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For and Against a Freeze

10 minute read

Voices from a citizens’ chorus on a complex issue

Why has the nuclear-freeze movement emerged at this moment of American history? How seriously should it be taken? TIME asked a sampling of influential citizens who are deeply engaged in the nuclear debate to comment on the issues involved. Their responses:

ALAN CRANSTON, Democratic Senator from California and presidential aspirant: The peace movement in Europe has spread across the ocean, and back into Eastern Europe, I might add. Another factor is that Ronald Reagan frightens people. The rhetoric has alarmed people. The calls for huge increases in defense spending make us wonder. So have the absurd statements by Administration officials that a nuclear war can be survived, if one has a shovel and can dig a hole fast enough. It’s a form of sickness not to face up to and deal with the situation. But people are beginning to emerge from that sickness and come to grips with it.

It’s a terrible thing to think about. It’s very tough, but it has to be dealt with. It will have to come by an act of leadership from both the U.S. and U.S.S.R., a willingness to engage in negotiations like there have never been before. We have to cut out the diplomatic dance. This madness can only be broken by leaders of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. sitting down and agreeing that this must stop.

We cannot let infinite detail get in the way, as in other arms talks. There should be no agenda worked out by staff in advance. We should just sit down and talk about it. The Soviets don’t want to be blown up in a nuclear war; they know the danger. We’ll never know if nuclear weapons have been eliminated. The threat will be with mankind forever. [But without action], sooner or later a nuclear war will happen. Possibly all life will end. If that’s possible, we have to act on the assumption that it’s true. We have to avoid ever finding out.

EDWARD TELLER, “father” of the hydrogen bomb and a Reagan Administration science adviser: I hope [the nuclear-freeze movement] will not become an important force. I hope more sense will prevail. If the nuclear freeze goes through, this country won’t exist in 1990. The Soviet Union is a country that has had totalitarian rule for many hundreds of years, and what a relatively small ruling class there might do can be very different from what a democratic country can decide to do. The rulers in the Kremlin are as eager as Hitler was to get power over the whole world. But unlike Hitler they are not gamblers. If we can put up a missile defense that makes their attack dubious, chances are they will never try the attack. We can avoid a third world war, but only if strength is in the hands of those who want peace more than they want power.

Our policy of [military] secrecy is very badly overdone. It makes the public discussion irrational, because it wipes out the difference between people who know what they are talking about and those who do not. Those who do know are not allowed to say what they know. Therefore, the whole discussion is made on an uninformed basis. By practicing secrecy we are doing nothing except impeding our collaboration with our allies and keeping the American people in ignorance.

JOHN QUINN, Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco: Any weapon that can bring about irreversible ecological damage to large portions of the earth, untold genetic damage for countless generations to come, and that can destroy in the most horrifying manner massive noncombatant populations is a colossal evil and totally immoral. The very real possibility of the destruction of all life on our planet is above all a religious and moral issue.

At the same time, the billions of dollars which are being spent on these arms each year by a growing number of nations is an appalling form of theft, when so many of the world’s dispossessed are being deprived of the possibilities of a minimal human existence in a world of abundance. It is the very dismissal of these moral considerations that now threatens to project us into an abyss of fantasy, in which a nuclear war is thought of as possible and even survivable.

MICHAEL NOVAK, Roman Catholic philosopher and neoconservative social critic: The point of deterrence is to deter. Weapons do not fire themselves. Where the will is lacking, deterrence is absent. To deter nuclear disaster and the spread of totalitarian power is not a pleasant business. It is not a form of cheap grace. It demands of us extremes of self-discipline and self-sacrifice. National security is not separable from the defense of free institutions, built at the cost of so much intellectual diligence, sweat and blood.

Those who choose deterrence do not choose less than the highest human values; they choose the only state of development within which human beings would freely choose to live. It is not “better to be dead than Red”; it is better to be neither. As the history of our time amply demonstrates, some who choose the latter have not avoided the former. Avoidance of both sickening alternatives is the moral good which deterrence, and deterrence alone, effects.

The bishops [who favor a nuclear freeze] use the freedom purchased for them by the strategy of deterrence they decry to look down upon those who keep them free. I call them the “war bishops” because their views are more likely to lead to war than the alternative.

