Vermont's tiniest towns took a strong stand against nuclear weapons yesterday as residents exercised a right of self-rule that predates the Republic.
More than 160 communities were voting on a resolution that calls for an immediate freeze on the manufacture, testing and deployment of nuclear weapons and the missiles and bombers that deliver them.
By late evening, 121 communities had voted to support the freeze, 17 had opposed it and nine had tabled the resolution.
In Weston, about 100 citizens gathered in the town's summer stock theater. Isaac Patch, a retired foreign service officer who was the first U.S. diplomat flown out of Czechoslovakia after the Communist takeover, spoke forcefully in favor of the nuclear freeze, urging his fellow townspeople to "tell the world that we recognize the seriousness of the nuclear arms race."
No one rose in opposition and passage was greeted by a burst of applause.
But in Westminster, a few miles away, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Donald Safford told his fellow townspeople that they were naive.
"If you believe that this thing is going to cause nuclear disarmament, then you believe in the tooth fairy because the Soviets are not nice little guys," he said, but his arguments failed to persuade his neighbors.
The towns voting represent 60 percent of the towns in the state. An additional 18 towns approved the resolution last year.
The proposition, cautiously worded and paying due respect to the grass-roots tradition of town meetings, called on local delegations to the Vermont Legislature to ask it to petition the state's congressional delegation to call upon Congress to request that the president ask the Soviet Union to join in a moratorium.
Advocates, led by the Quakers' American Friends Service Committee, argued that in the end nuclear war is the most local of all issues and that nuclear war could more likely be prevented by pressure from the grass roots than by dialogue between the world's capitals.