THE MAN behind the counter looked slightly amused. He rubbed his chin and surveyed the multicoloured boxes along the shelves.
‘No. I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I don’t think we have any peace games here. Lots of war games though. More than any other kind in fact. Take a look for yourself’
I did. There they were — Holocaust, Nuclear Countdown, Ground Zero — box after box of nuclear terror. There were space wars fought with laser beams, and lots of tanks, guns and soldiers for fighting conventional wars — still in fashion today. I was about to leave when he called me back.
‘What about this,’ he said, reaching under the counter, ‘You might call this a kind of peace game.’ And he pulled out a tiny box emblazoned with an orange mushroom cloud and the modest title Nuclear War.
‘You start with five or six players,’ he explained. ‘and some get eliminated, leaving two. One player thinks he’s got enough nukes to knock out the other. But the trouble is, the one about to be wiped out can always get off a final burst of missiles — which just about obliterates the so-called winner.’ ‘Do you think people really get a peace message from that?’ I asked.
‘No, I suppose not,’ he laughed, ‘They just enjoy playing war games. Families especially.’
I left the shop bemused. Nuclear devastation had become a family pastime — Mum, Dad and the kids getting a thrill from a foretaste of the end of the world. That was certainly an ingenious way of coming to terms with the prospect of nuclear annihilation. Yet who among us is not taking refuge— more or less successfully — in some kind of escapism from that appalling prospect? We have heard about nuclear war, we know it would be terrible, but still we carry on with our everyday lives as though it couldn’t happen. There seems little we can do to stop it, and we cannot imagine it ever happening to us anyway. We become cynical, apathetic, resigned to our fate. Yet there have also been prophets attempting to wake us up to reality. In 1947, when only the US had the Bomb, a group of eminent American atomic scientists headed by Albert Einstein issued a solemn declaration. Unless atomic energy was placed under international control, they warned, atomic weapons would destroy civilisation (see box). Most of us have ignored such warnings, preferring to follow the time-honoured dictum, ‘If you want peace, prepare for war.’ Our political leaders, with or without our compliance, have prepared for war by joining all of human society into a suicide pact with the Bomb, symbolised by the latest addition to the American nuclear armoury — the MX missile, equal to 458 Hiroshimas — grotesquely named the ’Peacekeeper’.
If s been a strange sort of ‘peace’ since August 6. 1945, when a small atomic bomb killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima. We’ve seen about 150 wars fought with conventional weapons, killing some 30 million people. That didn’t greatly upset us— most of the victims lived in the Third World, far from our homes. But we were involved: most of the weapons that killed them were made in the factories of Europe and North America.
We’ve watched the world split into two great power blocs, each now armed with enough nuclear weapons to create more than half a million Hiroshimas. We are not involved in just a nuclear arms ‘race’. It’s a stampede of lemmings headed for the sea. Today there are 60.000 nuclear warheads in the world; by 1990 that number will have doubled. Five countries now have nuclear weapons: within the next decade there could be 12 more, including several with a recent history of military conflict, such as Israel, South Africa, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Argentina. And given the tendency of the two power blocs to take military action outside their own frontiers, there is every likelihood of ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons being used in warfare during the present decade. (The British Task Force almost certainly carried nuclear depth charges into the South Atlantic last year.)
The peoples of the two power blocs live in a climate of rising fear, anxiety and aggressive war preparations. A recent report prepared for the Church of England warned that ‘mutually stimulated paranoia is blinding all concerned to the way their opponent is likely to behave. The prophecies of aggression are self-fulfilling prophecies. The doctrine of nuclear deterrence is a desperate throw in a dice game for the ultimate stakes of ’peace’. ‘freedom’ and’ security’ — winner take all. But in our saner moments most of us realise there can be no winners in this game. Deterrence starts only as a threat but, as historian A.J. P. Taylor wrote recently, ‘the record shows that there comes a time when its reality has to be demonstrated — which can only be done by using it. So it was in August 1914 and so it will be again.’ To expect a stable and peaceful world to exist on a foundation of mounting threats and fears is an astonishing feat of self-delusion. Our pact with the Bomb has brought us a bogus ‘peace’ and set us on course for mass suicide.
Can we break this fateful pact? I believe we can, but not by campaigning simply on the nuclear issue. There is something naively simplistic about the notion that, if we could somehow abolish nuclear weapons, peace would reign on earth. The Bomb cannot be disinvented: the knowledge will always be with us. In any case, mankind could well invent other, even more horrific weapons of mass destruction: chemical and biological for example. The Bomb is simply a symbol— admittedly the most potent— of our failure to build peaceful relations within human society. Apart from being a prime cause of our insecurity, it is also a symptom of a deep social malady.
