Problems of Static Defense
Ordinarily I have a great deal of respect for the ideas of Sam Cohen. However, I think the idea he presented in "Wall Against War" (March) has some serious flaws.
If his pipes of radioactive solution are to be of any value, they must be exposed on the surface of the ground. That means they are vulnerable. Enemy artillery attacks will no longer be directed only at towns inside Israel. The pipes themselves will become targets for attack. Every time they are breached, there will be a radioactive spill. Even if the pipes are equipped with automatic shut-off valves every hundred yards or so, some quantity of radioactive solution will be spilled. Repairs cannot begin until the pipes on either side of the breach have been drained and the spill itself has decayed for 6 to 8 half-lives. During this waiting period, an entire pipeline loop will be out of service. Meanwhile, the enemy will have ample time to sight in his artillery on the breach, to be used when the repair crews show up.
Worse yet, if a pipeline loop is breached at two places, the section of pipeline between the breaches will drain and leave a gap in the barrier. An armored column might well punch through that gap before adequate defenses could be mustered.
Dr. Cohen's idea has all the classic problems of a static defense. Once in place it is very difficult to modify, yet the enemy has ample time to study its vulnerabilities and tailor his offensive to them. Even if the specific vulnerabilities I mention were eliminated by clever design, there are certain to be others.
The basic problem with Dr. Cohen's idea is that it is a technical solution to a political problem. The generations-long history of fighting on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean implies that no technical fix can last long enough to do any good. Only a genuine political solution can ultimately solve a political problem.
Joseph P. Martino Sidney, OH
Reason has at last outdone itself in amoral techno-worship with Sam Cohen's "Wall Against War." Despite some perfunctory references to the Palestinians and the need for Israeli concessions, Cohen's proposal for a wall of deadly nuclear radiation around Israel's borders (which borders, exactly?) runs contrary to any consideration of justice based on individual rights. In practice, such a "defense" would enable Israel to continue its policy of stonewalling the Palestinian property-rights issue and pressing for the remainder of Greater Israel. Cohen boasts that his plan would keep "terrorists" out of Israel. Nowhere does he acknowledge that many Palestinians sneaking into Israel hold just title to land there. But they are prohibited from returning.
While the death ray would deter a ground attack against Israel, it would not, contrary to Cohen, preclude Israeli ground attacks against, say, Lebanon. Israel could turn off the juice whenever it wanted to, just as Cohen proposes it do along the Egyptian border.
His description of Israel as "a progressive democracy in the midst of undemocratic Arab neighbors" apparently is the key to Cohen's outlook on the Middle East and, hence, his Wall Against War idea. The view that Israel is the only nation like "us" in the Middle East has been a powerful magnet for support of Israel. But there has been nothing progressive or democratic about Israeli treatment of the Palestinians driven from their land or those on the West Bank and Gaza since 1967. Construction of the wall would serve the Israeli hawks' most malign purposes. American help in building it would reinforce the US government's role as accomplice.
Sheldon L. Richman Springfield, VA
A Device of Repression
Sam Cohen proposes to defend Israel by turning its borders radioactive. This idea is outrageous and dangerous.
Despite Cohen's tedious argument to the contrary, I call the radioactive border a weapon... It's true that the radioactive wall doesn't initiate force. But the "crime" of crossing one of the borders of Israel is too trivial to ethically justify the retaliatory use of force (death within an hour) that would result.