UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

An ethnography of the nuclear disarmament movement Wallace-Deering, Kathleen


This thesis is an ethnography of the contemporary nuclear disarmament movement. It describes some of the ways in which participants symbolize, articulate and act on their belief that human survival is seriously endangered by the existence and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Illustrations are given of the manner in which participants invoke the authority of scientific, military and technical "experts" to substantiate their claims of the imminence of catastrophe. Also depicted is the participants' practice of posing alternatives for humanity, the most basic formulations being: "disarmament or annihilation," and "transformation or catastrophe." They insist that humanity has an urgent choice to make: to achieve nuclear disarmament or face annihilation. They warn that a nuclear holocaust is inevitable unless steps are taken immediately to prevent it. Some participants believe that the steps necessary to avert catastrophe involve the complete transformation of the existing world order. In this thesis. I focus on those who believe that disarmament and human survival demand a complete transformation of the existing world order, and who have adopted a strategy based upon an ideology of "nonviolence" to accomplish this. Two events organized by participants are described which are part of an overall nonviolent strategy to achieve nuclear disarmament and a transformed world. A case study is made of the world view and approach to nuclear disarmament of a well known proponent of "nonviolence," who had a great deal of input in the planning and organizing of one of these events. My concerns and interests as a new participant in the disarmament movement in Vancouver, and more especially in the Trident campaign, have to a large degree informed which facets of the nuclear disarmament movement are described in this thesis. The Trident campaign is an on-going series of protest activities organized with the goal of halting the deployment of the Trident submarine nuclear weapons system, and the construction of the Trident base at Bangor, Washington. I begin the introductory chapter by providing an autobiographical sketch which is intended to "set the scene" for the following ethnographic description of certain aspects of the nuclear disarmament movement. A brief summary of each of the chapters is provided, followed by a discussion of methodology. This discussion considers: my purposes in choosing this topic; my role as both researcher of, and new participant in, the movement; data collection procedures; and some of the cognitive and ethical difficulties which arose in producing this ethnography. The data collection activities which are the basis for this ethnographic description of the movement are: fieldwork; taped in-depth interviews; and the collection and examination of various kinds of written and audio-visual materials produced primarily by movement participants in Canada and the United States. Fieldwork experience was mostly with Canadian and American participants in the Trident campaign. The second chapter, entitled "Millennial Dreams and Apocalyptic Nightmares," draws attention to a few of the symbolic themes evident in participants' call for a new and better social order, and their warning of imminent catastrophe. I observe that frequently participants draw upon Judaeo-Christian images, symbols, themes and values embedded in the Western cultural tradition to express their longing for a new world of universal peace, justice and prosperity, and also to express their terror of the cataclysmic destruction of human civilization. The third chapter, entitled "Mobilizing for Survival," describes two events or "demonstrations" which took place at the time of the first United Nations Special Session on Disarmament in May 1978. The first was held in the vicinity of the Trident base. The climax of this demonstration was a carefully staged trespass action onto the naval facility which resulted in the arrest of 265 people. Participants referred to their illegal entry of the base as an "action of civil disobedience." The second demonstration took place in New York City near the site of the United Nations buildings. Both events are viewed as attempts to symbolize, proclaim, and somehow bring into being a new world: a world without war. The fourth chapter, entitled "The Choice: Kingdom or Holocaust," is a case study which examines the world view and approach to nuclear disarmament of which Jim Douglass is a well known proponent. Douglass has had considerable input in the group process of planning and organizing the Trident campaign. His most recent book, Lightning East to West, outlines his vision of the spirit and strategy of this campaign. Greatly influenced by the Trappist monk and writer, Thomas Merton, Douglass' approach to nuclear disarmament incorporates elements of Christianity along with Gandhian principles of nonviolence. In the concluding chapter I briefly review some of the main themes depicted in the ethnography, and finish with some personal reflections. The appendix provides the trial statements of three, persons who committed civil disobedience at the Trident base in Bangor, Washington.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.

Usage Statistics