Last May, in observance of its fifteenth anniversary year, COMMENTARY invited Sidney Hook, H. Stuart Hughes, Hans J. Morgenthau, and C. P. Snow to participate in a three-hour round-table discussion of the moral and political questions surrounding the possibility of a nuclear war. The discussion, held before a selected audience of writers, editors, clergymen, and educators at the Institute of Human Relations and moderated by Norman Podhoretz, editor of COMMENTARY, was wholly spontaneous. What follows is a slightly abridged transcript of the entire proceedings.

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Norman Podhoretz: The problem we’ve selected for discussion this afternoon is a very, very broad one, “Western Values and Total War,” but we’re going to try to focus on several slightly narrower themes, the main one being the question of whether or not, in a situation that threatens thermonuclear war, there is an inherent contradiction between the job of preserving and extending the liberal democratic heritage and the job of protecting the national interests of the various countries in the Western bloc who presumably represent that tradition.

There have been, crudely speaking, two schools of thought on the question of the nature of thermonuclear war, and most political positions follow ultimately from one or the other of these two sets of assumptions. The first school of thought—which is represented perhaps most prominently by Herman Kahn and certain members of the RAND Corporation—believes that the possibility of thermonuclear war has changed nothing in kind but merely in degree. In other words, this school of thought is willing to contemplate the use of nuclear weapons and to calculate the point at which a civilization might rebuild itself after a thermonuclear war.

The other school of thought—which has been represented recently by Karl Jaspers—begins with the assumption that thermonuclear war is different in kind, not merely in degree, from all other forms of violence and armed conflict between nations. This school of thought believes that one cannot speak of preserving civilization, freedom, or values by resort to nuclear warfare, and therefore would consider that nuclear warfare must be ruled out as an instrument of national policy. I think spokesmen for this school might argue that we can conceive of preserving a nation physically even after a thermonuclear war, but that it is absurd to speak of preserving values—moral values, political values—and certainly impossible to speak of preserving a civilization like our own. I wonder, Professor Hook, whether you would begin by commenting on this opposition that I’ve rather crudely described.

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Sidney Hook: The situation that Mr. Podhoretz has laid out for us is even more complex and difficult. I do not know how great the destruction will be in the event of war. I don’t think anybody knows because so many contingencies are involved. We can grant that in any case the upshot will be horrible. The main question to me in this context is the moral one—what price are we prepared to pay for the preservation of freedom in a world in which such things may happen? However, when we discuss this question, we must bear in mind the following: On the eve of the Second World War it was widely predicted that a world war would lead to the end of all civilization because of the use of poison gas. And for all I know, there existed at the time well-grounded possibilities that the use of gas would make human life impossible on this planet with as much or even more plausibility, in a technical sense, than the use of thermonuclear weapons. Despite these predictions, two things happened. Those who felt that the values of the West were worth preserving against the onslaught of fascism took the risk of war, despite the fact that they weren’t sure that gas warfare wouldn’t bring an end to mankind. And secondly, to the surprise of many, gas warfare was not used. Hitler was a madman; yet this madman realized that if he used gas he would provoke reprisals which would mean the end of the national existence of Germany. From this, I draw the following conclusion: If we surrender the deterrent—which is widely recommended by many—we invite the conquest of the world by Communist totalitarianism. And no matter how we define Western values, they are certainly incompatible with that system of organized terror. If we hold on to the deterrent, then, since Khrushchev is not a madman and does not want a war which would mean the end of Soviet existence, and since the Communists make a fetish of history—survival is the be-all and end-all for them—it might be possible, by preserving peace through the retention of the deterrent weapon, to work out a multilateral form of controlled disarmament, thus permitting the nations of this world to make their own decisions concerning the kind of life they wish to live.

I conclude this introductory statement with a reminder about our theme. I had hoped that we would begin with a discussion of the nature of Western values. As I read the history of Western culture it seems to me that survival at all costs is not among the values of the West. It was Aristotle who said that it is not life as such, or under any conditions, that is of value, but the good life. The free man is one who in certain situations refuses to accept life if it means spiritual degradation. The man who declares that survival at all costs is the end of existence is morally dead, because he’s prepared to sacrifice all other values which give life its meaning. But our alternatives today are not limited to surrender to Communism or universal destruction by war. We can count upon the sanity of the men in the Kremlin—they’re very sane and realistic. If we do not abandon our deterrent weapons, I believe that in time we can work out an alternative which will avoid the extremes described by our chairman.

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Podhoretz: Mr. Hughes, you are one of the many people Mr. Hook was referring to who have advocated the abandonment of the deterrent as an instrument of national policy, and I know that you have a rather different view of the alternatives before us. So perhaps you’d care to comment on the statement just made.

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H. Stuart Hughes: Yes, one thing I’d like to say at the start is that I’m not a pacifist, but as a historian I find very few wars worth fighting. I would almost limit those worth fighting to the Second World War. I would definitely not include the American Revolution, the American Civil War, or the First World War. You may say that I include the one war I fought in, but that’s just how it happened. My position would be a non-pacifist one, but one extremely skeptical of wars in any case, and totally skeptical of wars of mass destruction. Where I differ from some of my friends is in feeling that the great change came not with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, but in 1943, when we began the terror bombardment of Germany. There’s where I think the character of war changed and the use of weapons of mass destruction began.

