Tuesday, January 12, 2010

'With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush and Nuclear War'

This book review appeared originally in The Washington Times on Friday, February 4, 1983.  It was also published in The News World (a New York City newspaper) on Tuesday, February 15, 1983.

Shoveling appeasement

With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush and Nuclear War.
By Robert Scheer, Random House, $14.95, 124 pages + 155 pages of 
notes and appendices.

Eugene Rostow’s resignation from his post as head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency underlines the pressures inherent in the arms-control process. Battered by both the right and the left, the Reagan administration has spent the past two years trying to bring order out of chaos, attempting to achieve sensible balance in the competition between the superpowers.

In “With Enough Shovels,” Los Angeles Times correspondent Robert Scheer shamelessly accuses Reagan and his advisers of wild (just stopping short of insane) views of nuclear war. Resting his accusations on unproven assumptions, Scheer pulls no punches in advancing his theory that the present administration is the puppet of a conspiracy called the Committee on the Present Danger.

Scheer is disturbed, and sometimes amused, at Reagan’s determination to stem the threat of communism. Scheer considers the Soviet threat a hallucination — or more accurately, he finds it a puzzling anachronism that lives on only in Reagan’s memories of Communist subversion of Hollywood trade unions. The few readers who could share Scheer’s conclusions are those who share his fundamental and wrongheaded assumption: The Soviet Union is a benign and defensive superpower.

Despite the many hours of extensive interviews with nuclear weapons specialists and civil defense experts, Scheer closes his eyes in this book to the possibility that there is a defense against nuclear weapons. T.K. Jones, deputy undersecretary of defense for strategic and theater nuclear forces, is portrayed as a wild- eyed maniac, a man with no human sensibilities. Scheer ignores the extensive empirical data gathered by Jones which demonstrate that, with proper preparations, the devastation from nuclear weapons can be significantly mitigated. He brushes it off with mockery rather than criticism of Jones’s case.

Clearly Scheer has fallen into the trap of believing in the apocalyptic premise preached by Jonathan Schell in “The Fate of the Earth” and by other doomsayers. Nothing will alter his assumptions. All challengers are dismissed as madmen, no matter what their qualifications.

In his criticism of the Committee on the Present Danger, Scheer carefully documents how this group of intellectuals — established in 1976 to study American defense needs and promulgate their findings that a dangerous imbalance in military preparedness exists — has moved its members into influential government off ices. Scheer calls it their “seizure of state power.” He reserves special disdain for committee members because so many of them are former (or present) Democrats from the Hubert Humphrey wing of the party. Scheer argues that they have betrayed their roots.

Yet it is no accident that people like Max Kampelman, Jeane Kirkpatrick and Michael Novak support U.S. military strength. They have observed firsthand the usurpation of political and social influence by muddle-headed utopians. They remember the lessons of Munich and are willing to take risks to prevent another global conflagration. A commitment to the liberal values of the Democratic Party — even to the values of Norman Thomas and Eugene V. Debs — requires a commitment to preserve those values against totalitarianism.

Thus the founders of the Committee on the Present Danger were willing to face public criticism when they rebutted CIA studies on Soviet military power. In asking, “Is the United States No. 2?” they answer an emphatic yes; their purpose was to influence the public debate on how to rectify that dangerous situation.

By concentrating exclusively on how members of the Committee on the Present Danger now are influencing the U.S. government, Scheer begs the question as to whether there is some sort of conspiracy at work. Since committee members helped to get Ronald Reagan elected, have advised him for many years, and since he agrees with most of their views, it is hardly surprising they are now in positions of influence. But to read that as a conspiracy is equivalent to saying that the Brookings Institution exercised conspiratorial control over the American economy during the Johnson and Carter administrations. It smacks of political naivete and fundamental distrust of American democracy.

