While you’re squaring away your time management arrangements for the new fall semester and booting up for your next post, I’ll take this opportunity to address another topic sidelined a while back. Since its subject is nuclear weapons — and Ballistic Kim has just caused an 6.2 earthquake both geological and geopolitical — the topic of American responsibility for nuclear proliferation is even more timely now than it was a few weeks ago.
The following is a list of nations commonly known — or internationally acknowledged — to possess nuclear weapons, and a consideration of what accountability, if any, the United States should be held to for such nuclear proliferation.
* The United States.— Of course, we’re the good guys in this action movie. I mean TV show. I mean morality play. Actually, I don’t know what I mean in metaphors that are discreet. And since, according to Nietzsche, all big-picture knowledge of the universe — the world on the big screen — is metaphorical, that’s a problem. And philosophers are polite. Wisdom must accommodate both humanity and the universe. On the other hand, since we Americans are cast and scripted as the good guys, our possession of nuclear weapons isn’t a problem, not even that we got them first. We’re supposed to be first in every moral story!
* England — Since England is an ally of ours, England’s possession of nukes isn’t a problem. Instead, it’s an advantage. Besides, we worked with England on the invention of these weapons — before we Americans became estranged through ambition, and balked a bit on information sharing. Whereupon England went off and had an atomic life of its own.
* France — Since France isn’t an enemy — or, for that matter, much of an ally, either — and since France is west of Germany and east of Russia, its possession of nuclear weapons is generally advantageous to America as well as to NATO. Besides, we couldn’t have prevented such a technologically advanced country from developing nuclear weapons. Once the physics of fission explosives was confirmed, the engineering of atomic bombs was within the capabilities and resources of any substantial nation state. Any Anglo attempt to dissuade France from nuking up would have only induced De Gaulle to be even more person-peevish and nation-proud: Grand avec France!
* Israel — How Israel acquired nuclear weapons is something of a mystery because it’s something of a tolerated secret. Israel might have gotten its core material from South Africa, or Israel may have “stolen” some “missing” material from the United States. The United States could have prevented Israel from having such weapons had it the political will to do so. But it didn’t. Regardless, Israel is an ally of America, except when Israel sinks an occasional warship of ours for which we morally indemnify Israel.
* South Africa — Whether South Africa ever built nuclear weapons is almost in the same epistemological category as the existence of Area 51 aliens. And that’s even after Nobel laureates have cogitated on possible South Atlantic test blasts. But even if South Africa did once develop nukes, it was of little geopolitical concern to us. And supposedly South Africa later destroyed any nuclear components, equipment, machinery, plans, and everything else it might have possessed. Or thereabouts.
* USSR/Russia — Our only defense against a large technologically advanced and socially retarded country like Russia from developing nuclear weapons would have been to slow their speed of acquisition through espionage — as with Fuchs and Hall, who stole our designs, and the Rosenbergs, who played post office. But once acquired, a pre-emptive nuclear strike, as urged by LeMay, would have only obviated the established geopolitical use of such bothersome weapons: which is never to use them, but always to threaten their use. In other words, peace is the prepared and ready absence of war. Happiness has always been that way. The state of nature on a sweet and sunny cloud-fluffy afternoon is pleasant with sunscreen, bug repellant, and a cancer-preventing hat on. The state of nature, human and otherwise, is always in a state of nature. You might not notice it. But that’s because human consciousness is spiritually fit for nature in the same way our skeletons prevent us from feeling the crush of the earth’s massive gravitational attraction. If you doubt this, stay in outer space for a decade, then return to earth and go for a hike. Or go pet a cute little bear cub the next time you’re in the woods. “Oh the dear little thing! I think he’s lost and hungry! Auhhh!” Or keep a grown chimp at home as a pet. Meanwhile, the wise need not be advised against the false extrapolations of urban naiveté. In contrast to natural animals, cats and dogs aren’t critters. They’re partly human. That’s why they can be house guests, and even members of the family. Goldfish, lizards, turtles, and lions never achieve that status.
* The Ex-Soviet Republics — The United States led a crash program of de-nuclearizing the weapons-inheriting ex-republics of the disintegrated Soviet Union. This cash-expensive and politically cheap program was apparently well implemented with little or no failure.
