This passed Tuesday marked the 60th anniversary of the start of the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace. On December 1, 1960, sixteen committed individuals took off from San Francisco’s Union Square on foot, determined to walk across the United States and Europe to Moscow in order to spread their message of nuclear disarmament to Americans, Europeans, and Russians alike. Bradford Lyttle, one of the main organizers of the Walk, wrote an account of the experience, including the unique opportunities and encounters that walking across 6000 miles revealed.
Almost everywhere they went, people of all kinds were drawn to the artists, anarchists, academics, and idealists who took part in the Walk. What is striking about so many of these interactions is how they revealed the sometimes surprising private feelings of ordinary citizens about war, peace, conscience, nuclear weapons, and the future of humanity in an era of extreme conformity. In our current culturally divided moment, perhaps it is a good reminder that not everyone who disagrees with us is the enemy, that one’s actions do not always reflect one’s beliefs, and that a single interaction can inspire great acts of kindness from ordinary people.
The following are excerpted accounts of the first few weeks of the Walk from Bradford Lyttle’s book You Come with Naked Hands: The Story of the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace.
Our alarm went off at 5:30 next morning. Everyone was so sore and tired that we decided to sleep until 7:30. Then we took two hours to repack our luggage. All of us had too much gear. We were afoot by 11:00. At Millbrae, police forbade leafleting for one mile. We complied, feeling it would shock the Executive Committee [of the Committee for Nonviolent Action “CNVA”] in New York, if we were jailed the second day out. Joe Glynn led us a mile off the route to picket a Liquid Carbonics plant and other industries with military contracts. In the evening, several marchers met with members of the Palo Alto Peace Center. We reached Redwood City and separated to spend the night in homes of supporters.
December 3, we began walking earlier, and passed through Stanford University. Students readily accepted leaflets. In Redwood City’s municipal park, we held an open air meeting at noon with more than 100 sympathizers. A Rabbi and a minister brought their Sunday School classes to meet us. Sympathizers gave us cookies and money. From 4:30 to 5:30 we picketed Moffat Air Force Base. UPI sent a reporter. A man stopped his car. He said he recently had left his job building Polaris [intercontinental nuclear] missiles at a nearby Lockheed factory. He couldn’t square manufacturing missiles with his conscience. He pressed $5 into my hand.
Members of the San Jose Quaker Meeting prepared our supper and we talked with them afterwards. Then we held an internal meeting. Since we were already eight miles behind our schedule, we decided we should walk from 6:00 AM until noon every day, with no time out for picketing or meetings. A moment of truth had also arrived in regard to personal belongings. Each marcher was asked to reduce his gear to a minimum and be responsible for his things.
We reached the Monterey Peninsula on December 6. Milton and Jane Meyer served us supper at their Carmel home. Later, Berkeley station KPFA interviewed us. [The Hilary Harris filmmakers] Saul Gottlieb and Ray Wisniewski arrived in the middle of the interview. A breakdown of their Volkswagen had delayed the mobile movie-takers for three days.
The Mayers knew that radical peacewalks seldom come to Carmel. They had decided to work us hard. At 7:00 the next morning we and half a dozen local sympathizers picketed Fort Ord. Reporters were on hand. At 7:30, we walked through the town of Seaside, leafleting. At 8:00, a car whisked us to picket the Naval Air Facility Base near Monterey. The Monterey Police Chief was on hand and very amiable. “Everyone has a right to express themselves. If you believe this is the way to do it you are welcome to do so in Monterey.” So ran the gist of his statement.
We proceeded through the campus of Monterey Peninsula College. Throngs of students gathered to read our leaflets and discuss our views. We were permitted to leave only after we had promised to send marchers back in the afternoon to speak in classes and debate in the student lounge. We walked through downtown Monterey. A drugstore owner gave us a canvas waterbag. After picketing for 25 minutes at the Presidio, an Army language school, we walked and leafleted in Pacific Grove.
A parade through Carmel and meetings in classes at Carmel High ended our whirlwind tour of Monterey Peninsula. In the afternoon, half a dozen marchers returned to Monterey Peninsula College and went also to Emerson College. Everywhere, students were eager to discuss our ideas, although few seemed to agree with them.
We marched into Santa Maria, a town near the missile testing range at Vandenberg AFB, on the 14th. Santa Maria is “The Missile Capital of the Free World” according to the masthead of its newspaper. A courageous Methodist minister opened his church to us. Likely more than half his congregation was directly or indirectly involved in testing military rockets.
In the afternoon, we reached the main entrance of Vandenberg. An Air Force officer threatened me with violence if I took his picture. On the way there, I was hitchhiking, and two men who earlier had lingered at the fringe of a public meeting in Santa Maria, gave me a lift. They were hostile. I feared they might be planning to “give me a ride”. But they only wanted to talk. One was a jet fighter pilot on the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga. He was a troubled young man.
“In training class an officer said, ‘You men are killers now. Don’t forget that!’” The boy shook his head and grinned uneasily. “I’m a killer. I’m supposed to be a killer,” he said.
His companion serviced missiles at Vandenberg. He was more detached from his work than the pilot, and argued the strategy of deterrence with me. I was unable to shake his conviction that the missiles would never be used.
On the 15th, we resumed the March at Vandenberg’s main gate. CNVA Committee member Sam Tyson and Joe Glynn had been picketing. Police gave them tickets for parking by the side of the road -- on Government property.
About two miles out from the gate, out in the lonely, hilly dunes, a man stopped his car and took movies of us. I talked with him. He was a physicist who worked with Convair on Atlas missiles. His heart was heavy, his conscience raw. A Catholic and a Thomist, he justified his work on the grounds that the missiles were being used for peaceful space exploration, as well as to carry H-bombs. But the rationalization obviously was thin. “I’m due for a promotion soon,” he said gloomily. How many employees felt as he did in the great, sprawling Base, whose gantry cranes squatted like some strange animals on the beach, blinking their red and green warning lights?
At least one more. A pretty young lady stopped her car where we were resting and gave us $5. She taught grade school on the Base. A powerful impulse drove her to join us, but she had a family to support. She drove beside us about two miles, discussing our program.
On the 19th, the March picketed recruiting offices in Oxnard. On the 20th, we attended a public meeting in the Santa Monica Unitarian Church. Every night we succeeded in finding accommodations in churches or private homes. Much of the walking was inspiring and exhilarating. In the winter, the countryside is beautiful in Central and Southern California.
Roberta Ridley, a Los Angeles mother who had been deeply moved at the Santa Monica meeting, provided hospitality for three nights. I warned her about the dangers of having 16 individualistic peacewalkers in her home. She was undaunted. When she was able, she took responsibility for our meals, too, and I don’t think we met many people in 5000 miles whose devotion and generosity exceeded hers.
Lyttle, Bradford. You Come with Naked Hands: The Story of the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace. Greenleaf Books, Raymond, New Hampshire: 1966.
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