The Long View: Twentieth Century The History of the World, 1901 to 2000 By J.M. Roberts

VNV Nation – Automatic

VNV Nation – Automatic

If I could pick a musical representation of the twentieth century, it might be VNV Nation’s album, Automatic. Ronan Harris has an ability to write lyrics that distill things to their essence, and the essence of this album is the twentieth century’s technological progress and scientific optimism. This isn’t the whole story of course, but we have plenty of pop culture about the nasty things. It is nice to remember the good parts too.

As for the book review, I didn’t actually get much out of it, probably because John J. Reilly didn’t either.

Here are the best two bits;

Roberts is probably correct that it is too early to write a history of the 20th century per se. It is also possible that my expectations for any book on this topic would be too novelistic, formed in large part from a century's worth of speculative writing about the future. Nonetheless, I cannot help but reflect that the century all those science fiction writers were so keen to describe is over, and what do we have to show for it? Maybe the narrative coherence of H.G. Wells's "Things to Come" is too much to expect of any history book.

There are three great stories that can be written involving the 20th century, only two of which could have been told as soon as the year 2000. One might be called "Grey's Twilight," after the British foreign minister who remarked, as the First World War broke out, that the lights were going out all over Europe. That story came to an end with the fall of communism in 1989. Another story might be The Decisive Lifetime. The theme in that period, running from roughly 1860 to 1945, would be about the triumph of liberalism within western civilization. The third story is about the place of the 20th century within modernity as a whole.

Twentieth Century
The History of the World, 1901 to 2000
By J.M. Roberts

Viking (Penguin Putnam), 1999
US$39.95, 905 pages
ISBN: 0-670-88456-1

Back in the 20th century, the US Department of Agriculture sometimes used to distribute slabs of surplus butter to old people. (I know this because, one way and another, my family came into possession of more than one of them. We had a large family, and they did us for a month.) These slabs were about the same size as this block of a book. They also had the same creamy, undifferentiated texture as its prose. Other similarities are that the butter and the book were both probably well meant, but neither was very nutritious.

J.M. (John Morris) Roberts is a former Warden of Oxford's Merton College. As his recent History of the World and History of Europe prove, he is neither a stupid man nor a bad writer. He reminds us on more than one occasion that it is really too early to be writing a history of the 20th century, since we will not have anything like a usable perspective for generations to come. (He also labored under the handicap that by no stretch of the imagination could the century be said to have been over by the time the book went to press, though he gets high marks for recording events quite late into 1999.) Certainly his "Twentieth Century" is very readable, and often insightful. Its failings are two: it is oddly factless, and it is too cautious about connecting the dots to make a sustained narrative.

Roberts is predictably good when he discusses ordinary diplomatic history. He notes, acutely, that the historiographical fashion for "history from below" has little application to the final years before the First World War, since the outbreak of the war really was the work of Europe's foreign ministries and general staffs. Regarding that war, Roberts suggests that the outcome of the Dardanelles campaign, when the Allies failed to take Constantinople and so relieve Russia through the Black Sea, was the decisive event of the whole century. It was largely for that reason that both the Czarist and the ephemeral social-democratic Kerensky regimes in Russia collapsed, to be followed by 70 years of Bolshevism. Without the menace and lure of the Soviet Union, it is hard to see how either fascism or the Second World War could have occurred in anything like the forms they did, much less the Cold War.

There are two great trends that Roberts sees as characteristic of the 20th century. The first was the end of European history as a largely autonomous story. In 1901, most of the world was ruled by white people from a small number of European capitals. Within fifty years, this was no longer the case, and Europe itself was divided between two power-blocks whose centers lay outside it. (As always, Roberts cannot quite decide whether Russia is a European country, but then neither can the Russians.) The century as a whole, Roberts notes, falls rather neatly into two halves defined by this "end of European history." The most important thing about the 20th century, however, is that it was the time when all the planet's local histories finally merged into a universal history. This is new, and it is reason enough to accord the period something like the sense of unique importance that the people who lived in it claimed for themselves at the time.

The previous two paragraphs give you all the conceptual structure that "Twentieth Century" has. This might have provided the backbone for a good, extended essay. In fact, there are several good essays in "Twentieth Century" that can stand on their own. What they cannot do is stand together. Far too much of the book is page after page of dateless explanations about trends in economics or Chinese politics or what not. There are memorable truisms, such as, "To extend the idea of what is possible is to change the way people think as well as the way they act," and "What this means for organized religion, except that it means something, is almost impossible to say." Writing like this might be understandable in a book with a title like "Neanderthal Culture: 300,000 to 100,000 BC." To use this level of abstraction is writing about a carnival of a century, especially when you have lived through most of it yourself, is to indulge an unnecessary austerity.

Judging from this book, there don't seem to have been many people in the 20th century. There were no interesting ones, aside from Winston Churchill. The names of usual-suspect politicians are given, as well as, awkwardly, those of a small circle of scientists. That just about exhausts 20th century biography. As far as I can tell, there were no artists or philosophers after 1901. There were also no influential philosophical ideas, except for the great gasbags of Marxism and Freudianism and Darwinism. It may or may not be significant that the century seems to have had a singular dearth of notable historians.

Even within his narrow parameters, Roberts has odd notions about who merits a mention. Maybe only American chauvinism makes me wonder how anyone could write an essay on the origins of rocket technology and not mention Robert Goddard. It is simply mystifying, however, to read an extended discussion of the influence of Cuban Marxism in Latin America, a discussion that, moreover, alludes to the failed Bolivian insurgency in the 1960s, and still not find any mention of Che Guevara, who died in the Bolivian uprising.

Roberts is probably correct that it is too early to write a history of the 20th century per se. It is also possible that my expectations for any book on this topic would be too novelistic, formed in large part from a century's worth of speculative writing about the future. Nonetheless, I cannot help but reflect that the century all those science fiction writers were so keen to describe is over, and what do we have to show for it? Maybe the narrative coherence of H.G. Wells's "Things to Come" is too much to expect of any history book. Still, surely something along the lines of Paul Johnson's "Modern Times" is not too much to ask for? (The original edition, which covered only the 1920s to the 1980s, is still the best.)

There are three great stories that can be written involving the 20th century, only two of which could have been told as soon as the year 2000. One might be called "Grey's Twilight," after the British foreign minister who remarked, as the First World War broke out, that the lights were going out all over Europe. That story came to an end with the fall of communism in 1989. Another story might be The Decisive Lifetime. The theme in that period, running from roughly 1860 to 1945, would be about the triumph of liberalism within western civilization. The third story is about the place of the 20th century within modernity as a whole. That story may not be writable for another 100 years, though publishers may well be tempted to jump the gun so as to get it on the market first.

Copyright © 2000 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-06-25: Show me the blueprints. Show me the blueprints

Hughes Glomar Explorer

Hughes Glomar Explorer

Howard Hughes was a remarkable man, especially considering he was also a nutter.

Show me the blueprints. Show me the blueprints

Last night I viewed the film The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the clinically obsessive-compulsive billionaire entrepreneur, Howard Hughes. (A supporting role was played by John C. Reilly, that potato-faced imposter whose sterling performances as a character actor ensure that my website will stay the second result from a Google search for "John Reilly" for the foreseeable future.) It's good to see that DiCaprio is not going to turn into Mark Hamill, but I would have been happier with more airplanes and less naked paranoia.

I mention all this not so much because of the film, but because renting the DVD involved a little outburst of paranoia on my part.

I had been going to the same video store for 15 years. When I took out a card there, all they asked for was a name, an address, and a dollar. My occasional attempts to try out Mandarin on the owners were rarely successful, since they spoke Cantonese. Actually, their English did not seem to improve much over the years either, but we got along very well. Earlier this year, however, the store went out of business (they tried to sell it to me). Last week, I finally got around to finding a new store.

It was a film-buff's store: a cult-film section, a classics section, a foreign-film section that did not feature punch-and-kick movies. I addressed the clerk:

Hi, I'd like to take out a membership.

Sure thing. May I see a credit card?

Well, okay.

The payment for the film will be charged to this card. Now may I see a driver's license?

I guess so. Here, give me a pen...

I'll fill out the form, sir. Now, just look into this lense for the retinal scan. And please extent your arm...


That's probably all the blood we'll need. Was there something in particular you were looking for?

What I was looking for was Team America, which of course they had. That evening, though, I found I could not view the DVD for more than a few minutes before my PC froze. I had never before had a problem like this that I could not fix, but it was clearly my fault, not the video store's. Nonetheless, the glitch and the idea of giving all that personal information to a store in a modified garage rankled overnight. The next day I went back. Another clerk was there.

Look, I'll chalk up the $3.50 card charge to experience, but I think this may be more trouble than it's worth. Could you remove all my personal information from your system?

Certainly, sir. [Zip Zip Ping! goes the counter monitor] All gone. Have a nice day.

But what about the paper form?

The form?

The one the other guy filled out yesterday, the one with my credit card and driver's license numbers. I want you to rip that up.



This was the first time he had been asked something like this. It made him uncomfortable. He said he could not do it, because the form was the store's property. Could I talk to the manager, please? He gave me a number. Rather than do a further imitation of Christopher Walken, I let the matter rest.

Yesterday, I walked into a less cerebral but better located video store.

Hi, I'd like to take out a membership.

Sure thing. Can I see a credit card?

No, but you can have a name and address.

That will mean a $20 deposit.


Welcome to the store. Was there anything in particular you were looking for?

As for the PC glitch, I found that, as in so many other areas of life, most problems can be solved by uninstalling software from RealPlayer.

* * *

Speaking of movies, I see that a new version of The War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise, is going to premiere this week. This has special significance for my native New Jersey, because the famous radio-play version that Orson Welles broadcast in 1938 had the Martians landing at Grovers Mill, a real place in New Jersey, and then striding on to New York City. We remember the radio-play because a fair number of people took it literally, as this promotional piece in The New York Times reminds us:

The Morans tried to make their way back home to Princeton Junction, but the roads were jammed with those trying to locate Grovers Mill for a look at the Martians' spaceship. In Grovers Mill, they found a state trooper trying to direct drivers to go back home, with little luck.

I have heard the radio play. I can see how someone who heard a minute or two of it might mistake it for a news broadcast. My father, who was in his early 20s at the time, heard the broadcast live. He was in a building in a part of Jersey City with a good view of Newark. He had read the H.G. Wells novel, so he knew more or less what was going on. Still, when the story got to the attack on Newark, he looked out the window at the actual city to reassure himself.

If you have not read the novel, you should do so immediately. The text is available here. It can be tedious to read etext, I know. Things like this I often listen to using a text-to-speech program while I am doing exercise or any kind of donkey work.

* * *

On the matter of Jersey City, you must imagine my surprise in discovering that there is not just a Jersey City, New Jersey, but also a Jersey City, Wisconsin, a small town in Lincoln County. I must recommend to my mayor that we establish a sister-city relationship. Or at least charge them for the use of the name.

* * *

Though I have never been much interested in visiting Arctic Canada, I have always been intrigued by those big islands with no place names on them. Something that was marked on maps, however, was the magnetic North Pole. It was usually shown as being on land. I sometimes wondered whether there was anything remarkable at the site of the Pole: high radiation levels, doors into other universes; that sort of thing. Now I find the maps that show the Pole on land are out of date:

"I think the Pole has probably just moved past the 200-nautical-mile limit," said Larry Newitt, head of the Natural Resources Canada geomagnetic laboratory in Ottawa. "It's probably outside of Canada, technically. But we're still the closest country to it."

...In 1904 it was measured just off the northern tip of Nunavut's King William Island by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and since then has moved in a north to northwesterly direction at a stately 10 kilometres per year.

But in 2001, scientists discovered that it was picking up the pace, suddenly charging ahead -- and toward the edge of Canadian territory -- at more than 40 kilometres per year....Scientists have also been intrigued by a weakening in the pole's intensity: It has lost 10 per cent of its force in the past few centuries. That could be a sign that the poles are preparing to reverse

We will have no trouble dealing with the effects of magnetic reversal, provided we all uninstall RealPlayer beforehand.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Last Division: A History of Berlin 1945-1989

While Kennedy did say something that could have been seen as funny in his famous Berlin speech, if you watch video of the speech it is pretty clear the crowd didn't take it that way.

I have a number of personal connections to Berlin that make this review interesting to me. As a child, I met a friend of my father's who had escaped from East Germany. Also my wife's grandmother was a native of Berlin who met her US Army husband because of the garrisons there.

The Last Division: A History of Berlin 1945-1989
by Ann Tusa
Publication Date May 1, 1997
ISBN: 0-201-14399-2


I Am a Doughnut


The problem with the Cold War was not so much that it threatened to go on forever as that it was so godawful boring. Year after year there were indistinguishable stories about unsatisfactory arms control negotiations, proxy guerrilla wars in places you never heard of and speculation about the health of the old hacks who ran the shabby but durable Soviet Empire. The frozen ninth circle of international tedium was, of course, Berlin. There the confrontation between East and West was most direct and the web of explicit agreements and insoluble differences was thickest. In literature, the Berlin espionage industry became a familiar metaphor for the ambiguous nature of the human condition, or something. Metaphorical treatment was necessary, perhaps, since thinking about the status and future of the divided city itself was likely to produce unconsciousness in anyone who did not actually work for the Brookings Institute. Just as the sudden fall of the Berlin Wall was unimaginable even a few months before it happened, so it may seem unimaginable that there could be either pleasure or profit in a history of how the Wall got there and how the city lived with it for 28 years.

Ann Tusa, co-author of two other books on postwar German subjects, has done the unimaginable. “The Last Division” is a serious, detailed and vastly entertaining history of the city of Berlin from its largely ruined state in 1945 to that wonderful street party that erupted on the night of November 9, 1989. The story concentrates on the 1950s and the events that precipitated the building of the Wall in 1961. We get only a cursory glance at West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s “Oestpolitik” that resulted in 1971 in a Four Power agreement on the status of the city. President Kennedy’s 1963 visit is mentioned primarily to note that his famous line, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” idiomatically means “I am a doughnut.” Still, the book gives us a perceptive look at the key personalities of mid-twentieth century European history and a somewhat disconcerting introduction to the mechanics of diplomacy at the summit.

The story as told here rightfully ignores a lot of revisionist nonsense. It is, for instance, refreshing to read an account of John Kennedy’s administration that assumes the president was preoccupied with matters other than Addison’s Disease and Marilyn Monroe’s panties. (It helps, perhaps, that the author is highly British.) The book concentrates as narrowly as possible on Berlin, but simply by being factual it leaves little doubt about who was responsible for the Cold War. The basic cause of the recurring Berlin crises from the Soviet blockade of 1948 to the closing of the interzonal border in 1961 was that the Western Allies had neglected to get an ironclad agreement from the Soviets at the end of World War II regarding the governance of the city. The wartime leaders had vaguely agreed that the Western allies would share in the occupation of the city with the Soviets. The Western leaders seemed to have assumed that questions of supply for their garrison forces and for the civilian population would look after themselves. They didn’t.

