Abolition of Nuclear Weapons: The Struggle Continues


Werner Lange I Social Movement Studies I History I February 2nd, 2017



The United Nations and the antithesis of its noble ideals, nuclear weapons, were both born in the same fateful year of 1945. Now in 2017, after some seven decades of dialectical conflict, one of them is destined to be placed, in earnest, on an irrevocable course towards disappearance or debilitated diminution. The 45th President of the United States, another septuagenarian, is hell-bent on making sure it is not the nukes.

One month before his inauguration as President, Trump ominously proclaimed, in a tweeted message, "the US must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes". The very next day, December 23, the General Assembly of the United Nations overwhelming approved a resolution (L.41) to convene negotiations in 2017, starting in March, on a "legally binding agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination".

This historic breakthrough toward imposition of a universal permanent ban on nuclear weapons was greeted, again ominously, by another Trump tweet: "As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th". Just how different remains to be seen, but it is fully conceivable and consistent with its misanthropic agenda that the Trump regime will use the full force of its usurped power to unrelentingly attempt to dismantle the United Nations entirely; or alternately, to implement the longstanding rightwing cry to get the UN out of the US and the US out of the UN. Unlike the abolition of nukes, the elimination or even evisceration of the UN would have catastrophic consequences for world peace and human rights.

The current existential conflict is not entirely unlike the one having faced humanity at the onset of the Cold War, and it is worthwhile for progressives to remind ourselves of the sacrifices and successes of the pioneers, particularly W.E.B. DuBois, in their heroic peace efforts during the dawn of the Nuclear Age as we hopefully move towards its twilight this year.

At a time when nukes numbered at the most in the dozens (instead of thousands) and nations possessing them were limited to only two (instead of nine and counting), a worldwide campaign was launched in early 1950 to outlaw nuclear weapons and identify any nation which first uses them as a war criminal. The text of the Stockholm Peace Appeal, put in the form of a petition, was unambiguous and uncompromising in its call for the abolition of these new weapons of unprecedented mass destruction:

"We demand the outlawing of atomic weapons as instruments of intimidation and mass murder of peoples. We demand strict international control to enforce this measure. We believe that any country which first uses atomic weapons against any other country whatsoever will be committing a crime against humanity and would be dealt with as a war criminal. We call on all men and women of good will throughout the world to sign this appeal".

Over 2.5 million Americans joined some 140 million persons worldwide in signing the first international appeal to abolish nuclear weapons. Organizing this historic peace effort in the USA was the short-lived Peace Information Center, led by an elderly African-American scholar, W.E.B. DuBois, the most prominent of the unsung heroes and pioneers of the American peace movement against the very existence, let alone proliferation, of nuclear weapons. Under his prophetic and indefatigable leadership, the PIC - though only permitted a 6-month existence in McCarthyite America - disseminated 485,000 copies of the Stockholm Peace Appeal along with thousands of "Peacegrams" sent to some 6000 Americans on its mailing lists.

Although over 125 prominent Americans, including 1946 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Emily Greene Balch, endorsed the Appeal, it was the enormous grassroots support throughout the country which undoubtedly concerned, even enraged, the Administration of the only world leader to ever authorize use of nuclear weapons for mass slaughter. Truman's Secretary of State publicly denigrated the Stockholm Peace Appeal as "a propaganda trick in the spurious 'peace offensive' of the Soviet Union"; the head of the US delegation to the UN called signers of the SPA, "traitors to their country"; the corporate media almost uniformly denounced this "anti-American" petition; circulators were often assaulted and occasionally jailed; and DuBois, along with his associates at the PIC, were ordered by the US government to register as foreign agents. Subsequent to a federal grand jury hearing at which only government evidence was presented, the elderly DuBois was indicted and arraigned in handcuffs at the Criminal Courtroom of Washington's Federal Courthouse.

A worldwide outpouring of righteous anger at his arrest coupled with expert legal defense prevented his death behind prison walls. His triumphal acquittal in late 1951 was the first time the US government failed to convict a citizen targeted by McCarthyism, marking the beginning of the end of this dark time in American history.

With the ascendancy of the Trump presidency, a forced descent into a similar darkness is now upon us. As before, there will be victims, institutional as well as individual, only in greater numbers and kinds. But there will also be victories, great ones, if we learn from the examples of patriotic peacemakers like DuBois who had the courage of their convictions to speak truth to power and suffer the consequences; or if we would but follow the directives of our national founders and do our duty, as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, that "when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future security". Then, and only then, will a light so shine in the darkness that the darkness of our times cannot overcome it, and the nightmare of a Trump presidency along with that of nuclear weapons ends, never to return.


Werner Lange was a Bernie Sanders delegate to 2016 DNC. He may be contacted at wlange912@gmail.com.