BECK index

Anti-Nuclear Protests

Protesting Nuclear Testing
Protesting Nuclear Power
Protesting Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign

This is a chapter in World Peace Efforts Since Gandhi, which is published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.

Click below to see and hear the two articles from this chapter.

The people in the long run are going to do more
to promote peace than our government.
Indeed, I think that people want peace so much
that one of these days government better
get out of the way and let them have it.
Dwight Eisenhower, 1959

In the name of God, let us abolish nuclear weapons.
New Abolitionist Covenant

We are the curators of life on earth,
standing at a crossroads in time.
We must awake from our false sense of security
and commit ourselves to using democracy constructively
to save the human species.
Helen Caldicott

We reject violence completely,
because the structural violence caused by this decision
to place these missiles or to continue the arms race
on both sides is violence.
Petra Kelly

To end the danger of nuclear war the nations must
not merely freeze nuclear weapons but abolish them.
Randall Forsberg

We must protest if we are to survive.
Protest is the only realistic form of civil defense.
E. P. Thompson

Protesting Nuclear Testing

In April 1954 India's Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru led the non-aligned nations in criticizing the US H-bomb tests in the Pacific. He also encouraged Norman Cousins to persuade Albert Schweitzer to alert the world to the dangers of nuclear weapons and their testing. In the summer of 1957 Nevil Shute's novel On the Beach about the survivors of a nuclear war was published, and Republican Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon introduced a resolution to halt nuclear tests because of their radiation hazards but also as the first step toward disarmament and peace.

On July 15, 1955 the Mainau Declaration signed by 52 Nobel Laureates warned humanity, "All nations must come to the decision to renounce force as a final resort of policy. If they are not prepared to do this, they will cease to exist."1 On May 15, 1957 Dr. Linus Pauling referred to Schweitzer's appeal when he spoke at Washington University in St. Louis, arguing that no human being should be sacrificed to a project that could kill hundreds of millions. Two other professors, Barry Commoner and Edward Condon, helped Pauling write a petition that garnered signatures from 2,000 scientists by June, when it was released to the press and sent to the White House. Pauling had won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry; but he gave up his administrative position at Cal Tech in 1958 to write the book No More War! that warned against the harmful effects of radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing. In the Preface, he wrote

We shall enter upon the continuing period of peace,
a period when there will be no more war,
when disputes between nations will be settled
by the application of man's power of reason, by international law.
It is the development of great nuclear weapons
that requires that war be given up, for all time.
The forces that can destroy the world must not be used.2

Pauling described what hydrogen bombs would do to major cities and predicted that the fallout from testing could result in a million seriously defective children and about two million embryonic and neonatal deaths. He proposed a World Peace Research Organization and sent 1500 copies of the book to influential people, including every member of Congress. In July 1957 Bertrand Russell had initiated the Pugwash conference that brought together scientists from both sides of the Cold War. This was so successful that it became the first of a series of conferences. On January 15, 1958 Pauling handed United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold a petition signed by 9,235 scientists, including 37 Nobel Laureates, urging an international agreement to stop testing.

Inspired by Dr. King and the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956 and the Catholic Workers and War Resisters who had refused to take shelter during civil defense drills in New York, some activists formed the Committee for Non-Violent Action (CNVA). On August 12, 1957 they held vigils at the office of the Atomic Energy Commission in Las Vegas, Nevada. When they tried to enter the gates of the atomic test site at Camp Mercury, they were arrested for trespassing. After they received suspended sentences, they returned to a prayer vigil at the test site and saw the extraordinary light of the first test in a series. The next spring Albert Bigelow and four Quakers sailed the Golden Rule into the Pacific test zone near the Eniwetok atoll, where H-bomb tests were planned. They defied a court injunction twice, were arrested, and went to jail. Hearing of their trial, Earle Reynolds sailed his Phoenix into the test zone and spent two days in jail. In the summer of 1959 CNVA activists organized civil disobedience in Omaha at the Strategic Air Command (SAC) base. Others held a vigil to protest the germ warfare at Fort Detrick in Maryland, and the Polaris submarine was picketed in Connecticut. For ten months starting in December 1960 a walk for peace traversed from San Francisco to the east coast through Europe and on to Moscow.

