Does “Nuclear Freeze” Mean Nuclear Peace?

The Argument Against a “Nuclear Freeze”:


I first studied the effects of nuclear explosions over thirty years ago while serving as a nuclear defense officer in the Pacific Fleet. You may be assured that they can be very, very destructive. However, it is not my purpose to dwell on that experience except to say that the genie is out of the lamp and cannot be put back into it. Nuclear fission was discovered in Germany by the physicists Hahn and Strassmann and reported in the journal Naturwis¬senschaften in 1939. Fusion was proposed in 1938 by Hans Bethe, among others, as an energy source for the sun and the stars. The way to development of weapons was then a matter of technology, with the U.S. beginning work in 1942 and the USSR reportedly in the same year. Since 1945, a number of nations have developed nuclear capabilities or can easily do so; the knowledge is irreversible.

Unlike many writers, I will not discuss the “numbers game” with respect to the quantity of weapons and their means of delivery except to note that weapons which cannot be delivered because of the destruction of their carriers do not count except as “attractive nuisances”. Rather, I will focus on the threat to our freedoms represented by Soviet militarism, and I will try to make a strong case for approaching the question with courage, a quality demanded of us by our commitment as followers of Christ. Specifically, I will try to show that:

(1) a nuclear freeze is no guarantee against nuclear devastation;

(2) we did adopt a “freeze” for a number of years during which the Soviets pressed on relentlessly; we have not initiated an arms race;

(3) a “freeze” may invite nuclear war;

(4) the Soviet system is in deep spiritual and economic trouble and may well collapse if given more time;

(5) the Soviet system is highly militaristic;

(6) the Marxist state is antithetical to Christian beliefs;

(7) Soviet guarantees are worthless, by both their own claims and by their recent actions;

(8) the “Peace Movement” both abroad and in this nation is supported by Soviet sympathizers, with the USSR exerting great influence over part of it;

(9) and that defense of freedom is consistent with Christian tenets; indeed, Christ’s commands require the courage to stand firm and not to take the easy way out.

Why so much on the USSR? I wish to draw your attention to the fundamentally repressive and dishonest character of their society, to their reliance on force and terror, and to the threat to us which they represent. The difference between the Soviet system and ours is powerfully illustrated by Lenin’s contention that it is better to punish ten innocent people than to let one guilty person escape. I would also like to emphasize that no modern war between two democracies has occurred — only between democracies and dictatorships, or between dictatorships.

The Soviet System

The Soviet system, unlike our own, is a militaristic system. The militarism is fundamental to any Communist system, in which the Communist Party is a quasi-military organization with firm internal discipline. Military concerns have had over-riding priority in the Kremlin ever since the Russian civil war over 60 years ago. Every five year plan has had its military program, which along with its supporting heavy industry, has had number one priority. The Party, i.e., the Soviet government, nominally controls the armed forces through the Main Political Directorate, BUT many of the top Party posts are held by senior military officers. The fact is that there is no separation between the Party, the government, AND the military forces. Actually, there is a fourth actor in the play. The Committee for State Security, the KGB, which runs the secret political police and the Gulags (the political prisons or slave labor camps), steals our advanced technology, and performs other similarly criminal acts such as trying to assassinate the Pope; it is, of course, closely connected with the Party. Perhaps the best illustration of the militaristic nature of the Soviet system is its conferring of Marshall’s rank on top officials such as Brezhnev. It is as if the Democratic Party had made Mr. Carter a General of the Army or the Republicans appointed Mr. Reagan to the same grade.

Because of the power of the military leaders and the insistence upon unanimity in decisions, it is quite erroneous to speak of Soviet “hawks” and “doves” as is sometimes done in the press. I have attempted to demonstrate that the close relationship among Party, government, and armed forces precludes any such categorization. This brings up the point of mirror-image thinking to which we Americans seem to be prone in varying degrees. Probably even the Soviets engage in it although they have taken some precautions to minimize it. The fact is that the Soviet system is completely different from ours. There is no public opinion as we define it, no separation of powers (as I have already pointed out), and the whole corrupt system is based on deception and force or the threat of force.

