Only Three Honorable Choices, 1960
In the following two letters, members of the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) explain the motivations for their actions and give a glimpse into their greater worldview. A month before these letters were published openly in the Polaris Action Bulletin, nine CNVA members were arrested during an action to disrupt the launch of the Ethan Allen nuclear-armed Polaris submarine in New London-Groton, Connecticut. The first letter challenges the prosecuting attorney to indict other (older and more “respectable”) CNVA members, invoking both the letter of the law as well as the spirit of general fairness. This remarkable act of solidarity helped to reframe the narrative of the case from a story of young hooliganism to a story of principled nonviolent activists with radical but logical opinions about the Cold War. Indeed, while the prosecutors did answer the challenge by indicting four more CNVA organizers along with the original nine, most of the charges would ultimately be dropped. In the second letter, even more CNVA members with strong reputations up the ante even higher with the challenge to either 1) indict all pacifists who have taken part in civil disobedience related to Polaris submarines (whether legally or not); 2) to drop the charges altogether; or 3) to resign their positions. Called “a Christmas letter,” this second letter appealed to Christian values that were more common at the time: challenge to unjust authority, love for thy neighbor, willingness to self-sacrifice for the greater good, and conviction to establish peace on Earth. While the second letter did not seem to have as much of an impact as the first, it was a decent play as it kept the prosecutors on their toes, not knowing what to expect from these nonviolent radicals. Despite the CNVA members being charged in court, it was the State that was on the defensive.
See the first part of this story here: http://www.voluntownpeacetrust.org/a-peace-of-history-blog/challenging-a-nuclear-submarine-in-new-london-1960
See the second part of this story here: http://www.voluntownpeacetrust.org/a-peace-of-history-blog/consequences-of-challenging-a-nuclear-submarine-1960
See the third part of this story here: http://www.voluntownpeacetrust.org/a-peace-of-history-blog/multiple-tactics-to-expose-the-nuclear-threat-1960
(Click the image below to download the PDF version of the original newsletter clipping)
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Meister, Kenneth, Marjorie Swann, Robert Swann. “Text of a letter delivered to the U.S. Attorney in New Haven, Conn., Nov. 28:” Polaris Action Bulletin. 29 December 1960 (Bulletin #17), page 2.
Dellinger, David, Madeline Gins, Arthur Harvey, Margaret W. Haworth, Kenneth Meister, A.J. Muste, F. Porter Sargent, J. Kathryn Sargent, Marjorie Swann. “Text of a Christmas letter sent to U.S. Attorneys McDonald and Hultgren, Jr.:” Polaris Action Bulletin. 29 December 1960 (Bulletin #17), page 2.
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