Remembering Bruce Kent
Throughout history, peace movements have relied upon the support of large groups of people to put pressure on legislators, make protests impactful, and share their message with others. While it’s important to recognise the many voices behind the anti-nuclear movement in the UK, there are also individuals who have had a major impact, and one of those people was Bruce Kent. Since he passed away in June this year, many people have taken the time to reflect on his life and activism, as well as to remember him as a friend. In this blog post, we want to look at the impact Bruce Kent had as an international peacemaker and explore where he appears within our collections.
Bruce Kent is probably the figure most widely associated with the British anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s. He joined CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK, in 1960, and went on to become the General Secretary in 1980, followed by the chairman in 1987. In these roles, he acted as a key spokesperson for disarmament and peace during the Cold War and became a familiar face for the British public as a result.
“For people of my generation, who came of age in the 1980s, Bruce was a beacon of sanity in a terrifying world. He was the voice of the peace movement: direct, honest and completely fearless.” – Milan Rai, peace activist
While he is well-remembered for his impact in Britain, there are many other areas of Kent’s lifelong activism that are less well known, and he collaborated with peacemakers all over the world. The map below shows some of the campaigns that he worked on:
This is just a quick snapshot of the work Bruce Kent was engaged in throughout his life, and the places he visited; he also travelled to the USSR, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and beyond as part of his work. As well as this, he was the President of the International Peace Bureau between 1985 and 1992 and the National Peace Council from 1999 – 2000.
Given the number of public appearances Bruce Kent made, particularly during the 1980s, it is unsurprising that he shows up many times in our collection. This drawing by Maggie Glover, shows an anti-nuclear rally in Westminster in 1993. You can see Bruce Kent labelled ‘B.K.’, sat on the panel of speakers. Also visible in the background are the banners of various CND groups from around the country, who were presumably attending the rally.
“With his charismatic guidance, CND spoke for all people of peace, and could bring over a million to the streets to witness to the cause.” – Clive Barrett, Chair of the board of trustees at The Peace Museum
We also have this individual portrait, painted by Alex McMillan of Wokingham Peace Group. It shows Bruce wearing a traditional priest’s ‘Dog Collar’, as well as a green CND badge on his jacket. Having been ordained as a Catholic Priest in 1958, he retired from active ministry in 1987, feeling that this role conflicted with his activism. However, he was able to have an impact on the church during his time as a priest, sparking debates around prisons, investment and the morality of nuclear deterrence.
“My position was an impossible one. Many of my fellow Catholics, and other Christians, told me that what I was doing as a priest gave them hope, though I knew that most of my bishops did not think my work was priestly” – Bruce Kent, from his 1992 autobiography
To learn more about Bruce Kent’s life and peacemaking in his own words, you can visit http://bruce-kent.com