* India — Whether we could have prevented India from developing nuclear weapons is mooted by our political indifference to — or our advantage in — India’s possession of them. India is no threat to the United States by interest, proximity, or hostility. But India shares a disputed border with China. China is an enemy of ours. Therefore, India is no nuclear foe of America.
* Pakistan — Pakistan’s nuclear situation is the same as India’s with the exception of the shared border with China. Pakistan was once a costly ally of ours which served to counter-balance India. India performed the same service for the USSR during the Cold War. Pakistan is a country far away from America. But, unlike Chamberlain’s Czechoslovakia, we know where it is. Meanwhile, its nuclear weapons program is clearly meant to be a local military counter to its neighboring enemy, India. May the geotheology of their divinities defend and protect them. And may they flourish in the love of their mutual religious loathing.
* Iran — Whatever ways in which any nascent Iraqi nuclear program was effectively stopped — such as with the 1981 reactor strike, and all UN sanctions and inspections, threatened or actual — the same hasn’t occurred with Iran. Or was there a mystery reactor attack a few years back? I’m fascinated to read about the thousands of centrifuges reportedly whirling away in Iran as they generate fissile material. During the Manhattan Project, the centrifuge method was developed only as the last chance fallback. A centrifuge separates and accumulates fissile isotopes one atom at a time. That’s slow! But the spread of affordable sophisticated precision technology isn’t. Meanwhile, given the proximity of Iran to Russia and Russia’s Islamic concerns, Iran should be Russia’s business first. Second, it should be Europe’s. Or should I say NATO’s? Therefore it’s America’s. Meanwhile, Europe has been applying to history for retirement as a pensioner. “And to whom do you wish to assign your death benefits?”
* North Korea — Let’s stipulate the existence of ongoing deficiencies in the international management of Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Such a chancre regime should never have such weapons, no more than Attila or Genghis should. Therefore, America is undoubtedly at fault. This is not only because of America’s size and stature in world affairs. It’s also due to America’s particular relationship with the two Koreas going back to the formation of these conjoined twins, and to the war that has never ended with a treaty. Indeed, we still have a large military presence on the peninsula. And Kim the Cute has abnegated the armistice.
As for fault-apportionment in the North Korean situation, I’ll address that matter only in a general fashion. After all, as both citizens and specialists, broad knowledge is what you and I do as philosophers. I have no inside scoop on Congressional closed-door sessions. Nor do I make any pretense of having any such savvy knowledge. On the contrary, I don’t even wish to know such detailed secrets — except for an occasional titillation during my bedtime reading with muffins and milk. Most inside details are soon ephemerally miscible, and their contemplation is a distraction to historical understanding. Even Thucydides says at the beginning of his book, ‘Let me tell you what it’s all about before I get into the details.’
Now let’s philosophically apportion some world blame.
Presidents come and go. Some last for four years, and some eight. Four years for a generational or structural geo-political matter such as the Kim Clan is brief, and eight years isn’t much longer. Reagan, for example, wasn’t even president when the Soviet Union collapsed — despite all the work he’d done for almost a decade assisting and implementing the disintegration of that country. Bush finished the job for him upon promotion to the presidency.
The short tenure of the American executive is the cause of much short-sightedness in American foreign policy. This is especially true of any long problem that’s not yet critical — of any problem that would be messy — of any problem that could be left to the next president. Of course, by then, it might be too late. I was president for two terms of a youth group that in its field had a national reputation. I knew that the organization was internally weakening, and that it needed an energetic reorganization. But I didn’t wish to exert myself. Instead, I put on a good show, which included successful production work in Washington, D.C. Members of the group praised me for my strong leadership. At the end of my two terms, I left behind an organization impaired with internal decay. But my legacy was intact! Right, Bill?
What possible solution might there be to this structural presidential weakness?
An impossible and unrepublican solution would be to have presidents for life. FDR effected that un-Washingtonesque and now outlawed role. He did significant yeoman work for the Republic during the War in his third if not brief fourth act appearance. His first two acts were rather weaker.
