The journey had taken ten months. They had walked across the continental United States and then across Europe, passed through the Iron Curtain, and had spread their message of peace and unilateral disarmament to the common citizens of both sides of the Cold War. Now, three days after their momentous entry into the Red Square, the CNVA San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace was to have an important meeting. Nina Khrushchev had graciously agreed to sit down with the Walkers to hear them out while her husband, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, was away.
(See our previous post: https://www.voluntownpeacetrust.org/a-peace-of-history-blog/sf-moscow-walk-for-peace-arrival-at-the-red-square)
According to reports from the Walkers present at the meeting, “Mrs Khrushchev’s” sentiments broadly echoed much of what they had been hearing from the common Soviet people: that unilateral disarmament on the part of the Soviet Union seemed infeasible while the United States continued its aggressive maneuvers, and that universal disarmament was her preference. Still, Nina Khrushchev did not seem to be some Party hardliner nor a submissive wife — she expressed her own personal discomfort with the nature of nuclear weapons and the “effects of the bomb tests,” and that she would impress these concerns on her husband urgently.
The Walkers noted that there did not seem to be any “civil defense” infrastructure or program in the Soviet Union — in stark contrast to the “duck-and-cover” drills, construction of fallout shelters and bunkers, and mountains of leaflets and other paper instructions in the case of a nuclear attack. The implication was that the Soviet Union, despite what Western media often reported, was not prepared for nuclear war and would likely not start one. Meanwhile, the United States and its NATO allies were the ones most urgently sharpening their blades, encircling their rivals, and psychologically preparing their citizens for war against a boogeyman.
Unfortunately, moral rightness is irrelevant to the inherent dangers of nuclear rivalry. Just the simple fact that two opposing sides have these double-edged weapons at all makes every negotiator more anxious and every negotiation more fraught. Over the next year, in an attempt to even the score in the arms race, the Soviet Union would make a fateful deal with Cuba. Just twelve months after the 1961 CNVA arrival in Moscow, the world would come to learn just how quickly nuclear brinkmanship could spiral out of control.
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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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