The Long View 2007-03-12: Several Small Matters and a Large One

A common theme in theories [or future histories] that posit the formation of a universal state in the next hundred years or so is that they almost always also posit a re-unification of Christianity. Since the schisms between the apostolic churches are often at least related to jurisdictional differences in states, this makes some sense.

When Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven tried this idea, they also united the two national empires of the day, the United States and the Soviet Union. On Earth, that union led to eventual planet-destroying war, but the successor state did successfully blend American ideas with Russian ones.

Several Small Matters and a Large One

Second Amendment Rights advocates are pleased as punch about the decision of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Parker v. District of Columbia, which discovered a personal right to own firearms and consequently struck down the District of Columbia's highly restrictive gun laws. Frankly, gun control has never been high on my list of things to worry about, either for or against. I have looked only at summaries of the decision. Judging just from those, the court's reasoning seems possible but not required. One way to put it is that the court really did "discover" a right here; it not make just one up out of whole cloth in the manner of Griswold v. Connecticut (the template for Roe v. Wade).

However, though the DC Court of Appeals is by no means a tool of the Democratic Party, we should note that this decision advances the strategy set forth by political scientist Thomas Schaller in Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without The South. AS that author put it in another context:

Let's put the other nine Amendments of the Bill of Rights behind the ramparts of the Second Amendment and protect them all with equal vigor. That's smart politics.

We have discussed the Schaller strategy before. Essentially, it's a way of trading loose gun-laws to Libertarian-minded conservatives in the West in return for their acquiescence in the retention of Roe v. Wade. The strategy might or might not work, but it will be easy to implement if the Supreme Court follows the DC Circuit Court.

* * *

I am by no means a vegetarian, but I think twice about eating pate', because I am aware of the misery the goose from which the pate' came. Now this comment on National Public Radio has given me much the same thought about fresh fruit and vegetables:

All Things Considered, March 10, 2007 · American farmers depend on immigrant labor to cull their crops. Organic peach farmer David Mas Masumoto says it's time for Congress and the White House to enact real immigration reform. He says it will be better for the workers, and for his peach trees.

Essentially, the farmer wants an unlimited supply of cheap labor, because that will allow him to grow delicate and interesting fruit that can be harvested only by human hands, rather than fruit cultivated with an eye to mechanical harvesters. He tried to make the labor-intensive option sound humane and natural. In fact, he simply exposed the reality of his business: it relies on the perpetual existence of a population that can never be paid beyond subsistence level because the produce they gather is simply not worth very much.

There are elements of the agricultural industry that should be as disfavored as poppy-growers.

* * *

I am unimpressed by the alleged scandal about the use of National Security Letters by the FBI; these are administrative authorizations which allow the FBI to obtain information about individuals that would otherwise require a warrant. I am appalled by the theme, taken up my many members of Congress, that the FBI must be prevented from going on a fishing expedition. The term "fishing expedition" usually refers to a misuse of the pre-trial discovery process in which a prosecutor or civil plaintiff bombards the other party with questions and subpoenas in order to find a cause of action, rather than using discovery to gather information about a charge or complaint that already exists. "Fishing expeditions" are one of the abuses that the rules of discovery are designed to prevent. However, the concept has no application to national-security investigations. Of course the agencies assigned to prevent terrorist attacks are on a fishing expedition. Whether anyone is ever prosecuted, or whether a crime is ever actually committed: these things are beside the point.

Again: 911 happened in large part because the FBI treated terrorism as a criminal matter, and avoided going on "fishing expeditions." The members of Congress who are now taking about forcing the FBI to return to that policy also happen to work in the building that is likely to be the prime target for the next attack. You would think they would at least have a keener sense of self-preservation, but no.

* * *

Russia & the Salvation of Europe: This is not a new theme, and Asia Times Spengler takes it up again in his latest:

Europe existed before any of its constituent nations, and the unified Europe of Church and Empire created the nations along with their languages and cultures. As individual nations, Europe's constituent countries will die on the vine...To recapture Europe means re-creating the faith. It is hard to imagine that the Roman Catholic Church might re-emerge as Europe's defining institution. The European Church is enervated. But I do not think that is the end of the matter. As I argued last month, Russia has become the frontier between Europe and the Islamic world and, unlike Europe, is not prepared to dissolve quietly into the ummah...Pope Benedict's recent pilgrimage to Turkey, it must be remembered, only incidentally dealt with Catholic relations with Islam; first of all it was a gesture to Orthodoxy in the form of a visit to the former Byzantium, its spiritual home...If Europe has a future, it lies in an ecumenical alliance of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and at least some elements of Anglicanism.

Well, one thing is for sure: Danilevsky lives. It may also be significant that Spengler's remedy closely parallels that of Vladimir Solovyev, whose works were recently in the news as the basis for some of the presentations at the pope's Lenten retreat. To me, at least, it seems that Orthodoxy is not in a flourishing state, so much so that it is difficult to see how Orthodoxy itself could be the basis of a revival. On the other hand, we do note that Benedict XVI's understanding of the Mass tends toward the Orthodox understanding: the eucharist is eschatological, so the Mass reveals eternity in somewhat the way that the end of the world will. This view is not new in Catholicism, though it was more strongly emphasized in the old Latin liturgy than in the new vernacular ones. Is is entirely a coincidence that we hourly await Benedict's motu proprio that will restore the Latin liturgy to universal legitimacy, if not universal use?

We should also note that Spengler makes no mention of the role of American evangelicalism in this holy alliance. This is a mistake, caused no doubt by Spengler's misapprehension of the United States as a civilization separate from Europe (a mistake that the Real Spengler did not make, by the way).

