr. Gleb B. Udintsev
By Lynn Visson
August 4, 1997

 
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Gleb Udintsev; August 4, 1997

ABSTRACT: Family background and early education; military service (1941-1945); Moscow University (1940-1941, 1946-1949); Moscow University graduate school (1949-1952); Institute of Oceanology (1946-1976); International Geophysical Year (IGY); Institute of the Physics of the Earth (1976-1986); Geological Institute (1986-1992); V. 1. Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry (1992- ); life in Soviet Russia and after perestroika; funding sources for his research; problems with development of technology in Russia; political and ideological influences on research and publication; problems with his visa and travel restrictions; interaction with foreign colleagues, including W. Maurice Ewing, Roger Revelle, John Ewing, Bruce Heezen, Marie Tharp, Russell Raitt.

Transcript

Session I | Session II | Session III | Session IV | Session V | Session VI

Interviews conducted in Russian and translated by Dr. Lynn Visson. All text is translated from the Russian unless otherwise indicated.

Visson:

(in English): Continuation of interview with Gleb Udintsev, Monday, August. 4, 1997, by Lynn Visson. (Resumes in Russian): When we were winding up our talk on Saturday, you were talking about Lamont and were comparing it with other American institutions. What was so particularly attractive about Lamont as compared to Scripps or other American institutions?

Udintsev:

If you compare, then work on the topography of the ocean floor and its structure, the study of the origin of the topography, the most interesting work I think was at Lamont Observatory. Here of course an enormous role is played by people's personal abilities; and here in that work on geomorphology, on describing the topography and analyzing its origin, Bruce Heezen was the most outstanding individual. I think there was no comparable person at Woods Hole. At Scripps there was a major scientist, Menard, but at some point he started an administrative career and went off to the Geological Survey; he was its director.

Visson:

What were your contacts with him?

Udintsev:

Good, and he often helped me when necessary. We were on good terms. When he became fatally ill, and had a month to live, he sent me, as one of the people closest to him, a letter of farewell. I very much cherished his attitude to me. I should say that though I had colleagues at Scripps and Woods Hole, but those who were at Lamont were closer to be both in terms of their field of specialization and their general interest and character. I was on very good terms and got a lot of help from the director of the Scripps Institute, Roger Revell. But soon after I met him he left that post and began heading — that was unexpected for me — an institute of demography, then left California. And I don’t have any relations with the new director, Professor Nierenberg. At Lamont, Maurice Ewing, with whom I was on very good terms, and who was interesting and nice, stayed there for a long time.

Visson:

In what ways was he interesting and nice?

Udintsev:

He was a scientist with a wide range of interests, an oceanographer who was also an outstanding specialist in geophysics, and a very open, kind person who was interesting to deal with. At Woods Hole there was no such specialist who would have attracted me at the time, or close to my field. Of course, at Scripps there were very interesting people, such as Victor Vaquier in magnetometry. There was Jim Hertzler at Lamont. It is hard to say who was more interesting for me, but in magnetometry probably Victor Vaquier, though that’s not the field closest to me. And in topography Bruce Heezen was of course the most interesting person. On seismic studies Russell Raitt at Scripps was of great interest to me, and he was a wonderful person, unusually kind, erudite, incredibly well read in all fields, highly cultured.

Visson:

I believe you attended his 85th birthday party in 1992?

Udintsev:

Yes, I did. I was then invited by the director of Scripps and it was a wonderful occasion, because all the people who had played a major role in science of those years when I was young were there. All the starts of those constellations which were then in the sky. That was very interesting. But I repeat, Bruce Heezen at Lamont was closest of all to me. And in terms of his way of thinking, Maurice Ewing’s younger brother John Ewing. Most importantly, he began — was the initiator — of the field closest to me, the idea of the interpretation of topography of the ocean floor as a reflection of the structure of the ocean floor; the origin of the ocean floor was evident that way, which at that time did not yet exist at Scripps or Woods Hole. So contacts with those two people, my contemporaries — though Maurice Ewing was older — Bruce Heezen and John Ewing were my contemporaries were easy. Russell Raitt was somewhat older — significantly older than I, so contacts with him were very interesting. But that was a somewhat different area. Probably the closest person to Russell Raitt among the Russian scientists was Irina Petrovna Kosminskaya. Their interests were closer. Irina Petrovna was also my friend, so we met together with Russell. He also participated in our expeditions. Bruce Heezen was a very well educated person. He knew literature very well — American and European and Russian. He loved art.

