Chapter One: The Gathering Storm, 1954-56
We are speaking ... as human beings ... whose continued existence is in doubt.
Beginning in 1954, a rising sense of uneasiness about nuclear weapons emerged around the world. An earlier surge of antinuclear activity, launched by the shock of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, had been promoted with some effectiveness by atomic scientists, pacifists, world government advocates, and hibakusha (Japanese survivors of the atomic bomb). Yet after the late 1940s it had ebbed dramatically, as Cold War divisions, exhaustion, and controversies ignited by Communist-led peace campaigns undermined the appeal of nuclear disarmament. Starting in 1954, however, the rapid development of the hydrogen bomb--a weapon with a thousand times the power of the bomb that had destroyed Hiroshima--began to revive the idea that humanity was teetering on the brink of disaster. Atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, particularly, stimulated public concern. They scattered clouds of radioactive debris around the globe and, furthermore, symbolized the looming horror of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear war. Deeply disturbed by this turn of events, many of the early critics of the Bomb renewed their calls for nuclear arms control and disarmament--measures which appealed to ever larger sections of the public.
Ominous Developments, 1954-56
Although the U.S. government had tested the world's first thermonuclear device in 1952 and the Soviet Union had made its own thermonuclear breakthrough the following year, not until 1954 did nuclear testing deeply impress itself on public consciousness. The turning point was the first U.S. H-Bomb test, conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) on March 1, 1954. It occurred at Bikini atoll, located in the Marshall Islands, a United Nations trust territory in the Pacific. The AEC had staked out a danger zone of fifty thousand square miles (an area roughly the size of New England) around the test site. But the blast proved to be more than twice as powerful as planned and generated vast quantities of highly radioactive debris. Within a short time, heavy doses of this nuclear fallout descended on four inhabited islands of the Marshall grouping--all outside the danger zone--prompting U.S. officials to evacuate 28 Americans working at a U.S. weather station and 236 Marshallese. Thanks to their rapid escape, the Americans went relatively unscathed. But the Marshall Islanders, who were not removed from their radioactive surroundings for days, soon developed low blood counts, skin lesions, hemorrhages under the skin, and loss of hair. Over time, the islanders also suffered a heavy incidence of radiation-linked illnesses, notably thyroid cancer and leukemia.
Much of this might have gone unnoticed by the outside world had there not been a further incident. About eighty-five miles from the test site--and also outside the official danger zone--radioactive ash from the H-Bomb explosion showered a small Japanese fishing boat, the Lucky Dragon. By the time the ship had reached its home port of Yaizu two weeks later, the twenty-three crew members were in an advanced stage of radiation sickness, with skin irritations and burns, nausea, loss of hair, and other afflictions. The Japanese government promptly hospitalized the ailing fishermen and destroyed their radioactive cargo. As the disturbing news spread across Japan, a panic swept that nation. Although most of the crew recovered, the ship's radio operator, Aikichi Kuboyama, died during hospital treatment in September.
In the midst of a growing international furor, U.S. officials sought to reassure the public that all was as it should be. On March 31, in a statement read at President Dwight Eisenhower's press conference, Lewis Strauss, the AEC chair, maintained that "at no time was the testing out of control." The U.S. personnel were in good shape, he said, and the Marshall Islanders appeared "well and happy." The Japanese fishermen, to be sure, seemed to be experiencing some problems, but these, Strauss insisted, were minor. "The blood count of these men is comparable to that of our weather station personnel," he contended, and the skin lesions "are thought to be due to the chemical activity of the converted material in the coral rather than to radioactivity." In any case, he implied, the Japanese alone bore the responsibility for their ailments, for the Lucky Dragon, he stated falsely, "must have been well within the danger area." The only discomforting observation came during the question period, when Strauss remarked that an H-Bomb could be made "as large as you wish ... large enough to take out a city." Asked "how big a city?" the AEC chair responded: "Any city."
Despite the ominous portents, the nuclear arms race continued. In early 1955, the AEC conducted tests of atomic bombs in Nevada, and later that year the Soviet Union set off hydrogen blasts on its territory, raising radioactivity levels over large areas and rekindling popular anxieties. In the spring of 1956, the AEC commenced Operation Redwing, a new series of nuclear explosions at its Pacific test site. Questioned by the Senate Armed Services Committee, General James M. Gavin, U.S. Army chief of research and development, predicted that a Soviet thermonuclear attack on the United States would kill millions of Americans and leave large regions uninhabitable. U.S. retaliation against the Soviet Union, he observed, would spread death and radiation across Asia to Japan and the Philippines--unless, of course, the winds blew the other way, in which case a U.S. nuclear attack on eastern Russia could eventually kill hundreds of millions of Europeans. In June 1956, the same month that Gavin's testimony was released to the press, a study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences contended that the fallout produced by nuclear weapons testing thus far did not add substantially to the risks of cancer. But the Academy warned that any amount of radiation caused genetic damage.
Nuclear testing represented the tip of a potential iceberg, for both the U.S. and the Soviet governments showed a clear willingness to use nuclear weapons when it suited their purposes. In late October 1953, the U.S. National Security Council secretly resolved that in the event of hostilities with the Soviet Union or China "the United States will consider nuclear weapons to be as available for use as other munitions." On January 12, 1954, in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles publicly unveiled the administration's new plan for "massive retaliation." Henceforth, he declared, the U.S. government's defense strategy would "depend primarily upon a great capacity to retaliate, instantly, by means and at places of our choosing." Determined to obtain public "acceptance of the use of atomic weapons as `conventional,'" Eisenhower stated at his press conference of March 16, 1955, that in a battlefield situation the U.S. government would employ tactical nuclear weapons "just exactly as you would use a bullet or anything else." Soviet officials, while rejecting the inevitability of nuclear war, also showed few qualms about waging it. Speaking at the Twentieth Communist Party Congress in February 1956, Premier Nikita Khrushchev warned that if "the imperialists" unleashed a war, the Soviet Union was prepared to give them "a smashing rebuff." That November, during the Suez crisis, he threatened the British and French governments with the prospect of nuclear annihilation.
Some Important Signs of Dismay
As might be expected, international peace organizations found these developments deeply disturbing. Horrified by the thermonuclear buildup, worldwide pacifist bodies--the War Resisters' International (WRI), the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (International FOR), and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)-- renewed their earlier demands for an end to the nuclear arms race. In 1955, the WILPF's international executive called on its national branches to mobilize public opinion against nuclear weapons. The following year, opposition to nuclear weapons testing provided the major topic of discussion during the WILPF's international congress. Within the world federalist movement, too, the hydrogen bomb generated strong apprehensions. Meeting in September 1954, the World Association of Parliamentarians for world Government, with representatives from twenty-one countries, warned that "rival nations are now engaged in the most dangerous arms race of all time.... A war fought with nuclear weapons would annihilate whole countries, and indeed threaten the existence of human life." That same month, leaders from these and other peace groups attended a meeting of the loosely knit International Liaison Committee of Organizations for Peace (ILCOP), which called for an end to nuclear testing and a program of "drastic disarmament."
