published simultaneously in January 1982 by IFOR Report and Sojourners magazine
By Jim Forest and Peter Herby
“May I infect you a disease?” Thousands of Londoners have been receiving postcards with this alarming proposal from their Dutch neighbors across the North Sea. Instead of wooden shoes and windmills, the picture side of the card depicts a mushroom cloud rising over the word “Europe.”
The curious disease being so actively transmitted is Hollanditis. It was first identified by a distressed American journalist who suspected the Dutch origins of a European epidemic whose symptoms have become increasingly familiar: anxiety in the presence of nuclear weapons, exhaustion with decades of futile negotiations to ban such weapons, distress at the prospect of a nuclear war which would devastate all of Europe, and a massive surge of resistance against such a possibility.
Without a doubt, Hollanditis is a highly contagious malady of conscience. Millions of Europeans have been stricken and the number of victims is rapidly growing. Sufferers find their lives have been changed as they commit themselves to the elimination of nuclear weapons, starting in their own countries. In the process, they are becoming a powerful political force.
The illness has been seen by some commentators as an occasion of comfort to Moscow’s leadership. Yet the countries linked in the Warsaw Pact are presently preoccupied with their own contagion, the dreaded Polanditis. Its symptoms do not as yet include special attention to the arms race, but at the root of the illness is a similar discomfort with life in the embrace of the superpowers. Neither Holland nor Poland find present “security arrangements” offer an experience or prospect of real security. As a bitter joke puts it, “Those Americans and Russians are more courageous and resolute than ever—they are ready to fight to the last European.”
American observers, seeking to explain the outbreak in NATO’s share of Europe, claim we are witnessing a resurgence of that insidious strain known as Isolationism. More careful observation yields different conclusions, however. In fact, Hollanditis is not a disease of avoidance and escape but of challenge and engagement. Far from being a terminal illness, it is an outbreak of healing which seeks the mending of relationships and the easing of borders. It rejects preparations for a war which might be the world’s last, and certainly would be Europe’s last.
A Decision for First-Strike Weaponry
A giant step toward nuclear war occurred in December 1979, when eleven NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels accepted a proposal which would place 464 Cruise and 108 Pershing 2 missiles in Western Europe, beginning in 1983. It was a momentous event in the history of the arms race as it marked the decision to abandon a policy based on deterrence (through which the US and USSR restrained each other with the prospect of “mutually assured destruction”) to a “first strike” policy through which the US could inflict far greater destruction on the USSR than it would experience in response.
The key to this new development is new military technology, an extraordinary example of which is the Cruise missile: 14-feet long, 28 inches wide, able to skim over treetops, wind through river valleys, and slip under the eye of radar. It requires a launching vehicle as small and inconspicuous as a milk truck. Before the Soviet Union realized it was under attack, cruise missiles could be exploding on target, whether they be Soviet missile sites, military centers or cities.
Augmenting these would be the Pershing 2, more powerful and faster, though its launch can be observed by satellite and its target projected by computer calculation. Its flying time from West Europe to Moscow is a scant five minutes. In about the time it takes to make a cup of coffee, Soviet officials would have to decide on their response, which would doubtless include an attack on all known or suspected nuclear bases in Western Europe. Put simply, a hair trigger is now being attached to the machinery of nuclear war.
The US has defended its plans in the vocabulary of home-improvement (NATO needs “modernization”) and of the nursery (these weapons are “a new generation”). The claim is that they are merely a necessary response to balance the Soviet Union’s SS-20 missiles, 250 of which are aimed at Western Europe, and each with three warheads. This argument completely ignores the 400 long-range Poseidon warheads and 142 Polaris warheads stationed on US and British submarines in the European region, as does President Reagan’s November proposal for the withdrawal of US and Soviet land-based missiles. According to former US National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, “The SS-20 did not and does not give the Soviet Union any military capability against Europe alone that it did not possess in overflowing measure before a single SS-20 was deployed.”
