James Boggs :: 5. Peace and War

When the A-Bomb was exploded by the United States over Hiroshima, the vast majority of Americans rejoiced. To them the Bomb simply meant the end of the war and the return home of brothers, sons, fathers. Few Americans realized the potential threat that the Bomb represented to all mankind. In fact, not until much later was it learned that key scientists who had actually been involved in the creation of the Bomb had argued against its military use, pointing out that it would be only a few years before other countries would have the same weapon. Einstein, without whose theories the A-Bomb could never have been created, said later that if he had known the use to which his ideas would be put, he would have become a plumber.

Outside the United States today what comes to many people's minds when the Bomb is mentioned is the fact that it was first dropped on a nation of colored people and not on the Germans who were also the enemy in World War II. Inside the United States this fact is rarely mentioned.

For four years after the end of the Second World War the A-Bomb was to the United States what the British Navy had been to Western Civilization prior to the First World War. It made the United States "boss," and the Americans didn't let anybody forget it. But it was obvious that the United States could not long retain its monopoly of the Bomb. In fact, in the era of scientific technology symbolized by the Bomb, the United States could only lose the military supremacy which it had previously enjoyed on the basis of mass armaments production. It was difficult therefore for people outside the United States to take seriously the American offer to put the Bomb into mothballs if no other power would try to produce one.

Then in 1949 two things happened which brought about a radical change in world politics. First, the largest country in the world, China, was taken over by the Communists. And second, Russia exploded an A-Bomb.

The mere thought that the United States would now have to justify its position as a world power in more or less equal competition with the Russians produced panic in every section of American official society. It was this panic which created the environment in which McCarthy ran wild. In rapid succession a list of subversive organizations was issued by the Attorney General and laws were passed to screen and bar from the United States anyone suspected of radical connections. Non-citizens were denied the formal democratic rights of free speech, free belief, and free association, of arrest only with warrant, and of the right to judicial appeal over administrative decree. Naturalized citizens, some of them residents of this country since infancy, became subject to denaturalization and deportation by administrative action if suspected of radical politics at any time in their lives. The heads of government began accusing their predecessors of treason, like murderers and cutthroats at bay in a basement. New Deal liberals were hunted with the ferocity of a pack of blood-thirsty wolves; scientists, newspapermen, and artists were hounded into becoming informers or else giving up their professions. People hid their books, destroyed records by Paul Robeson, and cancelled their subscriptions to liberal newspapers and magazines, lest by these signs of intellectual activity they invite investigation on suspicion of subversion.

In foreign policy the United States began its brink-to-brink improvisation; the hasty gathering up of allies like Franco and Chiang Kai-shek, completely discredited in their own countries and abroad; the wooing of Tito; the arming of Germany; and finally the reckless development and testing of bigger and better bombs and guided missiles, competing with Russia like two football teams competing for an international championship.

During this time the Marxist organizations in the United States persistently pointed out the horrors of the Bomb, but primarily in the spirit of propaganda, against capitalism and some against Russian Communism, and in general for socialism. Meanwhile they went their merry or unmerry way, as if the Bomb were just another stage in imperialist warfare, saying little about it as long as the workers were quiet about it. With the history of past anti-war groupings in mind, and particularly comparing their own "realism" with the idealism of the pacifists, they were content to rest their hopes on the workers' eventually making a revolution, taking control of society, and putting an end to imperialist war. Actually, what they failed to realize is that just as automation represents a revolution in the process of production, so the A-Bomb, H-Bomb, and intercontinental missiles represent a revolution in the process of warfare. Mankind has now reached the stage of pushbutton war and mass suicide.

Up to now it had been possible to speculate about what attitude the workers or the masses of the population might or ought to adopt toward a war once it had been declared or started, e.g. organize a general strike or rise in protest and bring it to an end. It had been possible to predict that the shattering effects of a prolonged war fought with modern weapons would set the stage for revolutions, after which the workers could begin the herculean task of reconstructing society.

The new reality today, however, is that the Bomb does not recognize any distinctions between race, class, or nation. When it falls, it will fall on everybody, regardless. When it falls, it will leave no class behind to reconstruct society—not even the workers. A nuclear war would leave no time for anyone to debate or argue about policy or organize a general strike. If there is going to be any movement that will stop the Bomb and create the conditions for revolution, it will have to come before the Bomb is dropped—not afterwards. If there is going to be a revolution over the question of nuclear war, it will have to be before the nuclear war starts—not afterwards.

