Chapter 2 of Speak Truth To Power


"Only he who has measured the dominion of force, and knows how not to respect it, is capable of love and justice." [5]
--Simone Weil

The Basic Assumption of Present Policy

The basic reason for our failure lies in the nature of our present commitment to violence. The basic assumption upon which United States foreign policy rests is that our national interest can best be served by military preparedness against a Soviet threat on the one hand, and by constructive and world-wide economic, political, and social programs on the other. The most common image used to suggest an adequate American policy is that of a wall of military power as a shield against communism, behind which the work of democracy, in raising the level of life and educating the minds of men, can be carried on. Our material strength must provide the basis of security so that men may have a chance to grow and develop.

This is an appealing image, reflecting both our peaceful intentions and our high aspirations, but we believe it is false and illusory. We believe that whatever may have been true in the past, it is now impossible for a great nation to commit itself both to military preparedness and to carrying forward a constructive and positive program of peacemaking. We believe these two aims have become mutually exclusive, and that a willingness to resort to organized mass violence under any circumstances requires a commitment that condemns all other desires and considerations to relative ineffectiveness. We propose first to explain why we believe this to be so, leaving for other chapters the question whether there is any way out of the dilemma thus created.

The rationale for the military, or containment, part of American policy is that the cool, logical, limited use of force to hold Soviet military power in check will provide the United States with the opportunity to employ other methods and resources to deal with the problems that are the causes of communist totalitarianism and its growth in the world. We believe that this conception of a "limited" commitment to power is unrealistic in terms of the requirements of present day military planning. Today war has its own logic, its own direction. No social institution is firmly enough based to contain it. It bends all to its needs. This is the nature of modern war. It is necessarily also the nature of preparation for war.

We suggest that American experience over the past dozen years bears out this conclusion regarding the all-engulfing nature of a commitment to military preparedness. We are not at this point in our discussion challenging the necessity for the commitment itself. We seek only to establish that it is in its nature an open-ended rather than a limited endeavor, and that it has in fact prevented us from moving in those other directions that so many agree are necessary if peace is to be won.

What then has been our experience in applying this limited restraining power? Has it been possible to act rationally and coolly to balance negative military requirements against the need for more positive and far reaching measures necessary to win the peace?

The Impact of Military Requirements on our Military Establishment

Even in a simple military sense the idea of a limited commitment to material power appears unrealistic. For it is in the nature of the situation that the limits to an armaments race are set for us by our enemy and for him by us. Here is a clear illustration of the familiar insight that by arming ourselves we do but arm our enemy. Thus in 1948 we were assured that forty-eight air wings were adequate to contain Soviet power. In July 1952 it was ninety-five; three months later, one hundred twenty-four.. Recent discussion has centered around the goal of one hundred forty-three wings. It is clear that it is not what we possess, but what we fear others possess that sets the limits. Since this is also true for others, the attempt to find security in military power cannot be a matter of "thus far and no farther," but is a road that, once entered, has no end.

We have said that we would "contain" Soviet power. We have in fact tried to contain it. But since this would require a preponderance of force, which it has not been possible to achieve, we have failed. We have succeeded only in diverting large proportions of the economic, political, and psychological energy of both sides to non-productive and inflammatory purposes. Neither history nor our own recent experience supports the hope that the United States can make a limited commitment to military security in a world where power is concentrated in two blocs, both commanding vast resources.

The Impact of Military Requirements on our Democratic Structure

Organization for modern warfare is no longer the problem of the military establishment alone. just as the burden of war itself must now be borne by every citizen as well as by every soldier, so the preparation for war must necessarily be the responsibility of the whole nation. This fact has been brought home to Americans in almost every phase of their lives. The requirements of a military posture in terms of internal security, national unity, and basic values are literally changing the character of American life.

In the first place, preparing ourselves for the eventuality of total war demands that we adopt stringent measures to insure internal security. Traditional American liberties must be sacrificed in the relentless search for subversives in our midst. Where loyalty oaths must be demanded, dissent becomes confused with disloyalty, and orthodoxy is made the badge of patriotism. Individual rights must be submerged in the interest of national security, and we have a wide-spread and irrational hysteria abroad in the land that strikes at the very heart of our democracy. It destroys our trust in one another, and without trust a free society cannot exist.