Whenever the Western powers disagreed with the Soviets over any of the growing list of unresolved questions regarding the occupation of Europe, they would find services to their part of the city disrupted and road links to the West either cut or subject to interminable delays. In the blockade of 1948-49, the Soviets seem to have actually intended to make the Western powers choose between maintaining a presence in Berlin and reconstituting a democratic Germany in the West. Since the blockade was answered with an airlift, the scariest moments in the years thereafter were those when the Russians threatened to interfere with air transport, too. For instance, the Russians made a fuss when high-flying jets began to replace low-flying turboprops on the Berlin routes. Ann Tusa crystallizes the atmosphere of these events for us with this memorable footnote:

“Someone in the British embassy in Bonn had the spiffing wheeze of sending Lord Mountbatten to Berlin in a high altitude Comet to see what the Russians would do about it. It was rather reminiscent of the old ‘Beyond the Fringe’ sketch in which a hapless young man is told by his commanding officer ‘The time has come for a meaningless sacrifice. We have chosen you’ -- and not at all the conventional treatment for the Chief of Imperial General Staff.”

Western leaders tried hard to accommodate understandable Russian insecurity. They tried the personal touch. They sometimes tried something akin to bribery. None of it worked. One-on-one summit meetings with Khrushchev by Macmillan, Eisenhower and Kennedy all demonstrated that humoring the Russians did not work. The effort often seemed to make things worse, if the threatening tone of Khrushchev’s rhetoric was any indication. (In a particularly colorful turn of phrase, Khrushchev once remarked to John McCloy that Kennedy would be the last president of the United States. What a character.)

Part of the problem was that the Russians were not motivated simply by insecurity. It was not at all obvious in those days, for one thing, that command economies could not outperform market economies. As long as economic development was a matter of concrete and steel production, the Soviet economy was actually doing pretty well, and the Soviets expected to be deferred to accordingly. A deeper difficulty, perhaps, was that the Russians did not understand how contractual relationships among equals work. There is an old saying that Russians play chess and Americans play poker. What happened in the course of the Cold War was that the Russians eventually forced everyone who dealt with them to play chess, too.

Throughout the 1950s, this meant that the small Western garrisons of indefensible West Berlin enacted a nerve-wracking kabuki play with their Eastern counterparts over interzonal cross-points and rights of inspection. Everyone, including the Russians, had a lively awareness of how the First World War had started, and neither side pressed too far. However, the fact was that the Russians were the ones who wanted the status of the city changed. In fact, what they really wanted was a Germany demilitarized and ruled by a confederal government with a guaranteed Communist component. In that case, the status of Berlin would have been unimportant to them. The least that they would settle for, however, was recognition of their satellite, the German Democratic Republic. In that case, a Berlin in which people could move freely between East and West was a threat. In over ten years of negotiations, no one seems to have put forward a proposal as simple as trading recognition of the East German regime for the security of West Berlin. In the event, however, that is exactly what happened.

The Wall itself went up because of a demographic crisis of the Communists own devising. Emigration from East Germany to the West, largely through Berlin, had been a trickle through most of the 1950s. Towards the end of the decade, however, the East German government pressed a collectivization program against both small industrial firms and small farms. They thus started to lose farmers and skilled workers in large numbers. Peasant opposition caused food shortages, making the East an even less desirable place to live. Additionally, in 1958, Khrushchev began issuing a series of ultimatums, or what sounded like ultimatums, which demanded that the German question be settled in a specified period of time. The deadline kept changing, but increasing numbers of reasonable East Germans concluded that they would much rather be elsewhere if the border were sealed. By the time barbed-wire preliminaries to the Wall were put up on a sleepy weekend in August 1961, the small Communist republic was losing over 2000 people a day.

The Western Allies were outraged, after a fashion. They were certainly surprised. All kinds of scenarios had been prepared against forceful measures by the Communist governments. Most of them were variations on the blockade of 1948, with the envisioned remedy a much larger airlift. The one possibility they had not considered was that the East Germans might just isolate West Berlin from East Berlin but leave access to the West more or less alone. While it is clear enough that Western leaders did not collude in the establishment of the Wall, nevertheless they were clearly relieved. The Wall solved the practical problems the Russians and East Germans had been having, though it was another ten years before Willy Brandt’s diplomacy gave the solution an acceptable legal formulation. Western leaders got a standing photo opportunity whenever they visited Germany. “This wall proves the failure of communism!” they could say for three decades as they posed in front of it. West Berliners, in contrast, had trouble believing that a power that could keep a large selection of their friends and relatives permanently locked away was altogether impotent.

If the Cold War was a chess game, the Communist government of East Germany lost it in a way that in fact closely paralleled many games of chess. A doomed player may have considerable freedom of movement and just as many pieces as the other side until quite late in the game. Then, quite suddenly, the player’s position will collapse. The sacrifice of major pieces may buy a little more time. Even then, however, the end can be hastened by a panicky blunder. All the eastern regimes were doomed by Gorbachev’s decision not to support them militarily against internal unrest. East Germany in particular clearly did not have long to last after Hungary opened its borders with Austria in September 1989, providing a route for so many East Germans to leave that basic services began to break down. However, the sudden fall of the Wall was an accident. On November 9, a hapless spokesman for the East German government read a roomful of reporters an incomplete draft of a new regulation that would have let East Berliners get visas to travel to the Western Zones. It sounded, inaccurately, like a declaration of unrestricted passage. Once the guards at one crossing point started letting people through, the interzonal border simply dissolved.

Today, of course, the East Germans are very grumpy about the way things turned out. They think that they did pretty well in the postwar years, given that all the Russians left them after exacting reparations with was “Walter Ulbricht [the first East German leader] and a few potatoes.” They had some accomplishments to their credit, they say, that the West Germans should have respected. Probably they have a point. Still, the division of one of the great cities of Europe was not to anyone’s benefit, least of all theirs. Once upon a time, as this book shows, it seemed that the outcome of world history would turn on what happened in Berlin. As things turned out, however, the division ended without war, without riot, without even a cathartic lynching. This is one history book with a happy ending.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 1997 issue of Culture Wars magazine.

Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Cthuluism and the Cold War

Despite John's protests, I think this is pretty funny, and disturbingly topical.

Cthuluism and the Cold War



Some of the references in this parody are admittedly obscure. You have not only to know a bit about Lovecraft's fiction, you also have to be familiar with public affairs programming on the US Public Broadcasting System. It also helps to be up on the latest (circa 1998) twist of Cold War revisionism. Even then, of course, you may also have to be pretty easy to amuse to find any of it funny.

Well, here goes anyway. Happy Halloween!

Any resemblance between living persons and the dead is deeply regretted.


"Welcome to the Bob Lerner News Hour. I'm your host, Bob Lerner. That's why I am telling you this.

"Tonight, our main story is something else you have probably already seen done to death on CNN: new revelations about the role of Cthuluism in American politics during the Cold War. Our guests tonight are Dr. Timothy Turnip, professor of Comparative Eschatology and author of the widely banned `McCarthy versus the Starry Wisdom Party,' and Charles Dexter Ward, publisher of `The Burrower,' a journal of disturbing political opinion."

LERNER: "Good evening, Dr. Turnip; good evening, Mr. Ward."

TURNIP: "I've been waiting for years to get on this show. What happened to the smart host?"

WARD: "Loser."

LERNER: "Dr. Turnip, can you tell us about the significance of the recently declassified sections of the Venona Codex?"

TURNIP: "The Codex proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that people like Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs were in fact in league with unspeakable evil throughout the 1930s and `40s. We not only have names and dates, we even have Henry Wallace's fingerprints on the Silver Key."

LERNER: "And Mr. Ward, what do you have to say to that?"

WARD: "Highly mephitic, I say. This is pure American triumphalism. Maybe 100 million people have been consumed since the Old Ones returned in 1917, but that is no reason to condemn as a traitor everyone who ever attended an invocation of the Crawling Chaos. We are talking about the fundamental legitimacy of progressive politics here."

LERNER: "Dr. Turnip?"

TURNIP: "Throughout the 20th century, the term `progressive' has been the silken mask of the High Priest Not to be Described. It's people like the readers of `The Burrower' who became pacifists when the Ribbentrop-Nyarlathotep Pact was signed, but suddenly changed their minds when Hitler invaded Leng."

WARD: "This is McCarthyism of the most eldritch kind. In the 1930s, no one but the Starry Wisdom Party was doing anything in this country about racial equality and the condition of working people. That's what the Cthuluist tradition is really about."

TURNIP: "If you read the Party platform from those years, you will see that what 'equality' meant to Cthuluists was that all non-initiates were equally tasty. As for the condition of workers, you know perfectly well that the old CIO demanded that the membership surrender their souls on election day."

LERNER: "Gentlemen, please. To change the subject slightly, it is often said today that the only place that Cthuluism still finds adherents is on college campuses. Mr. Ward, would you agree with that?"

WARD: "That is a squamous calumny on multiculturalism. There are indeed a few campuses today where gender equity and anthropophagy are actively promoted by the administration, but the reality is that most institutions of higher education in this country are highly reactionary. To this day, in fact, a few colleges refuse to hire faculty who cannot tolerate direct sunlight. But doubtless this situation pleases Dr. Turnip and his neoconservative friends at Miskatonic University."

TURNIP: "The real fact of the matter is that our universities have been taken over by Black Diaper Babies."

WARD: "You know, it's people like you who see a zoog under every bed."

TURNIP: "There usually are zoogs under my bed; it's people like you who send them."

LERNER: "Dr. Turnip, isn't what you say a little extreme? Aren't you free at Miskatonic University to write and teach whatever you want about the influence of the Starry Wisdom Party?"

TURNIP: "Let me begin by saying that Dean Golder at Miskatonic has done a very good job of keeping the more obviously non-human applicants out of the tenure track, at least in the liberal arts. And it is also true that, nationally, the number of undergraduates who are inexplicably dismembered on Lammas Night has fallen to its lowest level since the late `60s. Nevertheless, the situation only grows worse and worse. Spontaneous deliquescence is now a protected condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Literature survey courses used to start with 'Moby Dick.' Now they start with 'The Pnakotic Manuscripts.' There's postmodernism for you. Most of these ideas are simply imported from France, where Cthulu always had a large following."

LERNER: "That brings us to an important point. Is it really fair to identify French postmodernism completely with Cthuluism?"

TURNIP: "Well, Michel Foucault did die by being torn in pieces by a nightgaunt over the Boulevard Saint Germain."

WARD: "Excuse me, but I think it is simply bigotry to invoke the tragic circumstances of Foucault's death as a way to discredit his ideas. It expresses contempt for the thousands of people who suffer similar afflictions everywhere in the world today."

LERNER: "Point taken, Mr. Ward. Let me bring this discussion to a close by asking you both about the significance of the events of 1989. Do you think that the fall of the Gate in that year permanently discredited Cthuluism as a viable intellectual option, or do you think that the Old Ones might be objects of worship again? Dr. Turnip?"

TURNIP: "I believe that the Starry Wisdom Party will continue to be discredited. The Shadow may grow again, but it will have to take a different form.

LERNER: "Mr. Ward?"

WARD: "If you knock down a Gate, you not only make a way for yourself to go out, you make a way for what is on the other side to come in. `That is not dead which can eternal lie; the struggle continues.'"

LERNER: "And there we must end it. Gentlemen, good night."

TURNIP: "What does Michael Beschloss know that I don't know, eh?."

LERNER: "YOG, yes, well, good evening."

Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-08-10: Stability; Jesus the Kid; Heinlein

John Reilly mentions Robert Heinlein's nuclear survivalism in passing here. Since I am a child of the sunny 80s, the dark days of the Cold War often seem remote to me. However, I do know that a great many things in mid-twentieth century America were done in part because they could be tied to Cold War aims, including the Interstate Highway system, modern art, and the Civil Rights movement. John here claims suburbia was a matter of surreptitious civil defense, in the mode Heinlein suggested.

I haven't seen the laws in question, although as a legal editor John plausibly could have. I'll consider this possible but unproven until and unless I see the text, but it fits with other things I know.

This is a topic I've seen often, because of my love of Jerry Pournelle's There Will be War series. Survivalism is a recurring topic in those works, and in several of Jerry's novels. I've never seen Jerry say so much in print, but he knew Heinlein, and I could believe that Heinlein was an influence here.

Stability; Jesus the Kid; Heinlein


Danielle Pletka (of the American Enterprise Institute) had some illuminating things to say in yesterday's New York Timesabout the premises of John Kerry's foreign policy. In an optimistically entitled Op Ed, Arabs on the Verge of Democracy, she remarked:

Mr. Kerry has not been specific about many of his goals, but one thing he's gone out of his way to advertise is his distaste for pushing reform at the expense of "stability" in the Middle East. Sure, he's in favor of democracy in principle, but not as the centerpiece of his foreign policy agenda. "Realism," in the fashion of Metternich and Kissinger, is his guiding light, Mr. Kerry told The New Yorker.

In this respect, Mr. Kerry echoes President George H. W. Bush and even his own father, Richard Kerry, a diplomat who once criticized the Reagan administration's "fatal error of seeing U.S. security as dependent on illusions of propagating democracy" in the Soviet bloc.

Used in this way, "stability" plays a role similar to Washington's Farewell Address in Patrick J. Buchanan's A Republic, Not an Empire. Both are cases of foreign policy prescriptions assuming the status of myth. I don't mean "myth" in the sense of an untruth, but of a way to organize experience. "Stability" has come to mean an unconditional policy of preserving international organizations, and even hostile states, whatever actual effect those organizations or states may have on the well-being of the United States. We should note that, though Henry Kissinger generally favored stability during the Cold War, this was largely because change was for the worse during that period, at least as far as the West was concerned. Writing about the the last quarter of the 19th century in his book Diplomacy (published in 1994), he showed a lively sense that the world does not always work that way:

Realpolitik -- foreign policy based on calculations of power and the national interest -- brought about the unification of Germany. And the unification of Germany caused Realpolitik to turn on itself, accomplishing the opposite of what it was meant to achieve. For the practice of Realpolitik avoids armaments races and war only if the major players of an international system are free to adjust their relations in accordance with changing circumstances or are restrained by a system of shared values, or both.

This flexibility is precisely what the Security Council system, and NATO, and the kudzu-like growth of "customary international law" prevents. Obviously the US needs a realistic structure of alliances. That is what John Kerry has promised to prevent, at quite literally all costs.

* * *

This summer, I have been re-reading short books rather than embarking on long new ones. One of these is Robertson Davies' Fifth Business (published in 1970), which deals with a curmudgeonly Scots-Canadian school teacher's search for the nature of sainthood. Anyone in immediate need of a new heresy might start with this complaint from one of the characters in the book, the detrimental old Jesuit, Fr. Ignacio Blazon:

My own idea is that when [Jesus] comes again it will be to continue His ministry as an old man. I am an old man and my life has been spent as a soldier of Christ, and I tell you that the older I grow the less Christ's teaching says to me. I am sometimes very conscious that I am following the path of a leader who died when He was less than half as old as I am now. I see and feel things He never saw or felt. I know things He seems never to have known....All Christ's teaching is put forward with the dogmatism, the certainty, and the strength of youth: I need something that takes account of the accretion of experience, the sense of paradox and ambiguity that comes with years! I think after forty we should recognize Christ politely but turn for comfort and guidance to God the Father, who knows the good and evil of life, and to the Holy Ghost, who possesses a wisdom beyond that of the incarnated Christ.

