The Anniversary the Media--and President Bush--Ignored





Mr. Wittner, Professor of History at the State University of New York at Albany, is the author of a trilogy on the nuclear peace movement, The Struggle Against the Bomb, published by Stanford University Press.

On September 24, 1963, the U.S. Senate ratified the Partial Test Ban Treaty. The fortieth anniversary of this event should have been a cause for celebration, as this treaty was the first internationally-negotiated nuclear arms control agreement.

But, on September 24, 2003, there were no celebrations in the Bush administration, which has shown no interest in nuclear arms control. Indeed, in line with his militarist agenda, President George Bush has opposed ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, withdrawn from the ABM treaty, and promoted plans for developing new nuclear weapons. Yet it may be premature to mourn the death of nuclear constraints

When the Eisenhower administration took office in 1953, it had no plans whatsoever for nuclear arms controls. Instead, it was committed to what it called "massive retaliation," as well as to integrating nuclear weapons into conventional war. Nuclear weapons, the president announced, should "be used just exactly as you would use a bullet or anything else." According to the record of a 1954 meeting of top U.S. national security officials, they agreed that the U.S. government "would not be drawn into any negotiations" for "the control or abolition of nuclear weapons."

But the escalation of the nuclear arms race -- and particularly H-bomb tests, spewing nuclear fallout around the globe -- triggered an upsurge of protest. World-renowned intellectuals such as Bertrand Russell, Albert Schweitzer, and Linus Pauling issued hard-hitting, widely-publicized critiques. "Ban-the-Bomb" groups sprang up in numerous countries, including the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and Women Strike for Peace in the United States. Opinion polls revealed overwhelming popular distaste for nuclear war, support for abolishing nuclear weapons, and desire for an end to nuclear testing.

Consequently, U.S. officials were forced to retreat. As Secretary of State John Foster Dulles conceded, there had developed "a popular and diplomatic pressure for limitation of armament that cannot be resisted by the United States without our forfeiting the good will of our allies and the support of a large part of our own people."

In September 1956, Eisenhower ordered a study of a test ban, citing "the rising concern of people everywhere over the effect of radiation from tests, . . . their reaction each time a test was reported, and their extreme nervousness over the prospective consequences of any nuclear war." In 1957, after government weapons scientists made a sales pitch for continued nuclear testing, the president retorted that "we are . . . up against an extremely difficult world opinion situation," and the U.S. government could not "permit itself to be `crucified on a cross of atoms.'" When, in March 1958, the Soviet government unilaterally halted nuclear testing, the U.S. government was on the spot. Testing was "not evil," Eisenhower remarked in frustration, but "people have been brought to believe that it is." The result was a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing and the opening of test ban negotiations by the U.S., British, and Soviet governments.

The negotiations went badly and, when the Soviet government resumed atmospheric nuclear testing in the fall of 1961, most members of the Kennedy administration were ready to follow its example.

But President Kennedy was rattled by revived antinuclear agitation, and stalled for eight months before proceeding with atmospheric testing. He also went to unprecedented lengths to secure a test ban treaty. In November 1962, Kennedy met with Norman Cousins, the founder and co-chair of SANE, and implored him to assure Nikita Khrushchev of his commitment to such a measure. Cousins shuttled between the two world leaders and, in the spring of 1963, convinced Kennedy to deliver a speech that would signal "a breathtaking new approach" toward the Soviet Union. Delivered that June, this American University address -- partially written by Cousins -- emphasized the administration's desire to ban nuclear testing and announced new test ban talks. In July, U.S., British, and Soviet officials signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty.

Policymakers have conceded that this first nuclear arms control measure was a direct response to popular protest. According to Glenn Seaborg, the AEC chair during the 1960s, the treaty resulted from "persistent pressure . . . on the nuclear powers by influential leaders and movements throughout the world." Recalling his years as Kennedy's White House science advisor, Jerome Wiesner gave the major credit for pushing the president toward the treaty to SANE, Women Strike for Peace, and Linus Pauling.

If comparable public pressure were mobilized today, would this country return to the path of nuclear arms controls? A pessimist would be inclined to say no, and point to the fact that popular protest did not halt the Bush administration's drive for war with Iraq.

Nevertheless, there are important signs that, when it comes to nuclear weapons, the Bush administration is in a difficult political situation. The White House is clearly reeling from its failed venture in Iraq, and has gained a well-deserved and damaging reputation for reckless military adventurism. In this context, anything that highlights the administration's abandonment of nuclear arms controls and its embrace of nuclear weapons is bound to heighten popular unease.

