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

Amoral Techno-Worship

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.

The wall's inherent liabilities far outweigh its defensive nature. First and foremost, it permanently freezes the arbitrary present borders of the state of Israel.…Second, the proposal makes the earth itself lethal. The radioactive wall, like the death penalty and nuclear weapons, strikes me as a power we should never choose (have chosen?) to give our governments.…2,000-yard-wide lethal zones are not a good legacy to leave to the archaeologists and survivors of tomorrow.

You warn that Israel could use the technology to make captives of its citizens. Every government could. The United Nations would presumably delight in the worldwide deployment of nuclear walls; they would freeze the status quo and make it easier to administer universal government. Instead of Israel, a better first test of this technology springs to mind: Fortify the Berlin Wall. Wouldn't that further the cause of peace?

Of course, Cohen argues for a move from offensive to defensive weaponry, and for the United States to disengage itself from policies that might ignite World War 3. These are excellent points. But they don't justify the nuclear wall, nor do the semantic arguments and technicalities in the article. It is a device of repression whose incidental effects toward peace would be gotten around. It is a direction in which the world should not continue moving.

James Spike
Nashua, NH

Walling Europe

May I be among the many to ask the obvious question: Why not a nuclear wall against war across Europe, too?

Bob Fauvre
Eugene, OR

Mr. Cohen replies: I would like to make two points in response to my critics. First, I suspect that those finding fault with the technical and military aspects of the concept have not seriously pursued the matter in technical and military detail. Certainly, those details were not presented in my article, although I do cover them in a book-length treatment I have written. Were such critics to perform an in-depth analysis, as I have done, and assuming they are qualified to do so, I would be delighted to review their findings. But until they present such findings, I stand by my article.

Second, to those finding moral and political fault with the concept, each of us, of course, has his own opinion on these matters. I have mine, and I would not deign to argue with theirs. However, in my opinion, the greatest moral and political disaster the Middle East can suffer is to go on fighting more Israeli-Arab wars. If the nuclear barrier I have proposed can put an end to this wretched pattern, it seems to me that this would outweigh by far the deficits my critics find.

Finally, there is the question, Why not a nuclear wall against war in Europe, too? When I first came up with the concept (almost 20 years ago) I had NATO defense primarily in mind. However, when I attempted to interest the Defense Department in the concept, the indifference was total: it was nuclear. I'm afraid this attitude still holds for NATO's defense.

The Toll of Tyranny

In your March issue (Letters), Ralph Raico questioned Tibor Machan's figures (cited in his "You Can't Have Marx Without Stalin," Oct.) on the number of people in the Soviet Union who were the victims of the Soviet tyranny. Two recent books, The Time of Stalin by Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko and Stalin's Secret War by Nikolai Tolstoy, have updated earlier figures on this. Ovseyenko's are particularly interesting because he writes from Moscow and has access to files that are inaccessible to outsiders. After a long discussion he concludes (p. 307), "In the civil war, 18 million people died as a result of the fighting, the 1921–22 famine, and the repression. The collectivization of agriculture, 'dekulakization,' and the repression and famine associated with those events cost the lives of 22 million people. In the period 1935–41, 19 million were arrested. The war against Hitler's Germany cost the victors 32 million lives. The repressive operations that were continued during the war and postwar periods (1941–53) took the lives of another 9 million. This adds up to 100 million. Not all those arrested in the repressive campaigns perished, but nearly all."

Solzhenitsyn, who has tried to keep an accurate account both during and after the writing of his monumental three-volume work The Gulag Archipelago, estimates that between 1918 and 1959 the labor camps alone claimed 70 million lives (From under the Rubble, p. 119)—roughly 11 times the number who perished in Hitler's camps. Since Ovseyenko's figures go only to 1953 and Solzhenitsyn's to 1959, neither includes the many deaths that have occurred since then and continue to occur under the Soviet system.

