An unpopular internationalist stance

The immediate post-war era provided Shapley with ample opportunity to cultivate support for science both at home and internationally. He was particularly proud of his role in the formation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). In the spring of 1945, delegates from 50 countries met in San Francisco to deliberate on the United Nations Charter. Shapley had been involved in getting a resolution through Congress supporting the basic idea of Unesco, and he stayed in close contact with the assistant secretary of state for cultural and public affairs, the poet Archibald MacLeish, who represented the United States at the San Francisco meeting.

The story, as told by Shapley, is that the delegates wanted to settle on a United Nations agency for education and culture, eliminating science in name at least. When Shapley heard this he placed a rare cross-country telephone call to MacLeish. He threatened ''action from scientists' groups'' and wheedled with his friend.66 MacLeish was probably not a hard sell on science; it was he who composed a famous poem on the occasion of the first moon landing in 1969, which the New York Times published on its front page. At any rate, the ''S'' in Unesco was saved, thanks in part to Shapley's efforts. The historical record shows that, in fact, Shapley gave up his fight for the ''S'' in August 1945, knowing that the English scientists Joseph Needham and Julian Huxley would insist on it at the London conference of November 1945, when representatives from 37 countries met to sign Unesco's constitution.67

Shapley's efforts to bring the National Science Foundation and Unesco into being continued even as he encountered personal difficulties stemming from his support for international cooperation among scientists. In 1945, when American distrust of communism and internationalism ran very high, Shapley traveled to Moscow as Harvard's representative at the celebration of the 220th anniversary of the Academy of Sciences. The next year the House Committee on Un-American Activities subpoenaed him. Bok vividly recalled that Shapley returned to Harvard from his interrogation with Senator John Rankin and said, with his voice breaking, ''That man had the nerve to tell me that I am un-American.''68 Some Havard alumni, alarmed at the flap, called for Shapley's dismissal.

In his memoir, Shapley recounted the episode with characteristic bravado. He recalled that he started taking notes of the Senate hearing in shorthand, which made Senator Rankin even more antagonistic. ''He came crawling over the intervening table and grabbed the notes out of my hand,'' Shapley wrote. ''I rose in great dignity and said, ''This is a case of assault.''69 After the hearing, Shapley added, Rankin blustered to the press that Shapley had treated the Committee on House-Un-American activities with contempt.

Shapley admitted that the situation was ''rather tough'' on his nerves.70 He refused to be intimidated, however, and maintained his involvement with left-wing organizations. In March 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy identified him as a Communist sympathizer connected with the State Department, and pursued interrogations with his wife Martha and one of his graduate students, despite the fact that Shapley did not have a formal connection with the State Department. Later that year the Senate Foreign Relations Committee exonerated him, but it was not until after he retired from Harvard in 1952 and retreated from politics that his family life became more serene.

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