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The Long View 2006-12-26: The Children of Men; Geopolitical Broken Windows

One of the most fascinating things about P. D. James’ dystopia Children of Men is that so many people invest so much time and effort into trying to make it a reality.

The Children of Men; Geopolitical Broken Windows

Once upon a time there were two goats that were eating old movie-film from out of a trash bin behind MGM Studios. One goat said to the other:

"Hey, this is a good movie!"

The other goat replied:

"Yes, but it's not as good as the book."

We should keep that cautionary exchange in mind whenever we suspect that a film adaptation has missed the point of the book on which it is based. We should in any case be cautious in commenting about a film we have not seem yet. Nonetheless, the laudatory review that Manohla Dragis wrote for The New York Times regarding the film version of P.D. James's novel, The Children of Men, gives me grave misgivings:

Based in broad outline on the 1992 dystopian novel by P. D. James about a world suffering from global infertility — and written with a nod to Orwell by Mr. Cuarón and his writing partner Timothy J. Sexton along with David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby — “Children of Men” pictures a world that looks a lot like our own, but darker, grimmer and more frighteningly, violently precarious. It imagines a world drained of hope and defined by terror in which bombs regularly explode in cafes crowded with men and women on their way to work. It imagines the unthinkable: What if instead of containing Iraq, the world has become Iraq, a universal battleground of military control, security zones, refugee camps and warring tribal identities?...heavily armed soldiers are ubiquitous. They flank the streets and train platforms, guarding the pervasive metal cages crammed with a veritable Babel of humanity, illegal immigrants who have fled to Britain from hot spots, becoming refugees or “fugees” for short...“Children of Men” has none of the hectoring qualities that tend to accompany good intentions in Hollywood.

Actually, to judge by that review, the film sounds pretty hectoring to me, but hectoring about the wrong things. The novel does mention the sorry state of guest workers in Britain in a world in which there had been no births for over 20 years, but they are barely an afterthought. In fact, violence (unless you count the semi-voluntary euthanasia program) is almost absent from the book. This is, after all, a world without young people. James was not writing science fiction, but she thought through very carefully the economic and cultural implications of a population in which the ratio of elderly consumers to relatively young producers grows ever larger.

James was more interested in making metaphysical than demographic points, as we see in the review of James's book by Alan Jacobs in First Things:

Does the Warden's apparently benevolent despotism give people even a modicum of genuine comfort? Not if they are anything like Theo Faron, who writes in his journal that "without the hope of posterity, for our race if not for ourselves, without the assurance that we being dead yet live, all pleasures of the mind and senses sometimes seem to me no more than pathetic and crumbling defences shored up against our ruins." But Faron is more honest and self-reflective than the majority, who prefer not to think hard thoughts or confront troubling facts.

Still, if you are looking for birth-dearth fiction, The Children of Men is a good place to start. (See also Brian Aldiss's Greybeard. This seems to be one case where, if you plan to see the movie, you should consider reading the book first:

I'm still cranky about David Lynch's adaptation of Dune, but don't get me started.

* * *

Meanwhile, Mark Steyn has more to worry about than cinematic adaptations of his ideas, as we see in this column:

Whatever the “realists” may say, nations talk to each other all the time. Unfortunately, when nation A opens its mouth, nation B doesn't always get the message, no matter how loud and clear it is. Syria and Iran, for example, have subverted post-Saddam Iraq for three years now. Rather quietly at first. But, like a kid playing gangsta rap in his bedroom, if there are no complaints, you might as well crank up the volume. So Iran began openly threatening genocide against a neighboring state. And Syria had one of its opponents in Lebanon, Pierre Gemayel, assassinated.

Syria and Iran are talking, but are we listening?

Likewise, Russia. These days, we talk to the Bear incessantly, to the point of holding the G8 photo-op on Vladimir Putin’s turf. The old KGB man’s pals are also back in the assassination game, not just in his backyard but in London, too...when it became obvious that there was no price to be paid for obstructing American aims, the world got the message. Yet at home too many Americans are wedded to an absurd proposition: that somehow the lone “superpower” can choose to lose yet another war and there will be no consequences, except for Bush and sundry discredited “neocons”; that no matter how America stumbles in the world it can stay rich and happy and technologically advanced even as it becomes a laughingstock in Tehran and Damascus and Pyongyang and Caracas and Moscow and on, and on, and on.

Not so. We are on the brink of a terrible tipping point.

Let me reiterate that I am not sure that Vladimir Putin has poisoned anyone. If you want to worry about Russia, worry about what they are doing to the customers for their natural gas. Still, Steyn's points are well taken, so much so that I am reminded of these words from Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties by Paul Johnson, pages 309-311:

During the 1920s, the civilized Western democracies had maintained some kind of shaky world order, through the League on the one hand, and through Anglo-American financial diplomacy on the other. At the beginning of the 1930s, the system -- if it could be called a system, broke down completely, opening an era of international banditry in which the totalitarian states behaved simply in accordance with their military means...In the 1920s the world had been run by the power of money. In the 1930s it was subject to the arbitration of the sword....A careful study of the period reveals the extent to which the totalitarian powers, though acting independently and sometimes in avowed hostility towards each other, took advantage of their numbers and growing strength to challenge and outface the pitifully stretched resources of democratic order.

(Incidentally, the book was first published in 1983, but the author revised it after 1989. Read the first edition.)

What we see here is not "re-balancing" against one power or alliance by other powers, but a situation in which it became clear that the rules no longer applied, so opportunistic behavior appeared. Call it a geopolitical version of the broken windows effect.

