"The people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our government. Indeed, I think that the people want peace so much that one of these days government better get out of their way and let them have it."
That was spoken long ago by former president Dwight Eisenhower. It's a pity the hero of World War II is not alive today to see his prophecy on the verge of coming true.
In November 1980 President Reagan and his hard-line, jingoistic supporters were swept into office on the strength of a campaign featuring attacks on arms control and d,etente, along with pledges for an unprecedented military buildup.
Yet today, only 14 months after Reagan took office, there has been such a dramatic reversal of the American mood that the Republican cold warriors could be swept out of office if the present widespread pacificism continues to grow.
"There's a grass-roots movement for a nuclear freeze in this country," observes Washington Report, the weekly publication of the United Auto Workers, "which shows that the American people are way ahead of some of their leaders on the war-and-peace issue."
While that was true until recently, it is significant that a number of prominent politicians, particularly some of the leading Democratic presidential aspirants, are now rapidly moving to the fore on the issue.
Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, may or may not be right in predicting that the nuclear arms race will become the "central moral issue of our day," but it is surely developing as a central political issue.
Twenty senators, 16 of them Democrats, have co-sponsored a resolution introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., calling on the United States and Russia to "pursue a complete halt to the nuclear weapons race."
The resolution is supposedly bipartisan, but the three Republicans who joined the dovish Hatfield are all moderates from New England who are not identified with the Reagan wing of the party.
What is noteworthy about the sponsorship is that it includes a half-dozen senators who have been mentioned as potential Democratic presidential nominees in 1984. Besides Kennedy, the list includes Sen. Alan Cranston of California, the assistant minority leader of the Senate; Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, and Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas.
Still another prominent 1984 contender, former vice president Walter Mondale, has lost no time associating himself with the Senate resolution, which he "wholeheartedly" endorses.
It is only fair to note that the position now taken by most of the sponsors is not inconsistent with their past records. Nearly all of them have been supporters of the treaties to limit strategic arms.
Cranston in particular is no Johnny-come- lately to the nuclear threat. Over 30 years ago, when he was the youthful president of United World Federalists, he was already promoting "world law to prevent aggression and maintain peace."
Back in 1956, as president of the California Democratic Council, he rallied the party against surrendering "to the tides of the arms race." Since his election to the Senate in 1968 he has shown what a potent political issue peace and arms control can be.
In 1980, he became the first Democrat in California history to be elected to a third term as senator. His winning margin of 1.6 million set a new California record. Moreover, he polled almost 200,000 more votes than a hawkish Reagan got in his home state.
That astonishing result is one of the developments that encouraged the anti-nuclear movement in California, which has culminated in a crusade backed by Cranston to put the nuclear freeze question on the state ballot in November.
The petition has already gathered more than 500,000 signatures. If it is approved by a landslide, as many expect, it could well have national repercussions, just as the success of Proposition 13, the 1978 California tax-cutting initiative, sparked similar tax revolts throughout the country.
Paul Warnke, former director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, says, "People are very much more receptive than they were a couple of years back. For one thing, people are becoming more scared--as they should be."