CYRUS VANCE, former Secretary of State: I urge a rapid resumption of SALT II negotiations and a serious effort at a successful conclusion. I think it is realistic to expect the Soviets to agree to further reductions beyond the SALT II figures [on strategic launchers] plus accepting other cosmetic changes. It is important to recognize that there will be pressures on both sides not to continue the tacit observance of SALT II. For example, Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev’s latest statement suggests to me that they will create a new [missile] system, perhaps putting a third stage on the intermediate-range SS-20, converting it into an intercontinental missile, which is prohibited by SALT. There will be parallel pressures on the U.S. to break out of the SALT constraints.

Second, we should pursue Theater Nuclear Force talks in parallel with the effort to push ahead with START [Strategic Arms Reduction Talks]. Third, we should look seriously for progress in the negotiations on equalizing conventional forces in Europe. I think some sort of breakthrough would then be possible on battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe. If the Soviets would agree to equal conventional force levels with NATO, the battlefield weapons could be withdrawn, particularly from the forward areas where the threat of their being overrun represents one of the major threats of early use of nuclear weapons.

MARVIN GOLDBERGER, atomic scientist and president of the California Institute of Technology: In the fall of 1981 I was on a committee to select prospective Rhodes scholars from all over California. Cecil Rhodes asked that people be chosen who could “contribute to the world’s fight.” I asked all these 16 exceptional young men and women what they considered to be the central problem in “the world’s fight.” Every single one answered that the issue was how to reduce the danger of nuclear war.

I can find much to argue about in any of the various bilateral nuclear freeze proposals now under discussion. But that’s not what is truly important. The freeze initiatives are an attempt by the people of this country to do something, to get the attention of our leaders, to say that we must put an end to this madness that has been going on for the past 35 years. No one suggests that a freeze is an end in itself. It is a beginning that must be followed immediately by an orderly, thoughtful, realistic and verifiable reduction in nuclear arms, and a renewed dedication to the prevention of a further spread of nuclear weapons.

JEROME WIESNER, engineer and former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: There has been for a long time deep-seated fear of nuclear war, but only since those in power have begun to talk openly about the prospects of fighting and winning a nuclear war have people recognized the danger. When the leaders of the Government say they are prepared to fight a nuclear war and it really isn’t going to be all that painful, the public response is not all that surprising. In a sense this Administration has been more honest with us than its predecessors.

The nuclear-freeze proposal is a good start, for it would be a major change in the direction the world is going. It is a very important first step, and a perfectly safe one. The freeze would not eliminate nuclear weapons, but it would stop increasingly dangerous new technology. The current deterrent forces on both sides are sufficiently secure so that either the President or Mr. Brezhnev could declare a unilateral freeze and challenge the other to join.

SIMON RAMO, co-founder of TRW Inc. (a major electronics and aerospace firm), chief scientist for the ICBM program in the 1950s and consultant on strategic policy for seven Administrations: The nuclear-arms race has become far more expensive, useless and perilous than either the U.S. or the Soviet Union can continue to countenance. Neither nation can hope now to gain any military advantage or add to its security by using or threatening to use nuclear bombs. Massive retaliation must be expected by any would-be first striker who is not insane. Not even a surprise attack could be successful. Such an operation cannot be rehearsed even once. A 1% imperfection in performance, a level which experienced weapons engineers would call absurdly optimistic, would be intolerable to the attacker.

Thus deliberately starting a nuclear war with the goal of winning is an idea whose time, if it ever came, has passed. The more perilous possibility is a crisis provoked by the temporary irrationality of leadership, a result of panic, misinformation or misunderstanding. Both sides should recognize that the only reason left for a nuclear capability is to deter the other side from ever using it. It would be an act of world leadership for both superpowers to admit that fact and take necessary steps toward nuclear-arms reduction.

JOSEPH NYE, Harvard University professor and former Deputy Under Secretary of State for nonproliferation policy: A sensible nuclear policy has to make clear to people that the weapons are usable enough to be credible and deter the Soviets, but are not so usable that they are actually used. We have a very narrow box in which to work. If the Reagan Administration had taken arms control more seriously sooner, that would have helped to reassure the public that there was an intention to manage this narrow space between these two extremes.

I personally do not think the [nuclear] freeze is the right idea. The type of weapon is more important than the number of weapons when you are concerned with crisis stability. We should not get ourselves in a position where we are left with some weapons that are destabilizing and prohibited from moving in the direction of weapons that might be stabilizing.

The escapism of the right is to treat nuclear weapons just like other weapons in warfare; the escapism of the left is to treat them as though you could make them all go away. If you don’t believe either of those is realistic, then you have to continually think how to make sure that you preserve a careful management of nuclear weapons.

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