Gregoris Lambrakis and the  International Peace Movement to Rid Europe of Nuclear Weapons

“Weapons of mass destruction being controlled by brains barely evolved beyond the paleolithic is not a good thing, to be sure…

– James Harding, Michigan State University, Department of Herpetology, retired

Gregoris Lambrakis M.D. is a Greek hero of classical proportions.  He was a brilliant medical student and lecturer in Gynecology at the University of Athens. Lambrakis was a world class athlete in long jump and triple jump at the 1936 Summer Olympics. He was active in the partisan resistance against Nazi occupation of Greece during WWII, and established free medical clinics and food banks for the post war victims of Fascism.

Lambrakis joined the international peace movement during the Aldermaston March, 1958, against the British Nuclear Weapons Research Establishment and was arrested. He met Bertrand Russell there and adopted Russell’s peace and non-aligned activism. Lambrakis later established the Bertrand Russell Greek Youth Society.

The Youth Society organized the first peace and non-alignment march from the Tomb at Marathon to the Acropolis in Greece in April 1963. The neo-fascist Greek government of Premier Karamalis and Queen Fredericka banned the protests and jailed and assaulted thousands of participants. Lambrakis alone, continued the march protected by his Parliamentary immunity.

Two weeks later in Thessaloniki after delivering an anti- nuclear weapons speech he was clubbed to death by right wing terrorists affiliated with the police, the government and financed tangentially by the CIA.

Lambrakis’ murder spawned massive street protests in Athens, and his casket was followed to his grave by over 500,000 peace, political and anti-nuclear weapons activists. Civic outrage over Lambrakis’ assassination staggered the right- wing Greek government and led to its downfall. The military coup that ensued, led by “The Colonels” in 1967 was resisted and signified by the graffito “Z” for “he lives”, dramatized in the Costa Garvas film, “Z”.

The international abhorrence for nuclear weapons began the day after the United Stated dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and continues to grow. The peace movement and the non-aligned movement maintain a symbiotic relationship. The “co-substantiability of peace and democracy” has been at the forefront of national and international movements culminating  in the majority of nations belonging to nuclear free zones. The United Nations General Assembly annually opens its conference with a call to ban nuclear weapons. The Non-Proliferation Treaty signed by 127 nations stipulates the elimination of nuclear weapon as a foundational principle.

Though NATO has extended it “nuclear umbrella” over all thirty of its member states, only five agree to store nuclear weapons on their soil: Germany, Italy, Turkey , Belgium and Netherlands. Each nation holds twenty B-61 nuclear devices, each with a maximum explosive charge of 340 Kilotons or a combined total charge of 6.8 Megatons., or 6.0 million tons of TNT!

Though every NATO nation has signed the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, none has yet signed the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, TPNW, which came into force in 2021, and makes nuclear weapons illegal for its signatories.  And though NATO opposes the TPNW, a growing number of European states, including Germany, Netherlands, which host nuclear weapons, and others will attend as observers the TPNW conference in Vienna later this month.

The majority of citizens in Belgium 64%, Italy 70%, Netherlands 62%, Germany 68% favor a complete ban of nuclear weapons, worldwide and in their country.  These countries house 80% of the US nuclear weapons deployed in NATO.

The international community has in the past banned horrific weapons like chemical, biological and land- mine weapons. Clearly the great majority of the international community would also ban nuclear weapons. There is a growing awareness in European politics that nuclear weapons are extraordinarily dangerous, and worthless. Were the US to withdraw its 100 B-61 nuclear bombs from Europe tonight, Europeans would be no less secure tomorrow morning. Large majorities in every European country that hosts nuclear weapons want the weapons removed.

An anecdote from the Greek Turkish conflict over Cypress in 1974 illustrates  how precarious the spread of nuclear weapons can be, even among NATO allies.

Both Greece and Turkey possessed hundreds of US nuclear weapons. With tensions escalating toward war US force surreptitiously removed its nuclear weapons from Greece and secretly sabotaged the nuclear warheads in Turkey.

Fast forward to today where Turkey’s fraught relations with the U.S. and NATO, has Pentagon strategist contemplating the removal of the twenty B-61 nuclear bombs stored at Incirlik Air Base…. back to Greece! Such a move has already stirred public opprobrium in Athens, and would certainly resurrect the anti- nuclear ghost of Gregoris Lambrakis.

It is worth quoting at length the statement published on 21 September this year by 56 former leaders and foreign or defense ministers of NATO and US ally countries, including two former NATO secretaries-general:

“The prohibition treaty (TPNW) is an important reinforcement to the half-century-old Non-Proliferation Treaty, which, though remarkably successful in curbing the spread of nuclear weapons to more countries, has failed to establish a universal taboo against the possession of nuclear weapons. The five nuclear-armed nations that had nuclear weapons at the time of the NPT’s negotiation — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — apparently view it as a license to retain their nuclear forces in perpetuity. Instead of disarming, they are investing heavily in upgrades to their arsenals, with plans to retain them for many decades to come. This is patently unacceptable.”

The ”Z” painted on Russian tanks rolling over  Ukraine symbolizes “victory”. A victory belied by mad destruction of civilian life, economy and the culture of Ukraine.

The “Z” painted on the walls of Athens, means “he lives” Lambrakis’ humanity lives, his non-violence lives, his abhorrence of nuclear weapons lives.

When a madman threatens to incinerate his adversaries with nuclear weapons, when nuclear armed states waste trillions of dollars on their nuclear arsenals, it is clear, it is stark, all nuclear weapons are madness, and must be banned.