I find this interesting because I frankly don't know what Davies means. Jesus delivered more paradoxes than Domino delivers pizzas. Novels about young men are usually about coming-of-age; the extreme case is the Bildungsroman. That is exactly what the Gospels are not. Whatever you may think of the historical Jesus, the Gospel Jesus is mature and fully formed from the first, like Athena from the brow of Zeus.

Imaginary older Jesuses are not unique to Davies, of course. However, the notion that these constructs might articulate new doctrine seems fairly rare. Here is another instance that comes to mind, from C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce (published in 1946). The speaker is the spirit of an Anglican bishop, describing intellectual life in Hell:

But you've never asked what my paper is about! I'm taking the text about growing up to the full measure of the stature of Christ and working out an idea which I feel sure you'll be interested in. I'm going to point out how people always forget that Jesus (here the Ghost bowed) was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he'd lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience. I am going to ask my audience what his mature views might have been. A profoundly interesting question. What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature! I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Crucifixion. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was: what a tragic much promise cut short. Oh, must you be going?

Let this be a warning to you.

* * *

One prophet who did live long enough to know better was Robert Heinlein. I was recently moved to re-read some of his stuff, because the Heinlein Society was kind enough to ask to mirror my review of Tramp Royale. (I corrected a glaring error about Heinlein's political activity when I went over it again.)

I have been reading an anthology, Expanded Universe (published in 1980). It's triply interesting: many old Heinlein items not otherwise available, especially from the early Cold War; extended commentary on them by Heinlein himself; and we finally, finally, get to see how Heinlein's predictions in 1956 for the year 2000 came out. Actually, his score went up since his assessment in 1980. In 1956, he not only predicted the end of Communism; he predicted cellphones. The bastard.

The point I take away is not that Heinlein was often wrong about the future (still no flying cars, and more's the pity), but that he routinely grasped some important principle and then made hash of the application. This is easy to forgive in his story from 1940, "Blow-Ups Happen," which dealt with a commercial nuclear reactor that was also potentially a bomb. He misunderstood how chain reactions worked, but there were few people in the world at the time who could have corrected him. Much more interesting are his nuclear-hysteria essays from immediately after the end of World War II. One of them, "The Last Days of the United States," the earliest essay advocating "survivalism" I have encountered.

Heinlein there discusses a proposal common in those days, that the nation's urban population should be "dispersed" to make it less vulnerable to atomic attack. He describes a scene in which a local Civil Defense warden knocks on a neighbor's door and tells him that he has until Tuesday to get ready to be relocated to a new settlement. Since that obviously was not going to work, Heinlein urged people to create rural retreats on their own initiative. In the event, though, government policy did disperse the population. That's what all those federally-backed mortgages for suburban housing developments were about, as well as the highway system to get to them. There were other reasons for suburbanization, of course, but we forget that a lot of the appropriation bills said "national defense" somewhere in the titles.

On the other hand, everything Heinlein had to say in his stories and essays about government decapitation is still relevant. The underground bases he recommended in case Washington is attacked were built, but there is still no easy way to replace Congress in a hurry if the membership is killed or incapacitated. This could yet prove awkward.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: If the Loyalists Had Won the Spanish Civil War

Orwell with POUM

Orwell with POUM

Here the first of three essays by John on the Spanish Civil War, covering both the history, and the alternative history of an in-edifying episode in a terrible century. That war was was the trial run for World War II, and perhaps in a way even the Cold War. In the near term, the two sides aligned clearly with the Fascists and the Communists, but the coalitions on both sides offered enough of an appearance of political breadth that almost everyone felt like they identified with a side. Even now, there are no impartial accounts of the war. There were just too many awful things, done by both sides, and in the full view of the international press, providing endless opportunities for axe-grinding and score-settling.

The Republicans won an early and enduring victory in the propaganda war in the English speaking world. The Republicans cast the Nationalists as reactionary and backward, and the progressive press in the West amplified this theme. Writers and journalists clearly favored the Republican cause, and some of them, such as George Orwell, would lend more than their pens to the cause. For Orwell, firsthand experience with Stalinist purges tempered his enthusiasm for the cause, but others such as Earnest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn would become lifelong partisans of the Republicans, their struggle rendered inexpressibly romantic by defeat.

The impression the Republicans made on the Western intelligentsia probably contributed to the glamour the Soviets enjoyed both during and after WWII. At the time, the Soviet Union really did seem like the wave of the future, and many of the best and brightest in the West were open advocates for the Soviets. This kind of environment facilitated the formation of networks of Soviet spies, especially in the United States and England. Some of these spies, like Ted Hall or Kim Philby, were we placed to steal valuable secrets. Many others, like Hemingway, were just dilettantes.

The preference of the press for the Republican side probably helped give the Soviets an advantage in the Cold War, but what if the propaganda had been even more successful? Despite the support of the Italians and the Germans for Franco's Nationalists, Franco chose to stay neutral in World War II Here, John imagines what might have been if the Republicans had managed to garner a bit more international support, or avoided killing a brilliant general for being the wrong kind of socialist, thereby turning the tide in their favor. How might the Second World War have turned out differently if the Communists had secured an early victory in Spain?

If the Loyalists Had Won the Spanish Civil War.....
The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 was one of the great dramas of the 1930s. I use the word "drama" advisedly, since the debate and propaganda campaigns about the war became the substance of much of the political and intellectual life of the West during the years the war was fought. In the progressive literature of the period, the war was a morality tale of good defending itself against evil, of fascism against democracy, of the Enlightenment against Catholic obscurantism. The war became a counter in the political struggle between the international communist movement and the more loosely organized cause of fascism. In the publishing industry and the better magazines, the Loyalists won the propaganda argument, but on the ground the Nationalists won. In this note, I would like to suggest some ways that history, and particularly the course of the Second World War, might have been different if the Loyalists had won.
A full description of the origins and course of the war is unnecessary here. The questions involved are also still controversial. Suffice it to say that, after a decade of seesaw election results, a Popular Front government finally came to power in Spain, but with a very narrow majority. The Front sought to be inclusive of the Left, from Anarchists to Social Democrats. The Front, however, was more and more controlled by the Communists. In any event, having achieved a narrow victory, the government undertook a radical land redistribution. Elements of the Front, particularly the Anarchists, began some spontaneous redistribution of their own, and the government did not attempt to protect life and property. Clerics and Church property were particularly subject to assault. These events caused the Spanish African Army under General Francisco Franco to stage a revolt. The rebels became the Nationalists. The legitimate government refused to yield, however, and the conflict became an elaborate civil war. The Nationalists received aid from the Italian Fascists and the Nazis, including some troops and airmen. The Loyalists received material aid from Soviet Russia, but on ruinous financial terms. They were also assisted by volunteer legions from many countries. The resources of the two sides were not terribly unequal. However, the Nationalists had most of the experienced officers. Also, the Communists in the Popular Front carried on a small-scale version of the purges then occurring in the Soviet Union, directed against the other Leftist parties. This degraded the fighting capacities of the Loyalist armies, which were organized along political lines. The Loyalists were overwhelmed a few months before the Second World War started. Generalissimo Franco surprised everybody by remaining neutral in that conflict.
A Loyalist victory is not hard to imagine. Franco was a competent rather than a brilliant general. The accident of a military genius on the other side might have altered the outcome of the war. So might have more generous support from the Soviet Union. The Communists might have deferred their own political agenda until after the war was over. Neither side had any difficulty obtaining arms they could pay for; France, which had a Popular Front government too in the 1930s, might have offered arms on credit. Alternatively, an effective League of Nations embargo would have redounded to the Loyalists' benefit, since they controlled most of the country's manufacturing capacity. So, let us assume that by the end of spring, 1939, the Nationalists are forced to finally surrender, and Franco goes into exile in Argentina.
One thing that I think would have been inevitable is that the Soviet Union would, in effect, have a colony in the Western Mediterranean. The front-and-purge policy the Communists used against their rivals in the Loyalist camp was not very different from the one they used in Czechoslovakia just after the Second World War (except, perhaps, that it was much bloodier). Stalin was at all times of two minds about what he wanted to happen in Spain. While he wanted to humiliate the Italians and the Germans, he also had doubts about whether another Communist state so far from his borders was a good idea. He knew that such a state would be difficult for him to control, and that it would offer an alternative focus of loyalty for Communist parties around the world. The Soviet Union's subsequent problems with Yugoslavia and China show that these fears were well founded. However, it would have taken years for a rift to develop. The Spanish Communist Party was devotedly pro-Soviet. The new state would have needed Soviet material support. With the growing threat of a Fascist war, a near-term split with Moscow would not have been in the cards. Spain would become for the USSR something like what Cuba became in the 1960s and Nicaragua in the 1980s.
The French would not have been pleased by this turn of events. French governments have traditionally alined themselves with whatever regime ruled Russia in order to counterbalance the powers of Middle Europe. They would have found this harder to do, however, if the Russians acquired a base adjoining French territory. The advantage to a Russian alliance, after all, is that Russians are too far away to be a menace themselves. There was no way the French could have thrown their support to Germany. It would have been politically impossible, and it would have been strategic suicide. However, the proximity of Soviet Spain would have made France much more reluctant to engage in any major war, anywhere. It is not just that Spain could eventually become a military threat. The Communist Party in France would have been so emboldened by their southern colleagues' success that would have started looking for revolutionary opportunities. A lost war, or even a stalemated war, would do just nicely. Knowing this, the French government would have been much less likely to declare war on Germany in 1939 after the invasion of Poland. Indeed, it might not have been possible to do so, since the Hitler-Stalin Pact was in effect, and the French Left would have made quite a fuss about entering the war, even if they hoped to benefit from the outcome.
Thus, one result of a Loyalist victory could have been that Hitler would not, at the outset, have had to fight a war on two fronts. If the French did not declare war, the British could not have, either. Where would they have put their army? In his pre-war alliance negotiations with Mussolini, Hitler seemed to be contemplating a general war for 1942 or 1943. He would have been able to pick a fight in the West at his leisure, probably much better prepared than he was in 1939. In this war, the desperate French might have accepted an alliance with Soviet Spain, provided Stalin relented. Certainly Spain would have been a reasonable base for the French to retreat to, after losing Paris. Even if Soviet Spain had chosen Franco's policy and attempted neutrality, it is unlikely that Hitler would have accepted it. He could not have. His goal in World War II was the conquest of Russia, something he could not have accomplished with a Soviet ally in his rear. The conquest of Spain could have been part of his initial western campaign, or it might have waited a year or two, but it would have been inevitable.
A Nazi campaign would have had several things working against it. For one thing, the supply lines were long enough to create formidable logistical problems, never the strong suit of the Nazi military. Assuming the English were still in the war, Hitler, like Napoleon, would have found just how accessible Spain is from the sea. On the other hand, the Spanish Soviet government would have been unlikely to be very popular by this time, assuming it had continued with the process of Stalinization. If the Germans concluded their campaign by taking Gibraltar, whose British base was (and is) a long-standing affront to Spanish pride, the Germans could have been accepted as liberators. The loss of Gibraltar could have cost the British effective control of the Mediterranean. The resupplying, not just of Egypt, but of India and Australia, would have become immensely more difficult.
In sum, then, a Loyalist victory in the Spanish Civil War could have lost the Allies the Second World War. I, for one, find this conclusion paradoxical.
Any other ideas?
[If you liked this piece, you might also be interested in taking a look at a revew of The Last Crusade, a history of the Spanish Civil War from a Carlist perspective.]
Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2002-12-06: Security versus Deterrence

In the run-up to the second Iraq War, John noted the irony of American liberals defending the concept of strategic deterrence, when much of the internal American wrangling during the Cold War involved the Right defending this idea and the Left attacking it. Much, but not all. As John noted, both sides had something going for them. The Left was right that deterrence, especially as it turned into mutually assured destruction, was a dumb, risky way to run the world. On the other hand, the right was correct that the Soviets and the many Communist states they supported often destroyed the economy and oppressed the people where they gained power.

Science fiction author Jerry Pournelle was a Cold Warrior who co-authored the book the Strategy of Technology, in which he and his co-authors sought a way to break the stalemate of MAD, and bring the Cold War to an end. Arguably, they succeeded, since the Citizen's Advisory Council on National Space Policy that Pournelle chaired was influential in promoting Ronald Reagan's SDI, which helped break the Soviet economy and bring an end to the Cold War.

As for stability, I'm pretty sure we could all do with a little more stability in the Maghreb and the Middle East. At the time John wrote this, I thought he was on to something. Now I think the Romans and the British had the right idea.

Security versus Deterrence
Let me add a few debater's points to two theoretical arguments that appeared in The Weekly Standard of December 9, in support of the upcoming war in Iraq.
In an article entitled The Obsolescence of Deterrence, Charles Krauthammer dwells on the hypocrisy of the sudden infatuation of the Left with the doctrine of strategic deterrence. During the Cold War, he points out, the Left argued that deterrence was immoral, psychologically debilitating and ruinously expensive. When faced with the prospect of nations like Iraq acquiring weapons of mass destruction, however, the Left now argues that preemptive action is unnecessary, since the Iraqis and other evil doers will be deterred from using these weapons by the fear of retaliation.
One of the most interesting features of the piece is that the author implies that the Left of the Cold War era was partially right. Mutual deterrence, or at least mutual deterrence through weapons of mass destruction, really is not a good way to run the world. Whenever you have a choice, he says, you should prevent such a relationship from arising. He suggests this:
"Had we had the choice of disarming the Soviets by more palatable means, say, a limited military operation like Israel's destruction of Saddam's Osirak reactor, it might have been a reasonable option."
Let me take that a bit further. Suppose Nazi Germany had been known to have had a serious nuclear weapons program. Would the United States and Great Britain then have been best advised to forego the invasion of Europe, or to have stopped at the Franco-German border, because we knew that a situation of mutual deterrence would soon kick in? It is possible to imagine living with a Nazi Europe for the long term, but this would not have been a good thing.
Mr. Krauthammer also notes the argument that "if everyone has nukes, everyone is deterred, and no one will use them." He rightly points out that this is madness, but mentions only the near certainty that mutual deterrence among dozens of nuclear powers would eventually breakdown. Actually, the argument against universal deterrence is simpler than that. We have to remember that nuclear weapons can be used when the combatants possess only a few. 20th-century governments showed themselves quite willing to lose a few of their own cities in the pursuit of strategic goals. We should exert ourselves to ensure that 21st-century governments do not get the same opportunity.
The other Weekly Standard piece that caught my eye was Max Boot's article, The False Allure of Stability. The author points out that the regimes of the Middle East are among the most stable in the world. Some are monarchies and some are pseudo-democratic republics, but as a rule their leaders can expect to stay in office until death, when they will be succeeded by their sons. Despite the region's political glaciation, however, the region is also characterized by war and ingenious maladministration. Compared to the rest of the world, it actually loses ground economically. If this is stability, Mr. Boot suggests, then we could do with a bit less of it.
It is certainly true that stability is not the alpha and omega of statecraft. Where does that idea come from, anyway? Maybe from the Congress of Vienna: that was when the leaders of the West first began to fear chaos above all else. Be that as it may though, I am not sure that the point applies to Iraq today.
The current strategic situation in the world is not stable, because technological progress is making weapons of mass destruction available to less and less responsible actors. Keeping Iraq "in a box" is not good enough. Fissionable material and missile technology will leak into the box. At no distant date, the Iraqi regime will be able to inflict unacceptable damage on the US or its allies should there be any attempt to remove it. Iraq is only one of a class of middle-sized states with a history of doing very bad things and which seek invulnerability through deterrence. Time is not on our side.
* * *
Writing in the Washington Times, Tony Blankley had this to say about Senator John Kerry's announcement of his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the presidency:
"[In the] 'Meet the Press' transcript, it is hard to find solid, specific policy assertions to comment on. My favorite Kerryism is found in the first few paragraphs when he claims: 'I think there's a deep anxiety in the American people about security, and they put it all under the word "security": job security, income security, retirement security, health security, education security, physical, personal security and, of course, national security.' That's nine times he squeezed the word security into one sentence. You don't suppose his pollsters have told him to use the word security as often as possible?" The JFK Who Would be JFK. December 4)
This attempt to modify the meaning of the word "security" has been popping up all over the media. There is no great conspiracy here: it's just another talking point. Still, efforts like this bring back memories. I can remember being intrigued in high school by the hypothesis that it might be possible to manipulate politics simply by modifying the "semantic field" of a language. The idea was scarcely original with me. On a crude level, this was the idea behind Newspeak in 1984. Robert Heinlein incorporated a science of semantic engineering into some of his future-history stories.
A little later I found out that Orwell's and Heinlein's premises were ill founded. The famous Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which holds that people who speak different languages live in different conceptual universes, has not stood up well in experiments, though it might have some validity in narrow contexts. The philosophy of Logical Positivism, which equates thought with language, is apparently just wrong. So, if it's any consolation, Newspeak would not work.
As for Senator Kerry's attempt to define "security" so that war and public safety are only a small part of it, I think that Steve Martin gave the best answer. In the film, The Three Amigos, the title characters defend a Mexican village against a gang of bandits, whose leader is called "El Guapo." Martin encourages the villagers thus (I paraphrase):
"In our lives, we all face our own El Guapo. El Guapo could be a childhood spent in under-privileged circumstances, or a broken home, or inadequate education. Of course, right now we face the actual El Guapo."

