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In point of fact, the nuclear issue is one that should be pondered deeply by men everywhere. It certainly has a valid place in any presidential campaign. But so far this year, neither side has fully, accurately, or even honestly explained the basic conflicts involved. As a result there are more confusions and misconceptions about the nuclear issue than about almost any other in recent U.S. political history.
Whose Trigger Finger? What are the facts? Within the context of this year's politics, Goldwater first got himself into nuclear trouble in October of 1963 when, at a Hartford, Conn., press conference, and in his ordinary, offhand fashion, he suggested that NATO "field commanders" (plural) be given greater discretion. about when to use tactical nuclear weapons in the event of attack.
Goldwater later insisted that he had been misquoted, that he was referring only to the supreme commander of NATO. No matter. By then the fat was in the fire. In the New Hampshire presidential primary, New York's Governor Nelson Rockefeller, campaigning against Goldwater, cried: "How can there be sanity when he wants to give area commanders the authority to make decisions on the use of nuclear weapons?" Goldwater, not quite to the point, retorted that he had never proposed to "let every second lieutenant" make nuclear decisions.
Since then, under mounting criticism, Goldwater has constantly tried to clarify his stand, and has consistently succeeded in confusing it. As of now, the fair exposition of his position would be:
> He would give only NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, presently U.S. General Lyman Lemnitzer, any sort of option to use nuclear weapons without direct, specific authorization from the President of the U.S. He has said: "The NATO commander should not be required to wait until the White House calls a conference to decide whether these weapons should be used."
>The option to Lemnitzer would be to use "only tactical, not strategic" nuclear weapons. Goldwater has" described these tactical "nukes" as "conventional any weapon carried by an infantryman or a team of infantrymen." Speaking last month at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Cleveland, he called them "these small, conventional nuclear weapons, which are no more powerful than the firepower you have faced on the battlefield. They simply come in a smaller package."
Dreaming or Leading? Every time Goldwater has spoken on the nuclear issue, his political critics, both Democratic and Republican, have leaped into the argument. Before the Republican Convention in San Francisco, Pennsylvania's Governor William Scranton, then running for the G.O.P. presidential nomination himself, asked: "What does it mean to be a conservative? Does it mean you must be a trigger-happy dreamer in a world that wants from America not slogans but sane leadership?" Again, Scranton said of Goldwater: "He says the decision to unleash nuclear war should be made not by the President but by the commanders in the field."
In Atlantic City, Democratic Convention Keynoter John Pastore cried that "on the question of whose finger should be on the trigger of the atomic bomb, that power today rests solely with the President of the United States.