My Path to Nuclear Disarmament Activism

Member Spotlight

People at the Anti Vietnam war demonstration 1969 streaming up to the obelisk hill. Photo: Wiki Commons

By Susan Entin, as told to Kathie Malley-Morrison 

Back in 1968, when I was a senior at Quincy High School in Quincy, MA, my high school guidance counsellor urged me to go to an ivy league college to please my parents (and keep the high school accredited in spite of an enforced quota of 85% of male students going into the military to serve in Viet Nam). The next fall I was sent to a “commie” school, Bard College, in New York, although my parents wanted me to transfer to nearby Vassar College. The student newspaper at Bard used Liberation News Service (LNS) instead of more traditional news services such as UPI, AP, or Reuters. The New Republic got my attention, as well, because my brother recommended it.

From childhood on, I had been told that nuclear weapons were wrong and shouldn’t be used. I knew my uncles had all tried to stop their development and use, and by high school some of my friends participated in anti-war rallies. I also had a friend whose boyfriend had dropped out of college and started the Youth International Party.

That fall of 1969, Student Mobilization against the War, on all its participating campuses. and the New Republic, and the LNS spilled the beans: Nixon was going to threaten to use nuclear weapons in Nam, starting with an above ground detonation of a nuke on Alaska’s Amchitka Island, in the Bering Straits (October 6, 1969).

A groundswell of opposition to the Amchitka blast emerged and I got caught up in it as well as the anti-Vietnam War movement.

On October 15, 1969, a huge demonstration against war swept through the country, including in DC, along with another large one in Los Angeles. Initially, I did not want to go to the demonstration in DC because I had read stories about violent backlashes against anti-Vietnam war protestors; however, like other young people of my generation, I was deathly afraid of atomic weapons. My family had opposed nukes right from their very first use in Japan, but my mom thought anti-war and anti-nuke demonstrators were “commie”, which added to my ambivalence about participating in the demonstration.

Ultimately, my friends talked me into joining them on the trip to DC. We all wanted to help make sure there would be no further use of nuclear weapons. The buses to the demonstration from Bard were pre-funded and anyone could get on. Some folks from the nearby Catholic Worker Farm were included. Driving all night got us a start on the action in a field in Maryland where we could listen to a loudspeaker. The parade permit area of DC was so filled we missed John Lennon singing Give Peace A Chance. We stood all night listening to the loudspeaker and rotated with others, marching through a large area of DC. I became convinced that such a massive turnout of ordinary young people would work better for the anti-war, anti-nuke movement than groups like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Weathermen. I was glad I had chosen to participate.

Despite national and international protests against the atomic bomb testing at Amchitka, on Nov. 6, 1971, Nixon personally ordered the test. As we know, Nixon’s military involvement in Southeast Asia also continued after the October 15 demonstration and another huge demonstration a month later; nevertheless, the opposition of a large portion of the American population had been ignited and was obviously growing. Moreover, during that time George McGovern was trying to cancel the federal budget for nuclear weapons systems and Quakers were speaking out against them, and some Congress members said they’d vote against war and nuclear weapons. All these events gave me some optimism that demonstrating and speaking out could made a difference, and I joined Mobilization for Survival and later Jobs with Peace, two nonprofits dedicated to abolishing nuclear weapons and diverting the money to be spent on them to human needs instead.

Today, as a member of Massachusetts Peace Action, I continue to be a strong proponent of ending wars and abolishing nuclear weapons. We have to do what we can do.

Susan Entin is an active member of Massachusetts Peace Action.