It will not be enough just to campaign against nuclear weapons. We will have to work for peace in a positive way. Real peace implies much more than disarmament Peace implies a sense of deep wellbeing— individually and collectively. It arises from relationships of trust, mutual acceptance and support that enable people to develop their full human potential. Few relationships— between countries, communities, groups or individual people — could be called truly peaceful The rich countries of the ‘North’ trade with the poorer countries of the ‘South’ on highly exploitative terms, backed by their economic and military strength. The human relationships between men and women in most societies are still warped and twisted by exploitation, coercion, anxiety and fear. People are still killed in the name of religion in Iran, India and even the UK. The social structures of most societies are shot through with what peace researcher Johan Galtung calls ‘structural violence’ — the uneven distribution of wealth and power that leads to physical violence. For wherever there is injustice, there can be no peace.
Five decades ago the military strategist Basil Liddell Hart proposed a new dictum for would-be peacemakers: ‘If you wish for peace, understand war.’ Other articles in this magazine examine some political, social, economic and psychological causes of war and war preparations. But let’s start by getting to know the enemy. We needn’t go looking for the enemy ‘out there’: the enemy is also us. We are the enemies of peace in routine, half-noticed ways: by paying exorbitant taxes to sustain a gigantic war machine, by our choice of violence on TV or in the cinema, by buying toy laser guns and warships for our children, and by our passive acceptance of the politics of paranoia — the ‘them and us’ syndrome — fostered by our political leaders and media We become the enemies of peace whenever we assume we are morally superior to an ‘inflexible’ friend, a ‘stupid’ workmate, an ‘ignorant’ religious sect or people with different political views from ours. Honesty and candour about our own attitudes are notoriously difficult to maintain. It’s so much simpler to lay the blame on others.
The same process occurs internationally. The leaders of the two great power blocs are so totally convinced of their own moral superiority that negotiations over arms control turn into a dialogue of the deaf. The ‘enemy’ is always to blame for breaking the peace.
Recognising the enemy within ourselves can lead to conflict, either with others or within ourselves. But making peace does not mean avoiding conflict On the contrary. The peacemaker, while acting on a single issue —say, the threat of nuclear war — is drawn by some invisible thread into a maze of other, inter-related areas. This has been the experience of a group of women camped outside the main gates of the US Air Force base at Greenham Common in southern England for the past 18 months. Originally the women had a single aim: to draw public attention to the planned siting at Greenham of 96 US Cruise missiles — each with the power of 17 Hiroshimas and capable of hitting targets in the Soviet Union. In their view, this escalation of the arms race would only provoke the Soviet Union to target even more nuclear missiles on sites in the UK.
The women have attracted more media attention and stirred up more public debate than they had ever dreamed possible. But the focus of their campaign is no longer just Cruise missiles or even weapons in general. They are challenging the whole patriarchal order of a society in which power, violence and rigid chains of command are the accepted means of making decisions. These methods, they say, are among the prime causes of wars and war preparations — like Cruise missile bases. Their camp is organised without leaders or command structures: every woman takes responsibility for her own actions. Their method of protest is nonviolent, ingenious, and often humourous. They use symbolism very effectively: ‘cobwebs’ of knitting wool, for example, are used to ensnare machinery and link protestors together — to the bewilderment of police not trained to unpick knitting.
The women peace campers have been dismissed contemptuously as’ naive’ and’ social misfits: lonely, single parents, lesbians and unemployed’. Even within the peace movement their protest is not always clearly understood When they organised a rally of 30,000 women to ‘Embrace the Base’ in December last year, some men were dismayed to be offered only a supportive role: minding children and making Marmite sandwiches outside one of the gates. But there are valid reasons for keeping Greenham a strictly ‘all women’ protest. Firstly, many men in the peace movement still have aggressively patriarchal attitudes which would drown the women’s message of nonviolent caring for all human beings. Men would also disturb the democratic running of the camp and sour relations with the police. ‘Men would start ordering us around and provoking the police to violence.’ said one woman. The Greenham women have exposed some of the roots of conflict between men and women in general, would-be peacemakers not excepted, The peace camp’s unique strength is that it is a purely women’s initiative. Women, traditionally dismissed as ‘emotional’, ‘weak’ and in need of protection’ (by war for example) are helping us all to a clearer understanding of the causes of militarism and organised violence in society. By their radical commitment to nonviolent means of solving conflicts, and by dramatically affirming their love of life, they have opened up new dimensions in the European peace movement
Public protests are not the only road to peace, but they certainly are a legitimate and effective means of opening the public mind to debate and influencing political leaders. We need more peace camps outside military bases, more campaigners for solidarity with Third World liberation movements, more trade unions on the side of the underpaid and unemployed, and more feminists working for women’s rights. But we also need a second type of peacemaker with a quiet, reconciling role: healers, mediators and educators, building more peaceful relationships among rival ethnic and religious groups, between mutually antagonistic workers and employers, between estranged men and women, and among warring nations. What all peacemakers have in common, as Sandy Merritt observes later in this magazine, is a conviction that every individual action, no matter how small, can contribute to the creation of a more peaceful world’. Our quest for peace must start with the recognition that the roots of unpeaceful relationships often lie, deep and unacknowledged, within ourselves. Only if we start from this reluctant recognition will we be able to break our suicide pact with the Bomb and become real peacemakers.
This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7