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George Wald, Scientist and Activist

November 18, 2017

Nobelist George Wald, who discovered that Vitamin A was a component of the retina and crucial to good eyesight, was born in New York to Jewish immigrant parents on this date in 1906. The first member of his family to attend college, Wald was doing a postgrad fellowship in Switzerland and Germany when Hitler came to power. He returned to the U.S. in 1934 and took a post at Harvard. After receiving his Nobel Prize (Physiology/Medicine) in 1967, Wald used his fame to become an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race. “Our government has become preoccupied with death, with the business of killing and being killed,” he said at MIT in 1969. His address there, entitled “A Generation in Search of a Future,” was eventually translated into 40 languages. In later years, Wald issued warnings about the potential dangers of genetic engineering. He died in 1997.

“. . . if one can allege that one is repelling or retaliating for an aggression, after that everything goes. . . . All War Departments are now Defense Departments. This is all part of the doubletalk of our time. The aggressor is always on the other side.” —George Wald