The escalating nuclear arms race also sparked concern within international religious bodies. Although the World Council of Churches, the major Protestant federation, steered clear of the pacifist program championed by small antiwar denominations like the Society of Friends, its August 1954 world assembly at Evanston, Indiana, called for the elimination and prohibition of nuclear weapons. The world body also recommended that nations pledge to refrain from use of the Bomb and that the United Nations enforce this pledge. A year later, in Switzerland, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches endorsed the U.N. General Assembly's call to limit atomic energy to peaceful purposes. In July 1956, the executive committee of the world body's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs argued that "tests of nuclear weapons should be discontinued under international agreement as soon as possible," an idea reiterated by the Central Committee the following month. "Provision must be made to safeguard both the health of the people and the security of the nations," that body declared. "The churches should continue insistently to press for an adequate system of disarmament."
Statements from the Catholic Church during these years touched on similar themes. Pope Pius XII devoted much of his 1954 Easter message to a critique of "new, destructive armaments, unheard of in their capacity of violence," which "could cause the total extermination of all life." He asked: "When will the rulers of nations understand that peace does not exist in an exasperating and costly relationship of mutual terror?" That September, in an address to the World Medical Association, he argued that nations should strive to avoid nuclear war "by all means," for it could result in "the pure and simple annihilation of human life." Calling attention to the dangers of nuclear testing during 1955, the pope warned of "the increased density of radioactive products in the atmosphere" and "the horrors of monstrous offspring." Although Pius XII's strong anticommunism and acceptance of nuclear deterrence blunted the impact of these and other pronouncements, he used his Christmas message that year to promote an international agreement to ban nuclear testing and outlaw the use of nuclear weapons.
The Role of Bertrand Russell
The famed mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell served as a key figure in the reviving struggle against the Bomb. Appalled by the prospect of nuclear war, Russell had become a leading proponent of world government in the years after World War II. With the inception of the scramble for the H-Bomb in the 1950s, he grew increasingly outspoken. "I felt I must find some way of making the world understand the dangers into which it was running blindly, head-on," he recalled. Writing in mid-June 1954 to the British Broadcasting Corporation, Russell proposed that he deliver a radio address focused on the weapons issue. Although BBC officials wanted to sandwich his talk between cheerier messages from a journalist and an athlete, eventually Russell prevailed and, on December 23, delivered his somber message, "Man's Peril." The question now confronting the world, he noted, was: Were human beings "so destitute of wisdom, so incapable of impartial love, so blind even to the simplest dictates of self-preservation," that they would carry out "the extermination of all life on our planet?"
Russell's message attracted considerable attention, including the praise of the distinguished French nuclear physicist, Frederic Joliot-Curie. As president of the Communist-led World Peace Council and of its scientific counterpart, the World Federation of Scientific Workers, Joliot-Curie had launched slashing attacks on the nuclear policies of Western nations in the postwar era. But his pro-Soviet position, in the context of the Cold War, had left him with little credibility outside Communist circles. Consequently, he now approached the non-Communist Russell and urged him to endorse the plan of the World Federation of Scientific Workers for a world conference of scientists that would stress "the dangers facing humanity." Cautious about becoming involved in a Communist-led enterprise but impressed by the potential of an agreement that spanned the political gap, Russell replied that although a conference at this point would be premature, he favored a public statement about the dangers of nuclear weapons by a small group of the world's most eminent scientists, representing "all shades of opinion."
Without waiting for Joliot-Curie's reply, Russell wrote to the revered American physicist, Albert Einstein, on February 11, 1955, to promote this idea. "Eminent men of science ought to do something dramatic to bring home to the public and governments the disasters that may occur," he argued. It was "wholly futile to get an agreement prohibiting the H-bomb," Russell stated, for "such an agreement would not be considered binding after war had broken out." Instead, "the thing to emphasize is that war may well mean the extinction of life on this planet," thereby helping to convince citizens and governments alike that in the nuclear age nations must find a route to peace. Einstein, who had agitated vigorously against nuclear weapons since their inception, responded that he agreed "with every word" of Russell's letter; "something must be done" that "will make an impression on the general public as well as on political leaders." After conferring at length with Joliot-Curie and incorporating his suggestion for a future conference among scientists, Russell prepared a revised version of his "Man's Peril" address and began gathering signatures.
Despite these auspicious beginnings, the task proved difficult. Five important non-Communist scientists in the West refused to sign the statement, in most cases on the basis of their strong anti-Communist sentiments. Moreover, Einstein, Russell's most valuable collaborator in the venture, died after a short illness on April 13. Nevertheless, in one of the last acts of his life, the American physicist sent a letter endorsing the wording, and it reached Russell later that day. Finally, the key Communist signer, Joliot-Curie--on whom Russell had relied for obtaining signatures from Communist nations--began to argue that Russell's statement was only a "draft" and to insist on rewording it to accommodate wars within nations and other items in line with Communist policy. Eventually, Joliot-Curie even produced his own statement for Russell to endorse. On June 17, Russell responded in exasperation that given Einstein's death he could not make any significant changes in his statement. Although he had hoped "to build a bridge between opposing camps," he and Joliot-Curie might have to issue separate messages. At the last moment, after additional attempts to alter the wording, Joliot-Curie agreed to endorse Russell's statement if his objections were recorded in footnotes. Soviet and Chinese scientists did not sign at all.
To Russell's delight, his frustrating efforts now culminated in a very successful event. Booking the largest room in London's Caxton Hall for July 9, 1955, he invited representatives from the press, magazines, radio, and television networks. The physicist Joseph Rotblat, a pioneer in the British struggle against nuclear weapons and, at the time, executive vice president of Britain's Atomic Scientists' Association, agreed to chair the meeting. On the day of the event, a hall packed with emissaries of the mass media listened as Russell summarized the background of the statement and of its impressive list of signers. Aside from Einstein and Russell, they included Percy Bridgman and Hermann Muller of the United States; Cecil Powell and Rotblat of Britain; Hideki Yukawa of Japan; Joliot-Curie of France; Max Born of Germany; and Leopold Infeld of Poland. In the shadow of the Bomb, they declared, "We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps." Rather, "the question ... is: What steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?" Although the meeting began with some skepticism on the part of the press, the message quickly captured its imagination, as did the dramatic news of Einstein's deathbed endorsement of the venture. Consequently, what now became known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto received very widespread and favorable coverage.
