Anti-Nuclear, Creative Non-Fiction, Historical Memoir, Political Activist

Citizen Diplomat: observer narration

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Between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a good time to clean old files and organize the office. Opening a full notebook of writing from 2016, I find an assignment from Scott Driscoll’s UW class in Literary Fiction. Write an “Observer narration”.

Citizen Diplomacy: Observer Narration Week 4, 1/28/2016.  If you haven’t picked up a copy of Open Borders yet, this will give you a taste.  In Open Borders, a memoir, the reader gets an accurate account of the two events, one in Moscow and one in Tashkent. This sketch is dramatized somewhat for the purpose of the exercise.

He was ahead of us, a group of twenty-nine peace activists traveling from Seattle to the USSR in 1983.  We were moving through a gleaming subway station in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.  Aldon Bell strode, as he always did, with confidence, his attaché case tucked tightly under his left arm, his right gesturing as he talked with Masha.  Masha was his personal interpreter, a student from the University of Washington who lived and breathed Russian.  Her halo of curls and his baldpate tipped together, bobbing along, side by side just far enough away from the Russian interpreter to avoid being heard.

We were traveling as tourists under the strict and constant surveillance of Soviet authorities.

We had entered the country from Helsinki, landing in Moscow.  Don, as we all called him, navigated the immigration seamlessly.  Even though each of us carried a manila envelope stuffed with letters to the citizens of our sister city, Tashkent, and signed by over 30,000 well-wishers, he moved us past suspicious guards by carrying a slim volume of Pushkin, visible to anyone whose job was to notice.

I heard the security agent ask Bell, “You like Pushkin?  I like Ray Bradbury.”

His open blue eyes and careful goatee, his lean face and broad shoulders (he’d been a rower at Oxford), his average height and slim waist made him a dead ringer for Lenin.  You couldn’t help notice it when he stood waiting for his luggage, his face silhouetted against the proverbial portrait of the most favored leader plastered on the airport chamber’s walls.  The youthful security forces had to have noticed the likeness, too.

He did well in the formal interrogation with some high official in Moscow, all of us sitting around the outside edge of a horseshoe table with simultaneous translation going on.  I had knots in my stomach and thought I might lose my lunch, but he, he remained calm.  His face had a shy smile, but could turn into a grimace, lips curling, and the gap in his front teeth adding a fierce quality to his words when called for.  The forty-five minute counterpoint between the two men moved from platitudes, to arguments about the Freeze Campaign and Unilateral Disarmament neither of which we favored.  With Masha whispering her own interpretations of the Soviet officials challenging remarks, Don held his own.  At least from where I sat, he seemed to be doing well. Don tended to be pessimistic before hand, expecting things to go badly if they could.  In the moment, his manner and words displayed a kind of Ben Franklin diplomacy, declaring nothing certain, open to whatever might unfold.  Never belligerent. And belligerent was certainly the way the Soviet spokesperson sounded.  Our guy, I observed, was coming out even, maybe a little ahead.

“We come in peace.  Our governments speak angry words.  We can speak kind, personal words to each other.  We love our country as you love yours.  We want to see our children grow up and marry, as do you.  As people, we can know each other and wish for each other’s happiness.” 

Our reception in Tashkent was more relaxed.  We were away from the intensity of the Moscow stage.  As we following Don, striding out of the Tashkent subway station—it had been emptied of normal crowds “for our protection”—we burst into the bitter cold of early March.  I watched him wondering how he would assess our next venue.  His face was passive, slack jawed, relaxed full lips, eyes scanning like an owl, without movement.  I alone knew he was carrying messages of encouragement and hope to the Refusenicks rolled tightly into the empty film canisters and tucked into his coat pockets.  My teeth chattered as much from fear as from the cold as I wondered how he could maintain such equanimity.  Before returning to the US, we would find a way to deliver them to desperate people.  If caught, our mission would end in disaster.  Did he imagine the consequences and simply override them?  From where I stood, it seemed so.  He always dissembled well.  No one could guess his thoughts.

