DES MOINES — Consider Des Moines and suppose just one medium-size bomb exploded here, say one megaton . The fireball would be a mile wide and six miles high. Anyone in the open within a nine-mile radius would be burned to death, and fires would spring up throughout that radius. There simply would be little of Des Moines or suburbs standing, and all of it would be in flames.
Such was the vision insurance executive G. David Hurd painted for the Prairie Club, an intellectual salon for a select group of 40 Iowans, in the cold early spring of 1985.
Then, Hurd--president of the Principal Financial Group with about $20 billion in assets--figured he was almost alone among his peers in worrying about the consequences of nuclear war.
But now, thanks to the attention presidential politics has brought to Iowa, Hurd knows he is not the only person with an office suite in this state capital who is haunted by fiery images of "nuclear omnicide."
And, thanks in large part to the disciples of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based, nonpartisan peace group Beyond War, Hurd and about 100 other business executives--both Republicans and Democrats--have joined to make peace an issue in the precinct caucuses next Monday.
To that end, they put their names on a statewide newspaper advertisement Sunday calling on Iowans to turn out on caucus night and to weigh their choices--at least partly--on an atomic scale by considering candidates' views on disarmament and other nuclear issues.
This stand by some of the state's most prominent business people is the latest example of 6-year-old Beyond War's strategy to broadly influence the early stages of the 1988 presidential campaign.
Beyond War's goal, as its spokesmen reiterate endlessly, is "to bring about an end to war as a means of resolving conflict."
Recently, Beyond War--claiming an active national membership of about 20,000 and about 500 full-time, unpaid volunteers--has been urging candidates to go beyond supporting the recently signed intermediate-range nuclear force treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union.
They may be getting results. In a recent speech here, Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, one of the leaders in the Democratic race, proposed negotiated agreements to end testing of nuclear warheads and strategic missiles as follow-ups to the INF agreement.
Beyond War's experience in another early presidential state, New Hampshire, seems to indicate that the peace campaign can at least raise its own profile. In that state, the group sent handwritten letters to more than 30,000 voters, urging them to consider candidates' nuclear arms policies before making a choice. Beyond War also sponsored a series of newspaper advertisements throughout the state.
The letter-writing and advertising campaigns doubled awareness of Beyond War and its concepts from 13% of the state's electorate to 25%, a poll of 600 voters in four cities found, according to Marilyn Pelz, a Los Angeles organizer for Beyond War.
However, it is in Iowa that Beyond War has been able to spin off a home-grown hybrid.
Business for Peace is an upscale, largely middle-aged coalition that meets for breakfast lectures on the U.S. defense budget, or speeches by presidential candidates, in a corporate dining room with abstract art on the walls and croissants and fresh fruit on the menu. Its members run a car dealership, insurance companies, banks, real estate firms, agribusinesses and one of the best-known companies in the state, the Maytag Corp.
"We wanted people to realize there were people who were in the mainstream of the peace movement," said construction executive Fred W. Weitz.
For example, a Republican activist and member of Kansas Sen. Bob Dole's Iowa campaign committee, Lloyd E. Clarke--who described himself as "one of the larger real estate developers in the state"--said: "There's not going to be any business opportunities in Iowa or elsewhere in the country if we have war, I mean an all-out war."
Clarke said he was vocal in opposing his candidate's early neutrality on the INF treaty.
"I told Bob Dole and the people close to him that that was not a good political statement to make," Clarke said. He also promised to "continue to use whatever personal influence I have with Bob Dole, with (the senator's wife) Liz Dole and with whoever is close to them that we must have (nuclear arms reduction) negotiations."
While members acknowledge that Beyond War was a catalyst in the founding of Business for Peace, some put a little distance between themselves and the Californians, who first came here in 1984 to spread their brand of nuclear awareness.
Although he credits Beyond War with "opening a lot of eyes" on nuclear issues in Iowa, David A. Oman, co-chairman of the state Republican Party, said: "I would suggest that Business for Peace is a step or two closer to the middle."
Jim Burch, a former advertising executive and full-time Beyond War worker, said the group has been careful to cultivate a nonpartisan, mainstream image by attracting the president of the Greater Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and a former head of the Republican National Committee to its advisory board.
Beyond War workers have met with nearly all of the candidates in both parties, Burch said, including a 25-minute session with Dole last fall in his Senate office.
In all its contacts with candidates, Beyond War members emphasize the positive, Burch said.
"We have set up for ourselves that one of the tenets of this movement is that we don't pose enemies, that we don't say they are to blame, that they are the ones at fault . . . " he explained. "We don't feel that there's any advantage or anything creative about putting people on the defensive and causing them to have to justify themselves."