Time is running out, in the words of Noel Gayler, retired Navy admiral, to avoid nuclear war.
Gayler, who at one point during his eventful, 45-year military career targeted the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons, is in Orange County this month as UC Irvine's Regents Professor of Social Sciences to lecture about nuclear weapons and what can be done to improve relations with the Soviets.
"I went from a rather uncritical acceptance of nuclear weapons to the idea they could be set to one side, while true military capabilities were preserved," Gayler said Wednesday.
"But I came to realize that nuclear weapons were in and of themselves a threat, and that there was no unilateral way out. We had to work out a deal with the Soviets."
From 1967 to 1969, he targeted the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons as a part of the U.S. weapons program. Even at that time, he said, "The problem was to find enough targets for the weapons we had then." There are an estimated 50,000 nuclear weapons in the world today.
"The philosophy has been to build it first, then figure out what to do with it," Gayler said.
Gayler, 70, a three-time recipient of the Navy Cross and former commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, characterized his approach to the emotional debate of the arms race as "low-key and sensible."
"I'm not one of these peace-at-any-price types, or peaceniks," he said.
Reaction from his military colleagues is mixed, Gayler said. "What's Noel doing, some of them wonder. But I get some remarkable support.. . . I think the smarter ones support us."
Gayler, who once served as director of the National Security Agency, is a native of Alabama and the father of five children. He said that at home in Virginia, he "plays some tennis and swims once in a while."
"I try not to be obsessed by all this," he said. "I'm doing the best I can."
Since his mandatory retirement from the Navy eight years ago, Gayler has worked for the American Committee on East-West Accord, a Washington-based, nonprofit organization devoted to improving both political and economic relations with the Soviets. He also has made two trips to the Soviet Union in recent years to talk with scientists and heads of state there.
Final Talk Tonight
He winds up his visit tonight at UC Irvine with a talk entitled, "Can the Russians Be Trusted?"
"The Soviets, in my judgment, are very much concerned and ready to make a deal that's in their interest," Gayler said. "We should also be ready to make a deal that is in both our interests."
Gayler said the key to avoiding a nuclear holocaust must begin with the realization that stockpiling nuclear weapons makes the world less secure and that successful arms-control talks are vital to world security.
He added that the American public should not tolerate statements that nothing is expected to result from the upcoming Geneva summit.
"With every year the danger accumulates," Gayler said. "We don't have all the time in the world."