Now, I think here one should apply a type of reasoning such as the theologians have always used. Presumably any war worth fighting—e.g., the Second World War—is in theological and moral terms a just war. I would argue to this day that the Second World War was a just war. But if I understand the theologians correctly, a war can only be considered just if the means are proportionate to the evil to be eradicated. Now it seems to me the means used against Hitler were proportionate until the terror bombing; and you did not need the terror bombing to win that war. It was both morally and technically stupid and wrong. I cannot see any way of fighting Communism by general war in which the means would be proportionate to the evil. I happen to think that Communism has a great deal of evil in it, but less than Nazism had. On this basis, then, I throw out all comparisons with the 1930’s and Munich. I know this is the classic argument and I think people who hold my position should be prepared for it. We sound like appeasers. Well, we accept that charge and say that the situation is different. Remember, appeasement was not originally an ugly word. It became such after 1938.

If I may go on a moment more—I hope disarmament will come up eventually, but I want to leave that out for the present—it seems, then, we have to face the old “Red or Dead?” question, as Bertrand Russell and others express it in England. Which do you want, to be red or dead? To speak very crudely, I’m on the red side of this, and I gather Mr. Hook is on the dead side. But let me just suggest in this connection that people who hold my views do not think that they are inviting Soviet conquest and do not believe in surrender. We believe that the enemy should be met with real force, but real force on a human scale which would give men the old alternative of making a personal choice as to whether they wanted to die. If the Communists were to invade, I would like to take up a gun and fight. But that would be my personal choice. It wouldn’t involve all sorts of neutrals, the animal world, unborn generations, etc. So, my point of view is: yes, we should be prepared to fight and to fight hard—but with conventional weapons, by guerilla warfare, militia-type organizations, passive resistance, underground activity. And the most important task for this country is to begin to study these methods. I went just a month ago to the international congress in Milan on the history of resistance organizations during the Second World War, and I regard this as a most important type of study—to find out how you resist as human beings without weapons of mass destruction. I say these things to distinguish my position from a doctrinaire pacifist position or from a position of simply saying, “Let us let the red hordes wash over us.”

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Podhoretz: Mr. Morgenthau, would you rather be red or dead, or neither? Is there a way of escaping this gruesome alternative?

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Hans J. Morgenthau: I certainly would rather be neither, if I have a choice. I don’t want to address myself at the moment to the grim question as to whether or not to surrender the nuclear deterrent. But I want rather to discuss the fundamental philosophic question—whether it is possible to defend the values of Western civilization by nuclear war. I’m indeed inclined to answer this question in the negative, while admitting the possibility, or even perhaps the likelihood, that we will have to fight a nuclear war. This likelihood is the measure of the dilemma we are facing and of the political and moral bankruptcy we are suffering because of our inability to devise a third alternative to those which have been mentioned—both of which are to me equally unacceptable.

I think a revolution has occurred, perhaps the first true revolution in foreign policy since the beginning of history, through the introduction of nuclear weapons into the arsenal of warfare. For from the beginning of history to the end of the Second World War, there existed a rational relationship between violence as a means of foreign policy, and the ends of foreign policy. That is to say, a statesman could ask himself—and always did ask himself—whether he could achieve what he sought for his nation by peaceful diplomatic means or whether he had to resort to war. A statesman, up to the beginning of the nuclear age, was very much in the position of a labor leader who asks himself, “Can I get what I want by the peaceful means of collective bargaining or do I have to resort to industrial warfare in the form of a strike?” To use another metaphor, the statesman in the pre-nuclear age was very much in the position of a gambler—a reasonable gambler, that is—who is willing to risk a certain fraction of his material and human resources. If he wins, his risk is justified by victory; if he loses, he has not lost everything. His losses, in other words, are bearable. This rational relationship between violence as a means of foreign policy and the ends of foreign policy has been destroyed by the possibility of all-out nuclear war.

I cannot accept the analogy with gas warfare. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the possibility of gas warfare was infinitely more marginal than is the possibility of nuclear war today. Certainly, the United States today must rely primarily on the nuclear deterrent in defense of its national interest; and when the chips are down, it will be faced with either retreat or resort to nuclear war. No such simple, stark alternative existed before the Second World War with regard to either retreat or gas warfare. Gas warfare was one weapon among many from which nations could choose. Furthermore, it was not a rational deduction but practical considerations which made gas warfare appear inadvisable to Hitler. In the period of the Blitzkrieg, gas warfare was unnecessary because the German armies overran their neighbors on all sides, and afterward the initiation of gas warfare would have been suicidal for Germany. The question hardly arose for the Allies because they were engaged in a war of movement and therefore resort to gas warfare was also senseless for them. Furthermore, because they were so engaged, they would have had to kill not only the German armies but the populations of the occupied nations as well. So there is, I think, quite a difference between the fact that all belligerents refrained from gas warfare in the Second World War and the possibility, if not the likelihood, of nuclear war in the future.

However, the fundamental question is, in view of this disproportion between the means of violence and the ends of foreign policy, whether it is still possible today to defend the values of any civilization by resort to nuclear warfare. For if you assume—as even the most optimistic analysts such as Herman Kahn have assumed—that in a third world war fought with nuclear weapons, fifty, eighty, or a hundred million Americans would die, and nine-tenths, let me say, of the economic capacity of the United States would be destroyed, you must be possessed not only by an extreme optimism but by an almost unthinking faith to believe that civilization, any civilization, Western or otherwise, could survive such an unprecedented catastrophe. For the fundamental error in the reasoning to which I’m referring, it seems to me, lies in the assumption that the moral fiber of a civilization has an unlimited capacity to recover from shock. I would rather assume from individual personal experience as well as from the experience of history that there is a breaking point for a civilization, as there is a breaking point for an individual man. For, after all, when we speak of civilization we are speaking of an abstraction; we are really speaking of man in the mass, of Americans in the mass. Would Americans in the mass be able to hold to the values of Western civilization in the face of such an unimaginable, unprecedented catastrophe?

