The American Physical Society’s Involvementin the Defense of Human Rights
(Adapted from paper given at FPS Session, APS Meeting March 2005)
The objective of this paper is to describe the history of our Society's past involvement in the defense of human rights.
The CIFS’ first report, dated April 1976 said:
The Committee was formed to deal with those matters of an international nature that endanger the abilities of scientists to function as scientists. The Committee is to be particularly concerned with acts of governments or organizations, which through violation of generally recognized human rights, restrict or destroy the ability of scientists to function as such. The particular motivation for formation of the committee was the situation of the Soviet Refusniks; however, the province of the Committee is to cover all international matters infringing freedom of scientists as such. The title of the Committee has been chosen, with this in mind, after much discussion.
Except for its explicit reference to the refusniks, Soviet Jews who had lost their jobs and related privileges after requesting permission to emigrate to Israel, this first report of CIFS does not greatly differ from the CIFS’ charge prescribed in the present APS Bylaws. The APS luminaries who were consulted on the wording of CIFS’ province and who chose CIFS’ name only “after much discussion,” included: William Fowler, Phil Morse, Herman Feshbach, John Wheeler, and Ernest Henley. Fowler was the APS President at the time, and every one of the other physicists just listed also served as APS President at some other time.
In 1980, only four years after CIFS had begun its work, the APS Council split CIFS from its parent APS committee POPA and established CIFS as an independent Bylaws committee with essentially the same charge it has today. In the interim the APS Council had become so convinced of the importance of its human rights activities that in May 1978 it published, in the Bulletin of the APS, a “Statement of Principles for the American Physical Society Activities With Regard to Human Rights,” whose opening paragraph stated:
[The APS activities in the area of human rights of scientists] reflect the APS’s conviction that science and scientific activity are important for the dignity of man and the future of civilization, and that interference with science anywhere is potentially harmful to all mankind and to society everywhere.
Those APS activities can be listed under at least six different subheadings. Only two of these activity subheadings (not necessarily the most important) will be discussed in any detail, namely the small committee program and letter writing, though brief mention will be made of all six..
CIFS’ first Chair, during the years 1976-78 when CIFS still was a subcommittee of POPA, was Bernard Cooper. Under Cooper, CIFS initiated its program of forming so-called “small committees” for persecuted scientists, following a practice developed (I believe) by Amnesty International. Each small committee, consisting usually of three persons, “adopts” a single persecuted scientist and agrees to write said scientist and his/her family on a regular basis, whether or not there is evidence the letters are being received. The idea is that these letters, if received by the intended recipient and family, surely will fulfill the useful function of heartening them. But, and this is the major point, even if the letters are being intercepted by the persecuting nation’s secret police and/or prison officials, the letters are demonstrating that the victimized scientist has not been forgotten by the outside world, thereby hopefully easing the scientist’s treatment or at least deterring extreme persecutions like torture.
I judge that of the many APS human rights activities, its small committee program has been one of the least publicized, to APS members as well as to the general public, which is the main reason I have chosen to devote a major portion of this paper to this APS activity. The program began with only a few committees, but the number of committees grew rapidly, so that it soon proved necessary for the program to have a “coordinator”. For example, in 1983 there already were 97 small committee members, coordinated by Julian Heicklen of the Penn State University Dept. of Chemistry, writing to 63 oppressed scientists. By 1985 these numbers had increased, to 84 small committees with a total membership of 167. Most of the small committee members were physicists, and just about all of them were scientists. Many of the small committee members had accepted the responsibility of writing to more than one victimized scientist. The APS, the world, owes a long overdue expression of gratitude to every one of those small committee members who essentially anonymously, without fanfare, regularly wrote so many letters of encouragement to so many human rights victims, often with little expectation that the letters would reach their intended recipients. Heartfelt thanks also are owed to the various small committee coordinators, especially to Julian Heicklen, to Edward Stern of the University of Washington, and to Bernard Feldman of the University of Missouri, each of whom was willing to undertake the important task of coordinating the small committees even though coordination required an inordinate expenditure of time.