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The Long View 2002-10-21: Culture War and Foreign Policy

The two essays John linked together in his left sidebar for this post are Ecumenical Jihad and Theonomy, Globalism, and Babylon. One of the things John is trying to communicate here is that Christianity is growing rapidly in the Global South, at a pace that still seems to be accelerating. The consequence of this is the historical trajectory of Christianity in the West may be dwindling in importance. What the recent kerfluffle over the Extraordinary Synod on the Family and the breakup of the Anglican Communion have in common is an increasing disconnect between more traditionally minded Christians in Africa and Asia, and the less orthodox believers in the Americas and Europe.

How this links into foreign policy was both sides in the Cold War sought to recruit allies from the Third World to bolster their international reputation and fight in proxy wars. Insofar as the Soviets could tar the West with the Original Sins of slavery and colonialism, the Soviets had a clear advantage. Thus, John claims that desegregation and civil rights in America set the stage for the Helsinki Accords, which the Soviets considered to be a victory at the time, but later were seen as a key factor that weakened the Soviet Union and its satellites from within.

The twist is that the political movements that allowed the United States to claim the mantle of justice in the mid-twentieth century now seem increasingly bizarre to an international audience, let alone to their domestic political opponents. Thus we have an odd collusion of interests both at home and abroad that increasingly see the continuing dominance of America as something at odds with both political order and domestic harmony. At the extreme ends of the spectrum, this shades off into outright identification of the United States with the Whore of Babylon. So far, this remains a minority opinion.

Culture War and Foreign Policy

[I wrote this essay in April 2000. Even I thought it was a little speculative, and it seemed to communicate nothing to the opinion journals to which I sent it, so I let the matter rest. However, an interesting exchange that has begun on FrontPageMag suggests that we may be almost ready to confront this issue. The essay appears here without updating.]

* * *

There are several reasons why the United States began to move during the 1950s to finish the work of Reconstruction. One was the growth of a substantial black middle class that saw no reason why it should continue to put up with apartheid. Another was that the mass media and easy travel make it harder for white people to ignore how other people lived. Not the smallest consideration behind Establishment acceptance of the movement to make civil rights at last universal, however, was the handicap imposed by segregation in the prosecution of the Cold War.

The world has never been predominantly white, of course, but the only governments that mattered in the early modern era had been those of a small number of European states. Even with the end of the Second World War and the beginning of decolonization, the US remained chiefly concerned with how Europeans on both sides of the Iron Curtain acted. Still, in order for the US to present itself as a model for the future to both Eastern Europe and the developing world, it was necessary for Americans to be able to argue that their own society was not merely successful, but also fundamentally just.

The extent to which the US has ever achieved justice or convinced the rest of the world of its own essential goodness is open to debate. Nonetheless, simply putting such questions on the domestic agenda in the 1950s made it possible to raise them as international human rights issues in the 1970s. Though often dismissed at the time as irrelevant to serious statecraft, the "basket of rights" in the Helsinki Accords contributed signally to the successful conclusion of the Cold War. A predicate for the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was the decision by the Eisenhower Administration to use federal troops to desegregate the schools in Little Rock in 1954.

Today the US faces a quite different international environment, but one in which the "soft power" of moral credibility is even more important. The US is often characterized nowadays as a "hegemon," though perhaps more in the better American magazines than in the wider world. In any case, to the extent that this characterization is true, it is true by default. The only military capable of global force projection may be American, for instance, but that is less a measure of the power of the US military than an indicator of the sense of strategic security that prevails over most of the globe. (To use a favorite expression of one security analyst of my acquaintance, having the most powerful military in the world in AD 2000 "is like being the smart kid in the dumb room.") The US continues to have the largest national economy, but the composite economy of the European Union is larger. Even the "American culture" that is now found so universally becomes more and more syncretic as it spreads, as phenomena like "world music" attest.

The US has the position it does in the world today because it is tolerated. For this situation to continue, one precondition is that the rest of the world must remain convinced that American society is not repulsive or evil. The fact is that the US is not doing a particularly good job of preventing just such a negative image of the US from crystallizing.

There is no need to be excessively worried by such indicators as the front-page story in The New York Times of April 9, "Europe's Dim View of U.S. Evolving into Frank Hostility." If you read the article, you will see that "Europe" means mostly "France," and I will leave it to P.J. O'Rourke to comment on what the French think. (In any case, the fact there was space for such an item on the Times front page of a Sunday is evidence enough that the Pax Americana is not altogether chimerical.) There may be greater cause for concern in the anecdotal evidence for the coalescence of a version of the "Ecumenical Jihad."

This term was coined by Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College. In a book of that name which he published in 1996, Kreeft proposed a universal alliance of all persons who continue to believe in natural law. While not a call for a shooting war, the book alleged that the chief opponents of natural law are the American elites, who seek to spread their own perverse system internationally. In this view of the post-Cold War world, the forces of historical darkness are largely coincident with Fukuyama's victorious "liberal democracy." The notion that America is what is wrong with the world is scarcely new, on either the Left or the Right. (Kreeft himself is an orthodox Catholic.) What is different now is that the kind of wrongness of which America is suspected is acquiring an ever more cosmic character.

The most conspicuous example of this, perhaps, is the Green-politics opposition to genetically engineered food. The US has had problems with Europeans regarding food exports for over a century. Those disputes were about manageable, empirical things, like price. The new objection seems to be that America is exporting metaphysical poison, food in which "life itself" has somehow been tampered with. The fact that this poison has no observable bad effects just makes it all the more insidious.

Less well-known, outside of the relevant subcultures, is that the United States is becoming the evil empire of popular apocalyptic. This role is quite different from the part America has played in endtime scenarios since the middle of the nineteenth century, and even as recently as the burst of apocalyptic thinking that accompanied the Gulf War. Judging by some Internet sources based both in the US and in Eastern Europe (not necessarily representative of anything but themselves, of course), America has now become Babylon the Great, the future seat of Antichrist's empire. It used to be that, when the Iranians called the US "the Great Satan," editorialists could safely make light of that sort of invective. Relations with Iran itself may be improving, but the early Islamic Republic's view of the US is arguably gaining a wider audience.

How did this happen? Envy has a lot to do with it, of course. So does the sincere belief (and this is the chief explanation for the attitude of the French) that you can't run an international system without a balance of power. One severe irritant is the tendency of the US Congress to act like the "Parliament of Man" in the service of domestic politics. This is pretty much how Congress acted when it passed the Helms-Burton Amendment, which single-handedly abrogated international law regarding compensation for the expropriation of property. Considerations like this, however, explain antipathy toward America only on the level of strategic policy. Popular anti-Americanism is less likely to spring from specific acts of the American government than from the long-term effects of the image America projects abroad. To the extent the image is negative, it is often not accidental. There is no lack of Americans with the power to make a difference who just do not care how their country appears internationally. There is also no lack of Americans who use their country's position to spread their own fixed ideas. Another way to put it is that America has, to some extent, succeeded in exporting its own culture war.

The problem America has with maintaining moral credibility is not simply the fault of mischievous liberal elites. There are features of popular conservative politics that can be quite as disconcerting as anything that comes out of the universities. For instance, though there is a good argument to be made for the permissibility of capital punishment, the enthusiasm with which notorious criminals are executed in some states is, frankly, an international embarrassment. No ethicist has ever, to my knowledge, argued that there can be situations where the death penalty would be morally mandatory. Capital punishment is the paradigm case of the sort of question about which Americans should consider costless reforms in their own society, made in part with a view to enhancing their moral credibility abroad.

Other examples can easily be adduced of conservative enthusiasms that make America appear to be an unattractive hegemon. On the whole, however, it is probably the case that it is the currently ascendant cultural Left that does the most to make the US look like an occupation force of Martians.

Abortion law in the US is not actually much more permissive than in most of the rest of the developed world. Still, the American constitutional ideology of "personal autonomy" in which the abortion license is embedded is actually quite parochial. Even people who support abortion for demographic reasons are nervous about the ideology's larger implications for questions like euthanasia, human cloning and, more speculatively, recreational drug use. Nonetheless, this ideology is the face of America in most international forums that deal with family life. Similarly, American elites seem determined to promote the interpretation of homosexuality as a universal civil rights issue. This approach is distinctly non-obvious for a phenomenon that clearly has medical, psychological, and moral dimensions, particularly one that seems to be chiefly a feature of the modern Anglo-German culture areas.

Part of the reason we do not usually perceive the American cultural Left as a strategic liability is that so much of international civil society is made in its image. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, international civil society is not coincident with "the Davos people." Most members of this "society" cannot afford to vacation in Switzerland. Rather, they tend to be the folks who belong to the NGOs that have spread through every developed nation, and even to some of the underdeveloped ones for which they so often claim to speak. A large fraction of international civil society, in fact, are members of the really radical Left who have lost out in the politics of their own countries, but who hope to recoup their position by appealing from national governments to international forums.

Until the end of the Cold War, appealing to the UN or other international bodies was usually a bootless tactic, since the major international institutions had little freedom of movement during the superpower standoff. Arguably, international institutions still don't have that much real power, even now that the standoff is over. In recent years, however, there has been a concerted effort to enhance their independence, an effort motivated in part by fear of American hegemony. Thus, we have a situation where institutions that are starting to think of themselves as quasi-governmental bodies are interacting with a new class that thinks of itself as "the people of the world."

No good will come of these mutually reinforcing delusions. Even now, they support a crust of activists and bureaucrats that tends to obscure the real world from responsible statesmen. Paradoxically, in fact, it will often be necessary for the US to oppose what purports to be "world opinion" in order to avoid appearing alien and tyrannical to most of the world's people. These days, the spokesmen for "the world" are usually the real aliens.

The security of the United States is a function of the state of the world. An international system which is only lightly militarized and where goods and people can move freely is the safest imaginable for the US. It is also the cheapest to maintain: all we would normally be called on to do is to act as an arbitrator. For such a system to work, however, it is necessary for the arbitrator to be trusted, and to be trustworthy. One prerequisite is some minimum of military and economic heft. Another, however, is that the arbitrator cannot be the proponent of aggressive ideologies that cut across the human grain. Were that to occur, the rest of the world would surely unite in self-defense, and security could not then be purchased at any price.

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Black Hawk Down

I think I read Black Hawk Down after I read John's review of it. It has been long enough that I'm not quite sure anymore. Regardless, this is a classic of war journalism, and is worth reflecting on the Battle of Mogadishu twenty-one years later.

Our involvement in Somalia's civil war in 1992 and 1993 is the connection between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the Global War on Terror, even though we didn't know it at the time. Somalia's collapse was what the other end of the peace dividend looked like. We [and the Russians] stopped spending money in Third World shitholes, and some of them imploded from the sudden change in cash flow.

We got involved because this was arguably partly our fault. The original mission was primarily to protect aid workers who were distributing food. Once the famine ended, and most of the troops went home, local political entrepreneurs began looking to fill the power void. If Mohamed Farrah Aidid had avoided targeting local collaborators and UN peacekeepers in his quest for power, likely we wouldn't have bothered to get further involved.

However, Somali rules for war don't include niceties like "non-combatants". All that matters is whose side you are on. If you want a battle where the rules of war were observed to the letter by both sides, you need to go look at Gettysburg. This was definitely not Gettysburg, although it was a pivotal battle in United States history.

In principle, it shouldn't have been. These were routine snatch and grab type missions. Fast rope in, handcuff some guy, toss him in a waiting truck and drive off. In many ways, this kidnapping operation was also a success. The intended targets were indeed captured. Unfortunately, the Somalis seem to have been the first to really exploit the weakness of helicopters to RPG fire. In the firefight that ensued after two Blackhawks were shot down by RPGs, the Rangers clearly gave much better than they got, no matter whose account you credit.

Nonetheless, this was widely perceived as a failure of will on the part of America [which is at least partly the argument of this book]. That may or not be a fair judgement, but public opinion is notably unfair. One might even go so far as to suspect that this event played a role in the formulation of Osama bin Laden's campaign of bombings intended to break the will of the American people. It does seem clear that we were sucked into a war we didn't understand, with unclear goals and an infinite faith that our technological superiority would allow us to eventually prevail. As such, Mogadishu seems to be more typical than not of our never-ending war.

Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War
by Mark Bowden
Penguin Books, 2000
392 Pages, $13.95 (Paperback)
ISBN: 0-14-028850-3


In this account of the battle of Mogadishu of October 3, 1993, Mark Bowden, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, says that he "wanted to combine the authority of a historical narrative with the emotion of a memoir, and write a story that read like fiction but was true." While a theoretical argument can be made that this ambition is impossible, readers will have trouble avoiding the conviction that Bowden succeeded. The book is based on dozens of interviews with the hundred or so Rangers and Delta Force members who spent the night pinned down in an armed and hostile city, as well as with their commanders, elements of the relief column that finally extracted them and a sample of Somali bystanders and militia. These people get to speak for themselves through the author's narrative, which adopts the point of view of the primary sources for each incident in the story. The result is more than a Tom Clancy novel with better characters: the accounts of combat in Black Hawk Down are an important contribution to military history. The book also examines the leadership and tactics that lay behind the engagement. While Bowden, commendably, does not present any easy answers, one could argue that there were in fact glaring errors in these areas.

