Douglas Marshall is the third generation of his family to own and operate the H. Newton Marshall Co., a union painting contractor specializing in commercial and industrial work. It is a small company, with roughly $1.4 million in annual revenues and an average of 25 employees, but it is an important source of his considerable pride. His grandfather started it in 1900; Marshall grew up in the business at his father's side, and finally bought it from him in 1970. He would never do anything that might damage the company's heritage and reputation.

Nevertheless, in April 1983, Marshall wrote a letter to about 100 of his customers, primarily builders and general contractors, which began: "I'm taking a business gamble contacting you about a difficult topic, the nuclear arms race, because I believe its momentum poses an overriding concern." In the paragraphs that followed, he described his personal conviction that the placement of Pershing missiles in Europe would further increase the risk of nuclear war. He then said that he had joined Business Alert to Nuclear War, a group of businesspeople with similar concerns," . . . because I find that for me the best way to deal with the deep fears generated by this prospect is to try to do something about it." He closed the letter by asking him customers to consider joining the group -- which, he said, "has a tremendous potential for influencing public policy, because as businessmen we are perceived as being conservative. Perhaps wishing to arrest the momentum of the arms race and avoid holocaust is the ultimate conservatism."

Doug Marshall is not a man who makes such statements lightly, nor is he some kind of radical zealot who spends his time buttonholing passersby on the street. Most days, in fact, he has all he can do making his rounds of the Boston area bidding for jobs. Still, if he sees an interest or senses an opening, he will talk about peace and about how his attitudes have changed. "For a long time," he says, "I felt that the containment policies backed by nuclear threat had been successful, and I had been content to assume that these policies would work for the next 30 years. But now I think the whole issue has to be rethought. I believe in deterrence, but now we have so much deterrence that the danger of nuclear war -- particularly by accident -- is increasing, not decreasing."

Marshall came to these convictions by a route that can best be described as circuitous. Twenty-nine years ago, he was an anti-submarine-warfare officer aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Leonard F. Mason, having graduated from Harvard University as an ensign in the Navy's Reserve Officer Training Corps program. For most of Marshall's two years in peacetime service, the Mason floated tranquilly in the Pacific Ocean, and he peered at the equally placid surface of his sonar screen. But once, in November 1956, there was an ominous stirring in the green, glowing depths below. As Marshall remembers it, the Mason was part of a large fleet dispatched to guard Hong Kong against the possibility that the Chinese Communists might grab for it while international attention was focused on the Suez crisis. The Mason was three days out of Los Angeles when, at three o'clock in the morning, one of the petty officers under Marshall's command reported the presence of an unidentified submarine apparently trying to penerate the destroyer screen. Marshall was ordered to arm the ship's depth charges. For about half an hour, the mystery blip drifted along the edges of the sonar screen. Then it disappeared completely.

Following his tour aboard the Mason, Marshall went to work in the family business, where he served as a project manager and estimator. Then came the Berlin Wall crisis in 1961, and Marshall was recalled to active duty and assigned to the destroyer U.S.S. Miller, which was to patrol the Straits of Denmark between Iceland and Greenland. There the Miller would wait for the anticipated deployment of Soviet submarines from Northern Russia into their battle positions in the Atlantic. "That, to me, was the most crucial part of my life because I felt it was not farfetched to visualize myself as pulling the trigger on World War III," says Marshall. Indeed, he considered the threat so real that he built a small bomb shelter in the basement of his home in Norwell, Mass. But the Berlin Wall incident unraveled into history and the Russian submarines never appeared.

Marshall laughs, but not for long, when it is pointed out to him that twice he has showed up for a war and nobody else came. "It goes to show you how far we've come," he says, "because today that joke's true. The weapons we've got now are so sophisticated that really nobody has to show up. It could start with a bad computer chip. How does it make you feel, trusting your security to the same computers that handle your credit cards?"

During the 1960s, Marshall was a hawk on the Vietnam War -- a position that put him at odds with his wife, Jean. "The whole thing is very painful for me," he says. "I was so sure that I was right. My whole training told me that I must be right. But it turned out that actually she was right. I used to think I was an expert, 25 years in the Naval Reserve, a lieutenant commander trained in geopolitics. I don't think that way any more; there's another kind of wisdom." As their three children grew older, Jean herself became more and more involved in the peace movement through her local church. Today she is the part-time coordinator of peace-related activities for the United Church of Christ in southeastern Massachusetts. "She's kept me locked into the issues," Marshall says. "I listened to her describe her own work and I kept wondering what I could do."

