Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Richard Lugar and Federal Government and Barack Obama and Legislation and Government and Public Safety and Government Reform and Notions and Military

Hopeful news about the nukes aimed at your head

April 13, 2009

We interrupt this program for a special news bulletin.

For the next two minutes, you must not agonize, a  la my friend Dik, as your 401(k) becomes a 104(k).

You must set aside all "move-that-bus" mania.

You even must abandon your angst over the next finalist axed from "Idol."

Instead, because President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev have now dared to raise that tired and trivial matter of nuclear disarmament, you must focus on mundane matters of mass destruction.

To keep this light and entertaining, let's start with a trip down memory lane.

In the summer of 1984 (the year, not the novel), I went to work for a New England advertising/PR agency. Our office was just outside Hartford, Conn., in the heart of insurance and defense country.

A few weeks after I started, agency president Joe Hoke went on vacation. When he returned, he was excited about a book he'd read. So he bought 70 copies, one for everyone in the shop.

The book was about nuclear arms. It explained how the world's nations have enough nukes pointed at one another to eliminate life as we know it several times over. It said there's great risk that nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of rogue states or terrorists.

It also said this issue is so complicated that the average Joe feels powerless to do anything about it. So we pretend it's not there and focus on issues over which we have at least the pretense of control.

Our Joe was anything but average. So he took the book's take-action premise to heart. He believed the only way we'll ever make the world safer is for citizens, working individually and collectively, to convince politicians that the nuclear arms issue matters.

I read the book. I sent Joe a memo. I told him I had an idea.

I said if individuals could do something, so could ad agencies. I said we should run a full-page ad in The Hartford Courant. The ad would invite presidential candidates Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale to tell us what they'd do about nuclear weapons. Then we'd run a second ad sharing their responses.

Joe told me to go write it.

After our ad ran, I set about getting the candidates to respond. That proved about as painful as a hernia.

But eventually, we got answers. They smacked of the doublethink in "1984" (the novel, not the year). We ran the ad anyway.

I doubt we changed a vote or influenced a policy. But at least we put the issue on the public agenda.

The next year, my friend Alan and I created another ad. It featured a sad-faced little girl, holding up a painting. The painting was all black. The headline said, "We asked Mrs. Campbell's second-grade class to paint a picture of the future."

The copy cited a Science Digest study about kids worried about nuclear war. The study found 16 of 17 second-graders "deeply disturbed ... profoundly pessimistic ... often just plain scared."

The ad urged readers to "launch the most powerful weapon in America: your opinion" and concluded, "The world is up in arms. Why aren't you?"

Fast-forward to 2008. I found myself in the Indianapolis office of Sen. Richard Lugar. I'd come to talk health policy. But I was more enamored with the chart on the conference room wall.

The chart is a score card. It tracks implementation of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, or CTR.

Authored and driven by our senator and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Georgia, who now heads the not-for-profit Nuclear Threat Initiative), CTR's mission is to dismantle those infamous weapons of mass destruction--including and especially nukes. It started in former Soviet states and has since expanded to other places.

The chart shows significant progress.

I've long thought Nunn and Lugar deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for this lonely and too-little-known endeavor, but so far, that honor has eluded them. It's only nukes, after all.

Other than Lugar and Nunn, you don't find many pols or pundits talking about nuclear disarmament. Out of sight, out of mind.

So it surprised folks last week when Obama and Medvedev raised the issue of a nuclear-free world. Nunn liked it. Lugar has been traveling and hasn't reacted. Most citizens, having heard little about this issue for decades, probably didn't notice.

Still, there are 26,000 nuclear weapons in the world. The United States and Russia control about 95 percent of them. And even in the midst of an economic tsunami, the presidents of these two nations said this is worth addressing.

A few of us old ad guys like that. We're pleased that the likes of Lugar, Nunn, Obama and Medvedev are trying to make the planet a safer place.

Now, forget the nukes pointed at your head and go back to "American Idol."
___

Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com. 

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