It’s perfectly appropriate — absolutely essential, in fact — for Americans to debate U.S. nuclear weapons policy. But is it necessary to terrorize and propagandize our children in the process?
The evidence is mounting that American children increasingly suffer from nightmares, depression, and a fundamental conviction that they will not live long enough to grow up.
Some of the latest research is reviewed in the April issue of Psychology Today. One study, of graduating seniors from 130 high schools across the nation, by Jerald Bachman of the University of Michigan, showed that in 1975, about 7.2 percent of boys questioned said that they often worry about nuclear war, whereas in 1982, the figure was 31.2 percent.
Also in 1982, more’ than one-third of all high school seniors agreed with the statement “Nuclear or biological annihilation will probably be the fate of all mankind within my lifetime.”
Psychology Today did not report on the attitudes of girls, but a Washington Post survey this February found that two-thirds of the female students interviewed feared that nuclear war would occur by the year 2000, compared to just under half of male students.
Fear of the U.S. Soviet nuclear buildup was listed as the top concern of 64 percent of the young people (ages 13 to 17) interviewed by the Post. It ranked tops for just 43 percent of adults. Twenty-four percent of the young people said they had dreams about nuclear war, compared to 12 percent for adults.
This kind of evidence is often cited — especially by nuclear freeze groups — as an argument against President Reagan’s nuclear policies.
“See,” the freeze movement says, “the U.S. nuclear buildup is terrifying our children, and it must stop.”
But I think the real culprit in traumatizing children is the nuclear freeze movement itself, which has not been satisfied merely to conduct an adult debate on nuclear policy with the Reagan administration, but has used fear of a nuclear holocaust as a basic organizing tool.
Children, being impressionable, have been affected by the movement’s graphic propaganda more than adults, as the survey research shows.
The fact that nuclear fears among children are more prevalent now than they were nine years ago — four times as great, according to the Michigan study — is further evidence of the freeze movement’s responsibility.
It’s perfectly true that administration officials spoke irresponsibly about the winnability of nuclear wars during their early months in office, but Reagan policies in fact have been little different from those of the Carter administration. Children had far fewer nuclear nightmares in 1980 than they do now.
The big changes occurring in the past three years are the rise of the freeze movement and the new attention that TV dramatists and movie producers have given to the topic.
Even more troubling than the terror induced in children are the ideological messages being given them by freeze advocates — most notably now by the legendary Dr. Seuss.
America’s foremost writer of books for children — the man who gave us Yertle the Turtle and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas — has just published a new book, The Butter Battle Book, whose not-very subliminal message to youngsters is that there is no essential difference between the United States and the Soviet Union, certainly none worth fighting for.
His characters aren’t openly Americans and Russians of course, but Yooks and Zooks. They build a wall between them and then launch an arms race — all because Yooks spread butter on the top of their bread and Zooks spread it on the bottom.
As it’s put by a Yook elder who works for the Zook-Watching Border Patrol, ‘You can’t trust a Zook who spreads bread underneath. Every Zook must be watched! He has kinks in his soul!”
In their enmity, the two sides first resort to slingshots to scare and deter each other, then cannons (like “the eight-nozzled, elephant-toted Boom-blitz” that “shoots high-explosive sour cherry stone pits”), then airborne chemical warfare devices and, finally, the “Big Boy Boomeroo,” which can blow them both to smithereens.
Dr. Seuss neglects to inform children that there are real differences between the Yooks and the Zooks of this world. One side built the wall between them in order to keep its own people from moving to the other side. One side has repeatedly rolled its tanks into other countries to keep them enslaved. One side lets people speak, vote and worship freely; the other employs secret police and psychiatric prisons to keep people in line. One side is content to maintain the status quo in the world; the other side exports revolution and violence as a matter of principle.
The burden of Dr. Seuss’s book is worse than the “Better Red than Dead” message adopted by nuclear disarmament groups over the years. Dr. Seuss’s message to American children is, “Red? It’s not so different.” More subtly, the message is that to defend one’s values is stupid, bigoted and dangerous to living things.
Sure enough, such messages are getting through to America’s youngsters. As Psychology Today notes, three years ago a group of teenagers founded the Children’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which has generated thousands and thousands of letters to President Reagan asking him to stop building nuclear weapons.
The article notes that researchers have found that Soviet children also fear nuclear war, though less intensely than American children, and that they, too, take action to prevent it — such as writing letters to people in NATO countries.
Which means, of course, that the children of the world are being mobilized against American nuclear preparedness. In the name of humanity, who is writing letters to Chairman Chernenko?