What Monitor readers think about nuclear weapons

The heart of this Monitor survey is not statistics. It is thinking. Thinking that is anguished, passionate, searching. Thinking that is going on in New York and Palo Alto, Peoria and Alamogordo. Thinking that is wrestling with the apocalyptic threat of nuclear holocaust and ways to prevent that threat from ever becoming reality.

We ran the questionnaire about American nuclear policy June 25 in the United States editions, Aug. 2 in the London edition. In response we have received 1, 238 replies from American citizens, 90 from noncitizens.

They included -- from those who volunteered a description of themselves -- lawyers, physicians, members of the clergy, serving and retired military officers, Defense Department employees, mothers, professors, teachers, full-time peace activists, a few college and high school students, octagenarians, physicists, engineers, a real estate appraiser, a former nuclear weapons planning and employment officer, a farmer whose grain goes to the Soviet Union, an investment counselor, a general contractor, a free-lance writer, a poet, business executives, and a candidate for state senator.

The percentages are somewhat capricious. Respondents were entirely self-selected, to start with. And holders of intense views were more likely than their more ambiguous brothers and sisters to wade through the 53 deliberately non-anodyne, provocative questions.

Then, too, each box checked in a multiple choice was given the same value, regardless of whether the respondent checked only one, or several, boxes. Some totals therefore add up to more than 100 percent.

Finally, our computer cheerfully counted some instances of husband and wife filing joint return as a union, while registering other couples as two individuals.

Nonetheless, it is the judgment of the compiler that if all the anomalies were ironed out, the trends still wouldn't change all that much. The digits would be different; the broad conclusions would remain.

So, too, would the entreaties for peace and goodness quoted below.

1. Should moral considerations figure at all in formulation of nuclear weapons policy?

Yes: 87.4 percent. No: 9.7 percent. Blank: 2.7 percent.

2. Is it morally acceptable for the US to possess nuclear weapons?

Yes: 50.9 percent. No: 43.2 percent. Blank: 5.8 percent.


Yes, if not unilateral.

Probably not morally acceptable, but we must be realistic.

To affirm either of these answers furnished is to yield to absolutes. No other issues of our common life are either decided on the basis of "morality," nor do they ignore "morality." "Morality" is just one of many decision frameworks that we use.

3. Is it morally acceptable to threaten retaliation with nuclear weapons in case of a Soviet nuclear attack on the US?

Yes: 51.1 percent. No: 42.9 percent. Blank: 5.8 percent.


Yes, only if striving to reduce and ultimately dismantle.

Yes, isn't preservation of democracy moral?

We have to if our enemies have them already.

No, but currently essential.

The question is not correct. You cannot put this in black and white.

I felt a bit trapped by this one. If it is moral to defend oneself against a threat to one's life, then is should follow as a "yes" answer. Clearly there is a difference in proportion/scale. If I die, human and planetary life will continue. With a nuclear war neither will continue.

4. Would it be morally acceptable actually to use nuclear weapons in a war? That is, is a "just war" possible with nuclear weapons?

Yes: 25.3 percent. No: 67.9 percent. Blank: 6.7 percent.

Comments: It is not "just" to start a war, but it is sometimes relatively "just" to defend oneself if attacked.

No, but we cannot ask our leaders to promise in advance.

We thought it morally acceptable in World War II but in retrospect are less certain, also as to whether there can be a "just war."

The "just war" arguments of St. Augustine were demonstrated to be obsolete by the expanded scope of war demonstrated by the US Civil War, World War I, and World War II (during which I was in the US Navy). A nuclear war is so unimaginably destructive . . . as to make a rationale of "just war" a devilish joke.

5. Is it morally acceptable for the US (and NATO) to threaten retaliation with nuclear weapons in case of a Soviet-bloc nonnuclear attack on Western Europe?

Yes: 28.4 percent. No: 66.6 percent. Blank: 4.8 percent.

Comments on questions one through five:

[From a woman who answered yes on No. 1 and no on all the rest:] It is very difficult to gage morality -- right from wrong -- in a basically immoral world. The very presence of nuclear weapons capable of such destruction reveals that something is very amiss in man's moral and spiritual makeup . . . that we can ask these questions shows that war, retaliation is wrong and we instrinsically know it but are not mature enough to deal with the pressing, day-to-day living with one another. Deterrence is very inadequate but a necessary evil at this stage in man's development.

