Building Social Solidarity Across National Boundaries

By Lawrence S. Wittner

Is it possible to build social solidarity beyond the state?

It’s easy to conclude that it’s not.  In 1915, as national governments produced the shocking carnage of World War I, Ralph Chaplin, an activist in the Industrial Workers of the World, wrote his stirring song, “Solidarity Forever.”  Taken up by unions around the globe, it proclaimed that there was “no power greater anywhere beneath the sun” than international working class solidarity.  But, today, despite Chaplin’s dream of bringing to birth “a new world from the ashes of the old,” the world remains sharply divided by national boundaries—boundaries that are usually quite rigid, policed by armed guards, and ultimately enforced through that traditional national standby, war.    

Even so, over the course of modern history, social movements have managed, to a remarkable degree, to form global networks of activists who have transcended nationalism in their ideas and actions.  Starting in the late nineteenth century, there was a remarkable efflorescence of these movements:  the international aid movement; the labor movement; the socialist movement; the peace movement; and the women’s rights movement, among others.  In recent decades, other global movements have emerged, preaching and embodying the same kind of human solidarity—from the environmental movement, to the nuclear disarmament movement, to the campaign against corporate globalization, to the racial justice movement.

Although divided from one another, at times, by their disparate concerns, these transnational humanitarian movements have nevertheless been profoundly subversive of many established ideas and of the established order—an order that has often been devoted to maintenance of special privilege and preservation of the nation state system.  Consequently, these movements have usually found a home on the political Left and have usually triggered a furious backlash on the political Right.

The rise of globally-based social movements appears to have developed out of the growing interconnection of nations, economies, and peoples spawned by increasing world economic, scientific, and technological development, trade, travel, and communications.  This interconnection has meant that war, economic collapse, climate disasters, diseases, corporate exploitation, and other problems are no longer local, but global.  And the solutions, of course, are also global in nature.  Meanwhile, the possibilities for alliances of like-minded people across national boundaries have also grown.

The rise of the worldwide campaign for nuclear disarmament exemplifies these trends.  Beginning in 1945, in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, its sense of urgency was driven by breakthroughs in science and technology that revolutionized war and, thereby, threatened the world with unprecedented disaster.  Furthermore, the movement had little choice but to develop across the confines of national boundaries.  After all, nuclear testing, the nuclear arms race, and the prospect of nuclear annihilation represented global problems that could not be tackled on a national basis.  Eventually, a true peoples’ alliance emerged, uniting activists in East and West against the catastrophic nuclear war plans of their governments.

Much the same approach is true of other global social movements.  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, for example, play no favorites among nations when they report on human rights abuses around the world.  Individual nations, of course, selectively pick through the findings of these organizations to label their political adversaries (though not their allies) ruthless human rights abusers.  But the underlying reality is that participants in these movements have broken free of allegiances to national governments to uphold a single standard and, thereby, act as genuine world citizens.  The same can be said of activists in climate organizations like Greenpeace and 350.org, anticorporate campaigns, the women’s rights movement, and most other transnational social movements.

Institutions of global governance also foster human solidarity across national borders.  The very existence of such institutions normalizes the idea that people in diverse countries are all part of the human community and, therefore, have a responsibility to one another.  Furthermore, UN Secretaries-General have often served as voices of conscience to the world, deploring warfare, economic inequality, runaway climate disaster, and a host of other global ills.  Conversely, the ability of global institutions to focus public attention upon such matters has deeply disturbed the political Right, which acts whenever it can to undermine the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the World Health Organization, and other global institutions. 

Social movements and institutions of global governance often have a symbiotic relationship.  The United Nations has provided a very useful locus for discussion and action on issues of concern to organizations dealing with women’s rights, environmental protection, human rights, poverty, and other issues, with frequent conferences devoted to these concerns.  Frustrated with the failure of the nuclear powers to divest themselves of nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament organizations deftly used a series of UN conferences to push through the adoption of the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, much to the horror of nuclear-armed states.

Admittedly, the United Nations is a confederation of nations, where the “great powers” often use their disproportionate influence—for example, in the Security Council—to block the adoption of popular global measures that they consider against their “interests.”  But it remains possible to change the rules of the world body, diminishing great power influence and creating a more democratic, effective world federation of nations.  Not surprisingly, there are social movements, such as the World Federalist Movement/Institute for Global Policy and Citizens for Global Solutions, working for these reforms.

Although there are no guarantees that social movements and enhanced global governance will transform our divided, problem-ridden world, we shouldn’t ignore these movements and institutions, either.  Indeed, they should provide us with at least a measure of hope that, someday, human solidarity will prevail, thereby bringing to birth “a new world from the ashes of the old.”

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (https://www.lawrenceswittner.com/ ) is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). This article is a revised version of a previous article by the author:  “The Inspiring Legacy of Global Movements.”