Also in 1957 the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) was founded; the name was suggested by psychologist Erich Fromm, and the main organizers were long-time executive secretary of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Clarence Pickett and the United World Federalist (UWF) Norman Cousins, editor of Saturday Review. Unitarian minister Homer Jack became coordinator. After Sputnik was launched on October 4, their full-page advertisement in the New York Times warned people, "We are facing a danger unlike any danger that has ever existed."3 The ad was then run in many local papers, and 25,000 reprints were distributed. SANE ran a series of effective ads including one which said "Dr. Spock is worried," featuring the famous pediatrician Benjamin Spock, whose book Baby and Child Care was extraordinarily influential. Within a year SANE had 25,000 members in 130 chapters. On May 19, 1958 Madison Square Garden in New York was filled with 20,000 supporters. In July President Eisenhower offered to stop nuclear testing on October 31 for one year provided that the Soviet Union also refrained from testing during this moratorium, though the US did conduct a series of tests in October. In 1959 negotiations for a test ban bogged down at Geneva, because the Soviets feared that on-site inspections by the United States would be used for spying.

The Student Peace Union was started at the University of Chicago by CNVA activist Kenneth Calkins, and they adopted the logo of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) based on the semaphore signs for N and D in a circle that became the universally recognized peace symbol.

After tensions in Germany over the building of the Berlin wall in August 1961, the Soviets resumed nuclear testing on September 1. Two weeks later the United States began testing underground, but in April 1962 the United States resumed testing in the atmosphere. The effort to stop nuclear testing was greatly enhanced by the actions of Women Strike for Peace (WSP), starting in the fall of 1961. In 1963 SANE urged its members to write to the Senate and White House, and 18,000 letters were sent asking for an end to nuclear testing. Norman Cousins consulted with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and flew to Moscow to talk with Soviet premier Khrushchev about a test ban treaty. After Cousins returned and advised President Kennedy that the Russians would respond favorably to a diplomatic initiative, Kennedy included the proposal in his speech at the American University in June, 1963. By the end of July the partial test ban treaty had been signed by the two superpowers.

However, the French continued to test nuclear weapons in the South Pacific. Between 1972 and 1974 Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior made a series of voyages to the Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls in order to disrupt the tests. After French gendarmes beat Greenpeace crew member David McTaggart on the Vega, the outrage to the publicity was so vociferous that the French decided to move their tests underground also. Greenpeace has continued with many creative actions to protest nuclear weapons. In July 1985 when France was about to resume nuclear testing, its secret agents bombed the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour, killing a crew member. Rainbow Warrior II returned to Moruroa and was seized by the French. Greenpeace's Nuclear Free Seas campaign started in 1987 and got results four years later when Britain, Russia, and the United States all withdrew their nuclear weapons from on board surface ships. In 1995 the French seized the Rainbow Warrior II and arrested the crew prior to more testing, but international outrage persuaded them to stop testing there after January 1996. That year several Greenpeace executive directors were arrested in Tianamen Square for protesting China's nuclear testing. Since 2000 Greenpeace has been protesting the testing of the US ballistic missile defense (BMD) tests at Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Kwajalein atoll.

Nonviolent protests began at the underground nuclear test site at Mercury, Nevada in 1981. Numbers of those getting arrested were small until 1986, when 775 protested and 154 were arrested. From then until 1994 there were 536 American Peace Test demonstrations at the Nevada test site with a total of 37,488 participants with 15,740 arrests. After 1994 the American Peace Test disbanded, but the faith-based Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) continued to protest every year.

Protesting Nuclear Power

Demonstrations against nuclear power plants in western Europe began in France and West Germany in 1971. Protests increased, and in February 1975 a major breakthrough for the anti-nuclear movement occurred in Wyhl of southwestern Germany. When construction of the power plant was about to begin, several hundred local activists (farmers, housewives, merchants, and students) held a press conference at the construction site and sat down in front of the bulldozers. Police cleared the area by using water cannons and by arresting people. Nevertheless, some local people stayed there overnight, and they returned the next week with 28,000 supporters from all over Germany and from Alsace in France. People occupied the land for over a year and operated a school to educate people on nuclear issues. They agreed to leave when a panel of judges was established, and in 1977 the panel ruled against the plant.

During the summer of 1976 the construction site for a nuclear power plant at Seabrook, New Hampshire was occupied by 180 people, and the following April more than 2,000 members of the Clamshell Alliance marched onto the site where construction had begun. On the first of May 1,414 people were arrested at the Seabrook site. The Clams were well organized into affinity groups of 10-20 people who were trained in nonviolence and practiced consensus decision-making. They attempted to avoid a hierarchical and authoritarian leadership structure by letting every person in each group and each group within the whole participate in the process. Of those arrested, more than half refused to pay bail and stayed in custody for two weeks.

