Saturday, January 9, 2010

'The Counterfeit Ark: Crisis Relocation for Nuclear War'

This review appeared originally in the New York Tribune on Friday, January 20, 1984.

Book ignores Soviet peril in attack on civil defense

The Counterfeit Ark: Crisis Relocation for Nuclear War, edited by Jennifer Leaning and Langley Keyes, Cambridge, Mass., Ballinger Publishing Co. (A Physicians for Social Responsibility Book), cloth $29.95, paper $11.95, 300 pages. 

Civil defense in the United States has relied primarily on “crisis relocation planning” (CRP) since the late 1970s, a sound concept derived from the best way to avoid death or injury from a nuclear weapon: being far away from it when it explodes. CRP is bureaucratic shorthand for “we must evacuate our cities and other potential target areas when nuclear war seems imminent.”

While there is still some controversy in the civil defense community over CRP, few civil defense specialists reject it outright. Advocates of civil defense argue for more CRP funding, point out its flaws, seek improvements and offer alternatives. On the other hand, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), in its ongoing struggle to keep America vulnerable to nuclear attack, has made CRP’s flaws a platform for attacking all civil defense.

Conflicting morals

In The Counterfeit Ark the gulf separating PSR from pro-civil defense groups like The American Civil Defense Association (TACDA) becomes wider than ever. For example, in Jerome Weisner’s foreword, he says CRP (and by implication all forms of civil defense) “is morally wrong: it is strategically wrong; and it is operationally wrong.” In contrast, TACDA testified before Congress last April, “Civil defense against nuclear attack is a moral imperative, a political obligation, and a strategic necessity.”

Some specific criticisms of CRP by the various authors in this book deserve further examination. There are, indeed, valid points that draw attention to some faulty assumptions made by Federal Emergency Management Agency planners in devising evacuation plans. Nevertheless, these criticisms should be taken into account not in the way editors Leaning and Keyes would like — that is, to give up the idea of crisis relocation entirely — but rather as a starting point for solving real problems that may exist.

The book lacks perspective; It examines civil defense in a political and social vacuum. Incredibly, the book discusses nuclear war without acknowledging our chief adversary the Soviet Union. The authors make their arguments as though the threat comes either from nuclear weapons or perhaps the Oval Office — but never the Kremlin.

It is amazing to read 300 pages of the text about nuclear war and find no recognition that Soviet military doctrine stresses not only that thermonuclear war can be fought and survived, but that it can be won. (Several writers do imply, however that this is the belief of the Reagan administration. This is so far removed from reality that it renders questionable any legitimate critical faculties on the part of Leaning and Keyes, et al.)

Former Adm. Noel Gayler In the only discussion of Soviet civil defense, makes no substantive argument against it but instead ridicules It. Laughing does not detract from Soviet leaders’ faith in civil defense, a faith that deployed 100,000 skilled workers in full-time civil defense work and spends billions of dollars each year on population protection. Gayler further makes the ludicrous assertion that should we evacuate our cities, the Soviets will “retarget” evacuated populations — an idea incompatible with Soviet military doctrine.

On the level of absurdity, in a touching essay on the dangers posed to children during evacuation or war, Irwin Redlener argues that gangs of children “might band together” and contribute to “massive social disintegration.” Again, this ridiculous argument deserves attention only to the degree it spurs us to make more thorough and effective civil defense plans.

Philip Herr notes the spontaneous evacuation of Three Mile Islandin 1979, but fails to make the obvious conclusion that crisis relocation planning is therefore necessary to prevent such chaos in a future crisis. He strangely assumes that the only clue Americans will have that a crisis is imminent are statements from the White House — as if American citizens would be oblivious to TV news reports about Soviet troops marching into West Berlin.

Herr also repeats a common PSR assertion that civil defense “could reduce the political urgency of achieving real means of avoiding rather than ameliorating the consequences of nuclear conflict” and that if we had an effective and credible civil defense, our leaders’ “reluctance to risk nuclear escalation might be reduced.” As always, these statements are made without proof. Nowhere has Herr (or any of his colleagues) drawn analogies from history, evidence from military strategy or examples from current conflicts that protecting innocent civilians makes war more likely.

Preserving peace

There is no contradiction between a commitment to civil defense and a commitment to conflict resolution. Defense, deterrence, disarmament and diplomacy are all tools in the same arsenal to preserve international peace and stability while enhancing liberty and justice here and abroad.

Under the pretense of scientific objectivity, the PSR mask their own biases, The Counterfeit Ark is a shallow book that raises many questions but offers no answers or suggestions; in this it is more destructive than constructive.

Richard E. Sincere is a research assistant for church and society at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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