In contrast, a possible republican solution would be for Congress — especially the Senate — to be more conscious of — and more responsible for — the foreign relations of the United States. Senators, unlike presidents, can be in office for decades, thereby acquiring significant seniority in experience and knowledge. In comparison with senators, presidents are often tyro-temps in international and military affairs. Senator Sam Nunn on military matters was reputed to be what the Senate can provide in the way of Congressional leadership when it isn’t restricted to term limitations.
Is the Senate or Congress doing this? Apparently not often. They’re generally allowing the executive branch to set the pace, to take the lead, and to craft the agenda. And then the Senate individually and Congress collectively react to it.
Then another four years pass.
And a whole new agenda as likely as not gets crafted.
Here’s a working example of how deleterious this method of Congressional default can be. I’ve just been reading James Bamford’s book, A Pretext for War. Its subject is the national intelligence product that justified the Iraq War under Bush Jr. According to Bamford, Bush had long since decided on war — an unusual American war in that it was pre-emptive and even preventive. Why Bush wanted war need not bother us here. I’ve lectured on that matter in past years. Meanwhile, according to Bamford, the CIA under the direction of the DCI started crafting analyses that fit not the existing facts, but the presidential scenario. On that basis, war was then effectively declared. Notice that Hitler’s lackeys in 1939 did something similar. They staged a massive Polish invasion of Germany in early September. Then Hitler defended the German homeland with a little preventive blitzkrieg. The Assembly — Congress, not the Reichstag — was presented with the shocking facts of Iraqi. “Lions and tigers and NBCs, oh my!” And it signed onto the war. Later — too late — Congress discovered that the facts weren’t facts. Apparently.
If Congress is beholden to the executive for any, most, or even all of the foreign intelligence that can justify war, and Congress has no resources of its own to confirm the executive product, then how could Congress ever possibly know when it’s being bamboozled, hoodwinked, or hornswoggled by the White House?
The alternative to ignorance by default is for the Senate or Congress to establish significant independent intelligence sources of their own.
I could imagine someone now worrying, “But in these economically pinched times, when the US runs a deficit on temporary budgets and midnight debt extensions, how could they afford it!” Right! True! How could the House afford it! After all, the House only pays out every dollar for every intelligence program of the executive branch already. The only exceptions are small matters paid for with profits coming in from deep cover business operations and other off-the-books such sub-GAAT black stuff.
If some American national interests on the international stage are long affairs — they are; and if American presidents are constitutionally restricted to short terms — they are; then, if Congress doesn’t take some pro-active charge of or engage co-participationally in these matters, then Congress has no one to blame but itself when the President makes a patsy of Congress. Meanwhile, if I were Congress, I wouldn’t need to be fooled too many times by the White House — Tonkin Gulfed — to figure out that the independent confirmation of war-justifying intelligence is as prudent as it is praiseworthy and practical. In a word, politic. Anything less in a politician is culpably dumb.
In relationship to this topic, consider that now-famous and fading remark of Steve Bannon who’s already enjoyed his 15 minutes of human immortality. Of course, by definition, 15 minutes can’t constitute immortality or even its briefer version, fame. It can only be a small piece of the incessant publicity blitz which in America constitutes a permanent media hurricane of contemporary awareness. Imagine what the storm-surged insides of most people’s minds must look like! Meanwhile, the 15-minutes remark is Andy Warhol’s, of course. Warhol was an advertising man. Thus we can understand the sincerity of Warhol’s cynicism. And I don’t intend an irony or a paradox here. The crooked sincerity of great frauds is straight. But who wants to jag his soul in cold sludge?
Via several identical versions of the Bannon quote — call it confirmation — I’ve been “informed” by Bannon that in the first 30 minutes of conventional warfare launched by Unconventional Kim, 10 million would die in Seoul. That remark perplexes me. The western Allies in WWII put at least one-half million tons of bombs and shells on Germany proper, and maybe a million tons or more. And yet the number of German civilians killed by such munitions is measured in the hundreds of thousands. Bannon’s figure of deaths — not casualties — could only result from a massive simultaneous area nuclear sneak attack across all of greater Seoul. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Bannon was fired — if only for such exaggerated ignorance.