In the spring of 1981, Marshall and his wife attended a church-sponsored lecture that changed his life. The speaker, a former senior missle adviser to the Air Force, emphasized that the proliferation of nuclear weapons had not increased national security but had, in fact, decreased it. "When he said that," Marshall recalls, "somehow everything congealed for me, and my perspective changed. Until that moment, I thought having more planes, more bombs, more everything was the way to increase security. After the meeting, I sensed I had heard something profound for me, but I couldn't articulate it."

Soon thereafter, Marshall attended a weekend peace conference held at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Following the conference, the guests were invited to share their thoughts with one another in groups organized around various professions. Marshall wandered into the room set aside for businesspeople, feeling that here, at least, were people he knew shared a common point of view. "I didn't really know what I was looking for," he says. "I just wanted to get involved in some way. I had really felt safe in exposing my changed views only within my church community. I was afraid of being ridiculed. Seeing those other businesspeople in that room gave me a lot of confidence."

Enough confidence, in fact, to write to his customers. "I took a risk sending out that letter," he says. "Who can tell? Maybe even talking about the danger of nuclear war would be considered unpatriotic in my industry. I didn't want to jeopardize my business, but I felt compelled to speak out on what I regard as the most crucial issue of our time. I was just trying to get something started, a little spontaneous combustion. It's awesome. We go on day after day as if everything's normal. But there's nothing normal about these times."

Sitting in his South Boston warehouse surrounded by hundreds of paint cans, Marshall looks unequal to the enormous threat of a nuclear holocaust. Yet it is precisely in such unlikely champions as Doug Marshall that the future of a new national movement may lie. Until recently, the "little spontaneous combustion" he was looking for simply didn't exist anywhere within the vast and powerful business community on any of the issues considered part of the debate on national security. Other professions spoke up: Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and, more recently, U.S. Lawyers Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control. But business somehow couldn't find its tongue. Only within the past two years has the one segment of society that many observers regard as the most influential been heard from as an identifiable coalition of interests.

At the moment, this nascent movement is little more than a disparate collection of organizations and individuals who, like Marshall, have decided that someting needs to be done. The organizations include Business Executives for National Security (BENS), a Washington, D.C.-based trade associaion; affiliates like Business Executives for Nuclear Arms Control (BENAC), in Philadelphia; and a few independent groups such as the New Forum in Palo Alto, Calif. (Business Alert, which Marshall joined two years ago, has since merged with BENS.) The individuals involved range from everyday businesspeople like Doug Marshall to full-time entrepreneur-activists like Harold Willens, the former chairman of California's 1982 Bilateral Nuclear Freeze Initiative. All told, the movement probably is made up of no more than 2,000 businesspeople, of which BENS alone accounts for 1,250. But even these numbers, some observers insist, are disproportionately impressive, given business's legendary lack of interest in social issues. "In a society as diverse as ours," says Larry K. Smith, executive director of the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, "no one segment can do it alone. But the involvement of business in these issues represents an important, essential, and even historic moment."

The conviction that informs this collage of groups and personal initiatives is that many of the techniques used in building a successful business can be applied productively to issues of national security as well. Executives and entrepreneurs, it is said, are practical, action-oriented, and open-minded. They understand the relationship between costs and benefits; they can relate short-term tactics to long-term goals; and they can move quickly from a plan that doesn't work to one that might. "If a guy is hard-headed enough to run a business," says New Forum co-founder Allan M. Brown, also president of Vance M. Brown and Sons Inc., a building contractor in Palo Alto, "he presumably has a rational, pragmatic approach to life, as opposed to being a total visionary or philosopher.I mean, I have to approach everything in a problem-solving way, what's right and wht's wrong. Here it's bricks and mortar, and I have to put one on top of the other every day if the business is going to succeed."

Whether business can direct itself to national-security issues is, of course, an open question. Skeptics claim that the business community will never turn out in force, because it is intractably greedy and self-serving. But sympathizers are unperturbed. It has happened before, they say, and it can happen again.

A large part of the impulse powering the current business movement, in fact, traces its source to a surprisingly simple event in the mid-1960s. As Henry E. Niles, former chairman of Baltimore Life Insurance Co., remembers it, his wife, Mary-Cushing Niles, one day called on Joseph D. Tydings, then a U.S. Democratic senator from Maryland, asking him to urge the President to stop sending troops to Vietnam. During the course of their conversation, Tydings said. "I hear from the clergy, I hear from civic leaders, I hear from all kinds of groups. But where are the businessmen?" When Mary-Cushing got home she said to Henry: "Joe Tydings sent you a message. He wants the businessmen to speak out. What are you going to do about it?"