Increasingly it is conceded that the proposed new missiles serve no essential military purpose but that preparations to produce them and plans to place them in Europe serve as “bargaining chips” in forcing the Soviet Union to pull out its SS-20s. This is the latest version of the familiar argument that the only way to slow down the race is to speed it up. For 35 years this approach has only produced more weaponry and faster. farther reaching, more elusive missiles. What the new weapons really do is raise the tension level, sharply reduce security, and make nuclear war more likely.
For Europeans, war is not at all an academic matter. These weapons are targeted where they live and they have their many memories of the savagery of war when weapons were far slower and smaller. As one of the architects of the Dutch disarmament movement, Laurens Hogebrink says, “It may sound strange, but there has not been a single day in years when I have not thought of the Second World War and realized that what happened is a normal part of human history and will happen again if we don’t prevent it.”
Europeans increasingly believe that the arms race is out of control and that their only real defense is protest and a policy of calculated steps toward disarmament.
The Home Country of Hollanditis
Nowhere has the nuclear disarmament movement been as prolonged, deeply rooted and politically influential as in the Netherlands. The groups responsible are numerous and diverse, with participation ranging from the general in charge of Holland’s Army War College to political groups spread from left to right. But the primary source of Hollanditis is the Inter-Church Peace Council (Interkerkelijk Vredesberaad, known throughout Holland simply as IKV). IKV was founded in 1966 by the Protestant and Catholic Churches of the Netherlands as a conscience-forming project on issues of human rights, development and peace. For ten years its work centered on preparing an annual Peace Week held in churches through-out the country in late September.
In the mid-1970s, when East-West relations began a new decline, IKV leaders took a fresh look at their work and began to see an opportunity for Holland to play a part in breaking the deadlock in the arms race. As years of negotiations seeking simultaneous reductions by both sides had failed dismally, the option of unilateral initiatives needed effective promotion: concrete steps taken by states to reduce tension and mistrust and create an atmosphere in which disarmament agreements could be reached.
With 1977’s Peace Week, IKV launched a campaign for such an initiative, which was summarized with the slogan: “Help rid the world of nuclear weapons—let it begin in the Netherlands.” Its adopted symbol was a huge bomb being pushed away by a determined family of four. Its message was clear: ordinary people aren’t as powerless against the arms race as we usually think. The idea has taken hold. Today you cannot walk down a street in any Dutch town or city without seeing the slogan and symbol displayed on clothes, shoulder bags and living room windows. In four years, a network of 400 local groups have sprung up, taking the IKV campaign door-to-door with organizers well prepared for the questions and anxieties neighbors may express.
One of the great hopes within IKV was that church leadership would not leave the issue to IKV and its local groups but would recognize a pastoral responsibility for themselves and for the church structures they direct. The most notable consequence to date in this regard was a year-long process involving thousands of parish evenings in congregations of the Netherlands Reformed Church that, in November 1980, resulted in a pastoral letter in which the general synod of the country’s largest protestant denomination condemned not only the use of nuclear weapons but their possession:
We consider it necessary to plead for an approach in which negotiation goes hand in hand with steps which clearly set us upon the road to disarmament. Since it has turned out to be impossible to reach multilateral decisions toward such steps, they should be taken unilaterally. They should be unambiguous in intention. They should not only point in the direction to be taken; they should testify to a readiness to take that road ourselves. We consider that the de-nuclearization of the Netherlands would be such an unambiguous step. We call for you to support this proposal.
The Church then confessed the faith basis for its position:
We have no illusions about political systems from which we wish to remain free and which we fear. But as believers we can say: we can live with our Lord no matter what the political system may be. In no case does the defense of our freedoms justify basing our security on the possible destruction of everything dear to us and to our opponents and on an assault on the creation.
