Washington — Mark Hatfield, who was among the first Americans to see Hiroshima after the atom-bomb blast, now leads a nuclear-freeze movement to prevent that kind of devastation.
''I see all life as a part of God's creation, and I think it's rather audacious and presumptuous of humankind to consider that it has the right to destroy creation, to destroy all life,'' says Mr. Hatfield, a Republican senator and lay minister from Oregon. He leans forward intently, his mild blue eyes lit with the fervor of an Old Testament prophet. ''We've developed the ability to destroy the planet, but that doesn't give us the right to destroy the planet.''
He is sitting in his high-ceilinged Senate office in a straight-backed Victorian chair drawn up to a Revolutionary War drum doubling as a table. Hatfield has just raised the specter of Libya's building a nuclear bomb and warns that 60 other countries will have nuclear weapons by the end of the century. Almost on cue the phone rings, and an aide enters to whisper, ''The President wants to see you this morning.'' Hatfield takes the call. He listens. ''Yes. Yes. . . . I'll be there at 11 o'clock,'' in a calm, dispassionate baritone.
Hatfield is jointly sponsoring with Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts a resolution calling for a freeze on the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons by the United States and the Soviet Union. He is the militant nuclear dove of his party, a man whose warnings echoed at the huge rallies in New York City last weekend keyed to the UN debate on a disarmament resolution.
At a later interview, he is asked about his sudden summons to the White House. Did it have to do with President Reagan's startling proposal three days later that the US and the USSR reduce their strategic missile arsenals by one-third? Senator Hatfield smiles quietly. The official purpose of the visit was to appear at a presidential announcement on the budget, he says. Pause. ''But when I was down there, he (President Reagan) told me he was going to make those remarks at Eureka College, and said he thought I'd be pleased.'' Is Hatfield pleased? He is semi-pleased. Is it enough of a step?
''No. No. Not enough of a step. But . . . I'm delighted, of course. (It's) a step in the correct direction, yes, indeed it is. I think the President's a very sincere man, but I think there's a built-in contingency there (in the President's proposal) that makes it impossible for the Russians to respond to us. I think that they could respond to a freeze.'' He will go campaigning for one, he says as slowly and inexorably as a boulder beginning to roll down a mountain.
Sen. Lawton Chiles (D) of Florida sees a parallel between Hatfield's adamant, initially unpopular stance against the Vietnam war and his present championing of the nuclear freeze: ''I suspect even if it (the freeze resolution) doesn't pass, it will have already had great influence. Some of the steps the President is taking and the other steps couldn't have happened without it. . . . The McGovern-Hatfield amendment was one of the earliest get-out-of-Vietnam propositions. . . . Time after time his propositions did not pass . . . but it was Mark Hatfield's perseverance over the years'' that set the pattern.
Senator Hatfield views the resolution as part of a national groundswell against the imminent possibility of nuclear war. It's one of those instances ''where the people are ahead of the politicians,'' he says. He ticks off the grass-roots support across the country, from New England town-hall resolutions to initiatives for a California referendum on the freeze. But the big push will not come at any particular rally or march, Hatfield says - the big push will be at the ballot box next fall, when the nuclear freeze issue becomes the litmus test for voters trying to decide which candidates to support.
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mr. Hatfield is acknowledged to be one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress, but there is none of the traditional politician's flash about him. At first encounter he is shy, reserved, formal. It is only as he begins to explain the spiritual impetus for some of his political decisions that the reserve melts away like a Popsicle on an August day. Then the words rush out and he becomes so excited he sometimes has to wrap his arms around his chest to restrain himself.
Mark Odom Hatfield is a quiet man who burns with a fierce inner light. Slender, dapper, handsome in an ascetic way, he has a neat head of carefully brushed gray hair, regular features with just a hint of granite about them, and seers' blue eyes with long, sandy lashes. Senator Chiles calls him ''an elegant fella''; at one interview Hatfield wears a chalk-brown pin-stripe suit, coordinated striped shirt, patterned brown tie, and brown patent loafers.
In place of the standard senatorial ego appears an idealism focusing beyond himself. In person, the man gives off an aura of old-fashioned goodness as palpable as pine soap.
