If you haven’t given yourself an opportunity to learn about the Pugwash Conferences I highly suggest that you do so. The link above is to a documentary called The Strangest Dream. It shares a history of the development of the atomic bomb from the earliest sketches in Albert Einstein’s notebook.
Joseph Rotblat was the only scientist to quit the Manhattan Project before its completion. He felt that he had a moral obligation not to be a part of the building of these weapons of mass destruction. He went on to devote his life’s work on the medical applications of radiation. Joseph Rotblat was also the driving force behind the Pugwash Conferences. These conferences are named for the location of the first conference in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada.
“The purpose of the Pugwash Conferences is to bring together, from around the world, influential scholars and public figures concerned with reducing the danger of armed conflict and seeking cooperative solutions for global problems. Meeting in private as individuals, rather than as representatives of governments or institutions, Pugwash participants exchange views and explore alternative approaches to arms control and tension reduction with a combination of candor, continuity, and flexibility seldom attained in official East-West and North-South discussions and negotiations. Yet, because of the stature of many of the Pugwash participants in their own countries (as, for example, science and arms-control advisers to governments, key figures in academies of science and universities, and former and future holders of high government office), insights from Pugwash discussions tend to penetrate quickly to the appropriate levels of official policy-making.” http://www.pugwash.org/about.htm
In the documentary it should be noted that the impact of the Pugwash conferences has been immense. The same scientists who engaged in this one-on-one conversation were also involved in high level policy making during the cold war. This longstanding contribution was recognized by the Nobel Committee in 1995.
I believe that we have a lot to learn from this practice. One of the principles of the conference is that you have to prepare for peace in order to see peace realized. These scientist gather together each year and imagine together a world without these weapons of mass destruction. These are people who come from vastly different places and political systems that are often in conflict with each other. They do the hard work of sitting in front of each other and getting to know the person who is there to share their science and their ideas. These become communities of moral deliberation whose relationships matter if and when they find themselves across the table from each in policy making capacities.
Tomorrow’s post will be about some of the implications of the erosion of civility in public discourse and public policy. What can we learn from the example of relationship building in the Pugwash Conferences?