Stop the War’s Convenor pays tribute to a tireless campaigner against war and nuclear weapons

I was saddened to hear of the death of Bruce Kent, in London just before his 93rd birthday. Bruce was a giant of the peace movement. He was a tireless campaigner against war and nuclear weapons, was known internationally for his work, and did a great deal to ensure that popular arguments on the need for peace and disarmament reached a wider audience.

He first came to national prominence as a leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the early 1980s. The organisation had been in decline from its heyday in the late 1950s and early 1960s but was galvanised by the Thatcher government’s decisions to replace Polaris with Trident and to have Cruise missiles at the Greenham Common airbase in Berkshire. A great wave of opposition particularly to the siting of Cruise missiles in Europe led to mass protests. CND organised huge demonstrations nationally and many local activities, and Bruce Kent was one of the central figures in the movement. He was a very powerful and inspiring speaker, who always had a good rapport and empathy with the crowds.

Bruce was ordained as a Catholic priest but eventually gave this up as his campaigning work caused tensions with the church and he became the target of attack from Tory MPs and media. This must have been a very difficult decision. His faith and his ideals of pacifism were very important to him.

There are many people who have cause to be grateful to Bruce for his campaigning: for leading a movement against nuclear weapons over decades, but also for challenging government policies over militarism and war, supporting the cause of justice for Palestinians, in solidarity with the Muslim community against racism.

I spoke on many demonstrations alongside him. The last one was in March this year when Stop the War and CND organised a protest against the war in Ukraine. His speech was very direct, using the example of Stanislav Petrov, the Russian military officer who helped to avert nuclear war in the 1980s when a malfunctioning early warning system suggested that missiles had been launched by the US against Russia. Petrov refused to retaliate thus preventing possible major escalation to full nuclear war. He regarded Petrov as a hero, and I thought particularly wanted to make this point both about the dangers of accidental triggering of nuclear war, but also to help counter the Russophobia growing as a result of Putin’s invasion.

His speeches were always informative and to the point. He was also direct and straight talking in individual conversation. He will be remembered for the incredible work he did across the decades, for his principles and standing up for what he believed in, and for his encouragement to a whole movement, both on the mass stage but also to countless individuals to whom he was an inspiration.

On behalf of Stop the War Coalition, I would like to send condolences to his wife, Valerie, to his family and close friends, to his comrades and colleagues in CND and Pax Christi, and to the many people who will be saddened by news of his death. We take inspiration from a life well lived and which helped to shape the movement for peace in Britain.

10 Jun 2022 by Lindsey German

Sign Up