To the Editor:
Only on one point do I believe Norman Podhoretz [“The Future Danger,” April] could have put more stress. This is the alarming revival and strength of the mood of neutralism, pacifism, and in effect anti-Americanism in Europe which may prevent redressing the nuclear balance there. Even if if this mood does not prevent the necessary rearming it may paralyze the will to resist if and when the crunch comes.
Despite the revelations of Solzhenitsyn and others, the “Better-Red-Than-Dead” position, with its false antithesis, is much stronger today than when I debated the issue with Bertrand Russell twenty years ago. How to reverse this mood is a formidable and pressing task which is not receiving the attention it deserves. Arms without the will and courage to use them are useless—they create the illusion of a readiness which is not there. It is a theme worth pondering, and should result in an educational program for action that may require the concerted efforts of many of us.
The prospects for the future—barring contingencies no one can foresee—are grim. I fear that even the resolve to go down fighting may be dismissed as a rhetorical affectation by those who are prepared to come to terms with the new wave—no matter what.
The Hoover Institution
To the Editor:
I read Norman Podhoretz’s “The Future Danger” with great interest. Allow me to make three comments about it, in ascending order of generalization:
1. On a relatively minor point, it may sound nice to talk about “a resumption by the Reagan administration of friendly American relations with Argentina and South Korea,” but the facts, at least in the case of Korea, do not justify this phrase.
It is true that the present administration has improved relations significantly and, because of actions taken by both governments, the road now lies open for a much warmer relationship. The previous four years saw a period of great stress in U.S.-Korea relations. Relations were strained, but to suggest that they were unfriendly is inaccurate and misleading. There were serious problems over the Carter administration’s troop-withdrawal policy, but these were resolved with the suspension of that policy on July 20, 1979. The Koreagate affair, which predated the Carter administration, was resolved by the end of 1978 through a difficult negotiation involving the Justice Department, the Congress, the State Department, and the Korean government.
Resolution of this explosive issue without serious strategic cost was a major accomplishment. And on the emotional set of issues known collectively as human rights, the Carter administration made its views known in private to the South Korean government but took no action which weakened or undermined the government of the Republic of Korea. The people charged with making policy toward Korea understood just as well as Mr. Podhoretz does the differences between North Korea—one of the most thoroughly regimented totalitarian states in the world—and South Korea. . . .
2. Of greater importance is Mr. Podhoretz’s argument concerning China. If I understand him correctly, he is saying that we would gain the benefits of China’s anti-Soviet stance whether or not we cooperated with the Chinese or sought to improve our bilateral and strategic relations with Peking. I further understand him to be implying, although he does not so state explicitly, that there is little or no difference between Chinese Communism and Russian Communism.
Both of these views are, in my opinion, not only wrong but, if used as a basis for policy, potentially disastrous. While China will make its own decisions, the amount of encouragement and support it receives from Japan and the West, especially for its modernization program, will have an important effect on the course of China’s foreign and domestic policies.
The relative cost of such an effort is comparatively small compared to its potential benefits. We cannot, of course, be sure that China will not at some future date choose to revert to its Stalin-era foreign policy of the 1950’s, or the Mao-era foreign policy of the 1960’s, but a growing interaction with the Chinese government decreases the chances of that happening. So, while success is far from certain, a policy of improving relations with Peking is in our national interest, as the last three Presidents (two of them Republicans) all stated.
To pursue such a policy does not imply approval or acceptance of the type of government in China. It must be noted, however, that in the last four years there has been a remarkable liberalization in the lives of individual Chinese. That life under the Chinese Communists continues to be different from life in non-Communist societies is self-evident. Nonetheless, recent events in China, especially the growth in candor concerning the country’s own shortcomings and the dramatic increase in the personal autonomy of individual Chinese, suggest that China is at present following an internal course very different from that of the Soviet Union.
In this regard, I wonder if Mr. Podhoretz would also apply his argument to Yugoslavia, another country in which personal freedoms are clearly curtailed, yet whose stand against Soviet domination is long-standing, courageous, and deserving, in my view, of our strong support.
3. This brings me to my last point. I think most Americans would agree that in the end the real difference between us and our adversaries is one of values. A deeply troubled internal dialogue over the last twenty years in this country has led some Americans on both the Left and Right to minimize or even lose sight of that difference. However, I believe that, in the final analysis, Americans understand that the fundamental difference between our values and system of government and that of totalitarian states is central to the very reasons for our foreign policy. As a nation, we should stand for those values.
In the last twenty years, Communism has suffered a series of political setbacks throughout the world, from Egypt and Indonesia to the recent dismal showing of the Communist party in the French elections. Once many people believed Communism was going to capture and ride to power anti-colonial movements in Latin American, Africa, and Asia. This is no longer true. As an ideology, Communism today seems bankrupt.
