This October is the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, arguably the closest our world has ever come to thermonuclear war. Cuba, having recently fended off a military invasion attempt by the United States, had made a deal with the Soviet Union to base Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba as a deterrent against future American aggression. The Soviet Union, after years of watching the United States and NATO attempt to encircle and choke off the communist world, was happy to have an ally so strategically close to the United States. But when American spy planes discovered the missile installation sites in Cuba before they were ready, the revelation triggered an international crisis.
The Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), the largest and most active nonviolent direct action antiwar group in the United States at the time, had just the year before walked across the continental United States and then across Europe to Moscow, urging all who would listen to consider the most radical proposals to prevent nuclear war. They had even met with Nina Khrushchev, wife of the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, impressing upon her the globe-spanning dangers of nuclear weapons and the arms race — echoes of which may have been on Nikita Khrushchev’s mind during October 1962.
(See last week’s post on the CNVA meeting with Nina Khrushchev: https://www.voluntownpeacetrust.org/a-peace-of-history-blog/sf-moscow-walk-for-peace-meeting-mrs-khrushchev-1961)
The development of the crisis happened so rapidly and with such uncertainty of the outcome that many peace groups, including the CNVA, seemed to have been temporarily paralyzed like much of the rest of the country. But as soon as the crisis had ended, the CNVA — and especially the New England chapter based in Voluntown, Connecticut — led a renewed effort to build an international movement to resist any attempts by their own nation-states to commit cross-border violence. While the Non-Aligned Movement had been developing at government levels at the time, the international antiwar movement of the 1960s more closely resembled the similar efforts made by international socialists in the run-up to the First World War: coalition-building through mutual aid, popular education through open meetings and the distribution of literature, and public acts to provoke compassion and critical thinking. Unpopular wars, of course, are difficult to continue waging and even more difficult to win.
The shadow of the mushroom cloud has hung over us for the entirety of our current conflict with Russia. Since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, international war resisters and antiwar activists have called for Russian forces to cease the invasion, for NATO to cease provoking Russia, and for all parties to negotiate a resolution. But now, with recent reports that large swaths of the Russian citizenry are resisting the draft and taking actions to hasten the end of the war, it is time once again to refocus efforts on a new international movement — after all, the common people of any two countries often have more in common with each other than they do with their respective leaders. As the war drums continue to beat louder, it would be wise to remember that.
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Swann, Bob. “Cuba, Berlin, and International Action.” Polaris Action Bulletin (Number 36)
Berrigan, Frida. “On Friday, ‘Say no to nuclear weapons.’” The Day. 1 August 2021 [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://www.theday.com/article/20210801/OP03/210809975
“Electric Boat History.” General Dynamics: Electric Boat. [Accessed 4 August 2021]. http://www.gdeb.com/about/history/
“Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance.” Arms Control Association. August 2020 [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat
“Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.” United Nations: Office of Disarmament Affairs. [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/tpnw/
Wellerstein, Alex. “Nukemap.” Nuclear Secrecy. [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/
“What if We Nuke a City?” Kurzgesagt — In a Nutshell. 13 October 2019 [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iPH-br_eJQ
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