Don't worry, though. I'll try to have a solution by Monday.

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The Long View 2006-12-07: Iraq Study Group; Vladimir the Poisoner; Space Colonization

Alexander Litvinenko dying of polonium poisoning

Alexander Litvinenko dying of polonium poisoning

The Patrick Buchanan article John links to here looks a little batshit [OK, more than a little] in retrospect, given that Vladimir Putin has whacked a number of political enemies inside and outside of Russia in the years since.

Iraq Study Group; Vladimir the Poisoner; Space Colonization

If you insist on reading the whole thing (and I have not yet done so) the report of the Iraq Study Group is here. However, Richard Fernandez has offered what seems to be a balanced assessment at Pajamas Media and at The Belmont Club. He says the report gives a useful description of the situation in Iraq and Iraq's role in the region. The report makes no fewer than 79 recommendations, but he says they come down to these:

* creating a forum at which Iraqís neighbors will be invited to exert their influence in the internal affairs of Iraq;

* linking the legitimization of Iranís nuclear program to any help it can provide to stabilize Iraq; and

* linking Iraq to a comprehensive solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

As the Pajamas Media piece puts it even more briefly:

The intractable is combined with the insoluble.

Is this stupidity or subtlety? As other commentators have noted, the ISG Report is precisely the opposite of a plan for American disengagement from the Middle East, much less from Iraq. The report seems to exclude the possibility of a military withdrawal. Since its explicit recommendations are unworkable and mutually exclusive, they cannot actually be used to embarrass the Bush Administration. The effect, and perhaps the purpose, of the report is nothing more than to give the Administration a few more months to reconstruct the political situation in Iraq.

Readers of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy will be reminded of the semantic analysis that the Mayor of Terminus ordered done on the statements of the imperial ambassador at the time of the Foundation's first crisis. The ambassador spoke lucidly for a week, the analysis concluded, but did not say a damn thing.

* * *

Oh, that Pat, I thought last week when I saw that Patrick Buchanan was asking whether President Vladimir Putin was the real victim in the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko, whose last words, almost, were an indictment of Putin. Buchanan wants to know: Is Putin Being Set Up?

Why would the Russian president, at the peak of his popularity, with his regime awash in oil revenue and himself playing a strong hand in world politics, risk a breach with every Western nation by ordering the public murder of a man who was more of a nuisance than a threat to his regime?

Litvinenko, after all, made his sensational charges against the Kremlin that the KGB blew up the Moscow apartment buildings, not Chechen terrorists, as a casus belli for a war on Chechnya and that he had refused a KGB order to assassinate oligarch Boris Berezovsky in the late 1990s. Of late, Litvinenko has been regarded as a less and less credible figure, with his charges of KGB involvement in 9-11 and complicity in the Danish cartoons mocking Muhammad that ignited the Muslim firestorm....

Scotland Yard has yet to declare this a murder case and is looking into the possibility of a "martyrdom operation" suicide dressed up like murder in which Litvinenko may have colluded. The Putin-dominated Russian press is pushing this line, as well as the idea of an oligarchs' plot to discredit Putin and destroy Russia's relations with the West.

I have, alas, reached the point when I suspect any defense of the Russian government to be evidence of creeping Eurasianism. But what, then, to make of today's report, Radioactive spy's coffin barred from mosque:

The final tragedy for poisoned Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko unravelled today as his family were denied the Muslim funeral he had wished for...

Mr Litvinenko, 43, who was poisoned with a lethal dose of polonium-210, converted to Islam shortly before his death in a London hospital exactly two weeks ago.

Was the late Litvinenko a would-be jihadi who had found a way to subvert the enemies of Muslim Chechnya that would be far more effective than a mere explosion? Then this report puts him in an even worse light:

The FBI has been dragged into the investigation of Alexander Litvinenko's death after details emerged that he had planned to make tens of thousands of pounds blackmailing senior Russian spies and business figures. The Observer has obtained remarkable testimony from a Russian academic, Julia Svetlichnaja, who met Litvinenko earlier this year and received more than 100 emails from him. In a series of interviews, she reveals that the former Russian secret agent had documents from the FSB, the Russian agency formerly known as the KGB. He had asked Svetlichnaja, who is based in London, to enter into a business deal with him and 'make money'.

Profiteering and aggressive suicide are not mutually exclusive, though it seems odd to do one while doing the other. But does any of this fit with murder-suicide?

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Dmitry Kovtun, a contact of dead Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, is in critical condition in hospital from radiation poisoning, Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying on Thursday.

I am sorry that all these people are dead or sick, and I don't want to blacken anyone's reputation on the basis of mere speculation, but Russia continues to be one of those countries where Occam's Razor does not cut very deep.

* * *

There is news about pleasanter places. As I am sure most of us know, NASA is promising to return to the Moon, this time to establish a permanent base at the south pole, about 2020. NASA has also followed up from a report last year with good (though not incontrovertible) evidence of flowing water on Mars today.

Well, it's nice work if you can get it, but I have been looking at artists' conceptions of lunar colonies for so long that now I wonder why the artists' conceptions are so threadbare. If there is a law against designing a building on the Moon that people might want to live in?


There are good reasons for putting a base at the Moon's southern pole, but I am not comforted by the comparison with the Antarctic bases. Politics and environmentalism prevented serious human settlement of Antarctica; the bases would simply be abandoned if a few countries made trivial changes to their funding of scientific research. Has anyone ever been born in Antarctica? (Well, yes: a few.)