Call for Applications for Executive Editor of Peace & Change

The Peace History Society (www.peacehistorysociety.org) invites applications for the position of Executive Editor of Peace & Change: A Journal of Peace Research.  

Peace & Change is published by the Peace History Society (PHS) in conjunction with the International Peace Research Association (IPRA).  Its scholarly and interpretive articles engage with topics related to the achievement of a peaceful, just, and humane society.  The journal, whose medium is English, enjoys a global audience.  We endeavor to build bridges across disciplines and among peace researchers, educators, advocates, and activists.  Peace & Change recognizes the longstanding underrepresentation of scholars from marginalized groups within the fields of peace history and peace studies.  We are committed to inclusive editorial leadership that reflects the growing diversity of our scholarly community.  To this end, we seek applicants from all ethnicities, races, religions, sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities, national origins, dis/abilities, ages, and backgrounds.  Applicants should review the following information about the journal and the position.  Launched in 1972, Peace & Change publishes four digital issues a year.   It is co-owned by the PHS and Wiley (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/14680130), with PHS exercising editorial control over the journal content and review process.  The successful applicant must demonstrate an ability to represent Peace & Change in interfacing with the PHS Board, PHS’s IPRA partners, the scholarly community, and various other constituencies.  The applicant must also have institutional support, which traditionally includes a one-course release and a graduate assistantship or the equivalent for the accompanying Managing Editor position.  The time commitment is estimated to be ten hours per week.  The key responsibilities and tasks of the Executive Editor include:  

  1. Receives all new submissions.  Screens all submissions for originality and fit to the journal’s mission.  Reads all valid submissions with the managing editor and determines which articles are sent out for review and which are declined.  
  2. Oversees double-blind peer review.  Identifies appropriate readers and sends out anonymized manuscripts for review.  Tracks due dates for readers’ reports and revised manuscripts for authors and send reminders as needed.  
  3. Keeps a database of reviewers, seeks new reviewers.  
  4. Evaluates readers’ reports and makes decisions about reviewed articles.  Communicates decisions to authors and includes anonymized readers’ reports (unless a reader requests to be identified).  
  5. Works with the authors to revise manuscripts to address reviewers’ and editors’ concerns.    
  6. Schedules articles for publication and forwards final versions to Wiley for Early View publication online.  Articles are submitted to Wiley for individual publication when drafts are in final form.  Wiley assembles the issues from the tables of contents provided by the Executive Editor.  
  7. Prepares articles for publication, from preliminary copyediting for house style and readability to reviewing and approving proofs and verifying the securing of permissions and copyright clearances prior to publication.  The Managing Editor may assist with copyediting and verification of copyright and is responsible for writing the Table of Contents and Notes on Authors for each issue.   
  8. Reviews the final draft of each issue and approves or enters final changes before publication.   
  9. Review final drafts of book reviews (solicited, developed, and edited by the Book Review Editor), assigns them to issues, and submits them to Wiley for production and publication.  
  10. Works with the Peace & Change Editorial Board on significant issues, nominates board members, and uses board members to review manuscripts.  
  11. Serves as the point person for communications between the PHS Board, the IPRA, and Wiley on matters concerning the content, publication process, policies, and production of the journal.  The PHS Board oversees matters related to subscriptions, profit sharing, and contractual matters with Wiley and IPRA.  
  12. Conducts outreach to potential authors, reviewers, and other contributors to the journal at conferences and other events.  The Executive Editor and Managing Editor will attend Peace History Society conferences to identify manuscripts that might be appropriate for submission to the journal.  
  13. Oversees publication of short-form pieces and news items on Peace & Change Blog.  The Managing Editor can review, edit, and post these features.  

    Wiley is migrating Peace & Change to a Scholar One platform, which will automate some parts of the work, including screening for originality and plagiarism and keeping the review process on track (sending reminders, etc.).  This will involve 2-3 meetings with Wiley developers at the start of the Executive Editor’s term to set up the automated workflow to suit their preferences.  

Please submit applications and inquiries to editorsearch@peacehistorysociety.org by November 1, 2021.  The search will continue until the position is filled.  Your application must include a vita and a letter setting forth your interest in the position, your relevant background and experience, and your vision for Peace & Change and the field of peace research.  Please also convey your institution’s commitment to yourself and to the journal.  We are open to applications by potential co-editors.  Please provide a joint letter of application, vitas, and information about support from your institution(s).  

Baby Teeth Collected Six Decades Ago Will Reveal the Damage to Americans’ Health Caused by U.S. Nuclear Weapons Tests

By Lawrence Wittner and Joseph Mangano

[Dr. Lawrence Wittner (https://www.lawrenceswittner.com/) is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).  Joseph Mangano MPH MBA is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.]

