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By Nina Butts Friday Houston “This is an unorthodox group unfortunately,” John Henry Faulk tells us as he surveys the small hotel banquet room where maybe a hundred of us are gathered on this Friday night in Houston. We’ve paid our thirty dollars and we’ll be here all weekend learning about neutrons and megatons, fission and fusion, bombs and fallout. Sponsored by a non-partisan group called the Gulf Coast Council on Foreign Affairs, the gathering is billed as a “public conference to help you learn about the nuclear question.” Faulk’s eyes are bright, his cheeks a healthy pink. He wears a neat gray suit. So far, he says there has “really been no open dialogue in the media or among the American people . . . no complete examination” of our nuclear policy. “All of Harris County ought to be here,” he tells us, “because there’s not a man, woman, or child on the face of the globe, let alone in Harris County, that’s not affected by the implications of the uses of nuclear power, military and peaceful.” Nina Butts is a writer and artist living in Austin. Helen Caldicott He offers a brief history lesson on the First Amendment, reciting parts, and he says of its authors: “Those men could pass on to us, in their documentation, the benefit of their great wisdom and foresight, but they couldn’t pass on to us what each generation of Americans must capture for themselves: the courage to be free, the courage to think for yourself, the courage to demand that your government respond to your demands.” Every American should find out how many U.S. submarines are swimming through the oceans, each equipped with enough nuclear warheads to destroy 224 Russian towns, before deciding if Russia has surpassed us militarily, he says. About Alexander Haig, he says, “It scares the jumping daylights out of me when the Secretary of State starts saying, ‘You fire a coupla warning bombs and boy, they’ll hunker down!’ This is reckless, almost criminal insanity. The world stands today poised on an abyss. We could write all that is beautiful on this globe off.” He encourages us not to despair, but to get to work. “Certainly the nuclear crisis isn’t the first crisis the American people have confronted. . . . I can’t escape the feeling that if only a dialogue was opened, if only the American people knew the pros and cons of the issue, I could sleep at night because the American people in their wisdom have time and again, after long, long approaches to domestic and foreign problems, resolved them. . . . So it is a matter of great moment that we, the People of the United States, should open a dialogue on something that not only affects the generation we represent, but all the generations that follow us, if there are indeed to be any,” he says. “I congratulate you for being here.” Discussion groups, scheduled after each speaker, convene. Group Three in the Panhandle Room \(big table, linen talooks like an adult Sunday School class. There are a Bell Telephone employee, a social worker, a woman wearing stacks of diamond rings who says “I have a bunch of kids and grandkids and am con cerned about what kind of world they’ll live in,” a high school senior, a chemical engineer, an organizer for the Ecumenical Peaceforce of Houston, a mechanical engineer, two nurses, and a Hunt ComThey are full of questions. How do.we find out what the Russians have? Who’s ahead we or they? Have we been lied to? Why are we building all these weapons? “It’s a racket,” says one man. “It’s a global manifestation,” says another, “of our lowest feelings distrust, hate. We have to feel differently before we can begin to act differently.” Over and over they call the arms race insane. They ask: Can we do anything? What should we do? “The good old things, I suppose,” says the mother and grandmother. “Sign petitions, write your legislators, talk with your neighbors.” We talk about whether any of that works. “We could take a lesson from the Moral Right,” says one man. “They’re less than one percent of the population, but they’re well-mobilized.” They are not activists, nor do ‘they seem accustomed to politics. The oil services man speaks with some confidence about Reagan’s plan to “negotiate from a position of strength.” The rest seem enormously frustrated. I leave for the night, stopping at McDonalds for coffee. I sit at a plastic table and think. The people at the conference, mostly white and collegeeducated, represent a base of society I assumed was indifferent to the nuclear threat. I find instead they’re hungry for information. Dunfey’s Motor Hotel, instead of a church or a university, seems the right place for this meeting. Einstein said that the nuclear question should be debated in every village square. We have gathered at one of Houston’s village squares, and we are talking. Saturday The daytime speakers saturate us with information, and I groW numb to the words “utter disaster,” “insanity,” “holocaust.” Stephen Baker of the UT-Austin government department traces the evolution of U.S. nuclear weapons policy from our threat of massive retaliation in the 1950s to “mutually 1960s and 1970s to our present assumption that there could be such a thing as limited nuclear war. He calls for an end to our hot-tempered foreign policy: “Remember,” he warns, “nuclear war will be triggered by some unlikely small event.” David Cortright, director of a peace explains where we are: the U.S. has Nuclear Warfare Examined `What’s more important than this?’ 4 DECEMBER 4, 1981