E-mail Exchange with Alan Cranston: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Alan Cranston's E-Mail Exchange with High School Students

Life History | Politics | Nuclear Weapons | Lessons Learned


Nuclear Weapons

"The right choice is self-evident."

Do you think that your goal of eliminating all the nuclear weapons in existence would ever be accepted by those with the power to implement it?

Right now many of our political leaders are trapped in the mindsets of the Cold War, slowing our efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons. But as we leave the political realities of the Cold War behind us, it's going to become very apparent that the continued existence of nuclear weapons is the greatest security threat facing the United States and other nations. Once that hits home (figuratively, I hope) we'll be able to see some real political change. The work I do with the GSI is focused on the goal of educating our policy-makers and the public on this very point. It's not a fight to be won -- it's a discussion to be had. The right choice -- economically, militarily, politically, strategically, morally -- is self-evident. We must show our leaders that nuclear weapon elimination achieves everything and compromises nothing.

I also hold the conviction that even the threat to use nuclear weapons -- not to mention the actual apocalypse that would happen if even a few were detonated -- is profoundly immoral. I have faith that the American public, and the elected officials who serve them, will recognize this and act accordingly.

In what ways can we get more involved in preventing the use of nuclear weapons?

The best way to prevent the use of nuclear weapons is to eliminate nuclear weapons. In fact, there's not much else that we can do to prevent their use. The distinguished Canberra Commission said in 1996 that if nuclear weapons are maintained indefinitely, they will eventually be used by accident or on purpose.

The best way to work on nuclear weapon elimination is to learn about the issue and then to make it a political priority. Some 87% of the public thinks the U.S. should take a leadership role in getting rid of nuclear weapons, but for how many of them is this among their top three concerns? For how many is it a voting issue?

Volunteer in your Representative's or Senator's district office. I had volunteer staffers as young as 14 and 15 in my Senate district offices. You may start out at the bottom, but politics is often about experience and merit. You may be given an opportunity to work with the elected official and to weigh in on issues that matter to you.

Write to your Senators, Representatives, and the President, and urge them to take a leadership role on this issue. Also urge your family members, neighbors, and friends to do so. You might even organize your schoolmates to write letters to Senator Boxer or Senator Feinstein, and then take the letters to her in person as a group, asking her to work hard on this issue in the Senate.

If you're ever given an opportunity to question political candidates or elected officials, ask them what their view is on nuclear weapon elimination. Ask them to clarify how they envision nuclear weapon elimination actually happening. Don't let them get away with saying it's important but offering no specifics, and don't let a mayor or governor tell you that it's only a Federal issue -- nuclear weapons are an issue affecting the individual, the city, the state, the nation, and the whole world. Ask them about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, National Missile Defense -- show them that it's important to you.

Keep this issue in mind when you get to vote! As the 2000 election has shown, your vote can be extremely important and powerful.

What are some of the biggest issues you felt you had to deal with concerning nuclear weapons? Were there any times you felt that you didn't want to be involved?

It's an exhausting topic. There's a lot to know, and the politics surrounding the issue are complicated. So it's hard to deal with, but at the same time it's so necessary. I never felt that I didn't want to be involved because I knew nuclear weapons were too important to ignore.

Do you feel that there could be a World War III?

If such a thing as World War III ever came to pass, it wouldn't look very much like any war in history. There would be no battlefields, nor monuments to remember them afterward. Two soldiers would be instructed to turn a pair of keys in a missile silo somewhere in the middle of Nebraska, and a half-hour later there wouldn't be too many people left to remember the whirlwind we had reaped. The day after, the final bombs would be landing, bombs whose only purpose is to make the rubble jump. I doubt the survivors, who wouldn't survive for very long, would call it something as banal as World War III: it would effectively be the end of civilization. This is a possibility, of course -- otherwise I wouldn't have spent the past fifty years trying to avert it. We've got to do better. There is no other option.

Life History | Politics | Nuclear Weapons | Lessons Learned

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