Visson:

Did he read in translation, or did he know languages?

Udintsev:

No, he read in translation. He knew the decorative arts well. It was very interesting to go to museums with him, and I went with him to museums in New York. He gave me very interesting recommendations regarding other American museums; we went to art museums in London together, and when he was in Moscow and Petersburg we also did that. So those were all reasons why Lamont was the most interesting institution for me, though Scripps was right behind it.

Visson:

What could the Russian scientists get from Lamont?

Udintsev:

Having our started our work on the oceans in the postwar years, we lagged far behind in the geophysical methods and in research techniques, since during the war the major area for the development of military technology had been to provide for land operations in Russia. For the US and the British, however, a very important role was played by military operations at sea. Therefore the marine military technology which was developed in those countries was the basis for the development of marine geophysics. And we didn’t have that. For that reason the technology which my foreign colleagues had was new and very interesting for me. Of course, it was impossible to simply get it. We didn’t have the money to acquire that technology. And it was by no means possible to acquire all of that technology because of the restrictions which were imposed. There was a specific list — I forgot what it was called — from which many devices could not be sold to the Soviet Union.

Visson:

Could you take with you to Russia some prototypes or examples of Western instruments?

Udintsev:

No, I couldn’t, of course. But I could get to see them, but seeing them didn’t allow for a precise reproduction of them. But I was able to get some ideas of how to create these instruments. The conditions for the development of research technology in Russia and in the West differed sharply.

Visson:

How?

Udintsev:

In the West scientists could acquire ready-made finished instruments, produced by a whole series of firms. For example, there was a wonderful firm — (tape ends).

Visson:

What was the name of that firm?

Udintsev:

Edgerton, Germeshausen and Grier. The head of that firm was an important inventor, Harold Edgerton, whom I later met, and became friends with him. He participated in our expeditions and came to Russia. He was glad to give advice — without, of course, revealing any secrets. That was out of the question. But he helped with advice. That was important. In producing our instruments, we were helped by the fact that we had a lot of capable people among our colleagues, who could make a good instrument from a heap of iron.

Visson:

Were there cases when Soviet instruments were used in the West?

Udintsev:

No. But sometimes our instruments appeared earlier than the ones in the West. That happened with the instrument invented by Lev Nikolaevich Rykunov, a geophysicist at Moscow university. He invented an excellent ocean bottom seismograph (OBS). When we used it — that was on my first expedition, when I was the chief of expedition in the Indian Ocean, Western scientists didn't yet have such a device, and didn't for several years. So sometimes we were ahead of them. But for the most part we were following in the footsteps of our western partners, but often created more felicitous things. A great achievement in the development of seismic profiling was the invention by John Ewing of an air gun which produces acoustic signals. John Ewing described that air gun, and before we saw it we acquired a copy of that gun made by the Japanese. We tried to work with it, and realized that it had weaknesses. Then our technical people literally out of nothing produced a better version. We later showed it to John Ewing and he was delighted and thought it was a very clever solution. So our skilled craftsmen were able to do a lot, to make instruments out of nothing. The problem was always in repeating that, in making several copies of it. That was always a big problem, because we didn't have such well-equipped workshops as the kind in Lamont or Woods Hole or Scripps. Our working conditions were worse. Nevertheless, we managed to do that. I think that here Russian science showed its ability to be on a world level.

Visson:

You mentioned the difference between the difference in approaches to the development of geophysics and science during the war, i.e. the land approach in Russia and stress on the sea in the West. Generally speaking, how would you compare Soviet and American approaches to geophysics and to geophysical research?

Udintsev:

I think that the general approach was the same. There, and in our country, we shared the same general problems. Therefore, having the possibility to know well everything published in the West, we of course followed the same paths ... Sometimes there was a more original formulation of a question, or it was done on a different scale. During the IGY in setting up seismic experiments in the Far East we outstripped the US. At that time the US had a more fragmented approach to the space of the oceans. In our country things were more tightly focused and we had great success.

Visson:

In talking about Lamont you indicated that there had been some kind of joint publications.

