Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Critique of Nuclear Deterrence in The New York Times

On Saturday, October 9, my letter to the editor of The New York Times was printed. The letter was in response to an earlier editorial from the Times that essentially called on the UK to scale back its plans for replacing its Trident nuclear weapon system and rely on the United States for a full "nuclear deterrent."

Before joining the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, I worked for two years with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the UK. CND has worked tirelessly for over 50 years against nuclear weapons in the UK and around the world. Trident replacement was a huge issue when I worked there in 2006-07, as it continues to be now.

Typically I only write letters to the editor when an article or editorial gets me so fired up, I have no choice but to respond. This was one of those cases. Here at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, we are working hard to debunk the myth of nuclear deterrence, like in our new 5-minute animated video. Combine that with my history and passion for preventing the UK from replacing its nuclear weapon system and you have a perfect story for me to comment on.

I have had a reasonable amount of success in getting letters to the editor published in major newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and many national UK papers. I would like to share my formula here in the hopes that it will help you get your opinions published when there is something you feel compelled to comment on.

1. As I mentioned previously, the issue must be something you are passionate about.
2. You don't have to be exceptionally knowledgeable about the issue (you're only writing 150-200 words), but you should know enough that your argument doesn't have any holes.
3. Keep it short and focused. You may disagree with 12 different things that were said in the article. Pick the top one or two and respond to them. You only have a few words to work with - make each one count.
4. Include an anecdote, metaphor or something catchy that will set your letter apart from the hundreds the editors receive every day (in my case with the NYT letter, talking about sending a friend out in the rain with an umbrella that only works in theory).
5. Include your contact information at the bottom of the letter, including address, phone number and email (don't worry - they'll only publish your city).

The letters to the editor page is the second-most read page in every newspaper, just after the front page. While you may not get every letter published that you do write, you occasionally will have important successes that could help change the minds of a significant number of people.

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