Under -- 30s unite under antinuclear banner; Scorn for materialism, contempt for US missiles
Amsterdam, Hamburg, Antwerp, London — Around a dining-room table on the top floor of a narrow apartment house in Amsterdam sit 11 members of a local parish of the Dutch Reformed Church. Several of them are in their 20s.
Sounds of boats on the canal below drift up through the warm night air. Jan, a university student, dark-haired and earnest in an open-necked brown shirt, speaks slowly, emphatically, with utter conviction:
"There can be no end that justifies the use of nuclear weapons. None.
"I don't want to be defended by your American nuclear missiles, even if the Russians throw one of their missiles at me. I say that to you, an American, and I say it to the Russians, too.
"On this point I agree with my mother. She says she can do something against the Russians if they occupy the Netherlands, but she can do nothing against a nuclear bomb. That's what I think. That's what I believe."
In the north London suburb of Finsbury Park, in a small, crowded walk-up building set among retail and wholesale dressmaking shops, Jenny Edwards, aged 26, photocopies documents at British headquarters of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
Miss Edwards, tall, clear-eyed, a graduate of Cambridge University, says as she works, "Nuclear weapons are moral evils. All of them, not just American ones. Now we have 91 local authorities in Britain objecting to them, many refusing to allow nuclear material to be transported through their areas. So we're creating mini-nuclear-free zones. The number is shooting up."
She said she was walking home from a god civil service job at the Department of Agriculture in late 1979 when her life changed. She was headed for higher things: Already she was writing ministerial briefs in the Food and Fish Section.
"But Britain had just decided to accept 160 cruise missiles," she recalls. "Soviet troops were on the Afghan Border, I thought, 'We could go at any moment.'"
"There'd been accidental nuclear alerts in the US. I decided it was more important to try and stop nuclear weapons than work in Food and Fish."
Now she is a national organizer for CND: "My income has dropped," she says, "but I'm so busy I don't have time to spend it anyway."
Jan's is the voice of moral principle in a country where his church plays a large social role and neutralism is an honored tradition. Jenny's is the voice of intellectual commitment in a land where the peace movements is one of the fastest-growing in Europe.
Neither speaks for all European youth, or even a majority, perhaps. In three weeks of travel I found few young people who did not readily concede that most people under 30 were preoccupied with more traditional concerns such as school, jobs, dating, and a place to live.
In the noisy student cafeteria of the French-speaking University of Brussels, music student Ingrid Rombaut, 23, smiled. "We have 12,000 students here," she said, "but if you got 300 to a meeting on the missiles it'd be a great success. Young people are against the missiles, yes. But most are not activists."
But Jan's and Jenny's voices do find their echo today, especially in Protestant northern Europe. Peace movements are growing apace in Britain, the Netherlands, and West Germany. They count idealistic, energetic young people under 30 as their most dedicated activists.
Antinuclear sentiment is only one strand in the fabric of European discontent these days -- discontent that has spilled into violence in such cities as Zurich and West Berlin, Basel and Amsterdam, Liverpool and London.
"There's a youth withdrawal, an emotional one, from modern civilization, from our values of hard work, of spending, of consuming.The complexity of the modern world is disorientating," writes Karl-Heinz Janssen, a historian and social critic, in the West German weekly Die Zeit.
"So the modern catchphrase is, "No utopias, no future, no plans. . . .'"
But the peace movement is a crucial one for US policymakers. The student movement of 1967-68 was intellectual, ideological, political, aimed at ending the Vietnam war. It ignored the 7,000 nuclear warheads on West German soil.
The current movement is more broadly based, more working-class, less ideological, more emotional, more enamored of the nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
The West German movement is particularly important because the United States plans to deploy 572 cruise and Pershing II missiles in NATO countries by 1984 to match the growth of Soviet SS-20 medium-range missiles aimed at targets as far west as London. The peace movement has gained even more momentum from President Reagan's decision in early August to go ahead and build neutron bombs.
It pulls Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to the left inside his own Social Democratic Party. It encourages other movements in Holland, Belgium, and Britain. It encourages the Kremlin not to start talks to limit the missiles, because it hopes European young people will limit US missiles and leave Soviet ones intact.
