Monday, January 11, 2010

First British Nonviolent Protest 1/11/1952

January 11th, 1952, marks the anniversary of the first British Nonviolent protest against nuclear weapons: 10 persons sat down on the steps of the War Office in London, England. The well recognized peace symbol emerged from these actions.

The U.S. government had tested the world's first thermonuclear device in 1952 and the Soviet Union had made its own thermonuclear breakthrough the following year. The first U.S. H-Bomb test was conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) on March 1, 1954. It occurred at Bikini atoll, located in the Marshall Islands, a United Nations trust territory in the Pacific. The AEC had staked out a danger zone of fifty thousand square miles (an area roughly the size of New England) around the test site. But the blast proved to be more than twice as powerful as planned and generated vast quantities of highly radioactive debris. Within a short time, heavy doses of this nuclear fallout descended on four inhabited islands of the Marshall grouping--all outside the danger zone--prompting U.S. officials to evacuate 28 Americans working at a U.S. weather station and 236 Marshallese. Thanks to their rapid escape, the Americans went relatively unscathed. But the Marshall Islanders, who were not removed from their radioactive surroundings for days, soon developed low blood counts, skin lesions, hemorrhages under the skin, and loss of hair. Over time, the islanders also suffered a heavy incidence of radiation-linked illnesses, notably thyroid cancer and leukemia.

Beginning in 1954, an uneasiness about nuclear weapons emerged around the world. An earlier surge of antinuclear activity, launched by the shock of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, had been promoted with some effectiveness by atomic scientists, pacifists, world government advocates, and hibakusha (Japanese survivors of the atomic bomb). Starting in 1954, however, the rapid development of the hydrogen bomb--a weapon with a thousand times the power of the bomb that had destroyed Hiroshima--began to revive the idea that humanity was teetering on the brink of disaster. Atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, particularly, stimulated public concern. They scattered clouds of radioactive debris around the globe and, furthermore, symbolized the looming horror of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear war. Deeply disturbed by this turn of events, many of the early critics of the Bomb renewed their calls for nuclear arms control and disarmament.

Statements from the Catholic Church during these years touched on similar themes. Pope Pius XII devoted much of his 1954 Easter message to a critique of "new, destructive armaments, unheard of in their capacity of violence," which "could cause the total extermination of all life." He asked: "When will the rulers of nations understand that peace does not exist in an exasperating and costly relationship of mutual terror?"

Throughout history, numerous visual images have symbolized peace. These include images of doves, olive branches, broken rifles and the sign language V used by Sir Winston Churchill during World War II. Later signaled by hippies to represent both peace and love.

One peace sign that is recognizable to many is the peace sign designed by Gerald Holtom. It is the familiar round circle with a line down the middle and two slanted lines, about half the length of the vertical line. The slanted lines attach to the vertical line, slightly below its direct middle, and continue to the perimeter of the circle.

While the sign initially stood for nuclear disarmament, it quickly became a symbol for peace, adopted in the 1960s by the strong anti-war and counterculture movements occurring in both England and the United States. Buttons with the peace sign first made their way to the US in 1960.

In 2010 there are still millions of people world wide who demonstrate against nuclear weapons, war and violence, and still these things all exist.
Why are we not being heard?

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