Nor does this situation reflect only a passing crisis that will largely disappear with the correction of those excesses that have been introduced by political exploitation of the subversion fear. Excesses can be corrected, but the basic threat to individual liberty will remain, for underneath the present hysteria lies a problem that has been widely recognized by responsible leaders and by a great many other Americans. In an age when a single bomb can destroy a city, and where secrecy may be the price of continued national existence, the pervasiveness of the subversion danger is apparent, and many a thoughtful citizen has been forced to accept the necessity of rigid security Precautions. How can our old concepts of individual liberty survive under these circumstances? How indeed can a nation caught up in an atomic arms race find the calm judgment necessary to strike even a reasonable balance between freedom and security?

Secondly, as this suggests, organization for war demands the highest possible degree of national unity. If we are to be ready to act quickly and decisively in any crisis, the nation must be as nearly of one mind as possible. This need has led to the new science of "emotional engineering," the planned development of the mass mind. Though originally a technique employed by totalitarian regimes, it has now been adopted by the democratic West as a necessity of the perilous post-war era. A great nation of one hundred sixty million people, fundamentally anti-war in its values, content with its living standards, and relatively unconcerned with the problems of far-away people, cannot be persuaded to send its young men to fight a war on the other side of the world simply on the grounds that a rational application of power demands it. Something more stirring is needed, something more akin to the "Two Minute Hate" that George Orwell describes in 1984, in which deep fear and moral outrage are combined to induce a kind of mass hysteria. It seems clear to us that our government, acting from the best motives, and in the interests of national security, has consciously tried to build a mass mind in America, a mind outraged by our enemies and convinced of the moral justification of our own position.

This does not suggest that interaction between government agencies and private groups in the process of policy formation has been lacking, but only that once policy is set every instrument of communication is utilized to sell it to the American people. The government has developed a public relations program, and has at its disposal an advertising budget that dwarfs private operations of the same type. It may be argued that this kind of salesmanship is necessary, but it has its price. In the first place, it further inhibits the free interchange of ideas, already undermined by the security program; and in the second, it soon achieves its own momentum and renders impossible the very rational manipulative use of power it was designed to implement. For public opinion once set in motion is not a cool moderating force. Mass media are all too easily utilized by irresponsible individuals or groups to fan the mass emotions that supersede rational analysis. Fear and hatred may be necessary to sustain a nation fighting far-off battles, but they are not emotions that can continue to be controlled. Just how far we have already lost control is suggested by the shocking extent to which the appeal to hatred has become commercially and legislatively profitable in America.

Thirdly, military requirements have caused profound changes in the basic values by which America has lived. We have already noted the impact on individual freedom and on independence of thought. Now we turn to the demands of military preparation in the spiritual realm. There is strong evidence that our traditional American culture does not produce the kind of man best equipped to meet the needs of combat. This was first indicated when military research in World War II uncovered the startling fact that when faced with an enemy target only twelve to twenty-five per cent of American soldiers were pulling their triggers. This discovery has produced drastic changes in the army's training methods.[6]

In World War II combat training, great emphasis was placed on maintaining complete silence, and it was popular to consider the "Banzai" shouts of the Japanese as evidence of his bestial nature. Now, we, too, are building a jabbering, talking Army. Our soldiers no longer occupy single foxholes, but two-man foxholes, and emphasis is placed on finding and developing "father-like" leaders who can command complete dependence and unthinking obedience. All of these steps develop group loyalty, and help submerge those traditional inhibitions and beliefs that might interfere with army duties. Apparently they are proving successful; military men claim that the performance of American troops in Korea showed substantially greater participation averages than the troops of World War II. But this effort to take advantage of mob psychology and create unquestioning loyalty to a leader is not likely to strengthen the spiritual roots of democracy, which require exactly opposite attitudes for their healthy development. We feel little confidence in the counsel of those persons, including clergymen, who suggest that the brute in man can be unleashed in an emergency, and then, when the crisis is past, he will automatically become a civilized being again and exercise full moral self-restraint.

