David E. Muller on The Mullers Interest in Communism
  David E. Muller     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jul 2004

There were always a lot of students around, people like that. Students who were interested in these radical movements and so on that were going on in Austin. And so they participated.

I don’t think he was influenced by Agol or Levit. He and my mother were both Communists, and they probably were that way from many years earlier. I noticed that my father had grammar in Russian that he bought I think around 19... oh what was it? 19…I was going to say 1917. It wasn’t the modern style Russian. It was old.

Yeah, but it was grammar. It was very poor choice. When I was taking a Russian course later why I tried looking at that and the thing seemed incomprehensible to me. But at any rate, he was interested in, in going to Russia very early. And I think, I think my mother at that time concurred too. She thought... they were both interested. You know they were Communists in the sort of ideal sense. They weren’t members of the Communist Party or anything like that. But they just had this ideal, and they didn’t claim to understand all dialectic materialism and so on that goes with Communism. They just sort of felt that was the way to go at that time. And things were pretty bad in the United States too. So its… many people felt that way I believe. And ah…

Yeah. They talked about it, and they got me books too, you know, about, about ah, the communist philosophy and some of it was just pure propaganda. The usual thing that you see, … posters you know, and so on. But others, other things were interesting. And, ah, there were other things they did that were sort of interesting. For example, they realized that since they weren’t religious, I wasn’t getting any, any information about what religion was like and so on. So they bought me this thing that shows the life of Jesus Christ. And they tried to explain this to me. I wasn’t too interested. But, anyhow, they then said, Well you know he was a very good man, it’s just that he wasn’t a God. You know. So I was supposed to acquire these attitudes, but I’m not sure that I… I, I mean I certainly didn’t become religious, but on the other hand, I never I never accepted everything just as it was told to me. I began to think about it and tried to make up my own mind about it.

I think it’s my nature not to just accept everything that people say as being true. Rather I try to think about it and so on.

MP: So do you remember, did you argue with your father about like principle things? Your views? His view? Or…

Well what’s the difference between Socialism and Communism? And they said one, this is their explanation, Communists believe in having a revolution, whereas the Socialists think they can do it by just voting, voting in. And I felt that that was a preferable thing to do. I didn’t like the idea of a revolution you see. And I thought it’s better to do it in a democratic way, and the fact that, ah, that people are allowed to express themselves was a good thing.

David E. Muller was born in 1924 in Austin, Texas. He is the son of Hermann J. Muller, who received a Nobel Prize in 1946 for his discovery of x-ray induced mutations in Drosophila melanogaster, and Jesse Jacobs Muller Offermann, a mathematician and first wife of H.J. Muller.

In the 1930’s, H.J. Muller left his laboratory at the University of Texas to work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. He then moved to Russia where he joined the Institute of Genetics and later the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh. During this time, David and his mother traveled to Germany and Russia to visit his father. After H.J. Muller’s return to the United States in 1940, David reunited with his father at the 1941 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Symposium for Quantitative Biology. Afterward, David returned to school at Caltech and H.J. Muller to his appointments at Amherst College (1940-1945) and Indiana University (1945-1967).

Following in his mother’s footsteps, David became a mathematician and began working with computers at the University of Illinois in 1952. There he designed the Muller C-element, which is a commonly used component in computers. He taught at the University of Illinois until 1992 at which time he retired.

In April 2005, David donated his collection of photographs and personal letters written primarily by his parents and Carlos Offermann (one of H.J. Muller’s top graduate students and David’s step-father) to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives. The letters were written between 1900 and 1945, although the bulk of the letters date from the early 1920’s when H.J. Muller took his first trip to Europe and the 1930’s when H.J. Muller was working in Germany, Russia, and the UK. These letters also cover the period of time when H.J. Muller made his Nobel-winning discoveries.

(Anthony Dellureficio, June, 2008)

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