"I thought about it for weeks and weeks," says Niles, who is now 84. "I decided that the thing to do would be to write an open letter to the President and get as many business executives to sign it as possible, because businesspeople were generally thought of as supporting the war.I worked up a draft of the letter and sent it to a few friends I knew in business."

In January 1967, Niles bought space in The Washington Post and published the letter, which was signed by 173 business executives. Shortly thereafter, he formed a group out of the signatories and called it Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace. At the height of its influence, according to Niles, this historic initiative included roughly 4,000 members, and nearly everyone agrees it played a significant role in the movement to end the war. After the war, the organization tried to redefine its goals, even renaming itself Business Executives for New National Priorities. But it was never able to recapture its former influence.

Then, one evening in 1982, Niles had dinner with a businessman named Stanley Weiss.

For most of his life, Stanley Weiss had thought little about war, peace, or anything else having to do with national security. He was too busy living a fairy tale. In his early 20s, Weiss saw the movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, in which Humphrey Bogart searches for gold in Mexico. Weiss liked the idea so much that he went to Mexico to relive Bogart's adventure. For three years, from 1951 to 1954, he prospected for gold in the Central Plains of Mexico near San Luis Potosi. He never found any. But he learned his rocks, and he learned to survive. "They were dangerous times," he says. "Everybody was always armed. You know, I tell people now that nuclear war is bad for business because being dead is bad for business.But that's where I got that line. I mean, if I'd gotten shot, I never would've had a business."

In 1954, a cab driver in Charcas, Mexico, told Weiss that he knew of a vast mound of manganese that he would show Weiss if they could form a partnership. Weiss agreed immediately: He knew that in many ways manganese -- which is essential, for example, in the production of steel -- was as good as gold. After a two-hour march along a dirt trail, Weiss saw what he describes as a "mountain of manganese," and, in fact, the mine he soon opened bore that name. Borrowing $5,000 to get started, he began shipping tons of the stuff to processors. "First I was starving to death," Weiss says, "and then I struck it rich." He was not yet 30.

In the years that followed, Weiss opened his own processing plant in El Paso, and incorporated his efforts as American Minerals Inc., of which he is still chairman. But manganese gave Weiss more than an exotic tale to tell and more than an economic power base; it also set in motion a series of interrelated events and reflections that ultimately led him to Henry Niles. The linkage began to build in 1975, when Weiss wrote a definitive text on managanese.To his surprise, he was immediately recognized as an expert on strategic minerals, and was subsequently invited to spend a year as a fellow at Harvard's Center for International Affairs. There he began to see that if manganese was important to the nation's security, then the very idea of security must include much more than its common definition as military might. He also began to think he might have a special role to play in getting the business community involved in natonal-security issues.

Weiss spent the next year searching for groups or individuals who might already be working on programs involving businesspeople. It was a sparse landscape."I kept thinking there must be somebody who knew more about these things than I did," Weiss recalls, "but I never found anyone. There were people who said they'd help, but they never did." Then he thought of Henry Niles. Weiss had heard so many garbled and contentious impressions of what Business Executives for New National Priorities was or wasn't still doing that he decided to ask the man himself. In the spring of 1982, the two men had dinner together at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. There, Niles asked Weiss to take over what remained of the group. Weiss refused, but said he would consider starting a new organization.

Among other things, Weiss wanted the new group to be distinctly nonpartisan, unlike Niles's group, which he felt was viewed as a "left liberal" encampment. He also felt that the group should be a fully accredited trade organization, because under the Internal Revenue Service's rules, that was the only way the group could accept tax-deductible contributions from members, yet preserve its status as a political lobby. In addition, as a trade association, the new group could work more easily with established trade organizations.

During the summer and fall of 1982, Weiss refined his plans, with substantial help from a few early supporters. Niles liked the plan so much that he gave his mailing list to Weiss and discontinued his own group. From his Washington apartment, Weiss sent out a mailing to Niles's list of roughly 2,000 names announcing the formation of Business Executives for National Security and soliciting memberships. "We had a fair response," Weiss says. "Unfortunately, about 50% of the people on the list were dead and maybe another 25% had moved. If you say we got about 200 members that would be about right."