As Russell proceeded with these activities, two German scientists also launched an international appeal. Max Born, a physicist who had found refuge in Britain during the Nazi regime, had returned to his native Germany to live quietly among Quaker pacifists. Awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1954, he conceived the idea of inducing Nobel laureates in physics and chemistry to sign a statement along the lines of Russell's BBC broadcast of December 1954. Born was assisted by Otto Hahn, a leading chemist and pioneer in nuclear fission research. In early 1955, working with German physicists Werner Heisenberg and Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker, they drafted an appeal which they circulated among participants in a July 1955 conference of Nobel laureates at Mainau, Germany. Signed by eighteen participants at the gathering, this Mainau Declaration, released on July 15, expressed their "horror" that "science is giving mankind the means to destroy itself." Although peace might be preserved temporarily by fear of nuclear weapons, "we think it is a delusion if governments believe they can avoid war for a long time" through such fear. Therefore, "all nations must come to the decision to renounce force as a final resort of policy. If they are not prepared to do this they will cease to exist." Issued only six days after the dramatic Russell-Einstein Manifesto, the Mainau Declaration--which drew the signatures of fifty-two Nobel laureates within a year--attracted far less public attention. Even so, it bolstered the confidence of nuclear critics and enhanced their credibility.
A Furor in Japan
Among all nations, Japan clearly underwent the greatest turmoil over the development of the H-Bomb. Not only had the Japanese people been the first to suffer the horrors of nuclear war, but now--thanks to the Bikini Bomb tests of March 1954--they were nuclear victims again. The arrival of the Lucky Dragon at its home port, Yaizu, along with its irradiated Japanese crew and cargo, touched off a furor all across the nation. Nuclear fallout--or, as the Japanese called it, "the ashes of death"--became a household term. Terrified of being poisoned by radioactive fish, hundreds of tons of which were destroyed by the Japanese government, consumers shunned this staple of the Japanese diet. A May 1954 poll by the Asahi Shimbun found that only 11 percent of respondents wanted to "cooperate with American H-Bomb tests to protect the security of the free nations." Another poll revealed that 78 percent of respondents opposed all nuclear testing under any circumstances; only 2 percent unconditionally approved it. That same month, determined "to protect the lives and the happiness of all mankind," middle-class housewives of the Suginami ward in Tokyo began a petition campaign against H-Bombs. This "Suginami Appeal," carried in their shopping baskets, blossomed into a nationwide movement and, by the following year, had attracted the signatures of 32 million people--about a third of the Japanese population. Meanwhile, the Yaizu city council passed a resolution urging the United States to ban atomic and hydrogen bombs, an action repeated in most villages, towns, and cities throughout the country.
Some of this resistance to the Bomb emerged from Japan's traditional antinuclear constituency. Immediately after the Lucky Dragon incident, the Japanese WILPF section appealed for a halt to nuclear testing and to the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Like the Japanese FOR, the WILPF assisted with the mass petition drive, and it followed up in October with a call for "a ban on the A-bomb and H-bomb." Scientists, too, played a prominent role in the antinuclear effort. "The scramble we see around us for the production of ever bigger and more fearful atomic weapons cannot but leave us in despair," observed an April 1954 declaration by the Science Council of Japan. "We believe we are voicing the common feeling of the people of all the world in sincerely appealing for the suspension of the atom and hydrogen bomb experiments, the abolition of mass-destructive nuclear weapons, and the establishment of really effective international control of atomic energy." Assailing the nuclear arms race, the venerated physicist Hideki Yukawa warned that the Bomb was "threatening to become the cancer that will destroy mankind."
Among the survivors of the atomic bombings, the pace of antinuclear activism quickened. Organized during these years in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and nationwide, hibakusha associations agitated not only for medical treatment and other relief measures but for an end to the nuclear arms race. Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki constructed peace parks, including exhibit halls within them, to memorialize their residents annihilated by the atomic bomb and to further the cause of peace. In 1955, the first year of their operation, Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Museum and Nagasaki's International Cultural Hall drew some 336,000 visitors, and the numbers climbed steadily thereafter. On August 6, 1954, a record turnout of 20,000 people attended Hiroshima's yearly Peace Memorial Ceremony, presided over by Mayor Shinzo Hamai. With the appearance of the hydrogen bomb, he noted, "the whole human race has come to be exposed to the ever-increasing menace of its total extinction." Consequently, "we make this appeal to the entire world: Let all wars be outlawed and all atomic energy placed under an appropriate control. And to the consecrated souls of our fallen citizens, we humbly pledge ourselves that with renewed determination we shall pursue the way leading to the establishment of peace."
The Japanese antinuclear movement soon spread far beyond the hibakusha and other early opponents of the Bomb. On August 6, 1955, thousands of delegates, mostly Japanese, convened in Hiroshima for the First World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. Among the sponsors were Tetsu Katayama (a former prime minister and Socialist Party leader), Saburo Yamada (president, Japan Academy of Science), Tamaki Uemura (president, Japan YWCA), the Reverend Benkyo Shiio (president, All-Japan Buddhist Association), Shozo Murata (president, International Trade Promotion Commission), and Hamai. The first evening session, in the Peace Memorial Park, drew thirty thousand people. Conference participants listened to the grim stories of the hibakusha, sang of resistance to the Bomb, and responded with thunderous applause to the proclamation of the Hiroshima Appeal, which demanded aid to atomic bomb victims and the abolition of nuclear weapons. In September, building on this success, organizers of the event established the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikyo), which soon had local affiliates all across the country.
Gensuikyo became one of Japan's most important and enduring mass movements. Much of its activist base came from the powerful Socialist Party and its trade union affiliate, Sohyo. Some also came from the smaller Communist Party. Nevertheless, Gensuikyo and its work did not immediately take on a left-wing tone, for antinuclear sentiments enjoyed a broad popularity in Japanese life. Surveyed in January 1956, 55 percent of Japanese respondents favored (and only 9 percent opposed) banning nuclear weapons even if it meant leaving "anti-Communist powers militarily weaker than the Communist powers." That June, 86 percent of Japanese polled expressed disapproval (and only 5 percent approval) of U.S. nuclear tests. Sponsors of the Second World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, held in August 1956 in Nagasaki, represented every political party and a broad array of organizations, including women's associations, religious and scientific bodies, unions, and pacifist groups. A pacifist participant from overseas recalled that in addition to the gathering at Nagasaki Gensuikyo arranged meetings at Tokyo and Osaka stations with twenty to thirty thousand people in attendance, as well as many smaller events. Governors and mayors gave banquets for the foreign delegates, while press conferences and interviews occurred on an almost daily basis. Everywhere she went she encountered the slogan: "Ban the Bomb."