Ironically, however, these political setbacks have made the Russians all the more dangerous. Losing any opportunity to create broadly-based movements, Soviet Communism and its supporters have turned to an even more militaristic policy, building up their ground and naval forces throughout much of the world and increasing their efforts at political subversion. It is this that we must now confront with policies that demonstrate both our political will and skill, and our strategic capability.
In the pursuit of our objectives, we will deal with a wide variety of governments, whether we approve of them or not. This applies to South Korea as well as to China. In either case, it is important, while we not seek to impose our values on other nations, that our own behavior be consistent with our own values.
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s “The Present Danger” [March 1980] was the classical statement of our current predicament. Indeed, tribute must be paid to Mr. Podhoretz’s and COMMENTARY’s unique contributrion to “the seismic upheaval in American public opinion” that produced the “new consensus” concerning the growth of Soviet power and the decline of American power, and the need to restore the balance if peace in freedom is to prevail in the world.
In “The Future Danger” Mr. Podhoretz carries his analysis forward beyond the election of President Reagan which confirmed the new consensus and the restirring of a “new nationalism.” In this sequel, Mr. Podhoretz is concerned with a new danger in the years ahead that may arise from a toonarrowly conceived definition of the nature of the struggle in which we are engaged.
Already in “The Present Danger” he warned against confining the struggle to the purely military-strategic level and stressed the need to engage the Soviets in the arena of ideas, in the ideological struggle against Communism. However, in “The Future Danger” he . . . gives precedence to the ideological struggle by discarding the more limited military-strategic-Realpolitik concept of “the containment of Soviet expansionism” in favor of the larger framework of the “containment of Communism.” . . .
The concept of the “containment of Soviet expansionism” is represented in Mr. Podhoretz’s article by Robert W. Tucker and Paul Nitze. But the difficulty is that Mr. Podhoretz’s polemics against Nitze and Tucker are not conducted on the level of differing military-strategic approaches but are raised to the level of principle within the context of the rival concepts of global strategy posited by Mr. Podhoretz,
I of course cannot speak for Tucker and Nitze, but from my reading of their views, I do not think either would challenge the thesis that the ideological conflict exists, that it must be met at the level of ideas, and must be coordinated with the military-strategic aspects of the contest. . . . I would guess, however, that they would differ from Mr. Podhoretz on the relative importance of the ideological component in the grand strategy of the conflict. But this issue does not enter into their thinking when they address what they see as the main problem we face today: how best to dissuade the Soviet Union from using its present military superiority to alter the world balance of power irrevocably in its favor while the U.S. seeks belatedly to redress its weakness and establish countervailing military power. . . .
Whatever the differing strategic prescriptions of Nitze and Tucker, the underlying rationale of their thought is based on valid considerations of Realpolitik. At this level, the strategy of “limited containment” is geopolitical-strategic and not ideological in nature. The doctrine of geographically-limited military confrontation does not at all clash in principle with the necessity of conducting an unceasing ideological struggle or even with the priority of that struggle.
The strategic necessity of choosing the areas of confrontation with the Soviet Union is conceded in principle by Mr. Podhoretz when he calls for the adoption of the “rule of prudence” in deciding . . . when, where, or whether to confront direct or indirect Soviet expansionism. Supporters of containment will differ on the calculus, but such considerations are of a different order from weighing the comparative merits of “the containment of Soviet expansionism” and “the containment of Communism,” which belong to different universes of discourse.
Unfortunately, Mr. Podhoretz has chosen Vietnam as the star example of imprudent judgment, echoing Hans J. Morgenthau’s thesis that Vietnam was “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.” This is certainly not the occasion for an extended discussion of Vietnam, but as I argued at the time—and post-Vietnam history has fully confirmed the point—it was, indeed, the right war in the right place at the right time. Vietnam was not an unnecessary war; it was an unnecessary defeat.
Mr. Podhoretz correctly states the prudential rule: “never to undertake a military operation without the will and the means (including the domestic political support) to win.” All these factors were indeed present in the early stages of the war but were recklessly dissipated by egregious military and political blunders, the most crucial being the blind, ideologically induced failure to play the China card to achieve an outcome favorable to both the U.S. and China. In vain it was posited that the U.S. and China had vital long-term parallel interests in Southeast Asia to prevent the Soviet encirclement of China and to halt Soviet expansionism and North Vietnamese hegemonism. Now, as we sadly view the post-Vietnam wreckage in Southeast Asia, these parallel interests have belatedly become self-evident and have started to be pursued, albeit with unfortunate zig-zags. Instead, we played the Russian card of détente and relied on deceitful Russian-backed guarantees of the peace agreements and suffered humiliating defeat. Had we, with the collaboration of China, halted Russia and its surrogate North Vietnam then, we might well have stopped Soviet expansionism in its tracks and altered the entire international landscape.
