In March 1961, two antiwar activists disrupted a commissioning ceremony for the world’s fifth ever nuclear missile submarine in order to raise awareness of the danger and absurdity of the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. The two activists nonviolently attempted to board the submarine by paddling through frigid waters and dodging the patrol boats in nothing but a canoe. As alluded to in last week’s story, this action occurred during the Easter-time 3-Week Walk for Peace through the Northeast US, organized by the New England Committee for Nonviolent Action (NE CNVA) as a companion walk for the much bigger San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace.
(See our previous posts:
“Organizing the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace (1960-1961)”
“‘Call to a 3-Week Walk for Peace’ (1961)”
“‘Report on the Walk’ (1961)”)
Longtime readers will be familiar with this kind of action that the CNVA popularized in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As the United States unveiled the world’s first line of nuclear missile submarines with patriotic pomp and military ceremony, at least two teams of activists would often show up. The larger group would amass visibly, often near the entries to the ceremonies, and hold signs and/or pass out leaflets about the dangers of nuclear weapons to those in attendance. Meanwhile, the smaller group would sneak onto the banks of the water near the ceremonies, launch their canoe or other small vessel (or simply dive in), and cause a great commotion playing cat-and-mouse with the patrols — stealing the limelight from the military.
Indeed, this seems to be exactly how it played out in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1961. What is so striking about the action is its drama. We live in a very different world now compared to 1961, and it is questionable whether such actions would be effective (or even safe) to attempt today, but they seemed to have worked multiple times in those early years specifically in large part because they were using a new tactic to respond directly to the unveiling of a new and world-changing technology. If there is a lesson to be drawn, perhaps it is that, as activists and organizers, we must constantly adopt new tactics to disorient the military-industrial complex and the State — and that when violence as a response is removed from the table, new possibilities and innovative tactics often suddenly spring forth.
(Click the image below to download the PDF version of the original clippings)
The CT Committee for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons organizes pro-disarmament demonstrations throughout the year. To participate in these demonstrations against nuclear arms and in support of the UN’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, please get in touch with us on Facebook at facebook.com/voluntownpeacetrust or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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“Civil Disobedience at Portsmouth, N.H.” Polaris Action Bulletin. 10 April 1961 (Bulletin #21), page 4.
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