The example of the Clamshell Alliance stimulated a more active resistance in California to the almost completed Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors. The Movement for a New Society (MNS) from Philadelphia had influenced the Clamshell, and David Hartsough, who had also worked for civil rights in the South, brought their nonviolence tactics, affinity group structure, and consensus processes to California, persuading the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) board to support the Diablo Canyon action in order to develop the nonviolent movement. In June 1977 the Abalone Alliance was formed. The Mothers For Peace had filed as interveners in 1973 and were glad to see the effort mobilizing. Nonviolence was strictly adhered to when 47 people were arrested for trespassing on August 7, 1977. One year later 5,000 people rallied, and 487 occupiers and blockaders were arrested for their civil disobedience.

By the time fuel-loading was due to begin in September 1981 a nonviolence handbook had been published to educate new activists on the processes; numerous affinity groups were prepared from all over California; and the direct action was extended for two weeks with more than 1900 arrests. Shortly after the action, numerous errors were discovered in the plans and buildings of the plant, and two years later the plant was still not close to becoming operational. Although a minor earthquake fault was found near the plant, it eventually did go on-line.

For many people, including myself, the experience at Diablo Canyon in the encampment, the nonviolence training, the affinity group friendship, feminist awareness, the consensus processes, the arrest, and the time together in jail were deeply moving and inspiring. The Nonviolence Code, which was agreed to by every affinity group, was as follows:

1. Our attitude will be one of openness, friendliness,
and respect towards all people we encounter.
2. We will use no violence, verbal or physical, toward any person.
3. We will not damage any property.
4. We will not bring or use any drugs or alcohol
other than for medical purposes.
5. We will not run.
6. We will carry no weapons.

These Nonviolence Guidelines were adopted by various direct actions in California sponsored by the Livermore Action Group, the Vandenberg Action Coalition, and others.

At Diablo Canyon in 1981 strong solidarity was achieved on refusing to pay any money for bail or fines and also on refusing to accept probation. Most people were released after four days for time served, but over five hundred people became defendants represented by Richard Frischman using the necessity argument-that people had to act out of a moral necessity in order to prevent a greater harm or danger. This defense of necessity has been used by many anti-nuclear activists in order to challenge these evils through the judicial process.

During my week in jail I got to know the white-haired "Berkeley Bob" Schneider, who had won the Silver Star in World War II and later became known as Eldred. He told me that this Diablo action was so fantastic that he wanted to help organize the same thing at the Livermore Laboratory in northern California, where research for nuclear weapons is conducted. I agreed that the danger of nuclear weapons is even greater than that of nuclear power. In February 1982 the Livermore Action Group had their first action, and on June 21 of that year 1,400 blockaders, including Daniel Ellsberg, disrupted business as usual at the lab and were arrested. That same month 1,691 blockaded the United Nations offices of the nuclear weapons powers, and nearly a million people marched in the streets of New York for an end to the nuclear arms race.

Protesting Nuclear Weapons

In June 1978 the United Nations held its First Special Session on Disarmament, and a coalition called the Mobilization for Survival (MfS) sponsored a rally of 20,000 protesters. That year hundreds of people had been arrested over a period of eight months at Rocky Flats, Colorado, where the plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs are manufactured. Daniel Ellsberg called Rocky Flats the Auschwitz of our time. The next year 15,000 people participated in the demonstrations at Rocky Flats. In April 1979 at Groton, Connecticut, more than 3000 people demonstrated, and over 200 people blockaded the launching of the first Trident submarine, the Ohio.

On September 9, 1980 Daniel Berrigan, Philip Berrigan, Dean Hammer, Elmer Maas, Carl Kabat, Anne Montgomery, Molly Rush, and John Schuchardt of the "Plowshares Eight" entered a General Electric plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania and hammered on Mark 12A nuclear warheads (a first-strike weapon for the MX missile). During their trial they were not allowed to present evidence on international law or the defense of necessity but were convicted of burglary, conspiracy, and criminal mischief and were sentenced to five to ten years in prison. They were defended by Ramsey Clark and others, and their appeals took ten years. Their trial is depicted in the movie In the King of Prussia with Martin Sheen playing the judge and the defendants playing themselves. Their disarmament action was followed by many other plowshare actions at General Dynamics Electric Boatyard at Groton, Connecticut, protesting the Trident submarines, and at other facilities where nuclear weapons are developed or at missile silos, ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) towers used for communication during a nuclear war, or at military bases. Starting in 1984 some judges began to allow juries to hear expert evidence based on justification by necessity and to uphold international law. As of 1986 seventeen of these disarmament actions had taken place with some sentences as long as 12 years, and by the year 2001 there had been 68 plowshares actions involving 150 individuals, many of whom committed more than one action. The average sentences have been between one and two years. In October 2002 three Dominican sisters hammered on a Minuteman missile silo near Greeley, Colorado; after a trial they were sentenced to 41, 33, and 30 months, a $3,080 fine, and three years probation. Plowshares actions have also taken place in Australia, Germany, Holland, Sweden, England, and Ireland.