Antinuclear Stirrings in the United States
Although the reaction to the advent of thermonuclear weapons was far milder in the United States, here, too, concern about the H-Bomb was rising. The Bikini tests of 1954, with their vast destructive power and radioactive fallout, proved particularly unsettling. Urging a pause in nuclear testing, the liberal Nation asked for some "hard political thinking" while people were still "able to think." The normally apolitical Scientific American opined that the H-Bomb had "become too big to be entrusted any longer to the executive sessions of rulers in Washington." In a widely reprinted letter to the New York Times the writer Lewis Mumford suggested an end to experiments with these "horrifying weapons of destruction." At the same time, novels and films focusing on the Bomb began to proliferate, thereby casting an alarming perspective on the future. In October 1956, disturbed by reports that nuclear testing added deadly strontium-90 to milk ingested by children, leaders of women's groups in St. Louis demanded an investigation of radioactive contamination in their city. That June, warning that "these fiendish instruments of annihilation" would soon "be beyond any known means of control," the Washington Post called for a nuclear test ban treaty.
Some of the most spirited opposition to nuclear weapons came from American pacifists. Although weakened by the early Cold War and its chilling effects on criticism of U.S. military policy, pacifist groups drew on their limited resources for sharp, repeated attacks on the Bomb. The FOR circulated Mumford's statement and a petition calling for the abandonment of H-Bomb tests to its twelve thousand members and, through them, to thousands of other Americans. In a New York Times advertisement headed "We Dissent, Mr. President," the WILPF deplored the program of Pacific H-Bomb tests and warned that the Bomb threatened "the continued existence of mankind." Pacifist pamphlets assailed nuclear war and associated military measures. "'Civil Defense' is a fraud," charged the FOR. "Against the weapons of modern global war there is no defense!" Instead, it diverted attention "from the realization that we cannot have both war and survival." On June 15, 1955, in New York City, twenty-seven men and women from the War Resisters League (the U.S. section of the WRI), the FOR, and the Catholic Worker movement--mobilized largely by A. J. Muste and Dorothy Day--publicly refused to take shelter during a nationwide civil defense drill. Arrested, tried, and convicted, they returned annually thereafter to engage in nonviolent resistance to preparations for nuclear war.
Like the pacifists, the remnants of the postwar atomic scientists' movement constituted a key component in the reviving struggle against the Bomb. Determined as ever to avert nuclear catastrophe, Leo Szilard raised disarmament issues with political leaders, in newspapers like the New York Times, and in movement publications like the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Nevertheless, more interested in a Cold War political settlement than in halting nuclear testing, Szilard was temporarily out of step with the campaign he had helped create. By contrast, the chair of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) told the Senate Subcommittee on Disarmament in June 1956 that his organization favored "a worldwide ban on further tests of nuclear weapons." Such a measure would provide "a preliminary step toward complete and universal disarmament," as well as limit nuclear proliferation, reduce international tensions, allay worldwide fears of radioactive fallout, and provide savings for "worthwhile projects." The FAS issued similar public statements later that year. Polled again in October about a test ban, members of the FAS Council, Executive Committee, and Advisory Panel endorsed it by a vote of 38 to 1. Many activist scientists, convinced that a test ban was technologically and politically feasible, felt they had reached a turning point. W. A. Higinbotham, an FAS leader since its inception, thought the possibilities for peace and disarmament "better than any time since 1946."
Another traditionally antinuclear group, the world federalists, seemed to play little role in this wave of concern about the Bomb; the reality, though, was more complex. Having suffered precipitous losses in membership, mass media coverage, and grassroots activism during the early 1950s, the world government movement had little public visibility thereafter. Even more important, many of the movement's most prominent leaders became active in nuclear disarmament campaigns, thereby muting its voice still further. In the 1940s, most had turned to advocacy of One World because of the menace of atomic war. But, by the mid-1950s, the Cold War had made world unity seem like a utopian vision, at best a distant goal. By contrast, banning the Bomb--or, at least, halting nuclear testing--appeared to be a feasible project, as well as one with immediate relevance. Consequently, dedicated proponents of world government like Einstein, Russell, and Rotblat, while retaining their globalist convictions, gravitated to the struggle against the Bomb.
One of America's leading advocates of world government, Norman Cousins, illustrates this tendency. Horrified by the atomic bombing of Japan, Cousins, the liberal editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, used his magazine to deepen popular awareness of nuclear dangers. He also initiated a "moral adoption" program to assist the orphaned children of Hiroshima. In September 1953, when Cousins visited the stricken city to deliver funds raised for the project, the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a prominent hibakusha who worked closely with him, suggested a related idea. Would it not be possible, Tanimoto wondered, to bring some of the girls disfigured by bombing scars to the United States for plastic surgery? Eventually, Cousins and Tanimoto arranged it, and on May 5, 1955, twenty-five "Hiroshima maidens" set out for New York City for surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital. The American press gave the venture reasonably good coverage, at least in part because it avoided issues of guilt and focused instead on practical, benevolent action to heal the horrors of war. But from the standpoint of the sponsors--and from that of most Japanese--the visit of the "Hiroshima maidens" had obvious antinuclear implications. Indeed, in August 1956, Cousins and others from the Saturday Review held an intense meeting with scientists at Washington University, in St. Louis, to discuss the issue of radioactive fallout. Scientific studies, they found, pointed to the radioactive contamination of milk and to the accumulation of radioactive strontium in bone and tissue, especially in the bodies of children. "We came away from that meeting," Cousins recalled, "with an enlarged understanding of the need to bring nuclear testing under control."
Religious organizations, too, played an important role as critics of the Bomb. Pacifist denominations, of course, were particularly prominent. In joint advertisements in the New York Times and other newspapers, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Brethren Service Committee, and the Mennonite Central Committee called for the outlawing of nuclear weapons. Beneath a drawing of a cross and a nuclear mushroom cloud, their statement compared these "two crosses: one standing for redemptive love and forgiveness, for the acceptance of suffering, for hope, for life; the other for hatred and massive retaliation, for the infliction of suffering, for fear, for death." Non-pacifist religious bodies, usually of a liberal persuasion, also pressed for nuclear disarmament. At its 1954 annual meeting, the American Unitarian Association unanimously supported "a pact which would renounce the use of ... the A-bomb and the H-bomb" and provide for "an across-the-board fool-proof plan for universal disarmament under effective controls." In 1956, the General Conference of the Methodist Church, citing the "possible deleterious hereditary effects of atomic radiation," called for "discontinuance of nuclear explosions by all nations." It also emphasized the need for world disarmament under international authority. That same year, the Commission on Justice and Peace of the Central Conference of American Rabbis championed "an international agreement to govern or abolish the testing of nuclear weapons" and the banning of "atomic energy ... as an instrument of international warfare."
Opinion surveys of the time indicated substantial public uneasiness about nuclear weapons, combined with increasing support for nuclear disarmament. Between 1954 and 1956, polls found that from 60 to 63 percent of American respondents thought that in the event of a world war the United States would be attacked with hydrogen bombs. Indeed, 57 percent told interviewers that they believed that in these circumstances there was a fair or good chance that their own communities would be attacked. Not surprisingly, arms control and disarmament treaties enjoyed considerable popularity. Between 1949 and 1955, backing for an international agreement to avoid first use of nuclear weapons rose from 68 percent to 74 percent. Asked in July 1955 if they favored an agreement among all major nations to reduce armaments, 67 percent of Americans responded affirmatively. Meanwhile, the willingness of Americans to use the Bomb declined. Between 1949 and 1955 support for employing the atomic bomb in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe sagged from 50 to 44 percent. Furthermore, between April 1954 and October 1956 support for calling off U.S. hydrogen bomb tests rose from 20 to 24 percent, while opposition dropped from 71 to 56 percent.