With the launching of Sputnik and its beep-beep-beep overhead, the world suddenly became aware that an H-Bomb could be launched in the same way. The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans which had made so many generations of Americans feel so secure no longer appeared as a protection. Americans began to feel the dread and horror with which Europeans for years had been responding to the brinkmanship of Dulles.

But the years of Cold War had made war a way of life for the government and all its military and paramilitary departments. It had become a way of life for half of America's major industries. It had become a way of life for America's workers. It had become a way of life for the trade unions. It had become a way of life for the professional crusaders against Communism and the elements in the population whom they represent. It had become a way of life even for most of America's churches.

Significantly, the only people who had begun a serious questioning of war as a way of life were those most directly and intimately involved in the revolution which had taken place in modern warfare, the atomic scientists themselves. Even before the explosion of the first Bomb over Japan, a task force of scientists, headed by Dr. James Franck, had set itself up as a "Committee on Social and Political Implications" and submitted a report to the government arguing against the direct military use of the Bomb. In 1945, after the Bomb had been dropped, a group of scientists under the leadership of Eugene Rabinovitch, a Chicago chemist, began publishing the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as a forum where scientists could point out the perils of nuclear warfare and examine roads to disarmament. So intense have been the debate and discussion among scientists that it is possible to speak of two unofficial "parties" in the American scientific community: the "humanitarian party" which calls in varying degrees for a ban on the Bomb; and the "government" party which supports and lends authority to the government's policy. The humanitarian party, emphasizing the cooperative, non-national, and in fact international character of science, has been responsible for holding international conferences with their colleagues from behind the Iron Curtain. These conferences have become known as the Pugwash Conferences, since the first three of them (1957-1959) were held on the Pugwash, Nova Scotia, estate of American industrialist Cyrus Eaton, after permission to enter the United States was denied by American authorities to Communist scientists.

However, the humanitarian party among the scientists has remained isolated from the American public. The loudest voice heard in public has been that of Dr. Edward Teller, chiefly responsible for the creation of the H-Bomb and leading exponent of government policy. When Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling was called before a Congressional Committee in 1960 and asked to inform on those who had helped him get up a 1958 ban-the-bomb petition to the UN (this petition had been signed by 11,021 scientists from 49 countries, including 104 from the United States), it caused scarcely a ripple in this country.

In the summer of 1961 this situation began to change. After a three-year moratorium on testing by the two powers, and at the height of the Berlin crisis, the Russians resumed nuclear testing at a rapid rate. By this time the American people could no longer comfort themselves by doubting the technological capacities of the Russians. Gagarin and Titov put an end to that.

In Britain where the country had been caught between East and West and where it was obvious that the whole island could be destroyed by one bomb, the ban-the-bomb movement had been growing for years and reached a peak in 1960-1961. The Africans declared their opposition to any nuclear testing on their soil. But in the United States anti-bomb demonstrations could rarely rally more than a few hundred supporters, mainly long-time pacifists.

Following the Russian tests, however, the movement began to take on mass momentum. November 1, on the initiative of a few women in Washington, D.C., a series of demonstrations took place in 60 cities from coast to coast. In all, about 50,000 women took part. In New York and Los Angeles there were several thousand women in the demonstrations. In the Boston area hundreds of students and university faculty members marched on the Federal Arsenal at Watertown. With the entry onto the scene of the women, the students, and the professors, the ban-the-bomb movement began to take on a broad social character. Since November 1, 1961, Women Strike for Peace committees in various cities have remained more or less intact, in order to organize periodic demonstrations at the UN, before Federal Buildings, to march on Washington, to send delegations to City Councils and State Legislatures, etc. Across the country over 4,000 professors added their names to an open letter to President Kennedy, protesting the futility of Civil Defense in this age of nuclear war. Students from all over the country organized a March on Washington on February 16, 1962.