Udintsev:

Yes, we had some joint publications, but unfortunately not with Lamont. The leaders of Lamont didn’t invite me on their expeditions.

Visson:

Why?

Udintsev:

I don’t want to reproach them for the wrong reason. The problem was that Lamont’s ship was constantly sailing somewhere. And we had our problems in getting to “somewhere.” Money. Money for air fare, on an airline other than Aeroflot, because of the inconvertibility of the Russian ruble. If, say, Scripps invited me to go on an expedition leaving and returning from the point of La Jolla that 'was all simple. If Lamont had invited me on an expedition leaving from New York and returning to New York — but that didn’t happen, because the ship was always somewhere. And we didn’t have the hard currency for that air fare, to get there. I could fly Aeroflot to somewhere.

Visson:

Who gave you the money for all this?

Udintsev:

The Academy of Sciences. So I didn’t go on any Lamont expeditions, but I did with Scripps, and I had a joint publication with Dick Herzen. Then, when I invited foreign scientists on my expeditions, we often published together. For example, I invited an American scientist, John Hall, from Narragansett, from the University of Rhode Island. We had a joint publication. I have publications with German scientists. It’s hard to remember all of them... One of the important joint publications was the general bathymetric map of the ocean, an international project. We participated in that with Bruce Heezen, who recommended me for that project. Prior to that I hadn’t been involved in it. So all of those maps were jointly done.

Visson:

How would you compared the development of American and Russian cartography?

Udintsev:

It’s a field in which each country tries to maintain international standards, so there are no particular distinctions. But the difference was that in Russian cartography labor was always paid less than it was abroad. That explains that it was quite easy for me to organize a rather large project to produce the international geological-geophysical atlases of the oceans. In western countries the publications of those atlases would have been phenomenally expensive. In our country, because of the low pay for work — our work and that of the cartographers — it was possible to do that.

Visson:

In what publishing houses did you publish your works?

Udintsev:

First of all, in the publishing house of the Academy of Sciences, which published a lot. There were also journals of the Academy of Sciences.

Visson:

Did the journals pay for those articles?

Udintsev:

No, our journals never did. In absolutely exceptional cases it was possible to get a fee. Although, in more popular journals, such as Priroda (Nature: LV), they always paid. In purely scientific journals they only paid Academicians, and even then, not always.

Visson:

What did you have to do to get an article published? Or a book?

Udintsev:

Every journal has an editorial staff, which has to approve it. They may send it for review by experts, and the experts need to give a positive review.

Visson:

Were there problems here?

Udintsev:

Of course, there were. You don't always express the point of view the expert likes, he might write a negative review... But somehow it was possible to publish. I didn't have any particular difficulties. Twice, I had problems with publication in America. Once I gave an article to a memorial volume for Bill Menard in which I had been invited to participate, but the expert gave a negative review and my article was not included. Another time I wrote an article for an anthology on the results of the studies of the Indian Ocean, and the expert also gave a negative review. In those cases they didn't like the fact that by that time I had already abandoned the concept of the tectonics of lithospheric plates. At one point in the past, together with a group of American scientists I had participated in a cruise of the drilling ship Glomar Challenger on the Deep Sea Drilling Project. I was the co-chief of the expedition; it was in Iceland, where weld worked a lot. My partner, the American co-chief, was Manik Talwani. He's my good friend, I have great respect for him. He's a major scholar. And like the majority of the American scientists, he was for the theory of the tectonics of lithospheric plates. We argued a lot on that subject. That was in 1974. By that time I was very critical about that concept. We argued a lot, so much that we didn't speak to each other for three days — we were sharing a cabin. It was a purely scientific argument. But, nevertheless we found a common language and worked together very well. After that expedition we published together several articles on that subject, in which I tried not to engage in particular arguments. My scientific position and my position in general in life - is that you should have respect for the position of your partners, of your interlocutors, If someone holds to a point of view he has some grounds for that. I can try to explain another point of view, demonstrate grounds, but I don't have the right to dispute it.

Visson:

Do you think that situation regarding scientific publications in Russia after the collapse of the USSR?

Udintsev:

Yes. It changed drastically.

Visson:

How?

Udintsev:

Formerly, we published — we didn't get honoraria — but we published for free. And now you can only publish if you pay.