The NATO missile decision (December 1979) has galvanized the peace movement. Some 900,000 Germans have signed the Krefeld appeal against nuclear weapons in just a few months. Britain's CND paid membership has shot from 3,500 to 21,000 in a year and a half, plus a quarter of a million more (CND insists) in 900 activist groups (doctors, poets, artists, even journalist members of Journalists Against Nuclear Extinction; organizer Norma Turner told me she had 178 members from 11 national dailies and British Broadcasting Corporation radio, among others).
A Marplan poll last year showed that 42 percent of those polled (about 1,000 people) believing nuclear war was likely on the next 10 years -- but among 15-to 24-year-olds, the figure rose to 53 percent. Sixty-five percent of those polled felt nuclear war was more likely than a year before, but among 15-to-24 -year-olds, it was 76 percent (27 percent (much more likely," and 49 percent "a little more likely").
A full 64 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds disagreed with the decision to station US cruise missiles in Britain. (overall, 56 percent disagreed.) Seventy-one percent (nationally, 60 percent) felt having the cruises on British soil made it "more likely" Britain would be attacked in a nuclear war.
Both Chancellor Schmidt and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are committed to the new missiles. Yet Mr. Schmidt faces growing pressure from the political left, Protestant churches, and the "alternative" (or "green") counterculture. If Britain's opposition Labour Party rides economic unrest into power in two years, it is committed to throwing all nuclear weapons out of the country.
One of CND's best recruiters is a 1965 film made for BBC television called "the War Games."
It portrays the effects of a nuclear explosion in Britain, but it has never been shown on TV, because officials considered it too graphic and frightening, especially for viewers living alone.
But CND shows the film around Britain at schools and universities. Although outdated now, it still has a powerful impact. CND credits it with attracting many new members to help fight against nuclear weapons.
In the city of Hamburg, I attended three days of the recent Kirchentag, or "Church Day" -- an event held every two years by Protestant churches in West Germany. Some 120,000 white, long-haired young people came from around the country, in jeans and sneakers, jackets and long woolen sweaters, many with thin Indian scarves wound around their necks as signs of sympathy with the third world -- and of rejection of the intolerant, materialistic, nuclear world they see their parents as having created.
The gathering came to be dominated by opposition to the US missiles. Chancellor Schmidt himself, and his defense minister, Hans Apel, came to debate with two of the moral leaders of the German movement -- Heinrich Albertz, a former mayor of West Berlin (now a Lutheran pastor), and Erhard Eppler, a Social Democratic political leader.
"He who keeps silent is also guilty," said hand-letttered signs in a crowded Hamburg exhibition hall devoted to facets of the peace movement.
"These new US missiles just aren't necessary," said bearded theology student Andreas Stolze as we sat in small ground-floor student quarters on a Hamburg side street during Kirchentag.
Speaking English he had honed during six months in Scotland, he voiced feelings widely shared in Europe:
"They cost a lot of money. They strengthen a form of arms industry to which I am opposed. They contribute to an overall climate of fear in the world They reinforce a picture of the Russians as the enemy. They are a symbol of our own fear. Life, not death -- that's what we must celebrate and confirm."
Into the small room, furnished with secondhand chairs and a rickety couch, came Alexander Lubke, just completing teacher training and a disciple of the "alternative" life style.
"Putting new missiles here won't increase our security," he said quietly. "It's absolutely mad, the number of nuclear weapons the world has now.
"Most people talk about the new medium-range missiles as though they were toys. We forgot how terrible they are. I don't want to see them here. If we have them, the other side will want them. The arms race spiral goes on."
That night, inside a jampacked Hamburg sports hall, young people drummed their feet on the floor in approval, applauding strongly as Mr. Eppler articulated concepts of the peace movement.
"God is a god of life, not of death. We must emphasize life over death, over weapons. We must not treat others as mere objects, with disrespect for their lives."
Similar applause greeted Mr. Albertz. "Keep resisting what is bad," he said. "The Sermon on the Mount doesn't tell us who the next mayor of Hamburg should be. But it tell us the direction we should go."
