2009 saw the passing of Herbert York and John Silard who each played important roles in the efforts to bring about the nuclear free world that President Obama has called for.
Herbert York helped lead and organize the scientific community against the ABM Missile.
He played a lead role in educating Senators Cooper (R-Ky) and Hart (D-Mich) to oppose the ABM. That was the first time the Senate went to great lengths to question a weapons system. Senate staffers organized science briefings for Senators and their staffs. The breakthrough education took place in small groups as Senators learned why the ABM was a reckless weapon. I lobbied against the ABM and my Senate staff friends told me how attentive Senators were to York and his colleagues tutorials.
York’s role made a significant difference in the Senate rising out of its then somnolence by seriously challenging a weapons system. So effective was the work of York and his allies that though the Senate failed to kill the weapon, it was by a 50-50 vote. That legitimized a more active Senate role on these matters. That is part of Herb York’s legacy.
John Silard’s obituaries recognized his pioneering civil rights legal advocacy. What the obits omitted was John’s constant policy initiatives on nuclear weapons control and non-proliferation. His memos were filled with ideas and in the late 70s and early 80s I had a chance to work with him as we interested Senators in promoting resolutons that debated the issue and tried to prod reluctant Executive Branch officials. John used his skills to draft resolutions to less hostile Committees. John knew that the Senate can be a place where ideas form, policy initiatives develop on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation that others want to ignore.
York’s and Silard’s contributions for today go directly to the Obama initiatives for a nuclear free world. As we work for that world we need the New Start treaty, efforts to control nuclear proliferation and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. York’s and Silard’s legacy asks us to use our intelligence and imagination to persuade Senators to pay attention to what the stakes are in not acting. I know it is hard to open up the auditory channels of those Senators who love to talk. Our challenge is to find the ways that they will listen and be persuaded.