Sixty years ago this week, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I was in my mother’s womb. My young, sweet mom was terrified she’d never get to see me be born, as the world teetered on the brink of unimaginable calamity. It’s bewildering to me that nuclear crises bookend my life at this point.
I've worked for nuclear disarmament since 1983, but here we are, perhaps closer to nuclear catastrophe, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s thinly veiled nuclear threats in his disastrous war against Ukraine, than at any time since John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev found a path back from the brink six decades ago.
Decades of progress in reducing the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world has recently been undercut by backsliding on nuclear weapons treaties, lack of progress on disarmament (in fact, the opposite, a new arms race with all nuclear states "upgrading" their arsenals), and hypocrisy on non-proliferation by the nuclear powers.
There are now nine nuclear-armed states - the US, Russia, China, France, Britain, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea - and many more that could go nuclear if they so choose. Clearly, humanity has so far failed to deal with the existential threat of the weaponized atom.
Moreover, the fact that a single person, the chief executive in those nine countries, on his or her own authority, could initiate a nuclear war that could wipe out all or most life on Earth is unacceptable if one has any notion of democracy or the common good.
Harvard professor Elaine Scarry laid this out simply in her trenchant book, Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom. Why, in our supposedly advanced state of social development as a species, we allow such power to be invested in nine individuals, is a question worthy of intense scrutiny, and sorely needed change.
However, the current crisis brings with it the opportunity to re-engage on nuclear disarmament issues at the grassroots level in order to show our government it needs to get serious about reducing, not exacerbating, the nuclear threat.
My organization, Peace Action, is part of a coalition called Defuse Nuclear War which is doing just that. This month, with the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis as well as the current threat by Russia to use nukes in its faltering war in Ukraine, is a great time to get active.
Last Friday, local events were held in over 40 cities across the US to sound the alarm. Activities are ongoing; the defusenuclearwar.org website has helpful tools and suggestions for action including writing letters to the editor (still a great way to get our message out to the public) and social media engagement. Expect more resources including videos and Zoom educational and organizing events soon.
The demands of Defuse Nuclear War are simple and clear:
- end the policy of first use of nuclear weapons;
- rejoin nuclear arms control and reduction treaties;
- take US weapons off hair-trigger alert;
- eliminate land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles;
- support Congressional legislation, House Resolution 1185, backing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons;
- move the money to human needs, not war.
At this time of dire threat, we can’t sit back and rely on politicians to get it right. Kennedy and his advisors almost didn’t in 1962; it was perhaps more luck than skill that averted Armageddon.
Please get involved with Defuse Nuclear War actions, and invite your family, friends, colleagues, and social media audiences to do the same, as we need to broaden our circle. It may be, as the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock warns, perilously close to midnight, but we can help turn the clock back on nuclear catastrophe if we act together.
The babies in mothers' wombs worldwide need us right now.