By Grant Pick
Bradford Lyttle is running for president as the standard-bearer of the United States Pacifist Party.
The reason Lyttle's bid may have escaped your notice is that he is the longest of shots to win. The Pacifist Party consists largely of the candidate himself. The campaign budget is $200. Since Lyttle's name is not on the ballot, you must write in his name to vote for him.
Worse still, Lyttle's platform rides mainly on his out-and-out promise that, if elected, he will scrap the American military and its nuclear arsenal. To explain the need for abandoning the military, Lyttle relies on an abstruse mathematical formula he calls "the apocalypse equation." Pacifism and tough math are hard sells in this quick-paced, neoconservative age, but Lyttle doesn't much care, so convinced is he of the rightness of his position.
"The apocalypse equation is impregnable to argument," he says.
On a recent Saturday night Lyttle made a rare appearance (rare because he's seldom asked to debate or discourse) at the Lincoln Restaurant at Lincoln and Irving. His audience was made up of members of the College of Complexes, the venerable forum where speakers of various stripes discuss social issues before an audience of freethinkers.
"Americans have an almost universal belief in military force," said Lyttle, a 68-year-old man dressed in a brown suit and oversize horn-rimmed glasses who bears some resemblance, ironically, to Secretary of Defense William Perry. "If you asked people what institution they would want to give up least it would be the army. People get thinking about the Nazis and the totalitarian Soviet Union, and they want the army to always be in place."
Lyttle contended that the public has been suckered into their hawkish faith by the theory of nuclear deterrence, which posits that if the U.S. and its enemies are all armed they won't attack one another. "But deterrence completely overlooks the idea of probability," said Lyttle. At that he moved over to a chart he'd propped on one wall.
The homemade chart spelled out the apocalypse equation: AP=1-(1-p) t x n. Lyttle assured his listeners that they were looking at nothing more than "high school mathematics," but the formula looked plenty complicated (though it's a simplified version of the equation on the party's insignia). Everyone was relieved when he delivered an understandable translation. "What this equation says is that the chances of one nuclear missile being launched today is one in 100 million--not too bad. But with the 30,000 missiles in the U.S. arsenal and the long period of time we have ahead of us, the probability of a launch will narrow to 52 percent in 50 years.
"The great powers are playing a game of chicken blindfolded," he went on. "There isn't a single candidate for president besides me who is saying that deterrence will fail miserably." He disparaged the architects of deterrence, such diplomats as John Foster Dulles and Henry Kissinger, and then he paused. "I wouldn't be surprised if Chicago were vaporized tomorrow by a hydrogen bomb."
At that, the members of the College of Complexes stared at Lyttle, shocked away from their fried shrimp and hamburger platters by the prospect of being vaporized.
Lyttle's perfervid pacifism is nothing new. The son of a Unitarian minister and professor of church history at Meadville Theological School in Hyde Park, Lyttle became a peacemonger as a young man. "I concluded that military activities were most contrary to the principles of truth and love," he says. A conscientious objector during the Korean war, he balked at the form of alternative service to which he was assigned--as an orderly in a mental hospital--and was sentenced to serve time at a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri, where he spent nine months as a clerk.
Between 1959 and 1967 he served as national secretary of the Committee for Nonviolent Action, chaired by the Reverend A.J. Muste, then the country's leading pacifist. Early on Lyttle was arrested for trespassing on an Atlas missile site in Mead, Nebraska, and imprisoned again. According to Lyttle the highlight of his activism occurred in 1960, when he spent the summer staging protests against the Polaris nuclear submarine in Connecticut.
After a period organizing against the Vietnam war, he returned to Chicago, where he earned a master's in political science and looked after his elderly parents. "To care for people you love can be a very fruitful thing," he says. His mother died in 1991, 43 days shy of her 100th birthday. Lyttle continues to reside in the family house on South Dorchester, where he eats vegetarian and avoids alcohol, takes in boarders--his primary source of income--putters in his basement workshop, and involves himself in the local Quaker church.
Frequently he goes on trips abroad with peace activist Kathy Kelly. In 1992 Lyttle helped convince a convoy of peaceniks to enter a besieged Sarajevo unaccompanied by tanks, which he viewed as the pacifist thing to do. In August Kelly and Lyttle, though unauthorized by the State Department, carried medical supplies into Iraq. In the port city of Basra they visited a children's hospital. "There we were, moving among dying children in 130-degree heat," recalls Kelly, "and Brad is popping all around, happy and healthy and glad to be there. He is tirelessly optimistic."
Lyttle is relentless in his pacifism, says Kelly. "As long as there is just one person out there willing to listen, Brad is obliged to make his case. The early abolitionists must have felt like him. They were going upstream without a paddle, but I suppose that's how you start."
In 1982, after consulting with both his nephew and a University of Chicago statistician, Lyttle came up with the apocalypse equation as a way to express his horror over the atomic buildup. There was already a similar device, the so-called doomsday clock, published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which measures the nuclear threat by how close the clock's minute hand stands to midnight. But Lyttle dislikes the clock because the Bulletin editors periodically change the time (it's been shifted 15 times since 1947--the last time was on December 8, 1995, when it was moved to 14 minutes to midnight), and to his mind that diminishes the alarm he thinks the public should feel. "Whether nuclear war is more or less probable doesn't matter much--it's going to occur someday," he says.
"Brad's equation has a bit of intellectual appeal, and it also dramatizes the seriousness of the situation," says Robert Newton, a University of Chicago professor of geophysical sciences and Lyttle's good friend. "I've seen Stephen Hawking say the same thing."
The apocalypse equation formed the basis of Lyttle's first presidential bid in 1984. His campaign had buttons and bumper stickers--and the power of the equation--but circumstances crimped its effectiveness. "I was taking care of my parents, and I couldn't very well leave home. Afterwards I called up the Board of Elections and asked how well I'd done. They said I hadn't gotten any votes. Well, I knew that was a lie, because I had voted for myself."
Lyttle sat out the next couple elections and was intending to do the same this year, when President Clinton directed new air strikes against Iraq. "I said to myself, good heavens," says Lyttle. He entered the race on September 12 with an announcement at the U. of C.'s Henry Moore sculpture, which marks the site of the world's first nuclear reaction.
Once he had presented the College of Complexes with his equation, Lyttle took questions. He said he would replace the military with an army of "nonviolent resisters," people trained to counter adversaries with "aggressive goodwill." He cited an example of peacefully settling disputes from the TV show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. In a Lyttle administration, he said, the $289 billion being spent annually would be applied to antipoverty programs.
When someone asked how he would fulfill the police function in his pacifist America, Lyttle appeared rather undone and stumbled into a fuzzy answer. Later he elaborated: "Police officers would have some sort of coercive role, though I'm not sure arms would be necessary." The widespread application of antipoverty funds would blunt the effect of gangs, he maintained. As to how to quell a brute like a wife beater, Lyttle said, "If you got a few officers involved and just talked to the fellow, he'd stop. What's he going to do--start shooting at the officers?"
There were no questions on the rest of Lyttle's platform, which includes normalizing relations with Cuba, a guaranteed minimum income for all Americans, and ending the war on drugs, termed "an infringement on the right of individual liberty."
"It went well," he said the day after the Lincoln Restaurant appearance. "I may have picked up a few votes, but the point now is to build up enthusiasm for my point of view. I provide the major drive and thrust, and now other people need to get interested in what I'm saying. Four years from now we could be on the ballot in a dozen states."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Bruce Powell.