Since 1979, IKV has addressed itself to the various political parties of the Netherlands, seeking to influence the content of their election programs as well as the work of the parties in the Dutch Parliament. With half the Dutch people now opposing all nuclear weapons in the country and two-thirds opposing the new NATO weaponry, the political impact has been considerable. Just prior to the NATO meeting in 1979, the Parliament opposed the Prime Minister in his support of the NATO proposal. When the government sought to placate public opinion by deferring until 1981 the question of whether the new weapons should be based in Holland, public outrage was so intense that the government barely survived a vote of confidence in Parliament. Following the national election in May, a new three-party coalition government was produced which was more critical of nuclear weapons than its predecessor. With opposition to nuclear weapons remaining intense, the government is certain to again put off acceptance of new NATO weapons.
“Of course it is a political fact,” comments Laurens Hogebrink of the IKV campaign, “that this postponement policy can go on forever. One can safely take it as certain that Holland’s share of the missiles will never enter the country. But what the Dutch peace movement wants is not a national ‘clean-hands’ policy, with. the government agreeing with NATO but making an exception for itself. We want independent Dutch initiatives to stop the whole NATO program. Increasingly this requires a campaign. beyond the Dutch borders.” Beginning in 1979, IKV began to internationalize its campaign. The results of the process include the series of massive rallies in European capitals in the fall of 1981—the largest of which was Holland’s own; more than 400,000 filling Amsterdam in a protest so festive that one observer called it “a brief encounter between heaven and earth.”
West Germany, NATO’s Center Piece
Holland is a country of doll-house measurements only ten percent the size of California. The Pentagon could manage to get along without the Dutch patch of Europe were it cleared of NATO explosives down to the last matchstick. Holland’s neighbor West Germany, on the other hand, is a quite different matter. It is NATO’s major base in Europe and the intended location of 220 of the Cruise and Pershing missiles. Its eastern border is the main point of contact between NATO and the Warsaw Pact and has often been a place of bloodshed and death for those trying to escape to the west. Since West Germany’s founding, its politics and press have been dominated by anti-communism and fear of Soviet expansion.
Yet in Bonn last October 10, 300,000 people gathered in opposition to more nuclear weapons in their country or elsewhere in Europe
One could see at a glance that Hollanditis was at work, not only because IKV in the Netherlands had been a partner in the rally’s organization, but because a familiar symbol had been borrowed by the German organizers: a family pushing away the bomb. Rally speakers included theologian Helmut Gollwitzer, former mayor of Berlin, Heinrich Alberts, and Erhard Eppler, a member of the executive committee of the country’s ruling Social Democratic party, present despite the opposition of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
As with the disarmament movement in Holland, participants represented an immense diversity with as many reasons to disagree among themselves as to rally together: church people, trade unionists, young people of the “no future” generation, ecologists, youth groups of diverse political convictions. The rally’s impetus came from groups both associated with the churches: Aktiongemeinschaft Dienst für den Frieden (the Action Committee of Service for Peace, a coalition of 12 religious peace groups, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Christians for Disarmament and the Live Without Weapons Movement) and Aktion Sühnezeichen (Action Reconciliation), a movement founded after the war to offer repentant, voluntary service to victims of the Nazis.
In 1980, Aktion Sühnezeichen was the principal organizer of West Germany’s first nationally coordinated Peace Week, with support from six regional synods of the Lutheran Church. It was observed in more than 4,000 towns and cities, involving thousands of local organizers and reaching millions of Germans. Its theme was “Making Peace Without Armaments.”
Already 150,000 Germans have signed a statement, modeled on an appeal issued by the 1975 Assembly of the World Council of Churches: “1 am prepared to live without the protection of military armaments. I wish to take a stand in our country for the political development of peace without arms.” Ten times that number have now signed the Krefelder Appeal, asking the Bonn government to cancel its support of the NATO decision.
Another impressive peace statistic is the 54,000 young West Germans who in 1980 choose civilian rather than military service—12 percent of the eligible youth. Volkmar Deile, secretary of Aktion Su”hnezeichen, anticipates that the 1981 percentage will reach 15 percent.
