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THE NUCLEAR NUMBERS game will start up again in earnest when American and Soviet negotiators sit down in Geneva next week to talk missiles. Our side will point to the overhead scoreboard and insist that we cannot help deploving more intermediate-range weapons unless the Soviets cut back. Team Moscow will haul out the old launchers-versus-warheads stall offense, arguing that parity already exists and that Washington is the culprit behind continuing NATO-Warsaw Pact tension. Grandstand experts will keep track of SS-20s and Pershing 2s: Time magazine will run charts showing cartoon missilemen arm wrestling or playing hop-scotch--one wearing Uncle Sam's top hat, the other a Cossack's headgear.
For too many Americans, the real issue--achieving significant progress toward the ultimate goal of multilateral disarmament--may be rost in this flurry of rhetoric and throw-weight rosters. They will watch Ronald Reagan and Leonid Brezhnev shift the spotlight to the ever-contradictory statistics and the perceptions of false security they create. The unwillingness of government leaders and strategic scholars to distance themselves from minutiae and set aside their vaunted political symbolism, even in this most dangerous of all confrontations, demonstrates an estrangement from the real issues. Citizens here must follow the lead of European activists and voice an overwhelming demand for rationality and action.
Bringing this theme to the forefront of American politics was perhaps the main objective of this month's nationwide Nuclear Convocation, a one-day event attended by 200,000 people on 150 college campuses. Two thousand gathered for panel discussions and workshops at Harvard. They heard people like arms negotiator Paul Warnke and scientist George Kistiakowsky explain our moral responsibility to prevent at all costs a war that could make large portions of this planet uninhabitable.
It might not be astounding that some would prefer that laymen butt out of this area and leave the politicians and think-tank strategists to their numbers game. On Saturday, The Crimson printed an Opinion Page article by Kennedy School research associate Stephen M. Walt, who argues that mass teach-ins foster "oversimplified and ultimately erroneous" conceptions that "may make matters worse" in the struggle for disarmament. His reasoning aptly flaunts the dangers inherent when specialists lose perspective on the task confronting them.
WALT SCOFFS AT CALLS heard here on November 11 for sharp decreases in nuclear arsenals, asserting that such a move could only increase the possibility of a disarming strike. "If each side had few weapons," Walt writes, "one would have to worry quite seriously that the other side would be tempted to destroy those few in a first strike." What he does not mention is the profusion of tactical and middle-range missiles throughout Europe and the constant threat of escalation they have created, Nuclear holocaust becomes the endgame on a chessboard designed for conventional warfare.
He offers no alternative to large-scale reductions and seems more interested in scolding Warnke for describing NATO build-up plans in terms of their political motivations. The new systems would be "ideal for striking logistical 'choke points' at the rear of an attacking Soviet army," Walt says. Warnke and numerous other experts have pointed out that existing U.S. land-and sea-based missiles could easily stop advancing armies if reducing all of Europe to a radioactive wasteland became desirable strategy.
Walt justifiably complains that the single Soviet representative to the Harvard conference, diplomat Yuri Kaprolov, presented a one-sided, and largely incorrect, history of the arms race. But Walt does not add that other speakers were quick to express similar skepticism at the time. Because the audience demonstrated a naive enthusiasm by applauding the Soviet emissary, they should not be condemned to silence on the broader issues under scrutiny. Walt's suggestion that the public reserve criticism of current policies until it can offer politicians and military leaders detailed and specific proposals reveals not only narrow-minded elitism, but also a perverted sense of the role the public plays in the political process.
And nobody should mistake the politics of that precess. For example, Reagan has often preached of the need for mid-range nuclear forces in Europe to prove the effectiveness of the overall U.S. nuclear umbrella in protecting the Western Alliance in the event of some devastating Soviet conventional attack. But the president amended his argument last week merely to get a jump in the pre-Geneva jousting. He said that NATO could do without our theater forces if the Soviets would also cut back. Thus, when one symbol becomes more useful than another, we casually fold our umbrella in a little and somehow security isn't affected. You don't need to know much about logistical "choke points" to challenge the Reagan-Brezhnev fantasy framework of arms competition.
IT IS THIS BRAZENLY POLITICAL APPROACH to the problems of a nuclear age that makes the message of the Nuclear Convocation day vital. Walt, and others who might reject the validity of teach-ins, fail to acknowledge their value as preliminary educational and organizational tools. Consider just a few of the accomplishments achieved here and at other schools: student peace groups received new encouragement and direction for long-term anti-war activism; physicians and scientists strengthened their growing political network, which is designed, in part, to provide specific information on such topics as the infeasibility of coping medically with nuclear war; and citizens at large were reminded by a broad variety of speakers that nuclear war must be seen as a danger distinct from conventional conflict in its capacity to destroy the future as well as the present.
Students played a major role in first questioning and then opposing American involvement in Vietnam. That movement began with mass teach-ins not unlike this month's event. Then, as now, the individuals who rejected the status quo--despite explanations as to why things could not be otherwise--arrived at the truth before everyone else. Popular opposition will contribute to the necessary goal of ending the arms race.
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