As for Mars, should settlement occur, it will occur not with the sense of beginning the human extraterrestrial story, but ending it. Short of some great breakthrough in physics, it's not clear that the human race could reach any planets outside the Solar System, and none of the other planets within it are suitable for terraforming (assuming that Mars is suitable). Even so, the architecture being considered would be no better than on the Moon. I don't think that modern architecture will be transferrable between planets, however. Martian settlements, should there be such a thing, will not be modern societies

That picture is from the Gobi Desert, by the way, but it looks more Martian than an artist's conception. [BE I can’t find the picture John used to have here, but I’m sure you can find images of the Gobi that match the description given.]

* * *

And what do we mean by genuinely after-modern? The change would be not so much a matter of high theory (the theories would become heirlooms) as of folkways. Perhaps we see this kind of thing happening when David Clarke looks back at some religious interpretations of UFO phenomena:

So why did the demonic theory of UFOs become such a popular explanation from the late 1960s and early 1970s on? And how many ufologists and, indeed, members of the public, give credence to this idea today?

It is, of course, absurd to believe that UFOs are either modern extraterrestrial vehicles or after-modern demons. They are Sidhe.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-07-09: The Three Rings; Transformations & Transitions

What lies beneath?

What lies beneath?

John makes an argument here that would make its way into international prominence with the publication in 2015 of Michel Houellebecq's Submission. The Charlie Hebdo shooting on the day of its publication in France only enhanced Houellebecq's reputation [or notoriety.]

I think John deserves credit for making this connection in 2005, but I also think it is too easy to draw facile inferences about an as yet hypothetical Traditional alliance. For example, after Afghanistan and Chechnya, I doubt the Russians would have anything to do with any self-consciously Islamic movement except as useful idiots and distractions.

The Three Rings; Transformations & Transitions


Never let anyone tell you that pathos is only in novels. Imagine a screenwriter who produced a script in which the people of a city were cheering in the streets one day because they had won the right to host the Olympics, and then the next day were removing the dead and injured from subway tunnels. He be would be roundly and justly condemned for writing an arbitrary melodrama. Only reality can get away with making a conjunction like that.

Of course, the main conjunction was not at all arbitrary. All those people were killed in London on July 7 because Britain was hosting the meeting of the G8 at Gleneagles. Note that G8 meetings are no longer limited to the G8. The New York Times says this in a piece about how the bombings distracted the conference participants from their agenda:

In addition to the leaders of the eight major industrial nations - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and Russia - those of China, India, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa were also on hand for Thursday's session.

The country was full of press; eager, if that is the word, for a soft-news summertime story. And in fact few stories had ever been whipped to a more mushy-soft consistency. In addition to the regulation NGO demonstrations and anarchists' riot in Edinburgh earlier in the week (the anarchist action seemed perfunctory to me, but that may be an illusion of distance), a network of musical concerts was coordinated globally under the name "Live 8" to focus attention on the part of the summit's agenda that dealt with aid for Africa. The other major item on the agenda was action against global warming, a cause to which the Bush Administration was at long last willing to give at least rhetorical support. This was the sort of globalized social-work conference that Bill Clinton loved.

The problem is that maybe you can't do this sort of thing anymore. Remember, after the first big anti-globalization riots in 1999, when anarchists and associated rabble boasted that they could make meetings of the major organs of transnational governance so dangerous and expensive that they could no longer be held? Now it may be that the protests will not be able to occur, at least as media events. The London bombings knocked Live 8 and the G8 agenda out of public consciousness.

Think of a system of three concentric rings. At the center we have ordinary statecraft, both international and transnational. In the next ring there are the transnational activists, some of whom have substantive agendas, but many of whom regard politics as a sort of therapy. In the outer ring are the Islamofascists, who hope to replace the Western international order with Dar es-Salam. Any institutional activity of the first ring that attracts the attention of the second ring will also attract the attention of the third. Since the third ring's tactic is to paralyze its victims through horror, any occasion on which the third ring acts will make the second ring seem unimportant. Additionally, the first ring will eventually stop reacting to the second ring as it concentrates on the third.

We should note that membership in the third is in principle fluid. There is at least the theoretical possibility for a Traditional alliance against world order that could also include Russian chauvinists and neofascists, as well as the radical Green movement. There are individuals and organizations that advocate such an alliance, but then there have been such people since the Second World War. As far as I can tell, only the Islamofascists are operationally active in the third ring today.

* * *

Speaking of things that you might prefer to ignore, genetics has taken an odd turn, if you believe a new study about Explaining Differences in Twins:

But a whole new level of explanation has been opened up by a genetic survey showing that identical twins, as they grow older, differ increasingly in what is known as their epigenome. The term refers to natural chemical modifications that occur in a person's genome shortly after conception and that act on a gene like a gas pedal or a brake, marking it for higher or lower activity....There are two possible explanations for Dr. Esteller's findings. One is simply the well- known fact that epigenetic marks are lost as people get older...A second possible explanation is that personal experiences and elements in the environment - including toxic agents like tobacco smoke - feed back onto the genome by changing the pattern of epigenetic marks.

Dr. Esteller believes he is seeing both processes at work.

No doubt I misunderstand the issues here, but I cannot help wondering: might the day come when we have to apologize to the shade of Lamarck?

And Lysenko? But no: that way madness lies.

* * *

In my entry for July 4, I asked the world at large why John O'Sullivan had been dismissed without comment or thanks from The National Interest. Quick as boiled asparagus, a perspicatious reader directed me to Social Affairs Unit, where a brief comment notes that O'Sullivan's departure was connected with the recent fall of the publishing magnate, Conrad Black. He had been supporting The National Interest, on whose Advisory Council he still sits. Now it is wholly operated by the Nixon Center.

