This has been a week during which Cold War rhetoric chilled our campuses and our kitchen. By now the atmosphere is frosted with ironies.
We have seen that the most pro-military of our public speakers are the least likely to want women drafted. We have heard Ronald Reagan brag over the airwaves that he was in favor of arms-racing "before it was popular." We have witnessed Phyllis Schlafly, that undauntable hawk, cooing like a dove over women.
When news came over the wire that President Carter opposed to register women, Schlafly accused him of "stabbing American womanhood in the back." Well, the history of Schlafly-as-dove is a brief one. Anyone interested should wade through years of her breathtaking pro-military commentary.
Once, in a single sentence, she called on the government to "go ahead on the B1 bomber, assure the continued production of Minutemen 3 missles, remove the artificial limits on the range of our cruise missles and start production of mobile missles."
Her sudden efforts to keep women at home on ground zero do not make me feel safe or sound.
At the same time, Afghanistan seems less and less like a flawless victim. If the latest reports are accurate, its rebellion began when the government tried to enforce women's rights. That was the worst in a series of changes dealt from above.
The government issued ordinances allowing women to marry whomever they wanted and then instructions inviting women to meetings. It was that last straw that apparently promoted rebellion.
The Russians were not liberators, Lord knows. They were invaders and wrong. There is an ancient argument against even those tyrants who impose "progress."
Nevertheless, there is some irony in thinking that our own young women could be drafted and sent to defend the rights of Afghan men to deny the rights of Afghan women.
My own attitude toward registration for a draft remains the same. If we need to register, I can see no justification for a male-only list. But the word "if" blinks in neon at the very front of my brain.
I just don't think the timing of the situation is right for a draft. I don't think we should register our young people as a way for Carter to register his opinion.
I am told that attitudes about the draft depend on whether our reference point is World War II or Vietnam, the "good war" or the "bad war." But my reference point increasingly is nuclear war.
There is a similar and subtle shift in many attitudes this week. The public joy in the fact that we are not just standing there but Doing Something has been replaced by nervousness at just what it is we are doing.
People who were comforted by the notion that Carter was at least not militaristic are shaken in that security. He is too comfortably wrapped away from campaigning and criticism in that mantle of crisis. George Bush's fuzzy reputation as a "moderate" is riddled by his rather casual reference to the "survivability" of a nuclear war. Perhaps he thinks his fitness grants him immunity.
Last weekend, in the midst of all this anxiety, doctors and scientists came to a symposium at Harvard to talk about the unthinkable: "The Medical Consequences of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War." They read from John Hersey's "Hiroshima" and from a detailed report on what would happen in the event of a nuclear bomb. As Nikita Khrushchev once said, "the living would envy the dead."
Dr. Robert Jay Litfon of Yale put it this way: "In a nuclear war there are no winners or losers. It's not like conventional war where armies fight, one side wins, the other loses and everybody goes home. Nuclear war is a mutual unleashing of genocidal forces. . . ."
War, said Dr. Howard Hiatt, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, must be dealt with as an untreatable epidemic for which there is only one approach -- "that of prevention."
In this new and frigid atmosphere, that is still the only reality.