Human knowledge has outpaced our imagination and, even more, our willingness to change. Never is this more obvious than when a new and great destructive power emerges. People cannot see the limits of the danger so they call it infinite.

Yet what knowledge has produced cannot be resisted except by more knowledge. Emotion demands, "Turn back the clock or at least let time stand still." That is the simple message of the nuclear freeze. For decades, American policy has been based on arms control --slow down the clock if we cannot stop it. Are we safer now than we were 20 years ago?

Our government today is much more honest than its predecessors have been. President Reagan has had the courage to acknowledge that the Soviets are better armed than we. They have prepared for nuclear war. We have not. It takes courage to speak. It may take even more courage to listen. With the fate of Western civilization (though not the survival of mankind) hanging in the balance, we must do what is not easy. We must think.

Anticipating our tragic dilemma, some young people in our national laboratories have labored for years on more refined nuclear explosives--not weapons for destructiveness but devices for purely protective purposes. The new hope is defense--in the simple and original sense of that word. Remarkably enough, the most effective way to stop an incoming destructive nuclear attack is to explode very small non-harmful radar-guided nuclear devices in the atmosphere, thus disabling the warheads without exploding them long before they can reach their target.

To most people, the concept of true nuclear defense will seem incredible. Our policy of secrecy which we falsely call security does not permit even so full an explanation as this meager space and the reader's patience will permit. Soviet leaders know these secrets. The American public does not. Why do we protect Russian secrets more stringently than our own? How can democracy function if people are denied the knowledge of the starting point on which a constructive policy can be built.

We can make a great step toward stability by accepting Irving Kristol's suggestion to declare unilaterally that we shall never be the first to use nuclear weapons. But this statement should not apply to all nuclear weapons. It is important to permit the use of protective rather than destructive weapons, of nuclear devices used to defend us on or above our own territory. Big destructive weapons may have to be preserved for retaliation, but they will never be used by us in a first strike.

The impractical alternative known as the "nuclear freeze" is closely akin to the old slogan "better red than dead." Few people seem to consider the other possibility--that given their values and beliefs it is very possible to be first red and then dead. How many of us will be able to give up forever the habits of free speech, free press, free travel, free worship, participation in government decisions without a single misstep?

Western civilization has erected a splendid edifice. Technology makes up its stones, and its mortar is freedom. Today, frightened people are undermining its foundation without understanding what they are doing. It is in danger of collapse, and its dust will be blown away. Future generations may forget that it ever existed. Today, the successors of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great--who are certain that in communism they have found the ultimate answer for all mankind--are ready to take over when those who are fainthearted have failed.

But the men of the Kremlin are not foolhardy. They see our weakness, but they are not certain of our strength, which in free nations depends on the sum of the strengths of individuals. Peace is more than the absence of war. It is an activity conducted each day and dependent on each decision. True peace must include in its bases the protection of citizens through civil defense as well as by proper active defense measures. Peace is best guaranteed when those who have peace are able to defend and protect themselves against any others. Lasting peace is based on common international actions in the interest of all people in every part of the world brought about by the cooperation of all.

The cathedral of Western civilization will remain unfinished and unstable until it manages to model the hopes of all mankind. These are not hopes of mere survival nor do they consist of simple imitation of any one creed. Peace should not be symbolized by the rigidity of freezing but by a controlled flame that is ever-changing, a flame fed by the one fuel that is forever renewable--the human spirit.