Furthermore, time after time the American public has expressed dismay at building more nuclear weapons. Certainly, it has never liked the idea of waging nuclear war. Politicians who have talked lightly of using nuclear weapons have either suffered ignominious defeat (e.g. Barry Goldwater) or quickly reversed themselves (e.g. Ronald Reagan). Even the Republican-dominated Congress -- doubtless recognizing the massive unpopularity of getting ready for nuclear war -- has failed to give a green light to the administration's nuclear plans. Thus, if there were heightened popular pressure on the nuclear issue, the Bush administration might well be confronted with the choice of abandoning its nuclear buildup or suffering another damaging blow to its re-election prospects. Peace activists should seize upon this welcome opportunity and, along the way, celebrate their path-breaking achievement of forty years ago: the Partial Test Ban Treaty.


This article first appeared on ZNET and is reprinted with permission.


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Ptolemy Maratd - 10/18/2003

I do not believe a historian need see or "experiment" with nuclear forces in order to write a narrative history about them. I trust Richard Rhodes has not seen or experiment either. While I agree that Wittner does seem to take aim at pre-Berlin Wall removal Socialist antiwar movements, as merely propaganda agents, one has to realize that to get published with a university press such as Stanford, one has to tow the line of left liberalism but stop short of a progressive-socialist agenda. That is just the way it is in America and Wittner is merely a reflection of that. No crime! No disgrace! Just reality.


Former Grad - 10/18/2003

Briliant Mr Alard. Brilliant. You are the only one that was able to see his limited commitment to ending the arms race. Wow.


Leo Alard - 10/18/2003

I meant court historian not cour historian. I do not aim to impugn the professor's skills as a historian or his talents as a scholar. I merely wish liberal historians would own up to their basic hostility toward communism and socialism EVEN when groups within those countries are for the ending of the arms race and the saving of the human race. Who cares if they are state-sponsored or not? Again, Professor Wittner should attempt to see or experiment with such devices before he dismisses any efforts to proscribe their proliferation in the 1950s and 1960s.


Leo Alard - 10/18/2003

I think readers of Professor Wittner's oeuvre on the bomb will find kind of a neo-ADA liberal intolerance of left wing movements of liberation and socialism. Professor Wittner is, in keeping with a cour historian, extremely dismissive of "Red" based antinuclear organisations from "red" countries behind the "Iron Curtain." I do not know if Professor Wittner has ever seen a nuclear weapon or experimented with them. I can assure him, that liberal historiography should welcome any and all resistance to the evil monstrosity of these fission-fusion-fission devices even if not from his side of the Cold War divide.


Lawrence Wittner - 10/13/2003

I'm not sure what you are requesting when you ask for "history of news." But, if you are asking about the communications media's coverage of nuclear disarmament issues, I suggest that you read my TOWARD NUCLEAR ABOLITION (vol. 3 of THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE BOMB), which has some interesting material on that subject.


cassandra - 10/12/2003

Let's see now. We had two in 1945, and by 1996 there wre 21,000 operational nuclear weapons in the world. You maintain this is a success that should be noted and celebrated.
Wow!!
Your argument reminds me of Admiral Rickover, who used get infuriated about the "say-do" nature of Washington -- the White House would say something, and it was said to have been done in spite of the solid, concrete evidence to the contrary.
My quibble is that none of the major nuclear powers has shown any willingness at all to give up their nuclear arsenals, treaties, statements and promises notwithstanding.
In fact, the major impact of these treaties and agreements seems to have been to consolidate nuclear arsenals, and apply nuclear weapons to new purposes, i.e. the MX supermissile with its 10 multiple warheads. Both the U.S. and Russia are putting these weapons now at sea, where they will in theory be impossible to find (in spite of the obvious physical properties of metal submarines in water.).
Figures are troublesome things. Assuming everyone is telling the truth (another problem with treaties, there are still enough on the shelves:
_ United States, 9,150. Start 2 is widely thought to lead to a build-down in nuclear bombs, but there's an escape clause allowing the Pentagon to keep them on the shelf to be quickly loaded.
_ Russia: 10,400.
_ France: 500. They will need these in case Germany gets out of hand again, and they are developing a new submarine-launched nuke to be deployed before 2015.
_ China: 450. Also developing a blue sea navy.
_ U.K.: 392.
_ Israel: 200 warheads.
_ India and Pakistan have a half a dozen each. North Korea has at least one, maybe six.
So piss on your birthday candles. It obviously hasn't resulted in any lessening of the danger of nuclear war at all, and the anti-nuclear movement notwithstanding, we're no safer today than we were 40 years ago.


h.h.priyantha - 10/11/2003

can you help me .iam university studant ,university of colombo in sri lanka.can you give me history of news .[print meedia and electronic meedia]thanks you
your's fe. priyantha


NYGuy - 10/9/2003

Prof. Wittner,

Thank you for yor comments. It appears we disagree, but there in nothing wrong with that.