Today Weiss enjoys pointing out that by granting BENS trade-associaton status in 1983, the IRS by definition agreed that the organization was working for the basic business interests of its members. "In other words," Weiss says, "they agree that being dead is bad for business."

While Weiss was licking stamps, Harold Willens was completing his role as chairman of the successful bilateral nuclear freeze initiative, which called on the United States and the Soviet Union to agree to an immediate and verifiable halt on the testing, production, and deployment of all nuclear weapons, missiles, and delivery systems. For Willens, it was an important milestone in a resume of personal political activism that had already spanned 20 years.

Willens is a campaign unto himself. He has a store of personal experience and business accomplishments that, in many ways, make him the ideal protagonist in the unfolding drama of a new national movement. He was born in Russia in 1914, during the tumult of the Russian Revolution, in the village of Chernigov. In his earliest memories, he is hiding under a bed as marauding soldiers burst into his parents' house demanding food and valuables at swordpoint. Fleeing Russia, his family emigrated to the United States, settling first in a mixed ethnic ghetto in the Bronx. Their life there, he recalls, was one of unrelenting poverty and fear: Willens, who is short and slender, got "beat up every day."

When he was 13, Willens's family moved to another ethnic ghetto, Boyle Heights in east Los Angeles. Life was still tough, but gradually Willens began to accumulate some pleasant memories. Three years after he graduated from high school, he bought a small retail route for $250, which consisted of a truck and a list of customers to whom he sold mayonnaise, pickles, tamales, and a variety of specialty foods. He was a good salesman, and soon bought larger trucks and larger routes. He got married, bought a small house, and started a family. He even went back to school, graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1939.

During World War II, Willens served as a Japanese-language specialist in the U.S. Marine Corps. Part of the early American occupation force in both Nagasaki and Hiroshima, he sifted through his fingers the fine dust that had once been buildings and people. He wrote his impressions in long letters to his wife. But as the war came to an end and he began his life again, even the memory of the only use of nuclear weapons against other human beings faded.

Willens had sold his house and business before he went off to war, using the money to buy two neighborhood grocery stores. If he was killed, he reasoned, his family could still live comfortably on the rent money from the two stores. The stores were located on a relatively quiet section of Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. After the war, the boiling commercial activity spilling out of Los Angeles engulfed the property, and Willens was able to parlay his small patch of real estate into a kingdom that now includes, among other holdings, entire blocks of Wilshire Boulevard and several shopping centers. Only 10 years out of the service, he found himself a multimillionaire. "As the saying goes:" he writes, "Now that I had done well, I wanted to do good."

Like Niles, Willens found his attention drawn to the escalating war in Vietnam. Not only did it represent his first major engagement as a political activist, it also introduced him to the same special constituency that Weiss found: businesspeople. As Willens remembers it, he first became aware that business had a particularly important role to play through a suggestion from Marriner S. Eccles, who had been the first chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, serving from 1936 until 1948. Willens had called on Eccles to ask for a donation to the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a Santa Barbara think tank with which he was associated. During the course of their conversation, he told Eccles what he had learned about the war in Vietnam. Eccles thought the information should be distributed more broadly, and suggested that Willens could be particularly effective in reaching other business leaders.

The notion made sense. "If you come up before a business audience sounding like some kind of hippie," Willens says, "they'll write you off. But you see, I look like them, I'm a multimillionaire, I went from poverty to affluence, and they respect that." After his meeting with Eccles, Willens met Henry Niles, and together they created Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace, an association that for Willens combined the right issue with the right audience. He became chairman and ranged the country giving speeches and raising money.

When the war in Vietnam ended, Willens kept active: He involved himself in Presidential campaigns; founded or helped to found such organizations as the Businessman's Educational Fund, the Center for Defense Information, and the Interfaith Center to Reverse the Arms Race; served as a delegate to the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament in 1978; and, of course, served as chairman of the bilateral nuclear freeze initiative in California. While working on the initiative, he read the results of a survey commissioned by The Wall Street Journal and published in September 1982. The survey asked executives: "Do you favor a unilateral freeze by the United States on the production and deplyment of nuclear weapons?" The survey still irks Willens, who thinks the newspaper was engaging in some kind of "dirty pool" meant to discredit the California initiative: The issue of the moment was a bilateral, not a unilateral, nuclear freeze, and an immediate unilateral nuclear freeze was not then, and is not now, part of mainstream thinking. Nevertheless, although an overwhelming number of the respondents opposed such a freeze, Willens was astonished to find that 36% of the executives in the smaller companies surveyed favored it, as did 27% of the mediumsize-company executives and 14% of those from larger companies. Given that much support for such a radical approach, Willens reasoned, a more realistic and moderate program could probably convince a telling majority of the business community.