The conversion of two Catholic bishops, Matthiesen in Amarillo, Texas and Hunthausen of Seattle, was stimulated by personal contact with individuals arrested for civil disobedience. Matthiesen urged workers to quit Pantex, where nuclear weapons are assembled, and Hunthausen refused to pay part of his federal income tax to protest military spending. Jim and Shelley Douglass, who influenced Bishop Hunthausen in Washington, organized a group called Ground Zero, which began protesting Trident submarines in 1975 and, starting in 1983, the white train carrying nuclear weapons. Their dual focus in their nonviolent civil disobedience campaign is Christ's kingdom of God and international law.

The Los Angeles Catholic Workers, who operate a free soup kitchen on skid row to feed about 800 people a day, have been active in civil disobedience for several years protesting nuclear weapons businesses in southern California and also other wars since then. Following in Dorothy Day's tradition, Jeff Dietrich, Catherine Morris, and others have been arrested many times.

The planned flight testing of the MX missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central coast of California brought protesters from all over the state in January and March of 1983. About 200 were arrested and banned from the base in the first action. Many of these people returned in March and were joined by hundreds more who stayed in jail a week in solidarity for equal sentences; in this second action 777 were arrested. Congress had delayed some of the MX missile funds, which were to be voted on again in May. That month Jim Wallis of the Sojourners led 242 Christians into the halls of the US Congress to pray; they were arrested for an illegal demonstration. On June 17 the first MX missile flight test was delayed for several days at Vandenberg as forty protesters were arrested on the base. The Vandenberg Action Coalition is just one of the many activist groups that have sprung up around the world. Since the missile flights are targeted at the Marshall Islands, these protests are connected to the efforts of Pacific Islanders for a nuclear-free Pacific.

The first flight test of the MX missile seems to have been scheduled to coincide with the first annual International Day of Nuclear Disarmament on June 20, 1983 organized by the Livermore Action Group (LAG) of Berkeley. On that day legal rallies and nonviolent civil disobedience occurred in over fifty locations across the United States. At Livermore alone 1,066 people were arrested. Most of them refused to be arraigned because they would not accept probation; after a week the judge relented on the probation. The objectives of this action were to further the causes of global nuclear disarmament, demilitarization and nonintervention, equitable distribution of wealth and resources within and among nations, and a sustainable relationship between the human race and the planet. The aim was to "protest, halt, and disrupt the design, production, transport, and deployment of nuclear weapons worldwide for at least one working day."

In August 1981 some women in England organized a march from Cardiff to the US Air Force base at Greenham Common 125 miles away in order to protest the planned deployment of 96 cruise missiles there. Because it flies low so as not to be picked up by radar, the cruise missile is considered a first-strike weapon rather than a deterrent. The marchers arrived at Greenham Common on September 5. The media had ignored the march; so four women chained themselves to the main gate. Many decided to stay and set up a peace camp on base property; they were soon joined by others. On January 20, 1982 the nearby town of Newbury threatened to evict them; but they decided to remain and wanted to encourage the Labour party, which was currently considering unilateral disarmament. That year it became a peace camp for women only. The evictions began in May 1982; but those arrested were soon replaced by others as they had a decentralized social structure. Following the example of the US Women's Pentagon Action, they issued a call to surround the base. On December 12, 1982 more than 30,000 women did exactly that, and the next day about 2,000 women were arrested for blockading the base. On New Year's Day 1983 forty-four women climbed over the fence and danced on a partially built missile silo.

The women named the seven gates of the Greenham Common base after the colors of the rainbow. Inspired by the encirclement, many towns and cities formed Greenham groups and supported the peace camp by raising money, spreading publicity, and arranging child care and transportation. Local affinity groups were able to initiate their own actions and be independent while still being part of the movement. After the cruise missiles were deployed in November 1983, a group of women decided to file a lawsuit in New York against President Reagan; the court denied them a hearing, but the effort created an extensive network in the United States. Another independent action that was opposed by many in the camp was when London Greenham groups brought blankets to the fences. In December 1983 about 40,000 women came to Greenham Common with mirrors to reflect back the reality of the base to those inside.