John Hospers
Los Angeles, CA

Undercutting the Communications Czars

I was pleased with Joseph Martino's article on satellite TV broadcasting ("Signal Victory for the First Amendment?" March). It was interesting and informative; however, it left some blank spots. For instance, what authority does the Federal Communications Commission presume to have over satellite broadcasts? Neither the FCC nor the US government owns the ring of space used by geostationary satellites.

What if someone who wishes to put a satellite fails to get permission from the FCC—will NASA not give him space in a launch? (In this case, what about private launch vehicles or vehicles of other countries, such as France, Japan, or the USSR?) And what power would the FCC have to regulate the output from such satellites? (For that matter, Russia would be hard-pressed to regulate or block the signals from broadcast satellites beaming messages to its citizens. The statists there should be very worried over the prospect of losing control over their people's minds.)

It would seem that the FCC's control is more nebulous than even Mr. Martino suggests.

Frank J. Germann
West St. Paul, MN

The Voucher Illusion

Regarding the January article "Who Says Vouchers Wouldn't Work?": My compliments to John McClaughry for covering the topic so well. Vouchers are, indeed, tempting. The freedom of choice the voucher system offers, however, is a dangerous illusion. He who pays the bills calls the shots (the one notable exception being the taxpayer). Even though taxpayers would in effect simply be getting some of their own money back, the government would view it as its money. Experience has taught us that with government money come government strings.

The voucher system in effect will place the government in a position of paying for all education—public and private. The Department of Education, ably assisted by the National Education Association, will then have to set standards for curriculum, teacher certification, and on and on. Indeed, the public will demand it—after all, we can't have taxpayer money squandered on unregulated institutions! The consequence will be a leveling of all schools as they meet government requirements. It doesn't take much imagination to see the end of home schools once the gummy fingers of government invade them as well.

As described by Barbara Morris in her book Tuition Tax Credits: A Responsible Appraisal, in the Dutch system mentioned in your article the government determines the curriculum and controls teacher qualification. Some freedom! I encourage everyone to read Barbara Morris's book. Her clear, precise description of past experience and the natural consequences of tuition tax credits and vouchers is chilling and well-documented.

What we really need is the complete excision of government from our schools. Since that is highly unlikely in the near future, we must be especially guarded and suspicious of measures that offer partial relief.

Sylvia Wirth
Jefferson, OR

Ready to Serve

I'm volunteering for the Committee on Repeal proposed by Laurence Beilenson (Viewpoint, March). If liberty is to be enhanced, we must recognize that the enemy is government by confusion and gobbledygook. The total statutes of any jurisdiction should be readable by an average citizen during a 2,000 hour work year, thereby imposing a limit of 60,000,000 words (because most adults read at about 500 words per minute). Each agency should be required to limit its regulations to 10,000,000 words. I have not made word counts of the existing confusion, but I would estimate that such limits would require repealing about 90 percent.

You arouse more interest by damning legislators for excessive verbosity than by employing anarchist arguments in attacking a statute.

John R. Ewbank
Southampton, PA

Right-On Reviewing

Having just completed Paul Johnson's Modern Times, a sweeping saga of 20th-century statist sin, I went back to the December special book issue of REASON to reread Ralph Raico's review of it and found the review superb. Raico's analysis of Johnson's regrettable philosophical errors, especially his oft-repeated but ill-defended "pitting [of] 'moral absolutism' against 'moral relativism,'" was quite competent. (Mr. Raico might also have mentioned the queer ending to the book, which, in my ignorance, I found wholly inexplicable and inappropriate.)

But now I should really correct Mr. Raico on another matter. In a recent issue of Inquiry Raico denies an assertion that the Economist is the best-edited English-language magazine, declaring humbly that "Inquiry is that." If so, then why did his excellent review appear in REASON magazine?

David M. Brown
Ithaca, NY

Mergers, Markets, And Morals

Tying together January's "In Defense of the Corporate Coup" by Henry G. Manne and February's "The Virtues of the Market" (Trends), we should ask our liberal friends whether they would be so eager to intervene if socially conscious companies sought to "monopolize" the market by acquiring not-so-socially-conscious companies.

Christopher Miller
Lima, OH