Now the Time Has Come The great nuclear debates have been proceeding feverishly for a decade; in the debate at the University of Texas this spring, the main positions were represented. Yet each of these positions is unsatisfying. In point of desperation, unilateral disarmament seems to be a course that is commensurate to the desperateness of the moral situation. One would not ask of that or any course that it be riskiess, but one must ask for a persuasive rationale; for a showing of how a program is supposed to work. Advocates of unilateral disarmament are inevitably asked that distasteful question. would the United States not be occupied? The case for such disarmament lies mainly in the possibility that, inspired by our example, other nuclear powers would renounce their new-found power over us and join us in disarmament. Yet it is also possible that nations now committed to enmity toward us would not join us, but that, taking us for romantics, they would possess us. This would be a disaster for us as a free nation, but not the unmitigated disaster a nuclear holocaust would be. The one indispensable requirement for the free life is life. Life itself is a moral element. From history we know that liberty can blink out for centuries and then come back, but from common sense we also know that life on earth is not dispensable in the cause of liberty. Tyrannized as a nation, some of us would still have hope and the strength to resist, finding or digging our tunnels and caves in the infinite landscapes of private life, upholding liberty as we could in public life. But after a nuclear holocaust, all that could be hoped for would be the remainder of some life somewhere else; neither we nor Russians could hope for life or liberty of our own, as we would be all or mostly dead. If we could therefore choose between, on one hand, a risk of unmitigated disaster, and, on the other, a risk of mitigated disaster that released us from the risk of unmitigated disaster, we could plausibly choose unilateral disarmament. Yet the risk of unmitigated disaster would continue. Students of disarmament know that, especially because of biological warfare, but also because of the cheapness with 6 The Texas Observer which nuclear weapons can be manufactured, fool-proof disarmament is technically unimaginable. A nation announcing its unilateral disarmament would run into difficulties in being believed which would corrode the possibility of good-faith, responsive disarmament by other nations. If we unilaterally disarmed and then were occupied, the nation that occupied us would have been able to do so only by having kept its weapons of mass annihilation. And is it not these weapons that we wish to haul down from their present domination of world affairs? I do not see that the species would be better situated with the United States tyrannized by a nuclear power or a bloc of such powers and with the possibility still strong get the deadly weapons and thus perpetuate the threat of holocaust. In the spring debate, Dr. John Silber agreed with Roger Shattuck’s analysis of the nuclear crisis, but not with his Proposal for the abandonment of nuclear weapons unilaterally. Silber’s proposal, stripped of the furbelows his brilliant mind knitted for it, was startlingly fierce. He advocated, not more national posturing, rattling of missiles, and suspicion of negotiation, but much more of these. He meant, and said he meant, that the situation is so desperate, the wisest course, really, is the unwisest: so to act out a nationalist fanaticism we do not feel, we convince the communists that we are mad and thus frighten them into sane behavior. Had Silber advanced this in the manner of Swift’s modest proposal, it would have been an amusing way to illustrate the rashness of our present “Sumter mood,” but he was serious. His proposal presupposes a unified national will that is manageable by leaders who are like stage actors in complete mastery of their audience. Yet such provocative behavior as he called for would set off such reactions in the populace, wildly oscillating between sadistic orgasms of ardent frenzy from the right and suicidal extremities of betrayed despair from the left, that national sanity might well become a lost cause. Confronted with the spectacle of Uncle Sam as a batty general, frothing at the mouth, white hair sprouting askew from beneath his tilted top hat, the Russians very likely might lose their grip on their own national sanity, and if, in whatever crisis then occurred, one side or the other struck, that would be all she wrote. Charles Osgood’s formulation of a program of “unilateral initiatives”whereby one side takes a small first step toward reversing the arms race, asking, but not insisting on, a responsive small step from the other sidecontains a hope that these small steps will escalate into substantial steps, and I am certainly in favor of this avenue being explored, as a graduate student, Victor Emanuel, advocated against Roger Shattuck. Yet I was struck by Shattuck’s observation that considering the risks we are now running, risks of universal horror, these small steps are not enough. The bloodthirsty nationalists of the various sidesAmerican, Russian, and Chinese, for examplecannot be expected to accept the evolution of a warless world in forgetful negligence. They are on guard. They understand, at some Dantesque level, what they ! want. RANTING the objections to these three major approaches, unilateral disarmament, a sophisticated formulation of brinkmanship, and gradual reduction of tensions; and granting, too, the insupportable immorality of continuing the arms race as is, what are we to think? Believing that nuclear warmaking is morally unthinkable, we are told that it is, in some other sense, thinkable, and none of the proposals to extricate us from the situation making it likely really satisfy us as ways to avoid it. We should not be surprised that, confronted with a moral crisis that is quantitatively without precedent and indescribable in its urgency, we cannot think our way into any course of action that is clearly more convincing than the objections that can be advanced against it. However, I have come to a modest conclusion I would like to urge in association with an earnest insistence that, though it has certain similarities to pious platitudes, it is entitled to consideration as the very best course we can now follow. Dangers can be reduced by disarmament, but wh en weapons are total weapons, any slip-up in disarmament can be a total slip-up. We now and henceforth will always live in a world in which weapons of mass death can be readily contrived and readily used. In this world, the only real basis for human survival is the moral sense of man. It is a moral crisis that we face, in our selves, in our state, in our nation. and in this world, a crisis that only a relatively sudden biological adaptation
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