Belittling the Freeze

Freeze' How You Can Help Prevent Nuclear War By Sen Edward M Kennedy '54 (D-Mass.) and Mark O Hatfield (R.Ore) Bantam Books: $3.50; 267 pp.

FILLER IS THE FOUNDATION of any newspaper All that semi-consequential stuff like Twistagrams, notice columns and "quotes of the day" is vital to keep readers occupied between the real news and the advertising. Without filler, most paper would look like gray and white checkerboards.

But filler is not a good thing to put in a book--it makes you look like your really don't have that much to say. And this is precisely the problem with Freeze! Of the book's 267 pages, 105 contain nothing but filler maps, lists, charts and tables, all of which for example a list of members of Congress--are available elsewhere.

All this filler is supposed to dramatize the three told message of the book's text Nuclear war is a threat to human survival a freeze on the arms race is the only way to prevent such a catastrophe, and ordinary citizens have the power. If they act now, to make the superpowers agree to a freeze. And it is indeed a compelling message Kennedy and Hatfield or more correctly, their staffs, who are cited in the acknowledgements as the true authors of the book--ably recount the horrible facts about atomic destruction. They also provide an interesting and useful history of the freeze movement, and of how nuclear weapons have overnight become the hottest issue in the nation.

The senators argument for a freeze rightly focuses on the economic may hem caused by the defense buildup and the failure of previous, more "sophisticated" approaches to arms control They also prove that a freeze is truly verifiable and would entail no loss of the deterrent currently insured by our nuclear arsenal.

But these important points keep getting drowned in the filler. The chapter of citizen action to promote a freeze is interrupted with "here is a list of the 33 states in which senate elections will be held in November, 1982. "Famous" "witnesses for a nuclear freeze" spout repetitive platitudes throughout a 38-page appendix. The impact of a description of a nuclear holocaust is blunted by 28 pages of number-laden tables that include such vital facts as the number of casualties that Ashtabula, Ohio will endure in a nuclear attack.


THERE IS A REASON for all this filler, however. That reason is right on the cover, where it says "by Senator Edward M. Kennedy." You only need to fill a book with filler when you have to rush to get it out. And you only have to rush a book out when you're trying to capitalize on a hot political issue. And one reason to capitalize on a hot issue is that it might help you get elected president someday.

Freeze! may well be designed to help people learn how they can prevent nuclear war, but its main method of accomplishing this seems to be to remind the public that Ted Kennedy is out front on the issue--if you want a freeze, pull the lever next to his name in 1984. Indeed, Kennedy's book is part of his strategy to ride a wave of nuclear protest into the White House.

This strategy is risky for the Massachusetts Democrat. Kennedy is gambling that by 1984 arms control will still be a live issue. Unfortunately, this is a gamble whose odds are largely beyond his control. Incumbent presidents hold the foreign policy reins and can easily manufacture "achievements" to defuse explosive discontent. That's what Richard Nixon did to George McGovern in 1972, when he had Henry A. Kissinger '50 declare a month before the election, that peace was "at hand" in Vietnam. Ronald Reagan, by sponsoring the Jackson-Warner "counter-freeze" resolution and pushing his START talks has shown his willingness to use this advantage. In addition, a belligerent move by the Soviets between now and 1984 could make anyone who stuck his neck out for negotiations in 1982 look like a naive appeaser. It wasn't so long ago that Afghanistan did exactly that to Jimmy Carter, ushering in that tough-talking California arms-racer we all know and love.

Kennedy's willingness to take these risks, however, speaks well of his sincerity. After all, he could have let others--like Mark Hatfield, a tireless exponent of peace--speak out for the freeze resolution. But his presidential aspirations also make Kennedy's support for a freeze an act of opportunism. Ironically, this opportunism may damage the freeze movement in the long run.

For by taking the freeze issue out of the streets and into Congress. Kennedy and Hatfield have turned arms control into a political football. This was inevitable, but many in the freeze movement believe that the Kennedy-Hatfield resolution came too early, before public opinion had shifted far enough in its favor. The freeze movement has lost the element of surprise, which was its greatest advantage. Now Reagans and Jacksons and Warners have been handed an opportunity to package their phony proposals as genuine "arms control." In other words, Kennedy challenged the nuclear hawks before they were completely on the defensive, while political ownership of the word "freeze" was still up for grabs.

At any rate, the political tempo of the arms control issue has been irreversibly accelerated. A vitally important debate--in which the slapdash Freeze! is only a marginally useful source of information--is now raging. The power of such grassroots controversy to affect policy has been confirmed by Ted Kennedy's eagerness to capitalize on it, and by Ronald Reagan's efforts to thwart it. And that potential is perhaps the best reason for hoping that the initiative for arms control has permanently shifted to the people in the streets and away, from even the most well-meaning of politicians in the Congress.

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