Panel Hears Children Tell of Nuclear War Fears
Washington--"A lot of kids are scared they might not have a future because of nuclear war," said Jessica Fiedler, an 11-year-old from Muscantine, Iowa, to members of a House committee last week. "I want a future, too."
Jessica was one of three children to testify before the Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families last week about their fears of nuclear war.
Her testimony--and that of the other children--provided spectators in the packed hearing room with a dramatic portrait of an age group said to be deeply troubled by living under the threat of nuclear destruction.
But their testimony came over the strong objection of Republicans on the panel, who alleged that the hearing was politically motivated and claimed that defense policy was not "an appropriate topic of discussion for the committee, even if the witnesses are children."
"I question the meaning of 'bipartisanship' as defined by this committee's majority," said Representative Thomas J. Bliley Jr., Republican of Virginia, at the beginning of the session. "Apparently, it thinks that it can do anything that it wants without taking minority views into account."
He added that if the Democrats on the committee were "serious about the topic of nuclear war," they would have opened for discussion the question of controversial curriculum guides and educational comic books "that have vivid pictures guaranteed to keep your children awake at night."
Gerald Orjuela, a 12-year-old from Brooklyn, N.Y., told members of the panel that he assumed that they "are all sensible and intelligent people."
"I'm also sure that Yuri Andropov is intelligent and that President Reagan is intelligent," he said. "But why is it that we don't use our intelligence for peace, instead of for war?
"We're frightened that a lot of countries have the bomb," Gerald continued. "We're frightened that we might be hit. Why can't we live in a world with one rule--peace?"
"I think instead of worrying so much about nuclear war, we should do something about it," added Jessica Fiedler. "But I'm still scared. It's scary to think about the world being destroyed, and nothing is left."
Ursell Austin, a 16-year-old from Oakland, Calif., told the committee Continued on Page 13
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that "the first time I heard about nuclear bombs was on television."
"I was home one Saturday and there was nothing much on, so I turned to this program on Hiroshima," Ursell said. "I was completely shocked when I saw it. It looked so weird, like the whole city was black and scorched. People were walking around burnt to a crisp and they looked like they were in pain, but they didn't say anything.
"The schools I went to never talked about nuclear weapons or Hiroshima or the arms race," she continued. "I think maybe teachers were afraid to talk about it. It made me think it just wasn't a big deal to them, or it wasn't important, or they were afraid."
"I think about the bomb just about every day now," she said. "It scares me about my future. I really want to have children and a family some day, but then I'd feel fear for them, too. It makes me wonder whether I should have kids at all."
Fears Not Uncommon
Dr. John E. Mack, a professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, told the committee that the fears expressed by the children are not uncommon.
As evidence, he cited a longitudinal study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan.
From 1975 to 1982, he said, the researchers administered questionnaires to about 17,500 high-school seniors from 130 public and private schools around the country.
"On the question, 'of all the prob-lems facing the nation today, how often do you worry about the chance of nuclear war?' they found a fourfold increase from 1975 and 1982 of those who worry 'often,"' he said.
Furthermore, Dr. Mack continued, they also found a 61-percent increase during that period in those who agreed or mostly agreed that "nuclear or biological annihilation will probably be the fate of all mankind within my lifetime."
He also cited a study commissioned by the American Psychiatric Association to examine the psychosocial impact of nuclear advances.
That study of 1,100 5th through 12th graders found that 40 percent of the respondents reported that before they were 12 they were aware of nuclear developments.
"Although the majority thought that civil defense would not work, a considerable percentage considered it essential," he said. "Approximately 50 percent of the high-school-age students said nuclear advances had affected their thoughts about marriage and their plans for the future. A majority said nuclear advances affected their daily thinking and feeling."
"Among the more detailed responses of teen-agers from high schools in the Boston area, there were vivid expressions of terror and powerlessness, grim images of nuclear destruction, doubt about whether they will ever have a chance to grow up, and an accompanying attitude of 'live for now,"' he continued. "Some expressed anger toward the adult generation that seemed to have so jeopardized their futures."