Letters

|

Lonely Independents Congratulations on Patrick Cox's thoroughly researched article on the New Hebrides (Sept.). As an evaluation, not of the article, but of its subject, I would like to add two points, corresponding to the two principal villains in the affair.

1. Governments. The US government is on the side of the socialists, promising foreign aid only if Lini's government is in power. "America for Americans" was a worthy American motto in 1776, but "New Hebrides for the New Hebrideans" is apparently anathema to the State Department in 1980. By that criterion the State Department would be on the side of the British in the American Revolution.

Every other government also seems to prefer a statist regime in the New Hebrides. Britain has all along insisted on putting down the rebellion by force and treating the members of the independence movement as traitors to be captured and tried. Britain has been indignant with France for not going ahead with this job fast enough, and France, though aware of a possible Soviet threat in the area, has apparently capitulated, and pulled the same act that Britain did in Zimbabwe: get some government in there, no matter what, and run—après moi le déluge.

Worst of all has been the record of Australia, whose government trained the Papua New Guinea troops that were sent to "protect the integrity of the New Hebrides" on behalf of Lini's government, which could never have suppressed the independence movement unaided. When push comes to shove, not one of them seems to want a free country around. Whether in the long run they can live more comfortably with a communist puppet state remains to be seen.

2. The press. People could put pressure on their governments to correct these insane policies if they knew what was going on. But the world press has consistently misreported the situation. For two weeks in July I was inundated with phone calls from all over (United States, Canada, Britain, Holland, Australia) about the New Hebrides developments. Like a cracked record I kept repeating the same facts, yet almost never was what I said reported correctly, much less completely. A four-hour interview with the London Times resulted in a long and excellent article, which was killed by the Times when it arrived in London.

"Why do you want to take land from the natives?" was a recurring question in interviews, and repeatedly I explained that all land would be owned by the natives but some would be leased to outsiders for commercial and other development at the discretion of the native tribes; yet this important fact was almost never reported. On a taped interview with the BBC the interviewer said, "Are you willing to take responsibility for the loss of life that will occur as the result of your actions?"—not only exaggerating by a thousandfold the possible effects of any action of mine, but exhibiting total ignorance of who, after all, was the aggressor in the affair. It is simply assumed that independence movements (always called "rebellions" by the press), even against governments the people don't want, have to be put down.

If freedom is extinguished in the world and totalitarian governments replace it, a large part of the responsibility must be borne by the world press and the systems of State education that produced it.

John Hospers
Los Angeles, CA

How to Tell the World Patrick Cox's well-done article on Vemarana (Sept.) contains some lessons that those involved in creating new havens of freedom seem yet to learn. One is that freedom is only as secure as the force and arms used to defend it, once established, against proponents of the status quo who would subvert and destroy it.

But a second lesson is that superior communications is vital, not only with the local populace but with the outside world. Of what use is the printed tract to an illiterate public? And of what use is radio or sound systems where there is no electricity?

One needs, first of all, an electric energy source capable of reliable, continuous operation and a steady supply of fuel to that source. One needs an understanding of shortwave radio propagation to recognize that there are certain hours of the day, certain frequencies, minimum power levels, and antenna sizes to reach a given location on earth at a given day of the year. What is optimum for daytime reception in the United States is not, generally, optimum for the next island 200 miles away.

And there is not only the informational broadcast but also tactical communications, best operated as a secure radio system rather than a vulnerable telephone system. Coordinators and leaders of a movement are not very powerful when they can't intercommunicate!…

Above all, it takes weapons to protect it and the will and ability to use them. So the second lesson merges into the first. Libertarian ideas mean little if they cannot be communicated.

R.W. Johnson, P.E.
Ben Lomond, CA

ACLU vs. BBD In your August issue, Donald A. Feder writes, "The ACLU, however, supports the Corporate Democracy Act." As a result of the article, I wrote to the executive director of the ACLU and learned that the ACLU does not support HR 7010. I can forgive Mr. Feder his try at creative journalism but must condemn the sloppy editing which allowed his facts to go unchecked. How much of the rest of the article, nay, of the whole issue, is likewise flawed?

Paul A. Smith
Tucson, AZ

The editors reply: Not much, we trust.

Mr. Feder replies: Mr. Smith is quite correct; the national ACLU did not take a position in support of Big Business Day. However, several individuals active in the ACLU did, including one of Big Business Day's advisors, Stanley Scheinbaum—who is also on the National Advisory Council of the ACLU, a director of the Southern California ACLU, and chairman of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. I should have been more specific by stating that ACLU support came from certain activists, not the organization itself.