Theologians have been active in both the Dutch and German disarmament movements. Among the most prominent of these has been Dorothee Sölle of Hamburg, who has taught on both sides of the Atlantic. Countering anti-American sentiment that has been growing in Germany, she reminds her numerous listeners of “the other America—not the America of the generals but of Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan, the America of religious conviction that you have to obey God rather than men.”
Sölle anticipates growing recourse in Europe to nonviolent civil disobedience, which may become massive if the new missiles are ever delivered. “These are not entirely rational structures we are trying to influence,” she says. “The nuclear states are really dinosaurs. It is- ridiculous to expect dinosaurs to go politely to the conference table and make rational decisions. First you have to convince them that there is no future in being a dinosaur. Human life is for humans, and if you are going to be human, you have to give up the idea of absolute power and having everything the way you want it to be. In real life, you have to think about sacrifice.”
Germany’s church leadership has been more reluctant to enter the disarmament debate than local congregations. Official statements have stressed that “service for peace can be offered either with or without arms.” One recent statement suggests the possible importance of unilateral initiatives for disarmament, but is without specific proposals. Konrad Lübbert, pastor of a local Lutheran church and secretary of West Germany’s Fellowship of Reconciliation, compares the present crisis of conscience among German Christians to the one experienced in the Hitler years, when Christians opposing Nazism finally broke with the country’s religious structure and founded the Confessing Church. “If the leadership of the established churches once again cannot see the priority of human life, if once again it fails to resist the ideologies and methods of mass destruction, then once again there will be a break.” But Lübbert’s hope remains strong that such a division can be avoided and that a disarmament consensus will be achieved in the German churches similar to the one that has emerged in the Netherlands Reformed Church. The problem, he says, is the intensity of anti-communist anxiety. Several years ago critics of Lübbert unsuccessfully sought to remove him from his pastorship for a sermon in which he explained that the Parable of the Good Samaritan today would be the Parable of the Good Communist. “The Samaritan represented to the Jewish people,” he explained, “what the Communist represents to us—the ultimate threat, the person you cannot respect or trust and with whom there is no common human bond.”
England and the Re-birth of CND
The most striking characteristic of the British disarmament movement has been its phenomenal growth over the past eighteen months. Almost forgotten since the Ban the Bomb days of the early ’60s, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has sprung back to life, with its membership and number of local groups growing ten-fold since 1980. There are now a thousand CND groups in Britain. The CND disarmament march in London in October drew a quarter million people. In 1980, it had been 70,000, and the year before 600.
A major catalyst was the British government’s 1979 campaign to promote civil defense through publication of a citizen’s guide, Protect and Survive. Historian E.P. Thompson responded to it in a widely read paperback, Protest and Survive. In case of nuclear war, Thompson wrote, the population of Britain is invited by their government “to go down to the cellar and make a cubbyhole of old doors and planks, covered with sandbags, books and heavy furniture, into which they must creep with food and water for 14 days… All this ignores the principle effects of nuclear weapons. Within a certain distance of detonation, all houses, cars, clothes, the hair on dogs, cats and persons will spontaneously ignite, while at the same time the blast will bring the houses tumbling down upon the cubbyholes.”
Thompson helped bring home to many the realization that Britain is one of a number of governments busily preparing for nuclear warfare, which political leaders plan to survive in deep, costly shelters while letting ordinary people, who thought the government’s job was to protect its people, burn to death or perish under the rubble of their devastated homes.
Thompson has since become a leading advocate of European Nuclear Disarmament (END), a network promoting the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free zone reaching “from Poland to Portugal.”
While CND has counterparts elsewhere, a uniquely British effort has been the declaration by local Councils of their own jurisdictions as Nuclear Free Zones in which the transport, production, and placement of nuclear weapons is prohibited. Since September 1980, 120 local Councils, including some of the main cities of Britain, have created such zones. While not binding on the central government, the Councils have expressed their refusal to implement national defense plans and at the same time dramatized local opposition to nuclear weaponry, whether US or British. According to Hamish Walker, secretary of Britain’s Fellowship of Reconciliation, “more of the country is now covered with nuclear free zones than not.”
