Although I agree, in part, with Dr. Beckmann's analysis of "small is beautiful" [October], his endorsement of nuclear energy reminds me of a musical comedy by our beloved Jimmy Durante.
Durante, dressed in shabby clothes, steals an elephant and starts to walk across the stage with the end of a long rope in his hand. As he continues to walk the head of an elephant emerges from the wings. It's not a mask—the body of an elephant is attached to the head. All of a sudden several very excited men, police, surround Durante—they're looking for an elephant. Durante is apparently flabbergasted, although he's holding on to the end of the rope. He stops, looks around blankly, and then, slightly distressed, says, "What elephant?"
Before Beckmann continues to tout nuclear power he ought to look at the elephant on the other end of the rope: the supply of uranium. The reserves that can be extracted up to a cost of $100/lb are insufficient to supply the lifetime requirements of the plants now producing power, or under construction and more than 25 percent complete, assuming a 30-year life for each plant! This elephant cannot be ignored any longer—the slowdown, if not disappearance, of orders for new plants reflects the reality. Maybe in his next article Dr. Beckmann will look at the elephant.
Raphael G. Kazmann, P.E.
Baton Rouge, LA
Petr Beckmann's "Economics As If Some People Mattered" [October] is neither objective nor rational in its appeal. What is worse than his annoying rhetoric is that some of his points are simply wrong. Without defending the books he is attacking, I would like to correct some of his own mistakes.
1. Although Beckmann presents nuclear energy as the golden solution to our energy needs, nuclear energy is neither safe nor economical. Yes, while the reactor is working, if the humans who designed and run it make no mistakes, it can produce cleaner energy than coal or other fuels. But errors have already been made, and the more generators proliferate, the more noticeable such errors will become. More urgently, there is as yet no sure method of disposing of wastes, only a few ideas still being developed and researched. Worse than the problem of disposing of low-level wastes in small quantities from the active plant is the problem of disposing of entire reactors after they have finished producing energy. Wherever wastes are stored, in deposit sites or at the plant, they must be kept safe for many thousands of years. Who is to be responsible for that? Not the energy companies, which will have gone out of business millennia ago.
2. This brings me to the second point: nuclear energy is not cheap. Promoters of nuclear energy have not included in their calculation of costs the enormous costs which continue long after the plant has stopped making any income. Richard Pollock, formerly a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, commented: "The costs of decommissioning and the costs of radioactive waste management will probably be two chief factors that will, in the long run, reveal the poor economics of nuclear power".…
3. Why is the government so eager to encourage nuclear energy? Beckmann suggests that "feudal energy sources" would probably necessitate feudal authoritarianism. But solar energy, including wind, thermal, hydro, etc., is by no means still a feudal technology.…And solar or wind energy even at its most primitive is a decentralized form of energy. Thus it is much less likely to involve authoritarian interventionism than large central nuclear reactors where threats of terrorism (real or imagined) may easily allow government the opportunity to seize emergency powers for the "protection" of its citizens.
4. And this brings me to my fourth point, which is related to the issue of nuclear safety. Why are people afraid of nuclear sabotage and not of sabotage to a dam, which Beckmann points out could be just as effective in causing loss of lives? Chiefly, because the public thinks about nuclear terrorism; therefore it is highly likely that someone will try it. In fact, about 100 threats of violence against nuclear plants were made between 1969 and 1975, so far unsuccessfully. Almost no one thinks of sabotaging a dam, so the chances are smaller that some nut will try to do it. Of course terrorists are not likely to manufacture a bomb from stolen plutonium. But merely by wrapping it with a stick of dynamite, terrorists could disperse plutonium into the air. Breathing one microscopic grain of plutonium is enough to give you lung cancer. Thus terrorism is a real hazard not to be dismissed by saying blithely that terrorists won't make bombs.
5. Solar and hydro energy, even if it never becomes our sole energy source, can supply a significant fraction of our needs.…Even a very small hydro plant producing as little as 5,000 kw can serve the needs of several thousand families. In New England old dams are being bought and made to run again at a profit. Getting the government out of the nuclear energy business might be worthwhile.
Your Bill Birmingham [Brickbats, November] chides Accuracy in Media for having said that Richard Welch, the CIA station chief, was murdered in Athens after his identity was publicized in a rag called CounterSpy. He says that he revealed six months ago that the CIA had lied in blaming CounterSpy, "citing the Congressional testimony of Morton Halperin in late 1977."
I presume that Mr. Birmingham also read the testimony of former CIA Director William Colby, which was published in the same volume. Mr. Colby cited four factors that contributed to Richard Welch's death:
1. He had bad cover in that the administrative arrangements indicated who was in CIA and who wasn't.
2. He accepted the bad cover and lived in the same house as his predecessor, not making any big effort to remain hidden.
3. The hysteria about the CIA in 1975 stimulated a lot of anti-CIA activity around the world.
4. "The fourth reason—and you need to add all four up—was that there were groups who had gone around deliberately identifying individual members of the CIA."
