Thinking About The Unthinkable

Rising fears about the dangers of nuclear war

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Perhaps the most significant local freeze campaign involves the so-called California initiative, which would require the state's Governor, reflecting the will of the people, to advise the President that he should propose to the Soviet Union an immediate halt to the "testing, production and further deployment of nuclear weapons ... in a way that can be verified by both sides." The brainchild of Liberal Activist Harold Willens, board chairman of the Los Angeles-based Factory Equipment Corp., the initiative has been endorsed by Governor Jerry Brown. Backers have gathered more than 600,000 signatures, nearly twice as many as are necessary to have the initiative placed on the November ballot. "We feel that we're on the cutting edge of a new phenomenon," says Willens. "It's going to be very hard for the opposition to sweep us into the corner as a fringe group." Indeed, early estimates are that the referendum measure could pass with 65% of the vote.

There is considerable diversity in the goals and activities of the various antinuclear groups. The Lawyers Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control, for example, was founded a year ago by Alan Sherr, 34, a Boston attorney. "I felt then as I do now that there has got to be a popular initiative on this issue or else no one will really make the difference," says Sherr, who considers himself a political moderate. Since the alliance opened its Boston headquarters, membership has grown from 200 to 700, and there are chapters in three other cities. Sherr has intentionally shied away from endorsing any specific proposal for a nuclear-weapons freeze, and instead is concentrating the alliance's efforts on educating other lawyers about the perils of nuclear war. Thus, the alliance is sponsoring symposiums throughout the country and plans to seek a resolution of support from the American Bar Association.

In Boulder, Colo., the three county commissioners voted earlier this month to revoke their endorsement of a nuclear-disaster evacuation plan proposed for their city by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the nation's civil defense programs. The switch came after more than 1,000 residents crammed into a downtown theater and listened as speakers denounced the plans as "a grave joke" and "an illusion." Said Betsy Moen, professor of sociology at the University of Colorado: "The plan doesn't even mention radiation. Once a bomb is launched, it will be an all-out war and no community in the U.S. will be exempt."

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