And that is the root of Scheer’s attack on the Reagan administration’s nuclear weapons policy. A policy designed to fight and survive a nuclear war, even one designed primarily to deter war (as the Reagan policy clearly is), must — in Scheer’s view — be misguided, because there is nothing worth fighting for. American institutions are not superior to Soviet institutions. American government is as corrupt as Soviet government. Freedom is not preferable to slavery. Scheer’s repugnant view is not unique — it has been expressed in the recent appeasement demonstrations in both Europe and America.

On balance, “With Enough Shovels” presents a strikingly biased, negative view of the Reagan administration. Its only positive value is documentary: Scheer prints informative interviews with several present and former government officials. Unfortunately, Scheer is incapable of interpreting that information in a manner conducive to rational discourse. That would make a worthy addition to the literature of nuclear policy.

Richard E. Sincere Jr. is president of the Washington chapter of the American Civil Defense Association, a nationwide public education group.


nige said...

Thanks for this interesting article. I have a question: what about Cresson Kearny's Oak Ridge National Laboratory Nuclear War Survival Skills, ADA328301 (1979), which contains all the evidence for the civil defence T. K. Jones was discussing?

Kearny's blast and fallout shielding evidence was completely ignored by Scheer. I know Scheer was engaged in a political diatribe, but I'm puzzled why nobody threw Kearny's book in Scheer's face? Why didn't T. K. Jones? Why didn't you mention it in your review, and give concrete evidence from Kearny's blast tests that nobody would have been killed in Hiroshima? The public need the scientific facts on survival before accepting the effectiveness of civil defense.

I think that part of the reason why civil defense was being taken less seriously at that time was that the excellent civil defense chapter in Glasstone and Dolan's Effects of Nuclear Weapons 1964 was completely removed from the 1977 edition; was this an effect of President Carter's policies in 1977?

Scheer does throw light on what Reagan was trying to achieve, reforming the Soviet Union. Reagan's senior Soviet specialist on the National Security Council staff was former Harvard historian Richard Pipes, who had critized President Carter's nuclear strategy in a speech published on 6 November 1978 in Aviation Week and Space Technology: "deeply imbedded in all our plans is the notion of punishing the aggressor rather than defeating him."

Pipes published an article called "Soviet Global Strategy" in the April 1980 issue of Commentary, arguing:

"The ultimate purpose of Western counterstrategy should be to compel the Soviet Union to turn inward - from conquest to reform. Only by blunting its external drive can the Soviet regime be made to confront its citizenry and to give an account of its policies. It is a well-known fact of modern Russian history that whenever Russian governments suffered serious setbacks abroad - in the Crimean war, in the 1904-5 war with Japan, and in World War I - they were compelled by internal pressure to grant the citizenry political rights. We should help the population of the Soviet Union bring its government under control. A more democratic Russia would be less expansionist and certainly easier to live with." (Quoted by Scheer, p. 131.)

That idea led Reagan directly to his policy of internally reforming and shrinking the Soviet Union:

"A senior White House official said Reagan approved an eight-page national security document that 'undertakes a campaign aimed at internal reform in the Soviet Union and shrinkage of the Soviet empire'."

- Helen Thomas, White House correspondent for United Press International, 21 May 1982. (Quoted by Robert Scheer, With Enough Shovels, Secker and Warburg, London, 1983, p. 7.)

I'm writing a blog post about the pseudoscientific attacks by appeasers on civil defense effectiveness from the 1930s to the present day here.

Rick Sincere said...

I knew Cresson Kearny and his colleagues at Oak Ridge during the 1980s, through my work with the American Civil Defense Association (TACDA). His book was a basic reference that I kept on my desk and used frequently at the time, alongside the U.S. government's hardbacked tome, "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons."

As to why i didn't mention Kearny or his book in my review of Scheer, it's hard to say what was on my mind 27 years ago. It may simply have been a matter of limited space. It's also possible that, in February 1983, I had not yet read Kearny's book, though I am pretty sure I had done so by that time.