Memo From Mac



The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
Burlington, Iowa

My Wife, The Rabble-Rouser 
February 1983

She had gone through her weeks of daily radiation treatments, burning and blistering in anger and frustration, and now her anger was directed at those who threaten the whole world with radioactivity.

My wife, the rabble-rouser.

I wrote last Thanksgiving about her emerging from an operation for a breast malignancy, with hope and prayer.

The thanksgiving still goes on, and this is sort of a sequel.

One of her souvenirs from the cancer ward, which I have hanging over my desk for a reminder, is a bright yellow tag with the 3-bladed radiation symbol printed in purple on it, and the warning, "Radioactivity Precautions," which had been hung over her bed to tell people she was dangerous with the radioactive implant in her.

"You know," I said happily when I got her home, "this is like sleeping with Three-Mile Island." She vowed to get even for that crack.

She healed her skin and did her exercises and went back to her teaching and the other night she handed me a brochure and said, "I want to go to Washington to demonstrate for the nuclear freeze. Sally McMillan is organizing the bus."

"To Washington? On a bus? Nine hundred miles each way? Don't be silly. Besides, I just got back from Washington."

"We leave here Sunday night," she said, reading from the brochure. "Get to Washington early Monday afternoon. There's a meeting that night, and the rally on the Hill Tuesday. We leave Tuesday afternoon and return home Wednesday noon. It costs $75. They're letting people sleep in churches. But we can stay with one of the kids, and see our grandchildren between the meetings. I think we ought to go."

I managed to change the subject.

I had to go out of town and, driving down the road, the size of my stupidity hit me. "You damn fool," I said. "Three months ago you were in panic that your wife might be dying of cancer and you were helpless to do anything about it. And here she is, worrying about everyone else dying, and determined to do something about it. And you think you're too busy."

I'd been interviewing candidates Glenn, Hart, Cranston about the nuclear freeze; studying the Catholic bishops' pastoral letter draft; following the dispute over Kenneth Aldeman's nomination; replying to Reagan's charge that the freeze proponents are Communist dupes.

All that is interesting. But when it comes down to it, whether there is a freeze or not, whether there's any halt in the arms race, depends upon whether enough people demand it, loud enough to let the politicians know they mean business.

I know this is considered terribly unsophisticated this idea of taking politics to the street. The politicians frown on it, and the high-class editorial writers and political scientists and the intellectual commentators.

But the civil rights changes didn't begin to come until people took to the streets, nor the end in Vietnam.

Of course, everyone had been for civil rights for blacks as long as they stayed in their place; and everyone was for getting out of Vietnam as soon as we won. So everyone's for ending the nuclear arms race as soon as it's safe.

Nothing really changes until someone is willing to take the step beyond the safe and conventional.

"Not only the use of strategic nuclear weapons, but also the declared intent to use them involved in our deterrence policy, are both wrong," declares Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, architect of the bishop's letter.

That's strong stuff. Made even scarier when you note as defense writer Thomas Powers does, that since the influence of the bishop or any of the rest of us "does not extend to the Soviet Union, any steps they recommend must of necessity be unilateral. This is the reef "on which all previous unofficial, extra governmental attempts to halt the arms race have foundered."

This latest effort, labeled "Citizens Lobby for a U.S.-Soviet Nuclear Weapons Freeze" may also founder. But a powerful tide is running.

"You're right," I told her when I got home, "we should go to Washington. But are you sure you're up to the bus trip?"

"Don't worry about me," she said, looking up Sally's number. "It's the grandkids I'm worried about."

Beware, bombs, I muttered. You may have met your match in my radioactive lady.

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