The next night in the same hall, Albertz indicated at one point that foreign troops still stood on the soil of both West and East Germany. The chancellor jumped to challenge the implication that US, British, and French troops "occupy" West Germany as Soviet troops do the East -- and the young audience listened in silence, clearly thinking about it hard, even though they generally oppose Schmidt's policies.
The young people were mainly relaxed -- somewhat naive (to this writer's eye much like the Vietnam the idea that human life is a mixture of good and bad, shunning compromise, preferring to stress peace between individual people, gentleness, personal honesty and morality.They tried to live according to their hearts, their emotions, not their intellects.
They young Germans appear to take the prosperity of West Germany for granted. They seem to think it natural to wear expensive watches and shoes and to be able to travel freely.
In London's Finsbury Park, Alison Whyte from Scotland was editing proofs of a newsletter published by a special CND group for members under the age of 21.
A former English teacher, she worked for the environmental group called Friends of the Earth before deciding, like Jenny Edwards one floor below, that there was no point in tryin to save the whales or ban heavy trucks until nuclear weapons had been stopped.
She made a point I heard from several other young people in West Germany and Holland:
"Many kids today actually feel there will be a nuclear war," she said, her soft Scottish burr belying the seriousness of her words."That's new. They didn't before. It's partly because the [Margaret] Thatcher government has made such a mess of trying to sell civil defense to people in this country -- as if you could really protect yourself and your family by climbing under a table or into a hole in the garden for three weeks. . . .
"What got me going was the decision to accept the cruise missiles. I want Britain to give up cruise, give up the $:5 billion [$9.3 billion] planned for the US Trident missile submarines, and get out of NATO."
Over and over again, young people told me they abhorred spending large sums on arms while:
* The third world goes to bed hungry every night.
* Four hundred hospitals could be built for the cost of a single Trident (Jenny Edward's figure).
* University enrollment is being reduced to save government money in Britain.
* Unemployment is rising all over Europe.
Human, social needs are far more pressing and real to them than what they see as an abstract threat from the Kremlin. Besides, missiles are now so small and so accurate, many said, that the temptation to use them is greater than ever. The nuclear threshold has been lowered. US computers keep malfunctioning and triggering false alerts, raising the prospect (to them) annihilation by accident.
"We have half a million Belgians who are really poor --he cleared dishes from a table at the University of Brussels. "Let's help them first, before any new arms."
In Amsterdam, one of the most thougthful people I met was Christoffel Zumpolle, a young man with a good job in an electrical supply company.
"I couldn't take the responsibility of allowing nuclear missiles into Holland ," he said slowly. "I have to think of the future, of children and the world they will live in. I'm not opposed on religious grounds, but on practical ones. These missiles won't make us safer -- they'll make us targets.
"Many older people who remember the war and the Nazi occupation think the new missiles are good. But my parents, who are religious, agree with me. We don't need the missiles."
In Antwerp, two young men in their 20s, both named Luc, work full time at fighting nuclear weapons in their native Flanders.
Luc de Smet is thin and pale. He is following a university thesis on the peace movement by working on an information retrieval service for any peace group that might want it.
He and Luc de Roms work for the Roman Catholic Pax Christi organization in an airy converted convent housing several peace groups.
What they do is controversial: They say right-wingers have tried to attack their building, and they've installed new burglar systems. Belgian government officials maintain that the money for the building, the alarm, and other expensive renovation and video equipment came from communist front groups. The two Lucs said funds came in from Pax Christi and "donations."
Said Luc de Smet: "Nuclear weapons are the engine of the arms race and make the superpowers dominant. The arms race is a lie, a negation."
Red-bearded Luc de Roms, secretary of Pax Christi, Flanders, works in the building as a cinscientious objector. Instead of serving the usual 10 months in the Belgian military, he must do 20 months in approved civilian work. He chose peace groups. "We don't know just how strong the movement in Flanders is now," he said. "We have a big demonstration planned for October -- two years after we had 70,000 out in Brussels to protest the missile decision."
Tomorrow: How European youth view the US -- and the USSR.