That all Communist systems are inherently corrupt beyond what we normally think of as corrupt has become abundantly clear in recent years. A good example of this corruption is the mass murder amounting to genocide of roughly two million Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge after the end of hostilities in Indo China in 1975. It has been estimated that during the period 1918-1953 as many as 70 million Soviet and subject people were murdered by Lenin and Stalin. Milovan Djilas, writer and former Vice President of Jugoslavia has told us in great detail just why the system is so corrupt in his book The New Class. In this work he shows how Communist systems become increasingly hereditary; in other words, a new and corrupt aristocracy is created. The Communist leaders have replaced the Tsar and his court as the rulers.

Along with the corruption goes general degeneration, especially in the spiritual realm. Communism is a secular religion with all the trappings of a pagan religious faith, but it is like the Wizard of Oz. Once we look behind the Marxist facade, there is nothing there. In our faith we have the Living God in all His infinite splendor. They have nothing but sham and the realization has long since caught up with the Soviet peoples. With no bed rock to cling to, the Soviet people have turned to alcoholism and “white collar” crime in increasing numbers. According to researchers at Duke University, the annual death rate from alcohol poisoning is forty thousand as compared to four hundred in the U.S. White collar crime has reached epidemic proportions which are unheard of in the west. Occasionally one reads of the dimensions of such activity in our press. Fortunately for them and for us, an increasing number of Soviet people are returning to Christianity, and this may one day rock the system to its foundations.

Along with the moral decline has gone a general economic decline, which is caused in part by the defects of the system, in part by the priority of the military buildup (of that, more later), and in part by overextension in foreign adventures. Health standards, never high, are reported to be decreasing, and the value of savings accounts has become staggering because of the lack or low quality of consumer goods. One can best think of the USSR as a gigantic “company town” in which in the words of “Sixteen Tons”, the tune made famous by my fellow townsman, Tennessee Ernie Ford, the Russian worker “owes his soul to the company store.” The board of directors is composed of the Party rulers who themselves are very comparable to the Mafia, both institutionally and psychologically. The economic condition of the Soviet system is a cause for both hope and concern — hope for its eventual collapse and concern about the grasping nature of its governors.

Soviet Reliability

Change is, of course, coming to the USSR in the not-distant future. Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, Deputy Director of the CIA until his recent retirement has spoken about the Soviet succession and predicted that the new rulers may well be more instead of less difficult to deal with. Hence we cannot rely on a favorable change of climate in dealing with the Soviets. If Admiral Inman is correct, one may ask “Why not strike the best agreement we can get with the present regime before a nastier one assumes power?” The answer is, of course, the unreliability of the Soviet guarantee, and I will now address that point.

Suppose we did reach an agreement with the Soviets to freeze nuclear weapons and associated research and development at present levels. What would be the prospect of their abiding by the agreement? Well, long ago Lenin laid down as Communist dogma the policy to lie and cheat when necessary for the cause. Let me refer to their reasonably well-established violations of the treaties on biological and chemical warfare.

First is the so-called “incident at military village number 19”, which involved a large scale outbreak of anthrax near Sverdlovsk in 1979. Anthrax, primarily a cattle disease, is communicable to humans and is a well-known biological warfare agent. After initial denials, the Soviets claimed that the epidemic occurred because of poor handling of beef cattle. However, several thousand military personnel as well as civilians at military village number 19 died, an enormous number for a genuine accident with cattle. Now, the stockpiling of biological weapons is expressly forbidden by a treaty of long standing to which the USSR is a party. Need I say more?