The square the subway emptied into was full of people, two or three deep on three sides, facing a podium.  The crowd parted to let him, Masha and our official interpreter and guide through.  I took my place with the others dispersed in the crowd and kept an eye on Don.  He seemed nonplused by the numbers of onlookers, some on the surrounding rooftops, the array of stout, heavily over-coated men standing of the platform.

Suddenly Masha pulled his sleeve.  He leaned his ear toward her.  She must have overheard some news that could impact us.  Seconds later I saw the blood run from his face, his jaw clench; his eyes fly open and then narrow to slits of purpose.  Something was terribly wrong.  A couple of the others in our group noticed the change in Don’s demeanor. I didn’t take my eyes off him as the proceedings opened with a bombastic speech by a highly decorated veteran.  While the official translator repeated the soldier’s triumphs in war against the Germans as an ally of the United States, I watched Don fumble with his attaché case.  He pretended to listen, but I could see he was working out how to handle some seriously bad news.  None of us spoke out of respect for the proceedings.  We all knew Reagan was planning a major speech on the state of the Cold War.  We hoped against hope that he would wait until our return.  The State Dept. had warned us about the folly of such a trip.  Don assured them we were tourists under the auspices of Holiday Travel in Seattle and nothing more.  They gave us all the necessary visas.  Something terrible must have happened.

The old soldier ended with a few clenched fist thrusts and moved to one side as the crowd applauded.  Don seemed to hold his breath as a Soviet official took the podium and began speaking in a menacing tone as if to whip up the crowd against the Americans in their midst.  His task was to welcome us and introduce our leader whose speech was the main attraction.  We were the reason so many students and housewives responded to the unofficial command to assemble.  As I watched his face, the twitch in his jaw slowed down.  His shoulders began to drop.  He took out a handkerchief and blew loudly into it, folded it again into its square with the precision of an altar guild lady.  The handkerchief made its way into his rear pant’s pocket.  Then he took off his glasses and polished the lenses with the inside of his silk tie, methodically inspecting them before adjusting them on his nose.  A familiar ritual of making himself ready.  His cheeks inflated slightly and then his breath released, long and far reaching.  The speaker paused, gestured with a flat pudgy hand to punctuate his badly pronounced Aldon Bell, Professor.  All the while, the Soviet functionary kept eye contact with the expectant crowd.  He then turned to Don, shook his hand and guided him to the microphone with a firm hold on his elbow.

I knew he would not fail, that whatever nonplussed him moments ago would become a launching point for his message of cooperation, but my heart was in my mouth.  I did not breathe until his first words rang out.

“We come to bring greetings to the people of Tashkent, Seattle’s Sister City.  Tashkent and Seattle are far from the seats of government that manage our affairs and speak to world leaders about our differences. We come not to debate these affairs but to share our worry for the future of our remote cities, for the future of our families, for the beauty of the land we each call home.”

His voice was clear and strong.  He paused for the translation.  Faces, stern and suspicious, began to melt.  A cluster of older babushka, grandmothers with fringed scarves around their heads, began to weep. Some of the students turned to look at us standing next to them, and nodded in sympathy.  We Americans relaxed our collective brows.  His shy smile and the way he dipped his head to divert attention from himself won over the onlookers.  He simply ignored whatever had happened on the world stage that inspired the Soviet official’s angry speech.

That night in the privacy of a spacious hotel suite, we discovered the awful cloud that threatened to shroud any hope for mutual understanding.  Reagan addressed the National Association of Evangelicals one day earlier on March 8, 1983, declaring the Soviet Union an Empire of Evil that had to be overturned.  Those men on the podium expected Don to follow his president in condemning Communism.  He did not.  We lifted our shots of vodka with relief.