We are of course all guessing here, but I would dare to make the guess that Western civilization would not survive such a catastrophe. If this estimate is correct, then obviously an all-out nuclear war in defense of Western civilization is a contradiction in terms, an absurdity. I must say that this absurdity may occur, but if it should occur, I would still say that it was an absurdity.

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Hook: I think that both of my colleagues have been inconsistent.

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Podhoretz: With each other, or each with himself?

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Hook: Not with each other, but with themselves. Mr. Hughes maintains that he’d rather be red than dead, and then tells us that of course he’s prepared to die fighting against Communism. And he talks about means of underground warfare against totalitarianism without any regard for the great qualitative difference which totalitarianism makes where opposition is concerned. There is no underground in the Soviet Union, Mr. Hughes—you probably learned that at the congress you attended. One of the reasons there is no underground in the Soviet Union is that the Kremlin organizes its own opposition in order to destroy it. And this introduces a qualitative change of enormous magnitude.

But I want to go back for a moment to a very interesting thing Mr. Hughes said about mass bombing, which for him represented the great turning-point in history. He asserted that the use of weapons must be proportionate to the end. He deplored the mass bombings of Germany which, of course, the English did not initiate—Coventry preceded the mass bombings of Germany—and condemned them on the ground that they were strategically and militarily unnecessary. Some people with excellent hindsight have criticized the use of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima on similar grounds. I frankly don’t know whether these criticisms are justified by military and strategic considerations or not, but my question to Mr. Hughes is this: suppose the only way in which the West could have prevented the world victory of Hitler was by this mass bombing of Germany? Would you have been in favor of it or not? Mankind paid the price of forty million dead to get rid of Hitler. It sounds macabre to make comparisons and weigh lives against values, but it seems clear that Mr. Hughes, who justifies the Second World War, thinks that forty million dead was not too high a price to pay for a free civilization. My contention is that both of my colleagues have overlooked the disproportion between the two alternatives of surrender and willingness to resist. Professor Morgenthau said that we might soon be confronted by a choice between the preservation of the United States—that is, the preservation of our freedoms—and the use of a nuclear deterrent. He didn’t clearly indicate what his position would be if that were our choice. There was some intimation that he believed, if that were really our choice, we should have to surrender. . . .

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Morgenthau: That is not what I meant to say.

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Hook: I’m glad I misunderstood you on that point. But if we decide against surrender, then the question is: how can we best preserve ourselves? You face the same problem as Mr. Hughes. If conventional weapons won’t prevent Khrushchev from taking the world, and if the only thing that can prevent him is the nuclear deterrent, should we use it or surrender? I don’t see how we can avoid that point.

The main thing I want to stress, however, is that it is a mistake to make an easy equation of the alternatives between surrender on the one hand and resistance and the cost of resistance on the other. For if we are prepared to take the risk of fighting for freedom, then we must prepare ourselves in such a way that the costs are diminished. Here we’re dealing with speculative notions. The one thing we can be sure about is that if we surrender, Communism, with all its evils, will take over the world. But if we are prepared to fight, then we may not have to fight, for the reasons which I have indicated; and if the enemy is foolish enough to attack us—which I don’t believe for a minute he will do if we keep the deterrent—then, if we are prepared, the losses may not be as great as some anticipate. There are questions involved here whose answers are indeterminate. I challenge the accepted notion that all life necessarily must be impossible by virtue of any kind of nuclear combat independently of what we do. After all, Germany seemed finished at the end of the Second World War.

I would like my colleagues to address themselves to the question: whether when the chips are down they are prepared to sacrifice the integrity and existence of the free world to Communism? And further, whether they have done justice to two considerations: first, that our willingness to fight for our freedom may be the best way of preserving it, just as sometimes in personal life one’s willingness to lose one’s life may be the best way of defending his life; second, that for the Communist world nothing exists but history. Survival, I repeat, is the summum bonum for Communism, whereas the West, buttressed in part by belief in immortality, whether as a myth or fact, has always maintained that there are certain values which are more important than life itself. To the Communist world there is nothing worse than defeat. That is why Lenin always emphasized the importance of what he called the policy of strategic retreat, and its correlative maxim: avoid provocations! That is why the Communists will never start a war which they have reason to fear they will not survive. Consequently, in the light of all this, I say to Mr. Hughes that his position invites the Communists to take over the world. And when they do so, he has no guarantee even then of survival. He does not know whether or not the Chinese will use atomic weapons against the Russians. He may end up both red and dead.

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Podhoretz: Mr. Hughes, would you agree that the renunciation of the deterrent would automatically, or even probably, result in a Communist take-over?

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Hughes: I’d like to answer one thing before I answer that. For I do want to clear up this casualties-and-Second-World-War question. The question is: if the bombing had been necessary to winning the war, would it still have been right? I find this hard to argue because I think the mass bombing was such a cruel mistake even in the most hard-boiled military terms. As a staff officer during the war I spent a good deal of time arguing against it. But let us say if you balanced it against the destruction of six million in the extermination camps, I suppose if you had to do the arithmetic, you’d come out and say—all right, it would still fall within the just war category. So I think I could give a qualified agreement on that.

As far as comparing the forty million dead during the Second World War with forty million dead in a thermonuclear war, this seems to me an unrealistic comparison. The holocaust of a day or two, and the particularly awful method of death, should not be balanced against the death of an equal number in regular warfare. And the figure of forty million—which, incidentally, is the lowest estimate that has been made—should not be balanced against deaths that happened over a six-year period in a very widely extended territory, most of them in the countryside rather than in the cities, at least as many by starvation and hardship as by violent death, at least half of them in the Soviet Union itself. Nothing, then, in our Western or even German experience would be remotely comparable to the contemplated forty million dead in a short thermonuclear war. Now, to get to the main question that the chairman wanted me to answer. I would say we would only be honest in answering that Soviet take-over in certain areas might be invited. . . .