Visson:

In scientific journals?

Udintsev:

No, you can still publish for free in a scientific journal. But it's impossible to publish a book for free and publishing a book is extremely expensive. Therefore, though I have manuscripts, ready for publication, I can't publish them. Unfortunately they're aging...if I get some money — one can get funds, but you have to put a lot of effort into getting funds, and do that when the manuscript is all finished, has been through peer review — then you can get funds, but so far live been unable to do that. And it's free in journals, but since there are less books being published, there's a long wait for the journals. For example, the journal I know well Okeanologiia (Oceanography: LV), there's a two-year wait for publication there.

Visson:

Two years?

Udintsev:

Two years. You can publish fastest in the journal Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences, — short notes, if they are focused and to the point — state your idea — that can be published within one year. And there are journals which don't have enough publications. Right before I left, a friend of mine who's the editor of a journal, and I hadn't though it was possible to publish there, he suggested that I give him something.

Visson:

What journal was that?

Udintsev:

Volcanology and Seismology.

Visson:

Why are there few people who want to publish there?

Udintsev:

It's a narrow field of specialization. There aren't that many volcanologists or seismologists in Russia. And some of them just don't think of it. I in fact have a piece on seismic probes - that could go to that journal. Out of inertia I keep trying to publish in Oceanologia.

Visson:

We've talked about Lamont and Scripps, which you visited during your first trip. But you’ve also been to other American institutions.

Udintsev:

Yes.

Visson:

Which ones? Whom else did you meet?

Udintsev:

I was in a lot of places because since the 60s lid been involved in major international projects, involving scientists from a number of institutes, such as the international bathymetric maps of the oceans, a major project which is now 100 years old. Another project was the international geological geophysical atlases, and finally the third one, in which I’m no longer participating, the Deep Sea Drilling Project. In connection with these projects to see the authors and attend meetings, I had to go to many institutions. I already mentioned Lamont, Scripps and Woods Hole. Then there was the University of Rhode Island at Narragansett.

Visson:

Whom did you know there?

Udintsev:

Robert Tyce, James Fox, and some others. Then Peter Rona in Miami.

Visson:

I remember that you and Tyce even flew a plane...

Udintsev:

Yes, we flew. He was on my expedition, and then I was in the US, and I had to take around the atlases, which were very heavy. It was very expensive to mail them. Tyce suggested to me that we take them on his airplane to Washington. So we flew there, and on the way I told him that I also knew how to fly a plane. He smiled and didn’t quite believe me. He said, "Fine. On the way back." When we flew back from Washington to New York he said, but not with much confidence, "Well, let’s try." And that was complicated — it was at night, you had to fly by instruments, but since I had a certain experience from the war, and you don’t forget that, I perfectly confidently flew the plane, flew by the controls, and there weren’t any problems.

Visson:

Well, since we’re sitting chatting here, the plane obviously landed safely!

Udintsev:

Yes. (Laughter). I was also at the University of Washington in Seattle, in Miami. There was Dr. Piper in Seattle... Then Brian Lewis, an important scientist. live forgotten some names, I have to check.

Visson:

You've also got contacts with NOAA in Colorado.

Udintsev:

Those are later contacts, of the last decade. During the IGY and following it an international data exchange was set up. In Boulder, Colorado there’s a center for the collection of geophysical data. We sent data there, and got data. For many years we sent our materials in the form of either tables or graphs. When computer technology came in that kind of presentation of the materials was not interesting. We were behind with computer technology. And here there was an question of ideology in the hostile attitude of the Soviet government. This was a case when an area of science was called "bourgeois."

Visson:

Computers?

Udintsev:

Yes, cybernetics. “The pseudo-science of cybernetics." Although computer technology was then being created in Russia.

Visson:

Then — what years are those?

