Peace and Anti-Nuclear Activist Jonathan Granoff ’70 Receives AAVC Distinguished Achievement Award
When he was a senior at Vassar in 1969, Jonathan Granoff ’70 stood with folk singer Pete Seeger and hundreds of other protestors at a rally in Poughkeepsie opposing the Vietnam War. Over the next five decades, Granoff has continued to strive for peace by warning the world of the threat of nuclear weapons to earth’s survival. He serves as President of the Global Security Institute and Permanent Observer for the International Anti-Corruption Academy to the United Nations.
On March 23, the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College honored Granoff for his life’s work by presenting him with the AAVC Distinguished Achievement Award. “Jonathan has pursued his passion to keep the world safe and foster and preserve the human family,” AAVC President Monica Vachher ’77 said during the presentation ceremony in Rockefeller Hall. “The AAVC is proud to recognize Jonathan’s achievements.”
Amy Pullman ’71, chair of the AAVC selection committee, noted that “Jonathan stood out [as a recipient for the award] because of his ceaseless work for international peace. His role in the United Nations and on the Taskforce on Nuclear Nonproliferation is all the more important given the heightened tensions among the nuclear superpowers as evidenced by the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”
Prior to the presentation of the award, Granoff and fellow alum Chip Reid ’77, former national correspondent for NBC and CBS News, engaged in a conversation about Granoff’s work. During her introduction, Vassar President Elizabeth H. Bradley noted that renowned anthropologist and world peace advocate Jane Goodall had once described Granoff as someone “who tackles what seems to be impossible. So many people don’t believe it will ever be possible to have world peace, to have a world without nuclear weapons. But Jonathan never gives up.”
One of Reid’s first questions for Granoff addressed this tenacity. “Folks of my generation remember the old ‘duck and cover’ drills in school, when we were told that hiding under our desks and covering our heads would protect us from atomic bombs,” Reid said. “But most people don’t think about this issue very often, and it’s up to people like you to get us thinking about it again. Do we still need to worry?”
Granoff answered the question by listing a series of near-misses involving nuclear weapons, any of which might have virtually destroyed civilization. He was a narrator of a 2013 documentary film, The Man Who Saved the World, which chronicled the story of the Soviet Union’s Lt. Colonel Stanislav Petrov, who was a duty officer in the command center of the country’s early warning satellite system. The Soviet computers warned of an imminent U.S. nuclear attack, but Petrov chose not to issue the order to retaliate, and he soon confirmed that no American missiles were heading toward Moscow.
Granoff said that when he asked Petrov why he hadn’t issued the order to launch the Soviet missiles, the officer replied, “I am computer scientist and I know computers make mistakes.” Petrov then added, “I didn’t think God wanted to end the world.”
Granoff said that when he asked Petrov if his Soviet superiors had been grateful that he had not ordered the launch or upset that he had ignored military protocols, Petrov replied that they were “most upset that I believed in God.”
That incident was just one of many nuclear “oopses” that could have been catastrophic, Granoff told the members of the Vassar community who attended the AAVC ceremony and those who watched via Zoom. During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, two of the three Soviet officers authorized to order a nuclear strike wanted to do so, but the third officer overrode them, Granoff said. A year earlier, a B52 bomber carrying a nuclear weapon crashed in North Carolina “and six of the seven safety measures failed.” In 1995, a Norwegian weather satellite that drifted into Soviet air space was temporarily mistaken for a nuclear strike, and in 2009, two nuclear submarines—one British and one French— collided in the North Sea.
“As you can see, accidents happen,” Granoff said, but he added that diplomatic progress has been made in mitigating the threat of nuclear disaster. He noted that two Republican U.S. presidents—Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon—played key roles in reducing these threats. Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev reached an agreement on a treaty that reduced the number of nuclear warheads in the world from 65,000 to less than 14,000. Granoff said Reagan and Gorbachev had “soberly concluded that a nuclear war could never be won and therefore should never be fought, and that eventually ended the Cold War.”
A decade earlier, Granoff said, Nixon had helped to negotiate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He said these two key events involving conservative Republican presidents illustrate that the effort to preserve world peace “is not a political issue but a human issue.”
During a talk earlier in the day in a class taught by Professor of Political Science Stephen Rock, Granoff told the 25 students they faced the “slow burn” of climate change and the “fast burn” of the threat of a nuclear holocaust. But he added that he was more hopeful that solutions to these threats can be found thanks to advances in technology that enable people throughout the world to connect with and relate to each other. He said his work had brought him to classrooms of students in Russia and China “and they are just like you.”
As he concluded his conversation with Chip Reid several hours later, Granoff again addressed Vassar students. “In whatever profession you choose, there will be opportunities to bring intention into action,” he said. “Seize them.”