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Salient. Official Newspaper of Victoria University of Wellington Students Association. Vol 40 No. 11. May 23 1977

Fighting for peace?

Fighting for peace?

An open letter to the leaders of the NZUSA.

Lisa Sacksen's speech to the Easter Seminar organised by the Campaign Against Nuclear Warships provides yet another illustration that most people think with their feelings, and that democratic leaders find it easy to follow along behind the majority even if they don't already think in the same emotive grooves.

For this, one can't really blame either leaders or membership. History is turning a very sharp corner; and if few can follow it round without skidding, it's only natural that majority decisions tend to reflect the collective picture of individuals who can't make the turn.

After all, the separateness of nations has been preserved for thousands of years by their possessing weapons and being prepared to use them to the full if "necessary". Now, suddenly, the real possibility of an unlivable world confronts us with a stop sign. The technical development of weapons is negating their practical usefulness to us. The traditional security of weapons is turning into its opposite; and in this changed situation our happily grooved emotive attitudes are throwing us all over the place.

Near the end of your President's speech I note the time-worn phrase "a united front against war." Pretty words. And if what you say you are doing — or, at any rate, saying — about it, is likely to have any influence towards actually reversing the tensions between the super-powers, the thing would at least make sense.

What is this tension then? How does it arise, and what feeds it? How often does anyone in the whole peace movement ask questions like these? No, that's not fair. What a spoil-sport I must seem! "Bashing the nuclear" is much more pleasant than the, effort of rational thinking; and "winning the fight for peace" so much more glorious.

We want the cosy feeling of security that has all through history been associated with weapons, (e.g., "Come the four corners of the world in arms, and we will smite them. . .") And we don't want the feelings of insecurity that we rightly associate with nuclear disaster So, if we "think" about it at all, we find good reasons to accept the one and reject the other.

This is the emotive basis for the nuclear disarmament movement, which pictures nuclear powers agreeing to forego their most effective weapons while still retaining the capacity — and the "right" — to make war with conventional weapons. What a dream! With the root causes of war still untouched, and (as correctly noted in the NZUSA's President's speech) the third World War getting closer and closer, suppose that it did begin with conventional weapons only. In the clamp-down of secrecy, wouldn't each side immediately have to re-assemble their nuclear weapons — In case the other side had done so? And then the whole thing would be back to square one — and too late for any real thinking.

I find it curious that your President's speech makes no reference to nuclear disarmament; but I get the impression that this is not because of any realisation of how emotive thinking can run away with practical judgement. The NZUSA seems to have set its sights lower than even this wish-fulfilment picture of nuclear disarmament. "Keep the nuclear stuff away from our parochial shores," seems to be the line, "but leave this whole-world problem to others with wider horizons." And when the crunch comes, of actual war? Well, that's not pleasant to think about either, so don't lets.

"There is a path away from this awful danger," gays Lisa Sacksen. All right. Suppose for a moment that all her "musts" have been achieved. New Zealand has withdrawn from the American Alliance; broken free from "foreign imperialism;" paid back in the course of Just a few years the how many millions of dollars borrowed by National and Labour governments; and a nuclear weapons free zone has been duly established in the South Pacific.

All this is only the smallest flea-bite towards actually preventing a third World War. And if a super-power war-becomes imminent, does anyone really believe that the military of both sides wouldn't put their submarines exactly where they wanted them, nuclear free zone or not? Or again, if a nuclear exchange in, say, the northern hemisphere has decisively fouled the earth's atmosphere with long-term radio-activity, will the nuclear free zoners undertake to line the coast and huff the deadly stuff out to sea again? The rainbow thinking of these people would be laughable if it were not such a tragic waste of energy and leadership.

The thing is, that governments are caught on the hop by the changed world set-up just as much as the student body seems to be. Their particular stereotype, that "weapons represent security," and the follow-up that you have to have the best weapons you can afford. The principle, too, that democratic governments listen to the advice of their military advisors. A majority of electors who voted them into office expect them to do just that. What else can they do?

Drawing of a man writing

It's pleasanter to have enemies. If governments, and their acceptance of nuclear warships, are "bad", then one can feel good by contrast. But it cuts you off from seeing them as a collection of sincere individuals trying to lead this separate bit of our fragmented world through the confusing circumstances of a completely unprecedented world situation. If they happen to follow the attitudes of the majority who voted them, isn't that exactly what you student leaders are doing?

Isn't it, in fact, a characteristic of emotive thinking through the whole peace movement that the simplest and most unthinking answer to the nuclear situation will be likely to gain the widest support? So the main stream of the movement has settled for "bash the nuclear," fight the government, and "let it happen somewhere else but not here."

If World War 3 is allowed to happen, none of these issues will matter a scrap.

The sight of a rainbow is more pleasant than the rain which it is. It can't be too strongly emphasised that nuclear disarmament and the nuclear free zone idea are peace time pastimes that would vanish in the event of actual war. Neither of these propositions represent any real security whatever. Students surely have a responsibility to lead something more solid than that.

How then can we come to grips with this emotive thinking and make progress beyond it? By its very nature it leads an individual into a region of blind spots and mirages of self-deception — which in turn are fast becoming compacted and reinforced by group loyalties. It seems clear to me that some sort of team effort is going to be necessary; and any student who is seriously concerned about the lack of reality in this war-or-peace thing is asked to be in touch with Peace Interchange, P.O. Box 93, Whangarei. It's a sort of explorers' club. There's no charge (at present), but it carries no passengers.

Dick Southon.