It seems to be the contention of Mr. Birmingham and Mr. Halperin that Mr. Colby's fourth reason is irrelevant because a lot of people knew or could have known Mr. Welch's identity without the publication of his name in CounterSpy and the Greek newspaper. I see two difficulties in that assumption.
First, those who knew Mr. Welch's identity did not necessarily include the entire universe of people who might be motivated to kill him. The publication of his name extended that knowledge within that universe.
Second, the practice of publishing the names of CIA agents that has been instituted by the communists and their friends obviously has some purpose. The people connected with CounterSpy have made it clear that their purpose is to maximize the interference with the functioning of the CIA agents. Of course, the maximum interference with their work is to kill them. Thus the publication of these names could be said to carry with it the suggestion that these are individuals who might appropriately be the targets of assassination. This could stimulate such action even on the part of individuals or groups who, in fact, already knew the identity of the agents.…
Perhaps your readers are not aware of the fact that Mr. Halperin is not exactly a disinterested witness in this matter. Mr. Halperin has associated himself with CounterSpy. His Campaign to Stop Government Spying (CSGS) has taken over the defunct magazine's speakers bureau. Members of the CounterSpy advisory board and its contributors staff Halperin's Center for National Security Studies (CNSS), and former members of the CounterSpy parent organization, Committee for a Fifth Estate, work for the CSGS.
One of the leaders in the move to reveal the identities of CIA personnel is Philip Agee. In January 1977, Halperin went to London to assist Agee, and he announced that he was trying to arrange for a campus speaking tour for this notorious turncoat and communist-apologist. Agee has reciprocated by reprinting a Halperin article on alleged CIA management of the news.
I would suggest that when Mr. Birmingham cites Morton Halperin as the ultimate authority, he might inform his readers about such details of Mr. Halperin's activities and associations so that they might better understand from whence Halperin is coming.
Accuracy in Media
For years, I have followed in silence and anger the paralogistic ramblings of Mr. Birmingham. His October Brickbats, however, has convinced me that while I will continue to remain angry, I will no longer remain silent. Mr. Birmingham gleefully quotes the results of a study released by Congressional Budget Office which stated in effect, that after a massive Soviet first strike against US ICBMs, the US would still have 5,000 surviving warheads, which, if launched, would destroy 80% of Soviet industrial capacity, 90% of Soviet military targets, and kill 25-95 million of the Soviet population. From here, Mr. Birmingham goes on, in his characteristic parlor atheist mentality, to heehaw away any concern about the growing Soviet threat, as well as indulging in snide asides directed at those who argue for a stronger US defense posture. Here, as usual, Mr. Birmingham was attempting to report the facts with a little bit of flair. And, as usual, he did neither.
After a massive Soviet first strike, the US would have 5,000 surviving warheads under two conditions: (1) that prior to or simultaneous with an attack upon US ICBMs, the Soviets did not attempt or if attempting did not succeed in knocking out the C3 Centers (command, control, and communications) which direct and control our nuclear-armed submarines. And (2) that prior to or simultaneous with an attack upon US ICBMs, the Soviets did not attempt or succeed in destroying our nuclear-armed submarines themselves. Even granting the optimal and optimistic outcome of these two questionable assumptions, the surviving US strategic forces would still not deliver the damage attributed to them without generous Soviet assistance. The Soviets would have to make little or no effort to secure and harden their industrial base and willingly leave 130 million city dwellers concentrated and unprotected in their cities. These last assumptions are not only incredible but are contradicted by Soviet word and deed.
Prior to the outbreak of war, the Soviets plan to disperse their population out of the cities. Even if this plan worked poorly, and the people walked only one day and dug simple foxhole-like shelters, the Soviets claim that fatalities would be limited to 8-15 million. A figure the Soviets must find quite acceptable given their own bloodstained record which has claimed the lives of many more. Similar damage-limiting precautions would be instituted to protect machinery and other equipment essential to production which would dramatically reduce damage to the Soviet industrial base. An extensive study done in Washington State has confirmed the reliability and accuracy of these Soviet estimates.…
Would the US even contemplate launching her surviving forces given the likely exchange ratio? A US retaliatory second strike would destroy about 5% of the Soviet population and about 25% of the Soviet industrial base only to be matched by a Soviet follow-on strike that would destroy about 90% of the US industrial base and kill 95-120 million Americans. The alternative facing the US would be simple—suicide or surrender.
This is the present state of US defense capabilities, and they are growing worse. Mr. Birmingham has not only missed the boat—he isn't even on the right pier. He has, however, neatly isolated what is wrong with so much of left libertarian thought.…
On the Defense
This letter is written in response to Bill Birmingham's outlandish statement that I distorted his inane comments vis-à-vis the neutron bomb [October]. Among the minor points contained in my letter [June] was indictment of his contention that (1) the neutron warheads will result in more civilian casualties than conventional weaponry and (2) increased conventional armaments would be less costly than deployment of the neutron bomb. He repeats the same drivel in his rebuttal, so where is the distortion?
