Kingdoms of the Blind, by Harold W. Rood, Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 1980, 295 pp., $13.95.
A great chasm separating libertarians from conservatives is the question of foreign policy and national defense. Conservatives perceive a threat from the Soviet Union; so, as much as they may wish to reduce the power and burden of government, this does not apply to the Department of Defense. Many libertarians, on the other hand, while recognizing the totalitarian nature of the USSR, maintain nonetheless that the United States is equally the aggressor in the postwar world. Indeed, many, influenced by "revisionist" history, have come to see the United States as the instigator of the Cold War. (Interestingly, while New Left and Marxist authors such as William Appleman Williams and Gabriel Kolko have been taken to heart by many libertarians, there is little if any notice of Robert Maddox's devastating critique of the revisionists, The New Left and the Origins of the Cold War.)
Since the "State" is the source of most ills, the power of all States, including our own, must be reduced. Since "war is the health of the State," this reduction ought to begin with the defense establishment. These libertarians share with liberals the belief that war can be avoided by eschewing confrontation.
It is fashionable to assert that the Soviet Union will fall of its own weight, primarily because the economic system is near collapse. Such claims are the reason for the timeliness of Harold Rood's disturbing Kingdoms of the Blind, for in it he shows the weakness of such fashionable arguments. Germany was said to be near collapse just before the invasion of Czechoslovakia and again before the Polish excursion. And economic weakness has not prevented the USSR from engaging in the greatest peacetime military expansion in the history of the world.
Rood begins by recounting the "blindness" of the Western democracies to the post-World War I rearmament of Germany. The story he tells is not a new one, but we must be impressed with how the British government so vociferously opposed suggestions that the Germans had any aggressive intent. Such an attitude merely played into the hands of Hitler. Rood quotes a rather forthright statement by the Fuhrer:
The prevailing circumstances have obliged me to speak, for a decade or more, of almost nothing but peace. Only, in fact, by continuously declaring the German desire for peace and Germany's peaceful intention was I able, step by step, to secure freedom for the German people and to provide Germany with the armaments which have, time and time again, always been the essential precondition for any further move.
Less than a month before the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, Prime Minister Chamberlain could write to his sister:
I myself am going about with a lighter heart than I have for many a day. All the information I get seems to point in the direction of peace and I repeat once more I believe we have at last got on top of the dictators. Of course that doesn't mean I want to bully them as they have tried to bully us; on the contrary I think they have had good cause to ask for consideration of their grievances.…
Such naivete is still with us. An American president told us in 1977 that we were over our "inordinate fear of communism"; in 1979 that same president expressed dismay over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. How many times in recent years have Western commentators written optimistically of a liberalization of Soviet attitudes: Czechoslovakia, 1968; SALT II; Poland, 1980?
What should astound us the most about Rood's account of recent Soviet expansion is that Soviet statements and actions are regularly reported in newspapers, just as information about German aggressiveness was available to the citizens of the democracies in the 1930s. Yet newspaper editors consistently deny any aggressive intent on the part of the Soviets. Indeed, we are often confronted by newspaper wire reports of Soviet aggression, while on the editorial page of the same newspaper we are assured of the peaceful intent of the USSR.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of Rood's book is his account of US strategic ignorance. Our strategic situation vis-a-vis the Soviet Union has eroded to an alarming degree in recent years. Rood argues that each successive crisis "has reduced the freedom of action of the West to wage effective war, while increasing the Soviet capacity to do so."
Rood asks us to reevaluate, for example, the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States supposedly won; yet in exchange for the removal of Soviet missiles, the US government agreed not to invade Cuba, in effect ratifying Cuba's status as a forward Soviet base.
What of Soviet promises to keep Cuba free of Soviet offensive weapons? By 1978 Cuba was operating as a full-fledged Soviet base, capable of supporting Komar-class missile boats, Yankee-class nuclear missile submarines, TU 95B long range bombers, and MIG 23s, all capable of delivering nuclear weapons against the United States. Of course, who can forget the celebrated Soviet "combat brigade"? in Cuba no doubt to
According to Rood, the situation in Cuba demonstrates that US policymakers have not considered war a possibility. This conforms to our ignorance or neglect of strategy. What would happen, he asks, in the event of a war elsewhere in the world? Cuba controls the sea routes to the Panama Canal, the Florida Straits, the Windward Passage, the Yucatan Channel, and the Bahama Channel. Soviet and Cuban air and naval forces could severely disrupt the sea lanes to Europe and the Middle East. In order to eliminate the Cuban threat, the United States would be required to divert the entire force now earmarked to reinforce NATO. The essence of strategy, which the Soviets understand while we apparently do not, is "to force one's enemy to defend that which he has no choice but to defend in areas away from the principal theater of war, while one's own forces concentrate to achieve a decision in that theater of war where the outcome of battle will decide the outcome of war."
The lesson of Rood's book, which we ignore at our peril, is that defense policy must be based on a realistic acceptance of the possibility of war. However much we may hope for a peaceful and liberal world, we must be prepared for others' not sharing that vision. "Military policy must fit the requirements for successful strategy and successful strategy does not derive from the notion that war is impossible."
M.T. Owens recently left the Economics Department at the University of Dallas to join the Smith Richardson Foundation as a program officer.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Inordinate Fear?".