Udintsev:

The 1970s. But it was created in only one narrow area — for space exploration. In all the other areas computer technology was not developed or developed very poorly. The West left us very far behind. I remember that I sincerely envied — my colleagues and I — Bill Menard and Bruce Heezen — how lucky you guys are, you can use computers. But that was at the very early stages of technology. Bill Menard said to me it was cheaper for him to pay a laboratory assistant to do that work than to use a computer. And Bruce Heezen replied to me, "That’s not for our generation. We don’t know how to use computers." But time passed and Bruce used computers, and Bill Menard did, and finally the time came when I felt that I, too had to use a computer. First of all, because the data exchange was becoming difficult. It was hard to use what we were sending, in a non-digital form. Then that project arose. In the center for geophysical data collection in Boulder there were people of a younger generation, but with ties to my friends: George Sharman, a student of Bill Menard, Troy Holcombe, a student of Bruce Heezen, and they proposed to help - and weld help them. "We can’t,” they said, "use your Russian data. We have it in graphic form but we don’t have the manpower to digitize it." They said that they would help our people in various institutes and give us personal computers, and then we could give them the data in digital form. I discussed that with our colleagues — we were talking primarily about the ocean depths — and there people who were enthusiastic about it. True, there were some who didn’t want to do that. But finally we got from the National Geophysical Data Center which is part of NOAA — the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration — we received about 8 computers.

Visson:

When you saw "we," is "we" the Vernadsky Institute?

Udintsev:

No. “ We" is Russia, Russian scientists. Of course, there were already computers in Russia, and many people had them. But those laboratories we’re talking about, at that time didn't have them. The financing was also very uneven. Marine geomorphology wasn't getting any particular funding.

Visson:

Who was giving the funding?

Udintsev:

Prior to the collapse of the USSR, the Academy of Sciences was well financed.

Visson:

From whom did it get the funds:

Udintsev:

The Academy got the funds directly from the government. In addition, since the time of Khrushchev there was the State Committee on Science and Technology in Russia. That Committee also allocates some funds. But with the Committee, a great deal depends on various kinds of recommendations. They have a sort of "Expert Council, II a kind of imitation of what in America is the National Science Foundation. But the NSF, where my friend Pembroke Hart worked for a long time — and he did a great deal for Soviet-American cooperation during the IGY — there was a large expert council. In the State Committee the council was very small. If you don't have people on it who are favorable to you, then it's very hard to get funding. Now after perestroika everything's changed, and there's even a closer analogy to the NSF — The Russian Fund for Fundamental Research. There decisions are taken more objectively, the expert council is larger, and it's easier to get funds. And there's also another source of funding, the Soros Foundation, but there it's very hard to get funds. There's such a plethora of applications that its difficult to count on an objective assessment of those applications. Very difficult. Prior to the shift to the market economy the major source of financing was the Academy of Sciences.

Visson:

When you spoke about your trips to these institutions over many years — did the Americans place restrictions on the places to which you could go?

Udintsev:

Maybe there were, but I didn’t know about them. No one ever interfered with my going somewhere. In Russia I know that there were such restrictions, but in America I never directly encountered them. If they existed, they werenlt made known. So I was in all the institutes where I needed to go, we got permission for all the ports during expeditions where we needed to dock. So the atmosphere was favorable. It’s true that my contacts with Americans and cooperation with them started rather late, after the IGY, the end of the 60s. Perhaps before that there were tighter restrictions.

Visson:

The travel restrictions for Soviets in America were just the same as those for Americans in Russia.

Udintsev:

Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe I was lucky, but never encountered such restrictions.

Visson:

When we were talking about publications you said that it was harder to get published because of finances. Under the Soviets did scientists have in some way to pay their dues to Marxism-Leninism through references to Marx or Lenin or other authorities?

Udintsev:

In our field, I think it wasn’t required. But we ourselves were so (laughs) “politicized” because we just soaked all that up. I’m ashamed, now, but I can say frankly that when I wrote my candidates dissertation I found it necessary to note in the introduction that a great role in the development of Soviet oceanography was played by the personal attention accorded to it by Comrade Stalin. (Laughter). It really did play a role, because the research ship Vitiaz was given to the institute on the direct order of Stalin. That is, it was necessary to request Stalin to support that. So I didn’t commit such a big sin. On the other hand, when I recall that now, I’m a bit ashamed. But in our field I didn’t have to do anything else of the sort, to run up against the need to reflect the demands of Marxist ideology. We had to study all that, to pass exams in dialectical materialism, but that was like — well, render unto Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s. So you had to pass the exam — I went in, passed it, but I had no idea how to apply all that to my science. I just did my research on nature. Period. I was simply interested in knowledge, in cognition of nature and of the truth. I remember that I was once at a meeting on the problem of earthquakes and tsunami. I was surprised that there were a lot of Catholic priests at the meeting. During the break I asked one of them, “Who are you and why are you at this meeting?1I He answered that he was in a Jesuit mission, and was a seismologist. I asked him why the Catholic church was interested in seismology. He said, “you know, ifs very important, to grasp the wisdom of the Creator of the Universe. (Laughter). And that also saves mankind from disasters, from unhappiness.” I think he was working somewhere in Chile or Argentina. For me, of course, the most important thing in science was not to try to resolve a question within the framework of some ideological scheme, but I was simply interested in nature.

