Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Weirdest Transference

     Blame this one on my memory.

     I’ve always been a mouthy sort, free with my convictions and opinions. It’s gotten me into a fair number of battles over every subject under the Sun. Moreover, I’ve never been a “respecter of persons;” I didn’t care about the supposedly greater knowledge or credentials of whoever I’d decided to dispute.

     The Sixties were a tumultuous time in many ways, including for the inception of a distinctly anti-military current of belief that infected persons from every walk of life. Contrary to what most might imagine, it didn’t start with Vietnam. The tempest over that affair came second to another campaign that was orchestrated by America’s enemies, especially the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA).

     The expansion of the Soviet Union’s satellite empire in eastern Europe, formally known as the Warsaw Pact, was checked by NATO, especially America’s “nuclear umbrella” over the NATO nations. Our ground forces in Europe, even at their largest (approximately 330,00 troops), would not have been sufficient to defeat the enormous Red Army. They were there to slow its advance long enough for the U.S. to mobilize and dispatch its nuclear deterrent forces, especially the long-range bomber fleet. At that time Our European containment strategy depended totally on those forces, and on the specter of complete devastation they posed the U.S.S.R.

     Naturally, the Communists wanted to see those forces vanish. But the masters of the Soviet Union could make no progress in their “disarmament” initiatives at that time. The Cuban Missile Crisis alerted America’s strategists to the Communists’ intent to expand in the Western Hemisphere. The analysts at RAND, Hudson, and other strategy-oriented think tanks saw the situation too clearly: in the absence of our nuclear deterrent, the Soviets would continue their military advance wherever they had or could establish a beachhead. They had a huge number of men at arms, and were willing to pauperize their subjects to whatever degree was required to provision them.

     So the Communists and their fellow travelers attacked America’s nuclear warfighting power “from underneath:” i.e., by striving to turn ordinary Americans against it. Their propaganda campaign emphasized the horror of a worldwide nuclear holocaust. And as has so often been the case with left-wing propaganda efforts, theirs included a strong thrust into the schools. After all, it’s easier to frighten impressionable youngsters than adults with greater knowledge of facts and conditions.

     In high school, seldom did a day go by that I failed to hear some sort of anti-nuclear slogan or diatribe. Mostly they came from the teachers. Whenever I had the opportunity, I would argue against them. But of course, a high school student’s views don’t count for much in an argument with a credentialed adult.

     Then as now, the most striking aspect of such exchanges was their horror of nuclear weapons themselves. They were “dangerous beyond measure,” “instruments of mass death” that could “poison the whole world.” The prospect was “too terrible even to contemplate.” They simply “had to go,” lest some “warmongers” in the Pentagon decide that there was no point to having them but not using them.

     None of the people spouting such drivel ever mentioned the Soviets’ nuclear arsenal, which was growing even faster than America’s. Their focus was always on America’s nuclear forces and the absolute, immediate, imperative necessity of eliminating them.

     Perhaps some of them were sincerely afraid of the possibility of a nuclear exchange and what it would do to the United States. Some were definitely pacifists, who opposed the existence of conventional armed forces with equal fervor. But some were enemies of the United States...and not all of them bothered to hide their convictions.

     The propaganda campaigns against America’s nuclear forces always focused on the weapons themselves: their massive destructive power and the supposed after-effects of their use. The propagandists strove to inculcate fear of the devices themselves in whoever would listen to them. The mere existence of the weapons, they proclaimed, “puts the whole world at risk.” The weapons’ role in preserving the peace of Europe and checking Soviet expansionism was never mentioned.

     Ironically, to this date no one has ever been harmed by an H-Bomb. Even liberal New York Times columnist Russell Baker, himself no great fan of the military, admitted it:

     Although I don’t exactly love the H-bomb, it comes close to my idea of what a bomb should be. First, it fulfills the human need to have a bomb. Second, of all the bombs in circulation these days, it is the one you are least likely to be assaulted with.
     In the more than thirty years since it became popular, it has never been used against anybody. A person could get fond of a bomb like that. There is no other bomb with a comparable safety record.

     [From “Son of H-Bomb,” published on July 31, 1977.]

     Compare Baker’s clarity in the above to the hysteria of the anti-nuclear-weapons types and decide which you prefer. I’ve made my choice, and not solely for Baker’s semi-facetious reasons.

     The campaign against nuclear weapons foreshadowed the efforts of today’s Left to make young Americans fear guns: not their use but their very existence. That effort moved into high gear only much later. Yet its psychology was exactly the same: Make them fear the inanimate object. Never mention the men who control it.