* * *

The Summer issue of The National Interest, by the way, is full of stuff you don't ordinarily see, including what appears to be a trade piece by one Doug Brooks of the International Peace Operations Association. And just what is the IPOA? We read at their website:

The International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) is an association of private sector service companies engaged in international peace operations around the world. Member companies are involved in all sectors of peace and stability operations including mine clearance, logistics, security, training, and emergency humanitarian services.

If I understand his article correctly, Brooks argues that mercenaries can be trusted not to abuse and despoil the populations they are sent to protect, abstinences which are not always observed among the military forces that the United Nations scratches together from member countries for peace-keeping operations these days. However, private-sector units need a clearer legal framework. For that matter, they need a body of law that they can carry with them and enforce in the areas they control.

* * *

The protests by spelling reformers at the National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, have gotten a bit more press coverage, from North Carolina and New Zealand. Note that discussion in the latter piece about the difficulty of creating a single spelling system for the many local pronunciations of English is a red herring. All major languages have pronunciation differences. All they ask of their spelling is that it reliably indicate a possible pronunciation.


Alert visitors will have noticed that we are not in Kansas anymore, or at any rate, that my site now has a new URL. I seem to have been the last person who maintained a large site but did not have a personal domain name, a deficit that has occasioned increasing levels of malicious hilarity.

My choices were constrained if I wanted to use my own name, which seemed advisable for a personal website. The domain "" was long since taken, of course; so was "" I would not have minded being a "," which has a fine institutional ring, but alas! I probably would not have used "," but was the spared choice, since someone beat me to it. So, that left me with:

The extension "info" is good. It makes me sound helpful.

I will maintain the old site for a while. However, if you have links to it, I would ask you to redirect here. Only the domain is different; the files still have the same names and extensions (for instance, this page is still "jjrblog.html"), except that the top page is now "index.html."

I have tried to make the transition as seamless as possible, but glitches are inevitable with this kind of project. If you find anything that does not work, please let me know. And thanks again for visiting.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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LinkFest 2016-05-13

Turns out Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this year.

The day we discovered our parents were Russian spies

Spying is a daily reality in the world.

50 years on, one of Mao's 'little generals' exposes the horror of the Cultural Revolution

Fortunately, Mao doesn't have many apologists in the US.

Not a joke: Budweiser will rename beer 'America'

On reflection, this may be a pretty good marketing move. Lots of beers are named for where they are made, e.g. Weihenstephaner. The kind of people who drink Budweiser probably do associate it with America.

AMERICA F*#K YEAH! MUSIC VIDEO from the move "Team America World Police" Regular & Bummer Versions !!!!!!

We are not your Asian American (Political) Sidekick

Razib Khan:

And yet the Quartz piece engages in some interesting jujitsu by actually reporting the statistics of Asian American advantage vis-a-vis white Americans in the service of a broader agenda of putting whites in their place in relation to their critiques of black Americans. In particular it quotes Anil Dash as saying “If Asian Americans talked about white Americans the way whites talk about black folks, they’d bring back the Exclusion Act.”
This to me is really bizarre, and why I term the piece mendacious: Asian Americans do talk about white Americans the way whites talk about black folks.

This reminds me of the time I found out what gwailo meant.

The Long View 2003-11-20: Snappy Answers

Apollo Astronauts Training at Cinder Lake Near Flagstaff, Arizona

Apollo Astronauts Training at Cinder Lake Near Flagstaff, Arizona

John's 2003 ponderings about Mars in this post and the last are fortuitous, since I just reviewed the Martian by Andy Weir. This is exactly the kind of thing that got me interested in science, and directed me to physics as a field of study. Planetary science has always been close to my heart, possibly since the USGS Astrogeology Science Center is in my hometown.

Life on other planets has deep roots here too, since Percival Lowell's obsession with Mars spurred the construction of the observatory that still peers into the heavens here. A lot of fun science fiction was written before we visited other planets with automated probes, but Weir's book demonstrates that sci fi can still be fun even now that we know more about the other planets.

From the point of view of 2016, I would that we had more seriously considered breaking apart Iraq into three states on sectarian lines. John mocks the idea here, but hindsight improves its prospects. Of course, Iraq could still very well have turned into a shithole if we had tried something different, but at least we could have claimed to have applied the same logic that animated the dissolution of the empires of Europe after WWI. Sometimes W is called Wilsonian, but if we had partitioned Iraq he would have actually deserved that epithet.

My caution on the hypothetical partition of Iraq comes from two sources. First, national self-determination has probably been good on balance in the 100 years or so since it was imposed in Europe by President Wilson, but also at terrible cost. Even now, cases like Putin's adventuring in Ukraine or the sham that is Belgium expose the limits of the idea. Second, it is hard to exaggerate the ways in which the Middle East is a messed up place, and the smart bet is on chaos and disaster.

As for John's musings on economics in the end of this post, I find that I mostly distrust everyone on economics after the 2008 housing bubble. A few smart people noticed something was wrong, but almost everyone, including well-known economists, had no clue whatsoever. Clearly, we don't know what we are doing.

Snappy Answers

Many thanks to Jay Manifold of A Voyage to Arcturus. He did the math (not just once but twice ) in response to my question about how the lack of a Martian magnetic field can explain the planet's tenuous atmosphere, when Venus with its very dense atmosphere also lacks an intrinsic magnetic field. To put it briefly, he points out that the Venerian atmosphere is dense because it consists largely of the sort of material (carbon, mostly) that makes up a big fraction of the crust of the Earth. This means that the atmosphere of Venus is so dense that one would reasonably expect quite a lot of it to be left by now. This would be so even if the solar wind eroded it much faster than it eroded the atmosphere of Mars, which presumably was once denser than today, but never as dense as the atmosphere of Venus.