The message is being heard at least by the opposition parties. In 1981 the Labour Party declared its support for complete unilateral nuclear disarmament and elected as party leader Michael Foot, a longtime opponent of British nuclear policies. The Liberal Party, ignoring advice of their leaders, voted against deployment of the Cruise missile in Britain.
The main base of the British disarmament movement is in the country’s powerful trade unions, many of which have formally endorsed CND’s campaign. Individual religious leaders are often found at the movement’s center. Perhaps Britain’s best-known peace campaigner is CND secretary Bruce Kent, a Catholic priest and a former secretary to the Cardinal of London.
Within the churches, nuclear weapons have increasingly become an issue of debate. Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie has stressed that the purpose of weapons is to kill and the purpose of nuclear weapons is mass killing. “This is evil,” he says plainly, “and cannot be accepted.” The British Council of Churches has called for the dismantling of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent as a unilateral step intended to encourage countries without nuclear weapons to remain nuclear-free.
The 1981 conference of the Christian CND drew 900 religious peace workers to Coventry Cathedral to “Profess and Survive.” The ruins of the old church, a bombed-out shell on the alter of which has been carved the words, “Father, forgive,” offered a poignant reminder of the horror of the last world war.
A meeting of British church leadership is being planned for 1982 to consider issues such as the possession of present nuclear weapons as well as the 160 Cruise missiles intended for British bases. One subject to be considered is the IKV campaign in the Netherlands and the possibility of the churches establishing a similar structure in Britain.
British activists are already preparing to undertake direct action against Cruise missiles if the decision to install them is not withdrawn. As a sign of things to come, a group of women recently set up camp alongside a major site for the missiles, the US airbase at Greenham Common. They are asking the British Broadcasting Corporation to televise a debate concerning the new missiles.
Another inventive disarmament action was a thousand-mile Peace Pilgrimage from Iona to Canterbury set up last year by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Joan Baez sang a benefit concert for the project at a church across from the houses of Parliament in London. In Canterbury, the pacifist pilgrims were received with a large Peace Festival. Receiving the pilgrims as part of the Cathedral’s annual Whitsun service, the Dean of Canterbury, Victor de Waal, told worshippers that their special guests were not to be dismissed as idealists out of touch with the real world. “These pilgrims ask us to face squarely the moral options before us. They have themselves faced the fear, and ask us to face it too, the deep fear of living unarmed in a world that is threatening and dangerous. They say to us that only by going into that fear and through it, is there any possibility of turning an enemy into a friend.”
Hope for a Nordic Zone Barred to Nuclear Weapons
At Europe’s northern edge, support is growing for the creation of a Nordic Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. The proposal has won the backing of the Labor Parties in each of the Scandinavian countries and was the subject of discussion at a seminar of disarmament problems arranged in Janurary 1980 by the Norwegian Ministry of Defense. The proposal is that Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland bind themselves by treaty not to manufacture or possess nuclear weapons and to seek from the nuclear states a commitment never to use nuclear weapons in this zone.
For all practical purposes, the zone has already been in existence for quite some time. By act of Parliament in the early 19605, Sweden—which has managed not to go to war since 1814 and which belongs to no military alliance—chose not to develop nuclear weaponry. Neutral Finland has never even debated the possibility of possessing them. While both Norway and Denmark are NATO members, neither has permitted US nuclear weapons in their countries.
