Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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Conscience of a Progressive
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"The Other Profession





Ernest Partridge


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 ultimate weapons?

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 it."

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 strange indeed.

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 four years.


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .