Past Speakers of the: LANDON LECTURES

Landon Lecture by Sen. Charles McCurdy Mathias, Jr.,

U.S. Senator, Maryland
April 27, 1976

by Sen. Charles McCurdy Mathias, Jr.

There are few concerns more vital to the people of the United States than the necessity to reduce the tensions that might lead to nuclear conflict.

Until the 1976 presidential primaries, the process of seeking a reduction of such tensions was called "detente." We may find synonyms for the word, but there is no alternative to the process. We can call a potato a "spud," or beer "suds," but it will not change the way they taste and smell and feel. More importantly, it will not change how they affect us and I think the same can be said of detente.

We must not now permit parochial political maneuvering to jeopardize an effort to arrive at a relationship with the Soviet Union, and with the other nuclear powers, based on a reasoned understanding of the common dangers of failing to come to an agreement to live in peace with one another. The only alternative to achieving some workable, peaceful relationship with the Soviet Union is to live with the omnipresent threat that a devastating nuclear war will put an end to civilization as we know it.

It is vital that all Americans see through the emotional, ideological smokescreen that has been spewed forth by men of small vision and that the American people understand that the alternative to detente is the continuation of the arms race. They should know that the stockpiling of more and more weapons of destruction in nuclear arsenals around the world simply raises the mathematical possibility that these nuclear weapons will be used.

There has been, in my lifetime of public service, no issue that more clearly demands solution. Nor has there been any issue which better identifies those who possess the qualities of leadership and national purpose that are so urgently needed today. For what can be more vital to the national interest than finding a rational way to bring the nuclear arms race under control, to end the growing danger of nuclear weapons being used by a government, a group or even an individual?

The alternative to making this effort is to move inexorably closer to nuclear devastation. And I think this grim reality has to be faced. This reality must not be distorted by ideological speculation or political rhetoric. The dangers must not be minimized. We must seek and find leaders who will dedicate their effort to achieving a mutually acceptable understanding that will enable us and our descendants to live in peace.

Why do I come here today and use this occasion to speak so starkly? Simply because I think time is short and the opportunities to prevent predicted nuclear catastrophe from becoming reality are relatively few. Important forums such as this must be used to set the record straight. For, it is my view, that if the people of our nation know the facts, they will act with wisdom and common sense to take the steps necessary to prevent disaster.

The facts are precise almost elegantly mathematical in their certainty.

In 1945, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima had the lethal power of 13 kilotons, that is, a destructive force equivalent to 13,000 tons of TNT. That single bomb killed 85,000 human beings in one apocalyptic instant. It brought incalculable suffering to tens of thousands of others.

A few weeks after the bomb blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki I visited both cities. I saw what those small primitive atom bombs could do. A vivid memory of that blasted landscape of death and total destruction still haunts me. It animates my own conviction that the alternatives to detente, that is, either of remaining in a state of perpetual hostility or of taking that final step toward war, must both be rejected as a form of madness.

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki statistics of death are insignificant compared with the statistical possibilities of today's monster bombs. Scientists say that one one-megaton weapon can completely destroy a city the size of Boston. In addition, its lethal fallout would cast a pall over 1,000 square miles. That is a one megaton weapon. But, predictions are that a nuclear first-strike exchange would involve around 1,000 megatons. Such a blast would cause lethal fallout over 5 billion square miles which is roughly the size of the United States.

Now, you can even make instant calculations of the devastating effects of nuclear weapons by a very simple device called the Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer sold by the Government Printing Office for about $2.50. I think that's a commentary on our times, that the G.P.O. would sell such a device. For example: You can find out that the blast effects of a one megaton weapon would be sufficient to knock down buildings in a 20 to 30 mile radius of the blast. You can learn that even in a relatively small blast glass fragments become lethal missiles. In fact, you can learn much more than you want to know. But the details it provides become mere curiosities when counterpoised to the most telling statistic of all: we now have a nuclear capability of killing every man, woman and child on earth 15 times over.

The present United States nuclear arsenal contains well over 4,000 deliverable intercontinental warheads, each of which can destroy a city. We have thousands of smaller tactical warheads. Our standard warhead dwarfs the Hiroshima bomb. It is ten times more powerful and has a destructive force equivalent to a million pounds of TNT.

The Soviet Union possesses at least half as many deliverable warheads as we of an equivalent or even greater mega tonnage.

At last count, the United States, if it unleashed its arsenal, could destroy the Soviet Union 44 times over, and the Soviet Union could destroy the United States at least 22 times over. A former Polaris officer told me not long ago that we are actually running out of targets in the Soviet Union.

Despite the differences in the nature and quality of each nation's nuclear arsenal (we have concentrated on accuracy and the Soviet Union has concentrated on size), despite differences in the size of warheads and the sophistication of delivery systems, both we and the Soviet Union have reached a measurable technological plateau. We can destroy each other no matter which of us strikes first.

Another indisputable fact is that, given our present technology, defense against the use of these weapons is impossible. The United States can be destroyed within 18 to 30 minutes after a launch. So can the Soviet Union. Eighteen minutes does not leave much time for defense or for reflection or for prayer.

It is a powerful irony, and one whose point must not be missed, that the scientists who invented nuclear weapons both in the United States and in the Soviet Union, who are in a unique position to evaluate the full destructive potential of the weapons they have created, warn us that unless the arms race is stopped, the human race will be annihilated.

Soviet citizens do not hear these warnings from dissident physicist Andre Sakharov, alone. Both Professor Peter Kapitza, Director of the Institute of Physical Research in Moscow, and the late Professor Lev Artsimovich, former director of Kurchatov Institute for Thermonuclear Research, have been equally insistent in their warnings.

In the United States among the scientists associated with the Manhattan Project, I think of Columbia University's Nobel laureate in physics, I. I. Rabi, and of the late Leo Szilard of the University of Chicago. Warnings have come to us from France as well from Professor Francois Perrin, the former head of the French atomic energy commission.

How many warnings must we hear before we listen?

It is important that we keep the fundamental purpose of detente firmly in mind. It is a very simple one: to live in peace and to assure the survival of the United States and the survival of our civilization.

The American people must not be deflected from the pursuit of this primary objective by any secondary consideration. We must distinguish clearly the central thrust of our policy from the disputes raised over whether secret agreements have been concluded which might place our nation at some disadvantage.

My own feeling is that secret negotiations should be shunned. They foster uncertainty and fear that the United States, through some secret process, may somehow be placed at a disadvantage or that it may lose its position of strength.

I am convinced that, at this time, such a fear is unwarranted. We still maintain the military primacy we bought so dearly in World War II and which we have paid for many times over in the succeeding years. Clearly, we should guarantee the American people that no nation will surpass us in defensive capacity while the greatest issue between nations the issue of how to insure world peace remains unresolved.

We must also be prepared, as Mr. Brezhnev himself has candidly warned us, to cope with wars of national liberation supported by the Soviet Union. We must hold our own in global economic competition. We must not be deterred.

But almost all Americans would certainly agree that the United States must continue the effort to forestall nuclear war. How to achieve this goal and the costs required, these are the things that lie at the heart of the controversy over detente.

In so basic a matter as national even human survival, I think more straight forward and open discussion of the issue by our leaders would be the sensible course.

We have made efforts over the past decade to get rid of the cold war, to strengthen normal ties with the Soviet Union and with its peoples. (More recently we have begun an attempt to normalize relations with China.)

We have done this in a variety of ways. We have promoted the exchange of athletes, artists, scientists and businessmen. We have encouraged travel and study. We have increased the contacts between our governments at all levels. Encouraging mutually beneficial trade, cultural exchange and international relations can, in fact, and should be a means of strengthening peace.

We have done these things and we should continue to do these things. But, we must always insist on reciprocity in effort and mutuality in the benefits of exchanges.

