Tag Archives: Nuclear disarmament

98. Seven Years is Enough! The Free Vanunu Benefit at the Hackney Empire, 1993

This week, archives telling the story of a benefit concert supporting the nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu.

Fax of sample poster for the Free Vanunu benefit Hackney Empire 3 October 1993 (archive reference Cwl VAN 4/1)

Fax of sample poster for the Free Vanunu benefit Hackney Empire 3 October 1993 (archive reference Cwl VAN 4/1)

The concert, on 3 October 1993 at the Hackney Empire, was billed as “an evening of readings, music and comedy”.  It was organised by the British Campaign to Free Vanunu.  Mordechai Vanunu had been abducted in 1986 by Israeli government agents after speaking to the Sunday Times about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme and had later been sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for treason and espionage.   The British Campaign was founded by his brother Meir with a small group of activists soon after, establishing the Mordechai Vanunu Trust in 1991.

With limited resources, the group sought to raise awareness of Vanunu’s plight and of nuclear issues in the Middle East via lobbying, picketing and vigils, using political and media networks.  The Campaign understood the power of the news media and tried to find stunts and angles which would ensure press coverage, such as  mock kidnappings and “cage-ins”.

Advertisement for the Free Vanunu benefit Hackney Empire 3 October 1993 (archive reference Cwl VAN 4/1).

Advertisement for the Free Vanunu benefit Hackney Empire 3 October 1993 (archive reference Cwl VAN 4/1).

The benefit was timed to coincide with and highlight the eighth anniversary of Vanunu’s solitary confinement in Ashkelon Prison. It was a new venture for the Campaign, which hoped to gain publicity and new supporters as a result.   The concert was publicised around London with “1000 bold and imaginative posters”.   We have not found a colour version of these posters in the archive, but here’s one from 1996 in a similar graphic style.

From the programme for Free Vanunu benefit Camden Centre 28 September 1996 (archive reference Cwl VAN 4/1).

From the programme for Free Vanunu benefit Camden Centre 28 September 1996 (archive reference Cwl VAN 4/1).

Tickets for the 1993 event cost £8 and £12 with 100 specials at £30, which offered the chance to meet the artists at a buffet afterwards.

The evening was compered by the comedian Arthur Smith.  Susannah York read a poem by Vanunu reflecting on the experiences of a whistleblower, “I am your spy”.  Harold Pinter spoke Vanunu’s words in a specially-commissioned dramatic reconstruction written by Michael Rosen, also featuring Julie Christie, Roger Lloyd Pack, and Jenny Stoller, and accompanied by Rivka Gottlieb on the harp.

Postcard featuring image of Vanunu in green under his poem I am your spy.  (Archive reference: Cwl VAN 5/11).

Postcard featuring image of Vanunu in green under his poem I am your spy. (Archive reference: Cwl VAN 5/11).

The evening also featured comedians Mark Steel and Arthur Brown, readings by Sarah Dunant, Paul Eddington and Patricia Scott, poets Christopher Logue and Benjamin Zephaniah, and journalist Paul Foot, music from Dave Gilmour, and many more.

Hilary Westlake, the director, reflected on the programme in a fax she sent to the Campaign afterwards.  Generally she felt it had gone well and ran smoothly, though it was too long, over three hours, and most acts could have been a song or poem shorter.  She singled out Susannah York, Benjamin Zephaniah and Paul Foot in particular as “excellent”.

"Successful benefit at the Hackney Empire".  Report in Campaign Bulletin Spring 1994 page 8 featuring image of Benjamin Zephaniah, Arthur Smith and Arnold Brown.  (Archive reference: Cwl VAN 5/1).

“Successful benefit at the Hackney Empire”. Report in Campaign Bulletin Spring 1994 page 8 featuring image of Benjamin Zephaniah, Arthur Smith and Arnold Brown. (Archive reference: Cwl VAN 5/1).