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Podhoretz: Might be invited by unilateral disarmament?

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Hughes: By some sort of unilateral renunciation of thermonuclear deterrence. I dislike the term unilateral disarmament without qualification because it sounds as though one is going to strip down to one’s underwear shorts tomorrow, and that is not it. It would be a question of starting a movement in this direction. Renouncing deterrence as an instrument of foreign policy might, I think, invite or at least facilitate Soviet penetration of certain areas, particularly in the underdeveloped world, but these areas are largely indefensible anyway.

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Podhoretz: What about Western Europe, Berlin?

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Hughes: No, I do not think so. I think in Europe deterrence has not deterred anything. Let’s leave out Khrushchev as more rational, perhaps more humane, than Stalin, and get back to Stalin before 1953. What deterred Stalin from taking over Western and Central Europe? I would argue it was not our monopoly of atomic weapons, but the conviction that these would be very hard countries to rule. He was having enough trouble already.

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Hook: Excuse me, Mr. Hughes. We have some evidence on this, viz., the exchange of letters between Tito and Stalin. Tito was willing and eager to take Trieste, but Stalin warned him not to because he said he was not prepared to go to war against the West, for this would spell disaster. One doesn’t have to agree with Churchill that the atomic bomb prevented the Russian troops from marching to the Atlantic, but it’s quite clear that where-ever the West stood firm the Russians retreated. When it stood firm in Berlin they retreated. When it stood firm in Greece they retreated. And this wasn’t because it was difficult to rule these countries. After all, Stalin was able to rule Poland, he was able to rule other satellite regions of the Soviet empire. He had enough terror at his disposal. I think you must give us more evidence that it wasn’t fear of war that prevented Stalin from moving West, because a prima facie case can be made out that it was.

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Hughes: I think you have to make a distinction between areas occupied in the wake of Nazi conquest with the flow-back of the Nazi tide after the Second World War and areas occupied de novo. My own reading of history is that the Russians were frankly surprised at their lack of popularity in East-Central Europe. They may have been a little naive about this, but there is the fact of their permitting virtually free elections in Hungary, for example, in 1945—and then being enormously disappointed at the result. There is the famous incident of the Soviet Occupation Commander literally kicking the local Communist chief out of his office after the elections went bad, saying “What happened? What’s the matter with you people?” I think there is massive evidence that with the revulsion against Nazism, the Russians thought that occupation would be an easier job than in fact it turned out to be. So I wouldn’t draw any analogies from experience in East-Central Europe as to Soviet computations of the risks and difficulties in governing a newly-conquered territory belonging squarely within Western civilization.

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Podhoretz: Well, I think there’s probably too much evidence and not enough time to spell it out. The point of disagreement is clear. I wish, Mr. Hughes, you would just go on for another minute and sketch out for us your notion of what would happen in the event of a renunciation of deterrence by the West. You’ve already said that in certain underdeveloped countries the Communists would move in, but you implied or said that these countries would go Communist anyway. You are saying, then, that you don’t think one ought to assume that the Russians would move into Berlin, for example, if we renounced thermonuclear deterrence? Do I understand you correctly?

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Hughes: Exactly.

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Podhoretz: Mr. Morgenthau, what is your reaction to all this? Do you believe, as a leading exponent of the school of Realpolitik—you have been called that, anyway. . . .

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Morgenthau: I have been called lots of things.

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Podhoretz: Well, that probably more often than other things. Anyhow, do you think it’s plausible to assume that the Russians have been deterred by American strength in the past ten years?

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Morgenthau: I have absolutely no doubt. I am convinced that the Russians were deterred from advancing. I don’t believe for a moment that the Russians today are imposing upon themselves a certain self-restraint because they are afraid that Western countries may be difficult to digest. After all, if you consider that since the end of the Second World War, in election after election, one out of every four Italians has voted the Communist ticket, it shouldn’t have been very difficult for the Communists to digest Italy. In 1946 or 1947 it would have been relatively easy for the Russians, short of American deterrence through the threat of atomic war, to take over Italy and other such countries, not necessarily by sending the Red Army in but by letting the best organized and largest political group within those countries do the job.

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Podhoretz: Mr. Morgenthau, what then is your own position? I think that Mr. Hook was asking a few minutes ago what choice you would make.

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Morgenthau: I would fully agree with Mr. Hook that I would not surrender. I would rather fight if I’m forced to fight a nuclear war. But I would be fully convinced of the utter absurdity, of the utterly suicidal character of such a war. It would be an absolutely senseless war, but it would be imposed upon us because it would be one of the two alternatives which not only Western statesmanship but the statesmanship of the world would have left to us.

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Hook: If I understand you, then, Mr. Morgenthau, you’re prepared to be heroic even if foolish. I maintain (though I don’t like to use these phrases) that if we’re prepared to be heroic, we will not have to be foolish.

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Morgenthau: Let me say a word about heroism. I believe the advent of nuclear power has also changed the character of heroism. I don’t believe that it is appropriate to quote Aristotle in this context, because when Aristotle speaks of the value of life as over against the value of the good life, he does not contemplate—nor could he have contemplated—the mass extermination of large segments of a civilized population. He had in mind individual acts of heroism—Leonidas being slain at Thermopylae and Socrates drinking the hemlock. Those are deaths which carry a meaning. They are deaths which were worth dying, as it were, but the extermination of eight million New Yorkers within a fraction of a second is an entirely different type of thing. I see no meaning in the reduction of tens of millions of people to atomic dust, of the monuments of a civilization to radioactive rubble. I see no meaning at all, I see no heroism at all in this.