It is quite obvious that these demonstrations have begun to take on the character of a social movement, confronting the warfare state and implying a challenge to it despite the announced (and no doubt genuine) intentions of the participants simply to implement the "peace race" proposals of the President. In turn, the growth of the ban-the-bomb movement has given and will give further impetus to the counter-revolutionary super-patriots, led by the Birchites, the militant ex-generals, the Dixiecrats, and the China Lobby, and gain support among the veterans and middle-class layers who live on the past glories of the All-American state. Up to now the organized labor movement has given only token support to the peace movement. Obviously fearful that widespread agitation against the Bomb will upset the warfare economy and increase dissatisfaction among workers already living in dread of unemployment, it has carefully refrained from calling upon workers to participate in the ban-the-bomb movement.

The new peace groupings, and particularly the scientists and women, have already passed one test that other organizations in the United States have failed since the Cold War and McCarthy era began. They have been able to meet and overcome the label of "pro-Communism." This was the great victory won by the Women Strike for Peace at the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in late 1962. Up to then, every grouping which had been labelled in this way by patriotic organizations or by any of the various governmental committees and agencies had been fatally weakened. But so great is the fear of nuclear annihilation among the scientists and women that it has enabled them to overcome the fear of Communism. Communism at worst could only mean a change in the political system. The Bomb would mean no existence and therefore no system at all. In that sense these peace groupings have gone beyond the "Better Red than Dead" smear, and this in itself is a great victory.

But the United States is so full of other social and economic contradictions that even though the new peace movement has been able to surmount the kind of official and unofficial attack which heretofore has crippled other organizations which began to tackle the warfare state, this has not been enough. In October, 1962, the Cuban crisis came along, and although many of the members of the peace movement found themselves in protest picket lines, the heart of the peace movement has practically stopped beating since that time. The fact is that, for the peace movement really to have contested the President's actions in Cuba, it would have had to call upon the missile workers in this country not to produce missiles, and for the sailors of this country not to man the ships. In other words, it would have had to face the reality that as long as the United States has missiles and rockets, every other country has the right to have missiles and rockets, even one only ninety miles off the shores of the United States, and regardless of whether such missiles are offensive or defensive.

Up to the time of the Cuban crisis the peace movement in this country only had to grapple with the question of bombs and missiles in the hands of the two great powers—the United States and the USSR. But in the Cuban crisis it was confronted with the question of missiles and bombs in the hands of a country which is part of the world revolutionary and anticolonial struggle. This is the question which the peace movement is going to have to face increasingly as the months and years pass.

In the Cuban crisis the peace movement was confronted with the question of the ex-colonial countries and their rights, just as in the course of its development inside this country, it has already been confronted with the question of its relation to the Negro struggle. The reason is that the question of peace is much greater than the question of simply stopping bomb tests. All the factors which go into deciding whether a nation should have to depend upon the Bomb or not are shaped by the world revolutionary struggle and also by the struggle between the already developed nations and developing nations. Climaxing it all is the question of China and who will be able to talk to the Chinese. What peace group in the United States would even be allowed to send someone to China? How would they even know the road to China, considering the colossal igorance that exists in this country on the question of China? What will they have to offer the Chinese? And why should the Chinese even listen to any of these Americans when the Chinese have already been read out of the human race by Americans, in the same way that Negroes have been read out of the human race by Americans for 300 years? It is quite clear that the Chinese are not caught in the same predicament that the Negroes have been caught in for so long. The Negroes were trapped inside this country, but the Chinese have their own country and they are not asking to be integrated into this country. In fact, they are not even asking to be integrated into the world society. They existed long before other modern societies came on the scene, and they are not begging anyone to recognize their independence. They achieved it themselves through a revolution in 1949.

Will the peace movement fight for the recognition of Red China simply from the standpoint of fear, or is it going to fight for the recognition of Red China from the standpoint of the plain humanity of the Chinese? The peace movement cannot save humanity as long as it refuses to face the inhumanity that exists inside this country toward other racial and national groupings, and that exists in the relations of this country to other races and nations. Nor can it ever get a peacetime economy in this country until it clashes with the war economy and the reasons why such a war economy exists. Because the same people who are for war in this country are those who are for discrimination against races and nations. They are the ones who are for the continuation of American superiority over other nations and other areas of the world. They are the ones who want the workers to continue to work in order to live, even if the work they are doing is nothing but war work in order to kill. And they are the same ones who are for taxing the war workers in order to get the money to keep on making war materials. There will be no peace until there is war against these Americans.