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Arms Debate

In response to:

The Megadeath Intellectuals from the November 14, 1963 issue

To the Editors:

Marcus Raskin’s review of The Arms Debate by Robert Levine deserves comment. I differ with Mr. Levine on significant points, but I think his book intelligent, scrupulously honest, and most valuable. Avoiding ad hominem arguments, it presents a wide range of differing views, sometimes with awkward labels, but always sympathetically, and often more perceptively and coherently than their original proponents.

Mr. Raskin is peculiarly ill-fitted to report the value of Levine’s book. His self-righteous chiliasm sees no importance at all in rather large gradations of view, not to say fine ones. There are only the good guys: Raskin, Waskow, and several others; and then there is a large conspiracy of the insane, the insincere and the impure, worthy not of refutation but only of exposure. This exposure has revealed to Raskin that most of the current debate is motivated by desires for “rewards in money and power and prestige.” (Washington itself is a city of men who “know enough not to question their employers’ right to exist.”) “It cannot be read for its content”; and Mr. Raskin doesn’t. He hardly reads at all. His review is a classic of unabashed ad hominem abuse.

It spares less than a column out of seven to mention the contents of Levine’s book. And gets that quite wrong. As an example, for Levine (p. 152), “what distinguishes the anti-Communist from the other marginal groups is that they consider war, of all varieties and levels of violence, as the Clausewitzian ‘continuation of politics by other means.”’ But Raskin has Levine defining in these terms the wide middle range of marginalist views including Schelling and Levine himself. Again, he claims that Levine misstates the anti-war marginalist position as valuing “disarmament more than political freedom.” But he misstates Levine who said (p. 72) this school considers freedom very important but not to be affected favorably by military power, and that, among the values relevant for arms policy, peace (not disarmament) is dominant.

There are good reasons for the disrepute since classic times of ad hominem arguments. Even a devil might state a truth. You can tell only by looking at what the statement is about—at its object rather than its source. A man might believe some things because of his employment; or find employment that matches his beliefs. The matching proves nothing The motivations for statements on defense are as relevant as Marx’s boils to the truth or falsity of what he says in Capital; or Gide’s homosexuality to the accuracy of his account of his visit to the Soviet Union.

In fact, Raskin’s use of the ad hominem is more mixed up than most. He states that “none of the members…of the group Levine calls the marginal antiwar school…was tied to the Department of Defense or to any of the officially sponsored ‘think factories’.” Wrong again. Wiesner, included in the group by Levine, headed an MIT laboratory working under defense contract. He and some others prominent at Pugwash consulted with Defense, advised “munitions makers” and had investments of their own in defense industry. Kistiakowsky and York, quoted with approval by Raskin, both were paid by Defense; York headed AEC’s Livermore Lab, and Kistiakowsky advised defense contractors, even “think factories.” Most research in the country is paid for by government, mainly by Defense and the AEC. When you come right down to it Raskin was paid to work on disarmament matters while on the National Security Council staff. Yet I would hardly, on this account, reject his views. Indeed, if one interprets pay as broadly as does Raskin, to include, besides money, also power, prestige—and acceptance by the pure, it is hard definitely to establish anyone as unpaid. Moreover, Raskin’s list though wide enough to leave no one beyond suspicion, hardly covers the rich variety of motives other than the weight of evidence that may inspire statements of belief. Desires to conform; or to be rebellious; to expiate guilt; to conceal or project hostility; to quiet anxiety; to be martyred and made a saint; and many others. Nonetheless, even men paid in money by the same clients have disagreed sharply with each other; and, as Raskin admits, with the clients. Some have found independence and so at times dissenting advice pays off.

Raskin’s ad hominem arguments are not simply tautologous or irrelevant; frequently they are myths. He repeats a tale told by Waskow suggesting a conspiracy by “defense intellectuals” in and out of universities and their military masters to justify more spending by developing theories of restraint in warfare. So, the avoidance of city bombing, civil defense, etc. This fantasy has all the veracity of the Protocols of Zion and rather less than that of De la Hodde’s conspiratorial Histoire des Sociétés Sécrètes. Now theories of restraint need not be false if they match the preferences of military men. Nor true when they disagree. And military views vary more than Raskin knows. But the plain fact is that theories of restraint were developed when the dominant military doctrine was massive retaliation. They were formed in the teeth of official opposition: and even today the right extreme and some less extreme among military men as well as politicians oppose them as violently as does the radical left; and make closely similar attacks on “defense intellectuals,”—the “whiz kids.” Barry Goldwater and the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force have found much in common with Mr. Waskow on “computer gamesters.” Not without cause. The whiz kids, including one named McNamara, exercise responsible constraints on proposals for military spending more effective than any of Raskin’s good guys.

In some ways Raskin’s passionate extremity is of trivial importance since it so nearly defeats itself. Yet, the increasing prevalence of his style of argument helps poison discussion and discourages inquiry into substantive issues. And not the least of its bad effects is that the few positive suggestions made by men like Waskow, Osgood—and Raskin—are more likely to be ignored. So far their suggestions for abating the East-West conflict seem to me neither new nor of major promise. However, they are worth thought and debate on their merits. And these are less likely if we follow Raskin’s rules for debating: “A useful arms debate…can only begin when we accept certain stubborn facts: that our defense establishment has swollen to grotesque proportions and is a menace to the national security of a free society.”

Now there’s a boy who knows how to begin a debate—when the answers are agreed to in advance. And with whom to debate: namely, nobody who has any occupational connection with international security problems or who could possibly benefit by writing or talking about it,—even to the extent of gaining some presitge, say, with Marcus Raskin. Raskin’s rules sound like a recipe for his own silence.

Albert Wohlstetter

San Francisco.

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