Classroom Activities

  1. After watching Caldicott’s speech, do you find her persuasive? Do you think that she should be considered an expert on nuclear weapons? If you find her credible and persuasive, identify specific sentences or passages that establish her credibility as a speaker.  If you do not find her credible and persuasive, identify sentences or passages that cause you to question her credentials.
  2. Caldicott says that her “bombing run” speech was designed to break through the “psychic numbing” of the American public, or their unwillingness to face up to the frightening reality of nuclear war. What sorts of rhetorical techniques did Caldicott use to shock or scare her audience? Do you think those techniques were effective in persuading her listeners or in motivating them to join her protest against nuclear weapons?Why or why not?
  3. Caldicott based many of her claims on her expertise as a medical doctor. Identify passages where Caldicott invoked her credentials as a medical professional or used medical terminology to discuss the nuclear arms race. How important do you think her ethos as a doctor was in persuading people to accept her argument that the world faced a “clinical emergency” because of nuclear weapons?
  4. In her speeches, Caldicott rejected the mythology of America as a force for peace in the world and as a model for other democratic nations–a “shining city on the hill.” What was her alternative view ofAmerica? How did she characterize America’s role in the world, and how did she talk about American history and politics? Who were the heroes and villains in her story of the arms race, and how did she describe their motivations and behaviors?
  5. How did Caldicott describe the effects of nuclear war in her speech? How would you describe her style? Some scholars have labeled Caldicott an “apocalyptic” speaker.  What does that mean?  And do you think this is a fair assessment of Caldicott?  Why or why not?
  6. Identify passages where Caldicott used visual imagery in her speech. How did she create images to convey the effects of nuclear war, and what do you think those images accomplished? Do you think Caldicott successfully provoked fear, horror, or other emotions in her audience?  Do you find her visual imagery compelling?  Did those images make you feel more motivated to act?
  7. Caldicott claimed that, because of the invention of nuclear weapons, humankind had to learn that “they can’t fight anymore.” Why do you think she said this, and do you think she offered realistic solutions to the threat of nuclear war? Why or why not?

Student Research

  1. Many communities had local nuclear freeze marches or demonstrations, and some schools participated in anti-nuclear education programs during the early 1980s. Were there any pro-freeze or anti-nuclear protests in your local community during that time? Using local newspaper archives, research the activities of nuclear freeze activists in your own community. When and where did such rallies or demonstrations occur?  Who spoke, how many people were involved, and what sorts of local reactions were there to these activities?  Were there “nuclear education” programs in your local schools?  What sorts of educational programs were there, and were there any controversies over those programs?
  2. Investigate the congressional debate over a nuclear freeze resolution in the early 1980s. Using major newspapers, magazines, and other published sources, provide an overview of the congressional debate over the nuclear freeze. Use the Congressional Record to investigate the arguments for and against the nuclear freeze made in the U.S. Congress.  Based on your investigation, discuss why you think a pro-freeze resolution passed in the House of Representatives but failed in the U.S. Senate.  Do you think it ultimately failed because its advocates made less effective arguments than its opponents?  Or do you think it failed for some other reason or reasons?
  3. Read J. Michael Hogan and Ted J. Smith, III’s “Polling on the Issues: Public Opinion and the Nuclear Freeze.” Public Opinion Quarterly 55 (Winter 1991): 534-569. Discuss the main findings of this article. What does this essay suggest was the role of public opinion polling in the freeze debate? Does the essay confirm media claims that up to 90 percent of the American public supported the freeze?  Given the findings of this article, do you believe that the nuclear freeze initiative reflected the “will of the people”?
  4. One of the groups advocating the nuclear freeze was Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR), an organization modeled after Caldicott’s Physicians for Social Responsibility. Founded in 1982, ESR’s mission was to teach “conflict resolution skills,” but it also distributed curriculum materials that taught children about the danger posed by nuclear weapons. Many school districts adopted this and similar curricula.  Watch the short film, “Bombs Will Make the Rainbow Break” (Zahm/Hurwitz Productions, 1982) and research the purposes and effectiveness of so-called “nuclear education.”  Do you believe that children spontaneously developed fears of nuclear war and had serious psychological problems as a result of those fears, as the film seems to suggest?  Do the statements in the film seem spontaneous and “uncoached,” or do you think the producers of the film encouraged the children to say some of the things they said?  Do you think children should get involved in political controversies like the freeze, or do you agree with critics who suggest that the freeze movement manipulated children for political purposes?  In short, do you believe that the nuclear education of the early 1980s was both ethical and necessary?  Would you support the adoption of such a curriculum in your own community?
  5. Visit the Physicians for Social Responsibility website, http://www.psr.org/. What are the primary goals and issues of concern for PSR today? How does PSR’s agenda seem to differ from its agenda in the 1980s, during the freeze campaign?  Is the freeze still an issue for PSR?  What other issues concern the PSR today?  Do you sense that the PSR is a liberal or leftist group, or does it also represent more conservative points of view among physicians and other medical personnel?  What sorts of political activities does it support?  Would you consider PSR a “mainstream” group, advocating voter education and mobilization?  Or would you describe it as more of a “radical” group?  Does it employ the sorts of apocalyptic or “fear” appeals associated with Helen Caldicott, or does it take a more reasoned and rational approach to the issues that concern the group?   In short, how does its rhetoric today compare to the rhetoric of Helen Caldicott?
  6. In the 1990s, Helen Caldicott extended her apocalyptic vision of the future beyond nuclear weapons to also include global warming and environmental threats. Read Caldicott’s 1992 book If You Love this Planet: A Plan to Heal the Earth. How are her arguments about climate change and environmental threats similar to her arguments about the threat posed by nuclear weapons? How are those arguments different? How does she link climate and environmental issues to the problem of nuclear weapons? Would you characterize Caldicott’s style of rhetoric more or less “apocalyptic” or more or less “radical” than they were in her speech at Northern Michigan University?

Citizenship Resources

  1. Watch Helen’s War, a film about Caldicott’s more recent campaigns against the U.S. military and American foreign policy. Has her rhetorical style changed since she led the anti-nuclear movement in the early 1980s? What about her tactics as a social movement activist?  Discuss whether you believe that Caldicott’s approach to political advocacy is both necessary and justified in the post-Cold War era.  Do you think people today find her more or less persuasive than she was in the 1980s?  Why?
  2. The debate over nuclear disarmament continues. Divide into teams and debate whether the U.S. Senate should ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The text of the treaty is available athttp://www.state.gov/www/global/arms/treaties/ctb.html. You can begin to research the issue by visiting the website of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) at: http://www.nti.org/e_research/e3_9a.html.  Further information on the treaty is available at the website of the British Broadcasting Company: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/1102500.stm.  You might even role play Senators and stage a mock congressional debate over the proposed treaty.
  3. Nuclear power has been touted by some as a clean way of meeting our energy needs without polluting the air or otherwise threatening the environment. Critics of nuclear power consider it an unsafe and hazardous energy alternative. Research the debate over nuclear power and write a position paper on whether it ought to be a major part of America’s future energy mix.  What is your position on nuclear power? Do you think the United States should build more nuclear power plants?  Would you feel comfortable with a nuclear power plant in your own community?
  4. Research the Plowshares movement, a Catholic-led antiwar protest group that was founded in the 1980s and continues today. To get started, go to http://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/the-plowshares-8-thirty-years-on/. What are the Plowshares involved in today? Are they still concerned with nuclear weapons, or have they adopted a new set of goals and concerns?  Do some research on protest demonstrations staged by the group.  Do you consider their “destructive, non-violent” actions necessary and effective?  Do their tactics raise ethical questions about the methods of protest in a democratic society?
  5. Today, many social movements are led by paid professionals with specific training and skills in public advocacy. These so-called “professional” movements claim to represent “grassroots” Americans, but in some ways they more resemble public relations firms or advertising agencies. Examples of such groups include various Pro-Life organizations, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, pro-gun advocates like the National Rifle Association, and many others.  Do you think that the rise of these “professional” movements has in some way diminished our democracy?  Are these groups more or less “extreme” in their views than genuine “grassroots” organizations?  In short, what does the rise of “professional” movements mean for our democracy?  Do you think they contribute to the polarized nature of our political debates, and what might their critics mean when they say that such groups have made us a nation of “spectators” rather than participants in democratic deliberations?

Last updated March 23, 2016