The second violation concerns the use of poison gas, again forbidden by a treaty of long standing to which the USSR is a signatory. The ABC program “Yellow Rain” telecast last February gave convincing evidence that Soviet mycotoxins are being used in Laos and Vietnam (there have also been well-founded reports of the use of chemical agents in Afghanistan). Substantially the same story is given in the respected British journal Nature. It seems to me that these incidents, especially the second, are so clear-cut that the unreliability of the USSR as a treaty signatory is overwhelming. Hence, how much credibility would we place in Soviet guarantees of a “nuclear freeze” or “no first use”?

The Soviet attitude toward human life is circumstantial evidence of their unreliability. I think everyone would agree that a high tolerance for the destruction of human life equates with low trustworthiness and with willingness to fight nuclear war. Examples are many: the profligate Soviet use of human wave attacks in World War II, the pervasive Gulag system of slave labor camps for political prisoners, the impending use of Vietnamese slave labor in the USSR (reported in our press), the large-scale nuclear accident which occurred in the Ural Mountains in 1957-1958, and the wastage of cosmonaut lives in space accidents (both of the last two incidents were reported in Nature). I will conclude our examination of the Soviet system by summarizing it as an unreliable, indeed dangerous, neighbor who is spiritually and economically bankrupt.

Arms Limitation Treaties and Arms Races

Arms limitation treaties go all the way back to the 1920’s, beginning with the treaty which followed the 1921-1922 Washington Naval Conference establishing the number of battleships which could be constructed by the U.S., Britain, and Japan. Another treaty, which placed restrictions on battleship and cruiser tonnage, was signed in London in 1930. Historians generally agreed that both treaties placed the U.S. and Britain at a pronounced disadvantage in World War 11, since the relatively closed societies of Nazi Germany and Japan were able to cheat on tonnage. My purpose in presenting this historical account is to point out that arms agreements have a very cloudy past. I do not mean to say that I am necessarily opposed to such agreements, only that we should be very wary when entering into such negotiations. And I will also point out that in those relations between nations where arms agreements would work, they are not necessary, as in the case of the unfortified U.S.-Canadian border.

We have heard much recently about the danger of the Reagan administration triggering an arms race. That is, if we improve our defensive stance, the USSR will simply follow suit, and both parties will at best still have the same relative strength. However, the U.S. has disarmed to a large extent since the 1960’s, especially with respect to naval and missile forces. This was caused by two factors: the war in Vietnam, which paradoxically consumed what I will call “defense capital” equipment such as ships, planes, and missiles as well as research and development. Then during the middle and late 1970’s, “detente” sapped the will of our politicians to match the Soviet pace. In other words, we initiated a unilateral “arms freeze”.

Even before the fall of Khrushchev in the autumn of 1964, the Soviets had begun the expansion of their armed forces. Since 1965, that expansion has been about 4 percent per year so that the Soviets are now reckoned to spend about 12 to 15 percent of the gross national product per year on the military forces, probably the maximum growth rate which they can sustain without economic disruption. By contrast, the U.S. spends about 5 percent of GNP on defense. According to Professor Tsuneaki Sato of Yokahama City University, as much as 50 to 60 percent of Soviet industrial capacity may be devoted to arms production. Fortunately, the U.S. has been ahead of the Soviets in technology, but what Soviets do not develop themselves, they steal. All of their advanced technology goes to the military forces.

While discussing the increase of Soviet military power, I must mention the rise of the Soviet Navy under Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, Sergei G. Gorshkov, undoubtedly one of the outstanding military leaders alive today. He has converted his fleet from a coast defense force to a blue water navy which exercises anywhere and everywhere on the world’s oceans, including close to the U.S. coasts. The Soviets have no conceivable need for such a fleet except to exert their muscle abroad, as Gorshkov makes clear in his book Sea Power and the State.

I therefore suggest that a formal “freeze” initiated at this time would further disarm the U.S. and leave the Soviets untouched due to their momentum and to the inherent secrecy and ethics of their system.