The event seems to have been seen as a success.  A piece in the Campaign’s bulletin the following spring pointed to considerable press coverage, the impact of the posters, and the way that the event had “brought home the passionate support for Mordechai. It was a great show of strength and a morale-booster for all his supporters”.  The Campaign would go on to held a similar event every year until they wound down their activities following Vanunu’s release from prison on 21 April 2004.

Sources and credits: all images and quotations from the Archive of the Campaign to Free Vanunu and for a Nuclear-free Middle East.  This archive, which we have only recently received and not yet fully catalogued, spans the 90s and 00s, from campaigning via print media and fax into the age of the internet.



95. A Letter to the Lancet: the story of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War

On 20 January 1951, at the height of the Korean War, seven distinguished doctors published a letter in the Lancet expressing concern about the arms race, the impact of arms spending on healthcare (“each pound spent on bombs means … more dead babies now”) and the apathetic drift towards another world war.

Signatories to letter of 20 Jan 1951 in the Lancet

Signatories to letter of 20 Jan 1951 in the Lancet

The signatories (Richard Doll, Alfred Esterman, Ian Gilliland, Horace Joules, Duncan Leys,  Lionel Penrose, and Martin Pollock) argued that doctors could use their unique expertise and authority to work towards disarmament:

“We appeal to all our fellow doctors who think there may yet be an alternative to merely providing treatment for casualties ; we ask them to join us, in the spirit of our chosen profession of healing, in doing all in their power to halt preparation for war …”

The letter provoked many responses, to the Lancet and privately.  Not all agreed with its perspective.  Doll et al. summed up and tried to refute those arguments in a further letter in February.

Typescript of first paragraph of letter to the Lancet 17 February 1951

Typescript of first paragraph of letter to the Lancet 17 February 1951

Some respondents had argued that war and peace were political matters which should not be discussed in a medical journal.  The seven profoundly disagreed: “Doctors have a social responsibility as well as a personal one to their patients ; they have an ethical tradition and an international allegiance.  War is a symptom of mental ill health.  Its results include wounds and disease.  Doctors are therefore properly concerned in preventing it”.

The February letter called for a forum to discuss how doctors could put these ideas into action.  The resulting event, held in London on 16 March and chaired by Dr Joules, was attended by 130 doctors and led to the founding of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW).

Detail from cover of MAPW Journal June 1983

Detail from cover of MAPW Journal June 1983

Over its forty year lifespan, MAPW brought the expertise and authority of doctors and, later, other medical professionals to many issues via its publications, conferences and advocacy: nuclear weapons, chemical and biological warfare, radiation, terrorism, the medical needs of developing countries, even expressing concern about the bellicose lyrics of national anthems.  It was explicitly politically independent, though accused of being a communist front and proscribed by the Labour Party during the 1950s.

In 1992, MAPW merged with the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW), which had been founded in 1980. A merger had been discussed since the mid-1980s but, as Dr Alex Poteliakhoff observed in a position paper in 1990 “the changing international and global scene, namely the collapse of the cold war, hesitant moves towards nuclear disarmament” and increased public concern about environment and quality of life meant both organisations needed to rethink their missions to survive and be useful.

Medact logo, from press release of April 1992

Medact logo, from press release of April 1992

Given their long-term collaboration on joint conferences and projects such as the Medical Educational Trust (not to mention shared office and fax machine!), a merger made sense.   The result was Medact, which continues to bring together health professionals working for a “fairer, better and safer world”.

I decided to write about medical campaigners this week as I recently learned that the Wellcome Library plan to catalogue the substantial and hitherto inaccessible MCANW and Medact archives they hold.   I look forward to working with the Wellcome to promote the distinctive archives of medical professional campaigns to researchers in many disciplines.

Sources: quotations and images from MAPW Archive (references H2, M3, M10.  Note that we are about to release a new edition of the Archive catalogue).  I am indebted also to Physicians and the Peace Movement, by Nick Lewer (Cass, 1992) and many published and unpublished articles in the Archive concerning the history of the association.

Postscript (18 December 2013): the catalogue of this Archive is now online as part of our Quick Wins programme.  Find it on the MAPW webpage in PDF and Word format.

