When the devastating possibilities of atomic bombs had just become apparent to the world — heroic, victorious WWII generals, George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and even the right wing's favorite, George Patton, independently made public statements along these lines: If we don't get rid of nuclear weapons they will get rid of us.
As a Japanese language interpreter with military intelligence duties in Tokyo, I participated in staging U.S. parades on the magnificent grounds adjoining the Imperial Palace, held Saturdays, early in 1946. Eisenhower on his first trip to Japan facing thousands of U.S. occupation forces and a much larger number of Japanese observers, gave an impassioned address with two key points: "It's our job to make sure that there will be no more war" and, "If we do not eliminate nuclear weapons, they will eliminate us". Marshall and MacArthur were honored in similar parades and they too, in my hearing, made plain the necessity for eliminating nuclear weapons.
The following year, a directive from President Harry Truman — still operative - made clear that active duty military personnel could no longer make public their individual opinions on nuclear weapons. A few military heroes, after retirement, expressed publicly such beliefs. Adm. Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy, when asked after addressing a Joint Session of Congress, what he thought would be the ultimate disposition of nuclear weapons, replied, "I suppose we'll blow ourselves up some day." A few other top military brass after retirement made similar statements that tended to be much milder — promoting nuclear arms cuts or risk reduction measures. Most said nothing at all publicly.
Japan in 1946 was a marvelous place to observe the change in the "friend or foe" status of many players on the world stage. Our enemies of WWII, Germany and Japan, whom we would have further devastated with nuclear weapons if the war had gone on a year or two longer, in 1946 were already our protégées and on the way to becoming allies. Our ally the Soviet Union was on the way to becoming our new enemy. Within a couple of years, the United States was aching to destroy the U.S.S.R. but settled for the Cold War, the thousand-fold blossoming of nuclear weapons lethality, and the expenditure of two trillion dollars (an estimate of the net increase of military expenditures, post-WWII over pre-WWII, totaled for the whole Cold War era).
China was a similar friend-turned-into-enemy story. China received its enemy status by a regime change from our wartime ally the capitalist Kuomintang to Mao Tse-tung's Communists. Minor players also changed status. The United States rejected the revolutionary Ho Chi Min's pro-U.S. leanings and friendly overtures (to please our ally France that wished to retain Vietnam as a colony). The United States slowly moved to a position that ultimately produced a full-fledged and lost war that split the U.S. body politic's belief in its rightness and almost destroyed Vietnam as a livable country. After that war, Vietnam was enemy for years. Korea, to which we gave no help when it was under Japanese control, was divided north/south. So by the illogical logic of war, the southern portion became our ally. In 1946, at the age of 20 and talking to other interpreters about these transformations, I summed up the situation with a quip mimicking a stadium hawker, "Get your program here. You can't tell the enemy without a program."
"Friend and ally," "neutral," "pacifist enemy," and "hostile aggressive enemy": since 1917, the status of U.S.-Russian relations has swung from one to the other, roughly once every decade. The world's growing political, economic and social stress implies that the pace will pick up. Deciding he can trust Russian President Vladimir Putin, President George W. Bush has pushed Russia to be "with us." Russia, with diversified and complex interests, may seem to be "with us" for a while. That can change overnight (e.g., Russia resisting U.S. resolutions on Iraq at the United Nations). Whenever we may be tempted to use nuclear weapons, we should remember that our hated enemy today might become our friendly ally tomorrow.
Why were the heroes' admonitions to get rid of nuclear weapons ignored? There were many developments which show how that happened over the course of the nuclear era. But behind the scenes, hawk strategies have served to keep political decision-makers pushing ever more money into the "military-industrial-labor-university complex" for over 50 years with only brief, minor reversals.
Hawks make one powerful argument that, reluctantly or not, most people buy. Here is how the "compassionate" hawk says it: "I think it makes sense to begin to develop some anti-missile capability. Even initially when it is very expensive and has only a small chance of working, if it is needed and it does work, it will save millions of lives. What is a human life worth? You cannot put a number on it. We cannot afford NOT to proceed with missile defense."
This argument seems to trump all possible responses, but not quite. A good response goes like this: Recognizing that in every stage of missile defense development, the hawks expect to require expenditures in the multibillion-dollar range. The United States could not only reduce those billions ten fold, but also at the same time cut the probability to near zero that anybody will ever launch a successful nuclear missile attack. How? We focus on countering by non-violent means the outside world's reactions to our behavior. We use diplomacy and the best of the many ways that conflict resolution has been found in recent years to successfully resolve both new and ancient ethnic, economic, and factional violence and war — all over the world. This effort can save time, money, and lives by having "the Marshall plan without the war" or "building friends instead of enemies." When Abe Lincoln was accosted by an angry northern senator at the end of the Civil War, who told him, "I believe in destroying enemies," Lincoln replied, "I agree with you, sir. And the best way to destroy an enemy is to make him into a friend."
For years, the American people have preferred (a) dismantling and rendering impotent and obsolete all nuclear weapons of all nations as soon as possible, rather than (b) our current strategy, allowing a few "trustworthy" nations (including the United States) to maintain and possibly upgrade a reasonable stockpile of nuclear weapons. (In December 1987, polling responses were (a) 56% and (b) 41%.)
The hawks now make the case that the danger of "non-deterable" dictators acquiring nuclear weapons may leave the United States with no recourse but a preemptive military strike to remove the weapons. Ken Adelman, as head of President Ronald Reagan's Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, thought unnecessary (and fought against) bilateral verifiable nuclear arms reductions, particularly the nuclear freeze referendum which was supported by over 80% of the American people beginning in the early '80s.
Twenty years later, Adelman says (1) the only recourse now in the case of Iraq may be an imminent preemptive strike, and (2) the longer delayed the more difficult and necessary preemption will be. Well, for 20 years, we have pursued the hawks' way, while Adelman (and all hawks) did not seek what Adelman now says would have been the best course. Doves have known for decades that the failure to reduce worldwide nuclear arsenals is the reason we can be convinced that, inevitably, preemption ultimately may be our only recourse. Adelman, and the nuclear hawks, should have figured that out long ago.
It is true that the heinous villainy of Saddam Hussein may be irremediable. Gail Sheehy's article on Saddam written more than 11 years ago supports that viewpoint, made more telling by her more recent dismissive views of the current Bush in the White House as a lightweight. With an Iraq invasion probable, we may soon know the outcome of our first major preemptive strike. The belief that certain dictators could never be made into friends is racist ideology without scientific basis. Populist leaders like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, one a dictator the other popularly elected, wish good relations with the United States, but find only hostility and death threats. A dictator of an evil empire, Michael Gorbachev, after a few years in office was totally redeemed in U.S. eyes. Redemption is preferable to preemption.
Upstaged by nuclear era upstarts, an 80+% consensus of the American people are frustrated. The WWII heroes roll over in their graves as billions more are spent on a course the heroes knew, and the people rightly fear, will ultimately end in our destruction, while the possibility of stopping our own demise seems increasingly remote.
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