     I could go into all sorts of rhapsodies about the civilizing power of weapons, but there’s no need for that here. What came into sharp focus this morning, as I was contemplating various aspects of our milieu, was this: If you’re focused on A, you’re not looking at B – or anything else.

     The propagandists who harped on the unacceptable danger of nuclear weapons knew this. Whether or not they did so consciously, in compelling attention to the weapons themselves they succeeded in deflecting attention away from other important matters. They never addressed the humans who control the weapons, who pondered why and how to use them, and the weapons’ other “merely by existing” effects on international relations.

     Nuclear weapons, I’ve argued in other places and at other times, have “democratized” warfare. For some time before them, national “leaders” felt immunized against the personal consequences of war. The H-Bomb and the intercontinental delivery system ruined that for them; they can no longer be certain of surviving an all-out war. Deep bunkers provide only superficial reassurance, as there’s no theoretical upper limit to how large an H-Bomb can be. If detonated at ground level, the Soviets’ 50 Megaton “Tsar Bomba” could destroy any bunker in existence. Larger H-Bombs can be built without straining the physics involved. If any such superbombs exist, they’re a closely guarded secret.

     In a world partitioned into States of varying rapacity, the ability to threaten the inescapable annihilation of any would-be warmaker is precious beyond price.

     I could go on, but I think the point has been made. Remember always that he who wants you to obsess over one thing is keeping you from giving serious attention to other things. Keep in mind the possibility that getting you to focus on A isn’t his true aim – that what he really cares about is preventing you from thinking about B. Ask yourself: Is this person’s desire that I should become absorbed with his issue really about keeping me from addressing other things of equal or greater importance?

     Don’t be satisfied with any easy answers.


Linda Fox said...

This is sorely needed. Surely, the 'conversation' on nuclear - whether peaceful uses, or military - has been dominated by the Left, whose standard argument is simply, "Shut up! Or ELSE!"

The Left has long used people's normal caution - meant to keep you alive by not charging into a risky situation without checking out the dangers - to bludgeon the voters into compliance with Leftist goals. It's long past time to re-start out nuclear arsenal.

Trump could do it - he's known for not wanting to charge into wars that the USA has no real interest in. You know, the kind of wars meant to bail out commercial interests that got into trouble with the government/local population of another country.

Off topic, I took another look at the book covers on the sidebar - I was using a larger monitor, and one that has better resolution. The Wise and the Mad particularly caught my eye. They are, as a group, well worth whatever the artist charged you. They are both beautiful and arresting.

Paul Bonneau said...

"None of the people spouting such drivel ever mentioned the Soviets’ nuclear arsenal, which was growing even faster than America’s. Their focus was always on America’s nuclear forces and the absolute, immediate, imperative necessity of eliminating them."

There is a tendency among writers to claim to divine what his opponents are thinking, and to characterize those imagined motivations in the least defensible manner. This whole blog post reeks of that.

As someone who was on the other side of this issue, I can tell you that it was both sides that we worried about; of course anything else would make no sense. We applied pressure where we could. Generally speaking, this meant pushing the arms treaties, where we assumed both sides would negotiate in their best interest.

Part of the NATO strategy? Yes. But that does not mean we should remain happy with that state of affairs. We naturally move in the direction of deterrence that does not simultaneously threaten our existence - this is what the arms treaties supplied. Too bad the European governments did not also use the remedy of arming their own citizens.

Finally, saying this is related to gun control - come on, Francis. There is no connection whatever.

Francis W. Porretto said...

The connection is quite plain, Paul: In both cases, the anti propagandists, whether anti-nuclear or anti-gun, did their best to make their targets fear an inanimate object: one that would sit passively until some animate, purposeful agent put it to use. The psychology is the same in both cases: These things endanger us all just by existing. At no time were the identities or agendas of those who control the weapons given due consideration.

Apropos of your other criticism, this piece is about the open agendas of the persons involved: the specific focus they sought to evoke from their targets. Whether they were "palming a card," so to speak, on those they propagandized cannot be known, of course -- yet it is a legitimate subject for speculation. If I tell you to "look over there," and you do as I direct, you cannot simultaneously look over here. Was that the real object? Who knows? But the possibility must be allowed.

Once again, the parallel to anti-gun propaganda is striking: "Fear the guns! Take them away from everyone for safety's sake!" But who is doing what with what guns? Are murders being committed? By whom? Are particular demographic cohorts strongly correlated with the murders -- and wouldn't that be more important than the weapons in the hands of those not committing the murders? It's not rocket science.