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Hook: Then why do you want to resist it?

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Hughes: I think Mr. Hook is logical and I think I’m logical, although we disagree; but I do not see your point about fighting a senseless war. If it is senseless, then why fight it?

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Morgenthau: The other alternative is also senseless, but perhaps somewhat more. I’m not trying to be facetious.

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Podhoretz: Mr. Morgenthau, I think we’d all like to know what the sensible alternative might be. You spoke earlier of diplomatic means of conducting conflict between nations. Now the only diplomatic means we’ve heard about this afternoon so far are in the nature of military policy. Are there other diplomatic means that might get us out of this awful dilemma?

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Morgenthau: The way out of the dilemma is to transcend the two equally unacceptable alternatives of surrender or fighting a suicidal atomic war, and that means taking nuclear power out of the arsenal of individual nations altogether.

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Hughes: By multilateral disarmament.

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Morgenthau: Not necessarily by multilateral disarmament, but some kind of supra-national agency which we may call world government, because this is what it would be.

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Hook: We do not disagree about that. My main point was that it is a mistake to conceive of our situation as if it were limited to the two alternatives of surrender and world destruction. All I maintained, Mr. Chairman, was that if one were prepared when the chips are down to fight for freedom, one would thereby broaden the spectrum of possibilities. It would give us maneuverability. We could offer Khrushchev various peaceful modes of arbitrating our differences. We could continue to work through the UN and through renewed attempts at test controls. But once we abandon our deterrent, then I predict all of these other methods will surely fail. And if I may say so, I do not know any reasonable way by which one can choose between absurdities if one regards them as equally absurd. When Mr. Morgenthau says that surrender is more absurd than the readiness to fight, I interpret him to mean that it is more sensible to be prepared to fight than to surrender. I would also like to point out that in terms of the Western tradition, the view that it is not life but the good life which is the highest ideal—the essence of the liberal outlook—was not restricted merely to cases of individual heroism. Total war was also waged in the past. Let us stretch our imaginations a little. Imagine that we are living in Carthage, and the Romans are at the gates. Carthage fought a total war. So did Judea. Many illustrations can be cited of cities and entire settlements which went down to destruction fighting for what they thought was the good life, even when they had no assurance that their action would serve as a beacon to inspire the rest of mankind. The history of the Jewish people especially illustrates this. I am sometimes inclined to admire Josephus because he seemed so sensible. But I admire more those who fought against Roman despotism, who fought for the integrity of their belief, refused to bow down to the Roman Emperor, and suffered the destruction of their community in consequence.

If we surrender our values, we open the floodgates for totalitarianism to sweep through the world. That we can make certain distinctions between Communism and Nazism is irrelevant where the main issue is concerned. The Nazis incinerated six million Jews; the Communists destroyed even more millions—and I’m not thinking now of Jews or non-Jews or of the differences in the method of slaughter. We must never lose sight of the ethical issue. In the end, each one makes his own decisions on these matters.

But I would like to bring back our discussion from the abstract, ethical question to the question of political strategy. I ask Mr. Morgenthau, who is an expert—and deservedly so—on foreign policy, whether he does not think that we increase our maneuverability in trying to work out a genuine type of peaceful coexistence by remaining armed with the deterrent.

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Morgenthau: I would certainly agree that the prospects of this kind of policy in the long run are likely to be self-destructive. It is exactly because we have not developed any other means of settling our disputes peacefully, which is the great issue of our times, that we are forced to alternate between those two equally unacceptable alternatives.

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Podhoretz: Mr. Morgenthau, it’s recently been suggested—I think by Professor Seymour Melman of Columbia—that Western reluctance to contemplate the abandonment of deterrence as a strategy is based on the fear, the conviction, that in political warfare, even under the best conditions, the Communists would win. Mr. Melman was saying that we have not imagined how to compete politically and economically with the Communists and therefore we are forced continually to waver between these two grim alternatives. I’d like to hear some comments on that rather provocative statement.

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Morgenthau: This is not, I think, so terribly provocative. It states an obvious fact.

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Hook: I would disagree that it states an obvious fact. I think it’s a very problematic assertion. In fact, in certain areas of the world it’s false. I do not think that the free world need fear political warfare with the Soviet Union if it’s restricted to political warfare. If the peoples of Europe were given the choice, or even if the peoples of the Soviet Empire were given the choice, I have no doubt as to what their choice would be. If the Iron Curtains of this world were lifted, in what direction would the movement of peoples flow? In the Soviet Union it’s a crime, punishable by death, to try to leave the country. We haven’t reached that yet.

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Podhoretz: Excuse me, Mr. Hook—I think you’ve slightly diverted the point, which is perhaps why you were provoked. What Mr. Melman was getting at, I believe, is what is sometimes called the competition for the uncommitted nations. He probably was thinking of places like Latin America, in particular Cuba and other such countries, which seem to be attracted to the Communist bloc in one way or another in trying to carry out a social revolution. And he was further suggesting—and this I’d like to hear Mr. Hughes talk about for a moment—that American foreign policy has not in general backed such social revolutions on the ground that they would produce situations that were not reliably anti-Communist.

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Hook: Mr. Podhoretz, before Mr. Hughes answers the question, perhaps you would make a little clearer what the question is. You are not saying, I assume, that countries, even in the uncommitted portions of the world, when given freedom of choice, have shown a natural inclination to join the Communist bloc. I’m aware of no underdeveloped country which when given freedom of choice through elections has ever decided to install a national Communist regime.

