Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 5 No. 2 | Summer 1983 (Seattle) /// Issue 4 of 24 /// Master# 4 of 24

British social historian E.P. Thompson is the leader of the European nuclear disarmament movement and has inherited the role Bertrand Russell played _ gk f l during the 1950s. — BY E.PTH°M Wthink that we may now be living, f this year and for several years ahead, through episodes as significant as any known in the human record. I will not dwell on the perils. We are well aware of these. Human ingenuity has somehow created these immense destructive powers, which now appear to hang above us, alienated from all human control. They are now talking of siting laser weapons on the moon — weapons which, in a literal sense, will be lunatic. We are aware, all of us, of the overplus of this nuclear weaponry, much of it crammed into our own continent: land-mines, artillery, torpedoes, depth-charges, missiles launched from the ground, from submarines, from the air. We may differ as to the exact “ balance” of weaponry held by the adversary parties. But we are also aware that, when the overkill capacity of weaponry is such as to enable the destruction of civilized conditions for life on our continent thirty times over, calculations of “ balance” are becoming irrelevant. We may also, after two years of mounting anxiety, begin to feel slight twinges of hope. The superpowers have at last been brought to the negotiating table. Something might even be done to halt or to reduce the weaponry in Europe. Our stay here, in the spaces of geological time, has been brief. No one can tell us our business. But I think it is something more than to consume as much as we can and then blow the place up. This is good. But what an effort it has taken to get the politicians there! And what a discrepancy there is between the procedures of war and those of peace! The decisions to develop new weapons — to deploy the SS-20, to put the neutron bomb into production, to go ahead with cruise missiles — are taken by a few score people — at the most by a few hundred — secretively, behind closed doors, on both sides. But to check, or to reverse, any one of those decisions, nothing will do except the voluntary efforts of hundreds of thousands — late into the night and through weekends, month after month — addressing envelopes, collating information, raising money, meeting in churches or in school halls, debating in conferences, lobbying parliaments, marching through the streets of Europe’s capital cities. In the past 18 months I have visited fellow workers for peace in the United States, in Czechoslovakia, in Finland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Germany and France. The story is always the same. People are determined. They are encouraged by growing support. But they are running out of puff. How long can they goon? And if they relax, then in two or three years the weapons — accompanied by new weapons of equal barbarity, nerve-gas, bacteriological warfare — will begin to come back. We are running the wrong way down an escalator: if we stop running we will be carried up to the top. To check the missiles is something. But the political launch-pad for all these missiles is the adversary posture of the two great rival alliances, grouped around the USA and USSR: that is, the Cold War. If this adversary posture were to be modified — if it were to be undermined by new ideas and movements on both sides — then, not only the weapons, but the launch-pad for them would be taken away. And many of the difficulties attending disarmament, whether nuclear or conventional, would fall also. I do not intend to rehearse the history of the Cold War, nor to examine, once again, why it started. I will enquire into its real content today. What is the Cold War now about? Is it necessary? And, if it is, whose is the need? A Fractured Continent Let us go back, first, not to the origin of the Cold War, but to a moment just before it broke out. My own generation is the last which witnessed that moment as adults. Our perception of “ Europe” remains, to this day, a little different from that of younger generations. Europe for us, included Warsaw, Prague and Budapest and, more distantly, Leningrad and Moscow. But for many young Westerners, “ Europe” now means, first of all, the EEC. The young have grown up within a fractured continent. The Cold War has been a received condition, which has set the first premises of politics and ideology from before the time of their birth. It is now a settled and unquestioned premise: a habit. Most people assume that the condition will persist — far into the 21st century, for the full length of their own lifetimes — if war does not supervene. It has always been there. But it has not always been there. I do not suggest that Europe, before the Cold War, was in any way, politically or culturally, united. It was the seat of rival imperialisms which extended over the globe. It was the seat and source of two devastating world wars. It was a battlefield for opposing ideologies. Yet the savage divisions among Europeans did not exist as a fracture splitting the continent in half. They ran. deeply within the political and cultural life of each nation-state. European states went to war; yet Europeans remained within a common political discourse. This was true, most of all, in the climactic years of the second world war. From 1941 to 1944 Nazi Germany and its allies occupied an area and commanded resources very much greater than the EEC. Yet, paradoxically, there grew up within occupied Europe a new internationalism of common resistance. From Norway to Montenegro, from the coast of Kent to the suburbs of Stalingrad — and it is necessary to recall, with an effort, that Britain and Russia then were allies and that it was the prodigious sacrifice of Soviet life which turned the tide of that war Clinton St. Quarterly 5