The nuclear testing issue became intertwined with U.S. electoral politics in 1956, when Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic presidential candidate, brought it into his campaign. On April 21, speaking before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Stevenson proposed halting H-Bomb testing and challenging other nations to do the same. This would "reflect our determination never to plunge the world into nuclear holocaust" and "would reaffirm our purpose to act with humility and a decent concern for world opinion." Sharp retorts from the press and the president led Stevenson to shelve the issue for a time, but he revived it on September 5, when, in a speech to the American Legion, he warned that "there is not peace--real peace--while more than half of our federal budget goes into an armaments race ... and the earth's atmosphere is contaminated from week to week by exploding hydrogen bombs." Despite slashing counterattacks from the Republicans--including Vice President Richard Nixon, who charged the Democratic standard-bearer with propounding "catastrophic nonsense"--Stevenson pressed forward with his call to end nuclear testing. On October 15, in a nationwide television broadcast entirely devoted to the issue, he promised to make a nuclear test ban his "first order of business" as president. The issue seemed to give the Stevenson campaign new momentum, inspiring a flood of favorable mail and endorsements from prominent scientists. But the Soviet government's public praise of Stevenson's proposal served as what Newsweek called "a political kiss of death." At the least, it neutralized any political advantage Stevenson might have derived from the nuclear issue.
Although Stevenson sincerely favored a halt to nuclear testing, his decision to press the issue in his campaign did not develop in a vacuum. In 1955, responding to Stevenson's query about "how to seize the peace initiative" from the Republicans, his aide Thomas Finletter had suggested that he attack the Republican administration for bringing the nation twice "to the brink of total atomic war" and that he strongly state "the case for disarmament." Stevenson's willingness to do so was reinforced by the pleas for nuclear disarmament of religious groups and leaders, distinguished scientists, and the one Democratic holdover on the AEC--pleas referred to by the Democratic candidate in his speeches. Although some campaign staffers feared that the nuclear testing issue would hurt Stevenson at the polls, others favored his raising it, at least in part because they were impressed by the enthusiastic applause it generated at campaign rallies. Moreover, Stevenson felt considerable respect for the leaders of the atomic scientists' movement, some of whom he employed as top advisers and speech writers. He also had a close personal relationship with Norman Cousins. As the campaign progressed, Stevenson repeatedly drew on Cousins for advice and campaign speeches. One of them apparently served as the basis for a nuclear disarmament address Stevenson delivered to eighteen thousand people at a Madison Square Garden rally. According to Stevenson, Cousins was his "constant counsellor and conscience."
Uneasiness in Britain
As in the United States, peace and disarmament activists in Britain reacted strongly against this latest surge in the arms race. Russell's dire warnings about the H-Bomb received the plaudits of leading world federalists, among them Henry Usborne, who proposed that as "a first step" toward survival, all nations other than the United States and the Soviet Union renounce the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Drawing on his immense prestige, Russell repeatedly highlighted the perils of the Bomb, arguing that humanity's survival could be ensured only by "avoiding war." Britain's pacifist leaders and groups were particularly active as nuclear critics. Messages or resolutions from the FOR, the WILPF, the Society of Friends, and other organizations roundly condemned nuclear weapons and nuclear testing. Working together, they organized small anti-H-Bomb demonstrations in London. In mid-1955, the National Peace Council--which brought together numerous pacifist and peace-oriented reform groups--voted unanimously to launch a campaign to push the British government toward "a policy of unilateral renunciation of the manufacture of the H-bomb."
Actually, British pacifists were already organizing an innovative venture along these lines. In December 1951, several members of the Non-Violence Commission of the Peace Pledge Union--the British section of the WRI--had established Operation Gandhi, a project whose goals included "stopping ... the manufacture of atomic bombs in Britain." On January 11, 1952, the group conducted a sit-down outside the War Office in London in which thirteen members were arrested. Tried and convicted, they assailed Britain's conversion into "one of the chief atom bomb bases of the world" and announced plans to combat it through promotion of "non-violent resistance." In March, they held a small, legal demonstration at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Aldermaston, where they carried posters reading "No more war," "Atomic secrecy breeds fear," and "Atom bombs disgrace democracy." In June, they staged a combined poster walk and civil disobedience action at the U.S. atomic bomber base at Mildenhall in East Anglia. Renamed the Non-Violent Resistance Group in the summer of 1952, the organization engaged in similar ventures--all on a small scale and with minimal public impact--in subsequent years. In 1955, Hugh Brock, the group's leading light, became editor of the Peace Pledge Union's newspaper, Peace News, but younger activists like Michael Randle and April Carter were coming to the fore as leaders of the new direct action movement.
New constituencies, too, were speaking out against the Bomb. Departing from its traditional silence on nuclear weapons, the British Council of Churches, at its April 1954 meeting, expressed dismay at the radioactive fallout generated by U.S. nuclear tests in the Pacific. Although many religious leaders, particularly Anglicans, showed few qualms about the nuclear arms race, a number of important prelates did criticize Britain's development of the H-Bomb. They included the bishops of Exeter and of Chichester, who appealed to the British government to discontinue nuclear testing and declared that use of the hydrogen bomb would be immoral. Meanwhile, Britain's trade unions began to criticize the weapon. Representing a million British workers, delegates at the May 1954 conference of the Amalgamated Engineering Union passed a resolution calling for "a total ban on the H-bomb." Prominent scientists also demanded action. H. W. Massey, president of the Atomic Scientists' Association, declared that an international agreement on nuclear weapons had become "urgently necessary."
The H-Bomb issue also stirred a current of concern within the Labour Party. In the aftermath of the Bikini Bomb tests of 1954, Labour introduced a parliamentary resolution calling on the Conservative government to press for a summit meeting that would end nuclear testing. Although Prime Minister Winston Churchill eventually rallied his party's legislators to defeat the resolution, the Labour Party's leadership continued to express misgivings about nuclear testing and about the destructive effects of nuclear weapons. In addition, more than a hundred Labour M.P.'s demanded an immediate halt to the weapons tests. Civilization could still "be saved," declared former prime minister Clement Attlee, "but only if the peoples of the world are roused to action." In early March 1955, when Churchill defended his government's decision to build the H-Bomb, he again encountered sharp criticism from antinuclear elements in the Labour Party. On March 10, Sir Richard Acland, a prominent Labour M.P., startled political observers by resigning his parliamentary seat, thus clearing the way for him to fight a by-election focused on the nuclear weapons issue. "I have sinned," he told the House; "I should have protested, or protested much more vigorously, not merely against the H-bomb today, but against the A-bomb and the strategic bomber force." Overtaken by a general election in May 1955, Acland's one-man crusade was defeated. Furthermore, the Labour Party's executive joined the Conservatives in endorsing Britain's manufacture of the H-Bomb. Nevertheless, the division in Labour's ranks over the issue was illustrated that spring, when sixty-two Labour M.P.'s, led by Aneurin Bevan, defied party policy and voted against Britain's production of the weapon.