I raise this issue now because even at this late date there is still a widespread failure (even among the most vigorous advocates of containment in and out of the Reagan administration) to grasp the true lesson of Vietnam as the turning point in the present “correlation of forces.” This is expressed, in my view, in Mr. Podhoretz’s continuing opposition to playing the China card under conditions far more exigent than existed at the time of Vietnam. This is one of the most unfortunate consequences of giving primacy to ideology over geopolitics and Realpolitik considerations of the balance of power. The refusal to play the China card in our present predicament seriously violates the rule of prudence.
The central concept of “The Future Danger” is that a strategy of “containment of Soviet expansionism” is inadequate to sustain enduring political support and should be replaced by one of “containment of Communism”; that “[a] strategy of limited containment [of Soviet expansionism] to deal with the present danger does not go far enough to head off this, the future danger. Only a strategy based on the containment of Communism can confound [the] prophecy [of a Soviet-dominated world].”
But communism is an ideology—an idea—and how does one contain an idea? All of history argues against this possibility. President Reagan said it well at Notre Dame: “The West will not contain Communism, it will transcend Communism.” And as Mr. Podhoretz himself points out, Communism as an idea is already in advanced historic decline, an admitted failure. It prevails and survives only where it is backed up by the armed might of the Soviet Union or its surrogates. Eliminate or tame the explosion of Soviet military power by countervailing military power and the discredited Communist ideology will implode with the totalitarian structure that maintains it and be relegated to the dustbin of history. . . .
Shifting the battleground to an ideological anti-Communism, far from rallying the nation, our allies, and the Third World, may well have the opposite effect. An attempt by the U.S. to impose an ideological test for membership in a global alliance against the Soviet threat, far from being a unifying force, will be a divisive one and will increase our danger, not diminish it.
In the U.S., Communism during the era of détente remained an abstract, distant threat until Vietnamese aggression in Cambodia, Cuban intervention in Angola and Ethiopia, and especially the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan awakened the nation to the need to gird itself to defend America’s vital interests and restore a favorable global “correlation of forces” vis-à-vis the Soviet bloc. As for the threat of a new isolationism, its roots more often lay in repeatedly disappointed hopes from a misplaced reliance in two world wars on abstract ideals and a neglect of Realpolitik balance-of-power considerations which alone could have justified the sacrifices and insured the fruits of victory. The danger of a revival of American isolationism is likely to come from a failure to learn the lessons of the past as well as from a failure of our allies to assume a fair share of the global burden.
As for Europe and Japan, the main beneficiaries (after the Soviet Union) of détente, it is hardly likely that these reluctant partners can be rallied around the banner of a crusade against Communism. It needed the shock of Afghanistan and Poland to awaken them to the mortal danger to their own security and independence from Soviet global expansionism. The serious challenge ahead is to transform this new sense of danger into a willingness to abandon their parochial regionalism and “Euro-socialism” and join in global arrangements to defend our common interests.
The Third World nations, for obvious reasons, are the least likely to embrace an American call for battle against Communism. In fact, any effort in that direction would undermine our chances of winning new friends in the Third World and certainly undo collaboration with China. However, recent events have demonstrated that fear of the consequences of Soviet-led expansionism has for the first time in recent years created a breach between the Third World and the Communist bloc. The shock of Cambodia and Afghanistan has led many of the developing nations and even nations of the “neutral” bloc reluctantly but irresistibly to join the civilized world in the condemnation of these aggressions and has fed the growing disillusionment with the Soviet Union as “the natural ally” of the Third World.
These considerations have led me to the conclusion that we can succeed in fashioning an effective alliance only around the unifying issue of Soviet expansionism, the present and future danger. In the course of that struggle, however, the nations of the world will also come to the understanding that Communist totalitarianism is at the root of the world’s difficulties and that, if we are to have a future of peace in freedom, it will be necessary to defeat both Soviet expansionism and Communist totalitarianism. Indeed, if we succeed in halting and defeating Soviet expansionism, we can rely on the peoples of the Soviet bloc themselves to put an end to the dark night of Communism.
To this undertaking, Norman Podhoretz and COMMENTARY have made a contribution beyond measure.
Elias M. Schwarzbart
New York City
To the Editor:
I admire all of “The Future Danger,” and agree with most of it, but want to quarrel with Norman Podhoretz’s position on China. . . . There are four possible objections to helping the Chinese.
1. The Chinese may become allies of the Soviet Union once more. In the foreseeable future this is possible, but not probable. Diplomacy must deal with probabilities; for example, our help to Yugoslavia, a country far less certain to remain nonaligned (unlike China, it was never hostile to the Soviet Union) is justifiable.
2. The Chinese may become a “menace to our children and grandchildren.” But this is no reason not to help them if this help will reduce the present danger from the Soviet Union. The Chinese can become a future danger to us only after a Soviet defeat. Thus the Chinese menace is remote and far-fetched. . . .
