The afternoon plenary session on Day 2 of the Being the Change peace conference at Mount Saint Vincent University that I attended was a look at the important role that dialogue plays in breaking down barriers and working toward peace. The moderator of the session was John Eaton, grandson of Cyrus Eaton who provided Thinker’s Lodge in Pugwash as a location for the first Pugwash Conference and the presentation was by Sandra Ionno Butcher, Director of the Pugwash History Project and former coordinator of Young Pugwash USA.
The focus of the session was on how beginning with Joseph Rotblat leaving the Manhattan project and the Russell-Einstein Manifesto setting the peace movement in motion that lead to the establishment of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs that continue today. A clip from the documentary film, The Strangest Dream established the context and then some audio from the press conference in Caxton Hall on July 9, 1955 where Bertrand Russell read the manifesto to the world.
With a manifesto as a rallying point, the work then began to move things forward with a meeting of the top scientists in the world. That meeting happened in July of 1957 with 22 scientists assembling to relax and discuss peace. In many ways, this was one of the first non-governmental organizations and the scientists were able to influence the political decisions made back in their countries. An important part of the presentation was broadening the history by also looking at the role of women such as Ruth S. Adams (later an editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists), who was the only woman at the first Pugwash meeting. Adams said that the Pugwash conferences only became a community once the families started to come. The hostess of the first meeting was Anne Kinder Jones (later Eaton) and she formed the heart of the conference which established a template of light schedules and good food.
Pugwash has been involved in most of the major arms control treaties and has been vital in fostering dialogue to prevent conflict in the world. A backchannel that laid the foundation for peace during the Vietnam War, Pugwash works quietly in the background to encourage discussion and peaceful resolution of tense international disagreements. It’s a vital force combining science and technology to establish world peace.
In recognition of the role that Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences played in the cause of peace, a Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to them in 1995. In a beautiful tribute to the important influence that Joseph Rotblat had on her life and work, Sandra Butcher named her son Joey after Rotblatt and she showed a lovely image of her son and her mentor together in Thinker’s Lodge in Pugwash. She also reflected on what an amazing experience it was to be present when Rotblat accepted the award. In his Nobel lecture Rotblatt concluded by saying:
The quest for a war-free world has a basic purpose: survival. But if in the process we learn how to achieve it by love rather than by fear, by kindness rather than by compulsion; if in the process we learn to combine the essential with the enjoyable, the expedient with the benevolent, the practical with the beautiful, this will be an extra incentive to embark on this great task.
Above all, remember your humanity.