The number of small committees reached its maximum of 102 in 1986, but decreased fairly steadily thereafter. By 2000 the number had fallen to 10, still being coordinated by Feldman. In 2001 CIFS voted to terminate its small committee program, therewith pretty much ending organized letter writing by APS members to human rights victims. Why the yearly numbers of small committees rose and fell as they did merits some comments, which I will offer in a moment. I first want to say, however, that even if the small committee format has outlived its usefulness, I greatly regret that the APS has not retained some mechanism whereby regular communications to selected human rights victims and their families, serving the morale raising and related functions I have described, can be efficiently initiated.
Of the 84 scientists being supported by small committees in 1985, all but two were in the Soviet Union; the two non-Soviet scientists were Polish. This small committee singling out of Soviet scientists is easy to understand. By the 1970s the United States physics community had become well acquainted, personally as well as professionally, with the Soviet physics community; certainly in those years the American physics community was far better acquainted with the Soviet physics community than with any other physics community living under a repressive regime, e.g., the Chinese physics community. Thus the ruthless Soviet persecution of large numbers of scientists in the 1970s and 1980s, merely for peacefully criticizing their government or for seeking to emigrate, drew the attention of many American physicists and even earned recognition in CIFS’ original 1976 province, which (as you will recall) said that “the particular motivation” for the formation of CIFS was “the situation of the Soviet Refusniks”.
Soviet physicists for whom small committees were formed during the 1970s and 1980s include well known names like Andrei Sakharov, Yuri Orlov and Natan Shcharansky, as well as at least 100 lesser known names such as Victor Brailovsky and Mikhail Kazachkov. Most, if not all of you, probably are aware: that the human rights organization SOS took its name from Sakharov, Orlov and Shcharansky; that Orlov now is an APS Fellow and a member of the Cornell physics department; and that Shcharansky now is a member of the Israeli Knesset. Most of you probably don’t know: that Brailovsky was a computer scientist who, after losing his job in 1972 because he had applied for emigration to Israel, helped organize the Moscow refusnik Seminar on Collective Phenomena; or that in 1980 he was sentenced to five years internal exile in Siberia for defaming the Soviet state. I would be very surprised if any of you know anything about Kazachkov, who still was in his early twenties when I met him during a 1972 visit to Leningrad. Kazachkov’s astounding ability to converse with me in almost flawlessly colloquial American English reflected his intense desire to come to the United States, which he repeatedly asked me to help him accomplish. In 1975 Kazachkov received a 15 year prison sentence for allegedly seeking to reveal secrets about his Ioffe Institute to Americans like me, an obviously trumped-up charge which doubtless stemmed from Kazachkov’s openly expressed disenchantment with Soviet life. I add that it is my impression that almost all the scientists who were supported by small committee letters were very grateful, although I have no hard statistics to fall back on
As the 1980s drew to a close more and more previously persecuted Soviet scientists were released from prison and/or permitted to emigrate, with the result that the number of Soviet scientists requiring and /or actually receiving small committee support rapidly began to decrease. For instance in 1987, though the committee membership had grown to 256 from its 1985 magnitude of 167, the number of small committees was only 77, a decrease from the 1985 number 84. Moreover as the number of small committees serving persecuted Soviet scientists decreased, the number of small committees serving persecuted scientists of other nations slowly began to increase, reflecting the growing awareness, among the APS membership, of human rights abuses worldwide. Thus in 1989, when the number of small committees had fallen to 62, two of those committees were supporting the Palestinian physicists Sami Kilani and Salman Salman, and a third was supporting the Cuban physicist Jorge Molina.
