Preventing Nuclear War Through Community

A country housewife turned peace worker shares some suggestions for preventing nuclear war.
By Becky Garlick
January/February 1985
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Note: Peace Links - North Carolina — the non-profit organization mentioned in this article — closed in 2011. From the organization's website: "Though the need for peacemaking is clearly not over, all our members are actively involved in other important work. It's time to let this organization, with its wonderful history, retire."  


It was 15 years ago when my husband, Bill, and I decided that homesteading was for us. We left our busy city lives in Baltimore and for six months traveled the back roads of our country in search of a new, rural home. Now, years later, we have made a place for our family to live "happily ever after" in the mountains of western North Carolina. Bill has an established career as a family practitioner, and we have three beautiful children.

And we are afraid for our lives.

We were not more than four months into our new home when my peaceful life in the country was bombarded with fear. I didn't start locking the doors at night or even taking the keys out of the car, but I did begin having devastating visions of the holocaust that may come. I could see my children dying from radiation sickness, seared with burns and in deep pain, wanting me to do something for them...and me with no power to help in any way.

What could I do to keep this vision from becoming reality? How could I, a full-time mother of three children under the age of 6, a woman who was afraid of even talking about my fears of the future, work on preventing nuclear war? Wasn't that asking too much? I didn't even know what a megaton or an ICBM was. All I knew was that I was afraid that Bill and I would never live to a ripe old age and that our children wouldn't have any future at all.

But motherhood motivated and empowered me in a way I never dreamed possible. I had spent a lot of energy on keeping poisons and other potentially dangerous objects from my children. How could I not extend these protective instincts and work on preventing nuclear war? I knew that I needed to try something — anything. I couldn't bear the thought of saying "If only I had..." at the start of a nuclear exchange.

But it can be quite scary to speak out. Besides, where does one start with such an immense issue, anyway? My own starting point was at a dinner party when I interrupted two men — a nuclear physicist and my physician husband — who were talking, calmly, about what could be done in the event of a nuclear war. I broke in to ask why we weren't spending our time talking about what we could do to prevent a nuclear exchange. It was that evening when my fears of speaking out on this issue began to be transformed into a power I never knew existed in me. I talked about how men have, for the most part, solved problems by waging wars. I said that it is important in this nuclear age that women's unique peacemaking capacities — their protective foresight, their sense of interrelatedness, their ability to communicate — be strongly represented and listened to in the political arena. And as I explained my idea of utilizing the feminine aspect of human nature to prevent a nuclear war, the two men's responses were positive and remarkably encouraging.

That first step, simply speaking up at a dinner party, led me to find a group of women who felt the way I did: women who didn't have a lot of facts, were afraid of nuclear war and were tired of feeling helpless; women who were willing to try to fit peacemaking into their busy lives, to attempt to regain some power and provide a future for all of us. That group is Peace Links — Women against Nuclear War — a nationwide, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded by Betty Bumpers and based in Washington, D.C. I asked a friend to help me organize a chapter of Peace Links in western North Carolina. Now, a year later, I'm speaking in public about peace-related issues (something I never envisioned myself doing) and organizing meetings, forums, panels and workshops, as well as working for Peace Day, an annual international event.

Personal Peace Action

These days, I spend much of my time helping other people to take action for peace. And I've learned that becoming active as a peacemaker doesn't have to be difficult, time-consuming or pointless. Instead, taking action transforms one's fear into hope, helps bring about change in our country and could very well be what does provide a future for our children. The individuals I've worked with and thousands of other people can testify that this is true; so can I. I've seen a mother move from storing survival staples in her basement to working daily on getting the Junior League to take on the issue of nuclear war. I've watched her skeptical and unsupportive husband be completely won over by her commitment. ("What are you doing, honey?" "Writing a letter to the newspaper about nuclear war." "Why? You know that really is pointless. It won't do any good. Move over. You know, you could mention...")