Visson:

What's interesting is how much of a general impact that had on —

Udintsev:

(interrupts) As far as I can see from the work of my colleagues, they were also not under the influence of any ideological dogma.

Visson:

During the Soviet years, to what extent did the Party Committee or the Party organizations interfere in your work?

Udintsev:

Yes, I would say that that's rather a sore point. Because, of course, there were quite a lot of Party members in the Institute, because that was very common at the time in Russia. I would divide the Party members I knew into three categories. One were people who felt that one should be a Party member based on one's ideals. Others wanted to make a career out of that, to be successful, to get support. And the third category were very passive people — well, everybody's joining, so I'll join too — they didn't play any role in it. But in science the second category — the people who wanted to make a career — they were quite unpleasant. Usually they were people without much of a talent for science, and they wanted to assert themselves, get a position, power, and influence through active work in the Party.

Visson:

For example?

Udintsev:

For example, they got into the Palitburo (Party Bureau — office of the Party which ran its affairs in a given institution: LV). That immediately gave them a certain weight. In what? Well, in going on expeditions, for example. We were going off on an expedition, and as Chief of the expedition the condition was laid down to me: there have to be a minimum of 7 percent Party members on the expedition. I didn't need them, but I was often obliged to take unnecessary people. Or my deputy in those years had to be a Party member. It was fine if he was an honest and idealistic person, but sometimes this was an absolutely useless and unpleasant person. I can say that in the Politburo was formed differently in different institutions. For the most part, unfortunately, these were unpleasant people, who wanted to have power in their hands.

Visson:

To what extent did the Partkom (Party Committee — LV) in your institutes interfere in the personal lives of staff members?

Udintsev:

They did that more in the 50s, and then less. But of course all kinds of marriages and divorces - that was under the control of the Party bureau. I remember how I was on an American expedition on the Argo, and I was asked questions like that - everybody was interested in what was going on there — and they said to me that to a certain extent there was control by public opinion. If people divorced frequently, that colleagues disapproved of that, there was a Certain “interference,” but not from the Party bureau — there wasn't any — just having to take public opinion into account. But in our country it was the Politburo who did that. Then that calmed down — there was less of it. They stopped interfering in personal affairs.

Visson:

To what extent was there a problem with denunciations in the institute, and where did those come from? The Partkom? The KGB? The Foreign Department? The director?

Udintsev:

Denunciations came on the one hand from the so-called pompolits (assistants for political questions: LV), if someone did something which he thought was wrong he wrote a denunciation — a violation of the rules of behavior for a Soviet citizen abroad. That went to the KGB and then your visa access was cut off. I told you how during the IGY I got stuck with that and spent three years without a visa. Only interference by Ivan Dmitrievich Papanin — his efforts helped. And the pompolit who had done that went too far. He wrote so many denunciations that after the IGY there was no one to send in charge of a group. He had closed off the visa access for all the most active people. It ended so that the director was forced to ask for him to be taken off the ship. Then many people got their visa access, and so did I. Or usually denunciations were written by someone who had something against someone else. There were also stupid cases. One friend of mine, during a stop in an American port, in New York, met a lady. And was rather attracted to her. And was careless enough to talk about that. And this lady was linked to (laughs) the special agencies. That became known, and his access to a visa was permanently blocked — that was at the beginning of the 70s and then he didn’t go abroad again until perestroika.

Visson:

I remember that you said that in your case there wasn't just the denunciation from the director that you were a spy, but also further efforts to compromise you…

Udintsev:

Yes. The director then really took a violent hatred to me, and wanted not just to wreck my professional activity, but perhaps wanted to get me arrested.