During a ten-day action in September 1984 about 10,000 women camped at the base. That month British prime minister Margaret Thatcher announced that she would get rid of the camp, and after that evictions occurred almost every day. Military by-laws were imposed in April 1985, making trespass a criminal offense with a possible fine of 100 pounds or 28 days in prison. The US Air Force even "zapped" women with microwaves of ultrasound that silently interfered with brainwave patterns, causing headaches, drowsiness, loss of memory, and even worse symptoms. On December 12, 1985, the sixth anniversary of the NATO decision to deploy cruise missiles, actions were carried out in home areas as well as at the base. Cruisewatch monitored the 44 deployments that occurred at the base between 1984 and 1988 so that missiles could not be deployed outside the base in secret. The women believed that these convoys were enough to cause the Soviet Union to go on nuclear alert because an exercise could not be distinguished from a real threat. In 1987 women at the camp debated who could call themselves "Greenham women," some believing that only those at the camp should do so. All these and many other decisions were made by using consensus process.

In her articles Gwyn Kirk described the feminist and nonviolent practices of the Greenham women, whom she believed practice nonviolence as a way of life. She described the six principles as assertiveness (challenging the police, politicians, judges, and the military), enjoyment (celebrating and affirming life with power, creativity and imagination), openness (making the business of war public and having clear communication), support and preparation (providing for the needs of the blockaders), flexibility of tactics (responding to new situations and being creatively unpredictable to keep up the pressure), and resistance (maintaining the protest despite harassment, prosecution, and persecution). The values she observed that the experience at Greenham Common used and taught are personal responsibility (not being victims and initiating actions), diversity (the variety of people and overcoming racism), a decentralized network (friendly groups providing emotional support), nonhierarchical decision-making (feminist and consensus processes), communication, coordination, and continuity (by personal contacts), and flexibility.

Many women at Greenham Common found that their experience was transformative, and the peace camp there lasted until the year 2000. Inspired by their example, many other peace camps sprang up in such places as Cosimo in Sicily, Seneca in New York, Puget Sound, Savannah River, St. Paul, and in Holland and Australia. At the Seneca Women's Peace Camp the attributes of responsibility, self-discipline, cooperation, and struggle were emphasized, and the consensus process was closely followed.

In West Germany the anti-nuclear and ecology movements grew into a full-fledged political party-the Greens. They managed to combine direct action protests with electoral politics, and in March 1983 the Green Party won 27 seats in the national Parliament. As their most articulate spokesperson in English, Petra Kelly pointed out that one of their main concerns was the US deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles in western Europe that was scheduled to begin in December 1983. Kelly argued that nonviolent action and parliamentary democracy are complementary, writing,

Nonviolent opposition in no way diminishes
or undermines representative democracy;
in fact, it strengthens and stabilizes it.
The will of the electorate is not expressed simply by
putting one's mark on a political blank cheque every four years.4

Petra Kelly believed that the Greens must demonstrate how to resolve conflicts by not treating adversaries as enemies but as people who need to be liberated from their slavery to violence. Practically every violent action results in violence in return. Thus violent revolutions usually only change the personnel at the top, but the system of violence remains. Like Gandhi, she recommended not cooperating with the violent elements in the social system.

The anti-nuclear movement is active throughout western Europe, while in eastern Europe during the Cold War it primarily operated through official organizations. In the Netherlands the No Cruise Missiles Committee organized massive rallies with 400,000 people in Amsterdam in November 1981 and 550,000 in The Hague in October 1983. An anti-missile petition was signed in 1985 by 3.75 million Dutch citizens. In England more than a dozen peace camps were established, Greenham Common being the most well-known. European Nuclear Disarmament (END) under the leadership of E. P. Thompson grew quickly in a few years.

The nonviolent direct action portion of the anti-nuclear movement emphasizes the egalitarian methods of shifting roles and leadership positions so that many people can develop leadership skills. Most protesters shy away from the word "leader," preferring the role names of facilitator or spokesperson. Feminist awareness and consensus process attempt to be sensitive to every person's feelings, and the effort is always to keep a sense of group unity by resolving dissension. Yet every person and each group is considered autonomous. One group or even one person in a group can block consensus if there is an ethical objection to an action. Actually it is a moral responsibility to protest an immoral action which may affect the group. This is in reality the basis of civil disobedience toward a society which is allowing immoral actions. As with Gandhi, people in the nonviolent movement feel that the means is as important as the end. Therefore a great emphasis is placed on the purity of the process. When affinity groups of five to twenty people all agree on something, and when a spokes-council of representatives from those groups all achieve a unanimous decision involving hundreds of people, the moral and spiritual power of the resulting action can be awesome. Through this process of alternating spokes-council and affinity group meetings, goals are determined, strategies and tactics develop and change, and virtually every decision important to the group is made in such a way that every individual can influence the result.

