Naïve Questions about War and Peace
The Tuesday Cabinet
Alternative to Armageddon
It may appear banal to assert once again that America is in the throes of a crisis—or rather a series of crises—more threatening to its survival as a civilized society and a liberal, democratic polity than any previous ones have been. Yet the government, whose legitimacy rests upon its willingness and ability to protect us from the dangers that threaten us, prefers manipulating the politics of these dangers to confronting their substance. For if the administration were to do the latter, it would inevitably have to undertake a transformation of our domestic and foreign policies that would be unprecedented in its radicalism. Yet the government is forced by its political philosophy and interests to avert its gaze and to act as though these problems did not exist at all, or had been artificially created by some misguided small minorities (whom the police will control).
This somnambulistic defense of outmoded institutions and practices that are not worth defending and that in the long run cannot be defended with the instruments of liberal democracy is of course an integral part of the crisis itself. For the government to deny the reality of dilemmas that cannot be resolved with the means it is willing to employ is to abdicate its responsibility to govern—“neglect” being raised to a maxim of statecraft—and to substitute rhetoric and repression for effective substantive policies.
It is a reflection of the same crisis that explicitly or implicitly eminent members of the intellectual community are attempting to justify the government’s position. Thus we have recently been informed by a reputable magazine that the crisis is in our minds, created by intellectuals who talk about crisis, rather than in objective reality, the implication being that there would be no crisis if only the intellectuals stopped talking about it. And in the same issue of the same magazine a reputable social scientist announces that he has transformed himself from a “moderate radical” into a “moderate conservative.” While the former argument is the intellectual equivalent of the patient throwing out the thermometer in order to convince himself that he has no fever, the latter position is tantamount to a declaration of intellectual and political bankruptcy in the face of issues crying out for radical innovation.
These reflections are suggested by a number of recent books on the foreign and military policies of the United States. Most of them are defective because they refuse to deal with the actual problems facing us; instead, they show us the ways in which politicians and experts can use rhetoric and analysis to screen themselves from political reality. The two adequate books are by professional soldiers, and that very fact is troubling.
To start with the worst of the lot, Mr. Whitworth’s volume is not a book at all, but consists of the clearly unedited tapes of interviews with Professor Eugene Rostow, former Under-secretary of State for Political Affairs. It holds what must be a record of unfinished sentences per page. Whitworth …
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In with LBJ May 6, 1971