Life in the Cold War 1980s

Three new additions to our archive of Pauling Peace Lectureship presentations have been added recently to the Events and Videos page of the OSU Libraries Special Collections website.  Dating to the mid-1980s, each is a reflection of the major, and mounting, concerns that peace activists and critics of U.S. foreign policy harbored during the eight year presidency of Ronald Reagan.

In 1984 Helen Caldicott, speaking in the weeks before a presidential election that she deemed “a referendum on the fate of the Earth,” dazzled an overflow audience with a fiery talk titled “We the People: A Prescription for Ending the Arms Race.” Originally a physician by trade, Caldicott increasingly came to devote more of her time (and eventually all of it) to peace activism as a fulfillment of what she believed to be her obligations under the Hippocratic Oath – speaking out against nuclear escalation seemed to Caldicott to be the ultimate in preventive medicine. Using a number of medical analogies throughout her presentation, Caldicott struck a cord with one journalist who noted her “poetically grotesque images of what happens to those hit by a nuclear weapon.”

Caldicott’s lecture included a series of scathing indictments of the Reagan administration, as well as the following recounting of a face-to-face conversation that she held with the President himself.

Helen Caldicott: A Sobering Meeting with President Reagan

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations George W. Ball spoke on October 9, 1985 to an audience that included Linus Pauling. Ball’s presentation, titled “United States Foreign Policy,” continued in the vein of many of the themes introduced by Dr. Caldicott, including harsh criticisms of President Reagan, by now re-elected.

In Ball’s view, the cruel irony of the times lay in the fact that at the very moment that the Soviet leadership, under Gorbachev, was becoming more flexible in its approach to arms limitations, the United States was simultaneously growing more rigid. Particularly galling, in Ball’s view, was the Reagan administration’s enthusiasm for the Strategic Defense Initiative, more commonly known as “Star Wars.”

George W. Ball: The Folly of “Star Wars”

Author and diplomat John Kenneth Galbraith presented on “The Military Power and the Larger Complex” on October 14, 1986. Echoing his friends Caldicott and Ball, Galbraith suggested that U.S.-Soviet summit meetings contemporary to his talk were little more than a farce meant to convince the public that their concerns about nuclear hazards were being addressed. In Galbraith’s view, the massive escalation of military spending and consequent influence under Reagan’s watch had served to subjugate democracy itself. This despite the fact that the rationale for continued military expansion was based largely on what he perceived to be myths of tension and hostility between nations.

Galbraith’s perspective on current events was sobering indeed, but it did not preclude the relaying of a few funny stories.

John Kenneth Galbraith: The Humorous Side of Summit Meetings

Jointly established in 1982 by Linus Pauling and the OSU College of Liberal Arts as a means for honoring Ava Helen Pauling’s commitment to peace work, the Pauling Peace Lectureship has brought a number of major figures to Corvallis to discuss the ramifications of events in a changing world. In the coming months, several more presentations from the Lectureship will be made available on our Events and Videos page.

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