How do you stop the nuclear freeze movement?
President Reagan thinks he knows. He simply says that the people who are in it are dupes of the KGB. Maybe they're doctors who say nuclear weapons are bad for the body. Maybe they're Roman Catholic bishops who say they are bad for the soul. Reagan seems to believe that if he takes every opportunity to say they are not too bright about being used, he will cause the freeze movement to melt.
Last Friday, once again, he accused them of "carrying water that they're not aware of" in working toward a mutual, bilateral verifiable freeze.
Reagan now is getting some help in his antifreeze crusade.
Sen. Jeremiah A. Denton Jr. (R-Ala.) has become chairman of an anti-nuclear freeze effort being organized by an Alabama group called the National Forum.
Denton agrees with the president that freeze proponents are being gulled by Moscow, although the contention has brought him in conflict with institutions he reveres, such as the Catholic Church, to which he belongs, and the FBI, which has certified that, despite their efforts, the Soviets are not in charge of the freeze movement.
Denton, who says he believes that the bishops are uninformed as to realpolitik and strategic matters, already has gone to the mat with the Senate about Soviet infiltration of the peace movement. He caused a tremendous commotion on the floor in October, when he charged that Betty Bumpers, wife of Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) and a leader of of a pro-freeze organization called Peace Links, had representatives of communist-front organizations on her board of directors. Charges of "McCarthyism" ran through the chamber.
Denton is unrepentant, and says he believes he may have caused Mrs. Bumpers to rethink her operation. He is unpersuaded by the reassurances of the G-men that the freezers are not -- to borrow one of the terms used by the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy to brand the members of the committee that eventually censured him--"unwitting handmaidens of the Communist Party."
Denton, who was a Vietnam prisoner of war for seven years and seven months, says he believes he knows communists better than the bishops do. If he is asked about his campaign against the freeze, he refers back to George Washington. Rick Sellers, the director of the National Forum, the group sponsoring Denton's campaign, is far more specific.
The National Forum, working with the Coalition for Peace Through Strength, intends to go toe-to-toe with the freezers, sending speakers to their meetings, and mounting a counteroffensive to the freeze rally, which is being planned for March in Washington.
Sellers, who said the campaign will cost about $100,000, says he thinks that peace-through-strength advocates lost valuable time by dismissing the freeze movement for too long, that they awoke only after eight states and countless local groups had voted for it.
"Now," he said, using the martial phraseology of arms-buildup advocates, "We will use the rifle rather than the shotgun approach."
Like Denton, Sellers does not buy the FBI certification of the freeze movement.
"We can't show a cashed check at this point," he said, "but it is clear the goals are the same."
The American Conservative Union also is taking on the freeze movement, although its president, Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.), takes a more measured and thoughtful approach to the problem. A devotee of Russian music and literature, he speaks of the Soviets as people -- something the president can never be accused of doing.
Edwards says he doesn't think it is "relevant" whether freezers are knowing or unknowing Kremlin patsies. He says the president has done "a very poor job of communicating to the people the rationale for his decisions on defense -- he will not win the debate simply by saying that this is a high communist priority."
Edwards says he believes that if the president is to get a handle on the freeze he must break out some classified documents to convince Americans that the Soviets are forging ahead in the arms race.
He has had conversations with Reagan on this point, although not since he announced the ACU's million-dollar campaign against the freeze. The president said that disclosure might compromise intelligence sources, although most of the material is acquired through satellites.
Edwards, unexpectedly, offers the only hope that the debate to come might center on the character of the Soviet leadership, which is, after all, what it is all about. If they do not understand that nuclear warfare is different from all other kinds, and are willing to risk it--as the president seems to think--then the freeze movement should hang its head, which is what its opponents have in mind.