If Only I Could Remember…

I had a very surreal experience this past week that took me back to my seminary days. It was brought to my attention that Barack Obama had interviewed me in 1983.

I began Union Seminary in the fall of 1982. I was lucky to find an internship working for a group at Columbia University called Arms Race Alternatives (ARA). It was mostly clerical work, but it was a job and it was for a cause that was important to me. ARA organized activities on campus to try to reduce the threat of nuclear war.

The early 1980’s were a time of real fear of nuclear war. The cold war was still being fiercely fought and the saber rattling that went on between the US and the USSR could be truly frightening. This was the time when Jonathon Schell published “The Fate of the Earth.” Schell’s book, which was first a series of New Yorker articles, concludes, “Two paths lie before us. One leads to death, the other to life…. One day—and it is hard to believe that it will not be soon—we will make our choice. Either we will sink into the final coma and end it all, or, as I trust and believe, we will awaken to the truth of our peril…and rise up to cleanse the earth of nuclear weapons.” (Fate of the Earth, p. 231)

This was the time of the nuclear freeze movement and there were widespread efforts on college campuses to build public opinion in favor of nuclear disarmament. For those too young to remember, we felt about nuclear weapons then, the way many feel about terrorists today. It wasn’t a question of if, but of when.

In March 1983 an article appeared in the Columbia Sundial, a monthly student newsmagazine, written by a young undergraduate named Barack Obama. In it he quotes me, several times, about the work of ARA and the need for nuclear disarmament. (You can view the article at http://www.scribd.com/doc/10499043/Barack-Obama-Breaking-the-War-Mentality-March-10-1983-Sundial.)

The personally sad part of the story is that I cannot remember any of this. I don’t remember being interviewed and I didn’t even know of the existence of the article until this week. It is wild to think that Obama and I crossed paths and that he quoted me in this article. It is fun to think of the connection and tell the story.

The more important element is that with the demise of the Soviet Union we are able to be in denial about the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons. They are still there, and I am still worried.


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