94. Pioneering Pacifist Journalism: the Peace News Story

This week, two little pamphlets which tell the story of a unique newspaper: Peace News.  The history of  Peace News is that of the peace movement in Britain.  Written, edited and read by activists, it reflected and shaped campaigns and debates.

Cover of The Peace News Story by Harry MisterThe Peace News Story was written by Harry Mister.  This particular issue dates from around 1951 or 1952, just after Allen Skinner became editor.  It begins with a potted and very positive account of the early years of the paper.

Half-title page of The Peace News Story by Harry Mister, image of paper's founder Humphrey S. MooreThe paper’s first editor, Humphrey S. Moore, a young Quaker journalist, believed that existing peace publications did not reach out to ordinary people.   A popular newspaper-style weekly could explain and promote pacifism more effectively.  On 6 June 1936, with the support of the Wood Green Study Group (who became the Peace News Group), the first issue was published.

The Peace Pledge Union quickly saw the potential of this new publication to share pacifist ideas.  The PPU was born in 1934 from the mass response to a letter by clergyman Dick Sheppard.  In this famous letter, Sheppard renounced war and called on others who felt the same to join him.  The Union had recently taken a more organised form.  Peace News became the official newspaper of the PPU.

From the first print run of 1,500 copies, the paper grew quickly as it tapped into concern about the threat of war.  Peak circulation of 35-40,000 was reached during the late 1930s.

The Second World War saw circulation drop considerably, for several reasons, including the varying responses of pacifists to the war and the refusal of printers and newsagents to handle the paper.  Peace News survived (and actually made a profit) thanks to dedicated street sellers and other volunteers.  Given these difficulties and restrictions on the use of newsprint, the paper concentrated on supporting conscientious objectors rather than reporting on general peace issues.

Front page of Peace News a short history 1962

A similar yet intriguingly different version of the pamphlet appeared in 1962.  Much of the history section in the 1952 version came from a PPU source.  The version in the 1962 pamphlet was based on another Peace News Story by Margaret Tims* and has a different, more candid tone.

Tims shows how from the explosion of the first atomic bombs in 1945, Peace News helped to create “a new movement against nuclear war based on the idea of unarmed resistance to tyranny”.

From about 1948 we see (and the newspaper reports on) pacifists studying Gandhian ideas of nonviolent resistance and considering how these might be used to campaign against the Bomb.   Hugh Brock, who became editor of Peace News  in 1955, played a key role in these groups.  Although very small, these organisations were exploring ideas and methods which came into their own from 1957, when (as we have seen) the testing of Britain’s H-Bomb led to mass protest and the founding of CND.  There was great overlap between Peace News people and the Direct Action Committee (who organised the first major Aldermaston march in 1958).

Photograph of protesters with placards at Non-Violent Resistance Group demonstration against colonial policy (Cwl HBP 1/19 image 22). Photographer and date unknown.

Non-Violent Resistance Group demonstration against colonial policy (Cwl HBP 1/19). Photographer and date unknown.

Alongside campaigning against nuclear weapons and exposing the dangers of nuclear tests, Peace News encouraged struggles for colonial freedom and campaigned against apartheid in South Africa.  Gene Sharp, the American campaigner, joined the staff in 1955 and began to cover the black civil rights movement.  Increasingly the paper, like the peace movement of which it was part, sought to address the causes of conflict by calling for changes in society.

These developments worried some absolutist pacifists such as the PPU’s Sybil Morrison.  She complained in I Renounce War (1962)  of the paper’s “all-out support and advocacy of the CND” and that Peace News “appeared to be the organ of the Movement for Colonial Freedom”.   The paper became independent of the PPU in 1961.

However, this split, like those amongst CND’s leaders, was perhaps less relevant to activists.  There were not really two sides: traditionalist PPU versus the new campaigns.  Individuals involved in the latter were active in the PPU too; indeed the first studies of Gandhi’s ideas in Britain were PPU initiatives.

