The morning workshop session that I attended at the Being the Change peace conference at Mount Saint Vincent University was a retrospective on the Pugwash movement. The workshop was set up and moderated by the wonderful Dennice Leahey (a corporate leader, member of the Order of Canada, active mentor, Pugwash resident and board member of the Pugwash Peace Exchange).
Eric Bednarski a documentary filmmaker currently based in Warsaw, screened a clip from the NFB documentary, The Strangest Dream which he directed. The film came about in 2005 when he spoke to an NFB producer about making a documentary film about the history of the Pugwash movement. The challenge was to figure out how to make a film about conferences and the way to make the film was by focussing on Sir Joseph Rotblat, who became the heart and soul of the project. Rotblat was the only scientist who was part of the Manhattan Project who left before it was completed. Rotblat was one of the signatories of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto which was issued on July 9, 1955 in London. The businessman and financier Cyrus Eaton wrote to Bertrand Russell to offer to host a conference in the town of his birth, Pugwash, Nova Scotia to give scientists a chance to work toward peace in a beautiful setting. The summer home was named “Thinker’s Lodge” and was one of the locations where the meetings took place at the first conference, which began on July 7, 1957.
The next presenter in the workshop was Ru Ling Susie Chou (Physicist, retired Professor of Cardiology at Columbia University Medical School) who is also the daughter of Pei-Yuan Chou, who was the sole participant from China at the first Pugwash conference in 1957. She established the development of the research history of physics leading up to the 20th century and the atomic bomb. She then gave an overview of the historical circumstances in China along with a personal perspective on her father, who was a Physicist. Pei-Yuan Chou was the first person from the People’s Republic of China to visit North America in 1957, which required special permission and negotiation to allow him to travel to Pugwash. Her father helped to build a platform for East and West to talk.
The final presenter in the workshop was Sandra Ionno Butcher, who gave another perspective on the Pugwash conferences and those who were involved with them. She highlighted the important fact that at the time talking amongst scientists and with those from other countries that were considered hostile was a radical notion. She shared how her son Joey was named after Joseph Rotblat (and wrote a moving open letter to her son on the death of Rotblat) and the remarkable person he was. She also talked about being present when Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. The historically important work that happened in Pugwash continues to this day and she connected the personal and the political in a compelling way.