Nuclear Freeze

“James J. Kilpatrick is a human being after all,” the young woman said joyously, as she waved the day’s Washington Post at her friend.

What could the crusty columnist have written, I wondered, to provoke such a rare observation? An hour later, I got to my copy of the Post and saw why.

Here was the reactionary, hawkish, militaristic, veteran anti-communist James J. Kilpatrick calling for a nuclear weapons freeze! “The theory of mutual assured destruction is a fine theory,” he wrote. “It lacks only the virtue of reality. A point was reached long ago at which both the United States and the Soviet Union had such monstrous arsenals that further accretions became senseless. These have been 37 years of lunacy, of idiots racing against imbeciles, of civilized nations staggering blindly toward a finish line of unspeakable peril.” Kilpatrick concluded: “The immediate necessity is to call a truce, to stop the further buildup of nuclear weapons by either side.”

Ronald Reagan, if you still think that the citizens’ movement for a mutual nuclear weapons freeze excludes your own constituency, meet Mr. Kilpatrick.

Springtime in America brings national causes to the forefront. But there is more to the arousal of the Americans against the horrific possibility of nuclear war than the melting of the snows and the coming of the daffodils. Unlike previous cycles of similar concern, this drive, highlighted by the nationwide, non-partisan educational campaign called “Ground Zero Week” (April 18 to 25), is broadly based, highly focused and skillful with media.

Even nuclear hard-liners concede that too many sectors of American society–teachers, clergy, workers, students, elderly, farmers and business people–are involved in the drive for a nuclear weapons freeze to dismiss them as a radical fringe group. The first objective–backed by New England town meeting votes, a California referendum effort this fall, and congressional resolutions–is advisory only. It calls upon the government to heed the depth of grass-roots feeling, drop the belligerent rhetoric and start serious negotiations for a freeze on the production, testing and deployment of nuclear weapons with the Russians.

It is unfortunate that a similar grass-roots movement cannot start now in the Soviet Union. But there is little doubt that the Russian people, unable to speak out together, want no part of atomic war. Too many of them remember the destruction of their country by the Nazis, when 22 million of their countrymen lost their lives.

To drive their point home, leading freeze advocates like the Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Union of Concerned Scientists are showing films and conducting lectures in cities, towns and villages. Their main point: A nuclear war is not winnable and a full-fledged exchange between the two powers would annihilate both countries. As Jonathan Schell points out in his new book, “The Fate of the Earth,” a nuclear weapons exchange is not war, which presupposes subsequent political objectives, but annihilation, which presupposes national extinction.

These and other citizen groups are asking people to ask themselves the question: “Exactly HOW can I make a difference?” In late April and early May, a film by the Public Interest Video Network called “Thinking Twice About Nuclear War” will be broadcast on more than 150 public television stations. The 30-minute film is the personal story of the Strandberg family of Richmond, Va., and how they react to their learning about the arms race and nuclear war.

Will the arms-control movement last? Or will it blow over as just another temporary surge of the population toward hope and peace? The answer depends on organizational depth. If the huge rallies planned this spring from California to New York help to lead to the establishment of permanent offices throughout the country where full-time and volunteer staff keep gathering the momentum and focusing the issues, this life-preserving network can endure and move to higher stages of effectiveness.

There are many more future leaders in the least likely places around America who can nourish the strength and diversity of this movement. What is needed is a determined sense of continuity, a relentlessness that can more than take the measure of the relentlessness of the arms race.

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