This continuity at the grassroots can be seen in the “practical guide for propagandists” in the pamphlets.  The text changes little between the two editions, offering  advice to activists on getting Peace News read: ask your local librarian to take it, advertise at the railway station, write to the press, leave old copies where they will be seen … The main differences between 1951 and 1962 are technological (in 1962 you can get colourful green and yellow posters and a Peace News sticker for your car).

*A small mystery: I have never encountered a copy of this work or seen it on a library catalogue.

5 Caledonian Road soon after it was acquired for Peace News and Housman's bookshop in 1959 and remains home to both today.  Image is frontispiece to Articles of Peace, photographer not known.

5 Caledonian Road soon after it was acquired for Peace News and Housmans bookshop in 1959. It is still home to both paper and bookshop. Image from Articles of Peace.

Sources and credits. Quotations are from the pamphlets, unless otherwise noted.

Peace News created a huge published and archival presence which can be seen in Special Collections and Commonweal Library.  Two key books from 1986, the paper’s anniversary year: the short history Against All War and the more reflective discussions in Articles of PeaceIn Special Collections, most of our peace archives, but in particular  Peace News Archive, the papers of Hugh Brock, our pamphlet and ephemera collections and the artworks of Peggy Smith who sold the newspaper on the street for most of her life.   Commonweal has a complete run of Peace News.

Recent editions of Peace News are freely available online on the paper’s website and a welcome initiative to digitise historic issues is under way.

And finally, thank you to our PaxCat Project archivist, Helen Roberts, who catalogued the Peace News and Hugh Brock archives and to my colleague Martin Levy who has been cataloguing the pamphlet collection.

89. An A to Z of Protest in the 20th Century: the Commonweal Peace Pamphlets

This week, not one Object but thousands!  Introducing our collection of peace campaign pamphlets, now fully available to the public …Strachey, Scrap all the H bombs. CoverAn incredible resource for researchers, they date from the First World War to the Iraq War and span the century and the world.  Here’s a quick A-Z sampling of authors and topics, to give you a sense of what we can offer:

NALGO Civil defence bunkers or bonkers. CoverArms trade, atomic power.
Bunkers or bonkers? (fall-out shelters and civil defence).
Common Wealth, CND and conscientious objectors.
Doctor Spock is worried … (about atmospheric nuclear tests)
Education for peace, in schools and universities.
Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Gandhi’s ideas on nonviolence and Indian society.
Housmans Bookshop published many of the pamphlets.
Dr Spock is worried, 1962. CoverInternational Voluntary Service.
J.B. Priestley.
Kingsley-Hall, Stephen.
Lawyers against the Bomb – and other concerned professionals.
Marches – songs for.
Nuclear-free Zones and other Council initiatives.
Oliver Postgate.
Williamson, Industry in the country. PPU CoverPeace Pledge Union.
Quakers and Quaker groups.
Scientists Against Nuclear Arms (SANA).
Thompson, E.P.
University of Bradford Peace Studies.
Vietnam War – especially draft resistance.
War Resisters International and many women’s groups and campaigns, from WILPF to Greenham.
X, an unknown author, who wrote a First World War pamphlet about the role of the Church in war.
Yorkshire CND and other regional groups such as the Northern Friends Peace Board.
Zilliacus, Konni (and many other politicians)

Lonsdale, Some account of life in Holloway Prison, 1943 CoverThe pamphlets are important historical sources because of their timeliness, their immediacy, the strong views of their writers and creators.  It seems that for much of the 20th century many people’s natural response to an issue that mattered (not just pacifist concerns) was to write a pamphlet.  Pamphlets were cheap and quick to produce and to disseminate via sympathetic bookshops, meetings, marches etc.

Civil Defence is it any use in the nuclear age CoverPamphlets can be elusive in libraries because of the qualities that made them so useful for quick communication.  They can be hard to collect, to store and to manage.  Ours came via the networks created by Commonweal Library: donated by individual activists, or found in Commonweal archives, notably the immense subject files gathered by Peace News.

