In the early 1980s, the Cold War began to get personal.
At Disney World (appropriately!), our new "Acting President,"
warming to his new role, dubbed our global adversaries as "the Evil
Empire" and the "focus of all evil in the world." To frustrate
their nefarious designs, it would be necessary to target still more thousands of
nuclear warheads at the Evil Empire, and to expend still more of our national
treasure on even more sophisticated weapons. With this threat of total
annihilation, the Soviets just might behave themselves.
But weren’t the same Soviets targeting us with a comparable array of
Not to worry, we were assured. It is quite possible to keep nuclear wars
"limited." Besides, a massive nuclear attack isn’t all that bad. T.
K Jones of the Defense Department assured us: "Dig a hole, cover it with a
couple of doors and then throw three feet of dirt on top... It’s the dirt that
does it... If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make
Besides, the President was proposing a "space shield" that would
stop incoming missiles.
Somehow, all this just did not compute with this philosopher.
Suppose the Soviets were capable of doing to us approximately what we were
threatening to do to them? What if they were almost as reckless and ill-informed
as our leaders seemed to be? And what if "strategic defense" was a pie
in the sky, and not a "shield" — as most informed scientists seemed
to be telling us?
After thirty five years of Cold War, I was somewhat used to the idea that,
along with my compatriots, I was the target of a few nuclear warheads. But this
was something different. Our struggle with the Soviets had taken an ominous turn
toward recklessness and bravado, and I was beginning to contemplate the lofting
of my constituent atoms into the upper atmosphere, and with that the
catastrophic end of all persons, places and institutions that I cherished.
In short, I began to suspect that without my knowledge or consent, someone
had somehow booked passage for me on the Titanic. It was my personal bod’ and
all that I held dear about the civilized condition that were being targeted.
What to do?
I was just one voter amongst two-hundred million others, and no one in
Washington had ever asked my opinion about this debacle — nor were any likely
to do so. All I had were my moral concern and the critical skills that I
acquired in my training and practice as an analytical philosopher.
And so I studied and then I wrote. And while "sweet reason" seemed
to count little against the countervailing weight of careers, prestige and
investments with stakes in the continuation of "defense business as
usual," it was all that I had. And to sit idly by while as we all careened
mindlessly toward Armageddon, seemed inexcusable. If I were indeed on the deck
of the sinking Titanic, I vowed that at the very least, I would go down with a
bailing can in my hand.
And so it was that I began to study the literature of both the advocates and
critics of the National Defense establishment, and then to write critical papers
and to offer public presentations to those who would listen. Herein is a
collection of some of those efforts.
As it happened, the ominous turn in the US government attitudes and policies
came at a fortuitous time in my life and career. In the summer of 1982, as the
cold war rhetoric was rising to a crescendo, my own career arrived at a fermata.
Following a two year term as a Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies at
the University of California, Santa Barbara, I accepted an appointment as a
Research Associate at the Center for Philosophy and Social Policy at the
University of Colorado at Boulder. This appointment gave me more time for
independent research than I was accustomed to. At Boulder I found a community of
scholars that were passionately engaged in Peace Studies, and in this fine
company put my philosophical skills to work in our shared concern.
But why collect and publish them now that the cold war is over? Because
present events display a remarkable failure of our leaders to gain lessons from
recent history. And with this failure there is an ominous possibility that we
may repeat that history. Amidst the chauvinistic boast that "we won the
cold war," is a failure to recognize that we were also losers. Furthermore,
even the brief separation of a decade allows a perspective was not available to
us when we were in the midst of those events and rhetoric. It would be a grave
error if we were to proceed blindly without reflecting and drawing lessons from
this national experience. For as I will suggest, it is quite possible that with
the benefit of such reflection, some features of the cold war may appear very
As I look back upon these papers, with the benefit of that decade of
reflection, I am astonished both at how much we stand to gain in insight, and
how much we have failed to gain in fact.
Santayana’s reflection (much improved in the restatement) that "those
who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it," is validated in
today’s news as, having failed to learn, we blindly and enthusiastically
proceed to repeat history. Thus these essays are not merely one philosopher’s
reflections from the past, they are also a warning to the future.
The Cold War has been criticized as dangerous, short-sighted and extravagant.
It was all of these, but still worse it was plain stupid. It began as tragedy
and ended as farce – as brilliantly portrayed by Stanley Kubrick in Dr.
Strangelove. Following a study of Cold War strategies and strategists, Roger
Mollander came up with the definitive question: "Where are the
Grownups?" The so-called "nuclear theologians," caught in the
ruts of their dogmas, seemed determined not to be confused either with simple
logic or scientific facts.
These are bold assertions, and if I were to
continue no further, they would be reckless and irresponsible as well. And so,
in support thereof, I offer the
following papers, written and published between the mid-Eighties and as recently as the past