Rallies in support of such a zone, seen as a step toward creating a nuclear-weapons-free Europe, occurred in October in both Stockholm and Oslo and drew 15,000 supporters. This past summer disarmament advocates in Denmark initiated a demonstration of similar hopes that made its way to Paris, where 15,000 marched into the Place de la Bastille on Hiroshima Day. In Copenhagen in December, 40,000 rallied in support of the nuclear-free-zone—the largest demonstration in Denmark since the end of World War II. The Danish elections in the same month brought from eleven to twenty the representation of the Socialist People’s Party, whose campaign advocated the creation of the nuclear-free-zone’. “The growing feeling here,” commented Hans Nebel, a pastor who is secretary of the Danish Fellowship of Reconciliation and active with the Socialist People’s Party, “is that we have to make ourselves free of the superpowers and be responsible for our own foreign policy.”
The much-publicized grounding of a Soviet submarine in. Swedish waters in November severely jolted Scandinavians and seemed a set-back for the disarmament movement. “It was astonishing to discover at least one nuclear weapon on board,” commented Marek Thee, editor of the Oslo-based Bulletin of Peace Proposals. “But in the end it may have a constructive consequence if it makes people realize just how close to the edge of nuclear warfare we are, even here in the far north of Europe.”
Belgium: Saying “No” in NATO’s Back Yard
It must be embarrassing. Even Belgium, the host country for the NATO headquarters in Europe, is likely to follow Holland’s example of declining a share of the new NATO missiles. While NATO persists in hoping for agreement from the government, Belgium is among European governments most sensitive to public opinion. The country is an uneasy mix of two peoples and languages put within a common border in the last century when it was established as a buffer state between France and the Netherlands. Since 1945, 32 governments have held office in Brussels. Few have lasted even a year. The most recent election in Belgium closely followed an October protest in which 200,000 assembled to oppose acceptance of 48 Cruise missiles and to call on the Soviets to remove its 58-205 from ‘Eastern Europe. National opinion polls found 66 percent of the people in opposition to Cruise deployment. Whatever government is set up in Brussels, pressure will remain considerable to retain the “no decision” position.
The Belgian campaign has been led by coalitions that include everyone from Catholics to Communists. In the Flemish north, the main coalition is VAKA (the Action Committee Against Nuclear Weapons) while in the French-speaking area protest has been voiced through CNAPD, a coalition representing 25 peace and disarmament groups in this largely Catholic country, Pax Christi has played a major role in bringing disarmament discussion down to the parish level. The Belgian Catholic bishops in October condemned plans for new nuclear weapons and called on the NATO states to reverse their decision as “a unilateral gesture of good will” that could increase the prospects for negotiated disarmament. The government’s refusal to commit itself to accepting the new missiles was praised as “a step forward which could reactivate the process of détente, cooperation, and respect for human rights.”
France: A Small Space Between Right and Left
Having withdrawn from NATO’s Military Command in 1966, France has a certain immunity to Hollanditis. “For us, explains Jesuit priest Christian Mellon of the Mouvement pour une Alternative Nonviolente in Paris, “nuclear weapons have not been a symbol of subservience to the US—rather a proof of French independence. But they are not something the French have thought very much about in recent years. We have suffered a fatalistic acceptance of them.”
The main political parties in France have long supported the force de frappe (literally, strike force)—the French independent nuclear arsenal. On the right are the Gaullists, inventors of the force de frappe, proud of their progeny and showing no sign of anxiety about the dangers of nuclear warfare. On the left, the Socialist government led by President Francois Mitterrand, has expressed its commitment to the French nuclear force and supports the NATO missile decision, though none of the missiles would be placed in France. The French Communist Party, far larger. than its counterparts to the north, has gone so far in demonstrating its nuclear nationalism as to advocate the construction of a seventh nuclear submarine for the French fleet. It is therefore not surprising that, when 50,000 rallied in Paris in October to. protest the nuclear weapons of the US and the USSR, no objections were voiced against France’s own nuclear stockpile.
