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Becoming an American citizen
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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The motivation for my becoming an American citizen was very simple, that my children were not acknowledged by the British Government. I had two children when I was still a British subject and Her Majesty's Government declared them to be illegitimate and therefore not entitled to passports. And so that was a real problem. I had a daughter who was stateless and it was a real hassle to travel around with this stateless child. Every country where we went we had to have a special visa for her. So she was very happy, she loved to be stateless because it was something special, but I wasn't too happy about that. And so I became an American citizen for that reason. So once I was an American citizen the American government wisely gave them citizenship: whether they were illegitimate or not it was not their concern, so when I became a citizen they automatically got it too. But the consequence of becoming a citizen, of course, was also very pleasant for me in that I could be involved in American politics.

[Q] And you became a citizen in '60... I mean '50...

It was actually... January '57, I think it was. And so it was about as soon as I could have, and the only jarring note was that when I actually got the citizenship there was a judge who awarded the citizenship and he gave us a patriotic pep talk in which he talked to us as if we were escaped prisoners coming from lands of slavery to the land of freedom, which I didn't quite agree with, but I didn't make any protest.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who was born in England, moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He published several books and, among other honours, was awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: USA, UK, 1957

Duration: 1 minute, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008