If Murray Thomson wasn’t a pacifist, you might call him a happy warrior. The 92-year-old Order of Canada (OC) recipient is on the phone constantly from his retirement residence in Ottawa. He is trying to convince all of his fellow OC recipients to support a UN call to entirely eliminate nuclear weapons.
More than 800 of those people have signed up. They include astronaut Chris Hadfield, ballerina Veronica Tennant, former peace keeper and Senator Romeo Dallaire, War Child Canada founder Dr. Samantha Nutt, former president of Médecins Sans Frontières Dr. James Orbinski, former Foreign Affairs Minister Flora Macdonald and L’Arche founder Jean Vanier.
Today, there are an estimated 16,000 nuclear weapons stockpiled by the world’s nuclear-armed states, and 5,000 are launch-ready. “Hiroshima could happen again,” says Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of the peace group Project Ploughshares. Even without such a catastrophe, the world is hobbled by the trillions of dollars diverted into building and maintaining nuclear weaponry and the environmental devastation that has accompanied its testing over the decades.
In 2008, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called for a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would outlaw nuclear weapons and provide for their elimination. This idea goes well beyond the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, which attempted to keep countries other than the existing five nuclear weapons states from acquiring the bomb and called upon the big five to reduce their arsenals. Still, a number of countries have developed nuclear weapons since then, and not one of the powers that had nuclear weapons in 1968 has agreed to give them up.
In 2010, MPs and senators even passed a unanimous motion calling upon the government to engage diplomatically in the campaign for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. But that call has gone unheeded by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Thomson is an unremitting optimist and refuses to give up, though. He has a deeper appreciation than most about militarism. He was a student at the University of Toronto when the Second World War began. He enlisted in the air force and became a pilot although he never actually flew a combat mission. And he was still in the military when, in 1945, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. He says that Hiroshima and Nagasaki made him a pacifist, and he has spent his life working for peace ever since.
More recently, he has collected statements from about 100 of the OC recipients who support his campaign, writing short profiles on more than half of them. He intends to include them in a book, which he will self-publish. Thomson says he is doing it all to raise the campaign’s profile and to provide additional momentum. But as his daughter Sheila Quarles explains it, Thomson just never gives up. And his resolve to make a complete difference in the world is the key to that longevity.
This post appeared on my blog with the United Church Observer on June 18.