Yet Christian Mellon believes there is some promise for the development of a disarmament movement in France that would be both non-aligned and committed to nuclear disarmament for France as for other countries. He sees a foundation for such a movement in the many groups which were drawn together in the decade-long struggle opposing expansion of a military base on the Larzac plateau, in the south of France. The Larzac peasants carried out nonviolent resistance to the confiscation of their land which eventually drew as many as 100,000 supporters in festivals of resistance to militarism. Following Mitterrand’s election in 1981, the Larzac struggle achieved its goals. When 3000 people gathered to celebrate the victory in the summer of 1981, they proposed that the movement focus its energies on the elimination of nuclear weapons. They formulated the “Larzac Appeal” which calls for‘ the “formation in France of a large movement against war and nuclear armaments, which can take its place within the European disarmament movement and, with it, protest vigorously against nuclear weapons in both East and West.”
As the north of Europe becomes less and less hospitable to nuclear weapons and the traditional roles of the superpowers, NATO is doubtless increasingly interested in its prospects in the south. By relying more on bases in the south, NATO could maintain its war-making capability in Europe while opening new possibilities for military action in the Middle East and North Africa.
The victory of the Socialist Party in the recent Greek elections was a major setback for NATO planners. The government of Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou is pressing the US for the removal of nuclear weapons and the closure of US military bases in Greece. Malta, a microstate in the midst of the Mediterranean, has already gone the path the Greeks are considering. British and NATO bases there have been withdrawn.
Italy is the only state in southern Europe that has expressed a readiness to serve as a base for the new NATO weapons. It has long belonged to NATO and anticipated little opposition from the residents of Sicily to the stationing of 112 Cruise missiles there. Sicilian resistance, however, is likely to be sustained and fervent, as a Dutch visitor discovered during a visit to the island in November. Already a hundred groups have sprung up determined that Sicily shall never become either a base or a target of nuclear war
In Rome, 300,000 gathered in October in protest of the government’s acquiescence to NATO’s nuclear strategy. More than 500 groups were involved, representing unions, the left, youth movements, church and pacifist groups. A month earlier, 50,000 joined in a peace walk from Perugia to Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi, a model of disarmed and reconciling life.
In Spain, heated debate has resulted from the government’s intention to join NATO. A November poll conducted by El Pais showed 52 percent in opposition to Spanish entrance into NATO, with only 18 percent in support. But the government is pursuing its plans, which it sees as a way to stabilize democracy after it nearly fell to a military coup early in 1981 and as a key element in improving Madrid’s relations with the US. “This is seen as a way for Spain to prove it is truly part of Europe,” commented Arcadi Oliveres in Barcelona, the co-president of Spain’s Pax Christi movement. “But it really is absurd to think membership in NATO can make for a more stable democracy—look what happened in Greece and the chaos in Turkey! All that will really happen is that Spain will be used by the United States.” The government has sought to calm opponents—500,000 of whom demonstrated in Madrid in November—with assurances that the Cruise and Pershing missiles will not be accepted by Spain. Early in December, continuing the NATO protest, 150,000 gathered in Barcelona. In both assemblies, the organizing groups included Pax Christi and the Movement of Conscientious Objectors (MOC). Despite public opinion, Oliveres believes the Madrid government will persist in seeking NATO membership.
Eastern Europe’s Independent Peace Movement
There are increasing indications that a peace movement is taking form in Eastern Europe that is critical of nuclear policies in both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Particularly interesting in this regard is the relationship that has begun between East German Lutherans and the Dutch IKV. Early in 1980 a consultation was held involving IKV and the Theological Study Department of g the Federation of East German Evangelical (in US terminology, Lutheran) Churches. The immediate result was a joint appeal for a moratorium on the placement of medium-range missiles on both sides of Europe and a declaration that Christians should in no way participate in fighting nuclear war. The 1980 Pastoral Letter of the Netherlands Reformed Church supporting the unilateral removal of all nuclear arms from Holland was translated and widely circulated. In response, the Theological Study Department proposed a unilateral step that could be taken by the East German government: the abolition within the country of all “dual-capacity” weapons—those with the potential of being adapted to nuclear use.