As a socialist, I certainly agree that our American policy has been bad in many of these countries. . . .

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Podhoretz: Well, that’s one answer to the question I raised. Mr. Hughes, would you agree with that?

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Hughes: I’m delighted to find myself in agreement with Mr. Hook on one thing. I also regard myself as a socialist, and I think our view of the good society is almost identical.

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Hook: No, I’m afraid not.

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Hughes: We both believe in a democratic socialist society.

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Hook: No, you are prepared to surrender the world to the Communists.

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Hughes: But that is not a definition of a good society, and I would say that I was not prepared to surrender the world.

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Hook: That is the implication of your position today.

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Hughes: I feel slightly deflated. I was trying to agree.

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Morgenthau: You can’t get away with it.

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Hook: Excuse me.

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Hughes: I still think we agree. But I am surprised that Mr. Hook says, “Why discuss an abstract ethical question?” I thought that was the whole point, and I regard the central matter here as an abstract ethical question.

But let me go on to the question of our fearing political warfare. I think we do need to fear political warfare as long as we seem to represent in the world a status quo power. We need to be not only tolerant of social revolution but behind social revolution. And I believe—and here perhaps Mr. Hook agrees with me also—that it is not just because we fear social revolutions will go Communist that we are against them, but because we fear that they will be anti-capitalist. It seems to me that American foreign policy will make no sense to the uncommitted world until we say that we do not have a capitalist foreign policy, that we have no quarrel with collectivism or Communism as an economic system, that all we are interested in is human freedom. It seems to me this could have enormously simplified our attitude toward Cuba and a number of other places. So until American foreign policy and American society change profoundly, in having a far greater socialist tinge than they do today, I think we are going to be handicapped in peaceful political competition.

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Hook: Mr. Hughes, let’s be fair. As fellow socialists let us recognize the facts about American policy. I think it is demonstrably wrong to say that American policy has been motivated by a desire merely to preserve capitalism in countries which have been threatened by Communist and socialist movements.

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Podhoretz: If I may interrupt you, Mr. Hook, I’d like to find out what the director of the Center for the Study of American Foreign Policy [Morgenthau] thinks about that.

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Hook: Just let me have a few more sentences. I call attention not merely to the position taken by the American government in Mexico, I call attention especially to the attitude of the United States at the end of World War II. I should like Mr. Hughes to explain, on his view—and also have this clarified by Mr. Morgenthau—how it came about that when Britain was under a Labor socialist government, the United States cancelled its debt and gave substantial aid even against the opposition of conservatives in this country. When Europe was in danger of breakdown at the end of World War II, the United States offered the Marshall Plan, Mr. Hughes, to all the countries of Western Europe—including Communist countries like Poland and Yugoslavia. The reason it did that, it seems to me, is that it wanted to preserve the structure of freedom in Western Europe. And it wasn’t motivated by simple capitalist considerations. Our attitude toward Yugoslavia, a socialist country, our attitude toward Poland—though it could be better—certainly invalidates the extreme statement that you made. That’s why I cannot accept what you said as a fact, but as a rather problematic assertion.

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Hughes: I know Mr. Morgenthau is waiting, but Mr. Hook misinterpreted me. I did not say American foreign policy was motivated by capitalist considerations. I simply said it was limited by them in its range of choice. Now it was one thing to accept a quasi-socialist fait accompli and say we would give it support—and that, furthermore, in a highly developed country where little threat seemed to be implied. (One must say, incidentally, that even in the British case, American sympathy for the Conservative party was well known.) But in places where we could throw our weight around, like certain German states before the formation of the Bonn government, the military government stepped right in. . . .

[C. P. Snow arrives]

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Podhoretz: Sir Charles, at the moment we are trying to decide whether American foreign policy can be called capitalist in the sense of being limited by capitalist considerations.

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Morgenthau: Not being a socialist, I look at this intra-socialist quarrel with complete impartiality and detachment. I don’t believe it can really be denied that in the competition for the minds of men, especially in the emergent nations, the United States is at a considerable disadvantage. The issue is not that American foreign policy is capitalistic. It is rather that it is in a doctrinaire way anti-Communist and that it will support any movement and any government and elite which is vociferously anti-Communist, and the more vociferously it is anti-Communist the more certain is it going to be of American support. By the logic of this position, we have been supporting throughout the world the most reactionary, the most sterile, the most unviable elites, governments, and social systems.

The handicaps which the United States suffers in competing with the Soviet Union for the allegiance of the emergent nations is existential and cannot be removed by some kind of political device. After all, the Soviet Union can say, and says every day—and with a great deal of at least surface plausibility—that it was an underdeveloped nation forty years ago; that it was a backward, weak nation, and that it has developed into the other great industrial and military power of the world by virtue of the political, social, and economic system of Communism. So the Soviet Union says to the emergent nations, “If you want to develop as we have developed, accept our system, imitate us.” And there can be no doubt of the enormous impact the actual economic and technological achievements of the Soviet Union have made upon the emergent nations. I think it was on the occasion of the Fourth of July celebration of 1956 that a Russian journalist wrote in a Russian newspaper that from the 18th century to this moment, the United States had been the model for other nations to emulate: that the United States had always assumed that its social and political experiment was created not for the sake of Americans alone, but for the sake of the world, and that the nations of the world had accepted this assumption. And now, this journalist said, the Soviet Union has taken the place of the U. S. Now it is the Soviet Union which gives an example to the rest of the world, which serves as a model to be emulated by other nations. I think this is a real challenge and this is a real problem, and whatever the voting might be in the Soviet Union if it were free, I think the facts of the situation point toward a real handicap which the U.S. suffers in the competition with the Soviet Union.