Poor questions! Survival of mankind is more important than morality.

[From a man who said yes to all the questions:] Gen. George Patton knew that we should have destroyed the Soviet Union right after world War II, but smooth-talking, soft-minded, peaceloving moralists stopped him. It is not immoral to fight and destroy evil, immorality is trying to strike a bargain with evil, and live in harmony with it.

6. The whole strategy of deterrence is:

Immoral because it accepts and builds on the total vulnerability of civilian populations: 40.3 percent.

The lesser of evils; the prospect of nuclear war is so terrible that it has blocked even nonnuclear war in Europe for 37 years: 48.6 percent.

Other: 11.4 percent. These responses included:

Deterrence as a strategy hasn't really been proved. Who knows why Europe hasn't had war in 37 years? I'm sure there are many theories.

Immoral. Isn't choosing "the lesser of two evils" morally bankrupt?

Moral. It's lousy, but the best we have.

Great if it works.

7. Deterrence is further:

A fraud because it does little to avoid nonnuclear war outside Europe and the hundreds of wars or armed incidents the world has experienced since 1945: 32.2 percent.

A fraud because it creates strategic paralysis: 9.4 percent.

Inadequate but the one thing we have going for us: 45.5 percent.

Others: 14.3 percent.

The only thing that seems to have prevented World War III -- a devastating comment on diplomats and diplomacy.

An excuse to continue arms race.

The purpose of deterrence is to deter the use of nuclear weapons. It is not a fraud unless it is advertised as a preventive for all war, but I do not think anyone so advertises it. Nuclear deterrence has nothing to do with nonnuclear wars among nonnuclear nations.

8. "Mutual assured destruction" is:

Iniquitous: 32.9 percent.

Unfortunately descriptive of the state we are in: 58.7 percent.

Other: 10.6 percent.

Fortunately a condition both the USSR and the US believe would result if either government fired first.

Pure insanity, but it works.

9. Would you favor a unilateral American renunciation of nuclear weapons, regardless of Soviet possession of nuclear weapons?

Yes: 35.8 percent. No: 58.4 percent. Blank: 5.7 percent.

Comments: No -- suicide.

Moving toward idea rapidly.

Unilateral movements should be made, but in smaller steps that continue if response is favorable. Renouncing all use could upset stability.

10. If you find repugnant the NATO threat of nuclear retaliation for any nonnuclear attack, what security policy would you substitute for this in Europe?

Not repugnant.

Repugnant but no better alternative.

Nonnuclear conventional arms [this was the solution most often proposed].

Passive resistance.

World government.

Ridiculous question.

The US should reinstate the draft for all men and women between the ages of 18 and 20. The most combat ready would defend our allies in all nonnuclear conflicts.

US out of Europe and NATO. Let them plan for their own defense.

11. Do you consider the arms race immoral?

Yes: 73.5 percent. No: 18.9 percent.


Yes: 87.5 percent.

No: 2.5 percent.

Comments: And profitable.

The so-called arms race is dangerous only if we lose it.

Immoral based on the human needs that go unattended, and which could be redressed (initially) by a fraction of this cost.

12. How would you stop the arms race?

Unilateral destruction of existing US nuclear weapons, regardless of Soviet actions: 15.3 percent.

Unilateral freeze on procurement of and testing of new US nuclear weapons, regardless of Soviet action: 21.3 percent.

Soviet-American agreements mutually restricting nuclear arms deployments on the pattern of SALT I and SALT II (even though such agreements are bound to be very limited): 54.5 percent.

Comments: Break up the iron triangle: Senate, military, unions

SALTs are too one-sided in Russia's favor.

Only one way. War on all Marxist countries, complete abolition of communism.

We must look at the "war system" as a deeply embedded system in many, but not all, human societies. We have two examples from the history of the last 400 years that indicate such deeply embedded systems can be almost completely expunged from human acceptance as inevitable: the divine right of kings and slavery.