I have been saying that the world is changing very quickly and as a result is becoming smaller because of technology and the rapid increase in the speed of telecommunications. With this as a beginning point I was very excited this week to see the news comming out of China and Asia. Basically, if a country fails to keep abreast of the rapid changes in technology they quickly fall far behind their friends and foes in both economics and military protection. Meanwhile as their people become more aware of the benefits that others are gaining, and they are unable to get them from their government, they end up with a rebellous populus. This leads to an insecurity that demands more nuclear weapons, i.e. North Korea.

An alternative route is to emphasis economic development which benefits all. I believe that is where we are now. That is why the news that China and ASEAN are forming an economic bloc that will rival the U. S. and EU is significant. These three blocs I would guess account for possibly 75% of the world's population. These groups understand that economic growth, terrorism, WMD and nuclear proliferation threats do not go together. I believe that is why China, India and others signed a non-aggression pact and opted for economic development.

The stumbling bloc has been the UN and its poor record of peacemaking and dealing with terrorism, look at Israel and Palestine. GW's strong stance on terrorism and his willing to use force to stop it has put the matter on the table, economic growth or terrorism. As you can see, 75% or what ever the number is, of the world's population agree with him. Terrorism feeds on weakness. The UN showed that weakness, but others like GW, China, India, the coalition, etc. are showing that some malcontents are not going to enslave the world with their destructive behavoir.

As I said, the conclusion one arrives at depends on where one starts. I start with GW providing the leadershiip that will stop nuclear proliferation and make for a better and more peaceful world.

Cheers.


Lawrence Wittner - 10/9/2003

Terrorism, like the existence of nuclear weapons, provides a serious problem today. But the Bush administration's heavy reliance upon military means to deal with these problems is self-defeating. We can see what a costly mess has emerged in Iraq thanks to this approach. It is also clear that returning to the nuclear weapons game (though resuming nuclear testing and building more nuclear weapons) is going to revive the nuclear arms race. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is based upon a bargain: the non-nuclear powers agreed to forgo developing nuclear weapons IF the nuclear powers would move toward nuclear disarmament. By reneging on this bargain, the Bush administration will inherit the whirlwind among nations that will now turn to building their own. Moreover, the nuclear powers will build additional nuclear weapons, terrorists will find it ever easier to obtain them, and both nations and terrorists will become more likely to use them. All American Presidents since Truman have come around to nuclear arms control and disarmament as the best route to international security. It's a shame George W. Bush has abandoned it!


NYGuy - 10/9/2003

Prof. Wittner

"The White House is clearly reeling from its failed venture in Iraq, and has gained a well-deserved and damaging reputation for reckless military adventurism. In this context, anything that highlights the administration's abandonment of nuclear arms controls and its embrace of nuclear weapons is bound to heighten popular unease."

NYGuy:

I will concede that your scholarship was done with integrity and an open mind. When it comes to your article, however, the above conclusions whether true or false, form the basis for your conclusion on the popular reaction. Since there is not universal agreement on the above statement one is left with the impression of a propaganda format, which is so prevalent on HNN. In addition I view the argument as a tautology.

You may be interested in the rapid changes going on in China and Asia which I discuss in the Arnold article on HNN:

http://hnn.us/comments/19901.html

In this post you will find the following comment by India, a major developer in the nuclear arms market.

“Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee signed his country's first agreements with ASEAN, acceding to the nonaggression treaty and adopting a pact to cooperate in fighting regional terrorism. India's annual trade with the regional grouping has tripled from about $3 billion to $10 billion in the past decade.”

And it includes another major factor in this market, China.

“China and ASEAN agreed to work faster toward a free trade agreement that would create the world's most populous market, with 1.7 billion consumers”

The fact that they are working together for economic growth and want to stop terrorism suggest to me that you are correct in your conclusion and that the popular protest was important.

“Policymakers have conceded that this first nuclear arms control measure was a direct response to popular protest.”