Meanwhile, small-scale antinuclear organizations emerged. Initiated by Labour M.P. Fenner Brockway, a Hydrogen Bomb National Campaign sprang up in late April 1954, with the Reverend Donald Soper as chair and other clergy (e.g. Canon John Collins) and Labour M.P.'s (e.g. Anthony Greenwood, Sidney Silverman, and Anthony Wedgwood Benn) in leading roles. During the balance of the year, the campaign held poster demonstrations in Whitehall, addressed a few small meetings, and circulated a petition--eventually signed by half a million Britons--calling for internationally negotiated nuclear disarmament. Then, facing financial and other difficulties, it faded rapidly from sight. In early 1955, though, the Golders Green Women's Co-operative Guild, in North London, convened a meeting of local groups to discuss "the banning of the H-Bomb." This resulted, that July, in the formation of a Golders Green Joint Committee for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons and, that December, in the establishment of a Hampstead Joint Committee for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, headed by Arthur Goss, a Quaker peace activist. With both groups working smoothly together, Gertrude Fishwick, a retired civil servant who had organized the Hampstead group, now approached the National Peace Council about sponsoring a meeting to discuss the testing of nuclear weapons. Held in London on November 29, 1956, the gathering of about sixty activists voted enthusiastically to establish a nationwide organization to work for the abolition of nuclear testing.
These stirrings both reflected and encouraged antinuclear opinions in the broader society. To be sure, a March 1955 Gallup poll found that 54 percent of British respondents supported British manufacture of the H-Bomb, while only 32 percent opposed it. But most Britons resisted the idea of using such a weapon. In May 1954, 24 percent of British respondents told pollsters that they opposed employing atomic bombs under any circumstances and another 42 percent favored their use only "if an aggressor used or threatened to use them first." In February 1955, a U.S. government survey reported that 71 percent of Britons opposed (and only 10 percent supported) employing nuclear weapons against an invasion of Western Europe by conventional forces. That April, a Gallup poll found that 78 percent rejected using the H-Bomb against a non-nuclear power and that 67 percent opposed first use of the weapon against a nuclear power. The figures remained virtually the same in October.
Nuclear testing also aroused considerable antipathy. In December 1955, a poll found that 52 percent of British respondents thought the United Nations should try to stop the testing of H-Bombs; only 29 percent disagreed. According to a U.S. intelligence report, when the U.S. government announced its plans for nuclear testing in 1956, "the press as a whole expressed varying degrees of repugnance to the idea," with considerable "concern for the possible genetic effects of radiation." In April 1956, a secret U.S. government study brought the disconcerting news that Britons were almost evenly divided on the U.S. nuclear testing program. In September 1956, another poll reported that 72 percent of British respondents thought that the party receiving their vote should support an "international agreement to stop H-bomb tests."
Indeed, as a secret U.S. government study noted, a total ban on atomic weapons exerted "a powerful attraction" in Britain. In April 1954, asked their opinion of an "agreement to ban the atom and hydrogen bomb," 74 percent of British respondents thought it desirable, and only 15 percent undesirable. Fourteen months later, another secret study found that support for the abolition of nuclear weapons had climbed to 80 percent of Britons, while opposition had dipped to 14 percent.
Anxiety in West Germany
Public debate over nuclear issues also grew in the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1953, with the arrival of the first U.S. nuclear weapons to be based on West German soil, atomic cannon, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) warned that Germany might become a nuclear battlefield. Use of these weapons, an SPD defense expert told the Bundestag's Defense Committee, would cause "massive destruction of the surrounding area." After NATO's 1954 field exercise, Battle Royal, which took place in the Federal Republic and involved atomic weapons, SPD leader Carlo Schmid asked angrily: "Hasn't anyone done any thinking at all about civilian losses caused by the use of such atomic weapons?" U.S. and Soviet H-Bomb tests that year also produced a sense of shock. Horrified by the nuclear explosions and intrigued by the pope's critique of them, Pastor Martin Niemoller, a leader of the fight against German rearmament, initiated conversations between German religious leaders and nuclear physicists and appealed to the Council of the Evangelical Church to speak out against nuclear testing. Similarly, Max Born, appalled by "the production of ever more horrible bombs," set out to "arouse the consciences" of his fellow scientists.
Antinuclear activism accelerated thereafter. In late June 1955, a month after the Federal Republic regained formal sovereignty, NATO held a major combat exercise, Carte Blanche, in Western Europe. Within West Germany, the press gave widespread coverage to the simulated results: 335 atomic bombs dropped between Hamburg and Munich, with some 5.2 million Germans immediately killed or wounded and countless others thereafter facing nuclear fallout. Shock and fear swept the nation. Angry citizens held public meetings. Pacifist groups issued apocalyptic warnings. Focusing on Carte Blanche and its implications, the SPD charged that a European conflict fought with nuclear weapons would end in "collective suicide." Meanwhile, German unions--traditionally aligned with the SPD--also took up the nuclear issue. Asked, after the Suez crisis, what would have happened had the Soviet Union made good its threat of nuclear war, most Germans responded that their country would have "become a desert."
Opinion surveys reinforce this picture of widespread and growing popular distaste for nuclear weapons. Asked in September 1955 what they thought about atomic tests, 71 percent of West German respondents called them dangerous or very dangerous; only 11 percent said they were not so dangerous or harmless. Secret U.S. government polls found that between April 1954 and April 1956 approval for U.S. nuclear testing dropped gradually from 37 to 26 percent of West German respondents. By contrast, disapproval of U.S. testing rose from 35 to 59 percent. The same trend developed with respect to the combat use of nuclear weapons. Between April 1954 and September 1955, the proportion of West German respondents favoring use of nuclear weapons to defend West Germany against a non-nuclear attack by the Soviet Union dropped from 22 to 15 percent, while the opposition rose from 60 to 65 percent. Even in the event of a nuclear attack on Western Europe, a February 1955 poll reported, only a bare majority--51 percent--favored nuclear retaliation, and 37 percent did not. Not surprisingly, then, in the Federal Republic banning the Bomb had what the U.S. government conceded was "overwhelming appeal." In June 1955, 88 percent of survey respondents reported that they would support an agreement to ban the Bomb outright.