To order Open Borders, go to my Amazon page and they’ll ship one out to you. You can also order from your favorite Indiebound local independent bookstore. Thank you for reading. Please pass this along to history buffs who are digging into the Cold War. And to people who need inspiration for the threatening nuclear weapon buildup of 2019. Betsy Bell Author


the new Cold War is Worse than I thought

Pool photo by Mikhail Klimentyev

A New York Times report is worth publishing here, fellow campaigners. The threat of nuclear accident is far greater than I imagined or understood. Take a look at this:

Cold War Arms Treaty May Unravel, Creating A Much Bigger Problem

By David E. Sanger and William J. Broad

Pool photo by Mikhail Klimentyev


WASHINGTON — After the United States delivered an ultimatum to Russia last week that it was preparing to abandon a landmark weapons treaty, drawing a combative response from President Vladimir V. Putin, the specter of a rekindled nuclear arms race was widely seen as a rewind of the Cold War.

But that encompasses only one slice of the problem — and perhaps the easiest part to manage.

The United States and Russia no longer have a monopoly on the missiles that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail S. Gorbachev agreed in 1987 to ban with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or I.N.F., agreement. Today, China relies on similar missiles for 95 percent of its ground-based fleet, and Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Taiwan are among the 10 states with similar, fast-growing arsenals.

In a reflection of the Trump administration’s view of how to navigate a new, more threatening global order, Washington seems uninterested in trying to renegotiate the treaty to embrace all the countries that now possess the weapons, which can carry conventional or atomic warheads. Instead, it is moving to abandon the accord and, with an eye on China, deploy in Asia the sorts of arms it pulled from Europe in the perilous days before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The administration blames Russian violations — denied by Moscow — for the demise of what until now has been considered one of the most successful of the Cold War arms control agreements. But the bigger issue is that President Trump wants to throw off what he sees as constraints from countering other rising powers, principally China.

Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., then the commander of United States forces in the Pacific and now ambassador to South Korea, underlined that concern in testimony before Congress last year. “We are being taken to the cleaners by countries that are not signatories,” he said.

The treaty, he said, restricts the United States from building a new class of conventional and nuclear weapons to counter China’s growing influence in the Pacific, while Beijing, the adversary it now worries about the most, faces no such limits.

But the fear among arms control advocates is not just that the I.N.F. treaty will unravel. A much larger one — the New Start agreement, which brought American and Russian nuclear weapons to record-low levels of 1,550 deployed intercontinental ballistic weapons when it went into full effect this year — could also soon collapse. That accord, negotiated by President Barack Obama, expires a month after the next presidential inauguration. On Thursday night, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph F. Dunford Jr., raised doubts for the first time that it would be extended.

“It’d be best if Russia would comply with the I.N.F., which would set the conditions for a broader conversation about other arms control agreements, to include the extension of Start,” he said at an event at The Washington Post. “It’s very difficult for me to envision progress in extending Start II,” he added, misremembering the name of the existing treaty, “if the foundation of that is noncompliance with the I.N.F. treaty.”

The Trump administration said last week that Russia had 60 days to come into compliance with the I.N.F. treaty. After that period, the United States will feel free to “suspend its obligations” under the accord, the American ambassador to Russia, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., said at a briefing for reporters on Thursday.

“Russia must return to full and verifiable compliance, or their failure to do so will result in the demise of the I.N.F. treaty,” he said. “But we should be clear: Russia has not shown any indication so far that it seeks to return to full compliance.”

Yet Mr. Huntsman and Andrea Thompson, the under secretary for arms control and international security, made no mention on Thursday of any plans to amend the treaty to include the host of new players.

In response to the American ultimatum, Mr. Putin, hours before the funeral on Wednesday of George Bush, the American president who dismantled thousands of tactical nuclear weapons that were designed to fight a Soviet invasion, declared that he was ready to retaliate in kind.

“It seems our American partners,” Mr. Putin said, “believe that the situation has changed so much” that the Trump administration now wanted to build its own arsenal of intermediate-range nuclear weapons. “What’s our response?” Mr. Putin asked rhetorically in televised remarks. “It’s simple. In that case, we will also do this.”