The battle of Mogadishu (sometimes called "the Battle of the Black Sea" after the neighborhood in which most of it occurred) was the climax to the UN-sponsored, American-led intervention in Somalia that began in 1992. That country had disintegrated politically when both superpowers lost interest in supporting its tyrannical government after the end of the Cold War. The resulting famine in the south provided several weeks worth of photogenic misery for global television, which in turn led to widespread calls for international humanitarian military intervention. After some delay and despite its better judgment, the outgoing Bush Administration committed 28,000 Marines as the backbone of an international contingent to provide security for famine-relief organizations operating in and around Mogadishu, the nominal capital.

The effort succeeded. The famine ended, and the warring clans into which Somali politics had decomposed largely stopped fighting each other. The new Clinton Administration honored its predecessor's pledge to withdraw American forces from Somalia as quickly as possible. The Marines were brought home, and only a residual American force remained. The peace thereafter was supposed to be overseen by a modest international contingent as the UN assembled a new Somali government. This is not what happened. Clan violence resumed, due in no small part to the ambitions of the Habr Gidr clan and its leader, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who hoped to dominate any new government. Aidid's forces assassinated Somalis working for the UN and began attacking UN peacekeeping forces. In one incident in July, 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed and their bodies mutilated.

The chief of the UN mission in Somalia at the time, retired US Admiral Jonathan Howe, was outraged by this turn of events and determined to intimidate the Habr Gidr into cooperation. Using his connections in Washington, he contrived to secure the deployment of a special operations force, Task Force Ranger, including a contingent of the legendary Delta Force.

Army Rangers are select paratroopers. Typically, they are about 19 years old, sport brutal crew cuts and go "Hoo Ah!" when they greet each other. (Other sources say they go "Ooh Rah!") While they are a formidable force, the Rangers are not trained or intended for special operations. D-boys, as Delta Force members are called, really are special operations troops. They are older than the Rangers and cultivate a studied indifference to things like rank and uniform. They are also probably the best soldiers in the world for what they do. What they were supposed to do in Mogadishu was raid the residences and bases of the leaders of Habr Gidr. The Rangers would provide a screen while Delta extracted the bigwigs. Any one raid involved about 160 men. They might arrive in Black Hawk helicopters and then leave with their prisoners in a convoy of Humvees and trucks that met them at the target, or they might arrive by convoy and leave by helicopter. These raids occurred for the most part in densely crowded civilian neighborhoods where a substantial fraction of the population was hostile militia. The trick was to get in and out before resistance could be organized.

There had already been a handful of American casualties in Somalia, and one Black Hawk associated with the 10th Mountain Division, the principal US reserve in the country, had even been shot down with a rocket-propelled grenade. Nonetheless, Task Force Ranger managed to complete five raids of this type with only trivial injuries to themselves. On October 3 their luck ran out. Around three in the afternoon, the force arrived in helicopters at the site of a meeting of Habr Gidr notables. They quickly secured some of the surrounding streets and bundled the prisoners into a truck in a small convoy. Then one of the Black Hawks was shot down, crash-landing nearby. The force then had to go to that site to rescue survivors (there were some) and to destroy sensitive equipment. A few minutes later, another helicopter was shot down.

What turned an unfortunate mishap into the biggest fire fight involving American forces since the Vietnam War was that the convoy was unable to find the first crash site. (The second site was soon overrun, despite a last-ditch defense by two members of Delta, and the pilot taken prisoner.) Whether despite or because of the guidance it received from observation aircraft, the Lost Convoy, as it became known, blasted its way up and down the city, narrowly missing its destination on several occasions and taking 50% casualties before arriving back at its base. A relief convoy was soon organized, manned in large part by support personnel, but was similarly defeated by the terrain of the city.

The Somalis' new-found facility with rocket-propelled grenades argued against extraction of the force around the first crash site by helicopter. In fact, three other helicopters had been badly damaged but managed to return to friendly territory. It was not until nearly midnight that a relief column of 500 men could set out, including tanks borrowed from the Pakistanis and armored personnel carriers from the Malaysians. (For a variety of reasons, the interface between the Rangers and the Malaysian drivers was not altogether happy.) This column knew exactly where it was going, and it was big enough to ignore most obstacles in its way. Nonetheless, mostly because of a long delay at the crash site to remove the body of a pilot from the Black Hawk, it was not until after sunrise that the column pulled into a sports stadium that was pressed into service as a field hospital.

The toll for the Americans was 18 dead and several dozen wounded. The figure usually given for deaths among the Somalis is 500. The most disturbing feature of the book is the account of the casual killing of civilians.

Since the objective of capturing the Habr Gidr notables was achieved, the Rangers insist to this day that the mission was a success. By most accounts, Mohamed Farrah Aidid was indeed deeply shaken. After the dispatch of an aircraft carrier and some diplomatically phrased threats from Admiral Howe, the captured pilot was released. However, such support as remained in the US for the Somalia intervention collapsed. The raids by Task Force Ranger ceased. The US withdrew entirely a few months later. Aidid was back in the diplomatic loop until his assassination in 1996. (His son, oddly enough, is a veteran of the US Marine Corps Reserve.) Somalia in the year 2000 remains a legal fiction.

Black Hawk Down is not about high politics. Still, Bowden does have some sensible if debatable things to say about who was responsible and what, if anything, should have been done differently. He is something of a partisan of the Task Force Ranger commander, the now retired General William F. Garrison. Bowden debunks the strange stories that had arisen in which Garrison is pictured as conducting the battle from a high-flying helicopter, and says that his extensive interviews with the members of the force did not reveal the unhappiness with Garrison's style of command that other writers have alleged.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that a unit under Garrison's command was being sent out to perform what was pretty much the same maneuver, time after time, in the same area. It really is predictable that, in such circumstances, the enemy will develop counter-tactics. There may have been some good reason Task Force Ranger had to persevere with the snatch-and-grab strategy, or perhaps the operations themselves were significantly varied. If so, however, these things are not apparent from the text.

The battle of Mogadishu was prominent among the reasons for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, but Bowden finds the decisions made by the Bush and Clinton Administrations at least defensible. Aspin was most faulted for turning down the initial proposal to include heavy armored vehicles in the residual force the US was leaving after the Marines pulled out. Later, when Task Force Ranger was deployed, it did not ask for armor, for the excellent reason that they were not an armored group. Still, one could argue that the dispatch of Task Force Ranger should have caused a reassessment of the decision not to send armor, since obviously the new force would have far more occasion to get in trouble than the force originally contemplated. The estimate that the armored vehicles could not have reached Mogadishu by October 3 in any case is probably exaggerated.

As for President Clinton, Bowden finds that, despite reports to the contrary, he was following developments in Somalia before October 3 as closely as could be expected. Clinton had approved the task force on expert advice, and the experts never gave him any reason to think that there was a fundamental flaw in the strategy. Bowden suggests that, after the primary goal of relieving the famine had been achieved, the US would have been better advised to have suffered the renewal of civil war. He quotes an anonymous source at the State Department as saying people in places like Somalia "don't want peace. They want victory." On the other hand, he also echoes what seems to have been the universal opinion among the veterans of the battle: having taken a position in Somalia's civil war, the US should have continued the policy until Aidid was killed or captured. There is certainly a very good argument that the Clinton Administration's decision to withdraw simply promoted the idea that the US, or at any rate President Clinton, would not persevere in any military commitment that could involve even small casualties.

While there is little to quarrel with in these assessments, there is one point of my own that I would like to add. What was Task Force Ranger doing? Was it a war? A police action? A safari? I don't understand where a strategy of repeated kidnapping raids into a city the attacker has no intention of governing fits into the categories of political science. Were we trying to annoy the Somalis into responsible self-government?

The task of special forces is to make assaults that are sudden, surprising and limited. Such operations can be an invaluable component of a larger campaign. The special forces operations in this instance, however, were the whole of the campaign. This was something like using a scalpel to cut down a tree. At the end of the attempt, the tree will still be standing, and the effect on the scalpel is predictable.

Copyright © 2000 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: World War III

Vault Boy checking the size of a mushroom cloudIn the 1950s, there really wasn't any reason to be terrified of nuclear weapons. The Soviets had them, but they didn't have very many, and it took a long time for a bomber to fly across the Arctic Circle. The strategic planners and civil defense authorities of the day reacted accordingly. With that settled, they could turn to the far more interesting question of, what would happen if Soviet tanks came pouring through the Fulda Gap.

Dropshot was a plan for war written in 1949, drawing on all the practical experience gained during the Second World War. While it was written in 1949, it seems perfectly adapted to the actual President in 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower. John recasts Eisenhower as a crafty Machiavellian political genius who was far better at playing the Great Game with the Soviets than Kennedy or Johnson. You would have wanted someone sober and experienced at the helm when World War III came.

As such, John decides to have some fun by killing off Eisenhower and having the American people elect Adlai Stevenson over Richard Nixon. When then Soviets do invade, there is a far more excitable Commander in Chief.

Dropshot imagines the worst. The Soviets take Central Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Japan. You can find its like commonly represented in popular fiction, from Kornbluth's Not this August to Red Dawn. However, unlike most of those stories, Dropshot manages to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and it plans for the eventual NATO counter-attack and occupation of Soviet Russia.

The successful conclusion of World War III with an American victory would have meant that the End of History arrived thirty years earlier than it actually did. It also would have enshrined the command economy known as War Socialism into the American psyche. The Sixties would have been cancelled for the duration of the emergency.

Part of the fun of alternative history is trying to figure out what would be the same, and what would be different if some major event or decision went another way. John imagined that we would have ultimately ended up in a similar place once the command economies and sober publics of a post-WWIII era lost their strictures with time, but that the world would ultimately have been worse off for a having fought another war of global reach, even if it were the more limited kind of war Dropshot envisioned.

We might never have enjoyed all the electronic marvels that came out of Silicon Valley, side benefits of the race to build ICBMs. The post-WWII economic growth in America, Western Europe, and East Asia would likely have never happened either. Japan and Korea would still be largely agricultural economies, rather than the advanced technological powerhouses we see today. Growth and progress would still have happened eventually, but the societies that experienced them would be less able to benefit, because demographic transition and cultural change had already occurred decades earlier. The world we live in has some not so nice features, but it far from the worst imaginable world.

World War III in 1957



Part I



The year 1957 is not chosen at random. That is the year contemplated by "Dropshot," the U.S. plan for a third world war, which governed strategic thinking for the 1950s. Originally created in 1949, the plan was eventually released under the Freedom of Information Act. It was published, with commentary, in 1978 by Anthony Cave Brown in a book entitled "Dropshot." The war described by that book is the starting point for this article, though my discussion departs from it in many particulars. I would like to consider three topics:

(1) How could such a war could have started?

(2) What would the course of the war have been?

(3) What would postwar history have been like?

A preliminary matter that must be dealt with is the role of nuclear weapons. The writers of Dropshot in 1949 did not think that nuclear weapons would be decisive. Their use would have been optional except in retaliation. Though atomic bombs are devastating if you can transport them someplace where they can do damage, the only means then available was the bomber. This made delivery highly problematical, especially between continents. The writers did note that their assessment would be obsolete if these weapons could be married to rockets capable of flying between North America and Eurasia. As it happened, the era of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) did not really begin until the early 1960s. As late as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Soviets were estimated to have only about 50 ICBMs, none in hardened silos. (The Pentagon expressed confidence to President Kennedy that the U.S. could destroy them before they could be launched. Kennedy was not enthusiastic about putting this confidence to the test).

Thus, while Dropshot did anticipate that the U.S. would be able to make successful nuclear strikes at a few Soviet industrial facilities, it judged that these would not be enough to determine the course of the war. Dropshot forecast that the Soviets would be able to drop no more than two atomic bombs on the United States, and that only if they were lucky. It now appears that those "duck and cover" instructional films that were shown in schools starting in the 1950s were less irrational than later opinion has assumed. If you were affected by one of these strikes at all, you were likely to be some distance from ground zero, where precautions against blast and fallout would make perfect sense. We should also note that the relative immunity to atomic attack enjoyed by the United States would not have applied to the European members of NATO. Even in Europe, however, Dropshot did not believe that atomic weapons would be decisive, or even necessarily used at all.

With these points settled, we may begin the discussion proper:

(1) How could such a war could have started? It could not have started by accident. The hair-trigger nuclear response procedures which characterized the later stages of the Cold War simply did not exist during the period in question. There was no need for them, since it would have taken hours for a nuclear-armed bomber to reach its target. Indeed, the leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union would have been less constrained than were the leaders of the major European powers in August 1914. The intricate mass mobilization plans devised by France and Germany in preparation for the First World War could not really be controlled once they were started. They were intimately tied to strategic plans of offense and defense which required major battles to occur within days of the start of mobilization. A war in 1957 between the United States and the Soviet Union would have started very differently. The mobilization of whole continents is necessarily a leisurely affair. The plans the newly mobilized armies would have been called on to execute would have been calculated in terms of months or years. Therefore, though accidental skirmishes between East and West might have occurred in Europe or the Mediterranean in the 1950s, an actual war would probably have to have been deliberate.

Since the Dropshot war is defensive, at least in its opening stages, we must imagine a situation in which the Soviets launch a general offensive to occupy Western Europe (and various other places, as we will see below.) This would have required a Soviet leadership that believed a decisive victory for communism was achievable by military means, and a U.S. leadership that was either threatening or indecisive or both. The first requirement would have been met by the survival of Stalin into a vigorous old age. Though Stalin died in 1953, he would have only 78 years old in 1957, hardly old enough to get a driver's license in Georgia. The Stalin whom Solzhenitsyn described in his novel, "The First Circle," planned to fight and win a decisive third world war. Let us then imagine the old tyrant succumbing to delusions of omnipotence because of his overwhelming victory in the Second World War, yet frightened by events he sees happening on the other side of the world.

There is a good argument to made that the United States took as little hurt from the Cold War as it did because the president during the 1950s was that logistics expert, Dwight David Eisenhower. Throughout his presidency, experts from the Pentagon would come to him with estimates of the terrifying strength of the Soviet Union and proposals for huge increases in conventional forces which would be necessary to counter it. Eisenhower, who had been a five star general, knew just how seriously to take assessments of this type. Using his own good judgment to gauge just what the Soviets could or would do, he starved the U.S. military during the 1950s to let give the consumer economy room to breath. It was a risk, but history shows that he was right to take it. (His successor, John Kennedy, lacking this self-assurance, tended to act on the assumption that the most pessimistic assessment was the correct one, which was part of the reason for the Vietnam War.) Eisenhower knew that the Soviets were a real threat, one that had to be contained. In this he was right: the attempts by revisionist historians to ascribe the Cold War to American paranoia are tendentious. He was also right in believing that containment, as distinguished from rollback, could be achieved by feint and threat. He could make threats effectively because he was a known quantity to the Soviet leadership. They knew he was a cautious commander, that he would not start a fight if he did not have to, that he was not easily deceived. Even when they lied to him, they lied within limits understood by both sides.