The obstacles to this sensible, straight-forward approach derive from basic philosophical differences which separate the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union. These differences must not be minimized I think they should be faced. We should have no illusions about finding common ground between our very different beliefs on how society should be organized, or how nations should be governed. There are very great differences between the economies of the United States and the Soviet Union. These differences, very candidly, create enormous difficulty in our relations.

We have very different aspirations and beliefs about how the world as a whole should be governed. The Soviets see their system as a model for the entire globe. While we too believe our system to be the best the world has yet seen, we think the people of the world should have the right to choose their own system. We are prepared to live in peace with people of all nations no matter what their system.

I have to say I am encouraged by the developments of the past few years. Many of us remember how dark the future looked in the early 1950's, when the specter of the bomb hung over all our heads and war between the United States and the Soviet Union seemed inevitable. We have survived and emerged from that dark time.

But we are now at an even more critical moment perhaps it's not too much to say, the most critical moment in the history of the world. The decisions that we make now concerning our relationships with the other great nuclear powers will surely determine the ultimate fate of our people and all nations.

It is a time of great hope and it is a time of great danger. Even as we debate the life and death issues of the arms race, the destructive capabilities of the United States and the Soviet Union grow incrementally greater every minute.

I do not believe the controversy that threatens to halt the search for detente concerns the validity of the search itself. It lies, instead, in a fear that the urgency of the need for finding a rational way to live in peace may dictate concessions or agreements that would not be considered if the stakes were not so high.

What is at issue, then, is not detente itself, but the means for arriving at detente the means for lessening tension. It is clear that secrecy has fostered an erosion of confidence in the purposes of the detente policy. In recent years, we have all witnessed the damaging effects of secrecy in government. Now, the consequences of secrecy have become manifest in the rhetoric of an election campaign.

I urge and I am confident Governor Landon would join me in urging that the American people be given every possible detail of the negotiations that have taken place in the name of detente in order to reinforce the basic support that exists for this effort.

In a democracy the people must know the truth if they are to vote responsibly and intelligently. A badly informed or wrongly informed electorate is a dangerous thing in a democracy. Such an electorate is the natural prey of demagogues.

Most criticism of detente seems to come from those who advocate a get tough policy, a policy of putting pressure on the Soviet Union to modify its behavior. Let me suggest what some of the results of such a policy might be:

We would lose the degree of control over the strategic arms race that we have achieved so far. Defense expenditures in the nuclear area would spiral upwards; the stability attained in the SALT process would be lost, thereby increasing the risk of war.

The people-to-people contacts that have flourished under detente would wither and we would lose any ability to ameliorate the conditions under which Russians and Western Europeans live.

We would lose what gains we have made in understanding more about how the Soviet system functions and how we can influence it. In place of communication there would be only guesswork and speculation as to Soviet capabilities and intentions.

Opportunities for mutually beneficial trade and cooperation in dealing with common and global problems would disappear.

A period of tensions in which our economic resources would be diverted to armaments and away from assistance would be damaging to the rest of the world.

Our own society would suffer from the diversion of resources that ultimately would keep us from addressing our pressing domestic problems.

I think the American people should know all this and, when they have all the facts, I believe they will support detente wholeheartedly.

For 200 years now the people of the United States, acting through their elected representatives, have decided how their lives were to be governed. I don't think the people will relinquish their rights now when the question of their very survival is at stake.

The American people must press for leadership in the Congress and in the Executive Branch which will keep them fully informed of the crucial actions being taken in their behalf.

And if the day comes when all hearts are open, all desires known and when no secrets are hid, then I think our choice will be obvious and our course clear. A world with the capacity for the ultimate crime of total genocide ought not hesitate too long before renouncing that fatal course. For the sober, the prudent, the wise, the courageous all know, there is no alternative to detente.

The transcription of this Landon Lecture was accomplished through the cooperation of the Kansas State University Libraries and the Office of Mediated Education.

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