Administration officials have said that they see no indication that either side will blink, or even talk to each other, about the implications of an impending reversal. Some officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say that the descent into reflexive animosity is the inevitable result of Mr. Putin’s determination to restore his country’s arsenal and Mr. Trump’s paralysis on Russia, since the accusations swirling in the special counsel inquiry raise new suspicions about every conversation or negotiation he enters into with the Kremlin.

The treaty’s origins were rooted in the Soviet deployment in 1977 of a mobile missile called the SS-20, devised to target Europe. Each missile had three nuclear warheads — each of which could be aimed at a different city — and many more missiles of varying ranges emerged. Negotiations started under Jimmy Carter, but gained momentum under Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev.

When the two leaders signed the I.N.F. treaty in 1987, its scope surprised almost everyone: It banned all land-based missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, or 310 to 3,420 miles, both nuclear-tipped and conventional. As a result, Washington demolished 846 missiles, and Moscow 1,846 — and Europe breathed a sigh of relief.

At the time of the treaty’s signing, China was barely a consideration. It had a handful of intercontinental missiles that could reach the United States and a few dozen intermediate-range missiles. But in the intervening decades, that changed drastically, as Beijing sought to intimidate Taiwan, exert influence across East Asia and try to keep American ships far from Chinese shores.

A Realignment of Mid-Range Missile Arsenals

In 1987, the U.S. and Russia signed a pact eliminating land-based missiles with ranges of 310 to 3,420 miles. Since that time, nonsignatories to the pact, mainly countries in Asia and the Middle East, have amassed large arsenals of such missiles and developed many distinct models.

Above: 1987 Number of short- to intermediate-range missile models deployed or near deployment

Below: 2018

Now the Chinese have several hundred missiles that would violate the treaty — if Beijing were a signatory. It has devoted considerable industrial resources to building the DF-26. (The DF stands for Dong Feng, or East Wind.) First displayed in a 2015 military parade, the missile, at 46 feet, was carried on trucks that featured 12 giant wheels and camouflage paint. The missile could be stored in bunkers deep underground, rolled onto roads and fired at distant targets. Western analysts put the range of the weapon at about 2,500 miles, far enough to threaten American bases on Guam.

It is a technology North Korea is now replicating — and accelerating, even as Mr. Trump insists that he has made diplomatic gains and that the threat there is all but eliminated.

China was the animating concern when Admiral Harris told Congress that roughly 95 percent of Beijing’s land-based missiles now fell into the intermediate-range nuclear forces category: “The aspects of the I.N.F. treaty that limit our ability to counter Chinese and other countries’ cruise missiles, land-based missiles, I think, is problematic.”

The Chinese are not the only ones. Ian Williams, a missile expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, said the governments with missiles in that particular range now total 10, including India, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Pakistan and Taiwan.

It was the Obama administration that first charged Russia with violating the treaty, in 2013. Last month, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, laid out the American allegations in detail, describing an elaborate effort by Moscow to cover up testing of a missile that violated the range limits of the treaty. Russia has denied the American account — and accused the United States of deploying launchers in Europe that could be used to violate the treaty as well.

“Russia’s response over five years has been consistent,” Mr. Coats said. “Deny any wrongdoing, demand more information in an effort to determine how the United States detected the violation, and issue false counteraccusations that the United States is violating the treaty.”

The Pentagon started quietly developing a number of options to build up its arsenal once Mr. Obama considered withdrawing from the treaty four years ago. As a stopgap measure, the Trump administration is likely to deploy a version of the Tomahawk cruise missile that is redesigned to be fired from land, congressional officials say. But the Pentagon is already funding a Precision Strike Missile, which would have a range just under the I.N.F. limit of 500 kilometers, or 310 miles. Experts say it would take little effort to expand the range to reach more distant targets if the Trump administration abandons the arms-control accord.

Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are now competing for the production contract on that missile, and tests of prototypes are expected next year.

What is missing, warns George P. Shultz, the secretary of state in the Reagan administration and now a scholar at the Hoover Institution, is diplomacy.