This is perfectly reasonable, but it does illustrate the limits of the hypothesis that the density of the atmosphere of a terrestrial-type planet can be explained by the strength of the planet's magnetic field. Compared to the atmosphere of Venus, Earth's atmosphere is a pretty good vacuum, yet Earth is a strong magnetic field. Just as there are additional factors to explain the state of the Venerian and terrestrial atmospheres, so there are likely to be other factors to explain the current state of Mars.

* * *

A point of usage: Why do I wrote "Venerian" instead of "Venusian" when referring to Venus? Because philosopher and science-fiction writer Olaf Stapledon did. He did it because you are supposed to form an adjective from a Latin noun by using the oblique root. (E.g., "tempus" = "time," but the English adjective is "temporal," from "temporis" (which is "of time"). I know that an editor would not let me get away with an affectation like this, but that's the point of having a blog.

* * *

Speaking of other factors, I for one was greatly surprised when The New York Times took David Brooks as a regular columnist. The Times , frankly, has been leaning toward liberal totalitarianism for many years now, and the editorial page in particular has been kept scrupulously clean of thought crime. Brooks, however, is a serious conservative. It seemed for a moment that the Times was starting to thaw.

Now we know the reason the Times could tolerate him, I'm afraid. Brooks may support the Bush Administration and he has audible doubts about affirmative action, but he is sound on gay marriage. In his editorial of November 22, The Power of Marriage , he adopts a mutual-aid model of the institution that is independent of gender, and indeed of everything except the affections of the people involved.

That is enough. If you accept that human beings are nothing more than senscient rights-holders, then it makes no ultimate difference what else you believe. You will concede the rest of the postmodern agenda in due course.

* * *

David Brooks, I suspect, is merely confused. For some real public policy malice in the pages of the Times, you can't do better than Leslie Gelb's Op Ed piece that ran yesterday, The Three-State Solution. Here is the plan for Iraq from the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations:

The only viable strategy, then, may be to correct the historical defect and move in stages toward a three-state solution: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south.

Almost immediately, this would allow America to put most of its money and troops where they would do the most good quickly: with the Kurds and Shiites. The United States could extricate most of its forces from the so-called Sunni Triangle, north and west of Baghdad, largely freeing American forces from fighting a costly war they might not win. American officials could then wait for the troublesome and domineering Sunnis, without oil or oil revenues, to moderate their ambitions or suffer the consequences.

Leslie Gelb was later interviewed by National Public Radio about this column; he could barely restrain himself from spitting whenever he said "Bush Administration." He obviously thought that the war was a bad idea; the point of his lunatic proposal, I suspect, is to help ensure that the war turns out in such a way that everyone will have to agree with him.

* * *

I see that we have had more than a flurry of good economic news in the last two days. The US GDP was at an annualized rate of 8.2% in the third quarter, and other numbers are nifty, too. Niftiest of all is the fact that inflation shows no sign of picking up, despite low interest rates and the enormous federal deficit.

How is this possible? No doubt because we live in a fundamentally deflationary world. This is due in part to the growing economy of China, and increasingly of India. Also, the millennial talk about the New Economy was not all hype; new technologies really do allow for continuous increases in productivity, which means that wages can rise and unemployment can fall without sparking price increases.

The most interesting aspect of this situation is that governments can get away with printing money. If fact, they have to. Too much fiscal discipline in a deflationary environment is a recipe for disaster. Thus, it may seem that we have arrived at the best of all possible worlds.

To that I say Hah. It is of course true that inflationary environments don't last forever, and that the bills will come due. There is, however, another downside to this situation, one that would apply even if deficit spending could go on forever with impunity. A government that can simply print money is in much the same position as a government that supports itself by selling some lucrative commodity. When a government can support itself through oil sales, for instance, it no longer has to worry about taxes. When that happens, it no longer has to worry about the people, either.

The governments of oil states do in fact make some effort to buy popular acquiescence for the regime. When these efforts succeed, the government can be as corrupt and incompetent as it pleases, so long as the people get their subsidies and their public-works projects. Retail industries may benefit, but the productive economy tends to languish, as people buy their goods from abroad.

This is, pretty much, the tale of what went wrong in much of the Middle East and Latin America. Sometimes I wonder whether a grander version of the same process might be happening to the US.       

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly


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The Long View 2003-10-03: Unusual Views

John Reilly mentions Gen. Wesley Clark in passing here. Clark has dropped out of the public eye, but it is probably worth remembering that Clark probably helped bring about one of the great, but unheralded successes of the United States in the Balkans in the 1990s, Operation Storm. Others were involved of course, but this is the sort of thing that probably is in institutional memory of the Deep State still, encouraging us to bait the Russian bear.

On the subject of the Balkans, I have an upcoming review on the development of the Predator drone. The first combat deployment of that drone was in the Balkans in the 1990s as well, so it behooves us to think about what we did back then, and how it influences us now.

Unusual Views


I am pleased to see that even people, like Instapundit, who are inclined to view Wesley Clark's policy ideas skeptically have nonetheless warmed to his recent expressions of doubt about Special Relativity. Too few presidential candidates have any views about physics at all, so this sort of thing should be encouraged. One can only contrast Clark's pure curiosity to Al Gore's views about global warming. Gore may or may not be sincere, but it's hard not to notice that his ecological notions seem tailored for the electorate. This is much harder to do with cosmology.