IVSP Youth Service Bulletin, 1944-45. CoverAlongside their interest for historical research and as inspiration for modern campaigners, the pamphlets often have great visual appeal, as this mini gallery shows: vivid graphic designs and powerful imagery.   Many were created by well-known artists and designers.

Litherland, Short Guide to Disarmament, 1982. CoverThis summer (2013) we are cataloguing the pamphlets, opening up the names, places, ideas and campaigns to new audiences.   We’re careful to include provenance and details of illustrations as well as information about authors and publishers.   Thanks to my colleague Martin Levy and our graduate trainee Katie Mann for their fantastic work so far.

Poison gas. Cover

Jude, Experiments for survival. Cover

Postscript – a note on definition.  We are defining a pamphlet as a”short piece of polemical writing, printed in the form of a booklet and aimed at a large public” (from Orwell’s 1948 introduction to British Pamphleteers).  However, this collection also offers us a suitable way to manage items which are pamphlet-shaped but which were written for slightly different purposes, as some of the examples above suggest – we are not being too prescriptive about this.

86. Scientists in the Quest for Peace: Joseph Rotblat, the Manhattan Project, and the Pugwash Conferences

This week, we explore the work of a remarkable scientist and humanitarian who turned away from work on the atom bomb: Professor Joseph Rotblat (1908-2005).

Cover of The Atom Bomb, Social Science Association, 1945

I chose this little pamphlet to introduce Rotblat’s book collection, because it was published in August 1945 i.e. just after the two atom bombs were dropped. Not written by Rotblat, however it discusses the concerns to which he devoted his post-war career and illustrates the range of the collection: science fiction explorations of nuclear issues, alongside pamphlets like this one , reports and textbooks.

A pioneer of atomic physics at the Free University of Poland, Jo Rotblat came to Liverpool University in 1939, drawn by the opportunity to work with James Chadwick and his new cyclotron.  Rotblat caught what was to be the last train out of Poland; his wife, Tola, sick with appendicitis, was due to follow, but was unable to leave in time – she later died in a concentration camp.  Chadwick took Rotblat to Los Alamos in 1944 as part of the team working on the Manhattan Project: developing a workable atomic weapon.

Cover of War and Peace, The Life and Work of Sir Joseph Rotblat

Cover of War and Peace, The Life and Work of Sir Joseph Rotblat. This delightfully personal and informative book from Liverpool University looks at themes in his life and includes memories of those who knew him and lots of interesting images.

However, Joseph Rotblat took the difficult decision to leave the Project later that year.  He had agreed to work on the weapon because of the fear that Nazi Germany would develop theirs first, but he realised that the Allies’ resources put them far ahead in this race.  He was also shocked by the project’s looking towards future conflict with (and use of weapons on) the USSR.

Thereafter Jo Rotblat directed his research towards the beneficial uses of nuclear physics, especially in medicine.  He settled with his remaining family permanently in Britain, returning at first to Liverpool, then becoming Professor of Medical Physics at St Bartholomew’s in 1949 where he worked until his  retirement in 1976.

Above all he encouraged his fellow scientists to consider the social impact of their research and to seek to remove nuclear weapons from this earth.   In 1955 he was one of the distinguished scientists who signed what became known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto: drawn up by peace campaigner Bertrand Russell and signed by Einstein just before his death, the Manifesto outlined the need for peaceful ways to resolve conflict rather than war given the arrival of weapons which could obliterate humanity and that “we feel that scientists should assemble in conference to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction”.

Cover of Scientists in the Quest for Peace, Joseph Rotblat's history of the Pugwash conferences

Scientists in the Quest for Peace, Joseph Rotblat’s history of the Pugwash conferences, is an essential read if you’re interested in him or the conferences. It also includes many useful appendices.

The first Conference of Science and World Affairs took place in 1957, at a Canadian village called Pugwash, which gave its name to later meetings.  Rotblat played a key role in setting it up, held many offices within Pugwash, and has often been described as its moving spirit.  His and their work was recognised by the award of the the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, “for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics”.

