Something significant is happening in the United States. The American public is beginning to register its concern about the unrelenting nuclear arms race. The nuclear teach-ins on 151 campuses across the United States this week - involving thousands of students and faculty members - is the first such widely organized effort to bring popular pressure to bear on government policy. Whether this will grow into an enduring national movement is not clear. But it is clear that, with seminars taking place in 42 states and joined by military officers, politicians, clergymen, businessmen, the phenomenon is not something the Reagan administration can ignore.
The teach-ins are all the more significant coming as they do against the background of rising concern in other parts of the world as well. In Western Europe the antinuclear, antiwar movement has already made its weight felt. In Eastern Europe, too, governments are experiencing a public backlash to the huge Soviet military presence. In East Germany, Lutheran church organizations have been speaking out against ''militarization'' of the country and expanded military training of children. Romania, long a maverick within the Soviet bloc, has called for a reduction of European long-range nuclear weapons by both NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
Fitting these various strands into a single mold would be misleading. But there seems no escaping the broad conclusion that anti-nuclearism is putting down deeper roots. People everywhere, East and West, are genuinely anxious about humanity's accumulation of more and more atomic bombs and an apparent lack of will to reverse course.
It would be a mistake, too, to see the US seminars as a mirror image of the anti-Vietnam-war teach-ins of the 1960s. Or as reflective of a pacifist trend. Insofar as we can determine, these were not emotional peace demonstrations but level-headed, serious educational debates. The Union of Concerned Scientists, which sponsored the project, sought to avoid rekindling a confrontational mood and to make the arguments for arms control acceptable to political moderates.