As for the general gist of Bannon’s remark that the US has no military solution to the North Korean situation, that’s probably true. But what’s new about that typical statesman-like state of affairs? The US never had a military attack solution to the USSR. True, the US tried one briefly in the last year of WWI when America invaded Russia. It was a failure. And it was a failure the Russians with resentment and defensiveness have never forgotten. I wouldn’t! And yet, in the absence of any military solution, despair wasn’t indicated. We impaired and even crippled the USSR with a global blockade and our production potlatch competition. No, it’s always the case that many geopolitical problems lack military solutions. And many problems that do have military solutions are better solved without war — for both the victor and the vanquished.
In your post, you address the topic of nationality with special reference to the avoidance of hyphenated citizens. In our shared empathy on this point with Teddy Roosevelt, we agree that such designations don’t empower citizens with twice their national identity. On the contrary, such designations separate and isolate and thereby diminish citizens in two ways, one public, the other private. In public, they emphasize the nation’s national diversity of origin. This becomes a cause for domestic discontinuity and cultural discord rather than national cohesion and occasional celebration along with a daily enjoyment of a diversity of taste. And in private, such designations internally tear bi-national hyphenates apart over the psychological conflicts and cultural ambiguities of their two national identities.
Such national bivalent human identity didn’t always exist. But it’s not unique. Consider the tension between a national allegiance and an international faith.
In ancient Greece, the religion of the state was the state religion in whatever form the state was legally pleased to specify it. Thus Socrates could be tried and convicted on the capital charge of a state religion violation. Meanwhile, the acclaimed and apparently irresolvable conflict in Sophocles’ Antigone isn’t a state versus interstate religion matter. Rather, Creon ignores the mandates of the state religion because Antigone’s dead brother, Polynices, is being punished for disobedience to the state. His punishment consists of his body being left unburied for the “keen-eyed carrion birds” to consume. The tragic conflict consists of Antigone disregarding the leader of the state, and Creon disregarding the religion of the state. The state is Thebes. The tragic conflict is strictly local. It has no reference to moral universality.
Rome also had no such problems. Rome had its own state-mandated religion. And deviationists — like philosophers — were invited out of Rome, at least, that is, in the earlier centuries. As for recognizable faiths, the religions of Rome’s conquered peoples were tolerated upon minimal formal gestures. The exceptions were the Jews and then the subsequent Christians whose religions were never pantheonized by the Romans because of this formal failure. But then, monotheistic religions, which are deity monopolies, tend to be intolerant, even obnoxiously so.
As you point out, even as recently as Kennedy’s 1960 campaign, Americans were concerned that a Catholic president, upon the command of the Pope, would bend his allegiance to the Vatican rather than stand proud for America.
The schizophrenic condition we’re addressing first arose when Christianity split into Catholic and Protestant sects, and the Protestant nations established exclusive state churches. As a result, England had a number of religious adventures — with such Catholics as James II, and Bloody Mary, and their lesser ilk — because of the state’s concern that Catholic Englishmen wouldn’t owe their allegiance solely to England, but rather to an international creed with a geographical capital and its own crowned king.
A similar concern occurred more recently in the US with reference to international communism and its capital in Moscow and its unanointed monarchs. Were members of the Communist Party really Americans? Were they reliable Americans in imminent emergencies and the innermost recesses of their hearts? Were they Americans answerable to a single national sovereignty? Or were they schizophrenic world-hyphenates treacherously unreliable in their divided souls?
In the new “Afterword” to the 2005 edition of his Pretext, Bamford addresses an even more recent experience — that of the American Dr. Dov S. Zakheim. Until 2004, Zakheim worked for the Pentagon as chief financial officer. When he announced his findings that a joint US-Israeli aircraft project was a complete pork barrel boondoggle waste of taxpayers’ money, Zakheim, despite — or because of — his Orthodox Jewish background, came under attack by various Orthodox leaders, rabbis, institutions. According to Bamford, he was accused of being disloyal to Israel by putting America first. Or, more accurately, perhaps he was disloyal to his globally dispersed religion with its capital in Jerusalem. Indeed, he and his family suffered social ostracism and cultural exile from what had been his family’s religious community and cosmological home.
