Thursday, February 18, 2010

Radioactive fear of violence destroys trust

"Nonaligned proponents of disarmament also labored under the heavy burden of being identified with Communism."
--Lawrence S. Wittner, Confronting the Bomb: A short history of the world nuclear disarmament movement (p. 50)

State University of New York historian Wittner has written a valuable history here, and in the above quote referred to a period when the initial global response to atomic weapons was quite negative from the grassroots. Outside the US, few from the non-industrialized world had much good to say about superweapons of mass destruction, owned by the rich, white, and powerful. Immediately following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, opposition emerged and grew.

But it dampened when the Soviets blew off their own bomb and started supplying their new insurgency weapons--just developed in 1947--to poor people suffering from the last gasp of colonialism and the first sharp thrusts of globalizing imperialism. The AK-47 and the Soviet bomb shot massive terror in the capitals of the West; they easily created a climate of fear of all things Soviet and communist throughout that world. The East easily did the same to their people. The Cold War struck fear into so many hearts and polarized the planet so severely that the movement to end nukes when it would have been relatively easy to do so began to fizzle. It slipped badly from 1950-1953, the most intense period of McCarthyism. Peace was a dirty commie idea in the US. How well I remember--well, OK, I was only two years old, so my nonviolent activist career was not quite fired up yet.

But I grew up knowing that if anything was successfully labeled communist, it was feared and rejected, possibly violently. Young activists had to be as careful about avoiding that pejorative as young activists now had better steer clear of linkage to al Qa'ida if they'd be interested in affecting US policy in a good way. If you oppose the policies of your government and your government is a belligerent, that government will try to smear you with charges of being a tool of the enemy. Being nonaligned, being independent, being avowedly and demonstrably nonviolent, was and is the best way to inoculate against such traducement.

Yes, there were some then who were so enraged that they chose identification with communism with a sort of Maoist posture of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, coupled with the logical coda, all power comes from the barrel of a gun. Those were the ones who were too full of hate to care about effectiveness. It's the same now. We have to learn how to stay true to our struggles and avoid being smeared with the tar of violence. The path is sometimes quite tricky and yet worth it.

If we really hope to disarm nukes, our enemies must become our opponents and then our partners. We can most quickly achieve that with unilateral disarmament, the non-coercive inducements that earn trust and destroy the harm of propaganda. This is true in the streets and the suites.

We see it working in a backward fashion from that good model with the opposite history of nuclear proliferation. Make a new enemy and you guarantee the desire for nukes. Make a new friend and induce a desire for disarmament. This is not old naivete; this is new pragmatism.


Wittner, Lawrence S. (2009). Confronting the Bomb: A short history of the world nuclear disarmament movement. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

1 comment:

Terri said...

There's a cute kids book called Enemy Pie by Derek Munson that is this wisdom of making friends of our enemies. Values that we easily pass along to kids are so rarely modeled in the adult world. It would be good to see that change, and one way to start is nuclear disarmament. That would be the sweetest pie to offer new friends.