Now that I come to think of it, presidents and major presidential candidates have been pretty good about keeping their exotic enthusiasms to themselves. There was Henry Wallace and his interest in astrology, of course, but I would not class that with Clark's remarks. The closest parallel I can think of is Theodore Roosevelt's promotion of spelling reform, which he actually managed to turn into a public controversy. Even Theodore Roosevelt did not mention the matter during his campaigns, however, at least as far as I know.

* * *

Speaking of Wesley Clark, I have every intention of doing a review of his new book, Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire, as soon as it becomes available. A warning to people who also intend to read it, however. It should not be confused with Clark's other recent book, Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat, which was released in August 2002. Waging Modern War was in the high 600s on Amazon's sales ranking this morning. Winning Modern Wars was in the mid-200s, despite the fact the book has not yet been released.

One point I would like to clarify is the publication history. Both books are published by "Public Affairs," an entity with no Web presence. All I could find was a distributor. So, both books are apparently self-published. Self-publishing is a laudable institution, even for people who are not running for public office.

* * *

On the subject of unusual views, I recently bought my first copy of Weird New Jersey. This excellent semi-annual is best known for its paparazzi-like coverage of the Jersey Devil, and for printing with a straight face the sort of sex-and-death ghost stories beloved by teenagers. Weird New Jersey is not a tabloid: it's primary folklore research. If the lore sometimes seems a little tawdry, the explanation is that so are the folk.

Perhaps the most important feature of Weird New Jersey is the many articles they run on the abandoned commercial and military sites that litter New Jersey. New Jersey has been through two industrial revolutions and is working on a third. The obsolete facilities are often simply abandoned. They are also frequently located in out-of-the way places that quickly become reforested. The function and even the names of some of these structures pass out of local knowledge. Gruesome and improbable legends spring up.

I myself have a story that could have gone into Weird New Jersey. I recorded it in my journal for Saturday, September 8, 2001. Well, some of it:

My sister, my brother-in-law, and I went to visit the Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Sandy Hook is just outside lower New York Bay, so the area was pivotal to the coastal defense of New York City. The idea was that, when the Kaiser invaded the United States, German troops would land there and in Connecticut, in order to encircle the city. To forestall this event, the Army built gun emplacements looking out onto the Bay. During the Cold War, when the facility was known as Fort Hannock, the canons were replaced by Nike anti-aircraft missiles. Much of the facility is now a ruin, with the notable exception of some rows of rather fine officer-housing.

I did not appreciate just how large a ruin it was until we walked around it along the beach. The fort had been built into a low cliff, but "low" is relative. Great slaps of creeper-covered concrete loomed to our left as we tried to make our way along the ever-narrowing beach. The way was blocked by stone slabs that had fallen or been dislodged into the water, so we had to climb over them. When we reached firm ground, we passed locked doors as high as four-story buildings. Sometimes, there were small, rusted signs, which threatened the most dire consequences to anyone attempting to enter.

Then we came to the Village. It looked like a film producer had wanted to build a set for a suburban neighborhood but had needed to economize on scale. All the buildings were variations on two or three models. The houses were brightly painted and generally two stories tall, but I can't see how anyone could have stood up straight in them. They were no more than ten feet apart. Each was set in a postage-stamp-size lawn, with grass as neatly trimmed as a crew cut. There were low white-picket fences, and narrow, flawless sidewalks.

The Village was deserted. Toys were scattered on some of the lawns. A tricycle waited in the street. One or two garages were opened and tools were set up in the driveway for some weekend project. Doors were open, and music played. Nobody was there.

Then there was the gargoyle. It was four feet high and black. Its eyes were made of some reflective material. The gargoyle stood on one of the perfect little lawns, at the side of one of the impeccable little houses.

This walk got more and more disconcerting, not just because we did not meet anyone, but because we were lost. The streets seemed laid out so as to lead us away from the lot where we had left our car. Still, there was a way out, and we found it.

We also found a few hundred people at a picnic, in a park adjacent to what was no doubt their neighborhood. We surmised that the tidy houses were for Coast Guard personnel. We were too embarrassed to ask.

* * *

Speaking of requests, I see that The Perfection of the West is still selling a copy now and again: thank you very much. I wonder, though, whether anyone who read it might be interested in contributing a review to the Amazon page? This assumes you liked it, of course, or that you disliked it so much that you can make it sound hateful in an interesting way. 

Copyright © 2003 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 2002-02-11: The American Prerogative

This is another short one. I'll copy the whole thing here again, because it illustrates some interesting points in John's thinking, and some interesting developments in the last decade.

Kyoto HoaxThe Kyoto Protocols were an unenforceable hoax, and it is good someone finally said so. By way of reminder, look at this image from Wikipedia. Most of the world, and most of the worst polluters, had no actual obligations under the treaty, only the West minus the US and Canada had targets to meet [marked in dark green].

The Durban Conference was not a hoax, but rather more like a protection racket raised to an international level. There really is no upside in humoring ideas like this, although I find the argument comparing Israel with South Africa more compelling than I used to.

Twelve years ago, when John wrote this, I was not Catholic. Since converting, I have noticed that more political support in America for Israel comes from Evangelical Christians than Jews. Catholics are noticeably cooler than other American Christians, partly for domestic political reasons, but also because of the less than polite treatment Arab Catholics have received in Israel.

Zionism is not apartheid, although I can see why you might think so. John Kerry didn't actually say this recently, what he actually said was:

A unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens — or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.

