Harlow Shapley took up the offensive last night in his fight with Representative John E. Rankin's House Committee on Un-American Activities.
In a strongly worded letter to Representative Karl E. Mundt of South Dakota, member of the House committee and a personal friend of the astronomer, he urged that Rankin's activities be "abated or completely abolished."
Professor Shapley's letter condemned as un-American the "extralegal inquisitions involving citizens against whom no offense is charged, in proceedings without legal counsel, without opportunity for cross examination, and without witnesses of their own choice."
1,200 Sign Petition
Almost 200 persons at a meeting in Emerson D sponsored by the American Association of Scientific Workers saw William G. Bozman '46, president of the Harvard Liberal Union, present Professor Shapley a petition signed by 1,200 undergraduates sympathetic to the scientist in his clash with Rankin.
Posted for a bare two and one half hours Friday evening, the HLU-sponsored document reads, "We, the undersigned members of the Harvard community, assure you of our wholehearted support in your courageous stand against the actions of the House Committee on un-American Activities."
As he received the long list of signatures, Professor Shapley voiced his encouragement at "the strong backing one gets by letter, telegram, and editorial when he stands up vigorously in defense of traditional liberties."
Two of the most vigorous editorials in his support, the astronomer was pleased to find, came from "famous Virginia and Kentucky newspapers."
Sympathy, he continued, came from both extreme left and extreme right, and the mails brought letters from persons as different as a pair of America's "highest ranking divines" are from a prisoner in a North Carolina jail.
"When explaining America and American customs to a foreign visitor," Professor Shapley told his audience, "there are two situations of which one must be deeply ashamed; one is the pogroms that the hypothesis of 'white supremacy' tolerates and even encourages, and the other is the operation of the Wood-Rankin Committee which simulates the medieval inquisition and the modern Gestapo."
In his letter to Representative Mundt the scientist pointed out that the undemocratic inquests of Rankin's group imperil "our high esteem for our Congress, and its prestige throughout the family of nations . . . .
Asks Committee's End
"In view of the recognized efficiency of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," he continued, "in the protection of the people against real dangers, it would seem to me that all the activities of the Un-American Activities Committee might now well be abated or completely abolished, and thus restore the confidence of citizens that their private lives and property are being protected by their elected representatives in Congress."