The way Birmingham and company see it, battles are fought in isolated arenas where the operative words "precision guided" are substituted for reality, thus "proving"—by word manipulation if not in fact—the superiority of their argument. Unfortunately, tank battles are fought with infantry, artillery, air support, and whatever else can be thrown in. "Precision guided" munitions of the sort Birmingham advocates will not neutralize the infantry, artillery, and air attack that accompany the tanks. The neutron bomb will—in conjunction with other means of defense. So the question is not simply a trade-off between TOW and the "N" bomb. They are really two completely different systems.
And as far as costs go, it should be well understood that only in the hands of exceptionally well qualified professional soldiers does the weaponry he advocates stand a chance—and those missile fire teams must be supported by ancillary combat and combat support forces far more numerous and costly than the fire teams themselves. Furthermore, it is still a military fact of life that a tank is the best conventional defense against other tanks. So when we talk of costs, we better add up the total picture.…
Facts are facts, and obfuscation by clever word manipulation does not change the real world. Anyone who thinks the same defense result can be achieved with conventional substitutes for advanced technology—at less or similar cost—simply hasn't added it all up. And irrespective of the validity of these persons' views on other—less technical matters—they show an immense ignorance of the nature of modern weapons and their use. And more than that, they do a disservice to the libertarian cause by advocating a half-baked policy.
But the issue raised by Bob Poole's editorial [January] and Birmingham's disagreement with it, is far more important than who can write the nastiest letter to the editor. The issue is what kind of defense posture should libertarians advocate. And that issue is separate and apart from libertarian foreign policy. I respectfully submit that a libertarian can consistently advocate a non-interventionist foreign policy (including withdrawal from NATO and so on)—as I do—and also advocate strong defenses irrespective of whether those defense forces are structured in a limited government framework or under the control of private defense agencies or whatever. The question of a strong defense is primarily a technical one. How do we defend in the most cost-effective manner in terms of materiel and personnel and stay loyal to the libertarian ideal? I submit that a libertarian defense force must emphasize technologically advanced materiel and highly skilled professionals to operate that equipment. Libertarians have lost the war before it begins if we attempt to compete on a man-for-man basis using military technology with a high man-to-machine ratio. Hostile totalitarian governments can conscript their entire nation if need be. Libertarian communities cannot conscript anyone. Therefore, we must logically encourage the development and deployment of the most exotic military materiel our creative and dynamic free people can conceive. And that is why the neutron bomb debate is important to libertarians.
Mr. Birmingham is a sour puss and just isn't funny at all. But aside from that he needs to do some work on his conception of the ethics of warfare. In his letter [November] responding to David Friedman, Birmingham, in characteristic formula-libertarianist fashion, states that "Shooting innocent bystanders is plainly the initiation of force." But that is far from true in general.
The example tricky Bill invokes just distorts the picture in his favor. True, in some cases "If a policeman gets into a shootout in a crowded shopping center and kills an innocent bystander he is going to be in big trouble," e.g., when he picks the place for the shootout. But suppose the cop is just shot at and to avoid being killed he must risk the lives of innocent bystanders. Not so simple, huh? In this case the risk was imposed on him—anyone has the right to defend his life and if, when forced to do so, the result is the death of innocent people, it is the aggressor that could well be at fault. Of course, cops, soldiers, and generals should be cautious, but it ain't all that simple, Billy Boy.
(I like REASON despite Birmingham's Brickbats, but writing against is more fun.)
Redwood City, CA
Business for Freedom?
I am writing to express my hearty disagreement with the opinion expressed by Mr. Brownlee in "Seizing the Day" [November]. He seems to believe in the existence of a magic formula for solving all the world's problems. The whole idea sounds similar to the concept of "Scientific Socialism," the only difference being that Big Business replaces the Government as the crusader in shining armor.
Also, recall the fact that over 100 California corporations contributed over $200 to the No on 13 effort when only two California corporations made a similar contribution to the Yes on 13 effort. I do not believe Big Business has changed its character as fast as that; and if it had, its nature must be so volatile (an extremely unlikely possibility) as to render it completely unreliable in the struggle for greater freedom.
Albert K. Heitzmann
San Francisco, CA
Reason [Editorial, December], and even more so Libertarian Review, are too simplistic in their endorsement of homosexual "rights." They seem unaware that they've been conned by a bind. Enforcing these "rights" includes compensatory measures like quotas in education and employment. The Briggs Amendment was a defensive measure against the hysterical ERA-like push for moral and special privilege approval.…
With homosexuals added to the existing quotas for blacks, Mexican-Americans, Indians, the disabled, and women, white heterosexual males have lost their human rights to cannibals demanding their pound of flesh as compensation for nature's indifference to equality. Ancient India freed the Untouchables. Modern cult-ridden California relegates normal white males to that category.
It will be morbidly interesting to see how many opportunistic and traditionless Caucasians adjust to sodomy for economic survival.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".