The peace movement in the West has a real impact on the dealings of parliaments and governments, without risk of jail. Here the risk of prison is real and, at least at this point, the impact on the government’s decision making is zero.

I do not claim that all action here is pointless. I want only to explain why so few people choose to act. I do not believe that, as a nation, we are significantly more cowardly. If the same conditions prevailed in the West, I doubt that significantly more people there would choose to act than do so here….

Here a citizen knows that “they” can do anything they want—take away his passport, have him fired from his job, order him to move, send him to collect signatures against Pershings, bar him from higher education, take away his driver’s license, build a factory producing mostly acid emanations right under his windows, pollute his milk with chemicals, arrest him simply because he attends a rock concert, raise prices arbitrarily whenever they wish and on whatever pretext, turn down any of his humble petitions without reason, prescribe to him what he must read, what he must demonstrate for, what he must sign, how many square feet his apartment may have, whom he may meet, and whom he must avoid. The citizen picks his way through life in constant fear of “them,” knowing full well that even the possibility of working clearly for the public good is a privilege “they” have bestowed upon him, on condition.

The average citizen living in this stifling atmosphere of universal bad temper, servility, being constantly on guard, backbiting, nervousness, and the ever-smoldering compensatory aggressiveness, knows perfectly well, without having to read any dissident literature, that “they” can do anything and he can do nothing….

And now try to imagine, my dear Western peace activist, that you confront this half-exhausted citizen with the question of what he is willing to do for world peace. Are you surprised to have him staring at you uncomprehending, wondering to himself just what trap it is this time?

V. H.

This Issue

November 21, 1985