3. The Chinese currently are so poor and unequipped that to help them would not be cost-effective—they could not significantly reduce the Soviet threat to us. But they already do. And, however badly equipped, a billion people, if reasonably well organized as the Chinese are, cannot be altogether insignificant militarily.
Helping the Chinese to acquire anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, for example, would be a cheap and effective way of reducing Soviet military superiority. Beyond that, help is more costly and problematical—but still advantageous. An artillery weapon provided to the Chinese by us will, in effect, relocate a Soviet weapon from Europe—i.e., we will have to contend with one fewer in another theater. . . .
4. Would helping China—with or without a formal alliance (which would not add much)—lead to a “loss of clarity about our purpose” as Mr. Podhoretz thinks? No such loss was suffered when we were allied to the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. Nor did the Nazi “master race” suffer such a loss when allied to the “inferior” Japanese. A decrease of intellectual simplicity would disturb only a few people. (Unlike Mr. Podhoretz, most ideologists are not interested in consistency.)
But Mr. Podhoretz’s objection somewhat mistakes or blurs “our purpose.” It is not to “fight Communism”—much as we detest that odious system and its ideology—but to deter, and if necessary, defend ourselves against aggression by a specific Communist power. By definition if we “fight Communism” in general we could not have Communist allies. But we want only to deter, or defend against, aggression by a Communist country, the Soviet Union, and its allies. There is no reason we cannot help (and be helped by) other Communist countries, if they are interested, as we are, in deterring or defending themselves against aggression by the Soviet Union and in preventing its domination. If this is Realpolitik so be it—I think a policy that is not realistic is foolish.
Norman Podhoretz draws attention to the difficulties a realistic policy presents to ideological clarity and propaganda, which, he rightly thinks, are important. But is it not possible to say, truthfully, that we deplore Communism, both in the Soviet and Chinese version, yet at present feel endangered (or more endangered) by the aggressive activities of the Soviet Union and not by the domestic or foreign activities of the Chinese?
Ernest van den Haag
New York City
To the Editor:
“The Future Danger” is the most objective and thorough description of the road to disaster that U.S. foreign policy has actually helped to build. The danger, in my view, comes not only from the Soviet empire, but is a result as well of the shortcomings of U.S. foreign policy. Why have so many gifted and patriotic American thinkers and scholars pursued—and continue to pursue—a policy that has helped the Soviets become at least militarily superior to the U.S.?
I think the most concise answer to this question can be found in Henry Kissinger’s White House Years where we read: “In sum, there does not seem any single unifying thread to Soviet foreign policy.” In other words, the author of the U.S. foreign policy that essentially is still pursued did not recognize that there exists a long-term Soviet strategy and consequently had no reason either to analyze Soviet strategy or to formulate a long-term American strategy. The cold war was lost because of a lack of understanding of Soviet strategy; for the same reason détente was a catastrophe; and I think Norman Podhoretz’s “containment of Communism” will hardly be more successful.
In my view, the Soviet Union is a typical imperialist country, and its foreign policy is simply a continuation of Czarist imperialism. . . . It is important to emphasize that we have to deal with Russian, and not simply with Soviet, imperialism, since the oppression of nationalities is as typical of the Soviet system as it was of the Czarist system.
The old Russian chauvinism and its messianic mission is brought to an even higher level by making full use of Marxist philosophy (which is also messianic, though its messianism is couched in “scientific” terms). Of course, where pragmatism requires it, Marxism is violated. In 1945 Stalin declared that but for the Russian nation and its heroism, the war could not have been won. It was an admission that the other nations of the Soviet Union did not feel they were defending their homeland; the majority of these nations showed open hostility to the entire Soviet war effort. To these oppressed nations, the Russians have added some 100 million more people represented by the nations of Eastern Europe; the Russians, the ruling nationality, are quite outnumbered. . . .
The old Czarist dream of becoming the master of Eurasia is the long-term strategic goal of the Soviets. They are fully aware that but for the U.S. this dream could materialize; consequently, they have to push America out of Europe. All that the Soviets are doing in Asia and Africa, Cuba and its neighbors, can be understood as tactical steps toward their strategic goal. Against this strategy of imperialist expansion we must work out our own strategy which must be a strategy for peace and freedom and not merely some kind of containment, including containment of Communism. Imperialism is oppression, and nations exposed to this policy are our natural allies. If the issue of self-determination were to become the centerpiece of our strategy, we would mobilize not only all the oppressed nations but also our Western allies and, what is most important, the American nation. . . .