The Great Peace March of 1986 showed how many peace groups made a transition from the top-down organization that typifies political campaigns of "leaders" to a more democratic movement that is shaped by all the active participants. Initiated by the former campaign manager, David Mixner, the publicity failed to produce the 5,000 marchers and funding support the staff of one hundred expected. The march began from Los Angeles on March first with about 1200 marching. The lack of organization resulted in numerous problems, and on March 14 Mixner announced that the March was broke, had failed, and people might as well go home. At Barstow in the Mojave Desert about 400 people decided that they would continue and appealed for assistance. Renamed the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament, on March 28 they continued walking as a reformed democratic organization on the move-Peace City. They found support along the way, and by the time they reached Washington DC on November 15 they were about 800 strong. Those who persisted found that they had the most challenging and memorable experiences of their lives.

Other protests of nuclear weapons continued to occur throughout the 1980s. For example, Pax Christi sponsored a protest of the Trident II submarine base at King's Bay, Georgia on May 6, 1989. After a short rally 54 people were given traffic citations for blocking the road into the main gate. Then twenty of us were arrested on the federal property of the base for stepping over a designated line on the sidewalk outside the fence of the base and were later charged with a federal petty offense. When the Berlin wall came down seven months later, I was still in prison for having a trial in that action; but it was clear that the direct actions protesting nuclear weapons were rapidly diminishing as the Soviet Union collapsed and was transformed by the end of the Cold War.

Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign

At the same time as the nonviolent direct action movement was growing, a nation-wide campaign in the United States for serious nuclear arms control developed a ground-swell of support through the bilateral nuclear weapons freeze proposal. The Freeze was conceived in the summer of 1979 when the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) proposed a "Nuclear Moratorium," and arms-control scholar Randall Forsberg, who had done research for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), wrote the essay "Confining the Military to Defense as a Route to Disarmament" in which she suggested that both the USA and USSR stop producing nuclear weapons as a first step. This idea struck a chord with leaders in the peace movement when she spoke at the Mobilization for Survival annual convention in September. Encouraged by them, she wrote up her proposal in a four-page "Call to Halt the Arms Race." The following paragraph from that document was to become the basis of Freeze resolutions all around the country:

To improve national and international security,
the United States and the Soviet Union
should stop the nuclear arms race.
Specifically, they should adopt a mutual freeze
on the testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons
and of missiles and new aircraft
designed primarily to deliver nuclear weapons.
This is an essential, verifiable first step
toward lessening the risk of nuclear war
and reducing the nuclear arsenals.5

The AFSC distributed 5,000 copies, and endorsements soon came in from Clergy and Laity Concerned (CALC), FOR, WILPF, Pax Christi USA, and the Coalition for a New Foreign and Military Policy.

Republican Senator Mark Hatfield introduced in the US Senate an amendment to the SALT II treaty calling for a Freeze, and in January 1980 a conference of about 30 peace groups endorsed Forsberg's Freeze proposal. The Freeze resolution was placed on the ballot in 62 cities and towns in Massachusetts, and in November it passed in all but three; the Freeze even passed in 30 where Reagan also won. More than 300 peace activists met at Georgetown University in March 1981 and set up committees to work for a nuclear weapons freeze. Forsberg's Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies (IDDS) became a clearinghouse for information until the national Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign (NWFC) established an office in St. Louis in December 1981. That year Freeze resolutions were endorsed by the legislatures of Massachusetts, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, Vermont, Wisconsin, Kansas, Iowa, and Maryland. In November 300,000 West Germans demonstrated against nuclear weapons in Bonn, and the Women's Pentagon Action involved about 1,300 women in civil disobedience. In February 1982 Jonathan Schell published a detailed analysis of the consequences of a nuclear war in The New Yorker magazine, and his book The Fate of the Earth came out in April and became a best-seller.