I know a woman who was constantly horrified by the things she read in the newspaper. She decided to do her best to educate the public so that people would demand a change. She now carries in her purse a small pad of paper (with stickum on the back of each piece) that has messages written on each page — quotes such as:

In 1985, the average American household will contribute $3,500 to the defense budget in their tax dollars.  

-Gordon Adams
Defense Budget Project

She sticks these on the mirrors in the most widely used rooms in this country: public bathrooms.

Imagine what would happen if all of us who deny our fears of nuclear war or who deny that we can do something to prevent it simply spoke out in our individual ways. What a choir!

Still (as I well know), it can be quite frightening to speak out. Taking action can feel almost as immense and intimidating as the threat of nuclear war itself. Consequently, most of us need, especially at first, to take small, slow steps. The easiest way to become active is to take a few minutes right now and look at your daily activities. Ask yourself how you can bring your desire for a safe and peaceful world into such regular activities.

Your role in peacemaking can be as unique as you are. In fact, brainstorming ways to prevent nuclear war — with a group, a friend or even alone — is one of the most creative and effective ways to initiate action in peacemaking. So, while I'll now list a few suggestions that may help you incorporate prevention of nuclear war into your existing lifestyle, don't limit your thinking to these ideas!

Clubs

Did you realize that the average American citizen belongs to 10 clubs or organizations? 

  • List the ones that you belong to (include church, PTA, co-op, bridge or poker group, etc.).
  • Network peacemaking into these organizations. Have peace put on the agenda and invite a speaker or peace panel for a program.
  • Form a peace panel to take to existing organizations. (Peace Links can provide a how-to guide for forming a peace panel.)
  • List the groups you contribute to. Find out if these organizations support or invest in potentially destructive programs.

Breaking the Ice

Are you afraid to stand up and speak out on this issue? Then, remembering that the first step is usually the hardest, make your initial action as easy as possible by choosing a comfortable environment in which to talk about peace.

  • Have a coffee or quilting bee — or just use your lunch hour at work once a week — to discuss peace-related issues. (Peace Links can provide a Coffee Party Packet with guidelines and facts for discussing the threat of nuclear war.)
  • Wear a pin or put a bumper sticker concerning peace on your car. (It might encourage somebody else to break the ice on the topic.)
  • Take 15 minutes a week to talk with someone about the threat of nuclear war and about some way you both can help prevent its occurrence.
  • Have a dinner party or potluck, and invite your colleagues or spouse's colleagues to discuss this issue and possible actions to take.
  • Start and encourage conversation with your spouse, friends or children about the threat of nuclear war.

Community Peace Action

Do you know how your community feels about this danger?

  • Conduct an informal survey of area attitudes on the threat of nuclear war, perhaps in conjunction with a high school social studies class or a college newspaper. Send the results to your local newspaper!
  • Find out how your local school — children, teachers and parents — is attempting to deal with the fear of nuclear war. Perhaps you can work within the school, teaching alternative methods for conflict resolution and global awareness.
  • Learn how a nuclear war would affect your community and what plans exist now to protect your area should a nuclear war occur. (Peace Links can provide a Local Research Questionnaire to help you do this.)

Does all this sound too simple? Then consider the first step — talking to each other. That is how we begin negotiating in politics, in business and in social situations. Such talking leads to tangible actions that do cause change. It was people like ourselves who initiated the abolitionist movement. Today, we no longer have slavery. It was the average woman complaining of unfair treatment in the work force that spurred on the feminist movement. Now we've had a woman candidate for vice president. And it was the voices of the average black man and woman in this country that gave birth to the civil rights movement.

We are all victims in this nuclear age — black, white, male, female, young, old, rich, poor. And we all have the power to demand an end to the threat of nuclear catastrophe. We, the people of this great, free country, need only to recognize and accept our power.

People in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our government. One of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it.  

-President Dwight D. Eisenhower


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