Let us picture an alternative president. Suppose that Eisenhower is out on the golf links in September of 1956, taking a short break from his not-very-grueling campaign for almost certain reelection, when he has a fatal heart attack. His running mate, Vice President Richard Nixon, was even then a man of ambiguous reputation. Nixon assumes the top spot on the Republican ticket, and he has few if any differences with his boss's sober military and foreign policies. However, people quickly form the impression that he is too young and too opportunistic to be president yet. They therefore turn, with a sigh of resignation, to the Democratic presidential contender, Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson, of course, had many gifts. He was intelligent, well-informed, and articulate to a degree rare among American politicians. Stevenson was a genuine intellectual. Unfortunately, he was also a windbag in the great tradition of William Jennings Bryan and a sentimental internationalist in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson. Sentiment and kindness are not the same thing, so foreign affairs conducted by sentimental statesmen are often envenomed to an unusual degree.

Stevenson's foreign policy is itself a good illustration. John Kenneth Galbraith, who helped write Stevenson's speeches in the early 1950s, has remarked that part of his job consisted of toning down the virtual declarations of war against the Soviet Union that Stevenson usually inserted in his first drafts. Doubtless some of this rhetoric was intended merely to counter the impression that the Democratic Party was soft on Communism. However, it cannot be denied that Stevenson felt the policy of Cold War containment was immoral because it did not go far enough. He did not favor an attack on the Soviet Union, but he did want it pressured from all directions with physical and moral force. This was what Ronald Reagan actually did in the 1980s, with considerable success. However, Reagan and his advisers knew that the Soviet Union had exhausted the growth capacity of a command economy, that the system was strong but brittle. In the 1950s, by contrast, the Soviet Union was growing and confident. Stevenson would not have been deterred by this well-known fact; he had the sort of mind that regarded mere practicality as rather tawdry. His idealism would have been costly. Even a symbolic threat to the Soviet Empire, as it then was, would have brought results quite different from those of thirty years later.

If the parties to the Cold War had wanted a military showdown, they would have had several perfectly suitable occasions in 1956, notably the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Uprising. Had Stalin still been alive at that time, it is conceivable that he would have started to deal with the peoples of Eastern Europe as he had begun to deal with the peoples of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Certainly some Eastern Europeans believed that Stalin was planning massive movements of populations and the vigorous purging of pre-World War II society. If this happened, an outraged Stevenson Administration might then have announced its intention to send a standby expeditionary force to Western Europe to support any future popular uprisings in Eastern Europe. Less suspicious rulers than Stalin would have been moved to preemptive action in such an event. He would not have been reassured by the interminable flow of moralistic rhetoric that President Stevenson could have been relived upon to produce. There would have been too much of it to read, much less analyze. Stalin could easily have decided that he could no longer wait for his creatures in Western Europe to take power through force or fraud. Hoping for a decisive victory before the U.S. expeditionary force could arrive, he sends his armies across the north German plain to take the ports on the English Channel.

(2) What would the course of the war have been? The Dropshot study is not a belligerent document. It seems to be one of those common bureaucratic plans which deliberately present a scenario so hair-raising that its intended readers will be dissuaded from ever trying it in real life. It does, of course, wildly overestimate anything the Soviet could or would do. In addition to the main thrust across northwestern Europe, it contemplates simultaneous Soviet offensives into the Middle East and Japan. (For reasons wholly obscure, it directs that Hokkaido, the northernmost and least populous of the main Japanese islands, be abandoned.) Its assessment of the early course of the war in Europe, however, was certainly realistic in 1949, and might still have held true in 1957. The gist of the forecast was two months of unrelieved disaster. While the planners hoped to stop the offensive somewhere in Germany, their sober assessment was that it would have been difficult even to hold Britain. Readers of Norman Schwartzkopf's memoir, "It Doesn't Take A Hero," will recall his description of the state of the U.S. Army in the 1950s. At least that part of it stationed in the United States was a hollow force of badly trained conscripts. Its equipment was ill-maintained and its senior officer corps consisted disproportionately of World War II veterans who would not otherwise have had jobs. This was the Army that was sent to fight in Vietnam, with what results we know. While doubtless the emergency of a world war would have quickly brought improvements, the opening phases of the war would have had to be fought with what the U.S. had on hand. What it had was not all that good.

In some ways, an actual world war fought in 1957 would have been fought under even worse conditions than those envisioned in 1949. When Dropshot was being developed, the fate of China was still in doubt. The maps that come with the plan show China with a Communist north and a Nationalist south. The study discusses the country mostly in terms of natural resources and as a bridge to French Indochina. In reality, by 1957 China was a united ally of the Soviet Union. It had a significant military, as proven by the Korean War. As we know now, Chairman Mao tended to needle the Soviet leadership for being too accommodating to the West. By some accounts, he even proposed an offensive war against the West to Nikita Khruschev, offering tens of millions of soldiers and even the union of China with the USSR. Of course, China had (and has) little striking power beyond its own borders, and the Soviet Union could not have come near to supplying the Chinese Red Army with the equipment for offensive capabilities. Still, the Sino-Soviet alliance in a World War would have been a formidable opponent. It is perfectly plausible that some Chinese armies would have fought not just around China's perimeter, but in France and Germany.

The worst case scenario for such a war is available, not in Dropshot, but in a 1955 novel by C.M. Kornbluth, entitled "Not This August." We hear about the war mostly in retrospect, since in the first few pages the president of the United States surrenders to the Communist alliance in a radio address. The bulk of the book is a description of the Soviet occupation, as it affects a single small town. The war lasted for three years, and it was not so different from the Dropshot war. Nuclear weapons were not a decisive factor. The Soviets take all of Europe and, using its resources and Chinese manpower, contrive to defeat the American fleet, make a landing in Central America and work their way north. The U.S. surrenders when the American front in Texas collapses.

It might seem a bit premature to surrender with the enemy only on the southern border, but the author paints a good picture of a society that has already been bled white. All available manpower and industrial capacity have been diverted to the war, and still it is not enough. Dropshot contemplates a comparable degree of mobilization. Thirty million people of both sexes would have been needed to win the war the plan laid out. It would not have been an economically invigorating war, as the Second World War was for the United States. Wars are only invigorating if the economy has a lot of unused potential which would go to waste if not used for military production. This was the case with the American economy in 1940, but not in 1957. Rather, it would have been like the Second World War was for Great Britain, with every warm body either in the service or doing something to support the war effort, and with civilian production at destitution levels. During and after the Second World War, a number of laws were passed giving the president standby authority to nationalize or otherwise commandeer most of the industrial plant of the U.S. in the event of a national emergency. Universal conscription was, in principle, already in place. In the course of the war against the Communist alliance, the U.S. would itself have become a command-economy state.

Part II of World War III in 1957

In actuality, or course, even if the Soviets got to Antwerp, they would be most unlikely to have arrived in Amarillo three years later. Rather than the immediate loss of Western Europe, we must imagine Central Europe becoming a debatable region. After absorbing the initial offensive, Dropshot calls for NATO to hold the line while the resources of the United States were mobilized. Realistically, this could have taken at least a year. During that time, it would have been extremely difficult to keep NATO together. One of the points which "Not This August" emphasizes as a factor in the defeat of the United States is the role of the Communist underground. The state of the evidence suggests that such a concern may be more than simple McCarthyite paranoia. The part played by Communists and communist sympathizers in the politics and culture of the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s is still insufficiently appreciated. If I had to name a single book to support this point, I would suggest the last of Upton Sinclair's "Lanny Budd" novels, entitled "A World to Win." Published in 1946, it describes sympathetically the adventures of a wealthy American Communist as he moves about the world during and just before the war, helping to organize the fight against Fascism. The author, who made no secret of his own leftist sympathies, describes the pro-Soviet cells which exist everywhere in the U.S., in Hollywood and Washington and the arts. This, of course, was all edifying progressive fiction, but it seems to have been fictionalized rather than fantastic.

The pro-Soviet streak in America politics did real harm during the Molotov-Ribbentrop pack, when it actively impeded U.S. attempts to prepare for World War II. It continued to do harm throughout the Cold War era, up to and including the "Nuclear Freeze" movement of the 1980s, which nearly succeeded in depriving American negotiators of the bargaining power they needed to get the Soviets to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. While this force in American politics would have been as active as possible during a U.S.-Soviet war, they might not have counted for that much, considering the high degree of national unity there would have been. In any event, they would have worked through front groups as much as possible. This would not have been the case in Europe. The powerful Communist Parties in France and Italy were openly and proudly pro-Soviet, indeed pro-Stalin. They could and would have organized work stoppages and mutinies. The peace movements they would have supported would have been particularly persuasive with hostile and at least temporarily triumphant armies only a few hundred miles away. Even if they could not have forced their countries to surrender, they could have made all but the most perfunctory participation in the war impossible.

Still, these political difficulties would have been no more insurmountable than those that had to be overcome to win the Second World War. Assuming, therefore, that NATO holds together while it rearms and regroups, the second phase of the war could begin. Dropshot contemplated an offense that would ultimately result in the occupation of the Soviet Union. Again, however, it did nothing to suggest that anyone would enjoy trying this in real life. The plan considered the various ways that the Soviet Union might have been invaded, and finds all but one of them either impractical, like a drive north from the Middle East, or useless, like an invasion of the Soviet Far East. The only way to do it is the hard way, back eastward across the north German plain and into Poland. Securing the Balkans would be necessary simply to secure this endeavor.

Having defeated the Soviet armies in Eastern Europe, the rest of the war would have resembled the German campaign of 1941, but without Hitler's mental problems. I can summarize the final stage of the war no better than by quoting Dropshot itself:

"22. In the event of war with the USSR, we should endeavor by successful military and other operations to create conditions which would permit satisfactory accomplishment of U.S. objectives without a predetermined requirement for unconditional surrender. War aims supplemental to our peacetime aims should include:

"a. Eliminating Soviet Russian domination in areas outside the borders of any Russian state allowed to exist after the war.

"b. Destroying the structure of relationships by which the leaders of the All-Union Communist Party have been able to exert moral and disciplinary authority over individual citizens, or groups of citizens, in countries not under Communist control.

"c. Assuring that any regime or regimes which may exist on traditional Russian territory in the aftermath of a war:

(1) Do not have sufficient military power to wage a war.

(2) Impose nothing resembling the present Iron Curtain over contacts with the outside world.

"d. In addition, if any Bolshevik Regime is left in any part of the Soviet Union, ensuring that it does not control enough of the military-industrial potential of the Soviet Union to enable it to wage war on comparable terms with any other regime or regimes which may exist on traditional Russian territory.

"e. Seeking to create postwar conditions which will:

(1) Prevent the development of power relationships dangerous to the security of the United States and international peace.

(2) Be conducive to the development of an effective world organization based on the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

(3) Permit the earliest practicable discontinuance within the United States of wartime controls."

This passage is not without relevance to the state of the world in 1995. Let us imagine, however, that all this has been achieved, but the year is only 1960.

(3) What would postwar history have been like?

The burden of Arnold Toynbee's great multivolumed work, "A Study of History," is that our civilization has broken down and that it is now (during the 20th century) in a "time of troubles," like the Hellenistic period in the ancient West and the Era of Contending States in China. Such periods are characterized by "world wars." In the course of them, one great power delivers a "knockout blow" to its main rival, and sooner or later goes on to establish a universal state, like the Roman Empire. The war Dropshot envisioned would have been such a blow. Actually, Toynbee thought that a third world war would probably be started by the United States and won by the Russians, "because they have a more serious attitude toward life." Be that as it may, since we are working with the U.S. war plan, let us consider what the result of a Western victory would have been.

The world of 1960 after Dropshot would have been poorer than the real world of that time. Africa and the great arc of Eurasia around Russia would have collapsed into ethnic squabbling as the reach and attention of the great powers were withdrawn. On the whole, the non-communist countries of East Asia might have been invigorated, as they were by the Korean and Vietnam Wars. However, there would have been no comparable world demand for consumer goods for these countries to exploit. They could well have experienced a war boom, followed by prolonged depressions, as their home markets slowly recovered.

China, we assume, would have been part of the losing alliance. Dropshot did not devote a great deal of attention to it. If the plan had actually been implemented, it is unlikely that country would have been the scene of major U.S. operations. However, with China's attention diverted toward supporting the Soviet war effort, it is conceivable that the U.S. might have backed a Nationalist reinvasion of southern China. It is debatable whether this would have found wide support. The Communist regime did not begin to mismanage the country significantly until the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s, a program which presumably would have been postponed in the event of a war. However, what with the stresses of a lost war and such resentment against the regime as had already been generated, it is possible that China would have fallen apart, much as it had during the warlord era of the 1920s, and as it may again in the later 1990s when Deng Xiao Peng dies.

The biggest differences between a post-Dropshot world and the actual world of 1960 would have been in Russia, Europe and the United States. Russia and Eastern Europe in the late 1950s were still recovering from the effects of World War II, and the last thing they needed was another war. In some ways, perhaps, the Dropshot war would been less damaging than the Second World War, since it was supposed to be faster and would not have been directed against civilians. The plan called for a war of tanks, fought for the most part on the plains of northern Europe. It would still have been a catastrophe, but one that would not have returned the region to 1945 levels.

Russia in 1960 might have been better able to make the transition to a market economy than it was in the 1990s, for the simple reason there was a substantial portion of the population who were already adults during the last period when free enterprise had been allowed to operate, during Lenin's "New Economic Policy" of the 1920s. It might, for instance, have been fairly simple to recreate peasant agriculture. On the other hand, Russian industry in the 1950s was even more strictly military than it was in the final stages of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Since the military occupation of Russia in 1960 would have been largely concerned with closing down the country's military potential, this would have meant closing down all but a small fraction of the country's industry. The country would have become, at least for a while, a country of peasants and priests. This prospect might warm the heart of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but the reality might not have been sustainable.

In Western Europe, the 1950s boom would gave been cancelled. Even assuming the Dropshot war did less damage than the Second World War, still it would have been the third major war in the region in fifty years. Maybe that would have been too much. People can only be expected to rebuild so many times before they begin to despair about the future. It is hard to imagine the normal market mechanisms of savings and investment operating at all in such environment. What fool would invest money in a society that seemed to explode every 20 years? Who would even want to keep money? People would try to turn their savings into tangible assets as quickly as possible. The cloud of despondency would ultimately lift, of course, but would be greatly impeded by the factor we will consider below.

