Through the 1980s, intellectuals and activists warned that the nuclear policies of the superpowers, especially the decision by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to modernize intermediate-range missiles in Europe, threatened to bring the world closer to Armageddon. Despite increasingly dire warnings, however, the world did not end. Indeed, by late 1987, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Washington Treaty, eliminating those weapons altogether. The tension between these grim expectations and the more peaceful result has fed the scholarly desire to understand this contradictory era. Peace movements also played a special role in European political history, as they nurtured the Green parties in Germany and elsewhere. As more documents have become available, social and cultural historians have started to examine antinuclear movements as well. This volume is an impressive example of new scholarship on the era. Originating in a 2010 conference sponsored by the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., the National Security Archive, and the Eugene Lang College at the New School for Social Research, this collection presents a roster of emerging and established scholars from Europe and the United States on topics including representations of nuclear power and weapons in popular culture, varieties of local and transnational activism, and the relationship of protest movements to the high politics of the late Cold War. The editors deserve praise especially for encouraging transnational approaches, tracing not only connections between different national protest movements but also the role of transnational forums such as the G7 summits. Essays by Susanne Schregel on the transnational history of nuclear-free zones, Wilfried Mausbach on nuclear winter, and Eckart Conze on the role of Holocaust tropes in West German disarmament discourse stand out, but anyone interested in peace movements and nuclear politics will find value in the work presented here. The only thing missing is any concerted discussion of the critics of the peace movement. Although individual essays occasionally refer to tensions within the movements, the collection as a whole evinces consistent sympathy for the protesters, while the targets of protest remain one dimensional. That slant makes it difficult to evaluate the extent to which the protesters, however noble their intentions, influenced policy. German protests weakened the Social Democratic government of Helmut Schmidt and led that party to adopt increasingly antinuclear positions after Schmidt's government fell in 1982, for example. But whether his Christian Democratic successor, Helmut Kohl, who carried out the deployments, was influenced by them remains unclear. For his part, Lawrence S. Wittner, who has extensively documented the antinuclear movement, attributes disarmament to the movement, dismissing the possibility that negotiations were always part of Reagan's long-term vision. One collection, however, can only do so much. The most judicious attempt here, by Tim Geiger and Jan Hansen, to assess the peace movement's impact emphasizes the movement's complex “cultural discourse.” Although they admit that it is impossible to offer a firm verdict on the movement's causal political significance, they conclude, “its impact was multifaceted enough to deserve further thoughtful evaluation” (p. 309). That is certainly true, and this volume is an excellent place to begin. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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