William Lambers: Wheaties, breakfast of nuclear disarmament
The longest journey begins with a single step. One of the first steps toward eliminating nuclear weapons was 65 years ago on Dec. 8 when President Dwight Eisenhower gave his “Atoms for Peace” speech.
This history can inspire us today for getting rid of all nukes worldwide.
But, first, have some breakfast. That is what Ike’s assistant C.D. Jackson and Atomic Energy Commission director Lewis Strauss did when writing “Atoms for Peace.”
Eisenhower said in his memoirs “to work on the draft of the speech on this subject, Strauss and Jackson met again and again at the Metropolitan Club in Washington for breakfast, appropriately, the project took on the code name Wheaties.”
Strauss wrote of the breakfast club, “Our standing order started with a cereal advertised as Wheaties. We began to refer to the enterprise as ‘Wheaties’ when necessary to talk about it on the telephone or elsewhere.” It is the breakfast of champions and nuclear disarmament.
Their goal was to alert the American public about the growing threat of nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union had recently tested a hydrogen bomb and the Cold War nuclear arms race was accelerating rapidly.
Eisenhower wanted the speech to provide hope for escaping this nuclear nightmare. He made last-minute edits on the plane ride to New York, where he would deliver the speech before the UN General Assembly.
There were two major proposals made by Eisenhower in “Atoms for Peace.”
The first plan was for the Cold War rivals to divert nuclear technology away from military use. Instead, atomic energy should be used for peaceful purposes like fighting disease and hunger or providing energy.
As Eisenhower said in his speech, “if the fearful trend of atomic military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind.”
The president also invited the Soviets and others for negotiations “to seek an acceptable solution to the atomic armaments race.”
“Atoms for Peace” led to the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1957. As the agency’s current director, Yukiya Amano, explains, “We work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and we help countries use nuclear science and technology to produce more food, generate more electricity, treat cancer and respond to climate change.”
These are the critical issues that bind all nations. But, as we sit here today, there are still 15,000 nuclear weapons globally, most of these held by the United States and Russia.
As Eisenhower said, we need diplomacy “if the world is to shake off the inertia imposed by fear and is to make positive progress towards peace.”
The United States could start by finally ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a goal first pursued by Eisenhower. We should promote disarmament and more peaceful uses of nuclear technology.
Every person can make their voice heard on eliminating nuclear weapons. Breakfast anyone?
William Lambers is the author of “Nuclear Weapons and Ending World Hunger.”