Even in America, collectivism would have triumphed. As several historians have pointed out, what we call socialism is simply the institutionalization in peacetime of the command economy measures devised by Britain and Germany to fight the First World War. These institutions would have been greatly strengthened throughout the West, but especially in the United States, by the experience of two world wars so close in occurrence. We should remember that enlightened opinion in the U.S. of the 1950s was that command economies really were superior in most was to market economies. It was universally assumed that pro-market policies could never cure underdevelopment in the Third World. Certainly the literature of the era is filled with ominous observations that the Soviet Economy was growing much faster than the U.S. economy during the same period. If the highly regimented American economy envisioned by Dropshot had actually succeeded in winning the Third World War, this attitude might have become a fixed assumption of American culture, as it did in so many other countries during the same period. Private enterprise would doubtless have continued to constitute a major share of economic activity, but it would have been so tightly regimented as to be virtually a creature of the state. And there would have been no example, anywhere on Earth, of an important country that did things differently.

The '60s, as we knew them, would also have been cancelled. Partly, of course, this would have been because the country would have been broke. Everyone would have had a job with a fixed salary, of course, but there would have been little money for cars or highways or private houses. America would have remained a country of immense, densely populated cities, most of which would have consisted of public housing. The biggest difference would have been the psychology of the younger generation. The young adults of the 1950s, who had been children during the Second World War, could not have conceived of allowing themselves the indiscipline and disrespect shown by the young adults of the actual 1960s. The "Silent Generation" of the 1950s knew from their earliest experiences that the world was a dangerous place and the only way to get through it was by cooperation and conformity. If Dropshot had occurred, their children, the babyboom children, would have been even more constrained in childhood and correspondingly more well-behaved in young adulthood. Doubtless there would still have been something of an increase in the percentage of the young in higher education in the 1960s, but the campuses would have been a sea of crewcuts and neat bobs, white shirts and sensible shoes. The popular music would not have been memorable.

The world after Dropshot would have had certain advantages, of course. Total world expenditures on the military would probably have been much smaller than was actually the case. The nuclear arms race would never have occurred. Indeed, the more alarming types of nuclear missile, those with multiple warheads, would never have been invented. It would have been a world much less cynical than the one which actually occurred. The three world wars would have provided a sense of closure which modern history has not yet achieved. This time, finally, all the great evils of the century would have been defeated. It would be unlikely to have resulted in Toynbee's universal state, at least not during the 20th century. The American people would probably have been as sick of the Adlai Stevenson Democrats after the Third World War as they were of the Roosevelt Democrats after the Second World War. The country would have kicked the victors out of office and sought to turn inward. America would not have been enthusiastic about further adventures for a long time to come.

The exhausted world I have described would doubtless have revived in a few decades. Nations would have broken out of the cultural constraints that the experience of universal conscription tend to impose on a generation. People would slowly realize that their highly regulated economies were not really keeping them safe but were really keeping them poor. There would be an episode of restructuring as technologies developed for the military were finally converted to consumer use, and old subsidized industries were allowed to die. All in all, the world of 1995 after Dropshot might have been similar to the one we see today. Still, it would have been reached at immensely greater cost, both economic and spiritual. We are not living in the best of all possible worlds, but it could easily have been worse.


Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2002-06-02: The Menace in South Asia

NagasakiEven now that the Cold War is long past, most Westerners feel horror and shame at the thought of nuclear war. This is understandable, but the possibility of mutual assured destruction, and the intensive cultural revulsion that possibility engenders in us, are the products of a particular time, place, and set of assumptions.

It took a great deal of time and effort to demonize all things nuclear. Immediately after the Second World War, there intense optimism about harnessing atomic power for the good of mankind. For example, there was Operation Plowshare, which sought a way to turn the crude destructive power of the atom bomb to more mundane purposes, much the same way TNT and other explosives became a tool of the construction and mining industries. The attitudes of 1950s America toward the power of the atom seem blithe to us now, but this is the direct result of a campaign to convince us of the utter horror and unwinnability of a nuclear war.

There was a losing side of that campaign, for which I feel some sympathy. While they lost the war of public opinion, they definitely won the actual Cold War. After the 9/11 attacks, Paul Krugman suggested creating an office of evil to help the government imagine horrible things so we would not be surprised so badly next time. This role was filled for a long time by men like Edward Teller and Herman Kahn, who were perfectly happy to think the unthinkable in order to better prepare for it. A later entry in the field was the Strategy of Technology by Possony, Pournelle, and Kane. They argued that a decisive advantage in war could be gained by the targeted pursuit of specific technologies, particularly in the Cold War, which was already a technological contest.

Arguably, this was in fact the strategy that impoverished the Soviet Union to a degree where the dissent of client states like East Germany and Poland could fatally destabilize it. However, at present, the men who brought this about are likely to be remembered for nuclear brinkmanship and warmongering rather than successfully preventing the Cold War from turning into a hot one, and achieving victory as well.

What is perhaps even less well appreciated is how different the world is now from the peak of the Cold War. The US and Russia still have a lot of nuclear weapons, but the real worry these days is that some unpleasant little excuse for a country like North Korea or Pakistan will start something nuclear. It would be bad if they did, but to see MAD as the result is a failure of the imagination, or perhaps a success of propaganda. Look at the picture that heads this post, and imagine for yourself, "this is one of only two cities ever destroyed by nuclear weapons." And then try to believe your lying eyes.

The Menace in South Asia


There are three important points about the current confrontation between India and Pakistan. The first two are commonplaces. The third has not been addressed by policy makers, at least in public.

First, it is not likely that the fighting between the two countries will go beyond border skirmishes. This is not a situation like 1914 in Europe, when strategic plans had to be carried out like clockwork if they were to be carried out at all. Furthermore, the situations of the parties are not symmetrical. While Pakistan is perhaps most to blame because of its acquiescence in the use of its territory by militants, India would be the actual aggressor in a war. That country's friends and well wishers have let the Indian government know that a war would delay India's accession to the ranks of the great powers.

Second, even if a serious invasion of Pakistan does occur, it is unlikely that the conflict will go nuclear. On the nuclear level, Pakistan would have to be the aggressor. It is hard to see what Pakistan could gain from that step. The use of tactical nuclear weapons to halt an Indian invasion could cause the Indians to escalate their goals from border security to the destruction of the Pakistani state. In any case, India will always be in a position to declare victory and withdraw. There is no necessary ladder of escalation.

Third, if there is a war and it does go nuclear, India is going to win decisively. Its traditional enemy will be dismembered and the fragments disarmed. The civilian casualties India would suffer, even in the worst-case scenarios, would be proportionately less than those suffered by Great Britain in the Blitz. The moral that the world would draw from a South Asian nuclear war is that nuclear wars are fightable and winnable.

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union occasioned the creation, not just of new weapons systems, but of new disciplines in logic and political science. Those disciplines applied only in a historically unique situation of overwhelming firepower and comparably high levels of technical competence. Nuclear weapons began, however, as an incremental augmentation to the tactics of area bombing. A substantial amount of time passed before the Cold War competitors had the nuclear devices and the delivery systems that could threaten the existence of each other's societies. India and Pakistan are far from crossing that threshold.

Several countries around the world aspire to just the situation in South Asia, where the use of nuclear weapons is a rational option. An Indian victory would have obvious policy implications for Iran, Taiwan, the Koreas and even Japan.

Just yesterday, President George Bush made a speech at West Point in which he declared that deterrence is not enough. He is right, but few people have remarked on the scope of the police project he is proposing. Let us take a deep breath as we prepare to jump in.

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The Long View: The Prophet of Decline

Spengler with hairOswald Spengler remains of interest in the early twenty-first century because he managed to eerily predict some features of the world today. He didn't get everything right, for example his prediction that the United States would not survive the stress of the Great Depression, but he did manage to foresee both the Cold War and its resolution.

While the Decline of the West is Spengler's best known work, John here looks at the possibility that Spengler's unexpected death prevented him from elaborating on his theory of history [and probably also prevented the Nazis from eventually needing to deal with his anti-Hitler snark]

Arnold Toynbee would later publish a tremendous tome, in twelve volumes, expanding this kind of historical analysis from Spengler's seven civilizations to twenty-six.  While these men were rough contemporaries, the tone of their respective works are very different. The circumstances of their lives could not be more different either. Which makes the parallels between them so much more interesting.

Toynbee became something like the court philosopy of the Kennedy Enlightenment, thanks to Henry Luce. His works were more friendly to the role of religion in society, and more upbeat in general than Spengler's. However, in the end, even cranky old Spengler started talking less about decline [Untergang] and more about perfection [Vollendung]. In science, it is common for multiple researchers to independently converge on the same idea at about the same time. It looks very much like something similar was operating here.

Prophet of Decline:
Spengler on World History and Politics
by John Farrenkopf
Louisiana University Press, 2001
$24.96, 304 pages
ISBN 0-8071-2727-2

The first volume of Oswald Spengler's great comparative study of history, "The Decline of the West," was published in 1918, just as his native Germany lost the First World War. Spengler (1880-1936) has been with us ever since, though often only in caricature. Sometimes his name stands for little more than the sentiment of "historical pessimism," or for the proposition that "history repeats itself." After the Cold War, discussions about the "clash of civilizations" and hegemonic diplomacy raised issues that Spengler had first broached 80 years before. The time has come for Spengler's work to be critically reintroduced to a 21st century audience.

John Farrenkopf, an independent scholar who has labored in the Spengler Archive in Munich, here provides a guide to the current state of Spengler studies, particularly in Germany, as well as provocative conclusions based on his own archival work. "Prophet of Decline" answers many common questions about Spengler's politics. The most interesting part of the book, however, is the thesis that Spengler expanded his ideas after "The Decline of the West" into what is really a second, largely unpublished theory of history. The book even has a picture of the notoriously shiny-pated Spengler with hair. Revisionism can go too far.

Since the last quarter of the 19th century, many people have suggested that the modern era of the West bore significant similarities to the Hellenistic era and the late Roman Republic, a period running roughly from the death of Alexander the Great (330 B.C.) to the assassination of Julius Caesar (44 B.C.) Spengler elaborated this idea in two ways. First, he attempted to work out the analogy systematically. Other writers had noted parallels in the exacerbation of Great Power rivalries. Spengler went beyond that, arguing for parallels in the exhaustion of artistic styles, the domination of both periods by a few great cities, and even claiming that science and mathematics approached final formulations in similar ways in antiquity and modernity. Far more originally, he tried to identify similar patterns of development in seven other "High Cultures." Thus, not just the Greco-Roman World, but Egypt, ancient China, India and other societies had also experienced "modern eras" of two or three centuries. Each had also had its own peculiar "age of faith" (the pyramids, in Spengler's terminology, were "contemporary" with the Gothic cathedrals of Europe) and its cultural climax in a "Baroque."

Despite the many specific examples the "Decline" employs, the logic of the work is not empirical but metaphysical. It accepts Nietzsche's rejection of Kant's historical optimism, but embraces the limits set by traditional German idealism on the power of pure reason. The story of the High Cultures, in fact, is the tale of societies that seek to transcend the power of human understanding and fail. One may not like this kind of reasoning, but the fact remains that Spengler was the first philosopher of world history to really try to write about the world, rather than just dismiss the other great civilizations as a mere prologue to Western history.

Farrenkopf gives us a summary of the enormous critical reaction to "The Decline of the West." The critiques often said that Spengler's analogies were factually wrong, or claimed that Spengler's analogies were so obvious as not to need saying; a few critics said both in the same review. What really exasperated his critics from the first, however, was the fact that Spengler's "morphology" of the history of High Cultures had obvious implications for the future of the West. If the analogy from other "modernities" held, then, probably around the end of the 21st century, the West should collapse into a universal empire, with a culture that would ultimately become as stiff and curatorial as Egypt's during the New Kingdom. In the meanwhile, money and democracy would increasingly hollow out the traditional forms of society, until both collapsed in the face of mere power politics. Wars would reach a climax of technical sophistication and speed, even as nations disintegrated internally. This was a gospel of bad news, but Spengler used the worldwide notoriety of "The Decline of the West" to become its prophet. From the start, his success was mixed.

Spengler conceived the idea for "The Decline of the West" during the Agadir Crisis of 1911, when he realized that a general European war was inevitable. As he put it, the West was entering a period of two centuries of wars for world power, like that between the Battles of Cannae (216 B.C.) and Actium (31 B.C.). Because Germany appeared as a nation state late in Western history, just as Rome did in the Classical world, and because it was an economically dynamic power at the periphery of the ancient core of its wider culture, just as Rome had been relative to Greece, Spengler assumed that Germany would play a role in late Western history like that of Rome in late antiquity. That is, it would overcome the other Great Powers, establish hegemony over Europe, and go on to create an "imperium mundi," a universal empire that might, ephemerally, encompass the whole planet.

Spengler was a man of wide education, with a PhD in philosophy, though his day job had been teaching mathematics in a secondary school. He had quit some years before 1914 to pursue his literary interests, supported by a small but apparently adequate inheritance from his mother. Unfortunately, his property was largely in American stocks, the income from which became inaccessible during the First World War. He spent the war freezing in a Munich garret, working on the "Decline" and hoping his medical exemption from military service held up. Despite his threadbare circumstances, he took time out to compose a "memorial" for the Kaiser, explaining how best to navigate the difficult years that would follow a German victory. Examining this unfinished and happily unposted document, Farrenkopf reports that Spengler was then instrumentally friendly to democracy. Spengler suggested that support for the monarchy would be strengthened if the bourgeoisie and working classes were given real responsibility, which would have required a more democratic franchise than the class-weighted voting system of Prussia. It would also have required giving the Reichstag far more power than it had under Bismarck's constitution. Spengler came close to suggesting that the German government needed fewer monocle-wearing Junkers and more businessmen and labor leaders. Only thus could Germany achieve the degree of national cohesion necessary to carry out the foreign policy tasks that history had set for it.

The "Decline of the West" is not a political tract, or even a mirror of princes, but a densely philosophical work. Nonetheless, even Spengler's philosophical detachment was disturbed by the loss of the world war. Spengler accepted the "stab in the back" theory for the catastrophe: Germany was not defeated on the field, but betrayed by subversives and ideologues. He soured on democracy. In the years between the end of the war and the stabilization of the Weimar economy in 1924, he became involved in the plots among right-wing aristocratic circles to overthrow the fledgling government and establish an authoritarian regime. Farrenkopf relates that Spengler even spoke with army chief General Hans von Seeckt about becoming the minister of culture or education in such a government. (The general ultimately stayed loyal to the Weimar regime.) Spengler was peripherally involved with a prospective monarchist coup in Bavaria that was short-circuited by Hitler's own Beer Hall Putsch. Still, in those years Spengler did not spend all his time making a fool of himself, but elaborated a political philosophy that goes beyond the ideas he expressed in the "Decline."

The chief published presentation of this development is "Prussianism and Socialism" (1919), a short work in which Spengler tried to sketch a final philosophy of governance for the West. There were two options in competition for this role, he suggested. One was the "knightly" tradition, embodied in Prussia, of care for all and the will to plan for even the distant future. The other was the "Viking" tradition of the Anglo-American world. The Viking tradition could operate globally more easily than its competitor, but it was almost purely commercial. Its fate was therefore tied to that of financial capitalism, which Spengler believed to be an extreme and ephemeral characteristic of the modern era. What Germany needed to do, according to Spengler, was to rescue socialism from class warfare in general and Marxism in particular. The socialism of the future ("Ethical Socialism" was his term for it) would not be an economic theory, but a system of morality for the conduct of public affairs. To use a formula Spengler did not use, it would be the "chivalry" of the post-democratic elites of the coming centuries.

