This notion of a society of the righteous, committed to saving the world from its own folly, had deep roots in world history. It can be traced back at least to the fourth century, to the Babylonian Talmudic teacher Abbayah. According to this Jewish savant, in each generation there existed at least thirty-six righteous people (lamed-vav-tzaddikim, in Hebrew) upon whom the survival of the world depended. Jewish fiction and folklore took up the idea of these hidden saints, who played a prominent role in kabbalistic folk legend of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and in Hassidic lore after the eighteenth century.
Wittner peels away layers to describe the early critics of "The Bomb" even when it was only a concept in the minds of physicists. We get a sense of the tension that existed between the scientists of the Manhattan Project and government officials. A number of those scientists attempted to warn President Roosevelt of the dangers of the use of atomic weapons, not the least of which was that it would "precipitate a race in the production of these devices between the United States and Russia..."
Alas, the bombs were dropped, and Wittner takes us chapter by chapter, through the entire history of nuclear weapons and the tension between governments and abolitionists. We see the ups and downs of the movement, along with governments' (sometimes drastic) responses. We see that presidents, politicians and diplomats really were influenced by the pressure brought to bear by what was at times a huge movement to ban the bomb.
Toward the end of the book Wittner shows us how and why the nuclear disarmament movement faded after the end of the Cold War. However, he also describes positive steps that occurred during this time, such as the variety of treaties created, signed and ratified that effectively banned "nuclear weapons from most of the southern hemisphere."
|Lawrence Wittner (Photo by L. Eiger)|
Wittner's book is a tribute to what he refers to as possibly "the highest form of democracy" - "citizen activism." For all the "pathology of the nation state" Wittner has hope, but he is also clear that "if nations continue to follow the traditional 'national security' paradigm, then - sooner of later - their leaders will resort to nuclear war..." So he asks us if we are up to the task of meeting this challenge, of changing the status quo.
He ends on a note of hope.
But an examination of the history of the nuclear disarmament movement inspires a greater respect for human potential. Indeed, defying the national barriers and the murderous traditions of the past, millions of people have joined hands to build a safer, saner world. Perhaps, after all, they will reach it.