One of the local stories getting attention in the Bay area now involves a group of people on a life-threatening fast. "We Hunger for Peace" is their slogan.
Since they began their fast, now entering its sixth week, the news unfolding across our TV screens has seemed to make a mockery of their cause. We have witnessed one grim event after another. The shooting down of the Korean airliner by the Soviets leads to scenes of sobbing mourners, angry protesters and bitter public exchanges and accusations between top Soviet and American leaders. The death of more Marines in Beirut is followed by scenes of offshore shelling from an American vessel at artillery positions said to be supplied by Soviet materiel. An air raid on the Nicaraguan capital of Managua, whose Soviet-supported regime we are attempting to topple, occurs just as Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger inspects the fighting in El Salvador and visits the U.S. forces training in Honduras and the World War II battleship USS New Jersey, newly refitted and deployed in Central American waters.
You might say these events, the first two of which would have been regarded as acts of war not so long ago, only underscore the futility of the fast for world peace and disarmament. Yet, however morbidly, the timing of this protest accomplishes its purpose: it dramatizes the need to reduce the increasing dangers through which the world is passing. At this point, the country badly needs reassuring, for these collective events are having a powerful imact on people's attitudes. They are intensifying an already strong feeling that things are out of control. Being secure has become a paramount concern, and that concern carries political as well as personal implications.
A woman here in Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, returned from vacation the day after Labor Day. She had been out of touch with the news, and when she went back to work she found people talking in somber tones about the ominous drumbeat of world events.
She says they were saying such things as: "What is happening to our world? How can I protect myself? Are these things really happening?" And she thought to herself, "Wow, what's all this going to do to people's families?"
In a discussion with county employes here, the subject came up again.
"I see growing fear and uncertainty," one person said. "People are getting afraid for their own safety. Everything from the crazy weather--the floods, earthquakes and other stuff--are happening all at once even as they see the military buildup and hear the Cold War getting hotter. They begin to wonder if they are going to make it through the next year or the next 10 years."
It matters not the type of person speaking; the same underlying concern exists that events are slipping dangerously out of control.
Take this exchange between three political activists, the sorts of northern Californians who are both the remnants of the New Left of the 1960s and still represent the heart of America's liberal left:
"It may be the group I associate with--leftover hippies--but I've heard a lot of statements wondering if the CIA blew that plane out of the sky to serve their own political purposes," the first person says.
"We're at a point in our history where people wonder if they can trust the word of their own government," her companion replies. "You know, people are more sophisticated than we give them credit for."
Another woman, intense, speaks up:
"I don't believe we're getting the full story. I don't believe that if Russia has the sophisticated equipment they have--and which we say that they have--they would have shot down that plane and made such a grand error. I think it's a diversion to get people back on a communist scare again. The discussion I hear is more on the lines of 'Do you believe what you're being told?' rather than 'The Soviet bastards did it again.' It's a plan to create an outside enemy, an outside threat, an outside force, to get us to look outside instead of looking at our own problems at home. It's using foreign policy to cover up internal problems."
The point is that even those who harbor the most outlandish conspiracy theories about the motivations of their own government, as do those people, recognize that these events are working against the causes they believe important.
And they are right.
At this point, it seems clear that the deep yearning for security and safety growing out of the martial sounds and scenes entering American homes directly via television these days are doing something more than frightening people. They are weakening the disarmament forces and strengthening President Reagan's hand in making his case for a massive defense buildup. They also have a potential for boosting his reelection prospects.
If that's what the Soviets had in mind when their fighter shot down that plane, and quite obviously it isn't, they have succeeded brilliantly in setting back the cause of peace.