Farrenkopf makes some defense of Spengler's ideas about economics. The turn-of-the-millennium euphoria about a world of free-trade liberal capitalism (the "Viking" option) might not survive another systemic crisis, he reminds us. Additionally, one can say that Spengler's presentation of economic history as a branch of culture, subject to styles and "periods," is a refreshingly novel view of the subject. Even granting both points, I would suggest that Spengler's rather mercantilist preferences illustrate his limitations. Spengler spent his public career emphasizing the cultural unity of the West and the inevitability of the end of national sovereignty. Despite this, he seems never to have seen an international institution that he liked, either public ones like the League of Nations or private ones like the global banking houses. It is as if he imagined that the imperium mundi of which he dreamed would have no institutional predecessors.

Far more interesting than his politics, however, were the historical and philosophical concerns to which Spengler turned his attention after it became clear that the Weimar Republic would be around for a few more years.

Readers of "The Decline of the West" are often struck by the questions it does not answer. It does not explain how the group of "High Cultures" arose or what they have to do with each other. Quite the opposite: Spengler's method in his great book is perfect cultural relativism. Each High Culture is equivalent to all the rest. The peculiar ways of looking at the world that each culture develops is true for itself, but fundamentally incomprehensible for the people of the other cultures. While the High Cultures may borrow techniques from each other, they borrow nothing essential, and even what they borrow they put to uses peculiarly their own. (Spengler's best argument for this is mathematics, where he shows how the West put Classical geometry and Magian algebra to uses that were different in kind from those of the societies that invented them.) Historical meaning, in fact, occurs only within each High Culture; there is no truth for mankind as a whole.

In a scattering of unpublished notes, a few essays and one small book ("Man and Technics," 1931) Spengler modified much of this relativism, or at least created a larger context for it. He became deeply interested in the origin of civilized life. Cultures with civilizations (following an old tradition, Spengler reserved the term "Civilization" for the late phase of a High Culture) have existed for only a small fraction of the time that man has existed zoologically. Spengler at last pursued the possibility that all the High Cultures might be part of a larger story.

His researches persuaded him that man as we know him is quite young, on the order of 100,000 years. Spengler discerns four ages in the past, roughly the paleolithic (the bulk of human history), neolithic, precivilization (after the last ice age ended about 10,000 B.C.) and the time of the High Cultures, which began in the Near East about 3,000 B.C. This looks like a pattern of accelerated development, but Spengler goes farther even than that. Sounding more than a little like Arnold Toynbee, he says that the members of the class of High Cultures fall into generations, related by the widespread primitive societies from which they developed. The latter High Cultures are more powerful and profound than the earlier ones, with the West reaching a maximum. Indeed, he says that the final phase of the West opens a fifth and final age of the whole human story. By its end, the physical environment of the earth could be seriously disrupted. Human populations could fall back to the sparse numbers of precivilization. The species could even become extinct.

As Farrenkopf points out, what we see here is Spengler moving from qualified pessimism to full apocalyptic. In these fragments and short works, Spengler is reminiscent of Henry and Brooks Adams, or for that matter a negative image of Teilhard de Chardin. He sounds most of all like H.G. Wells in his last published work, "Mind at the End of Its Tether" (1945). Spengler never worked these new ideas into a coherent system, as he had hoped. (For one thing, he suffered a minor stroke in 1927, which made it difficult for him to concentrate on large projects.) He claimed repeatedly that he never changed his ideas about the pattern of historical development within each of the High Cultures. On the other hand, in his notes, he started to call them "End Cultures," so there was at least a change in emphasis.

In the "Decline," he had voiced an idea not uncommon around 1900, that Russia was a vital but still fundamentally primitive culture that would eventually supersede the West. While he never entirely took back the prediction that Russia wound someday add a ninth High Culture to his historical eight, in "Man and Technics" this becomes a "maybe." He calls the prospective Russian Culture a mere straggler. What clearly interests him far more is the dramatic vision of the High Cultures as a series of ever-greater failures, with the coming end of the West the greatest catastrophe of all.

This vision of ultimate doom, however, still left the question of how to manage the more immediate decline. As Farrenkopf points out, the destiny of the West as a High Culture is not purely pessimistic. As the era of Civilization advances, the West could be expected to produce a "final" version of science, of mathematics, of politics, of ethics, even a measure of universal peace in the imperium mundi. Spengler himself at one point suggested that he was really talking about the "Vollendung" of the West, its "fulfillment" or "perfection." ("The Perfection of the West"; now there's a title for you.) However, his advice about how to approach the terminal state was relentlessly anti-idealistic. The goal would not be achieved by nations and individuals cooperating to establish theoretically correct solutions, but through the unprincipled pursuit of national and individual self-interest.

The term for this attitude in the theory of international relations is "realism," and in fact Spengler's continuing currency rests on the relevance of his ideas to the anti-Wilsonian school of foreign policy. Indeed, one might call Spengler's theory of foreign affairs Social Darwinist, were it not for one thing: Spengler did not believe in Darwin. Part of Spengler's teaching certification required writing a thesis on evolutionary theory, so he was current with the biology of his day. He did not doubt that evolution had occurred, but he was inclined to doubt that it was a teleology of survival. Rather, it was an entelechy of creatures becoming more and more themselves. Thus, man could not make peace with nature by adapting his understanding to it. Man was what he was. As in the drama of the tragic character-flaw, man's story could only be the playing out of the consequences of his nature over time.

As Farrenkopf tells us, this is a far more fundamental objection to political realism than any posed by Wilsonian idealism. Realism and idealism presuppose there is a right answer; they differ only on how the world works. Spengler's apocalyptic realism, in contrast, suggests that, ultimately, there is no right answer. In the end, he counsels a historically informed Stoicism. This is not without practical merit, as we see in his last major work, "The Hour of Decision" (1933) and in his opposition to the Nazis.

Spengler's cranky anti-Nazism may have saved his ideas for serious consideration by future generations, but only barely. During the 1920s, Spengler had continued to hope for an authoritarian, perhaps monarchist successor to the Weimar Republic. He made clear his contempt for the Nazis' demagogy and mysticism. Spengler had complicated ideas about the relationship of the Jews to the West, but he did not think that the Jews were the cause of Germany's problems and he had little patience for anyone who claimed they were. Nonetheless, in the final crisis of the Republic, Spengler voted for Hitler twice, with the cryptic explanation that "one must support the Movement." If Spengler had shared the expectation on the Right that a government of old-line conservatives could restrain Hitler in office, he was quickly disappointed. In fact, he took the rather dangerous course of snubbing invitations from Propaganda Minister Goebbels himself, refusing to attend Nazi-sponsored events or to contribute his writings to Nazi publications. Still, his international reputation was such that he was able to publish "The Hour of Decision" in 1933, one of the few works critical of the regime that appeared during the Nazi period. Spengler's sudden death in 1936 may have saved him from arrest or exile.

Spengler being Spengler, "The Hour of Decision" was not a plea for parliamentary democracy and international understanding. Rather, he wanted to know why there were still all those marches and banners, even after the party had come to power. Did those people know what "government" meant? This book was not the occasion when Spengler made his famous anti-Hitler quip, "What Germany needs is a hero, not a heroic tenor," but the implication is there. Chiefly, though, he complained that Germany had no foreign policy and no military to speak of, this at a time that he characterized as the most fateful in all Western history. Clearly, Spengler said, a second world war was in the offing, one in which Germany faced not just a loss of status, but extinction.

Farrenkopf points out something that had escaped my notice, the extent to which "The Hour of Decision" anticipates the Cold War. Spengler understood the Bolshevik government of Russia to be alien to Russia. He thought it was destined to be overthrown, without much fuss, at no very distant date. However, he also suggested that, in the meantime, the anti-Western regime could use Bolshevism to organize the non-white world (a group among which he included the Russians themselves) against the West. At times, he seems to forget his nationalist realism and urge a united Western front against "Asia."

Spengler's advice here could have saved a world of trouble. He implicitly criticizes the Nazi regime again by advocating a purely defensive posture toward the East. We know from his letters and notes that he thought the idea of seeking "Lebensraum" in Russia was nonsense. In "The Hour of Decision," he emphasized that an invasion of Russia for purely strategic purposes was also unworkable; it would be simply a "thrust into empty space" that would not destroy Russia.

Quite aside from its relevance to the Cold War, Spengler's analysis does look a great deal like the "clash of civilizations" approach that gained favor among the foreign-policy realists of the 1990s. The chief point of difference is Spengler's assertion that old, fossilized civilizations could act only negatively. They could combat Western influence, but they could not become world powers. In contrast, the more recent realists seem to assume that anything is possible to any civilization, given the right circumstances. As Farrenkopf points out, it is still not completely clear who is right about this. Islam is a swamp, and India is a narrowly regional power. Even China could blow up from attempting to modernize. This is not to suggest that Spengler's prescience was ever better than uneven. "The Hour of Decision" contains the memorable prophecy that the United States could break up under stress of the economic collapse of the Great Depression. One successor state might well be a Bolshevik regime in the industrial Midwest, with its capital at Chicago. (Why Chicago? Was Spengler a fan of Bertolt Brecht?)

Regarding the United States, Farrenkopf notes that Spengler never treats it systematically. Sometimes, it is just a peripheral region of the English sphere, of no significance to the fate of the West. Sometimes, particularly in his earlier work, the US is a contender for the possible founder of the imperium mundi. Farrenkopf goes so far as to suggest that the United States actually did create the Western imperium mundi in 1945, 150 years ahead of schedule. Farrenkopf tries to fit the anomaly into Spengler's system by invoking Spengler's late idea of historical "acceleration." This really doesn't work. The temporal quantum in the life of Spengler's High Cultures is the generation, a measure that changes little over time. In any case, there is really nothing to explain. If you must look for an analogy, the situation of Rome after the end of the Second Punic War was not so different from that of the United States after the Second World War. Anyone who wants to see this idea worked out intelligently should read Amaury de Riencort's "The Coming Caesars" (1957).

Probably, though, it is better not to look for a close analogy. Spengler's belief that all international systems collapse into universal states has merit. So do his ideas about cultural "completion." So, more tentatively, does his time scale. Beyond that, the logic of his system does not make many specific predictions. Indeed, if we take seriously Spengler's protestations about the uniqueness of historical phenomena, we are required to resist the temptation to predict the future from analogy (something that, according to Farrenkopf, Spengler himself belatedly appreciated). Spengler's model would be consistent with a wide range of futures, from a distended Hohenzollern Empire to Toynbee's ecumenical society.

Farrenkopf observes that, as time went on, Spengler became less and less concerned with the prospect of universal empire and more worried about German national survival. "The Hour of Decision" is chiefly concerned about staving off mere chaos, another post-Cold War theme that Spengler anticipated. The path to the future that seemed so clear to Spengler when he was freezing in his Munich garret became obscure when he was a respected authority. Perhaps what we have here is not a growth of pessimism, but of a sense of responsibility.

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Cold War Fallout

No, not that kind.

Titanic was on the television today, and I recalled that the Titanic was found by Robert Ballard when he was actually searching for the wrecks of the USS Thresher and USS Scorpion. As Project Azorian demonstrates, the US spent enormous sums of money during the Cold War, on  projects that are only now coming to light. I was wondering today what else might come to light soon?

Another example is Jerry Pournelle's involvement in an abortive invasion of Albania and Israel's Six Day War.

Jerry should know because back in 1967, Jerry, Stefan Possony, and then-Crown Prince in Exile Leka (or Laika) organized an invasion of Albania by exiles to overthrow Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. King Hussein of Jordan agreed to provide air cover to wipe out the small Albanian air force to allow the invaders to cross the channel from Corfu, where they were training in the King Constantine of Greece's palace. Jerry spent a lot of time in Jordan training their pilots on how to pull off a sneak attack and wipe out the Albanian planes on the ground. Then, in June 1967, the Israelis pulled off their own sneak attack and wiped out the Jordanian air force on the ground, so the liberation of Albania had to be called off.

Decades later, Jerry met the President of Israel, Ezer Weizman, who had been in charge of the Israeli Air Force in 1967. Jerry explained how Weizman had wrecked his invasion of Albania. Weizman exclaimed to the effect that You were that foreigner who was training the Jordanians how to pull of a sneak attack? We thought you were a Russian training the Jordanians to attack us!

When is Jerry going to write his autobiography?

Project Azorian Book Review

Project Azorian

By Norman Polmar and Michael White
$29.95; 276 pages

Hughes Glomar ExplorerI had heard of the Hughes Glomar Explorer before. The kind of science books I read as a kid often featured engineering feats such as the HGE, I can still remember the blurb about the ship being built for seafloor mining of manganese nodules. For reason or another it never worked out, but these books never said why.

It turns out it was all a lie. The Hughes Glomar Explorer was really one of the most ambitious gambits of the Cold War. The HGE was constructed for the singular purpose of clandestinely recovering a sunken Soviet submarine from the bottom of the Pacific.

The ballistic missle submarine K-129 sank on March 8, 1968 1,500 miles northwest of Hawaii. The American underwater sonophone network discovered that something had happened, and the position was triangulated. The USS Halibut was sent to locate the wreckage, and was able to accurately locate the wreck and take photographs.

Using this information, the CIA decided to try to recover the submarine, and the HGE was commissioned under the codename Project Azorian.  The CIA contacted Howard Hughes and he was more than happy to provide a cover story for the mission and laundering of the money to disguise the true ownership of the ship. His many companies and eccentric reputation made both of these things possible. The cover story was so good that some universities began to offer programs in Ocean Engineering to prepare students for the seafloor mining boom.

The Soviets were fooled as well. They never discovered the true purpose of the ship until after it had already been used. The HGE was constructed in public, but the critical recovery vehicle codenamed Clementine was built inside a submersible barge to prevent anyone from realizing the ship was not actually equipped for mining.

This crazy idea almost worked. The submarine was successfully captured, but broke in half while being lifted to the surface. Only the bow was actually recovered. The Soviets actually watched this lift taking place, but did not know what had been done until the story was leaked in the American press in 1975. This leak scrapped plans to send the HGE back to recover the rest of the submarine, because the Soviets threatened war if an American ship returned to the site.

Project Azorian would ultimately cost $500 million, the same as a lunar mission in 1970. This project pushed the state of the art so far that the ship would not find another use for 40 years, when it was leased to Global Santa Fe for its stated purpose: seafloor mining. The American Society of Mechanical Engineering designated the ship an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 2006.

This is the second Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark I have come across in a month. When I was touring the Johnson Space Center, my fellow associate asked me, "Why can't we make something like this?" We have vastly better technology as engineers. These guys worked on paper! However, I realize now that one of the things we are lacking is money. Project Azorian would cost $2.7 billion today. Not many people are willing to throw down that kind of money on something that will only be used once.

This book was a great read. I read the whole thing in two days while on vacation. The book is well-researched, with the explicit purpose of correcting the earlier mistakes of other books on the HGE and K-129. There are lots of fun asides about Cold War espionage and politics that situate the book in its historical context. Anyone interested in the Cold War, submarines, or just science and history should find this book engaging.