Opposition in France
On the surface, at least, French resistance to the nuclear arms race was more restrained. The only major critique of nuclear weapons to appear in these years pertained to the development of a French Bomb. In July 1954, with pressure mounting to start work on French nuclear weapons, more than a third of the scientists, engineers, and technicians employed by the Atomic Energy Commission sent a lengthy petition to Francois Perrin, the French AEC high commissioner, urging him to keep France's atomic energy program limited to peaceful purposes. It assailed the idea that nuclear weapons were necessary for national defense and argued that France's national prestige would not be enhanced by possession of the Bomb. In March 1955, a French nuclear armament program also drew the fire of the Socialist Party's executive committee and parliamentary group. By contrast, the announcement of U.S. plans for nuclear testing in 1956 received very little attention in the French press and attracted almost no editorial comment.
Even so, French opinion was coalescing against the Bomb. In April 1956, a secret U.S. survey reported, 56 percent of French respondents opposed U.S. nuclear testing, while only 15 percent supported it. When the French were asked about Soviet nuclear testing, the figures came out roughly the same: 51 percent opposed and 15 percent in favor. The use of nuclear weapons also inspired little popular enthusiasm. In October 1954, only 10 percent of respondents in this NATO nation supported a Western nuclear response to a non-nuclear attack. Overall, the French showed widespread support for abolishing nuclear weapons. Asked in February 1955 what they thought of banning the Bomb, 87 percent expressed approval and 6 percent disapproval. That June, approval fell slightly to 86 percent, but disapproval dropped to 3 percent. Asked that month if they favored an atomic ban if it left "Western military forces weaker than the Communist forces," 44 percent of French respondents said yes, 25 percent no. Even the proposal for a French Bomb encountered stiff resistance. A July 1956 Gallup poll found the French lining up in opposition by nearly two to one.
Malaise in Italy
In yet another large NATO nation, Italy, sentiments were roughly the same. As a 1956 U.S. intelligence report concluded, "like their Western European neighbors, most Italians are keenly aware of the existence of atomic weapons and would prefer to see them banned." The trend was clear as early as April 1954 when, in an apparent effort to deflect criticism of nuclear weapons by the powerful Communist and Socialist parties, the directorate of the governing Christian Democratic Party unanimously adopted a resolution appealing to the world to renounce violence in international affairs, to promote disarmament, and to employ atomic energy for peaceful purposes. When the Russell-Einstein Manifesto appeared, the Italian press gave it a sympathetic response. The Christian Democratic Il Popolo commented approvingly that the scientists had reduced the problem to its "essence of life or death."
Polls of the time indicate the breadth of antinuclear attitudes among Italians. Queried in April 1956 about U.S. nuclear testing, only 25 percent of Italian respondents favored it, as compared to 38 percent who opposed it. Opinions of Soviet nuclear tests were even more negative. Asked about using atomic weapons against enemy cities in the event of a conventional attack on Western Europe, only 5 percent of Italian respondents approved; 75 percent disapproved. Even when asked if they favored the use of tactical atomic weapons on enemy troops at the front line "if it were the only way to stop an enemy at the threshold instead of being overrun," only 32 percent of the Italian respondents did, and 38 percent did not. Moreover, banning nuclear weapons had great appeal in Italy. Polled in February 1955, 80 percent of Italian respondents favored the idea and only 6 percent opposed it. Four months later, another poll found that support for a ban had risen to 85 percent. Asked in June 1955 if they favored banning nuclear weapons if that left the West militarily weaker than Communist nations, Italians responded affirmatively by a ratio of more than two to one.
Rising Concern in the Nordic Countries
Although the Nordic countries remained somewhat off the path of the U.S.-Soviet confrontation--without nuclear weapons and (in the case of Sweden and Finland) without Cold War alliances--they also showed signs of uneasiness about the nuclear arms race. Swedes and Finns took a particularly somber view of the hydrogen bomb. Polled in July 1954, only 26 percent of Swedish respondents said that the new weapon made a world war less likely, compared to 35 percent who thought the reverse. In Finland, the corresponding figures were: less likely, 21 percent; more likely, 28 percent. Meanwhile, in Norway, pacifist groups made substantial membership gains, and a poll in late 1955 found that although 32 percent of Norwegians viewed atomic energy as a boon, 43 percent regarded it as a curse. In Denmark, the pacifist organization No More War (Aldrig mere Krig) called in mid-1956 for Danish withdrawal from NATO in light of the fact that "the risks which Denmark incurred by joining ... have become so overwhelming." Meeting in June 1956, a gathering of Social Democratic women from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden issued a strong declaration against nuclear weapons.
Criticism of nuclear weapons grew particularly lively in Sweden. In part this reflected a response to the unnerving U.S. nuclear tests on Bikini. In their aftermath, Social Democratic gatherings and statements highlighted the menace of the nuclear arms race. On April 4, 1954, a mass meeting sponsored by Stockholm's labor organization appealed to the Swedish government "to take energetic action to promote international control of atomic weapons." The following year, forty-three women's organizations--warning of genetic damage to future generations--presented a petition to the U.N. General Assembly calling for a halt to nuclear testing.
The nuclear issue took on additional salience, however, when, in 1954, the commander-in-chief of the Swedish armed forces issued a report calling for Sweden's acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons. The Conservative Party promoted procurement of the weapons and the Liberal Party suggested upgrading Sweden's capability to produce them. But the governing Social Democratic Party divided sharply over the nuclear issue, as did the Swedish press. Peace organizations lined up against providing Sweden with a nuclear capability, and eventually the powerful Social Democratic women's federation, led by Inga Thorsson, adopted a similar stance. At their ninth national convention, in May 1956, the Social Democratic women passed a resolution contending that obtaining nuclear weapons from a superpower would compromise Sweden's political position, that making the nation a strategic target would undermine its military position, and that threatening to use such weapons would subvert its ethical position.
Elsewhere in Non-Communist Europe
Signs of misgivings about nuclear weapons also emerged in other West European countries. In April 1955, the Dutch Association of Scientific Workers sponsored a meeting in Utrecht, "The Dangers of Nuclear Weapons," attended by hundreds of persons. The following year, a Dutch Committee for the Abolition of Atom Bomb Experiments issued a petition, signed by more than a hundred scientists and other prominent figures, highlighting the dangers of radioactive contamination and calling on the Dutch government to work for the abolition of nuclear testing. Although the overall peace movement remained weak, an April 1956 poll found that whereas 41 percent of Dutch respondents supported U.S. nuclear tests, 43 percent did not. Moreover, Dutch sentiment ran two to one against Soviet nuclear tests. In neighboring Belgium, although the newspapers tactfully avoided comment on the resumption of U.S. nuclear testing, a poll that December reported that a slight plurality of the people surveyed (47 percent) favored an immediate ban on the production of atomic weapons, before controls were developed. Meanwhile, in Austria, surveys disclosed a strong popular desire to abolish nuclear weapons. Polled in June 1955, Austrians favored banning the Bomb by a redo of over twenty to one.
