Thinking About The Unthinkable

Rising fears about the dangers of nuclear war

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In Chicago, some 350 professors from 42 colleges and universities have banded together since January to form CAFF: Chicago Area Faculty for a Freeze. "This is a first for me," said Bruce Winstein, a University of Chicago physicist who joined the group. "I've never gotten involved before, but finally I can see where I can make a difference." In South Dakota, which has 150 missile sites and an imposing military payroll, eight city councils have so far passed their own nuclear-freeze resolutions. "South Dakota is the last place people think something like this would be going on," says Tim Langley, director of the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center. "But the sense has grown here that we are entering a new phase of the arms race, that we are getting ready to fight a nuclear war." In St. Paul, Minn., Bonnie Iverson, 37, a mother of two, is busy collecting signatures for her state's freeze resolution. "I get nervous about going door to door," she confides, "but it's a cause I believe in. It's the notion of what would happen to the land and all life. If nuclear war happens, I hope the bomb hits right here because I don't want to live to see it."

The strength of the antinuclear sentiment is especially surprising in the South, considering the region's traditional conservatism and its dependence on the military for its livelihood. In at least six of the region's states, the largest single employer is the Department of Defense. The board of supervisors in Loudoun County, Va., adopted a nuclear-freeze resolution last week, and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young has signed his city's petition. Physicians for Social Responsibility has 16 chapters in the South; last year there were none. Says South Carolina Lieutenant Governor

Nancy Stevenson, whose state is home to a Poseidon missile factory and the nation's only weapons-grade plutonium plant: "These installations have been here for years, but I do think our people are now uncomfortably aware that South Carolina plays a far greater role than we would wish in nuclear matters." Even more remarkable has been the reception given to four saffron-clad Buddhist monks from Japan, who are trudging along highways in the South chanting prayers of peace. The monks believe that the ground they cross will be protected from nuclear war; they began their pilgrimage from New Orleans last January and hope to reach New York City by June. "We have been met with great interest," said Jinju Moorishita last week, after being greeted by 150 well-wishers who walked to the outskirts of Athens, Ga., in a gesture of welcome. "People do not ignore us."

Religious leaders and groups have played an increasingly important role in the movement. At least 70 Roman Catholic bishops (of the 368 in the U.S.) have spoken out against the arms race or in favor of a nuclear freeze, and the hierarchy's umbrella organization, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, plans to vote on a major statement about nuclear war at its annual meeting in November. Bishop Leroy Matthiesen of Amarillo, Texas, has even urged Catholics working at a nearby nuclear-weapons assembly plant to consider switching jobs, and has set up a $10,000 fund to help workers who quit the plant for moral reasons.

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