These just discussed small committee trends were accelerated by the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre which greatly raised APS membership awareness of Chinese human rights violations, as well as by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Accordingly, of the 12 new small committees started between November 1989 and March 1990, six were for Chinese physicists and another for a Palestinian physicist; only five of these twelve new committees were for refusniks. Indeed of the ten aforementioned small committees still existing in the year 2000, shortly before the small committee program was dissolved, only a single committee was devoted to a scientist victimized by the former Soviet Union or by one of its daughter republics. The other nine committees were supporting: two Cuban scientists; two Chinese scientists; a Vietnamese; a Palestinian; an Israeli; a scientist from Myanmar; and an American. Although the vast numbers of scientists oppressed by the USSR during the 1970s and 1980s inevitably caused CIFS to concentrate on aiding Soviet scientists during those decades, from its earliest years CIFS and the APS were attentive to human rights abuses in all nations, including the United States itself, with a total disregard of whether those nations were politically aligned against or with the United States.
In 1980 CIFS’ actions during its first year as an APS Bylaws committee included a letter to the Director of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory concerning the Lab’s disciplinary notice to Laboratory physicist Hugh DeWitt, seemingly solely because DeWitt had submitted affidavits opposing the government’s attempt to suppress publication by the Progressive Magazine of an article on the H-bomb; apparently it was undisputed that DeWitt’s affidavits, as well as the Progressive article itself, were based entirely on sources in the open literature. [DeWitt, who later served as CIFS Chair for the year 2000, has given me permission to use his name. He also has permitted me to tell you he is convinced the CIFS letter was an important factor in the Lab’s eventual decision not to actually take any disciplinary action against him. ]
The next topic is that of APS letters protesting human rights abuses, the second of my six subheadings; remember I now am excluding any letters written by small committees. During the less than thirty years of CIFS’ existence probably several hundred human rights letters have been written (I haven’t counted), many by an APS President at CIFS’ urging, many others by a CIFS Chair with the President’s permission. For the average American, as well as for the APS membership, such letter writing on APS stationery probably has constituted the Society’s most widely publicized human rights activity.
Here is a very limited sampling of such letters: During 1977, only a short time after CIFS had been created as a subcommittee of POPA, actions taken by APS President George Pake included letters from him: to the President of Argentina and to Argentine bishops concerning the fate of several disappeared scientists; to President Marcos concerning the imprisoned Philippine physicist Roger Posadas; and to President Ceaucescu concerning two Roumanian physicists whose freedom to pursue their profession had been restricted. Letters after CIFS had been established as an independent Committee included: in 1980, protesting the U.S. government’s refusal to allow Soviet scientists to attend an unclassified conference organized by the American Vacuum Society; in 1983, protesting Israel’s refusal to permit Palestinian physicists to teach in West Bank universities unless they signed a commitment against “terrorist activities”; in 1983 and 1984, asking UNESCO to investigate and redress Soviet violations of Orlov’s human rights; in 1987, protesting the Chilean government’s firing of physicist Carlos Infante and other University of Chile faculty; in 1988, well before Fang took refuge in the U.S. Embassy, protesting the Chinese government’s refusal to permit Fang to travel to the U.S.; in 1993, inquiring about several professors who were dismissed from Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa University for speaking out about a brutal suppression of a student demonstration; and in 2000, decrying U.S. imprisonment of Los Alamos researcher Wen Ho Lee without bail.
Proceeding now to those four other APS human rights activity:
(i) Scheduling sessions on human rights subjects at APS meetings A notable example is the 1981 Annual Meeting in New York, where the Forum on Physics and Society sponsored a CIFS-organized session featuring talks: by an exiled Argentine newspaper editor; by a member of Moscow Helsinki Watch who had just emigrated to this country; and by Congressman George Brown of the House Subcommittee on Science, Research and Technology. Congressman Brown’s talk, titled “Science, technology and human rights,” quoted Sakharov (who already had been exiled to Gorky), and all in all was a marvelous speech. It was published in the March 1981 Physics Today, and is very much worth reading even now.
(ii) Offering free APS membership and/or journal subscriptions to victimized physicists. This program began in 1979. By 1983 the program had become so expensive that the APS decided to regularly approve half-member rates only. These half-cost subscriptions were made available not only to victimized physicists, however, but also to most third-world physicists and libraries. Moreover unquestionably oppressed scientists continued to receive free subscriptions, via an APS-publicized program of seeking membership donations for such subscriptions. In 1985, for example, there were thirty free memberships of this very special sort. Early recipients of such free Physical Review subscriptions were: Brailovsky’s aforementioned refusnik seminar; and Yuri Orlov, though he then still was serving his 1978 twelve year prison sentence, apparently for nothing more than having organized a Moscow Chapter of Helsinki Watch.