The “Peace Movement”

Now let us return to the U.S. and take a closer look at some of the people and groups which are promoting the “nuclear freeze”. Of these “Peace” organizations, the World Peace Council is perhaps the oldest, dating back to 1950. Helsinki-based, it has been more or less openly Soviet- dominated over the years, extolling the USSR while castigating the U.S. Its president, Romesh Chandra, is a member of the Central Committee of the Indian Communist Party. Closely associated with it is the Christian Peace Conference. Don’t let the word “Christian” as used here fool you. Unhappily, the Cross of Christ has been perverted on more than one occasion over the centuries! The U.S. Peace Council is a late-comer, having been established in 1979. Its director, Michael Myerson, is a long-time official of the U.S. Communist Party, and is best known recently for his strong criticism of Joan Baez, a genuine pacifist. Miss Baez had the temerity to publicly cite the recent severe violations of human rights in Vietnam. And a delegation of the U.S. Peace Council traveled to Moscow in April at the invitation of the Soviet Peace Council. Recall what I said about the connection between Soviet organizations and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (and KGB).

Mobilization for Survival is an umbrella organization for Communist and “peace” groups; the head of its Labor Task Force is Gil Green, a member of the U.S. Communist Party Central Committee. Physicians for Social Responsibility has a Soviet branch — again, recall what I said about such connections with the Soviet government and Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Finally, I must mention the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-wing Washington-based think tank which has been involved in anti-defense propaganda for some years. The IPS also has ties to some prominent politicians (Senators Mark Hatfield and Edward Kennedy among others.) Yet it too is strongly oriented in the Soviet direction. Last April, it sent a delegation to Moscow to confer with senior members of the Communist Party. Among them, the Soviets, was Vadim Zagladin, deputy chief of the Party’s International Division. According to the CIA, the International Division “maintains liaison with many foreign organizations which are frequently used to disseminate Soviet propaganda and views in international affairs.” Recall from my earlier discussion of the Soviet system, that wherever one finds a Communist Party, there also is the KGB.

My purpose in discussing these groups is to emphasize that their ultimate goal is unilateral disarmament, and that they are strongly influenced and sometimes orchestrated by the Soviet Union. Some of the cooperation with the Soviets is unwitting, some of it quite explicitly understood. In general, the action of “peace” groups after Afghanistan and Poland was to oppose any U.S. sanctions against the USSR, no matter how peaceful. The “Peace Movement” must be regarded as an important auxiliary of the Soviet arms buildup. For a more detailed discussion of “peace” groups, I refer the interested reader to the article “The Magical War for Peace” by John Barron, which was published in the October 1982 issue of Readers’ Digest.

In the not-too-distant past there were genuine peace movements which did have some considerable effect. I refer specifically to the interwar period, 1920-1939. The pacifist urge reached its climax in 1938 at the notorious Munich conference between Hitler and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in which the little country of Czechoslovakia was betrayed. The historian William Rock (incidentally, a Christian — Lutheran Church in America) has this to say about Chamberlain’s “appeasement” policy . . .  “Thus he was certain that a way could be found to free the world from the curse of armaments and the fears that give rise to them and to open up a happier and wiser future for mankind.” (Quoted from British Appeasement in the 1930’s by William R. Rock, W. W. Norton and Co., New York, 1977; p. 28; quoted by permission of the author.)

“This faith became a dominant element in Chamberlain’s thought. He clung to appeasement with amazing, or appalling, tenacity, refusing to revise his appraisal of his adversaries, despite the gradual accumulation of cogent evidence, which he sometimes frankly acknowledged, to support another view. Appeasement (detente? — insertion supplied) must succeed because he and the British people wanted it to succeed, he implied on sundry occasions, thus revealing a crucial failure to distinguish wish from prospect (emphasis supplied).” The relevance of this passage to the desires and hopes of those men and women of good will among the “peace” advocates is obvious. Like them, Chamberlain was a man of good will. Nevertheless, even with the best of intentions, he ultimately and probably unavoidably, given his previous actions, led Britain into World War II with all of the destruction and suffering which eventually resulted.


