Thursday, February 10, 2022

Henry Richard Maar III's "Freeze!"

Henry Richard Maar III is Lecturer in History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and California State University, Northridge.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Freeze!: The Grassroots Movement to Halt the Arms Race and End the Cold War, and reported the following:
From page 99:
in June 1981 by Hamilton Fish (Republican, New York) expressed “the sense of the Congress that nuclear war represents a great hazard and should be prevented.” The resolution urged President Reagan to propose arms control negotiations that would reduce substantially the United States and the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenals while encouraging all nuclear nations to “propose annual reductions and gradual elimination of all nuclear weapons.” That November, Senator Mark Hatfield introduced a bill expressing “the conviction of Congress that the United States should not base its policies on the belief that the United States can limit, survive, or win a nuclear war.” Both bills were referred to committee, though neither made it out.

In the public realm, fiscal conservatives became uneasy with the ballooning defense budget and subsequent deficits, while anxious town halls and churches across the nation began endorsing a nuclear freeze. Despite the momentum, Freeze activists were not ready to align themselves with Congress. In their first year “Structure Proposal,” activists sought to work on “a local, decentralized basis” creating Freeze Task Forces that would coordinate contacts with government officials at home and abroad, raise funds for the Freeze, develop educational and promotional resources, as well as coordinate national events or projects. In acting locally and building support in each Congressional district, the campaign hoped to secure bipartisan support from 150 Congressmen prior to the introduction of any resolution.

But Freeze activists did not have the luxury of building a longer campaign in each Congressional district. As SANE’s David Cortright lamented, “the train was already leaving the station ... and freeze leaders were powerless to stop it.” Within a year of the first Annual National Nuclear Freeze conference in Washington, D.C., eager Congress members began courting the movement. One was Boston’s Edward J. Markey (Democrat, Massachusetts). A four-term representative, Markey was a major critic of nuclear power and an opponent of nuclear proliferation who garnered attention from the antinuclear movement in the wake of the TMI accident. By early 1982, Markey was in the early writing stages of a book outlining his opposition to nuclear power and his concerns over nuclear proliferation when his administrative assistant Peter Franchot discovered Randall Forsberg’s “Call.” An antinuclear activist himself and a former lobbyist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, Franchot repeatedly told Markey that the Freeze movement would “sweep the country” and there was no reason Markey’s office “shouldn’t be in the middle of it.”

While Markey’s office began work on a freeze resolution, they soon ran into a major dilemma: Markey was on neither the House Armed Services Committee nor the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), making his claim to an arms control issue, such as nuclear freeze, a violation of legislative protocol.
If a browser were to open to page 99 of Freeze! the reader would be cast into the origins of the nuclear freeze debate as it entered the Congress. The reader would understand that nuclear freeze was an important political issue rapidly gaining momentum across the country. Likewise, page 99 would introduce readers to several important political figures who will come up later in the book (such as then-Rep. Edward Markey) and flags important activists (like David Cortright and Randall Forsberg). The reader would also gather the sense that the movement is a bit uneasy with the pace at which the Congress is proceeding, but ultimately cannot stop it.

The test, however, has its limits, as one page can never tell the whole story. If a reader were to judge the entire book on the basis of page 99, they may incorrectly conclude it is only about the efforts of Congress to respond to or enact a nuclear weapons freeze. But Freeze! demonstrates how a social movement manifests and gains support across society—from the Halls of Congress to the pulpits of the Catholic bishops and the squabbles among Evangelical preachers. The dangers of the arms race that the movement warned against saturated the popular culture of the period, from books and comics, to songs and music videos, in addition to major motion pictures and a made for TV movie that garnered over 100 million viewers (ABC’s The Day After). It became an important, bipartisan political rallying cry that the Reagan administration was forced to address—or face the ire of the public at the ballot box.

Although the page 99 test highlights important figures and an important moment, it ultimately misses the crux of the book’s argument. While we may think we know how the Cold War ended, it took more than just the willingness of Reagan to break with the hawks surrounding him, and it took more than just the new thinking of Gorbachev to make the peaceful outcome possible. Freeze! demonstrates that the diplomatic achievements that defined the end of the Cold War were a byproduct, not just of two giant personas of the era, but of a discourse between the United States and the Soviet Union that was transformed by the direct pressures of antinuclear activism and public opinion.
Visit Henry Richard Maar III's website.

--Marshal Zeringue