Supporters of the nuclear weapons freeze initiative on the Nov. 2 District of Columbia ballot squared off yesterday morning with a couple of well-armed opponents of the measure who told a town meeting at the District Building that a freeze would hurt U.S. foreign policy and negotiations for arms control.
"When we negotiate with the Russians, we sit across the table from them eyeball to eyeball," said Joseph Lehman, public affairs adviser for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. "If they knew that our position wasn't being supported by our people, especially right here in Washington, D.C., it would make negotiations impossible."
Takoma Park Mayor Sammie Abbott, who sponsored a freeze proposal that was recently passed by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, interrupted Lehman. "Your position is not being supported by the people," Abbott yelled out. "Who are you anyway? Dr. Strangelove?"
Lehman continued: "If you are trying to send a political message, that's one thing -- political theater is fine. But as sensible adults, you must realize the effect this will have. You're nibbling at the edges of arms control."
At that point, a man wearing a "No Nuke" T-shirt stood up and said, "I'm insulted. How can this be political theater with millions of supporters worldwide."
"Everybody is against nuclear war," Lehman retorted. "But those who coopt broad-based sentiments for narrow political interests do a disservice to the country."
Yesterday's meeting, one of the first public sessions on the proposal, was organized by City Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), chairman of the D.C. Campaign for a Nuclear Weapons Freeze.
The freeze proposal, on the ballot as Initiative No. 10, calls for a bilateral nuclear weapons freeze as a first step toward arms reduction, redirection of resources to jobs and "human needs" and prevention of nuclear war as the only defense against nuclear destruction.
If it is passed, the mayor will be directed to appoint an uncompensated advisory board and to use his authority to propose to the president and Congress immediate negotiation of nuclear weapons freezes in the Unites States and the Soviet Union.
David Sullivan, representing the American Conservative Union, joined Lehman in trying to convince the crowd of about 50 that, "If we freeze, we freeze at a level of inferiority."
"Why," asked one woman in the audience, "does it make any difference where we freeze if we can still destroy the world a hundred times over?"
Sullivan responded by saying the U.S. had a "window of vulnerability" that needed closing. Lehman said the reason for having weapons was to prevent war. He quoted what he called the "corny but true" motto of the Strategic Air Command, "Peace Is Our Profession."
George S. McGovern, former senator from South Dakota and Democratic presidential candidate, appeared at the hearing, representing a group called Americans for Common Sense. He recounted to the audience a trip he took a year ago to Hiroshima.
"I was taken to a mass grave where tens of thousands of bodies were buried and on the tombstone was this quote: 'Sleep well for we will not repeat this evil,' " McGovern said. "I hope we have the decency to keep that pledge."