top of page

My Peace Story – 72 Years On

The Abridged Edition


I was born in July 1945, steps away from the Manhattan Project in Chicago, and just weeks away from the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The time and place of my birth have informed my entire life.

As a schoolchild, I cowered under my desk during “yellow” and “red” alerts in anticipation of a nuclear attack. On our first TV, I watched terrifying government films of whole families and homes being swept away by the furious winds of mushroom clouds.

As a teenager, my best friend moved to Australia, her parents naively imagining that the distance would keep her out of harm’s way. My neighbours dug bomb shelters in their backyards.

At university in Berkeley, I sat-in at the Oakland Induction Center and watched draft cards being set afire and the stunned faces of young men pressed against windows of departing buses for Vietnam.

I marched with thousands in San Francisco against the war in April 1967.

In 1970, I moved to Denman Island, BC, in faint hope of a reprieve from the interventionist policies of the US government and the nuclear madness. I discovered within the first few days of my forest reverie that the US stored Genie air-to-air nuclear rockets at the Canadian Forces Base at Comox, a mere fifteen kilometers to my north.

And, sixty kilometres to my south, US nuclear-armed and powered Navy vessels steamed into the Canadian Maritime Base at Nanoose Bay.

In the early 1980s, now a Canadian citizen, I joined with others to form the Denman Island Peace Group. We resisted the testing of cruise missiles at Cold Lake, low-level military flights over Sheshatshiu, Labrador and northern BC, Star Wars, nuclear arsenal buildups, military spending, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, etc.

We met every issue with letters, artwork, theatre, music, research, civil disobedience, collaboration across Canada and oceans. The number of origami peace cranes we folded and the loaves of banana bread we baked for fundraisers, could reach to the moon and back.

Puzzled by why we humans seem so self-destructive, I decided to study the question by enrolling in a Master’s Degree program in Peace Studies. I must admit that even at this late date, I have failed to find a satisfying answer.

Given my long-entrenched activism, my thesis was entitled, “Developing Peace Movement Self Consciousness: Towards an Understanding of Effectiveness.” I concentrated on the Nanoose Conversion Campaign as my case study (given that I was associated with the group, the objectivity of the inquiry must be suspect!) In the midst of my graduate work, I became the Resource Coordinator for the Pacific Campaign to Disarm the Seas, a daughter of the Nuclear-Free and Independent movement.

For almost 20 years, I had the privilege of travelling all over the Asia-Pacific region, even to the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, meeting with kindred and dedicated peace activists. Our work to create a Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone remains unrealized; however, I learned from my MA study that the results of our peace work are often latent, ambiguous, cumulative, lack causal certainty and are influenced by factors completely external to our efforts.

There is no perfect single solution, path or strategy to be found. The very acknowledgement of this “limitation,” contributes to peace movement effectiveness in that it recognizes that effectiveness, or “success,” as in natural systems, is associated with diversity, experimentation, innovation, and adaption. Knowing this helps us to redefine how we conceive of our work – to continually, day by day (and every day) reinvent our work for peace.


By: Patti Willis, Peace Activist, including for the Pacific Campaign for Disarmament & Security.

bottom of page