I would add that it was GW’s stand bringing terrorism to the world stage that is showing the way to others that we can’t have economic growth and terrorism, and in turn we can’t have nuclear proliferation.

I will then concede to your claims of scholarship, and I understand that the author does not necessarily determine the headline, but I do not change my opinion of the piece as written.

Cheers.


Lawrence Wittner - 10/9/2003

"Cassandra" -- complaining that U.S. underground nuclear testing continued until 1992, that other countries (i.e. India and Pakistan) tested after that, and that "some Americans" like the idea of waging nuclear war -- asks what's worth celebrating about the nuclear disarmament movement and nuclear arms control and disarmament. Well, for one thing, since 1945 we have not had a nuclear war. For another, only eight countries out of about 200 have developed nuclear weapons. Yet another is that some countries that developed nuclear weapons chose to become non-nuclear and, furthermore, there are far fewer nuclear weapons in world arsenals than twenty years ago. Finally, "some Americans" approve of almost anything; but most are appalled at the prospect of nuclear war. The efforts and effectiveness of the movement are reported at length in my new book, TOWARD NUCLEAR ABOLITION (Stanford University Press).


Lawrence Wittner - 10/9/2003

Although "NY Guy" says I have "a closed mind," I began my scholarly trilogy, THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE BOMB, with the assumption that public protest had had no significant impact upon the nuclear arms race. But, after I interviewed hundreds of government officials and nuclear disarmament group leaders, as well as plowed through formerly secret government files (e.g. the records of the U.S.Atomic Energy Commission, the British prime minister, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the East German STASI, and numerous U.S. Presidents), I concluded that public protest had played an important role in curbing the nuclear arms race and preventing nuclear war.
Dave Tabaska asks: "Does having a group of people getting together mean that they should always be listened to and have their complaints acted upon?" My answer: Of course not! But when they come up with a good idea (e.g. halting the nuclear arms race) and are supported in this by most of the people of the world, their opinion should be taken seriously by government leaders -- and, in fact, it was!


R. Smathers - 10/8/2003

Taeesh Filisteen! Tihya el-dawla el-Arabiya!


Ed - 10/8/2003

The Test Ban Treaty did limit fallout over major US and European population centers. As you point out it did not eliminate underground testing nor did it eliminate testing by rogue states, India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, etc.

I think it is more accurate to say that most voters chose Reagan because Carter looked like a wimp and they truly hoped that Reagan would bring them cheap gasoline, low inflation, more jobs and really happy, Happy Meals. They were proved wrong by the trillions of dollars of debt he created, but they didn't sign on for more bombs and for Star Wars (eventhough the later marketing of Star Wars through television and churches was very convincing to many people in the heartland).


Dave Tabaska - 10/8/2003

"If comparable public pressure were mobilized today, would this country return to the path of nuclear arms controls? A pessimist would be inclined to say no, and point to the fact that popular protest did not halt the Bush administration's drive for war with Iraq."

Given that prewar polls consistently showed a majority of Americans supported a potential war, it is hard to believe that the Bush admnistration was ignoring anything popular.

Does having a group of people getting together mean that they should always be listened to and have their complaints acted upon? I somehow doubt that Mr. Wittner would extend the same respect for, say, a Klan rally.


R.T. Ravenholt - 10/8/2003


An article on "Diagnostic Dose Radiation Hazards" written and presented in 1957 to the American Public Health Association,the North Pacific Pediatric Society, and the Washington State Dental Association provides a thorough view of what was known concerning low dose radiation hazards in 1957; and is available on my website at http://www.ravenholt.com.


R.T. Ravenholt - 10/8/2003


An article on "Diagnostic Dose Radiation Hazards" written and presented in 1957 to the American Public Health Association,the North Pacific Pediatric Society, and the Washington State Dental Association provides a thorough view of what was known concerning low dose radiation hazards in 1957; and is available on my website at http://www.ravenholt.com.


Al Czervikjr - 10/8/2003

>> I have read your posting in many of these fora and noted your disrespect for professors who disagree with you.

Really? Since a rarely post comments, I find this hard to believe. In any event, I generally try to focus on the substance of the arguments being made, as opposed to ignoring the arguments and simply calling people militarists or "Pipesian zionists" (did you make that one up all by yourself?). I know proof and actual evidence are not your strong points, but how about some actual examples of my alleged "disrespect"?

>>You kick people when they are down and have no sense of justice or wisdom.

A strange comment...I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Perhaps you could elaborate.

>>Still support the genocide against the Arab nation in Iraq and Syria?