Senators Ted Kennedy and Hatfield introduced a Freeze resolution in March 1982 and immediately attracted 25 co-sponsors in the Senate and 125 in the House of Representatives. Although 60-85% of the American people favored a Freeze, pressure against it from two thousand corporate lobbyists led to its narrow defeat in the House on August 5 by a vote of 204 to 202. However, in the 1982 elections Nuclear Freeze Initiatives were passed by the people in California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Dade County. For the first time in history as many as 18 million people voted on the issue of nuclear weapons; 60% of them voted for the Freeze even though President Reagan opposed it. In seventy Congressional races where the Freeze was a key issue, pro-Freeze candidates won in 64% of them. On May 4, 1983 the US House of Representatives passed a non-binding Freeze resolution 278-149.

A bilateral nuclear weapons freeze that is verifiable was a fair proposal at that time because the Soviet Union had just recently caught up to parity with the United States in military power. Yet the Reagan Administration was attempting to forge ahead to military superiority again by developing and deploying new first-strike weapons such as the Trident II, MX, Pershing II, and cruise missiles, which actually had been approved by President Carter in December 1979, shortly before the Russians invaded Afghanistan. A complete Freeze would also be a comprehensive test ban and would be easier to verify than SALT I or II, according to Herbert Scoville, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Common sense told people that the arms race had to be stopped before it could be reversed.

The Freeze campaign became a national, mainstream issue, and much of the effort behind it came from professional organizations such as the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), which was led for four years by Dr. Helen Caldicott. In her care for children's health as a pediatrician and as a native of Australia in the south Pacific, where many nuclear tests occurred, Caldicott became aware of the medical dangers from radioactivity and had worked to end French nuclear testing there. Her lectures, films, and books on nuclear madness stirred thousands of anti-nuclear activists. In 1979 she organized a symposium of experts on the subject of "The Medical Consequences of Nuclear War" which addressed large audiences in major cities across the United States. A short film showing the highlights of the symposium called "The Last Epidemic" was shown by peace groups and Freeze advocates to thousands of small groups. Another short film of one of Caldicott's moving lectures on the nuclear arms issue, "If You Love this Planet," won an Academy Award in 1983.

Caldicott is not afraid to use strong and deep emotions of concern for the survival of our human civilization in order to stir her listeners to action. She considers this issue of human survival to be the ultimate issue of all time. In 1980 she started the Women's Party for Survival with the symbol for it being a baby. Later her driving force turned this into the many groups that sprang up around the country called Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND). Her work also stimulated the forming of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), and in the fall of 1982 they presented a television program that was shown uncensored in both the Soviet Union and the United States. Three Soviet physicians and three American physicians all agreed that the only cure for nuclear war was prevention and the elimination of nuclear weapons. In 2002 Dr. Caldicott published The New Nuclear Danger, warning about the revived military industrial complex under George W. Bush, and that year she founded the Nuclear Policy Research Institute in California.

An indication of how widespread and diverse the peace movement had become can be seen by the various professional organizations that sprang up so rapidly. They included Educators for Social Responsibility, Lawyers Committee for Nuclear Policy, High Technology Professionals for Peace, Lawyers Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control, Union of Concerned Scientists, Business Executives for National Security, Architects for Social Responsibility, Social Workers for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, Union of Concerned Psychoanalysts and Psychotherapists, Artists for Survival, Nurses for Social Responsibility, and many others. Religious and church groups became more active than ever. The US Catholic bishops, the World Council of Churches, the United Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal House of Bishops, the United Methodist Council of Bishops, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the US that includes thirty Protestant denominations, and many other churches, including the Lutherans in East Germany, made strong criticisms of the nuclear arms race.

Even though polls showed that three-quarters of the American people favored freezing the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons, half-hearted support by Democratic Presidential candidates and Republican victories in 1984 and 1988 delayed the cessation of the nuclear arms race. Even after the end of the Cold War and major reductions in military spending by Russia and the other former Soviet republics, American politicians still refused to reduce US nuclear arsenals and weapon technology that would have provided a valuable "peace dividend." Yet even stopping the accelerated arms race by leveling it off helped to bring about the economic prosperity of the late 1990s. In 1986 the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign (NWFC) merged with SANE to become SANE/Freeze, and in 1993 the name was changed to Peace Action. As of 2005 Peace Action was still actively working on many peace issues, including abolishing nuclear weapons.

In July 1996 the World Court ruled that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would violate international law. In May 1995 the Abolition 2000 statement was initiated, and 400 organizations signed on. In 1997 a treaty was drafted for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and it was introduced into the UN General Assembly. In 1998 Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Schmidt, and Pierre Trudeau were some of the 120 leaders from 48 countries who issued an appeal to abolish nuclear weapons. By the year 2000 the Abolition 2000 campaign had more than two thousand groups, and the petition had been signed by 13.4 million people.