Free-Market Nuclear? Adam V. Reed's otherwise excellent article, "Who Caused Three Mile Island?" (Aug.), assumes safe nuclear energy could be developed without the Price-Anderson Act and Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations. It does not, however, question whether economical nuclear power could be developed in a free market where subsidized and protected public utility monopolies could not force ratepayers to pay for what would remain a very expensive capital investment. I believe that in a free market, conservation, cogeneration, and new energy sources would make nuclear power a very unattractive investment.

Carol Moore
New York, NY

The Dam Facts In his article, "Who Caused Three Mile Island?" (Aug.), in a sidebar on page 19, Adam Reed states that "The largest dam break, that of the Van Norman Dam during the San Fernando Valley earthquake of 1971, resulted in no casualties because the reservoir of the dam happened to be empty." Where did he get that? That's not objective reporting. I was there, and I can assure you that the dam was full up to the hilt, the waves were ominous, and the dam itself was cracked, but it never broke. Had it happened, however, considerable catastrophe would've resulted. In fact, anybody who builds a house below a dam in the Los Angeles area is a greater fool than to build a house on top of Mt. St. Helens.

M. Benesh
La Canada, CA

The editors reply: Dr. Reed's source for the statement about the Van Norman Dam was an article by Okrent in Science (Vol. 280, 1980, No. 4442, pp. 372-75). This reference, along with several others,was deleted by the editors in the interest of readability. Perhaps the reader was present for a different earthquake?

Nuclear Insurance Costs I am well aware of REASON's editorial position on the Price-Anderson Act concerning insurance for nuclear power plants—and I agree wholeheartedly with REASON's eminently reasonable proposal to get rid of Price-Anderson and privatize the insurance of nuclear power plants. I have also followed with great interest the lively exchange of letters that have appeared on this subject in REASON. I now wish to offer some further food for thought.

Back in 1975 I had a long interview with Hans A. Bethe, one of the world's most respected scientists, former director of the Theoretical Physics Division at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory from 1943 to 1946—and Nobel laureate (Physics, 1967) for his innumerable contributions to the fields of solid-state physics, cosmic radiation, electron-pair creations, nuclear reactions, etc., etc. (No, Dr. Bethe is not a libertarian. He's been a Democrat ever since he came to the United States from Nazi Germany in 1935. So, bear all the foregoing in mind to keep things in context.)

Here is one of the questions I asked him, and his reply (published in the May 1975 issue of Mining Engineering):

Q. "Dr. Bethe, it has been said that nuclear power wouldn't pay for itself if utilities were forced to pay, say, the cost of accident insurance. How valid is the argument?"

A. "That is one of Mr. Ralph Nader's favorite arguments. Actually, the total annual costs of accident insurance, of a guard force to protect a nuclear plant, and of waste disposal, would be about 1% of the revenues of a $100-million/yr utility company. Let's look at the probable costs of accident insurance, for example.

"Assuming there are 100 nuclear power plants in operation, if a bad nuclear accident occurs at any of these plants—an event whose probability, as calculated by sixty nuclear scientists headed by Prof. Norman Rasmussen of MIT, is one in 1000 years—the estimated property damage might be $4 billion. Being a pessimist, I'll raise that number to $10 billion. Obviously it would be impossible to get private insurance to cover a $10-billion property damage accident. Government would have to be the insurer. Well, if you average that $10 billion over 100,000 years for the 100 utilities involved, you get $10 million per year—which, though substantial, is not outrageous: the utilities could certainly be asked to pay to the government a $10-million annual insurance premium. It would amount to about 0.1% of their estimated total annual revenues."

Eugene Guccione
Editor, Coal Mining & Processing
Chicago, IL

Natural Allies? REASON's editorial judgment on the "Moral Majority" (Sept.) may be hasty and ill-advised. These people have been victimized by the State. They have been taxed for projects they consider morally abhorrent. Their children have been corralled into State-operated schools where their most precious values not only are not taught but are rejected and ridiculed. Their enemies have used the power of State to intervene in their daily lives. The wonder is that they didn't start to fight back before this. They have finally concluded that political power is the only way to protect themselves.

But the "Moral Majority" people don't really want power. They simply want to be left alone. Now they are trying to get the "right people" into office, in order to turn the power of the State away from them. But it should be possible to convince them the true solution is to eliminate the power of the State to impose the values of one group on the rest of society.

