17 February 1958: CND – the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – is launched

On this day in 1958, as the nuclear arms race hotted up, 5,000 people crammed in to Westminster’s Central Hall to witness the launch of CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

With the end of the Second World War, and the terrifying demonstration of the power of atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world's great powers fell over themselves to ensure they wouldn't be left bringing up the rear in the nuclear arms race. The Soviet Union tested its first bomb in August of 1949. The UK came next in 1952. With the advent of the H-bomb later the same year, weapons were getting bigger and dirtier. The world was fast becoming a very dangerous place.

The Cold War was developing; the US and USSR were engaged in a game of macho posturing, each backed by a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying life on Earth many times over on the whim of a few overfed, pampered, Alpha-idiots. Understandably, people started to get nervous.

In January 1958, prompted by a letter to the New Statesman by the writer JB Priestly, calling for unilateral nuclear disarmament, the magazine's editor, Kingsley Martin, convened a meeting, where the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was conceived. And on this day in 1958, CND was publicly launched at Westminster's Central Hall. Although there had been little advance publicity, 5,000 people turned up to support the campaign.

That same month, graphic designer Gerald Holtom presented preliminary sketches of a symbol to represent the campaign a circle bearing a symbol formed from the semaphore signs for N and D. On Good Friday, CND held its first march on the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, proudly displaying the symbol that would be adopted by peaceniks and protesters around the world.

Membership boomed as more countries joined the arms race and the counterculture of peace and love encircled the word in the 1960s. The campaign faded away somewhat in the 1970s, but returned with a vengeance in the 1980s as the Cold War hotted up again. The US deployed cruise missiles to its bases in Europe; the UK government embarked on its farcical campaign of “Protect and Survive”, printing booklets exhorting citizens to paint the windows white and, effectively, hide under the bed to escape a horrible, lingering death from radiation poisoning (for more, see Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows).

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