Tuesday, August 12, 2008

So Where's Henry Kissinger?

Like many famous public figures, Henry Kissinger says preventing nuclear war is a top priority. So why’s it left to local activists to do the heavy lifting?

This past weekend, about 75 people spent Saturday afternoon in a church in Dover, NJ to mark the anniversary of the atomic bombing that destroyed Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945 and discuss how to organize grassroots action to help get traction for a long-standing campaign to dismantle the nuclear arsenals that could destroy life as we know it. I’ve attended similar meetings, in big cities and in small towns, since the 1960s. In the 1980s, I went to the Soviet Union as part of a grassroots-organized citizen diplomacy campaign that helped to end the Cold War. Now we’re in another dangerous era of waging war in the backyard of riled up nations with nuclear weapons.

So where was Henry Kissinger on Saturday? According to news reports, the former secretary of state was at the Olympic games in Beijing with President Bush. Did they discuss nuclear disarmament with the leaders of China, Russia and other nuclear-armed nations whose star athletes were gathered there to participate in peaceful competition? Nothing of the sort appeared in the news. Instead, the news was full of reports of nuclear-armed Russia invading neighboring Georgia, US and coalition troops battling in Afghanistan along the border of nuclear-armed Pakistan, while Russian and US officials rebuked each other.

And where was George Schultz, another former secretary of state, and other dignitaries who signed a letter with Kissinger in the Wall Street Journal calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons? Whatever Schultz was doing Saturday, which did not make the news, he’s weighed in on this issue from time to time.

In and out of office, these former high ranking officials have had the ear of presidents who could have ordered a stand down of the deployment of nuclear missiles, bombers and submarines. I doubt that Kissinger needs the moral support of 75 people at a church in Dover, NJ to advise Bush to order the Pentagon to get serious about honoring agreements hammered out nearly two decades ago, when Bush’s father was president, to end the Cold War and wind down the threat of nuclear war.

Is it possible that Kissinger doesn’t get listened to when he speaks to this President Bush on the topic of nuclear weapons? Maybe that’s why Kissinger signed that letter in the Wall Street Journal, to send a message to the military-industrial complex chieftains who have both ears of presidents. But that letter, which ran in January—like a previous joint statement the same group issued in January 2007—apparently didn’t light a fire under anyone in Washington. Whatever it takes to communicate with this White House, Kissinger’s expertise is needed on this topic. Kissinger previously advised a president (Nixon) who wanted to nuke Vietnam but instead settled for a political bombshell and reached out to China and the Soviet Union to reduce tensions that could have triggered a nuclear war. Kissinger can speak from direct experience on the dangers nuclear weapons pose to America and how to negotiate with adversaries to lessen those dangers.

So if Kissinger is getting nowhere talking to Bush about abolishing nuclear weapons, why isn’t he out speaking in churches and temples to drum up public support in places like Dover, NJ? (The largest employer in the heavily Republican area is Picatinny Arsenal, where nuclear missile warheads were developed, among other weapons.) Why aren’t Kissinger and his fellow heavy hitters out speaking at Rotary and Chamber of Commerce lunches in other places where the nuclear weapons industry is big business? If abolishing the threat of nuclear war is so vital to the future of America and the rest of the world, why aren’t they out there with local activists making their case to the public?

For more information: http://www.hoover.org/publications/digest/6731276.html

Jan Barry is the author of The Great Challenge: How You Can Help Prevent Nuclear War (1986), A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns (2000), and other works on civic activism.

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