Nor does the spiritual deterioration stop at army training methods. Military leadership recognizes, and rightly, that the making of effective combat soldiers depends in the last analysis on the moral values of the society from which they come. As long as militarism remains alien to our culture, it will be difficult to convert young Americans into front line fighters. Since we must be militarily strong we must take steps to change our social pattern. It is no accident that our government, in conflict with a totalitarian opponent, has found it necessary to set up an independent agency, the Rand Corporation, to study problems of social control. Methods of propaganda, social organization, and control of movement are studied and evaluated by sociologists and psychologists for their usefulness in the stress of war. For the first time in United States history, we have a continuing peacetime draft, as well as unprecedented pressure for permanent universal military training for all eighteen-year-olds. We must build military assumptions into the very warp of our culture. ROTC for high school youngsters must be expanded. Film series-such as "Are You Ready for Service?"[7]-are designed to prepare young people for conscription, and establish military points of view in the minds of thirteen-year-olds. Shall we discover, as Hitler did, that thirteen is also too late, and that we must begin our drilling and shaping with five-year-olds?

All of this suggests the background out of which an Asian visitor was led to sum up his reaction to six months in the United States: while the most powerful feeling in the United States is hatred of the Russian totalitarian system, the most powerful process in the United States is its imitation. Such a reaction may be overstated, but it dramatizes the fact that organization for modern war demands fundamental changes in the values of our society. The organizational, cultural, and spiritual framework of a society prepared to wage modern mass warfare is incompatible with the framework of a society that sustains democratic and human values. War preparation now requires organizing society itself as an army, with information and control wholly in the hands of the wielders of power. Obviously, this is incompatible with democracy. We believe therefore that the commitment to violence inherent in our containment policy can only be carried out at the expense of the very democracy we seek to protect.

The Impact of Military Requirements on our Foreign Policy

If it could be shown that the price that must be paid internally, in terms of vast economic outlays and the sacrifice of democratic principles, would make possible the implementation of constructive foreign policies that attack the causes of conflict, perhaps the sacrifices would be worth making. Unfortunately, the same insatiable demands of military security that dominate the domestic scene operate to inhibit constructive programs in the foreign field. Whatever we may wish to do as a nation, politically, economically, or diplomatically, must inevitably be measured in terms of its impact on national security. We believe therefore that, in the field of foreign policy, an examination of the record over the past ten years will support the conclusion that the effective implementation of constructive, long-range policies is, in fact, impossible as long as military security must also be sought. This we believe to be true in various spheres regardless of how earnestly the American people desire to move toward the positive policies that many have suggested.

1. The impact on political policies. One of the cornerstones of American political philosophy has always been an insistence on the right of people to choose their own governments. In pre-war years we generally supported this right of self-determination, and later set an example for the world in granting independence to the Philippines. This position stems from our revolutionary tradition, and was an important factor in building for the United States a great reservoir of good will among exploited and colonial peoples the world over. They regarded us as their champion, and their friendship gave us a position of strength and a loyalty more potent than any that could be purchased with guns. What has happened to this tradition since military containment became the central plank of our foreign policy?

A case in point is Morocco, whose demands for freedom from France have become more and more insistent in the years since 1945. But this colonial unrest has been met with repression, its leaders have been jailed, and the United Nations has been blocked from any investigation, despite the pleas of Asian and African countries. Through all this discussion and crisis, the United States has stood by, either supporting France or remaining silent. This is not because our government has been unsympathetic to the cause of Moroccan independence, but because we have other commitments which must take precedence. Our first responsibility is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Western European rearmament, and we could not afford to antagonize a key military partner in these enterprises. It may be that France will now move toward a solution of the Moroccan problem, and that the United States will be able to assist, but the fact remains that we have felt powerless to act as long as the French government opposed action. We may have been convinced of the rightness of Moroccan demands, and even of the political wisdom of acceding to them, but we have found it mandatory to sacrifice these considerations on the altar of military necessity

The same situation exists in other areas where men strive for liberation, either from colonial rule or from outworn forms of indigenous tyranny. Our sympathies are still with the oppressed. Most Americans have always wanted independence for the Indo-Chinese, self-determination for African peoples, and liberation of Latin Americans and Asians from the economic bondage in which many millions live. Yet in country after country we find ourselves allied with those forces which stand in the way of the revolutionary changes that are demanded. This is usually not because of selfish economic interests or because we believe in the present ruling powers, but simply because of our belief that the prime danger comes from Soviet military expansion and our reluctant conclusion that we either ally ourselves with those who hold power now, and thus strengthen ourselves militarily, or we sacrifice strategic considerations in allying ourselves with the demand for change. It may be tragic that the United States is coming to be regarded as the guardian of the status quo instead of the champion of the oppressed, but it appears to have no choice. Our commitment to containment requires that the price be paid. Is there any evidence of a limited commitment here? Is there any example of moral or political considerations prevailing on colonial questions except as military considerations permit? In theory, the containment concept allows for it; in practice, it has proved impossible.