But now, after that parallel illustration of a bivalent identification torn between nation and religion, what about the true dual-nation hyphenated Americans? What about Americans who go about identifying themselves with two national names: that of their ancestors’ nation and that of America? Irish-American. African-American. French-American. Is that a problem?
There are good reasons for such a dual designation. You’ve just come over. You haven’t fully assimilated. And you wish to justify your cultural clumsiness with the new world as well as your umbilical needs for the old motherland.
This is reasonable. It’s also temporary. To maintain a dual national name beyond an adequate transition and maturation period isn’t to transition, but to fail to transition: to fail to assimilate, and then to use the hyphenation not as temporary aid, but as permanent excuse. Such a usage doesn’t say “I’m new to America and on it working. Be patient, please thank you!” It says, “I’m not assimilating. And I don’t intend to!”
The natural inference to be drawn from this defensively insolent attitude isn’t favorable. The social essence of America is the assimilation of everyone who has ever come here. Even the stalwart original Englishmen soon changed and became something recognizable as Americans: a new nationality type. Travelers to America noticed this early on. And American assimilation is available to everyone. True, it can be slow at times. Just ask my non-Anglo Catholic ancestors, ancestors who left Amiens, France for Quebec City, Quebec: two lovely towns! But eventually everyone is included. The culture eventually opens wide enough to accommodate every accommodating difference. Thus anyone who intentionally resists inclusion has misunderstood the American identity. That means that either they’re contrarian, or they’re incapable. Either explanation is not a solution, but an un-American affectation.
The question now arises: How much allegiance does an American, fully post-hyphenated, owe the sovereign United States?
The answer is simple. A citizen of the US owes the US precisely how much the US merits. And here I’m assuming that the US as a country is performing full well, and therefore fully merits its full share. This isn’t always the case. Maybe ever.
Since the above answer might seem to be an empty formality and therefore a logical frivolity in its lack of content — “What are you doing now?” “Something!” — let’s parameter that answer with what the US doesn’t merit.
First, the United States is a dual sovereignty. Therefore, the United States doesn’t merit the allegiance due the several states. For most people, that concept might sound quaint or even incomprehensible today. But I’m under the impression that Texans think in precisely those terms. They’re citizens of America and of Texas, sometimes even in that order.
Second, the United States doesn’t deserve the allegiance that a person owes himself as the sovereign of himself. I’ve worked this out in The Republic, therefore I won’t repeat myself here. (See Ch. 27: “The Republic of You.”)
Third, the United States doesn’t deserve the allegiance that a person owes his sovereign family. That concept was also introduced and developed in my book. (See Ch. 28: “The Sovereign Family.”)
In other words, neither the absence of a hyphenated sense of national identity, nor the absence of a national-international religion dual identity, or both, eliminates all allegiance problems. On the contrary, with this minimal list of national, state, personal, and family allegiances, there are obviously many possibilities for all sorts of allegiance conflicts. At the mathematically categorical least, there are 25 — if I recall my reckonin’ aright. And that’s in two-sided fights. In three- or four-sided fights, there are even more!
The bad news is the lack of an unequivocal allegiance algorithm.
The good news is the lack of an unequivocal allegiance algorithm.
The bad news results from the absence of and therefore the virtual elimination of a neat, simple, automatic, correct, solitary social response.
The good news results from the elimination of the same totality response. Such responses are the basis of all forms of despotism: political, social, marital, aesthetic, and spiritual. Discord isn’t the enemy of liberty, but its heartbeat. And conflict is the adrenaline. Permanent accord means permanent despotism. That is, if death from oppression or boredom hasn’t gotten there first.
Totalitarianism allegiance was popular in the now liquidated socialist regimes of the 20th century. It isn’t possible in my Republic. And I should like to think it isn’t possible in America, now or ever.
When Thoreau heard that someone was coming out to Walden to do him some good, he’d lock his desk and go hide in the woods for the day.
When I hear someone say, “Why can’t we all agree!” I always hear the complete sentence: “Why can’t we all agree with me!”
And I politely respond, “No thanks!”