The events in Poland demonstrate the validity of this thesis. The resistance of the Polish nation is a real blow to Soviet military power. The Soviet military understands very well that with such a “hinterland” it will be very difficult to wage a war, the more so because the leaders know that altogether 200 million people (the nations of Eastern Europe and the non-Russians in the Soviet Union proper) have the same attitude toward the Soviet empire. Mr. Podhoretz advocates fighting Communism. The Poles do not accept Soviet dictates as to what kind of system they should have. Will the U.S. now come and prescribe what kind of socioeconomic system the Poles should have? Is this what we have to offer? Or take the Ukraine. If the Ukraine were freed from Soviet imperialism, even if it remained Communist, it would not be part of the Soviet military potential and the Soviets would be unable to pursue their policy of imperialist expansion and war.
We know very well from past experience that a monolith never existed in the Soviet bloc, not even in the Soviet Politburo. There are Communists who oppose the policy of militaristic fetishism that absorbs more than 20 percent of the Soviet GNP and leads—even apart from the inefficient planned economy—to an impoverishment of the country which may, one day, have most dangerous political consequences. We must make use of all these internal contradictions as well as of the strong centrifugal forces within the Soviet empire by using the weapon that is most dangerous to the Soviets and most consistent with our democratic and humanistic traditions: the principle of the self-determination of nations. Once the U.S. stands for the principle of self-determination it will again become the trusted leader of the free world. Moreover, the American people would be willing to bear sacrifices if they knew they were fighting against imperialistic aggression. . . . Up until now the policy of détente supported the oppressors and the mortal enemy of the U.S. and the free world. Why not stop this suicidal policy and begin to support the oppressed nations, our natural allies, who in turn will help us in the fight against a common enemy? . . .
Finally, let us learn from the mistakes of the cold war and of détente and call the Soviet Union what it in reality is—an imperialist power. We have not yet tried to fight Soviet imperialism and we have not yet formulated a strategy for peace and freedom. But I am afraid that I have already transcended the scope of a letter to the editor and have no more space to propose concrete recommendations for such a strategy.
New York City
To the Editor:
I was most interested to read in Norman Podhoretz’s article that “human rights have invariably fared worse under Communism than under the regimes it has replaced.”
Is it Mr. Podhoretz’s view, then, that human rights are more threatened in East Germany today than they were under Adolf Hitler? And is it really his position, assuming that the most basic human right of all is the right to eat, that Communist China compares unfavorably with China under Chiang Kai-shek?
John E. Morby
California State University
To the Editor:
I would like to compliment Norman Podhoretz on his clear recognition of the danger that a strategy of containment which defines the problem as Soviet expansionism alone will lead almost surely to a Soviet-dominated world.
Mr. Podhoretz recognizes the central importance of the ideological stakes of conflict. Consequently, it becomes very puzzling as to why Mr. Podhoretz is willing to shower Robert W. Tucker with encomiums for supporting a policy of “modest containment” against Soviet expansion, limited to Western Europe and Japan (see Tucker’s article, “Beyond Détente,” COMMENTARY, March 1977). Such a policy would undermine everything that Mr. Podhoretz stands for. Tucker has made it very clear that, with the exception of the Persian Gulf, the expansion of Communist states in the Third World does not threaten the vital interests of the United States. . . .
Thus, Tucker is dismayed by the prospect of “an America everywhere resurgent and activist” (Foreign Affairs, Winter 1980). He argues that outside the Persian Gulf we should view the extension of Soviet influence in the Third World with “relative detachment.” . . .
In fairness to Mr. Podhoretz, I believe he does recognize and he does face squarely the main thrust of Tucker’s position. For Mr. Podhoretz raises the question: what if the American people will not allow us to follow Tucker’s strategy of abandoning our global responsibility? As Mr. Podhoretz says: “The obvious answer is that we will have to adopt a strategy aimed at containing the expansion of Communism.” This is a courageous and forthright statement of the foundation of American foreign policy.
David S. Lichtenstein
To the Editor:
In “The Future Danger” Norman Podhoretz implies that the United States could, and possibly should, have won the war in Vietnam but was “unwilling to pay the price of victory.” Had we “won,” I imagine the final communiqué might have read something like this: “We had to destroy Vietnam in order to save it.”
Mr. Podhoretz continues his observation by stating that we were “therefore doomed to lose the war and suffer consequent political damage both at home and abroad.” This is correct, but had we “won,” the damage would have been much greater.
Walter A. Sheldon
New York City
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s piece is a brilliant review and analysis of America’s posture in this dangerous world. I would, however, like to demur from the support he expresses for Hans J. Morgenthau’s position on Vietnam.
Our intervention in Vietnam was as timely as our intervention in Greece and Korea. Lack of understanding of Communism on the part of our political and intellectual leaders was responsible for our defeat in Vietnam. The war could have been won easily if victory had been our objective. The Communist cry that the war was a civil war was largely a hoax, but it was a hoax that was salable.
It seems so obvious that a military effort directed at crippling or disorienting a Communist aggression should be aimed at the heart of Communist power, which in Vietnam was Hanoi. . . .