It doesn't bother Hatfield at all that the President and many of the members of his own party do not share his impassioned warnings about nuclear apocalypse now. As Senator Chiles points out, ''Mark marches to a different drummer . . . he's very true to his own convictions.''
He is, after all, the same Mark Hatfield who rose at the 1973 National Prayer breakfast, at which President Nixon was guest of honor, to stun the room with his words. In a modern version of Lamentations, Hatfield called Vietnam ''a sin that scarred the national soul'' and ''an exile of love from our hearts,'' remarks that did not endear him to a fellow Baptist and friend, the Rev. Billy Graham, or to the supporters of the President with whom he shared the podium. In ''Between a Rock and a Hard Place,'' one of the three books he's written about the conflict between his religious credo and politics, Hatfield points out that his words were directed not at a president but at what he calls ''civil religion.'' He saw a ''corporate national spirit of self-righteousness'' over a war he considered a national sin, and a ''lack of penitent response among millions of Americans.'' He feels the same way about the arms race.
When he answers critics who call the freeze an aid to the enemy, ''junk food for the mind,'' or a ''hysterical, apocalyptic ban-the-bomb mentality,'' his tone is soft but the words tough: ''Interestingly, those were many of the same criticisms leveled against those of us who raised the questions about the validity of American interests in Southeast Asia, that brought us the longest war in (our) history. . . .''
Hatfield's own election to the Senate in 1966 was a referendum on Vietnam; he had spoken out from the start against the war, first as Oregon governor and then keynote speaker at the 1964 Republican National Convention. He voiced his antiwar protests so early, so vociferously, that the Washington Star called him ''the Senate's most prominent dove.''
His office reflects his values, with its two well-thumbed Bibles and its Lincoln motif. The grave, sorrowful eyes of Abraham Lincoln gaze down from more than two dozen paintings and sculptures in a spacious room decorated with a gray marble fireplace and a red-velvet Victorian love seat.
Hatfield's definition of national security is quite different from that of many presidents. He emphasizes a ''spiritual muscle'' rather than stacks of lethal hardware. ''There is to me a direct ratio between the increase of our arsenals and the diminishing sense of national security.
''In my opinion, the only president in modern history who had any comprehension of national security was Dwight David Eisenhower, who happened to be a five-star general. . . .
He said that there comes a time in a nation's life when additional money spent for rockets and bombs, far from strengthening national security, will actually weaken national security - when there are people who are hungry and not fed, people who are cold and not clothed. For in the ultimate sense, that expenditure becomes a theft from those people, from those needs of those people.'' Hatfield stresses that he is not a pacifist; he believes we need a strong military, but he also believes we need a strong economy, a strong infrastructure, and ''a strong spiritual life in this nation.''Hatfield says flatly that national security in the Eisenhower sense has been greatly weakened today by administration armaments spending that is a theft from the needy.
What he is most proud of in his 16-year career as a US senator is not some major piece of legislation, or that moment at the 1973 prayer breakfast with Nixon. It's the individual people he's helped which matters the most to him, he says. One example: persuading William P. Clark, when Mr. Clark was undersecretary of state, to cut immigration red tape that prevented Polish sailors who jumped ship in Oregon from being granted asylum and citizenship here.
His office handles over 200 constituents' cases each week. But his concern goes beyond Oregon to a global constituency of the poor. His association with World Vision, Bread for the World, and other private groups is prompted by his almost biblical anguish over poverty anywhere in the world:
''You know, in the Old Testament and New Testament, the most frequent measurement of people's righteousness by God's measurement, is our relationship to the poor. When we tolerate anyplace on this globe any kind of poverty and starvation, (we) are also by the way (tolerating), from a nontheological point of view, the seedbeds of violence and war. . . . When I think of what the world spends on armaments, two weeks of that expense - about $17 billion - could provide enough food, clothing, housing, clean water, for all the poor people in the world. . .I think that is s-i-n.''
His wife, Antoinette, sometimes asks him, ''Why do you want to save a world that doesn't want to be saved?'' The Hatfields married after a five-year courtship which began when the campus promotion king at Willamette decided to promote a romance between Hatfield, then dean of students, and the Portland State College dean of women, Antoinette Kuzmanich. When she decided to leave her Roman Catholic faith to join his Baptist church, the couple faced down a campaign of ecclesiastical disapproval from her former church directed at her - and at his political career. (Hatfield says that wouldn't happen now, after the ecumenism of Pope John XXIII.) They married in 1958, the year he became the youngest governor in Oregon's history.