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Podhoretz: Sir Charles, do you think that the Soviet Union has stolen American thunder as a model for emulation throughout the world?

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C. P. Snow: I think there’s no doubt of the fact at all. What Mr. Morgenthau said is undoubtedly true. It’s part of the world situation at this moment, and quite clearly this country’s got first to analyze that fact, and second to see in what respects it can be altered or softened. But of the fact there seems to me absolutely no doubt.

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Hook: If I may draw on my own experience in Asia, I should say the picture is a little more complicated. As far as the opinion-makers in countries like Japan and India and Burma are concerned, it is true that they have been very much impressed, especially on the mainland of Asia, by Soviet economic progress. Interestingly enough, in Japan this isn’t the case. The Japanese intellectuals told me, “We industrialized our country in forty-five or fifty years, from the time of the Mehji restoration in the 1860’s to the turn of the century.” In Japan, the Soviet Union is not the star of first magnitude in the firmament of the discontented. Oddly enough it’s China. And not in terms of Chinese achievement but rather in terms, I think, of racial pride and sympathy. The Japanese don’t really regard themselves as part of Asia. In the Asian countries—I can’t speak about Africa, Sir Charles—I think that the dominant opinion is still (though tinctured with admiration of Soviet achievements) sympathetic toward the West. I have found the Indian intellectuals profoundly influenced by the values which the British bequeathed to India. I think England is the most popular country in India today. The Indians want both to improve their standard of living and retain the values of the West. The United States has helped India, al-though the Congress party is overwhelmingly socialistic. If India fails, Mr. Morgenthau’s analysis would hold true. If in ten years from now the per capita income of India is no greater than it is today—which, despite all of our aid, might be the case unless the growth of population is restricted—then I think there would be a tendency to turn toward the Soviet Union and Communist China. But the whole situation of course has been aggravated by recent Chinese incursions into India. There is still a passion for freedom among the Indians, though its chief expression is for national freedom and national independence. I make these remarks not to take issue with Sir Charles, but to offer a more complete picture.

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Snow: I would accept that qualification. Of course India is a very odd and special case for all sorts of reasons.

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Hook: And Burma too.

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Snow: Yes.

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Podhoretz: I wonder if we might draw Sir Charles into one of the earlier themes of the afternoon’s discussion. The major question that was raised earlier was whether it is possible for the West to preserve and extend the liberal-democratic heritage and still conceive of a thermonuclear war as a resort of policy. We’ve got the views of the other three gentlemen fairly clear. I wonder what yours would be on this, Sir Charles.

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Snow: It’s a very difficult one. Remember I speak here—though I know you and love you—with some special coloration. After all, I am English, and behind the thinking of all English people, irrespective of politics, there’s bound to be the feeling that for us, if there is a thermonuclear war, the country is absolutely finished, not just mutilated grossly, as would be the case here and in the Soviet Union, but absolutely finished. You see, we’re a supply base. We’re not in the position of France and Germany, which probably would not be exposed to an extreme thermonuclear war because they would be conquerable by arms. But we should have to be, in the grizzly military phrase, masked, and masked under these circumstances means the complete elimination of the country. So that is at the back of all our attitudes. I don’t think it need determine them completely, but there it is, and I think you Americans must take account of that when you find from all kinds of Englishmen much more reserve on this topic than you’d normally adopt.

Having said that, I find myself in something of a dilemma. I would have thought that any thermonuclear war, if it actually happened, would probably not leave much of the Western values behind. It’s very difficult to see how it can. If there’s going to be a catastrophe so great that it makes previous catastrophes insignificant, then it’s hard to think that there would be anything much left in the way of democratic institutions. And I’ve never been able to see that there is a coherent military strategy for such a war. It seems to me that all the tough, sophisticated, complex thinking has very little relation to what is actually happening in fact. It seems to me to be the intellectual play of people who have not been concerned with military decisions, but are concerned with a kind of academic theory. And yet it’s not easy to see how this country or the Soviet Union can get rid of nuclear weapons at once. I think we might hope that there will be a scaling down. That seems to be possible. It seems to me extremely important that this country should build up conventional weapons in a way that it has—very erroneously in my view—neglected to do since 1945. Both qualitatively and quantitatively this country is hopelessly behind the Soviet Union in that particular field. As to the constant use of this particular nuclear thinking not only as a threat but as a kind of support. to society, my general inclination is that we probably have to damp that down orwe’re simply going to die on our feet.

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Hook: I gather then, Sir Charles, that you are not urging a policy of unilateral disarmament on the part of the West.

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Snow: No, I have never.

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Hook: This mood of thinking in England which you describe, and with which I can sympathize, is shared very widely, by Macmillan as well as Gaitskell. On the basis of it, it’s still possible to elaborate alternative policies.

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Snow: Yes, oh yes. I don’t think it’s an all-or-nothing situation in that kind of way. There are really two different sets of conditions. One is, I think—coming down again to the sort of things military theorists talk about—that between this country and the Soviet Union at the moment there is a relatively stable balance which would not be affected either by the increase or the diminution of nuclear weapons on either side by quite a large factor. I would think that either country during the next decade is going to have enough material to do the other devastating harm.

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Podhoretz: The so-called technological breakthrough that would put somebody far ahead is highly unlikely?