(iii) Initiating and/or writing articles describing APS human rights activities, in Physics Today and other publications. In addition to Physics Today’s publication of Congressman Brown’s talk, there were other such articles on human rights subjects including (and I am listing only a very partial sample): A January 1981 article titled “Soviet repression of dissidents,” featuring a photograph of Brailovsky and quoting the views of Kurt Gottfried, the 1980 CIFS Chair; a July 1985 article describing CIFS activities, with a half page devoted to the views of Tom Stix, the 1985 CIFS Chair; and a September 1989 article detailing CIFS’ activities on behalf of Tayseer Aruri, a West Bank Palestinian physicist imprisoned by Israel and threatened with deportation.
(iv) Sharing information and otherwise cooperating with non-APS groups seeking to defend human rights. For instance, at quite a number of past APS meetings CIFS has arranged for the Committee of Concerned Scientists (CCS) to set up a table where APS members could sign petitions on behalf of various oppressed scientists selected by CCS. It was CIFS-furnished information about the exaggerations of the government testimony against Wen Ho Lee that convinced Amnesty International to write Judge Parker supporting Lee. Another rather unusual illustration of cooperative activity was my trip to the Soviet Union in 1981 under the joint sponsorship of the APS and various Councils for Soviet Jewry, with the express purposes of: visiting with refusniks in Moscow and Leningrad; giving many of them gifts and publications furnished me by my sponsors; and reporting back to the APS and the Councils about the circumstances of various refusniks whose names I had been given, by CIFS and/or the Soviet Councils. I actually met and reported on as many as 40 refusniks. I won’t say anything more about this trip except that possession of state secrets was the Soviet authorities’ most common reason for refusing permission for a refusnik to emigrate. Therefore you may be interested in learning that one such refusnik, Lev Blitshtein, was not a scientist but instead had worked in a sausage factory.
I want to emphasize that a significant fraction of the scientists whose human rights we have defended have themselves been physicists; this is a remarkable observation, especially considering the small percentage of physicists in any nation’s population, There really does seem to be something in the culture of our profession, in our insistence on learning how nature truly functions, in our readiness to honor all those who advance this quest no matter what their nationality or the color of their skin, that makes physicists unusually reluctant to quietly accept misuses of state power. Sakharov, Orlov, Galileo, all surely knew that their protests were unlikely to deter their respective political leaders. As physicists, therefore, we must take great pride not only in our Physical Society’s defense of human rights, but also in the inspiring fact that so many of the scientists the APS defended have been physicists willing to take actions which can remind future generations of one of the glories of our species, namely that no matter how overwhelming the state power, some humans will refuse to be cowed.
Department of Physics, University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Tel. (412)624-2737 office, (412)243-5774 home, (412)624-9163 fax
Einstein, Social Responsibility of Physicists and Human Rights in China
(Adapted from paper given at FPS Session, APS Meeting March 2005 )
Albert Einstein first became known in China during the period of the May Fourth Movement (1917-1921), which was the first pro-democracy student moment in Beijing. Einstein had been widely respected as a scientific hero who had revolutionized science and our understanding of the universe. During his short visit to Shanghai in 1922-23, he delivered a lecture on relativity on the New Year's Day of 1923. When he went sightseeing in the old city of Shanghai, Chinese students recognized him, carried him on their shoulders, and paraded.
Einstein gained Chinese admiration not only because of his scientific achievements, but also because of his constant concern about the cases of injustice, suppression, and human rights abuses in China. In 1931, the Japanese army invaded and occupied three provinces in Northeast China. Einstein urged all nations to impose economic sanction on Japan. In October 1932, Chen Duxiu, the former dean of the College of Humanities of Beijing University, was arrested. Together with Bertrand Russell, Einstein telegraphed Chinese military authorities and asked for Chen's release. That was the first time that Chinese scholars received human rights support from international intellectual circles. Again, in March 1937, seven intellectuals who advocated resistance towards the Japanese invasion were arrested. Einstein, together with sixteen American intellectual elites, telegraphed the Chinese government and demanded its respect for the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly.
