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Limiting nuclear arms

The growing movement for a mutual, verifiable Soviet-American freeze on nuclear weapons has become symbolic of something larger. It signals what appears to be a new broad-based American awakening to the need for preventing nuclear war as the only realistic defense against its catastrophic consequences.

Such concerns rose after the carnage of the first atomic bombs and Moscow's development of similar weapons. But they seemed to fade into fatalism or indifference even as later nuclear arms became many times more destructive. For so many members of the public to reject fatalism and become determined to do something -- this must be profoundly encouraging, whatever one's views of the nuclear freeze as such. And it has to be taken into account by Congress and the administration as they consider whether their actions contribute to reducing or increasing the likelihood of war. President Reagan should surely feel an impetus for pressing forward with his effort to go beyond any freeze and actually reduce strategic nuclear weapons on both sides.

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We have just been talking with one of the many American doctors who have taken up the cause to prevent human tragedy on a scale they see as far beyond the capacities of the medical profession to cope with. He said he could spend virtually every evening responding to requests for talks on the subject. The concerned audiences range across the political and social spectrum. He recalled how wary conservative businessmen, for example, become responsive when they see that the goal is not to be confused with unilateral disarmament, pacifism, or the movement against civilian nuclear power.

Signs of public participation appear every day:

The news item about an individual who has given up a present job to work full time for nuclear arms control. The woman who started a billboard campaign in her hometown and saw it turn into a bandwagon. The Colorado city official on TV who describes her conversion to working for prevention. The California petition with more than enough signatures to put a nuclear freeze resolution on the November ballot. The recent passage of freeze resolutions by town meetings in 143 of Vermont's 246 cities and towns. Enactment of a resolution against nuclear weapons by residents of Ashland, N.H. The fact that some fifty more New Hampshire communities will consider a similar resolution later this month.

What does all this say? Part of it is an increasing conviction that the rise of nuclear weapons has changed humanity's choice from peace or war to peace or suicide. Even in a war supposedly limited to conventional weapons, a country with nuclear arms knows that it can fall back on these - and an adversary with nuclear arms may want to prevent this by using them first. What has to be achieved are the attitudes and means to work out conflicts without war. The adversarial approach of one side against the other has to give way to the modern negotiator's approach of both sides against the problem that divides them. This would mean, for instance, Moscow and Washington joining against the common problem of war itself.

A healthy sense of self-preservation ought to move humanity in this direction , toward the elimination of war that has been a dream of the ages but dismissed as a futile dream. More and more individuals, not only in America but elsewhere, seem to be saying thus far and no farther. The horror of nuclear weapons ironically is pushing humankind to determine that the dream of no more war cannot remain a futile dream.

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