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Snow: That’s highly unlikely. In fact, if you’ve got the stuff and you’ve got any means of delivering it, then technological breakthroughs don’t count. No, I don’t believe in that. What I’m more worried about immediately is the rapid coming into possession of these weapons by large numbers of people. Because that seems to me to alter the dangers of accident, error, and so on quite out of proportion to the number of bombs. The number won’t be very much greater, because the gross number of these weapons is so large in American and Russian hands that the six or eight powers that are going to possess them, or already possess them, won’t alter them appreciably. But they do enormously alter the possibilities of some of these things going off, and I bet—in fact I’ve stated that I’m sure that they will go off, unless we can contain this dispersion. Whether their going off in a particular circumstance is going to start the whole holocaust, of course, is a matter partly of luck. It depends where the chance happened, in what circumstances it happened, in what hands these things were. The optimistic theory is that just as there is a fairly stable locking between this country and the Soviet Union, there will equally be lockings between, say, Israel and Egypt, and what not. That, I confess, I am far less confident about. Secondly, I would have thought that if this country and the Soviet Union go on regardless, increasing their armaments in this particular way, the position which may be stable now is bound to become unstable. I can’t imagine an arms race of that type going on for very long without becoming unstable.

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Hook: Unless there were countervailing considerations, I would agree with you. If one speaks in terms of a long-run building up of weapons, at some critical point it would lead to a denouement; but as Keynes said, in the long run we shall all be dead. But suppose we take into account the possibilities of modifying the trend. There are so many contingencies, as you pointed out, that enter the situation. They depend upon what we do to control tests, and limit the extension of the bomb with respect to the N+1 countries. But I’ve always been puzzled, to be perfectly frank with you, Sir Charles, about the theory of probability you were using in your speech before the AAAS [American Association of Atomic Scientists] when you predicted that there was almost a mathematical certainty that in ten years these things would go off.

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Podhoretz: I think the term used was “statistical certainty,” wasn’t it, Sir Charles?

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Snow: What I was actually prophesying—and I prophesy it here and now again—was that some of these things will go off. I didn’t say that a thermonuclear war need break out, and that is why I was qualifying it here. It depends enormously on the particular way in which this accident happens. For instance, if by some unfortunate chance, a nuclear bomb went off in or over New York this afternoon, I wouldn’t think that would give us much hope of avoiding the worst. We would have to show great prudence and wisdom for that sort of contingency not to bring about the thermonuclear war. And similarly, if by any chance one went off over Moscow, my expectations wouldn’t be very cheerful. But I can imagine that somewhere in the remoter parts of Asia Minor, so to speak, one could go off, by accident or by some mad action, which wouldn’t have decisive results. That, I think, needn’t lead to a nuclear war.

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Morgenthau: It’s not only a matter of accidental nuclear war. Once nuclear weapons have been dispersed to an indefinite number of nations, the very mechanics of mutual deterrence as they exist today, stabilizing within certain limits the international situation, would disappear.

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Snow: I agree.

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Morgenthau: For if tomorrow an atomic bomb exploded in New York, everybody would know whose atomic bomb it was, and the retaliation would be swift and devastating. For this reason we don’t need to worry about an atomic bomb going off tomorrow in New York.

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Snow: Except by chance.

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Morgenthau: Well, that possibility is extremely slim. We don’t need to worry about that. But if you imagine for a moment, as we must, that within five or ten years ten nations have atomic weapons and tension exists between the United States and, let me say, two or three different nations, and an atomic bomb goes off in New York—against whom are you going to retaliate? Are you going to blow up the whole world in order to make sure that the culprit doesn’t escape? Furthermore, you will then have a new refinement of diplomacy, trying to make it appear that the atomic bomb originated from some country other than the one which actually dropped it. You will then have a very interesting new Machiavellian situation, which I suppose you will not survive for long. Before you came in, Sir Charles, I painted a rather glum picture of two different types of absurdity with which we are confronted. I think that the situation will not only be more difficult to handle in diplomatic and military terms but will also be intellectually and morally infinitely more grave than it is now, once the atomic club is wide open and an indefinite number of nations have joined.

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Hook: How can we prevent the extension of nuclear weapons to the N+l countries? Have you any ideas, Mr. Morgenthau, about procedures? In the next ten years if scientific knowledge is dispersed throughout the world, even if the Soviet Union and the United States were to renounce the use of thermonuclear weapons, what’s to prevent some small nation from. . . .

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Morgenthau: You are absolutely right. You see, this is really my main argument against unilateral nuclear disarmament. It may work in a bi-polar nuclear situation. But it is bound not to work when you have a multi-polar situation, when you have five or ten nations, because it doesn’t do the United States any good to renounce for itself the use of atomic weapons, when the nine other nuclear powers don’t renounce such use.

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Hughes: It may be true that it is going to be too late even for a unilateral solution. This is the really nightmarish possibility. But it seems to me, Mr. Morgenthau, that you and Sir Charles, who seem to be occupying the center of this discussion. . . .

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Snow: But not by my wish.

 

1 Sir Charles arrived late and did not take part in the opening stages of the discussion.

2 Rabbi Hoffman is Counselor to Jewish Students at Columbia University.

3 Mr. van den Haag teaches sociology at New York University and the New School for Social Research.

4 Mr. Kraft is a free-lance political journalist.

5 Mr. Abel is a playwright and critic.

6 Mr. Bierstadt is chairman of the department of sociology at New York University.

7 Mr. Silvers is an editor of Harper’s magazine.

8 Mr. Green is an assistant in instruction in Princeton’s government department.

9 Mr. Kristol has been an editor of COMMENTARY, co-editor of Encounter in London, and editor of the Reporter.

10 Mr. Decter is a free-lance writer and researcher who specializes in Soviet affairs.

11 Mr. Brown, a long-time contributor to COMMENTARY, teaches English at the Fieldston School.

12 Mr. Phillips is co-editor of Partisan Review.

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