Again, your comments are so out of touch with reality that any response must seem like "kicking people when they are down." As to genocide in Syria, I presume that you are referring to Assad Sr.'s slaughter of civilians in Hama? Or are you referring to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon?

In any event, as an Arab-American, I can say with some confidence that I don't support genocide against anyone, including the "Arab nation."

Best Wishes,

AC


NYGuy - 10/8/2003

Typical Bush bashing. Start with some “historical” premise and than at any point jump to bashing the Bush administration. How can we accept an article that presents a history with over 40 years missing so he can spew his propaganda about Bush and meet the 800 word limit on HNN.

Lawrence Wittner

"If comparable public pressure were mobilized today, would this country return to the path of nuclear arms controls? A pessimist would be inclined to say no, and point to the fact that popular protest did not halt the Bush administration's drive for war with Iraq."

NYGuy

Do you not read the newspapers? Don’t you remember Republicans telling Clinton about the dangers of North Korea nuclear program? What was his response? Now North Korea says they have developed “more” atomic bombs. I gather you are not concerned about this, nor is SANE, or Women Strike for Peace. Nor are you and they concerned about Iraq and other countries. Do you feel comfortable with China? You may note they are now going to put a man in space. Seems like they are doing a lot of things the world was not aware of, and this could involve nuclear weapons. It is difficult to take someone serious when they can’t present a balanced article or position. I think it shows a closed mind. After discussing nuclear arms control as a "worldwide problem" he settles on bashing the US. At least we know where he stands.


R. Smathers - 10/8/2003

Hate and rantings? I have read your posting in many of these fora and noted your disrespect for professors who disagree with you. You kick people when they are down and have no sense of justice or wisdom.

Still support the genocide against the Arab nation in Iraq and Syria?


Al Czervikjr - 10/7/2003

Mr. Smithers,

Your inane tirade has absolutely no relevance to my post, but I'll play along.

If I'm not mistaken, I think RNEP is the nuclear bunker-buster concept currently being studied by the Pentagon.

Speaking of Dr. King, the rest of your paranoid, hyperbolic and hateful rant speaks volumes as to the content of your character.

Best Wishes,

AC


Al Czervikjr - 10/7/2003

Sir ABM?? That's pretty weak, but thanks anyway Mr. Smithers.

By the way, have you tried therapy or anger managment?

Best regards,

AC


R. Smathers - 10/7/2003

I meant sir ABM.


R. Smathers - 10/7/2003

Those pesky little facts bro are that we are a terrorist country that wants to build RNEP (ever heard of them bro?), convert 1 megaton bombs into low yield fission weapons with the hydrogen removed (following me bro?), and broke the ABN treaty due to the Supreme Interests of Pipesian zionists in this filthy country. Have a nice day right-wing militarist. Phew!!!!!!!!!

Where were you when Dr King and his heroes fought for social justice?


Peter N. Kirstein - 10/7/2003

I am currently using Struggle Against the Bomb in my Hiroshima and Nuclear War course here at St. Xavier University. Professor Wittner should be commended for his efforts at chronicling the history of antinuclear protest. I await with interest the third volume of his series, and as the first two volumes, would gladly place it on my reading list.


Al Czervikjr - 10/6/2003

Reading Mr. Wittner's screed, one would never guess that a year or so ago, Bush and Putin signed a treaty that calls for drastic reductions in the nuclear arsenals of both countries. Mr. Wittner somehow manages to forget this inconvenient little fact.


cassandra - 10/6/2003


What in God's name is there anything worth of celebration about this? The United States continued underground testing until 1992, and other countries continued afterwards, including most recently India. The United States, by the way, continues sub-critical nuclear testing underground, which stops short of the critical chain reaction but provides enough information to conduct computer simulations.
Furthermore, you say ..."time after time the American public has expressed dismay at building more nuclear weapons. Certainly, it has never liked the idea of waging nuclear war.."
Oh, really? Wishful thinking notwithstanding, the American public elected Ronald Reagan on a pledge to build more bombs and the MX missile system, plus the Star Wars program which envisions a space-based nuclear explosion. Reagan did it, and was reelected. And I invite you to read again those World War II accounts to find out how happy GIs were that we dropped the Big One on Japan, so they didn't have to die in the carnage of trying to take that country in an all-out assault. Some Americans remain quite confident of waging a nuclear war _ and winning one.


Oliver Halcott - 10/6/2003


Thanks for this insight into Bush's hypocritical ineptitude.

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