Immediately following the Tet offensive in 1968 the American people were polled on the question of an all-out effort to win the war; over 80 percent responded positively. While Tet was a military defeat for the Communists, it was also a psychological victory for them. Most of the influential press plus television and radio lunged at the chance to proclaim Vietnam the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anyway, it was a matter that belonged to the Vietnamese. The worldwide Communist apparatus gave us this line, and . . . the self-proclaimed moralists and many intellectuals proclaimed it also. Morgenthau was part of the group.
All was not lost in Vietnam. Our no-win policy made the Communists pay a heavy price for victory, but more importantly it bought us time. All of Southeast Asia would probably have collapsed into the arms of Communism if the North Vietnamese victory had come early and easily. Almost certainly Indonesia would now be Communist if our Vietnam effort had not been made. Even Japan, which was trying its political wings at the beginning of the 1960’s, might have been disastrously jolted if the Communist takeover had not been delayed for more than a decade.
Yes, the Vietnam effort even in defeat brought us dividends. Communism has written a horror story in Southeast Asia. It is the modern barbarism. Its rhetoric has little or no appeal today. We have had to wait for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t see the realities to catch up. At long last forces seem to be forming internally and externally that can and will successfully challenge Communism. . . .
Robert G. Risk
To the Editor:
With a few relatively minor reservations, I found Norman Podhoretz’s “The Future Danger” one of the most brilliant and compelling articles on foreign affairs that I have read in many a day. Not the least of its merits is its firm grounding in morality and in the basics of democracy and national security.
The article weaves together the international threats of Soviet expansionism, Finlandization, and Communist totalitarianism. These are aided and abetted by domestic varieties of obfuscation, soft-headedness, and misrepresentation that convert these threats into innocent actions of neutrality. . . .
To emphasize the point I refer to my experience in the teachers’ union, locally and nationally (I am a past president of the United Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers). Some decades ago we were confronted by an organized Communist caucus which paralyzed the union. The caucus was strengthened by innocents and by not-so-innocents who saw no threat in Communist control. For a few years some of the democratic groups, in desperation, actually did surrender. One hopes we will not do the same on the international scene.
My first reservation is not, strictly speaking, a reservation, but an expansion of Mr. Podhoretz’s point about “the corruption of key terms like freedom and democracy by Marxist thought and Communist praxis.” It is essential that we restore the distinction between the terms Communism and socialism, a distinction that has been well-nigh obliterated by those who are ignorant, slipshod, or willfully desirous of providing an aura of innocence to the machinations of Communism. The way people, especially in the media, almost universally refer to the “socialist” countries of Eastern Europe and of the so-called Third World is a paramount case in point. . . .
My second reservation is a factual one. Mr. Podhoretz states accurately that the Socialist International (SI) has “thrown its support behind” leftist movements abroad. He is only partly accurate when he says the same thing about the SI “representing the social-democratic parties of the West.” In our own country, this is true of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), headed by Michael Harrington. But it is definitely not true of the Social Democrats, USA (SD), headed by Bayard Rustin. The SD, while affiliated with the SI, opposed the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the leftist guerrillas in El Salvador, as well as, unofficially, SWAPO in Namibia. . . .
American Federation of Teachers
New York City
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s “The Future Danger” is a cogent and timely call for adoption of an American foreign policy that should have been self-evident for many years. Sadly, what can most charitably be described as a chronic case of wishful thinking by successive American policy-makers has dangerously postponed this exigent task. . . .
Mr. Podhoretz has not, however, been lulled into the mistaken belief that the inauguration of Ronald Reagan has rendered this issue moot. It is no doubt true that the Reagan foreign policy, in virtually whatever shape it takes, will represent an improvement over the abject pusillanimity posing as “mature restraint” which was the cachet of the exasperating Carter years. However, instead of “hitting the ground running,” the Reagan foreign-policy team has thus far displayed a penchant for disorderly factiousness and, more disturbingly, continuation of the status quo which the voters so resoundingly repudiated last November.
To cite two prime examples not mentioned by Mr. Podhoretz:
On Meet the Press on March 29, Secretary of State Haig was asked whether he believed that the United States and the Soviet Union could peacefully coexist or whether the differences between the two countries were so wide as to be unbridgeable. The Secretary answered that he felt the question to be “irrelevant.” An administration in which the designated chief formulator of American foreign policy can make such a bizarre evaluation of the crucial issue confronting this country merits vigilant scrutiny. Moreover, the earlier role of the Secretary of State as the protégé of the architect of détente should be of more than passing interest to citizens who share the views of Mr. Podhoretz.
