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E.P. Thompson tells Toronto audience: Canada can be leader

Beth Richards — September 1983

“The Cold War is because it is because it is” explained E.P. Thompson on August 25 in Toronto. The British historian and co-founder of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) described the Cold War as self-perpetuating. If exterminism, this drive toward annihilation, can be halted at all, it will require genuine internationalism and frank dialogue, he said.

Thompson, touring Canada to meet with peace groups. addressed an audience at the University of Toronto. He called the Cold War a combination of technology- and security-creep. Citing the example of SS-20s and cruise missiles being developed independently of each other, Thompson said that technology has its own momentum.

“Security creep” arises when domestic pressure makes the militarists more concerned with policing and manipulating the minds of their own citizens than with tightening security from the ‘enemy.’ Thompson referred to such historic examples as Britain’s Official Secrets Act (mother of Canada’s O.S.A.)

“Increased security pressure,” he said, “is not for fighting the KGB, but to prevent the public from knowing what the militarists are doing… The game of deterrence means they exaggerate what the other side is up to.” He added that politicians need the Cold War, because they don’t know how else to operate. “This reasoning is drummed into the minds of the American and Soviet citizenry,” making the Cold War a permanent feature of our ideologies. “This is a terminal process for civilisation,” Thompson warned. “if we are defeated — if we cannot stop this process now — then we never will.”

It is easier for political and military leaders to let the arms race escalate than to reverse the trend. said Thompson. adding that it’s up to the peace movement to force the reversal through nonviolent protest.

In reference to Canada Thompson said “it’s not cruise missiles that are being tested here; it’s Canadians who are being tested. Your peace movement doesn’t realise how significant it is; Canada Is one of the very few nations that have the capacity to have nuclear weapons but have democratically decided not to do so. Canadians should be proud of that decision and follow its logical consequences through. You should not sell yourselves short.” Canada is greatly respected throughout the world, and if it reclaims its freedom of movement, it could play a mediating role between the blocs and between the superpowers and the Third World. That would help to transform not only thin crisis, but the bloc system itself.” he said.

In a subsequent interview with The Peace Calendar, Thompson reflected on the subject of nonalignment. an issue of increasing importance to Canadian peace activists.

As a strong advocate of independent, non-aligned peace movements, Thompson has the reputation of being uncompromising in dealings with pro-Soviet peace groups. Some peace activists have taken this to mean a total refusal of cooperation or even dialogue. At the peace movement addresses existing Cold War tensions, within itself and without. how important is it to lay blame or try to prove who started it?

In answer to a question about tactics, Thompson stressed the importance of dialogue and ‘utter tolerance.’ “The peace movement has to be both an effective and unified campaign internationally.” Equating peace work with a marketplace of ideas, he said that in Britain the CND coexists with other peace organisations and groups of varying political stripes. including liberals and Eurocommunists, as well as pro-Soviet communists.

Thompson stressed the importance of more open East/West exchanges between common civilians. But even if the only movement representatives we meet in the West are officials of the Soviet Peace Committee, that does not negate the value of talking with them.

Although he and many other peace activists shunned the recent peace conference in Prague because they considered it a stage show, unrepresentative of the international peace movement, Thompson declared in Toronto that dialogue with Soviet officials is very valuable and that “we must keep trying to talk with them.”

“There are doves and hawks within the Soviet Union, with internal power struggles that we don’t see. We’ve always said ‘talk to them, but talk to them honestly’,” he said, adding that straight-forward dialogue may “get the message through to the Soviet government that we (the peace movement) are strongly independent.” Thompson explained further that END’s founding document stressed the goal of breaking up the NATO/Warsaw Pact bloc system. as a requisite for the break-down of the Cold War.

Finally, he again urged Canada to act as a conflict mediator, perhaps developing a ‘semi-detached status’ in the process.

Thompson wound up his Canadian tour in Ottawa where he addressed campaign organisers for the Peace Petition Caravan, scheduled to get underway early next year.