Five of East Germany’s eight Lutheran synods have recently convened assemblies where speaker after speaker objected to the militarization of East German society and the state’s military education program for children, including arms handling and the portrayal of fellow human beings as enemies. Responding to more than 4,000 letters which church leaders have received from young East Germans who believe their Christian faith precludes even the noncombatant military service now offered, they asked the state to establish civilian alternative service for conscientious objectors. This has yet to occur in any Warsaw Pact country.
“In the West we have more and better of everything,” comments Dorothee Sölle, “better school books, better clothes, and even a better peace movement. But perhaps not more courage. Consider the courage of religious dissent in East Germany. In the Warsaw Pact, it is argued that the Army is itself a peace movement and that it has no aggressive function. It is Supposed to be entirely for self-defense. Now the churches in East Germany are opposing the idea. The government is furious, but the church refuses to let the issue drop.”
Romania’s President Nicolae Ceauseacu is probably more irritating to Moscow than to Washington for his frequent criticism of nuclear weapons in both military alliances. In November, 300,000 Romanians rallied for nuclear disarmament by both blocs, with equal emphasis on US and Soviet responsibility.
In Hungary a Catholic priest, Fr. Lazslo Kovacs, was tried last October by an archdiocesan tribunal in Budapest for the dissemination of “pacifist ideas” among local youth. He has worked closely with Christian base communities which interpret the Gospel along radically pacifist lines—including conscientious objection to military service—and which have come into conflict with the church hierarchy as well as state authorities. The Tablet, a London-based Catholic weekly, reports a rather unusual sentence by the tribunal: Fr. Kovacs is to spend six months assembling documentation for the canonization of the Blessed Eusebius.
“God In All This”
“Where is God in all this?” an old Jew inquires repeatedly in Elie Weisel’s play, The Trial of God. It is a question worth asking. Those considering the European disarmament campaigns may find it hard to discern God’s presence in all this. While often deeply rooted in the churches, the public face of this work is intensely political. Large egos and rigid ideologies abound. There are those for whom the weapons of one superpower, however devastating, are less disturbing than the similar weapons of another. There is much abrasiveness. Yet the effort is emphatic about the preciousness of life, and is profoundly hope-giving. Hope is a name of God.
As uprooted Americans brought to Holland by our vocations, we have been able to witness at close range what a small community of concerned religious people have gradually built up in one of the world’s smaller countries, what that has come to mean within this country, and how increasingly it has touched, encouraged and given a sharper edge to peace work occurring beyond Dutch borders.
The spread of Hollanditis does not automatically lead to optimism. Even if the smaller states, east and west, achieve regional disarmament, so long as the super-powers retain their huge arsenals, the world still hangs by a thread. If missile sites in Europe are rejected, NATO planners can put their Cruise missiles in the air, on the sea, and under the sea. Many are planned for such deployment in any event.
On the other hand, European nuclear disarmament is no longer a pipe dream. Should it occur, it would be a clear sign that NATO can no longer share in responsibility for the US nuclear build-up, eliminating one of the main US justifications for it. It would also be an immense encouragement to campaigns for disarmament in the US and a stimulus for similar campaigns within the Warsaw Pact. The pressure on the superpowers to disarm would be greatly increased.
Perhaps a self-inflicted Doomsday is not inevitable. Even when confronted with the practical atheism of nuclear weaponry, the possibility of choosing life remains. The people of Europe are showing the world their determination to make that choice.
Note: In December 1987 President Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, hugely reducing the nuclear arsenal. Six months later Regan told reporters that he no longer considered the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and described his relationship with Gorbachev as one of friendship. Undoubtedly nuclear disarmament campaigns such as those described in this article played a crucial role in helping warm the political climate without which the treaty would have been unthinkable.
* * *
At the time this article was published, Jim Forest was General Secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, a member of the editorial board of Disarmament Campaigns, and a contributing editor for the US monthly, Sojourners, in which this article also appeared. Peter Herby was then responsible for IFOR’s disarmament program. He holds a Master’s Degree in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, England
* * *