On Nuclear War

Nearly a quarter of a century ago Grenville Clark and Louis B. Sohn put forward, in a monumental work entitled World Peace Through World Law, their ideas for a program of universal disarmament and for a system of world law to replace the chaotic and dangerous institution of unlimited national sovereignty upon which international life was then and is now based.

To many of us—and I think particularly those of us who had been in the practice of diplomacy—these ideas looked, at the time, impractical, if not naïve. Today, two decades later, and in the light of what has occurred in the interval, the logic of them is more compelling. It is still too early for their realization on a universal basis; but efforts to achieve the limitation of sovereignty in favor of a system of international law on a regional basis are another thing; and when men begin to come seriously to grips with this possibility, as I think they will, it is to the carefully thought-out and profoundly humane ideas of Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn that they will have to turn for inspiration and guidance.

However, my purpose is not to deal with the historical significance of this vision of the future, in its entirety, but rather to recall one passage of it which has obvious relevance to the present moment. This is a passage which occurred in the final sections of Grenville Clark’s preface to the substantive parts of the book; and it concerned nuclear weaponry. After describing the appalling dimensions of the nuclear weapons race, even as it then existed, he went on to express his belief that if the various governments did not find some way to put a stop to this insanity, the awareness of the indescribable dangers it presented would some day, as he put it, “penetrate the general masses of the people in all nations” with the result that these masses would begin to put increasing, and indeed finally irresistible, pressure on their governments to abandon the policies that were creating this danger and to replace them with more hopeful and constructive ones. And the dominant motivation for this great reaction of public opinion would be, as he saw it, “not fear, in the ordinary sense, but rather a growing exasperation over the rigidity and traditionalism which prevent the formulation of adequate plans to remove so obvious a man-made risk.”

How prophetic these words were. The recent growth and gathering strength of the antinuclear-war movement here and in Europe is to my mind the most striking phenomenon of this beginning of the 1980s. It is all the more impressive because it is so extensively spontaneous. It has already achieved dimensions which will make it impossible, I think, for the respective governments to ignore it. It will continue to grow until something is done to meet it.

Like any great spontaneous popular movement, this one has, and must continue to have, its ragged edges, and even its dangers. It will attract…

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