Visson:

How did he do that?

Udintsev:

It’s hard for me to say. I was told that he wrote a denunciation, first of all. Those were the years when it wasn’t so easy to get someone arrested. Therefore he resorted to a more treacherous trap. One fine day one of the institute staff members — and l’d already left — called me and said he wanted to meet with me. We met and he told me, “The directors told me to dump either in your briefcase or in your car classified secret documents, so that you can be searched and then take steps to have you arrested. I won’t do that, but somebody else might, so I suggest that for now you not leave your briefcase anywhere, and better don’t use the car.” I thanked him, took his advice, and thank God nothing happened to me.

Visson:

Did you have access to classified information?

Udintsev:

Yes. Before that I did have access to classified information, and later that severely hampered me, because in the light of those denunciations and having security clearance — that of course complicated the decision to give me a visa. Therefore from that time on I stopped having anything to do with classified materials. I didnlt have to have very much to do with that, but the head of a laboratory was supposed to have clearance, because sometimes some instructions were received ... Well, for example, there were lists of materials which it was not allowed to publish openly. Of course, the laboratory head had to know that. But in the atmosphere of those denunciations my security clearance very much got in the way. When Belousov and Papanin went to bat for me they were told “But he’s got clearance…” But in Russia there is a certain statute of time limitations, after which your knowledge of classified materials no longer is important. Therefore after some time that stopped being important for me.

Visson:

Do you still have access to classified information.

Udintsev:

No. I preferred not to be involved with that. Now it doesn't play such a role.

Visson:

We’ve gotten a bit off our subject — we were talking about the Party. Do you think the scientists who were Party members were pretty much the same type?

Udintsev:

No, they were different. Well, the older intellectuals, people of my generation, all tried not to join the Party. And nothing awful happened to them. Professor Belousov wasn't a party member; Bogorov wasn't.

Visson:

You weren't.

Udintsev:

I wasn’t though I was often persuaded I should. Some of them were very good people. I had a friend Alexei Nikolaevich Bogoyavlensky, a chemist — he was a bit older then I — he was a Party member and was a very honest person. He believed that it is the task of a Party member to see that everything is done right, properly. He really faithfully followed that in his work, and really only improved the situation, because there were a lot of rogues, who tried to use all that for bad ends. One of my closest assistants, Viktor Kanaev, also joined the Party, but he did that during the war. And he kept trying to persuade me to join. I said, "Viktor, you can see how many outrageous things are being done." He said, "Yes, so there's a need to have good people join the Party, otherwise we won’t change anything. “I said, I’m afraid that here we’re powerless.” His Party membership ended badly. The Director was in conflict with the Party Raikom, and was pressuring Kanaev to be a party to it. Caught in the middle, and because of the impossibility of any kind of resistance, he committed suicide. Threw himself under a train — the subway. Our director started warring with the Party Raikom (regional committee: LV). Viktor was the secretary of the Party organization. He wound up between the hammer and the anvil.

Visson:

Were ordinary staff members often called into the Partkom or the Raikom, or to the TSEKA (Central Committee: LV)?

Udintsev:

Yes of course, to go abroad, to participate in expeditions abroad. First they were called in for a talk in the Partkom, then to the Raikom, and sometimes even higher. That was a rather humiliating and stupid procedure. In particular at the Raikom.

Visson:

What did they ask?

Udintsev:

(Laughs). The standard questions. “So you’ll be docking at a port in ... Sri Lanka. And who is the Central Committee of the Party Secretary in Sri Lanka?”

Visson:

Those were questions asked scientists?

Udintsev:

Yes. Well, who the hell knows, and what difference does that make to me? You know ... questions of that type. On the political systems in those countries. Do you know how to behave abroad, and things like that. It was ludicrous, because usually those “Travel Abroad”(Vyezdnaya: LV) commissions consisted of dyed in the wool active Communists, some of whom were retired military officers, retirees with a primitive level of thinking.

Visson:

Was there a need for a scientist to promise that at the end of a trip or expedition he would write a report about the people he had met?

Udintsev:

Maybe some people were required to do that, but not all. In the Academy of Sciences, when there was a trip abroad there was always the requirement of the Department of International Relations — uh — you're a lucky person, you'll go abroad, others are not able to. You must write about what you saw that was interesting. What organizations and publications are interesting for us. Frankly speaking, I don’t see anything criminal in that. It was easy to fulfill that requirement; I was glad to write such reports.

