Pugwash, the cherished community along the Northumberland Strait, is well known for its beautiful coast.
However, this year, it is being celebrated for another reason: Many brilliant people representing Canada and other countries around the world are marking the 60th anniversary of the first peace conference there. The conference on July 4, 1957 was arranged to bring together scientists, academics and other renowned thinkers to discuss ways to ease the mounting tension posed by nuclear armament and weapons of mass destruction.
The story has been told many times. Cyrus Eaton, who was born near Pugwash and began spending his summers there, offered his cottage, now called the Thinker’s Lodge, as a venue for the original confluence of ideas and the sense of common urgency called the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.
Canada 150 celebrates many people, events and ideas this year. The conferences bearing the village’s name still thrive because their participants realize the need is still there. Ironically, the conferences have rarely taken place in Canada, but this year’s conference is appropriately in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, near the growing hotbed of strife in the Middle East.
History records that Eaton left Nova Scotia for the U.S., where he amassed a huge fortune in steel-making, lost it during the Great Depression and achieved a greater fortune thereafter. Eaton made money, but he also strove to break down barriers and get through to people through business. He offered his cottage for the first conference when other venues were unavailable.
The first conference in Pugwash resulted from the launch of what became known as the Russell-Einstein manifesto. It contained a warning of a pending nuclear annihilation by physicist Albert Einstein and other scientists that was announced on July 9, 1955 by philosopher Bertrand Russell after Einstein’s death.
One needs to have lived then to know how the mounting U.S. and Soviet nuclear arms race was scaring people. It peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis that was averted in 1962. It was a time when aircraft patrols over Halifax were common, when strategic bunkers and other underground venues were conceived and built, when the term mutually assured destruction (MAD) surfaced.
Several treaties reducing nuclear testing and armament can be traced back to recommendations made at Pugwash conferences over the years.
We have another opportunity to observe this momentous time in human history by attending a play about the Pugwash Conferences this month at the Ship’s Company Theatre in Parrsboro. The play opened on July 5 and its last performance is on July 30.
Nuclear destruction may not be top-of-mind in the way it was 60 years ago, but this is a time to celebrate 60 years of concerned world citizens’ collective wisdom that has helped keep the world safer than it might otherwise be. It has helped put Pugwash and Nova Scotia on the map of human consciousness.