What is nuclear disarmament education?

David KriegerThe short answer to this question is that it is education that either reports on or promotes nuclear disarmament.  Reporting on nuclear disarmament is journalistic.  It tells what has happened, is happening or is expected to happen in the nuclear disarmament field.  Reporting on nuclear disarmament is the way the subject might be handled in a college classroom or in a news article.  It provides historical perspective, but often a nationalistic one. 

The promotion of nuclear disarmament is far more difficult and also far more important.  It involves attempting to shift mindsets and cultural frameworks.  There are many myths about nuclear weapons that must be overcome before one can effectively promote nuclear disarmament. 

Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons
1. The use of nuclear weapons ended World War II. (Their use coincided with the end of World War II, but did not cause it.  The Japanese surrendered because the Soviet Union entered the war against them.)

2. Nuclear weapons have prevented war since their creation. (Again, causality is an issue.  Despite nuclear weapons, there have been many wars since their creation.)

3. No country will actually use nuclear weapons. (Countries have come very close to using nuclear weapons, by accident or design, on many occasions.)

4. Nuclear weapons make a country more secure. (Arguably, nuclear weapons make a country far less secure.  All countries with nuclear weapons are targeted by the nuclear weapons of other countries.)

5. Nuclear weapons are effective for deterrence. (Nuclear deterrence is only a theory.  It is not proven, and it may fail catastrophically.)

Before people will support nuclear disarmament, they must be educated to believe that nuclear disarmament is in their interest.  Some people must be moved from their support for nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence to support for nuclear disarmament. Other people, probably a far larger category, must be moved from complacency to support nuclear disarmament.  Education must be aimed at overcoming ignorance and apathy to awaken and engage people in action for nuclear disarmament.  In this sense, education must also be advocacy. 

Much nuclear disarmament education comes from governments and political leaders, and it is quite limited in its vision.  It seeks incremental steps in arms control rather than disarmament or abolition.  Arms control can be viewed as a way to maintain nuclear arms at somewhat lower levels.  I prefer to talk and write about reasons to oppose or abolish nuclear weapons. 

Ten Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Weapons

1. They are long-distance killing machines incapable of discriminating between soldiers and civilians, the aged and the newly born, or between men, women and children.   As such, they are instruments of dehumanization as well as annihilation.

2. They threaten the destruction of cities, countries and civilization; of all that is sacred, of all that is human, of all that exists.  Nuclear war could cause deadly climate change, putting human existence at risk. 

3. They threaten to foreclose the future, negating our common responsibility to future generations.

4. They make cowards of their possessors, and in their use there can be no decency or honor.  This was recognized by most of the leading US military leaders of World War II, including General Dwight Eisenhower, General Hap Arnold, and Admiral William Leahy. 

5. They divide the world’s nations into nuclear “haves” and “have-nots,” bestowing false and unwarranted prestige and privilege on those that possess them. 

6. They are a distortion of science and technology, siphoning off our scientific and technological resources and twisting our knowledge of nature to destructive purposes.  

7. They mock international law, displacing it with an allegiance to raw power.  The International Court of Justice has ruled that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is generally illegal and any use that violated international humanitarian law would be illegal.  It is virtually impossible to imagine a threat or use of nuclear weapons that would not violate international humanitarian law (fail to discriminate between soldiers and civilians, cause unnecessary suffering or be disproportionate to a preceding attack). 

8. They waste our resources on the development of instruments of annihilation.  The United States alone has spent over $7.5 trillion on nuclear weapons and their delivery systems since the onset of the Nuclear Age.

9. They concentrate power in the hands of a small group of individuals and, in doing so, undermine democracy.

10. They are morally abhorrent, as recognized by virtually every religious organization, and their mere existence corrupts our humanity. 

These ten reasons to abolish nuclear weapons attempt to change a person’s mindset to become receptive to seeking the abolition of these weapons.

How can we engage in nuclear disarmament education?

Disarmament education generally takes place in the public arena, and thus is often dominated by the narrow and self-interested views of political leaders.  In a world of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots,” it is often the nuclear “haves” that dominate the debate.  But it is the nuclear “have-nots,” along with civil society that see the dangers of nuclear weapons most clearly and who promote nuclear disarmament. 

Let me describe some of disarmament education activities of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, an organization that I helped to found 28 years ago and where I have served as president since its founding.  Here are some of the educational activities we engage in to make the case for nuclear disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons:

1. Appeals, Declarations and Petitions (our latest Declaration is the Santa Barbara Declaration – Reject Nuclear Deterrence: An Urgent Call to Action)
2. Newspaper opinion pieces and magazine articles
3. Books, book chapters and briefing booklets
4. Websites (WagingPeace.org and NuclearFiles.org)
5. A monthly e-newsletter, The Sunflower
6. Public lectures and other events
7. Essay and video contests
8. Poetry contests
9. Peace leadership awards
10. An Action Alert Network
11. Peace leadership trainings

You can find out more about these educational activities and sign up for them at www.wagingpeace.org.  

The task of nuclear disarmament education is clearly not an easy one, but it is a necessary one.  Nuclear disarmament will require an informed public, and an informed public will require education to stir them from their ignorance and apathy.  To accomplish this will continue to require a great deal of creativity, as well as insistence and persistence to move both the public and political leaders to action.  Civil society organizations are in the vanguard in this critical educational effort.