The Long View 2007-05-30: The Nuclear Freeze; Pakistan; the Latin Mass; Spelling Bees

SS-20 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile

SS-20 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile

SS-20s always make me think of the Chevy Chase/Dan Ackroyd movie Spies Like Us.

The Nuclear Freeze; Pakistan; the Latin Mass; Spelling Bees

The proposal to set a date certain for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq has wide support among the political establishment. Maybe it's just me, but all this seems oddly reminiscent of the Nuclear Freeze movement of the 1980s. That was the last, great effort by the Left in the West to defend the Fatherland of Socialism.

The issue was how NATO should respond to the deployment by the Soviet Union of SS-20s in Eastern Europe, an intermediate-range missile. By the 1970s, NATO conventional forces were much smaller and not obviously more capable than their Warsaw Pact counterparts. NATO doctrine contemplated the use of tactical nuclear weapons to stop the advance of Warsaw Pact armored forces. The SS-20s were intended to provide a deterrent to the use of tactical nukes by NATO, a deterrent that, if used, would not involve a direct attack on the United States. If the tactical weapons could not be used, a Soviet conventional campaign against Western Europe would have been possible. The effect would have been to decouple the security interests of Western Europe from those of the United States.

The US response was to deploy intermediate-range missiles of its own. The Nuclear Freeze was nominally about beginning to end the era of Mutual Assured Destruction by freezing existing nuclear stockpiles and delivery systems. The first deployment to be halted, of course, would be the deployment of the new American intermediate-range missiles in Europe. This, as the Marxists used to say, was no accident: the proposal would have frozen in place a permanent Soviet strategic Advantage. Enormous demonstrations were organized all over the world during the Reagan Administration in support of this proposal.

The analogy with the Iraq withdrawal movement today is that the American political system immediately began negotiating with itself, with no reference to what the enemies of the United States were doing or intended to do, and indeed with very little sense that there were any non-domestic parties involved.

In the event, of course, the Freeze proved irrelevant: the West held a stronger economic advantage than it thought at the time, the Soviet Union was flummoxed at the prospect of strategic defense, and the Reagan Administration succeeded in communicating that it had sufficient domestic freedom of action to build any weapons systems it really thought necessary. The SS-20s were withdrawn, in return for the American withdrawal of its still largely hypothetical intermediate-range missiles. The result had benefits for both sides, but it was the Soviet Union that had been attempting to change the power-balance in Europe and the attempt failed.

Nonetheless, there seem to be a selective historical narrative in which the Nuclear Freeze is remembered as a great victory for historical activism.

* * *

But will the use of nukes remain hypothetical? That could be the real issue in whether General Pervez Musharraf retains control of Pakistan, a proposition that has become questionable in light of the public reaction to the general's firing of a high-court justice. An Islamist government in Islamabad could easily get into a war with India, which could easily involve a nuclear exchange. As I have remarked before, the civilian casualties from such a war might be terrible, but India would win it clearly and decisively. That would be a lesson for all small-arsenal nuclear powers: nukes are not merely mechanisms of deterrence. Below a certain threshold of mutual destruction, they can win wars on acceptable terms.

Here are four scenarios for you:

According to a Economist Business Asia intelligence unit report, the four possibilities include an Islamist coup, a full military takeover, a return to full democracy and a power sharing arrangement between the civilian and military authority.

We may note that a return to civilian control in this context seems to mean the return of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. I can't say that she has ever done me an injury, but it seems to me that I have been hearing this woman's name all my life. Furthermore, she became a former prime minister not because the Pakistani military is uppity but because she was doing a less than stellar job.

Don't these people ever just go away?

* * *

Speaking of things that will be with us for a while, regular readers of my website will have noted my recent review of Robert Andrews' A History of the English-Speaking Peoples since 1900. As I remarked in the review, the title was really determined by Churchill's history of similar name, but it was mystifying that Roberts used that clunky phrase, "the English-Speaking peoples," all through the book, even though James C. Bennett's more mellifluous "Anglosphere" was available.

Be that as it may, I went in search of the Anglosphere, and quickly found The Anglosphere Institute, which preaches this doctrine:

The Anglosphere perspective suggests that the English-speaking nations have not only formed a distinct branch of Western civilization for most of history, they are now becoming a distinct civilization in their own right. Western in origin but no longer entirely Western in composition and nature, this civilization is marked by a particularly strong civil society, which is the source of its long record of successful constitutional gAnglophile Conspiracyovernment and economic prosperity. The Anglosphere's continuous leadership of the Scientific-Technological Revolution from the seventeenth century through the twenty-first century stems from these characteristics and is thus likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

I was never keen on the idea, still favored by some historians and political scientists, that America constitutes a civilization separate from that of Europe. The Anglosphere takes this notion and adds really long transoceanic flights.

