Friday, February 22, 2008

Ted Turner comes to town

The following is a column by Randall Beach

Billionaire, activist Ted Turner pitches plan for nuclear disarmament
Ted Turner thinks it’s time for us to smarten up and get to work abolishing nuclear weapons.
Turner, 69, but feisty as ever, was in New Haven Thursday as the main speaker for a two-day event by the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization called “Nuclear Weapons — The Greatest Peril to Civilization: A Conference to Imagine Our World Without Them.”
Although it’s a deadly serious topic, Turner, shown at right in the photo by Peter Hvizdak, put on a show, sprinkling his message with jokes and salty language.
There were about 75 people gathered in an upstairs room of Woolsey Hall, including Yale students, faculty and some earnest anti-nuke activists and scholars from around the world. But he got them laughing too.
Everybody knows something about Turner, including that he used to be married to Jane Fonda, but some people don’t realize what an activist he is. After launching CNN in 1980, then buying baseball’s Atlanta Braves and basketball’s Atlanta Hawks, he moved on to more idealistic pursuits, such as organizing the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
When Turner stepped up to the podium, he showed off his loud, multi-colored tie emblazoned with the flags of many countries. He said he was wearing it to show he’s an “internationalist” who believes the U.N. can help get us out of the mess the world is in.
Turner refused to use notes as he talked because, “I wanted to speak from the heart.”
He didn’t waste any time on platitudes. “For us to sit there with 10,000 nuclear weapons and tell others they can’t have any, especially when we let Israel have them — That’s bull----!”
“They’re no good for anything,” he said of nuclear arms, “except to threaten your neighbors. They don’t do what we say anyway.”
He added, “They don’t make us any safer. We’re getting beat in Iraq, with all the weapons we have. What are we going to do? Drop a (nuclear) bomb on Baghdad?”
Turner said things aren’t going any better for us in Afghanistan. “We’re spending $500 billion (for the two wars) and we’re being defeated, or tied, by a group of Taliban.”
He noted humanity faces two other major challenges: global warming and population growth. He said if Al Gore had been elected president, “global warming would be a receding problem. We’ve got to start making the right choice.”
Turner said he never endorses political candidates during campaigns. But he praised Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama because “he has said he’s for zero nuclear weapons.”
Although he’s thankful there haven’t been any nuclear exchanges yet, Turner said the only solution to this proliferation is “complete abolition of all nuclear weapons: an agreement by all countries not to make or deploy any weapons of mass destruction.”
Turner said if a few rogue states refuse to go along with this, “There’s a way to handle them, peacefully. You boycott them. ‘Nothing comes into or out of your country. We won’t trade with you.’”
When questioned about specifics of his idea, Turner stressed he doesn’t favor unilateral disarmament by the U.S. He advocates a 5- to10-year plan, brokered by the U.N., in which all countries with nuclear weapons would agree to gradually reduce their stockpiles.
If we don’t start to move on this, Turner warned, “We’re gonna be toast. And our planet is gonna be toast, too. If we don’t get rid of these weapons, they’ll get rid of us.”
He asked: “What kind of sense does it make to destroy millions of people, our children? How many of you like your museums? We’re gonna blow up all our museums! It’d be a real shame to lose Yale and its museums.”
Turner kept saying nuclear disarmament won’t be easy. But if we can pull it off, he said, life would be fun.
“Never before in history have human beings done the right thing on a consistent basis. I’ll be 70 this fall; I want to live long enough to see this done. I want to see my grandchildren have this.”
Turner called for a show of hands. “How many people here have grandchildren? How many love ’em? How many don’t care if they get blown to kingdom come? Come on!”
He said it’s very simple: “If we’re smart, we’re fine. If we’re stupid, we lose.”
Randall Beach can be reached at or 789-5766.

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