While whites were able to dominate the governments of both Rhodesia and South Africa for extended periods of time, in the democratic twentieth and twenty-first centuries, you cannot long remain in power without some sort of popular will supporting you. The white population of South Africa decreased from 20% in 1960 [stable since 1904] to less than 10% 2011. Rhodesia had a peak white population of about 200,000, give or take, but between 1960 and 1978 the black population had doubled from 3 million to 6 million. Demography contributed as much to the downfall of each government as boycotts and other political events did.  Israel plays it pretty smart, and I think the Israelis have avoided the fate of South Africa and Rhodesia by not becoming a minority in their own state. Jews went from a minority to a majority in Israel between 1946 and 1948, by displacing between 700,000 and 800,000 Arab Palestinians. Without doing that, Israel would likely have faced the same demographic doom that overwhelmed the intransigence of the white settlers of Africa. If you pay attention, you can see the Israelis are doing their best to keep their country majority Jewish.

The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was a Cold War coup for the Soviets, who managed to build a functional missile defense system before signing a treaty with the US. Abrogating this treaty was an important step in moving beyond the Cold War, although at this point it is hard not to see how we are kicking Russia when they are down.Encircling the Bear

However, the point of all this for John was that the international system was actually functioning well. John was a fan of the international system. He pointed out that international bodies that do what they are supposed to do rarely make the news, for example the Universal Postal Union. The world's international institutions often do good and necessary work, they also function as an amorphous and unelected legislature of the world.

America functions as the equally unelected executive, in addition to being the security utility of the world. This restores some balance to the system, as John noted.  Eventually, things will even out, and the system will seem more rational. However, we are in for interesting times until that happens.

The American Prerogative

The World Economic Forum ended its meeting in New York City last Monday. The organizers changed the venue from Davos to Manhattan after 911 to show support for the injured city. The hotel and restaurant industries were indeed glad of the business, but the Forum will probably regret the one-time relocation. When the conference was held in an isolated Swiss fastness, it was easy to imagine the event as Night on Bald Mountain with cell phones. Now everyone knows it's the Academy Awards, but without the intellectual seriousness. No good deed goes unpunished.

Nonetheless, the conference was roused from its fashionable slumber as the full implications of last week's State of the Union Speech sank in. Naturally, most critical comment was about the apparent willingness of the US to conduct open warfare without reference to the UN or NATO. More generally, speakers suggested that the Administration was returning to the policy of unilateralism with which it began.

Since the Bush Administration came to office, three of its acts have been most frequently cited as evidence of unilateral arrogance. These are: (1) the repudiation of the Kyoto Protocols on Global Warming; (2) the refusal to attend last summer's Third United Nation's Conference on Racism held at Durban, South Africa; and (3) the withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty. Let me very briefly address these three questions individually and then tie them all together.

(1) The Kyoto Protocols were an unenforceable hoax that no major country could ever have implemented. President Bush said this in public when he visited Europe last year. The leaders of the European Union were deeply offended by the charge of hypocrisy, and the protocols were quickly renegotiated to make them easier to enact. They are still a hoax.

(2) Most of the poverty in the world is caused by looters in office, people who look on government as a license to prey on sources of wealth. The agenda of the Durban Conference was to take this practice international by establishing the principle of reparations for the African slave trade. Additionally, the conference equated Zionism with apartheid. There is no upside to humoring ideas like this.

(3) Defenses against ballistic missiles are necessary if decisive conventional force is to be used against hostile regimes that possess strategic nuclear weapons. Deterrence is irrelevant when the Rangers are rappelling into the Presidential Palace. It is true that strategic defenses do not stop terrorist attacks. They do make countries that harbor or support terrorists subject to retribution.

The merits and demerits of these ideas can, of course, be debated. There is substantial international sentiment to the effect the US should have done just that, in the forums provided by the international system, rather than acting unilaterally. However, this criticism misconstrues the situation.

The merits and demerits of these ideas can, of course, be debated. There is substantial international sentiment to the effect the US should have done just that, in the forums provided by the international system, rather than acting unilaterally. However, this criticism misconstrues the situation.

When the president of the United States refuses to promote something like the Kyoto Protocols, he is not seceding from the international system. Quite the opposite: he is, in effect, acting as the executive of the system by vetoing a proposal from the tangle of institutions that act as its legislature. As with the presidential veto domestically, such acts are not final, and the power involved is essentially the power to stop things. This is true even of the withdrawal from the ABM Treaty; in a world with an increasing number of small nuclear powers, the old Cold War agreement had come to mean something new. This veto authority is a real, organic development of the international system, far more important than the commissions and special tribunals organized by international activists.

This American prerogative really is terribly uppity. It would be insupportable, if it were in derogation of democratic institutions, or even of the rule of law. Those features are, however, precisely the features that the "international legislature" lacks. The world's international institutions often do good and necessary work, but they are appointed bodies of experts. The pretenders to democracy in the international system are the non-governmental organizations. These are run by self-designated persons who turned to the international arena because they could not get their agendas accepted domestically.

As for international law, it has been fatally undermined by international legal experts. Historically, customary international law was a description of how governments actually behaved. Now, increasingly, it means norms devised by international jurists on the basis of nothing more than their own ideology. Some of these norms are good and some are bad. None of them, however, deserves special deference from a responsible elected official.

The current situation is unstable because existing international institutions lack legitimacy, and sometimes even a name. (As the astrophysicists say, no fact will be accepted until we have a theory to confirm it.) Still, it is not hard to see how things will evolve. Extensive democratization of the international system is probably impractical. However, its predictability will increase when the legislature becomes less irresponsible. The American Prerogative is essential to making that happen.