Then there is the question of the lifting . . . of the limited agricultural embargo of the Soviet Union. Curiously, the historical origin of this embargo in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, from which no withdrawal whatever is yet foreseeable, generally has gone unremarked. The rationale for resuming normal trade relations has been shifted to one of providing a carrot to the USSR for its magnanimous abstention from the invasion of Poland—so far. This display of the putative Republican hard-line approach is especially ominous in terms of precedent: one shudders to think of the tribute the Reaganauts would agree to pay the Soviets if they should threaten to invade West Germany or another ally and then, in still another gesture of their overriding good will and peace-loving nature, relent.
If the persuasive exposition of the case in “The Future Danger” is insufficient to stem the tide of such folly, at least we will have duly earned our demise.
Thomas A. Healy
Rochester, New York
To the Editor:
“The Present Danger” elicited my enthusiastic response. While I also agree with the main thrust of “The Future Danger,” I question the assumption that President Reagan’s electoral victory represented “a new consensus,” a climax to “arguments which had been raging in the United States for the past decade or so.” It is my distinct impression that during the past decade, with a few notable exceptions, our leadership and the majority of our people have been content to accept détente at face value.
The Reagan victory was largely a negative reaction to President Carter’s failed administration. Millions of voters stayed away from the polls and many who voted simply skipped the presidential column in reaction to their frustration over the choice of candidates.
Other factors besides the foreign-policy issue entered into the electoral equation. There were those who could not accept the notion that our economic ills could be solved by making the rich richer and have the wealth trickle down to those at the bottom of the economic ladder; or that abortions should be available only to those who could pay the price; or that peace in the Middle East can be secured by appeasing the Saudis through the sale of our most sophisticated weapons which they can transfer to their Arab allies who seek the destruction of Israel.
We have a long way to go even as we begin to understand the challenge confronting us. We will have to dig deeper for a way out of our dilemma than simply spending additional billions on military hardware.
As a starter, may I suggest that before we ask the youth of America to submit to compulsory military training, we should at the very least place a lid on profits to be gained from the production of weapons of war. The proposed steep increase in our military budget should be accompanied by a new Truman-type congressional investigation to guard against unconscionable profits.
Unless we can achieve a truly patriotic national effort, we are doomed to a repetition of the Vietnam experience and the ultimate loss of our freedom as well.
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz gains little credibility by quoting Paul Nitze’s assessment of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange. This assessment is in sharp contrast to one made by General David Jones, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “There is too much pessimism about our current capability. I would not swap our present military capability with that of the Soviet Union. . . .”
How can Mr. Nitze rationalize the Soviets’ comparative invulnerability, when military analysts contend that 400-500 equivalent megatons of nuclear warheads could wipe out 70 percent of Soviet industry, and upward of 100 million people?
The destruction of Russia’s urban population would mean the end of the Soviet Union. And let’s not talk of evacuation. With no cities to return to—without shelter and food—the chances for survival would be minimal.
In his calculations of Soviet losses, Nitze ignores the lethal fallout which would be created by the explosions of as many as 10,000 U.S. nuclear warheads which, as the Mt. St. Helens eruption demonstrated, can be carried for thousands of miles.
Some years ago General Curtis LeMay warned that the U.S. had the means to “depopulate vast areas of the earth’s surface, leaving only vestigial remnants of man’s material works.”
Striking even relatively few targets would destroy the Soviets’ meager transport system as well as energy, maintenance, and management facilities essential for postwar recovery. Moreover, unlike the U.S., a badly wounded Russia would be confronted by rebellious satellites and minority populations, as well as a possible Chinese attack.
Clearly, an all-out nuclear exchange would liquidate both the U.S. and the USSR as organized national entities. . . .
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz urges more aggressive deployment of an undeveloped weapons system: “ideological and psychological warfare,” or “the war of ideas.” . . . What should be noted is that psychological warfare, as an American weapons system, is in a far greater state of disarray than any of our other weapons systems. In addition, none of the specialized intelligence organizations which would be required to service an operational psychological warfare system currently exists. . . .
“The Future Danger” ends by urging an anti-Communist strategy upon our government. In my opinion, the new Reagan administration is prepared to pursue such a strategy. To do so, it is desirable to deploy all the weapons possible in the coming critical decade while our traditional weapons systems are being rebuilt. Psychological warfare, in spite of the limitations mentioned above, could be rebuilt within a much shorter time span than other weapons. But its rebuilding would require a presidential decision, congressional appropriations, a sympathetic cabinet, and support by leadership voices among the media. And it should also be firmly kept in mind that, without doubt, an inspired opposition would surely arise to make a serious effort to destroy or emasculate the undertaking. . . .
Frederick W. Williams
Pompano Beach, Florida
To the Editor:
. . . One can only applaud Norman Podhoretz’s clarion call for everlasting vigilance against the Communist malignancy. For far too long the shrill apologists for the new barbarism of the East have held center stage and attempted to blind us to the true nature of the evil which threatens us. . . .
The moral myopia of the liberal establishment is characterized by a constant harping on the supposed misdeeds of the United States along with a minimizing of the most blatant Soviet infractions of civilized behavior.
