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Unfinished march

A businessman working for peace called on us last week just before going to New York for what turned out to be the largest antiwar rally in history. He had not intended to join in, he said. But then he heard that business was not to be represented as a group, so he took some signs to ensure that its presence would be noted. Now that the presence of three quarters of a million demonstrators has been noted, the need is to carry forward the peacemaking impulse of that businessman and those from every other walk of life who made Saturday such a full-throated cry of the heart.

How to do it?

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Channels range from international arms -- control measures to individual and organized peace activities to what may be the most challenging -- and eventually effective - of all: the cultivation of attitudes and qualities that can elevate the race beyond resort to war.

The latter might have seemed the starriest idealism in a previous age. It might seem so now, as no less than four simultaneous wars defy reason and humanity in vain gropings for military solutions.

But the magnitude of the threat of nuclear war makes this idealism soberly practical. It calls on each of us as never before to think a different kind of unthinkable -- the possibility that ''human nature'' is not forever fixed as prone to war, that survival requires it to be open to ''the renewing of your mind,'' in the biblical phrase.

Such thoughts may have been unstated as the New York marchers listened to music and speeches against arms and policies outside themselves. Yet they were (unlike some of Monday's protesters) hinting at humanity's capacity not only to call for peace and responsibility but to be peaceful and responsible. A massive turnout with police reporting no arrests, no damage, and a minimum of litter. Most people Saturday were evidently acting according to that simple golden rule which could change the world if carried into every realm -- home, school, work, government.

It is peace within the people -- the elimination of violent thoughts and actions, the growth of compassion and forbearance -- that generates peace within their leaders. There should have been no place in the New York rally for the occasional speaker who jarringly lashed out with political hostility in the name of peace. The call for peace can be firm without being bellicose.

President Reagan has already responded to the antiwar groundswell. Whatever the congressional outcome on the various nuclear freeze proposals, the popular pressure can help maintain the President's current commitment to upholding SALT II and making progress in the START negotiations which begin soon. His speech at the United Nations disarmament session this week is an opportunity to cement his peacemaking leadership.

The world's march to peace can be supported in ways besides literally marching, whether in New York or the European cities that preceded it. One New York nonmarcher said she preferred to write letters and give money. That businessman marcher was going home to continue organizing and spreading the word among his fellow executives.

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A minimum step for anyone is be informed. What are the moral considerations surrounding nuclear weapons, for example? What is the role of deterrence? Such questions will be discussed next Monday in the first of a Monitor series on the whole spectrum of nuclear weapons issues. These must be thoughtfully addressed to keep the disarmament debate sound.But individuals still face the undebatable necessity of seeing how far their own attitudes contribute to the climate for peace.

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