Nor are colonial and underdeveloped regions the only areas in which political policy is dictated by military necessity. They are only the most striking, since it is around them that much of the discussion centers concerning the basic requirements of peace. Our German policy, for example, is almost wholly oriented around strategic considerations. Moral and political questions involved in German rearmament, or in reconstituting a united Germany, or in ending military occupation, or in dealing adequately with the refugee problem--all must be subordinated to the military role of West Germany in the containment program. The same thing is true with regard to Japan. Whether the question is one of rearmament, foreign trade, or international labor relations, the American position is determined finally on the basis of military considerations rather than on what seems right for Japan from a total view of the situation. How else can our policy of discouraging Japanese trade with China be interpreted, when it is clear that such trade is of vital importance to a self-sustaining Japan?

American policy toward the United Nations provides a further example of the impact of military requirements in the political arena. The United Nations was originally conceived of as a world forum for the peaceful settlement of disputes, with eventual forces of its own to back its decisions. As the power struggle has developed, the United States has sought to convert it into a collective military instrument for use against the communist bloc of nations. Although undertaken in the name of collective security, the move has been basically dictated by the demands of the power struggle, and too little thought has been given to the impact of United Nations military action on its crucial role of mediation and peaceful settlement. Moreover, the collective security concept has been applied only when it conformed to the demands of national military policy. Korea and Guatemala provide contrasting examples. In the former, collective action was invoked, in the latter it was discouraged, though in both cases aggression had taken place. Similarly, the whole question of United Nations membership has become tangled up in strategic considerations. Entrance applications are weighed more on the basis of their impact on the cold war than their impact on world organization. We are not here questioning the wisdom of particular policies but only pointing to the fact that in the United Nations, as elsewhere, the commitment to a military containment policy overrides other considerations in the formulation of political decisions.

2. The impact on economic policies. Another area in which there is practically unanimous agreement among those who have studied the requirements of peace is in the field of economic policy. Underdeveloped countries must be built up. Trade barriers must be broken down. These are important ways in which poverty, disease, and unemployment can be attacked, and the basic sources of discontent and strife eliminated. But how far have we been able to move toward these goals?

United States participation in UNRRA and its sponsorship of the Marshall Plan provided a fine start, and it is unfortunate that the good effects were in both instances vitiated by the developing demands of the cold war. The international cooperative character of UNRRA, already weakened by a lack of Russian cooperation, was further damaged by the American decision in 1947 to stress bilateral arrangements, while the Marshall Plan came admittedly to be considered by both sides is an anti-communist weapon in the later years of its effective operation. Since the time of these two major recovery efforts, the first test for American economic aid has been whether or not it would strengthen the power position of the United States: Is the prospective recipient prepared to help win a possible war? Need has become a secondary criterion. Even technical assistance, once envisaged as a bold new program to lift the level of life in underdeveloped areas, has become so enmeshed in American military planning that one nation (Burma) rejected aid for fear that it would involve a commitment to American military policy, and others have been troubled by the same implication.

Fully as serious is the generally smaller size of the appropriations that Congress makes available for economic aid and technical assistance. The demands of the military are so great and the pressure against higher taxes so strong, that there are only marginal funds left over for purposes of economic development. Our national leaders frankly admit that until some way can be found to reduce military requirements, large-scale American participation in economic assistance will not be possible. This is to be regretted, of course, but military needs come first, and as long as they are reckoned in the tens of billions, economic assistance will continue to be reckoned in the tens of millions.