13a. Of the two broad policy options the Reagan administration will be choosing between for the period of a succession struggle in the Kremlin, which do you favor?

Toughness on every count, including exacerbating Soviet economic problems as much as possible -- i.e., blocking European licensees of American patents from participating in building the Siberia-to-Western Europe gas pipeline: 18.3 percent.

A combination of carrots and sticks, including continued commercial credits and trade with the Soviet Union, along with selective help to resisters to any Soviet or Soviet-proxy military interventions outside the existing Soviet bloc: 59 percent.

Other: 20 percent.

13b. Why?

Toughness advocates: Detente was a one-way street. They only respect force.

We shouldn't subsidize their militarism with commercial credits or goods.

Carrots advocates: Any sportsman knows that the most dangerous animal is the one that is backed up against the wall.[It's] strict tough attitude will help hawks win succession in Kremlin.

Other: Both of these are aggression which will not end the cycle of retaliation.

14. Was all the early Reagan administration talk about fighting nuclear wars:

Necessary to get the US over its Vietnam trauma and show the Soviet Union that the US can still be tough: 20.8 percent.

Alarming and irresponsible: 62.8 percent.

Other: 16.4 percent.

Comments: Need a strong stance, since past adminstrations were wishywashy.

Did you ever play poker? Your questions are childish.

Reagan did not emphasize or talk loudly about fighting a nuclear war. The press and news media was blowing up balloons to make headlines. This is a case of dishonest representation.

Alarming, especially because it made the Soviet Union appear to be the more persuasive peace advocate.

Extremely helpful to the disarmament movement, because Reagan appears to believe what he said.

15. Is the latterday Reagan willingness to meet with Brezhnev and open arms-control talks before the Soviet Union has moderated its foreign policy and before the US has increased its military strength:

An unfortunate adjustment to the real world: 40.4 percent.

A public relations gesture toward the US peace movement that does not really mean the US will negotiate seriously: 24.3 percent

A public relations gesture toward the peace movement, but one the adminstration will have to live up totoas long as the peace movement remains strong: 33.9 percent.

Other: 10.3 percent.

Comments: Shows that USSR is willing to talk now that we show we mean to rearm.

Do not believe the adminstration changed policy -- only rhetoric.

16. President Reagan is:

Totally untrustworthy in arms and arms control: 24.9 percent.

The one president who could pull off a revitalization of arms control at this point by preempting attacks on it from the right: 37.9 percent.

Other: 29.4 percent.

The right man in the right place at the right time.

A lot of stuff you won't print.

Generally given the short shrift by simple-minded know-nothings.


Good intentions but bad advisors.

Caught up in a 19th-century far-west mentality of right vs. wrong.

The only president we've got!

17a. How much "linkage" should there be between strategic nuclear arms-control talks on the one hand and general Soviet foreign policy on the other?

The US should refuse to engage in arms-control talks until the Soviet Union pulls out of Afghanistan: 7.6 percent.

Armscontrol talks are so important they should go ahead even if the Soviet Army invades Poland: 67.5 percent.

Other, including somewhere in between: 21 percent

17b. Why?

[From advocates of continuing arms-control talks even if there is an invasion ]:

What USSR does in its sphere of influence is less important than global survival.

Soviet imperialism will slow with time. It would be nice to still be here.

18a. Do you think the US is:

Behind the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons: 15.4 percent. Ahead of the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons: 13.3 percent. Roughly equal to the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons: 61.6 percent. Other, including: It is not relevant who has more nuclear weapons. Both sides have tremendous amounts of overkill.

18b. Which particular comparisons do you base this opinoin on?

[From believer in rough equality:] They have bigger nuclear weapons. We have more accurate ones. Our weapons are evenly dispersed among land, sea, and air-launched missiles; theirs are mostly land-launched.

18c. What source(s) have you relied on most strongly for your facts and your opinion?

[Answers ran gamut from The Christian Science Monitor to the New York Times to the Sacramento Bee, From Defense Department to Arms Control Association to Ground Zero to freeze campaigns, from Technology Review to Reader's Digest, from "classified information" to "hearsay."]

19. What should the US goal in nuclear weapons be?

Superiority over the Soviet Union: 10.3 percent.

