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King: Youth should rally against nukes

POSTED: February 26, 2008 5:00 a.m.
A culture can be defined by the secrets it keeps from its children.

Primitive tribes had ghosts and demons that danced around ceremonial fires when the elders called on them. At puberty, the male initiates learned that those freighting figures were actually their fathers and older brothers, but the truth was kept from the women and children.

In the Victorian era, the secrets were sexual. Relations between men and women were stiff and stylized. What went on between parents behind closed doors was dark and mysterious. Children who were curious were chastised. Young men might learn the secrets before marriage, but unmarried women and the children? Never, not if it could be helped.

This generation has its secrets, too, but this time the unspoken is so frightening that the men avert their eyes away as well. Thus our children are never given the opportunity to learn from the previous generation, never encouraged to speak for themselves.

It has been 63 years, less then a single lifetime, since the first nuclear explosion. From that date to this, the world has gone from nuclear innocence - through a state of relative security resulting from a balance of power between two major nuclear nations - to a time of international upheaval and terrorism with nine known nuclear states and more, apparently, to come.

This is the frightening world into which our children are thrust. All other problems pale in comparison to a very real and growing danger of a nuclear exchange between nations or nonstate entities, yet no one really talks about it. But it's unfair to hide this reality from the next generation. They deserve a voice in their own future.

Why turn to our children? Because the adults have had their opportunity and failed. Oh, they've tried, some of them anyway. Scientists have tried. Popes and bishops have called for disarmament. Retired generals, former secretaries of state and defense, and certain members of Congress have echoed their call. The voices are compelling and persistent, but those in power refuse to listen.

What can our children do that these people can't? Everything, because they are the generation with the most to lose and the most to gain. We only have to look at the civil rights movement to understand the power of children.

Ruby Bridges was only 6 when she became the first black child to walk into an all-white school. Children no older than her marched in Birmingham, Ala., when dogs and fire hoses were turned on the crowd. In the end, the adults had to face their own shame, and they gave way. This is why we have to tell our children the truth, why we have to give them an opportunity to act.

Listen to Sam Nunn, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee: "We've had more than a few close calls: the Cuban Missile Crisis; the 1979 scare when a technician accidentally loaded a simulated attack into our warning system; the 1983 Soviet warning glitch which falsely showed five nuclear missiles launched against it by the U.S."

Yet instead of a serious effort toward worldwide disarmament, the U.S. Department of Energy wants to build a new nuclear bomb complex.

However, before the DOE can proceed it must solicit comment from the public in the form of an environmental impact statement. Less than two weeks from today, this process will begin with a hearing in North Augusta. The public is invited to attend in person or submit written comments that will then become part of the official record.

There is no age limit for attendees. A high school student is as welcome as any adult, probably more so. Any teacher or youth minister willing to accompany young people to North Augusta can get in touch with me.

I was in North Augusta at the last DOE hearing five years ago when a similar bomb proposal was discussed. I'm told that before the comment period was over, more than 32,000 Americans officially called for international disarmament as an alternative to a new round of weapon building.

Were they naive? A lot of well-informed people don't think so. Sen. Nunn is one of them. His plans for disarmament, can be found at here.

The U.S. is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In Article VI, we pledged to work toward international disarmament. So far we‘ve done nothing. It's time to give the next generation a chance to act.

Joan King lives in Sautee; e-mail, Her column appears biweekly and on Originally published Feb. 12, 2008.


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