If the business community could be convinced, moreover, it would be disproportionately influential. When he was speaking out on Vietnam, Willens often found that he got more attention from the press than he did from his own constituency. "I learned quickly that to be a business executive and to oppose military spending and military involvement was like being a two-headed calf," he says. That, in turn, led Willens to a new view of the importance of business. "It became clear to me that businesspeople acting as citizens could get tremendous attention on a controversial issue -- and could become a 'trimtab."

Willens borrowed the trimtab concept from R. Buckminster Fuller; it refers to a small amount of leverage, precisely placed, that ultimately produces enormous effect. On ocean liners, for example, the trimtab is a small rudder attached to the huge main rudder which, because of the mass and momentum of the ship, is difficult to turn. The trimtab, however, responds quickly to even a small influence and then turns the main rudder, which in turn alters the course of the entire ship. Willens set out to write a book, which he called The Trimtab Factor. The cover blurb reads: "Our ship of state is taking us into very dangerous waters. Business leadership can be the trimtab that will change our direction before it is too late."

The most challenging part of Willens's book is his presentation of what he calls an "incremental nuclear weapons freeze." He outlines a series of steps by which the United States can take the initiative in proposing moratoria -- first on the testing of nuclear weapons, then on the flight-testing of nuclear-weapons delivery systems, then on the deployment of any new nuclear weapons systems. And he concludes with a proposal to reduce existing nuclear arsenals drastically. If the Soviet Union doesn't respond to the U.S. initiative within a reasonable period of time, in Willens's plan, the United States would no longer be bound by its proposal. Willens believes this program is particularly well-suited to the inherently conservative disposition of business: It represents a more moderate adaptation of the 1982 Bilateral Nuclear Freeze Initiative, which has been endorsed by more than 12 million voters in nine states. It is also, he says, politically achievable. Moreover, it "represents a methodical process for breaking the momentum of the arms race with no real risk to our national security."

Since February, Willens has turned into a sort of one-man movement, promoting his "primer" with a double-barreled marketing strategy that relies partly on the efforts of William Morrow & Co., his publisher, and partly on the "financial participation of friends who believe in what I'm doing." Immediately after publication of the book, he galloped through the usual promotional tour, overlaying it with additional visits, which he engineered personally, to newspapers, magazines, and business groups. He also put $60,000 of his own money into the marketing effort, and took personal responsibility for distributing 22,000 copies of the book. He had copies hand-delivered to every member of Congress, accompanied by a flattering letter of introduction signed by Senators Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). He has since sent copies to most college and university presidents, to religious leaders, to presidents of Chambers of Commerce, and to various media executives, editors, and journalists. Some executives have been so impressed by Willens's book that they have also taken to distributing books at their own expense. James Jensen, president of Seattle-based Thousand Trails Inc., bought 1,000 copies. And Lawrence Phillips, president of Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., is, according to Willens, sending books to the chief executive officers of the Fortune 1,000 companies. Phillips was among a list of 25 executives who, along with Willens, recently advertised the book in a two-page spread in The New York Times at a cost of $60,000.

Willens says he will feel fulfilled if, within the next 12 months, his initiative inspires the formation of 25 regional groups such as Allan Brown's New Forum, which he considers a fine example of an influential grass-roots movement. Brown, a soft-spoken, self-effacing man, was flattered when he learned of Willens's opinion, but disclaims any such cosmic ambitions. He agrees, however, that being able to sign letters as the president of a 57-year-old general contracting company with revenues of $25 million to $35 million a year, does give him a little extra clout.

"People are admired because they have climbed to the heads of corporations," he says. "They are believable because they have obviously been successful in making decisions -- and military matters are also practical decisions.

The New Forum, which began as no more than a vague impulse "to do something tangible," does exemplify business involvement in its most unpretentious and elemental form. In the fall of 1983, Brown and several friends invited four like-minded people to a breakfast to explore how they could educate people about the danger of nuclear war. Friends invited more friends from business and other professions to more breakfast meetings, and, after several pounds of coffee and rolls, the New Forum emerged, replete with a newsletter, study groups, and a schedule of monthly meetings. Brown says the group, which now has more than 200 members, is currently considering various ways of amplifying its concern with direct political action.

