"Eureka," the name of Ronald Reagan's college, means "I have found it" in Greek. But the speech he gave at commencement exercises for his alma mater Sunday does not suggest that he has found the formula for making the planet a more peaceful place.
It was a clear acknowledgement of the political power of the nuclear freeze movement. Whether or not it was a serious invitation to the Soviets to negotiate nuclear reductions is certainly not clear to his critics.
To a founder of the freeze, Randall Forsburg of Massachusetts, it sounded more like a bid to continue the arms race, since "it would not even put a brake on the most dangerous new systems."
Roger Molander, the former National Security Council nuclear expert who has been born again as the leader of the anti-nuclear "Ground Zero" organization, sees the Reagan outline as "a sweetheart deal for us." He thinks it takes disarmament negotiations back to ground zero, in that "it calls into question the entire Soviet line on nuclear decisions."
Molander's point is that the president, by suggesting that both sides reduce their land- and sea-based warheads by one-third, has actually told the Soviets that they should tailor their nuclear arsenal to our measure.
In 1977, when Jimmy Carter sent Moscow far less radical proposals for reductions, the Soviets practically drove his emissary, Cyrus Vance, out of town.
"You can use charts to prove anything in this numbers game," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told a meeting of the progressive Independent Action Political Action Committee yesterday morning. He brought out one chart that showed us beating the Soviets on air-launched missiles, which were not mentioned by the president, by 10 to 1.
"If you want to have some idea of why the Soviets are not going to accept this," said Levin, the only member of the Senate to vote against the defense budget, "you just have to remember that they are not going to negotiate their own strategic inferiority--nor should they, any more than we should."
"I don't want to challenge the president's sincerity," Levin said. "I am sure he would like to leave the presidency with fewer warheads than when he came. But he is essentially a captive of his own rhetoric about inferiority. I myself am satisfied that there is a balance of terror in this world."
The problem is that Reagan believes we must negotiate from strength, which is to say after we have built up our first-strike capacity. And if his speech showed a more temperate attitude toward the Soviets, it showed he has not changed at all about forging ahead with the MX, the Trident II, Pershing II and cruise missiles.
His hope, perhaps, is that the daunting technical details, the discussions of the relative merits of throw-weight versus accuracy and other such arcane matters will confuse the public and allow him to recapture the nuclear initiative, which has somehow escaped the nuclear high priests and slipped into the parish halls and neighborhood bars.
The public, after a 35-year sleep on the question, has suddenly sprung awake and demanded a halt to the arms race. Polls show that while they fear the Soviets, they fear nuclear war even more and favor a freeze by 3 to 1.
The terror within the administration at the prospect of ordinary people discussing the end of the world on street corners is reflected in a memo from Eugene V. Rostow, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and one of the apostles of the "survivable" nuclear war. It was published in The Washington Post the day Reagan spoke.
The memo is an hour-by-hour battle plan to counter activities of Ground Zero Week, which turned out to be a series of indifferently attended meetings, seminars and teach-ins.
Rostow's detail is hilariously presumptuous. Newspapers and the television networks are to be willing patsies in the war against enemies of nuclear warfare. So are the Ground Zero spokesmen.
Typical entries: "Washington Post op-ed by Professor William O'Brien (Georgetown University) stating moral and religious justification for prudent self-defense in the nuclear age"; "George Will on Agronsky & Co. (Friday taping)," and "President invites small group (3-5) of Ground Zero Week leaders (thoroughly screened) to the Oval Office (no White House-under-siege a la Nixon)."
None of it happened. But the fact that the president's men threw themselves with such vigor into a scenario for disarming a group they should have preempted suggests that they worry more about the freeze than about nuclear weapons.
Perhaps if the president were to appoint an arms control administrator who believes in arms control, he might reduce the skepticism that greets his plea for nuclear reductions.