The future danger can only be faced by an alert and motivated citizenry, and Mr. Podhoretz’s lucid and incisive article draws our attention to the task.
Peter C. Rein
St. Louis, Missouri
To the Editor:
Congratulations on “The Future Danger.” I like it partly because I have been trying for years to advance some of the same warnings. It has been some years since Soviet Admiral Gorschov gave us plain notice that his country planned to use sea power for world domination. Mr. Podhoretz has gone beyond what I was trying to tell people and has argued that the confrontation is between us and Communism, not just Russian imperialism. . . .
Will the country now have the sense and the guts to heed the warning Mr. Podhoretz and some others have been sounding? I am not sure. Our thinking has become so muddled that a clear and simple call is in itself suspect. . . .
Loring W. Batten, III
Port Washington, New York
To the Editor:
. . . I believe “The Future Danger” is the most lucid and compelling treatise I have yet seen on the subject of Soviet intentions and the militant myopia concerning them which prevailed throughout the previous decade in this nation. . . .
Donald A. Christman
Wyckoff, New Jersey
To the Editor:
This is to congratulate Norman Podhoretz on “The Future Danger.” His articles are always superb, but this one is awesome. . . .
Let me add one small point on how to deal with Soviet military superiority. Unlike Hitler, who enjoyed war . . ., the Soviets do not take risks. They will use force whenever success is absolutely certain, but they will hold back if challenged. Every time the West showed its teeth, as in the Berlin blockade or the Cuban missile crisis (alas, I can think of no other cases), the Soviets backed down. For example, despite all the clichés the Soviets always spout about “elementary norms of international behavior,” they never breathed a word when President Kennedy obviously violated international law by declaring a U.S. air and naval quarantine to prevent arms shipments to Cuba. Instead, they developed a very healthy respect for him.
The Soviets respect military strength (which the U.S. has lost) and ideological strength (which Mr. Podhoretz proposes), but I would like to add that they also respect plain spine—I myself saw little examples of this many times when I lived behind the Iron Curtain, though I would not want to say how far one can go before courage becomes foolhardiness or insanity. 1 feel that the Soviets are basically cowards who respect those who stand up to them, even if their opponents are weak. They kick the kickable, but do not know how to deal with the courageous. . . .
Norman Podhoretz writes:
The main practical issue raised by the letters above is whether it is wise or unwise for the United States to build up Communist China as part of a strategy aimed at the containment of Soviet imperialism. This question in turn gives rise to the theoretical problem of the proper role of ideology—or more concretely, anti-Communism—in the framing of American foreign policy. In “The Future Danger” I called attention to the risks of the alliance with China and of a blurring of the anti-Communist theme; my critics call attention to the risks of failing to play the China card and of giving anti-Communism priority over traditional considerations of Realpolitik.
Since “The Future Danger” was published, the Reagan administration, by agreeing to sell arms to Communist China, has removed whatever uncertainties still remained as to the direction in which it would go. Therefore, for the moment at least, my critics will be getting their way. I can only hope that they are right in discounting the risks I confess I continue to see in such a strategy despite the cogency and persuasiveness of many of the arguments they make in its defense. (For a good example of the opening the China card has given to those who oppose even the anti-Soviet version of containment, see the New Yorker’s lead editorial in “Talk of the Town,” July 6, 1981.)
Speaking of China, John E. Morby is in the unhappy position of people in the West who went on defending Stalin even after Khrushchev had confirmed the charges of the anti-Stalinists. It is true that the largest recorded famine in history occurred in China in 1928, but it is also true that the Chinese Communists themselves have now revealed that Western intellectuals were duped by the claims made under Mao that he had abolished hunger and famine. As Jonathan Power recently wrote in the International Herald Tribune:
Today we know, on the authority of the Chinese themselves, that Mao’s own policies upset the rural applecart, that the communes were in the main ineffectual agents of economic advance, and that although there were parts of the country (that were shown to outside visitors on the Chinese version of Cook’s tours) with great agricultural success, there were many other parts of China where the crops often failed, rural progress was lethargic, and hunger a common condition.
As for whether East Germany is worse off under Communism than it was under Nazism, this is like asking if it is better to be deprived of all freedom in the name of Stalin or in the name of Hitler. German Jews were certainly worse off under Nazism than they would have been under Communism if any Jews had been left in East Germany to live under Communism. But hard cases make bad arguments as well as bad law, and this grisly calculus does nothing to affect the validity of my point that where the only realistic choices are between an authoritarian regime and a totalitarian one—as in South Korea today or South Vietnam yesterday—the interests of the people involved as well as loyalty to human rights forbid doing anything that would lead to the replacement of the authoritarian regime by the totalitarian alternative.
1 Mr. Holbrooke was Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Carter administration.—Ed.