It is now time to draw to a close our travels through history and politics and to draw some conclusions from a Christian perspective, which is really the whole purpose of this article. Let us begin with the Parable of the Talents (Matthew: 25) in which Christ tells us of the cowardly servant who hid the treasure with which he was entrusted. As you know, he was punished by the master for not using it in his service. We can interpret this parable in many ways, but one interpretation which comes through clearly is the message of courage. We are instructed in no uncertain terms to approach issues with courage, courage to take those prudent risks which will, with the Lord’s aid, carry us through to a satisfactory conclusion of peace. Christ also tells us (Mark: 3) that no one breaks into a strong man’s house and take away his belongings “unless he first ties up the strong man; then he can plunder his house.” Again, the message from our Lord is clear. The message is one of a number of similar threads running through all of the letters of one of our principal spiritual ancestors, St. Paul.

A more recent churchman than St. Paul, Terrence Cardinal Cooke, U.S. Roman Catholic Military Vicar, has addressed the question of nuclear weapons in a letter which has been excerpted in “Navy Policy Briefs” (March/April 1982). Cardinal Cooke has termed the policy of deterrence “tolerable, not satisfactory, but tolerable . . . Millions of people may be alive today because of it.”

Mr. Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense and a recent lay leader of the Episcopal Church addressed the midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Academy upon the occasion of the 1982 graduation exercises. In “Peace Has Her Victories”, Mr. Weinberger goes to great pains to point out that, as naval officers, the midshipmen face a paradox. They are to be so proficient that their weapons are never used; that as fighting men, they never have to shed anyone’s blood. This, I think, is the nub of my whole argument expressed as succinctly as possible: that we be sufficiently strong that we never have to fight. Peace is our ultimate goal, not “nuclear freeze.”

Another Christian, in my view quite possibly the most important living Christian and a direct spiritual descendent of St. Paul has harked back to the ancient message of courage and has cautioned us about it. In his 1978 Harvard commencement address entitled “A World Split Apart”, Alexander Solzhenitsyn has put it this way: “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and of course, in the United Nations . . .”.

“Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end?” You can well imagine the consternation which his address caused at the time, especially at Harvard!

Which way will it be then, my brothers and sisters in Christ? Will it be the courage to face unpleasant facts, which is part and parcel of our Great Commission, which has been exemplified down through the ages by St. Paul, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Or will it be the cringing passivity decried by our present-day prophet in the passage from his address?

In view of the criminal character of the Soviet system and our Christian duties, I suggest the following approach which will preserve our freedoms and with God’s help, lead to fundamental change in the Soviet system:

(1) that we abandon simplistic approaches which will lead to our unilateral disarmament;

(2) that we maintain our defenses at levels sufficient to deter the Soviets from overtly hostile actions;

(3) that we continue talks with the Soviets on armament reductions, accepting only those agreements which are completely verifiable and using economic sanctions as levers;

(4) that we maintain pressure on the Soviets to comply with existing treaties: chemical and biological warfare, the Helsinki agreements, etc.

(5) that we accept the requirement of patience; we should be prepared for a long wait in dealing success-fully with the USSR.

(6) that we seek God’s help in prosecuting our program for peace.

We live in a unique period of history. As Christians, we are a unique people with unique opportunities and duties. I cannot express this opportunity better than Solzhenitsyn in the concluding paragraphs of his Harvard address:

“If the world has not yet approached its end, it has reached a major watershed in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will demand from us a spiritual blaze; we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed, as in the Middle Ages, but even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon, as in the Modern Era. This ascension is similar to climbing onto the next anthropological stage. No one on earth has any way left but — upward.”


  • Robert C. Whitten

    Robert Whitten has been a research scientist at NASA since 1967. Before that he received a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Duke University (1959) after which he worked at SRI International on the atmospheric effects of nuclear explosions. A commander (retired) in the U.S. Naval Reserve, he was nuclear defense officer in Pacific Fleet destroyers from 1951 to 1953. He is a member of Bethel Lutheran Church, Cupertino, California.

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