Antinuclear agitation also emerged in Switzerland. In 1954, three French-speaking cantons in that country (Geneva, Vaud, and Neuchatel) adopted resolutions calling for nuclear arms control and disarmament. That same year, Switzerland's French cantons provided the major base for the Chevallier initiative, a mass petition sparked by the journalist Samuel Chevallier to cut Switzerland's military budget by 50 percent and redirect the money to social programs. According to the U.S. embassy, a "sense of helplessness in face of the nuclear armaments programs of the Big Powers" provided a key factor behind the eighty-five thousand signatures collected on the petition. When the Swiss government declared the initiative void, a new Chevallier initiative emerged in 1956, this time drawing strong support in the German-speaking portion of the country. Although it, too, failed to affect public policy, largely thanks to the Soviet invasion of nearby Hungary, Swiss antinuclear sentiment continued to grow. Prominent Protestant and Roman Catholic church activists joined forces that year to form a nationwide body, Swiss Action Against the Atomic Danger. Arguing that the Swiss government should work to induce the great powers to halt tests of nuclear weapons and, eventually, renounce their use, the group appealed for support from everyone opposed to "the atomic peril."
Opposition in the Soviet Union
Although political repression sharply limited the possibilities for overt agitation within the Soviet Union, here too, negative attitudes about nuclear weapons began to emerge. In large part, this reflected the vast destructiveness of the hydrogen bomb. The first Soviet H-Bomb test, recalled Andrei Sakharov, soon to become one of the weapon's sharpest critics, "made me more aware of the human and moral dimensions of our work." Even Igor Kurchatov, the physicist directing the Soviet Bomb project, was profoundly shaken. Asked what was the matter, he told a friend: "That was such a terrible, monstrous sight! That weapon must not be allowed ever to be used." Meanwhile, dismayed by the dangers of nuclear fallout, Sakharov and other Bomb project scientists prevailed upon military authorities to undertake an unprecedented mass evacuation of residents of the Soviet test site region in Kazakhstan. In 1955, he suggested to Marshal M. I. Nedelin, a crusty military commander chosen to direct the buildup of the Soviet Union's strategic missile forces, that it would be a catastrophe if thermonuclear weapons were ever used--advice the military official did not appreciate. Other scientists, though, privately agreed with Sakharov.
The critical attitudes developing among Bomb project scientists reflected other factors as well. Ironically, the Soviet regime's dire need for top-rate scientists, especially physicists, to work on the building of the Bomb protected them from the worst abuses of the totalitarian state. Indeed, they lived on an island of relative freedom, where they sometimes discussed political issues. As the physicist Viktor Adamsky recalled: "We ... were not dissidents, neither were we heroes. It was just that we were fortunate and had the chance to discuss anything we wanted freely." Furthermore, they were influenced by the antinuclear ventures of scientists elsewhere, including the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. Soviet scientists read about them in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, to which the project's library subscribed. "That magazine," Adamsky recalled, "gave coverage of social and moral problems encountered by American scientists who worked in the same field as us, which made them our overseas colleagues.... Getting to know, via that magazine, how freely the American scientists could discuss professional, as well as political matters ... was very ... thought-provoking."
This trend toward politicization accelerated with the death of Joseph Stalin in January 1953 and the advent of a more liberal regime, headed first by Georgii Malenkov and, later, by Khrushchev. "You could now live without hysteria" and no longer needed to fear arrest on the most arbitrary charges, recalled Yuri Orlov, a dissident physicist. "Anyone who has not skated on that surrealist rink will never comprehend how enormously liberated people were by Khrushchev's turn to elementary legality." Some scientists, driven by moral concerns, resisted assignment to the nuclear weapons program. A few others, like the physicist Lev Landau, took the opportunity to resign, convinced--correctly, as it turned out--that he would not be called to account for it. For the most part, however, the scientists continued their work and, at the same time, felt freer to question its consequences. Accorded considerable respect by the government, they began to travel to the West and to become involved with many of the same issues as scientists elsewhere.
Their growing independence was exemplified by the antinuclear stance of Peter Kapitza. An eminent physicist and probably the best-known Soviet scientist, Kapitza had been under house arrest during Stalin's final years, only to be rehabilitated afterward by Khrushchev and reinstated as director of the prestigious Institute of Physical Problems. "We wanted Kapitsa ... to work on our nuclear bomb project," Khrushchev later recalled, but "he refused to touch any military research. He even tried to persuade me that he couldn't undertake military work out of some sort of moral principle." On a later occasion, Khrushchev tried again. "Comrade Kapitsa, why won't you work on something of military significance?." The Soviet Union, Khrushchev claimed, "simply must push ahead with defense research. Otherwise, we'll be choked to death, smashed to pieces, trampled in the dust." According to the Soviet leader, Kapitza replied coolly that he refused "to have anything to do with military matters."
In 1956, Kapitza wrote an article for the Soviet journal New Times in which he remarked pointedly that he did not work in the area of nuclear physics and, moreover, professed his desire to "make a contribution ... toward the prevention of an atomic war." Addressing Russell's contention that banning the Bomb would not be of great benefit "so long as the danger of war exists," Kapitza observed that the abolition of war, while admirable, "has a slow course," and a war might stop progress toward better relationships among nations. Therefore, "despite the imperfect means of control, any measures and treaties for disarmament, and for banning the production and testing of nuclear bombs, must be welcomed and supported in all ways." In this friendly piece, so different from the vicious diatribes against Russell that the Soviet press had carried in the Stalin years, he gently reminded the British philosopher of the saying that "the better is enemy of the good." Skeptics can point to the fact that this argument meshed nicely with the official Soviet position. Yet given Kapitza's challenges to Soviet authorities in other contexts, the concern about nuclear weapons he expressed in his private life, and the reasonableness of this stance, it seems likely that he believed what he wrote.
Furthermore, in secret, Soviet scientists made a strong case against the Bomb to the Soviet government. In late March 1954, four senior physicists from the Bomb project (including Kurchatov) prepared a startling report on the dangers of the H-Bomb. Sent to Soviet party leaders in the aftermath of the Bikini Bomb tests, it warned that thermonuclear explosions enabled nations "to increase, practically to an unlimited extent, the explosive energy contained in a bomb." This would lead not only to the "devastation of the warring countries" but also to "poisoning the atmosphere and the surface of the globe with radioactive substances." Within only a few years, "the stockpiles of atomic explosives will be sufficient to create conditions under which the existence of life over the whole globe will be impossible." Consequently, "mankind faces an enormous threat of the termination of all life on Earth." Alluding to recent events--including the Lucky Dragon incident--and to the fact that "defense against such weapons is practically impossible," the scientists concluded that the concern of "the world community" was "entirely understandable." Indeed, there was no alternative to a "complete ban on the military utilization of atomic energy."
© Copyright 1998 Lawrence S. Wittner
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