“Now is not the time to build larger arsenals of nuclear weapons,” he said. “Now is the time to rid the world of this threat. Leaving the treaty would be a huge step backward. We should fix it, not kill it.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Cold War Arms Treaty May Unravel, Creating A Much Bigger Problem

We need a public outcry that cannot be ignored.

Putting words on paper is my way of taking up arms again. Action makes today's reality a little less threatening.
Anti-Nuclear, Buy Open Borders, Historical Memoir, Memoir, Political Activist, Travel

INF Treaty under threat

Today nine nations possess nuclear weapons. At least two heads of state are unpredictable and have sole authority over the use of these weapons.
I believe ordinary citizens, you, Dear Reader, have powerful influence on the world stage and can change this reality.

The US accuses Russia of breaking a treaty that bans Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, INF, and our president decides to trash the treaty. He hints that he may not authorize talks for a new START treaty when the terms of the old one expire.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

As the NATO-USSR deployed intermediate range nuclear SS-20 missile facing off between East and West Europe in the 1970s, thousands of citizens in England and Europe protested and marched. In Central Park, New York City, throngs of people created the largest anti-arms race peace rally in the history of the modern world. Within a few years—1987—the INF treaty was signed ending this madness. By 1989, the borders between East and West opened.

We can do this again.

My husband, Don Bell, led a group of people in Seattle who challenge the government’s Peace Through Strength approach. Forty-five thousand people in the Puget Sound area educated themselves about less dangerous ways of preventing conflict.

The first Trident submarine steamed into Puget Sound in 1982. Now there are eight nuclear subs just twenty miles from downtown Seattle. They have the fire power to destroy the Earth and life as we know it. Nothing can survive a nuclear war.

Open Borders, the newly published memoir about my small role in the Seattle based movement tells the story of delivering a love letter to people in the USSR, in particular to people in our sister city, Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Thirty-three ordinary people from Seattle handed out the letters, three-thousand copies of them, each with ten signatures, to people on the streets asking them to join us in preventing nuclear war.

Our government wasn’t happy with the people in Seattle or our friendship with our “enemies”. Edward Rowney, Reagan’s ambassador to the START treaty negotiations, came out to speak at one of our educational events. Afterward, he and Don’s co-chair, Virginia, were in conversation at a private dinner party. Rowney said,

“The reason I agreed to come here was to find out what you people are thinking.”
She told him she appreciated that. After a pause, he asked expansively,
“What shall I tell the President when I return to Washington?”
“Tell the President that there are thousands of people here who are enraged by the threat of nuclear war.”
The General literally jumped in his chair and responded, “I couldn’t possibly tell the President that!”
“Why not?” Virginia remembers asking.
“Look, you don’t have to worry about that. I am working very hard on all this. I will save you!”
“What if I don’t believe you?”
“Then you aren’t worth saving.”
That comment was so outrageous—as much to Rowney as to Virginia—that they both just laughed. p. 47 Open Borders

When we are all done laughing at the absurdity of our situation—then and now—we mostly sink into denial convincing ourselves that no person would ever fire a nuclear weapon. “It won’t happen,” we tell ourselves, flooded with emotion.

Instead of nightmares, how about waking up with a commitment to change our present situation?

Our trip to the USSR was followed by dozens of friendship trips, back and forth, doctors, chefs, dancers, singers, artists, musicians (Pink Cadillac played Moscow), teachers, professor exchanges.

Want to travel to Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, China, Russian? Organize a tour with a company that specializes in this sort of trip. Let those people meet ordinary Americans. Get with others who are crafting legislation to limit presidential powers, to prevent new Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles from being built by cutting the budget, to incite a massive public outcry against this threat.

We were terrified in 1983. Our children were practicing “duck and cover” in our schools. Our buildings downtown sported large yellow bomb shelter signs. We were terrified.

We bought airplane tickets and went to meet the enemy as friends. Open Borders tells our story. Read it and be inspired to find one little thing to do to change the future.

Did we make a difference? Who knows. But, coincidentally, after our trip the Berlin Wall came down. The INF treaty got signed. As a result of that Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.

To find out who is doing what in the Puget Sound area (or wherever you are), go to and find the chapter nearest you. Together we can turn this around.