Visson:

In the 50s or 60s when you hosted foreigners in Moscow, did you then need to write reports about —

Udintsev:

(interrupts): Yes, it was required. But mostly the requirement was to say whether there had been any hostile utterances. I think the idea was to decide what to do further, whether to continue to have dealings with that person or not.

Visson:

How did you all feel about writing such reports?

Udintsev:

Well, I also thought there was nothing bad in that, since I only wrote good things about people (laughter). That these were well-intentioned people, who wanted to help the development of Soviet science...

Visson:

And if in the 60s you invited a foreign scientist home, did you have to inform about that?

Udintsev:

Yes, that had to be done. That had to be reported, and fortunately I was always given that permission (to invite the foreigner. The Russian had to inform the authorities about the planned invitation. LV). The major requirement was, well, to what extent to you have "good conditions" at home. Because apparently there was a fear that the poverty of our life would make a very depressing impression on foreigners. But I had unusual conditions; perhaps not a luxurious apartment, but a separate house, very cozy, it was built by a cooperative and that is why it survived. When my father was arrested in 1931 we could have lost our apartment, if weld had a state apartment. But since it was a cooperative, and since the chairman of the administration of the cooperative was a very decent person, when he was called in as an official witness at the search (poniatoi: LV) , while my father was being searched he quickly took a form from my mother and rewrote the form (zaiavlenie i.e., the right to the house: of the cooperative LV) over to her (i.e. instead of to Udintsev's father, in which case the family would have lost it with his arrest. LV). And therefore our house was not confiscated.

Visson:

Yes, you were interrupted by the end of the tape — the house wasn’t…

Udintsev:

The house wasn't confiscated. Usually when people were arrested they lost their housing. We were lucky. Although part of my father's library was confiscated. Yes — what were we talking about?

Visson:

We were talking about the reports that had to be written about foreigners —

Udintsev:

(interrupts) Of course, my attitude towards all that was very much affected by the fact that I’m a very disciplined person, have been throughout my life. And therefore, in that sense a great role was played by the fact that the best years of my youth I spent in military service, and I accepted discipline: that was in my blood.

Visson:

So you’re simply used to not thinking? Just to obeying?

Udintsev:

Well, why… that’s not quite right. I simply knew that there were some rules in life which were part of a kind of “civil discipline.” (Quotes mine: LV). Therefore, since in the past lid been a military man, thought that this should be followed. Although of course, I — uh — uh — considered myself to be a decent person, in addition I was very anti-Soviet in my attitudes, and I didn’t particularly hide that, particularly when I talked to my English friends, and at the same time — I’d tell you this — though I had an anti-Soviet attitude, due to my upbringing and military service, I was very patriotic. Therefore I would never have agreed to betray my country. Once I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine — he’s now dead, unfortunately — an American — who knew of my anti-Soviet attitude, and who gave me a book about the Penkovsky case - (Oleg Penkovsky: High-ranking Soviet military officer who was spying for the Americans in the 60s-70s, and transmitted valuable military secrets. was discovered by the KGB and was shot for treason. He left in the West a manual he wrote about how Soviet spies were trained. LV), and said, “That was a hero.” I said, Listen, what kind of a hero was that? He was a traitor, a cad.” I can’t sympathize with him. Because you can — uh — uh — try to oppose the government as a dissident, but I didn’t do that because I felt that I was powerless here — that I couldn’t do anything — but to betray the motherland through some kind of deals with foreign intelligence — from my point of view that’s treason. I’d (laughs) never have done that.

Visson:

Despite the efforts of foreign intelligence to convince you of that…

Udintsev:

Well, that’s a very sticky topic. I don’t want to put anyone in an awkward position.

Visson:

Fine. Let’s finish up with that, and we’ll continue our talk tomorrow.

Udintsev:

I can tell you that from the very outset of my work in Lamont with John Ewing, John said to me, I’m sure that despite your anti-Soviet attitude, — he knew about that — you won’t contact our intelligence agencies, because I’m sure that you’re very patriotic about your country. I said to him, “You’re perfectly right.”

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