Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement

Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement

Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement

Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement


Confronting the Bomb tells the dramatic, inspiring story of how citizen activism helped curb the nuclear arms race and prevent nuclear war. This abbreviated version of Lawrence Wittner's award-winning trilogy, The Struggle Against the Bomb, shows how a worldwide, grassroots campaign- the largest social movement of modern times- challenged the nuclear priorities of the great powers and, ultimately, thwarted their nuclear ambitions. Based on massive research in the files of peace and disarmament organizations and in formerly top secret government records, extensive interviews with antinuclear activists and government officials, and memoirs and other published materials, Confronting the Bomb opens a unique window on one of the most important issues of the modern era: survival in the nuclear age. It covers the entire period of significant opposition to the bomb, from the final stages of the Second World War up to the present. Along the way, it provides fascinating glimpses of the interaction of key nuclear disarmament activists and policymakers, including Albert Einstein, Harry Truman, Albert Schweitzer, Norman Cousins, Nikita Khrushchev, Bertrand Russell, Andrei Sakharov, Linus Pauling, Dwight Eisenhower, Harold Macmillan, John F. Kennedy, Randy Forsberg, Mikhail Gorbachev, Helen Caldicott, E. P. Thompson, and Ronald Reagan. Overall, however, it is a story of popular mobilization and its effectiveness.


How should we account for the fact that, since 1945, the world has avoided nuclear war? after all, a nation that has developed weapons generally uses them in its wars. For example, immediately after the U.S. government succeeded in building atomic bombs, it used them to destroy Japanese cities. Furthermore, a nation that has devoted vast resources to developing weapons does not usually get rid of them—at least until it develops more powerful weapons.

But, since august 1945, no nation has used nuclear weapons to attack another, and only a relatively small number of nations have chosen to build them. Also, those nations that have developed nuclear weapons have gravitated toward nuclear arms control and disarmament measures: a Partial test Ban treaty; Strategic arms Limitation treaties; Strategic arms reduction treaties; and a comprehensive test Ban treaty. Why have they adopted these policies of nuclear restraint?

The conventional explanation is that the danger posed by nuclear weapons has “deterred” nations from waging nuclear war and, overall, has created a situation of nuclear safety. In the words of its proponents, there has been “peace through strength.” But this explanation fails to account for some important developments. Since 1945, nuclear powers have not waged nuclear war against non-nuclear powers. Sometimes, in their confrontation with non-nuclear powers, they have suffered military defeat rather than resort to nuclear war. Why? Moreover, if nuclear deterrence works, why bother with nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties? why worry about nuclear proliferation? why not simply build, test, and deploy nuclear weapons, free of international constraints?

These unanswered questions alert us to the fact that something is missing from the conventional explanation.

This book argues that the missing ingredient is a massive nuclear disar-

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