Photo: Shutterstock

In 2020, Harvard University’s T. C. Chan School of Public Health began a five-year study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, that will examine the connection between early life exposure to toxic metals and later-life risk of neurological disease. A collaborator with Harvard, the Radiation and Public Health Project, will analyze the relationship of strontium-90 (a radioactive element in nuclear weapons explosions) and disease risk in later life. 

The centerpiece of the study is a collection of nearly 100,000 baby teeth, gathered in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the St. Louis Committee for Nuclear Information.

The collection of these teeth occurred during a time of intense public agitation over the escalating nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Soviet governments that featured the new hydrogen bomb (H-bomb), a weapon more than a thousand times as powerful as the bomb that had annihilated Hiroshima.  To prepare themselves for nuclear war, the two Cold War rivals conducted well-publicized, sometimes televised nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere—434 of them between 1945 and 1963.  These tests sent vast clouds of radioactive debris aloft where, carried along by the winds, it often traveled substantial distances before it fell to earth and was absorbed by the soil, plants, animals, and human beings. 

The hazards of nuclear testing were underscored by the U.S. government’s March 1, 1954 explosion of an H-bomb on Bikini Atoll, located in the Marshall Islands.  Although an area the size of New England had been staked out as a danger zone around the test site, a heavy dose of nuclear fallout descended on four inhabited islands of the Marshall grouping and on a Japanese fishing boat, the Lucky Dragon—all substantially outside the danger zone—with disastrous results.

Criticism of the nuclear arms race, and especially nuclear testing, quickly escalated.  Prominent individuals, including Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, and Benjamin Spock, issued spirited warnings.  New mass membership organizations arose, among them the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) in the United States, the National Council for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons Tests (which morphed into the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in Britain, and the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. 

The public grew alarmed, particularly by the fact that strontium-90 from nuclear tests was transmitted from the grass, to cattle, to milk, and finally to human bodies—with special concern as it built up in children’s bones and teeth.  By the late 1950s, polls found that most Americans considered fallout a “real danger.”

Linus Pauling, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, emerged as one of the most trenchant and effective American critics, circulating anti-testing petitions signed by thousands of U.S. scientists and even larger numbers of scientists abroad.  Pauling charged that the nuclear bomb tests through 1958 would ultimately produce about 1 million seriously defective children and some 2 million embryonic and neonatal deaths.

Determined to maintain its nuclear weapons program, the U.S. government was horrified by the popular uproar and anxious to suppress it.  U.S. intelligence agencies and congressional investigations were unleashed against groups like SANE and antinuclear leaders like Pauling, while U.S. information agencies and government officials publicly minimized the dangers of nuclear testing.  In a Life magazine article, Edward Teller, often called “the father of the H-bomb,” insisted that nuclear test radiation “need not necessarily be harmful,” but “may conceivably be helpful.”

Even so, public concern grew.  In August 1958, Herman Kalckar, a biologist at the National Institutes of Health, published an article in the journal Nature, calling on public health agencies in multiple nations to engage in large-scale collection of baby teeth. Kalckar proposed testing teeth for strontium-90 from bomb fallout, as children are most vulnerable to the toxic effects of radioactivity.

Washington University scientists recognized that a tooth study could change public policy. In December 1958, they joined with leaders of the Committee for Nuclear Information, a citizen group opposed to nuclear war and above-ground bomb tests, and adopted a proposal to collect and test teeth for strontium-90 concentrations.

For the next 12 years, the Committee worked furiously, soliciting tooth donations through community-based institutions like schools, churches, scout groups, libraries, and dental offices. A total of 320,000 teeth were collected, and a Washington University lab measured strontium-90.

Results clearly showed a massive increase in strontium-90 as testing continued. Children born in 1963 (the height of bomb tests) had an average of 50 times more than those born in 1951 (when large-scale tests began). Medical journal articles detailed results.  Information on the tooth study was sent to Jerome Wiesner, science advisor to President John F. Kennedy. 

Kennedy, already seeking a test ban treaty, was clearly influenced by the uproar over the fate of children.  In his July 1963 speech announcing the successful conclusion of test ban negotiations by the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom, he argued that governments could not be indifferent to the catastrophe of nuclear war or to “children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs.”  The outcome was the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which banned nuclear testing in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water.

According to the ongoing tooth study, the average strontium-90 in baby teeth dropped by half in just four years after the test ban. With their goal apparently accomplished, the Committee on Nuclear Information and the University halted tooth collection and testing.  Soon thereafter, the Committee dissolved.

Three decades later, Washington University staff discovered thousands of abandoned baby teeth that had gone untested. The school donated the teeth to the Radiation and Public Health Project, which was conducting a study of strontium-90 in teeth of U.S. children near nuclear reactors.

Now, using strontium-90 still present in teeth, the Radiation and Public Health Project will conduct an analysis of health risk, which was not addressed in the original tooth study, and minimally addressed by government agencies.  Based on actual radiation exposure in bodies, the issue of how many Americans suffered from cancer and other diseases from nuclear testing fallout will be clarified.