The strong sense of social responsibility shown by Einstein is an illustrious role model for Chinese intellectuals, especially for physicists, who advocate the universal principle of human rights. In 1937, the Chinese edition of Einstein's “Mein Weltbild” (“The World as I See It”) was published. It shows that Einstein devoted his energy against the Nazis. The words "the state should be our servant, we should not be slaves of the state" resonated with many young Chinese, who were facing a crisis similar to that of anti-democratic Fascism due to the full-scale invasion from Japan. For instance, Professor Xu Liangying, a student of Zhejinag University at that time, said that the book "opened up my vision, my mind, my heart and guided me into serious thinking of many fundamental questions in life". He always carried that book as the whole university withdrew and fled from the war.
Einstein's ideas and opinions on society and politics were not tolerated by the Communists. His words attacking autocratic system were fully banned in Mao Zedong’s regime (1949-1976). Pacifism and humanitarianism were also labeled as "Reactionary Bourgeois Class" in nature. During the chaotic period of the culture revolution (1966-1976), there was even a movement specially targeted at Einstein and relativity. In 1970, the communist authorities labeled Einstein as "the most powerful reactionary bourgeois academic authority in the realm of natural science in this century", and tried to convene a congress of 10,000 people to criticize Einstein. However, most Chinese physicists boycotted the criticism of Einstein. Professor Zhou Peiyuan, who spent one year (1937) in the Institute for Advanced Study with Einstein, refused to join the criticism of Einstein. Professor Zhou Tongqing (PhD, 1932, Princeton University) was charged with resisting the criticism, and was denounced at public criticism sessions.
After the Cultural Revolution, Einstein and his relativity were celebrated at the centennial anniversary of Einstein's birthday. The set of three volumes ``The Collected Works of Einstein'', edited by Professors Xu Liangying, Fan Dainian, and Li Baoheng, was published on 1976-79. These volumes had a strong impact on the democracy movement in China. During the Democracy Wall Movement in Beijing (1979-1980), one could read the following statements by Einstein on the Democracy Wall.
"A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured ?"
The person who posted this statement on the Wall was finally sent to prison for 15 years (1979-1993). In the 1989 Tiananmen movement, one particular quote from Einstein was often heard: "My political ideal is democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized." is one of Einstein’s phrases often being quoted. This probably is one of the reasons that among the 21 most wanted students of Tiananmem, 6 were physics majors. Actually, physics students have been deeply involved in all movements of pursuing democracy and freedom. In 1950s, about 10% of the physics students of Beijing University were sentenced to hard labor in the so-called “anti-rightist” campaign.
On Feb. 6, 2005, the Chinese government made public a list of 51 political prisoners who have been granted sentence reductions or are being considered for early release. We know that there is still imprisonment of scientists, such as
1. biologist Yan Jun, who had been given a two-year prison sentence on December 8th of 2003. Yan Jun had written essays on behalf of the students arrested during the Tiananmen Square incident.
2. . geophysicist Yang Zili, who had been given an eight-year prison sentence on November 10, 2003; he founded a discussion group on Chinese political reform, and was charged with inciting subversion of state power.
With this background, we should not forget the social responsibility of physicists as Einstein emphasized “For long periods of time, I have always publicly expressed my opinions on the very bad and unfortunate conditions in the society. Silence would have made me feel guilty of complicity” .
 Danian Hu, China and Albert Einstein, Harvard Press, 2005
 A. Einstein, The World As I See It, Covici Friede, 1934,
 Xu Liangying, Written speech at AAAS meeting on 1995.
 Shanghai Science Criticism Group, 1970
 A. Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, Wings Books, 1954
 A. Einstein, Einstein on Peace, Simon and Schuster, 1960
Physics Department, University of Arizona