Joseph P. Martino
Dayton, OH

Legislating Morality There is simply no need to state legitimate criticisms of nonlibertarians in demagogic terms as you did in your editorial "Stamping Out Sin" (Sept.). I think you do a disservice to REASON and to libertarianism by resorting to anti-Christian bigotry in trying to draw a connection between Islamic fundamentalists in Iran who use the State to murder their opposition and the "Moral Majority." Certainly, Jerry Falwell does not advocate the death penalty for drug usage or homosexuality as you implied in the graphic introduction to your editorial.

Rev. Falwell and his followers are receptive to libertarian ideas in the fields of economics and education. Instead of crudely condemning their "crusade," you could have drawn on their libertarian heritage and made some constructive criticisms. While they appreciate the free market and are committed to providing a Christian alternative to public education, they depart from the very principles which they find so attractive in these areas by seeking to use the State to determine other people's lifestyles.

Further, you could have appealed to the Christian doctrine of free will and personal responsibility to make your point. As Immanuel Kant wrote, "ought" only has meaning if people are free to choose. If people are acting moral out of necessity, rather than out of heartfelt conviction, then they are less than morally virtuous.

Forcing people to behave in a prescribed way not only violates an individual's autonomy but is pointless from a Christian viewpoint.…Rev. Falwell's position is closer to the non-Christian belief that morality can be legislated and that man is perfectable.

Christian morality is in concert with, and in fact demands as a necessary condition, individual freedom. Christians who depart from their own teachings should not be slandered but should be thoughtfully reminded of Christian theology and philosophy.

Christopher Graves
Dunwoody,GA

Improbable Book Having read L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach, I wish to dissent from the laudatory reviews of it that have appeared in recent libertarian publications. In general, this book has earned its praise on the basis of its explicit depiction—and support—of libertarianism. This ideological standard of aesthetic value has overlooked the many artistic deficiencies of Smith's story, deficiencies that undermine the overall credibility of the society he depicts.

For one thing, much of the characterization is shallow and derivative. The 136-year-old Lucy is a typical Heinleinian curmudgeon-adventurer, and the rest of the cast are presented to fill out roles, rather than to endure and be changed by their experiences. Win's romance seems to happen offstage, with no cause other than the author's whim. Introduction of various libertarian historical figures in the plot only approaches the level of roman à clef, without actually involving them in the events of the story.

More seriously, the entire fabric of Smith's alternate history is premised on a single historical turning point, whose ramifications extend over 200 years. This concept "totally neglects the fact that historical events are the product of underlying cultural, economic, and military contexts and pressures. Smith would have the reader succumb to a wish-fulfillment fantasy by postulating a world in which the "right" events happened…as though by magic. The resulting alternate history is so contrived as to be incredible.

This leads to the central implausibility of the story: its setting in a utopian society. In utopia (be it libertarian or otherwise), all ills are largely nonexistent. Therefore, it is left up to the villains to provide all the action of the plot, compelling the author to serve up a chase-and-rescue melodrama. There is so little suspense, and so little doubt that the forces of virtue will triumph, that one has the feeling of reading a comic strip instead of a novel.

Overall, we have a world in which libertarianism has prevailed without lifting a finger, and in which the Good Guys can always be expected to beat the Bad Guys. I submit that for libertarians to find pleasure in such a book, they would have to look upon libertarianism as a kind of kindergarten dream, divorced from real experience and bathed in a rosy glow.

It is a shame that libertarians are so ignorant of science fiction. One should compare Smith's novel with the 1953 science fiction classic, Costigan's Needle, by Jerry Sohl. In it, Sohl's characters, about a hundred or so, are thrust into a parallel world through a dimensional gate, naked and defenseless. Faced with the problem of survival, the adventurers undertake to reconstruct the technology and arts of civilization under the social convention of pure laissez-faire individualism. In a surprisingly rapid ascent, they manage to reconstruct everything—including another version of the interdimensional-transporter machine. In a dramatic conclusion, the entire group of individuals elect to remain where they are, rather than return to a world dominated by oppressive government and the frustration of individual creativity. Here, there are no Bad Guys, no utopia, no contrived plotting, no cardboard characters…and yet the story is far more credible and supportive of libertarian ideals than Smith's fairy tale.

Mike Dunn
Federal Way, WA

Advertisement