But what about Cecil Rhodes and the great Anglophile Conspiracy that gave us the Round Table Groups and all those scholarships to Oxford?

Contemporary Anglospherist thought bears roughly the same relation to past Anglo-Saxonism as current evolutionary thought bears to the simplistic Darwinism of Milner's contemporaries.

Long transoceanic flights and sophisticated Darwinism; I am not reassured.

* * *

The Vatican has yet to reauthorize the Latin Mass, but we are repeatedly assured this step is imminent. It may be relevant the New York Times' Vatican Correspondent, John Allen Jr., had a comment on the subject today called The Pope’s Language Lesson. He notes that the media are likely to portray the reauthorization (to be issued as a motu proprio when it appears) as a revolutionary step:

And, of course, we in the press will abet the hype because it’s about conflict, which is the motor fuel of storytelling, and because we need to “sell” the story in order to win air time and column inches.

Benedict, a quintessential realist, will probably be among the few who understand right away that his ruling is not terribly earth-shattering. Sources close to the pope I have spoken to say his modest ambition is that over time, the old Mass will exert a “gravitational pull” on the new one, drawing it toward greater sobriety and reverence.

That has been very much my take on the matter, too. I am beginning to wonder now, however. Certainly the old Mass will not be made mandatory, and only a few more parishes will give it a try after the motu proprio is issued. However, history is full of administrative measures that did not seem like such a big deal at the time but which in retrospect defined a watershed between one era and another. I now suspect that will be the case with the motu proprio.

* * *

How do spelling contests work in other countries? So asks Michelle Tsai in Slate, and gives almost the correct answer:

Close to 300 boys and girls will be stepping up to the mic at this week's Scripps National Spelling Bee. They hail from across the United States, as well as from countries like Germany, Jamaica, the Bahamas, New Zealand, and Canada. Wait, do non-English-speaking countries have spelling bees, too?

Not exactly. Spelling bees are a particularly British and American phenomenon. The orthography of some Romance languages, like Spanish, is so regular that one can easily figure out the spelling of a word just by hearing the way it sounds. English, on the other hand, contains Latin, Greek, Germanic, and other roots, not to mention whole words borrowed from other languages. That's why an American schoolchild might get stuck with tricky words like ursprache and appioggiatura.

Actually, it's not just "some Romance languages" that have orthographies too regular to support a competitive sport. The same is true of Germanic, Slavic, and other languages that use the Latin alphabet. The closest analogues (not counting the dictionary-use and calligraphy contests in East Asia) are the "dictation" competitions for French and Dutch. French notoriously has a "read-only" orthography: you can pronounce any word you can spell, but there are numerous ways that spoken words might be spelled.

And all these languages with good spelling systems have large numbers of loan words, too. Only for English is it supposed to be a problem to regularize them.

So, you ask: What is to Be Done? I give you the Party Line:


Contact: Elizabeth Kuizenga

Tel: (510) 851-4710


5th Annual Picket of English Spelling at National Spelling Bee in DC

Ben Franklin and Mark Twain to demonstrate outside Grand Hyatt Hotel

Washington, DC ( 5/30/07 ) - Among his visions for life in the United States, Ben Franklin saw a simpler English spelling system as a boon to educating the public. His advocacy for this logic will continue outside the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, on Thurs, May 31 from 2:30 to 5:30pm, when he will be portrayed by Ralph Archbold, (aka Ben Franklin for America's Constitutional Bicentennial), who will express Franklin's ideas.

Also continuing to attack crazy English spelling will be author Mark Twain, in the person of Mike Carter, from Wednesday morning, May 30th, thru Thurs afternoon, May 31st-- as well as a cast of Bee marchers from the US, Canada, England, Scotland and New Zealand.

They will both be part of this year's presence at the Bee by the American Literacy Council and the Simplified Spelling Society. Both groups have attended the Bee in recent years to protest the difficulties that English spelling conventions pose for kids and adults trying to learn English, including writing, reading, spelling, and pronunciation. The protesters are concerned that the issues of English spelling delay the acquisition of reading and writing skills, leaving English-speaking kids years behind in their study compared to speakers of other languages.

Members of ALC and SSS will be outside the Bee on May 30 and 31, to talk with people, distribute pamphlets and buttons, and pose for photos.

Established in 1876 & 1908, respectively, the American Literacy Council and Simplified Spelling Society have been transatlantic partners in literacy activism at the Bee since 2001.


Organizer: Elizabeth Kuizenga, ESL teacher in San Francisco, cell: 510 -851-4710


Masha Bell, Literacy expert from Dorset, England , UK, cell: 011 4477 922 89427

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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