Rough equality with the Soviet Union: 59.9 percent.

Other, including:

No nuclear weapons.

This question does not deserve an answer.

20. Specifically, American military policy should be to:

Effect a massive buildup of US military strength before getting down to serious bargaining in the strategic arms-control talks, at whatever domestic sacrifice we have to make of butter to guns: 6.8 percent.

Use the drawingboard MX, B-1 bomber, cruise, and so forth as bargaining chips to reach a START agreement: 45.8 percent.

Other: 37 percent.

Freeze and then get rid of weapons one by one.

Effect a massive buildup of American military might to force the Soviets to do the same, wrecking their economy and causing internal unrest.

21. Strategic arms-control agreements are:

A fraud because they weaken US security by imposing outside limits on the only real guarantee of security, US military strength: 9.6 percent.

An essential part of security in imposing outside limits on the main threat to the US, Soviet military strength: 71.6 percent.

Other: They are a little of both fraud and essential, because the public (everywhere) needs to have some expectation to counter its loss of hope in the nuclear age .

22. Strategic arms-control agreements are further:

A fraud because they don't reverse the arms race but simply justify whatever the two superpowers have built up anyway and lull people into thinking that something is being done: 22.7 percent.

Inadequate, but the one thing we have going for us: 72.9 percent.

Comment: You have not provided mutually exclusive options from which to choose. For example, on 21, although strategic armscontrol agreements may be fraudulent to some degree, they can also be an essential part of security. The confusion/contradiction arises due to psychological factors and public opinion. That is, an arms-control agreement may provide meaningful limits on US and Soviet arsenals, but if that lulls the public into thinking no more military is needed, then it can be fraudulent. Conversely, a bad agreement may allow some systems to go uncontrolled, but if it provides momentum for future and better agreements, then it is essential to security.

23. We should try to:

Restore SALT/START to be the centerpiece of a new overall East-West detente: 46.2 percent.

Pretty much divorce strategic arms control from the overall East-West atmosphere of cooperation or confrontation and consider it on security merits alone: 32 percent.

Other: 12.8 percent.

Somewhere inbetween.

SALT/START talks cannot be divorced from general East-West relations. [But] I am ambivalent about making SALT/START talks a centerpiece, as then this gives the Soviets the opportunity to use the talks/no talks as a bargaining chip to meet some other more valued objective of theirs, crushing arms talks in the process.

24a. Which is the best overall arms-control policy for the US to pursue?

The Kennedy-Hatfield immediate negotiated nuclear freeze (implying no American construction of the MX missile, B-1 bomber, cruise missile, etc.): 22.2 percent.

The Jackson-Warner negotiated nuclear freeze only after building the American MX, B-1, cruise, etc. (implying no freeze at all because of a Soviet veto, since Moscow would hardly agree to one after a surge of new deployed American technology that was half a generation ahead of the Soviet Union): 7.2 percent.

The Kennan proposal for an across-the-board reduction of both American and Soviet nuclear arsenals by 50 percent "without further wrangling among the experts": 45.7 percent.

The HartGore proposals for pursuing SALT-type limited agreements with special emphasis on reducing "first strike" threats and "crises instability": 24.8 percent.

24b. Why?

[Kennedy-Hatfield supporter:] The only way to stop arms is to agree to stop!

[Jackson-Warner supporter:] You are certainly biased in your presentation of these.

[Kennan supporter:] Both sides already have far in excess of deterrent requirements.

[No preference checked:] We should defferentiate between bargaining positions and policy positions. Jackson-Warner is sound as an initial bargaining position, while the Kennedy-Hatfield plan would put us in a terrible bargaining position. Kennen's is an idealistic position, but sensible perhaps as a long-term goal, although quite likely an unattainable one. Hart-Gore is where you are actually talking about a sound, attainable step where bargaining and policy positions coincide. To be continued in tomorrow's editions.

Reprints of the nuclear weapons series may be obtained by calling toll-free 1 -800-225-7090, ext. 2123. In Massachusetts, call collect (617) 262-2300, ext. 2123. Or write to: The Christian Science Monitor Reprints Service, PO Box 527, Back Bay Station, Boston, MA, 02117.

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