Nuclear arms and children

By , John H. Dendahl is a business management consultant and has been actively concerned about nuclear waste disposal in Massachusetts.

Avery disturbing element in the public dialogue about nuclear weapons and disarmament has nothing to do with legitimate differences of opinion over survivability, military strategy, or international relations. The element to which I refer is the cultivation and exploitation of fear among schoolchildren.

We have now had what one reporter described as ''a moving special meeting in the (US) House of Representatives'' where children told of their fears of war. The concluding sentence of the story was the quoted statement of an 11-year-old girl from Iowa, ''It's scary to think about the world being destroyed and nothing is left.''

Reading that, I thought back to my perspective of the same subject at age 11, when the ''police action '' in Korea began and I was growing up in Santa Fe, N.M. If I looked out my bedroom window at night, I could see clearly the lights of the atomic laboratory at Los Alamos spread across the darkened mountains nearby.

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Relations with the Soviets were at least as belligerent then as now. I took it as obvious that Los Alamos must be the top-priority target of the Soviets when they decided to attack, and believed that all I knew and loved would cease to be. Many were the nights when I wondered if the sound of a nearby plane was telling me that the end was near. That, as the Iowa child testified, was scary.

It still is. But so are a lot of other things I learned about later, like pogroms, Dachau, the Cultural Revolution, and the Soviet gulags.

Abhorrence of war and fear of its consequences are normal for children who are properly informed by their education. What I find upsetting in 1983 is schoolroom access to your children and mine by those who would nourish their concerns and fears with propaganda.

One outspoken advocate of disarmament, a former pediatrician, often appeals to adult audiences to ''learn from the little ones.'' Perhaps to be sure that the little ones have something to teach, her organization has helped lead an effort to provide school courses on the supposed effects of nuclear war.

If it were the purpose of these courses to provide a balanced view of war and its horrors, alongside some of the horrors over which reasonable people might choose war, one might praise the effort.

One gets the impression, however, that the children are led almost without fail to a conclusion that war is simply an unthinkable alternative and, by the way, that resources are being wrongfully diverted to defense from other, more socially ''enlightened,'' purposes. Creation of numbing fear seems to be the purpose and, sadly, production of young actors to advance a particular view of public policy seems to be the goal.

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