With flashing brown eyes, black hair, and vivacious prettiness, Antoinette Hatfield manages to be both exotic and motherly-looking at the same time. Mrs. Hatfield, a candid, buxom woman in a Delft blue suit and pearls, runs her own successful real estate business in Georgetown. The Hatfields have four children: Elizabeth, 22; Mark O. Jr., 21; Theresa, 17; and Charles (Visko) Vincent, 15.
There are those who point to an occasional flaw - or idiosyncrasy. Hatfield is infamous for pouring hot coffee over his ice cream. He has been described as tight - with his own money as well as the taxpayers'. And he considers Herbert Hoover a political hero. That may spring from the fact that his first political act was distributing handbills at the age of 10 to reelect Hoover, an adoptive Oregon native son, for president.
He grew up in Dallas, Ore., in a small-town atmosphere straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, in a childhood with simple pleasures: making tin-can telephones; carving whistles out of willow sprouts.
His father, C. D., was a Democrat, a blacksmith in the bridge and building department of the railroad, ''a spiritual man'' who taught him the 12 tribes of Israel, four verses of ''America the Beautiful,'' the books of the Bible, and who wanted him to be a minister.
His mother, Dovie Odom Hatfield, was a schoolteacher and a Republican, who urged him to make a name for himself. When he was 5, she parked him and her husband with her mother and went off to college for four years. After Salem High School, a BA from Willamette University, and service in World War II as a Navy lieutenant junior grade (Iwo Jima and Hiroshima), Hatfield took his master's in political science at Stanford, where he became a Republican. With his first job as an educator, at Willamette, he also began his political career as county chairman for the National Citizens Committee for the Hoover Report (on efficiency in government). From there it was a steady climb to state representative, state senator, secretary of state, then governor.
While he has been described as having been personally ambitious early in his political life, his biographers Robert Eells and Bartell Nyberg devote a chapter of their book ''Lonely Walk - the Life of Senator Mark Hatfield'' to a spiritual crisis in his life at the age of 31 that changed his focus. Turning to the story of Job in the Bible, Hatfield decided that Job's decision of unconditional commitment to serve God would be his. It is that spiritual commitment that has made him a sometimes reluctant candidate (he's not sure whether he'll run in 1984) when he has felt a clash between politics and his own principles. But his basic view is that church members must ''witness'' to their faith by becoming involved in politics, not ignoring its evils but helping clean it up. Would he run for president? Hatfield flatly answers ''No.''
''I have not reached the point . . . of selling my soul to Mephistopheles for a political career. I think you have to have a burning feeling in your lower abdomen that you are willing to make compromises with principle. I don't say this is true of people who seek the presidency. I think the tendency or vulnerability is there.''
But he has equally strong words for Moral Majoritarians (such as those who mounted a campaign against him in Oregon) and who would try to equate a political vote with spiritual worthiness in issues like school busing, abortion, and the Panama Canal. ''It is sloppy communication that frequently says if I am correct on this list of political issues, then that will equate to my relationship to God or be evidence of my spirituality or my Christianity. Now that's what I call apostasy,'' he warns, ''that is politicizing the gospel.''
Anyone as outspoken as Hatfield on deep moral issues generally polarizes people. But as Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania points out, ''He's held in high regard by members on both sides of the aisle for his integrity, good judgment, effectiveness.'' Senator Specter says people ''may find Mark Hatfield in disagreement with their positions but never disagreeable . . . he does it without bruising any feelings.'' Senators Specter, Chiles, and Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia all mention the respect with which Hatfield is viewed in the Senate across party and ideological lines. ''He's not afraid to speak out on an issue even though he may be the single, lone voice,'' Senator Nunn says. ''He doesn't need to get 51 votes before he comes out for something. . . . Of course he does have erroneous views every now and then - he's wrong on national security. . . .''
Perhaps the best comment on Hatfield's character was made as a parting shot by his wife, after sitting for a rare interview. Mrs. Hatfield does not suffer the press gladly, but as she smiled goodbye, she said, ''Whatever story you do, the man will shine through.''