BENS, meanwhile, has emerged as a dependably generic representation of the business movement at the national level. Its membership list reflects support from a broad cross-section of American business: Sidney Harman, chairman of Harman International Industries Inc. and former Undersecretary of Commerce; J. Richard Munro, president and chief executive officer of Time Inc.; real estate developer James W. Rouse, chairman of The Rouse Co.; John C. Haas, vice-chairman of Rohm & Haas Co.; Mortimer B. Zuckerman, Boston real estate developer and owner of The Atlantic magazine; Robert Stuart, chairman of National Can Corp.; and, since late 1983 when Business Alert merged into BENS, Douglas Marshall, president of H. Newton Marshall. "We've been very careful to reflect American business thinking in all that we do," claims Stanley Weiss, "particularly the entrepreneurial part of it. It's part of the entrepreneur's very nature to take a new idea and make it succeed."

There are three ideas that BENS would like to see succeed: reducing the danger of nuclear war; promoting a "strong, effective, and affordable defense"; and working for a more productive relationship with the Soviet Union. Weiss felt from the start that although the implications of a nuclear war must transcend all other issues, it wouldn't make good business sense to concentrate on nuclear arms control exclusively. For one thing, nuclear weapons account for only 15% to 20% of all weapons expenditures. For another, he felt, focusing on nuclear arms control alone would obscure the importance of a greatly expanded definition of national security. "National security is always thought of in one-dimensional terms, as military might," Weiss says, "when it really rests on three legs: military, economic, and the condition of the country's physical and human infrastructure." Fat military budgets, financed as they are at the expense of private sector investment funds, actually hurt business, he believes; American corporations have trouble competing with their counterparts in Japan and West Germany precisely because those countries have military budgets much smaller than our own, and can thus invest heavily in the private sector.

So far, BENS has gotten itself involved in most of the activities one ordinarily associates with a trade association.It publishes a newsletter, Trend Line, which informs members about relevant news on Capitol Hill, and it sends out periodic "Action Alerts" on important congressional votes. Its educational fund conducts studies of such issues as the relationship between defense spending and the economy, and it runs a speakers' bureau. As to whether it will win a more widespread following, either among members of the business community or among Capitol Hill policymakers, most observers agree it is too early to tell. But BENS has already secured a reputation as an important resource for representatives, senators, and trade associations looking for factual and intellectual support as they frame their positions on defense policies. John Motley, director of federal legislation for the 570,000-member National Federation of Independent Business, who worked with BENS in fashioning his association's position on the Bipartisan Budget Freeze Proposal, says BENS "provided good information and valuable arguments which could be used to convince senators that a one-year freeze on defense spending wouldn't be a disaster."

Weiss, for his part, is modest about the organization's accomplishments. "We're not exactly a household name," he says. "But then again, we're barely two years old."

"Like every important social and political change in this country," Harold Willens says, "the desire to end the arms race must start at the bottom. I always tell people: 'If the people lead, in time, the leaders will follow.' This is what has to happen on the nuclear arms race issue so we can end this insanity before it puts an end to us." But whether business, which Willens sees as the trimtab of America, cares enough to shoulder its presumed responsibilities is open to question. Rear Admiral Gene LaRocque, USN. Ret., a founder and now director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Defense Information, goes so far as to suggest that if business doesn't break its silence, it will be guilty of a grave sin of omission. "Businessmen alone can't do it," he says, "but in my view businessmen are perhaps the most important group, if they get their act organized better than they have. Businessmen are very slow in coordinating on this issue. If the business level of interest stays the way it is today, they will -- also in my view -- be largely responsible for our failure to move away from this arms race, because they are potentially the most influential."

Meanwhile, in the basement of his house in Norwell, in the small bomb shelter he built after being recalled to active duty in 1961, Douglas Marshall also wonders if anybody out there is listening. Marshall rummages through the shelter's sparse contents, annotating them with a certain bemused nostalgia. There is the chemical toilet. A sheet of plywood lies on the struts that once supported the bunk beds. The air-intake pump still works. There is a bookshelf in one corner; next to it is a short two-by-four that would have slipped between two steel hooks and closed the door against intruders. A child's drawing easel is leaning against the wall. On the top of the easel, one of Doug's children, now grown, had once written the word "peace" in yellow paint.

"It's been kind of a storeroom for a long time now," he says, closing the door. "Only good for growing mushrooms really." Then, as an unexpected afterthought recalling an earlier conversation, he says: "You know, only one person ever did write back to me about that letter. No one else even mentioned it."