In 2002 Dr. Caldicott published The New Nuclear Danger, warning about the revived military industrial complex under George W. Bush, and that year she founded the Nuclear Policy Research Institute. She described how the Clinton administration had greatly increased arms sales to other countries, and she noted that despite the end of the Cold War it was the first administration since Eisenhower that did not negotiate a major arms control treaty. Under George W. Bush the Department of Energy embarked on the nuclear Stockpile Stewardship and Management (SS&M) program that would cost more than $5 billion per year. Since the Cold War was long over and the US had no enemies for which these new weapons were needed, she wondered what could be the motivations of the tremendous project. The explanations she found were the enriching of weapons makers, rival competition between the air force, army, navy, and marines, donations to politicians by weapons manufacturers, and giving the United States a huge arsenal to enforce its corporate globalization.

Caldicott was concerned because the new Bush administration withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty so that it could go forward with its Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) or National Missile Defense (NMD) system that had been promoted for years by the new Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. She noted that both President Putin of Russia and the Chinese arms control ambassador warned the United States that this acceleration of the arms race would stop the process of nuclear disarmament. Policy statements have made clear that in its drive for world domination the Bush administration is intent on gaining military supremacy in space. Representative Dennis Kucinich has proposed a bill to prohibit the weaponization of outer space. Caldicott also warned about the radioactive depleted uranium (DU) that was used in Iraq in 1991, Bosnia in 1994 and 1995, Kosovo in 1999, and Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. She discovered that already at least five Italian soldiers who fought in Bosnia had died of leukemia. Caldicott reviewed the records of the warmongering advisors influencing Bush's foreign policy-Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and others. At the beginning of her book she contrasted these horrifying dangers with the vision of a wise president leading the world toward disarmament and peaceful recovery.

Randall Forsberg was appointed by President Clinton to the Advisory Committee of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and she continues to work diligently for nuclear disarmament. She noted that the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 flagrantly violated US and international laws. At the same time the United States was justifying its invasion with the erroneous contention that Iraq still had remnants of chemical weapons, the US was blocking and undermining treaties that would verify the reduction of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Forsberg has pointed out that in 2001 Russia proposed reducing its arsenal of ten thousand nuclear weapons to 1,500 with verification of their dismantling; but President George W. Bush refused this offer and in May 2002 signed the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT) that merely put thousands of weapons on reserve instead of dismantling them. The limits do not take effect for ten years, at which time the treaty expires. Bush made the US the only country to block the implementation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Bush administration has also blocked verification of the ban on biological weapons with the excuse that they would expose the secrets of the biotech companies.

The US has refused to ban weapons in space, and is the only country developing such weapons. President Bush also announced that the US was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which had been in effect since 1968. In 2004 the Bush administration began deployment of Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) even though the system has failed most of its tests. According to Forsberg, the Bush team reversed the policy aimed at getting North Korea to end its testing and export of missiles with a range of more than two hundred miles, and China will not negotiate on fissile material unless the US is willing to discuss its program for weapons in space. Information from the nuclear-posture review has leaked out indicating that the Bush administration is threatening to use nuclear weapons against several countries including Cuba, Syria, and Iran. Forsberg believes that these Bush policies are more likely to foster the spread of weapons of mass destruction than the reverse.


1. No More War! by Linus Pauling p. 223.
2. Ibid., p. vii.
3. The American Peace Movement by Charles Chatfield, p. 105.
4. "Women and Ecology" in Women on War, p. 312.
5. "Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race - Proposal for a Mutual U.S. Soviet Nuclear Weapons Freeze," Bulletin of Peace Proposals, Vol. 12, No. 4 (1981).

Copyright © 2003-2005 by Sanderson Beck

This is a chapter in World Peace Efforts Since Gandhi, which is published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.

Gandhi's Nonviolent Revolution
Wilson and the League of Nations
United Nations and Human Rights
United Nations Peacekeeping
Einstein and Schweitzer on Peace in the Atomic Age
Pacifism of Bertrand Russell and A. J. Muste
Clark-Sohn Plan for World Law and Disarmament
King and the Civil Rights Movement
Lessons of the Vietnam War
Women for Peace
Anti-Nuclear Protests
Resisting Wars in Central America
Gorbachev and Ending the Cold War
Mandela and Freeing South Africa
Chomsky and Zinn on US Imperialism
Protesting the Bush-Iraq Wars
Nonviolent Revolution for Global Justice
Appendix: My Efforts for World Peace


Chronology of Peacemaking

BECK index