Jo Rotblat’s work has a particular resonance at the University of Bradford.  He shared the concern of our first Vice-Chancellor, Ted Edwards, around the social responsibility of scientists and science and was instrumental in the creation of the first Chair of Peace Studies.  These links were recognised by the award of Honorary Doctor of Science in 1973.

Special Collections holds Rotblat’s book collection: works by and about him, works presented by their authors (often with interesting dedications which show the esteem in which he was held) and a huge range of popular and academic works on nuclear issues and the social responsibility of scientists.  He appears throughout our archives of peace and nuclear campaigns, from his involvement in the early days of CND during the 1950s to his support for the 1990s Campaign to free nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu.

Note on sources. In addition to the above titles, Ending War which includes Rotblat’s essay on leaving the Manhattan Project.  Rotblat’s Papers are at Churchill College Archives.  Other useful websites include Pugwash Conferences and the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize page.

68. The Day After: Bradford and the Bomb

This week, Bradford: the day after – a booklet produced by Bradford’s Council in 1984 to show what a “one megaton nuclear bomb would do to the Bradford Metropolitan District”.

As this map shows, such a bomb would destroy most of the city and its impact would be felt way beyond its boundaries.  The booklet also includes information about likely casualties, impact on food supplies, civil defence plans, and other key concerns.

The Council had declared itself to be a nuclear-free zone in October 1981, which meant that it resisted the deployment of nuclear weapons and the transport of weapons or nuclear waste within the city’s boundaries.   Special Collections has the papers of Councillor Colin Hunter, who played an important role in setting up the Zone, and of the Peace Action Group, which he chaired.

Bradford: the day after is not novel: many councils or activist groups produced similar maps and information, following the example of Leeds and the Bomb (1983).   However, Councillor Hunter believed Bradford’s booklet to be “unique among publications by local councils in that it has been agreed by all parties” i.e. political parties on the Council.  This was crucial, giving the booklet much more weight.  All parties could endorse the booklet because it “bends over backwards to be objective”, laying out the facts and encouraging readers to think about the issues for themselves.  Colin Hunter’s archive includes drafts and letters illustrating the complex process of writing the booklet and getting it approved by all concerned.

Nuclear-free status for Bradford was withdrawn in 1983 by a hung council, re-established in 1985, and removed again in 1988 when the Council became Conservative controlled.

Sources: the quotations from Colin Hunter are in a letter in Cwl CH 2/2 dated 2 February 1984: this section of his archive also contains drafts, minutes etc relating to the creation of the booklet.  Special Collections includes many more archives covering the debates around these issues during the early 1980s.  The full Leeds and the Bomb document has been put online by blogger Matt Povey, whose post illustrates the impact such leaflets had on young people.

54. Witches, Webs, Womyn: Sarah Meyer’s Greenham Common Archive

From 1981, the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp mounted a sustained campaign of non-violent direct action against the first cruise missile site in Britain.  Sarah Meyer, a peace activist who spent time at the camp from late 1982 onwards, gathered an archive full of colour, striking images, songs and radical ideas.

Poster: Women come together, Greenham December 1982

Leaflets, newsletters, personal letters and photographs were threaded through with symbols of personal and political identity, including witches, dragons, snakes and spiders’ webs, and written in a language which tried to challenge and undermine preconceived ideas about women: witness spelling of “womyn” on the envelope in the picture.

Envelope to womyn at Greenham Common with silver web

The archive gives a real flavour of the experience of campaigners, not only at Greenham: Sarah Meyer was involved with groups across the South West of England and in Europe.  Find out more about her on the web page for her archive.

La Ragnatella, a witch

Sarah Meyer’s archive was catalogued as part of the PaxCat Project (funded by the National Cataloguing Grants Scheme).  Most of the above text was written by the Project Archivist, Helen Roberts, who did a wonderful job unpicking and reflecting on the complex histories of our many peace-related archives.