Anti-Nuclear, Political Activist

What can I do to prevent nuclear war?

One question has come up at all four of the book launch events since Open Borders came out Oct. 16th: what can I do to prevent nuclear war? The question is slow to surface as audience members old enough to remember begin to relive the frightening times in Seattle in the 1980s when children were practicing duck and cover in their classrooms and bomb shelter signs appears on the walls of buildings downtown.

What can one do? Get involved in the anti-nuclear weapon movement through Washington Against Nuclear Weapons WANW, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibiltiy, Earth Care not War Fare and Ground Zero to name a few. Find their next meeting on the calendar under the menu tab “calendar”.

Where does the money come from to keep the nuclear war machine going? Following the money may be the most effective way to reverse current policy. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons recently published a study revealing the money path. I encourage you to take a look at their findings. One darling of personal finance and family investment (my husband and I began building our nest egg with a $25 a month contribution back in the 1970s) is Vanguard. In fact, I just counseling my grandson to begin his investment program with a Vanguard account and promised to match his monthly contributions. I was shocked and dismayed to find Vanguard in the top ten of the companies investing in nuclear weapons.

ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn:If you have been wondering who benefits from Donald Trump’s threats of nuclear war, this report has that answer. These are the companies that stand to profit from indiscriminate mass murder of civilians. We grow less safe while they cash in on chaos by banking on Armageddon.”

What can I do to prevent nuclear war? Call your broker. Then write to the company after you pull your money out and explain why you have left them. Even if your account is only a pittance, your opinion will sting, register a welt that burns the skin. Enough of these welts make even a very large company uncomfortable. Perhaps even uncomfortable enough to change.



Anti-Nuclear, Buy Open Borders, Historical Memoir, Inspiration, Memoir, Political Activist

Open Borders Book Launch

Thirty excited and curious people turned up last Tuesday, Oct. 23rd, 2018 at the University of Washington bookstore in the U District to hear Betsy Bell talk about her family’s experience during the final decade of the Cold War, 1980-1990 as written in her memoir, Open Borders: a personal story of love, loss and anti-war activism.

US Soldiers greet Russians soldiers as the allies declare victory of Germany in April 1945

If you missed this program, come to St. Mark’s Cathedral Shop, 12:15, Nov. 11th
Homestreet Bank, SW Alaska branch in West Seattle, 6 – 7:30, Nov. 14th

Presentations and book signing.


Professor Eric Johnson began the program with a talk anchoring the historic context of Open Borders within the larger frame: the end of WWII to the arrival of the first nuclear submarine in Puget Sound.

Lack of trust and mutual understanding of how nations should be governed –communism or capitalism — divided the West from the Socialist Soviet Republics within months of the Allied forces defeat of the Axis powers.

Russia detonated an Atomic Bomb and the arms race was on. It was September, 1949.NATO on the west and the Warsaw Pact on the east. Intercontinental Ballistic Missile bases, US Naval fleets, Strategic Air Command and the building of the Berlin wall in 1961 divided the world.


Even those of us who lived through these frightening developments appreciated the historic overview. The younger people in the audience had only learned of these events in their high school world history classes.

Betsy took the mike to describe the response of Seattle citizens, friends and fellow parents, teachers, lawyers, doctors, ordinary people who are the characters in her memoir. (May I speak of myself in the third person for the purposes of this post?)

The reader of Open Borders travels with the band of tourists who venture behind the Iron Curtain to greet hosts in Moscow and Seattle’s Sister City, Tashkent. Our trip in 1983 unleashed a plethora of friendship exchanges between the USSR and Seattle. Dr. Rosh Doan was on hand to speak of his family’s residential stay in Tashkent, Seattle’s Sister City in 1985 as part of the medical exchange.

It was a wonderful evening, rich with discussion about what can be done; indeed, what a new group of people must do now to reverse this new and more threatening Cold War. We must end nuclear weapons as a military option.

Do good work,


Please share this post with your friends around the country. I hope to take this book on the road.