The tragedy of this situation is pointed up by the contrast between China and India. Both have recently gone through revolutions, both have new governments, both are determined to develop themselves industrially and raise the living standards of their people. One Is communist, the other democratic, and all Asia watches to see which solves its problems more successfully. China is meeting its problems of primary capital accumulation through the totalitarian methods of communism. India's democratic philosophy rules out this approach, but she looks in vain for substantial outside assistance, and in its absence taxes her own resources to the limit without matching her neighbor's pace. The United States is concerned with the problem, and yet when the Special United Nations Fund for Economic Development (SUNFED) was proposed as a means of meeting this kind of need, the American representative, James D. Zellerbach, explained that we would not be able to support it. "The present obstacle to providing large additional resources for economic development is the heavy defense obligations of the major capital exporting countries. There are simply not the funds available for greatly increased external assistance, until present arms budgets can be significantly reduced . . ."[8] Moreover, whenever adequate direct aid from the United States is suggested, it is ruled out on grounds that neutral India is not a reliable military partner.

The same situation exists in the field of world trade. Our government is well aware of the long-range benefits that would accrue from expanded trade-benefits that have direct bearing on world peace and stability. But again, military considerations intervene, and we are obliged to adopt a rigid policy of barring trade between East and West. Thus at many points where economic steps might be taken to correct the basic conditions that lead to violence, we find ourselves blocked by the military demands of containment.

3. The impact on diplomacy. Post-war diplomacy has become more and more directly related to military power. Negotiation is carried forward not to discover a modus vivendi, but to force acceptance of a position through the demonstration of superior power. Where one party yields, it is only because the concession is forced by either internal or external pressures. Under these conditions, international conferences are too often turned into sounding boards for diplomats speaking for home consumption. As long as a primary requisite of military preparedness is a public convinced of the total depravity of the prospective enemy, and the total values of the stakes, rational attempts at peaceful settlement have small chance of success. Under these conditions, great power conferences become only milestones in the cold war, and even proposals for disarmament are perverted until they become a facade behind which the great powers continue to stockpile armaments. Similarly, though committed to working through the United Nations for peaceful settlement, we find ourselves caught in the web of our own power diplomacy, unable to consider admitting to the forum the very party we must deal with if settlement is to be achieved. We may want to reach peaceful settlement. We may want to remain in touch with the thinking of the other side. But our dominant military and strategic emphasis so colors our attempts at peaceful settlement as to render them futile. This failure is not an accident, nor is it the result of inadequate political or military leadership. Rather it is the logical outcome of the total endeavor necessary for preparedness for modern war.

4. The impact on psychological processes. Even if it were possible, economically, for a nation to support both an expanding military budget and an adequate assistance program, it would be psychologically impossible for the American people to support both. This is not merely because a mounting tax burden and an inflexible diplomatic position require a steadily stimulated attitude of fear or suspicion; it is because, by its very nature, the human will cannot without disaster commit itself at one and the same time to contradictory values and opposed actions. It is psychologically impossible to be devoted at once to the attitudes that alone make possible the destruction of one's fellow men and to the generous and creative relief of their necessities. Man cannot make peace and prepare for war at the same time any more than he can simultaneously support and oppose revolutions. These basic impossibilities have long been recognized in the spiritual realm. Jesus said: "No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other." We believe the words apply also in the present day political realm.

In conclusion, it seems clear to us that we cannot ultimately follow the constructive policies we voice because of the nature of our commitment to violence. Military power is as corrupting to the man who possesses it as it is pitiless to its victims. It is just as devastating to its employer as it is to those who suffer under it.

"Its power of converting a man into a thing is a double one, and its application is double-edged. To the same degree, though in different fashions, those who use it and those who endure it are turned to stone."[5]

We have gone wrong here in America. We close our eyes to the meaning of the subjection of the human spirit to violence. We deceive ourselves even in our practical political judgments.

On the one hand, we want to resolve our difficulties with the Soviet Union peacefully. We want to aid the underprivileged of the world in their demand for a decent standard of life. We want to develop the United Nations as an agency of peaceful settlement and as a nascent center of world law. We want to be free of the burden of an arms race and of the terrible fear of an atomic war. We want to be free to live our lives in a manner befitting our conception of the dignity and worth of individual men.

On the other hand, we want also to find security through our ability to cause pain to others and through the phenomenal development of our nation as a society prepared to wage war.

We cannot do both.

Russell Nelson
Last modified: Tue Oct 3 15:14:33 EDT 2006