Randall Forsberg

UPDATED 12/27/1982 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/27/1982 at 01:00 AM EST

To improve national and international security, the United States and the Soviet Union should stop the nuclear arms race.
—Opening line of Randall Forsberg's "Call" for a nuclear freeze

Other years had other causes—civil rights, ecology, the Vietnam War—but this was clearly the year of speaking out on nuclear arms proliferation. Referenda calling for a nuclear freeze passed in eight out of nine states where they appeared on the ballot Nov. 2, while hundreds of local governments from coast to coast passed similar resolutions throughout the year.

Behind much of that action was a 39-year-old former prep school English teacher who dared to tread onto the dense-packed field of strategic arms jargon (MX, MIRVs, megatons) and openly challenge the position of the President and the Pentagon. For Randall Forsberg, founder of the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies in Brookline, Mass., the tide of sentiment against more nuclear arms has been especially gratifying. She has devoted almost 15 years to a quest to "know more about arms and the use of military power than most people outside established military circles." Now, notes another antinuclear leader, physician James Muller, she has emerged as "the intellectual force behind the freeze movement," which argues that since the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. have reached nuclear parity, both sides can and should stop the arms spiral by simply ceasing to produce, test and deploy further nuclear weapons, missiles and delivery aircraft.

Forsberg's thesis grew out of a 1979 speech in Louisville, Ky., when she made the blunt observation that the way to make Washington and Moscow "stop the arms race is to stop it. Enough is enough." Audience members asked her if she had ever written her ideas down (she hadn't), and Forsberg began reflecting on one of the problems that had plagued peace and antinuclear groups: too many voices saying too many different things. "I figured that if we all got together for, say, two years and said the same thing, maybe something would happen. The freeze is such an obvious idea."

Within the next few months Forsberg penned the straightforward language of her "Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race," and that document became the centerpiece of the largely grass-roots campaign. Union leaders, politicians and church groups have come together in a movement which in 1982 spread nationwide. The genius of Forsberg's "Call," says Muller, is that it has permitted a mass movement to gather around it, "crystallizing in two or three sentences an approach millions can agree on. Before this, there was nothing." Sen. Ted Kennedy, who co-sponsored a freeze resolution in the Senate (it died in committee), credited Forsberg as the one who "galvanized the nation on an issue where so many others had almost lost hope."

Forsberg is, of course, not without detractors. Boston University President John Silber compared her to Britain's pre-WWII Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, arguing, "Paper does not deter war, but the power to prevail does. Mrs. Forsberg presumes she knows the Soviets better than they know themselves." President Reagan has criticized the freeze movement as giving the Soviets an unfair advantage. "To put the freeze first," Reagan said, "and then believe that we have not weakened our case for getting a reduction when the other side is so far ahead, doesn't make sense." The President has also suggested that the antinuclear movement was being manipulated by "foreign agents." Forsberg's response: "My motivations are clear. I'm not an agent for Moscow."

Born in Huntsville, Ala., Randy is the daughter of an actor, Douglass Watson, who plays the courtly Mac Cory in the NBC soap Another World. She graduated from Manhattan's Barnard College in 1965 and during the Vietnam era never was "hooked on protests." In 1967 she met and married a vacationing Swedish social worker, Gunnar Forsberg, and moved to Sweden. She took a job with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a government-funded agency that keeps tabs on the global arms race. Working her way up from typist to researcher specializing in nuclear weapons, she received what she calls "a paid education in what countries were spending and what they were buying."

In 1972 Randy and Gunnar separated ("He was gregarious, I was a workaholic"). After their 1974 divorce she returned to the U.S. with daughter Katarina, now 14, and signed on at MIT as a candidate for a Ph.D. in political science. She is still working on the degree.

Her institute has 12 full-and part-time staffers who pore over reams of defense data. Forsberg draws a salary of $18,000 as executive director, but plows all her lecture fees (up to $3,000 per) back into her organization. Her split role as detached analyst and intense advocate troubles her, she admits. Still, she is heartened by seeing in her travels "all those middle-aged women who aren't used to making a public ruckus, standing on corners to pass out leaflets. People around the country are saying, 'We are going to take responsibility. We must inform ourselves and stop leaving military policy in the hands of an elite.' "

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