Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Portraits From Memory, "Chapter" Thirty-Two

“Steps toward Peace,” pages 239-246

The subheading of this chapter indicates that this speech by Russell was delivered in absentia at the World Assembly for Peace in Helsinki.

Russell reiterates the stark choice of the previous chapter, that mankind must either give up war or face extinction. War with modern weapons does not allow for victory.

Friends of peace want to pursue an agreement by both sides not to employ nuclear weapons. I [Russell] think this approach is misguided. Weapons can be manufactured with a substantial degree of secrecy – a secrecy that would not allow an agreement to permit inspections to overcome mistrust. Further, once hostilities start, all such agreements will be effectively null and void. In a world war, nuclear weapons will be used – there is too much incentive on both sides to employ them for such weapons to be eschewed. So first it is enmity between the East and West that must be tackled, before hydrogen bombs can be eradicated.

The steps to alleviate enmity parallel Russell’s ideas in the previous chapter. First, impel both sides to recognize the effects, and unwinnability, of a nuclear war. Nuclear war will not serve the interests of any nations, whether combatants or neutrals. Again, it is neutrals who are in the position to take this step – India is particularly well-suited by being on good terms with both sides, and by having enjoyed past success in international mediation. (India was singled out by Russell for this service a few years earlier, in Human Society in Ethics and Politics.)

Partisan Communists and anti-Communists must put aside their fierce opposition and their willingness to oppose by force; they should behave more like rival political parties within a nation. A sort of temporary armistice recognizing the status quo should be established. An atmosphere of peaceful coexistence, of détente, should then be nurtured to help smooth the way for negotiations. With friendly relations initiated, a world conference should be convened. The goal is to develop ways of dealing with interstate conflict without war. Again, the alternative is so devastating to all nations that the incentives to take on this difficult task should not be wanting.

An initial step in the negotiations should involve a reduction in the current stock of armaments. “There should be restoration of the freedoms that existed before 1914, especially freedom of travel and freedom in the circulation of books and newspapers and the removal of obstacles to the free dissemination of ideas across national boundaries [p. 244].” Humanity is one family, and sometimes governments get in the way of familial contentment. The negotiations must be capped by the creation of a new, transnational authority.

Since 1914, the world has been subject to immense violence and fear. People on one side of the Iron Curtain view the people on the other side as potential purveyors of death, not as everyday people like themselves. If we could remove the fear, renounce our quarrel, we would unleash productive forces that would benefit everyone. Those who understand our current peril must work with hope and energy, to persuade everyone that cooperation is a necessity. The hope “should inspire the lives, first perhaps of comparatively few, but gradually of increasing numbers, until with a great shout of joy men come together to celebrate the end of organized killing and the inauguration of a happier era than any that has ever fallen to the lot of man [p. 246].”

The speech “Steps toward Peace” is followed by a one-page “About the Author” section. It notes Russell’s early mastery of German and French, and lists most (all?) of the books he published between 1945 and 1956. There is no index to close the book, but a subsequently compiled index is available (6-page pdf here).

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