Recurring Nightmare

Nothing here implies sympathy for Adolf Hitler, whose monstrous regime was no doubt the most evil of the century, second perhaps only to that of his ally in 1939 (and "ours" in 1945), Joseph Stalin. That said, Thomas Sowell's review of William Shirer's book The Nightmare Years (May) is unfortunately flawed.

It's a flaw he shares with such distinguished historians as Winston Churchill, but in my view is fatal all the same. It can be expressed as a question: Given (as we all do) that the root cause of World War II was the injustice and humiliation handed down to the German people by the "treaty" of Versailles, how could the Western leaders possibly have diminished the probability of war by resisting Hitler's attempts to correct that injustice?

Suppose, as Sowell urges, they had stood firm with decisive military action in, say, the mid-'30s—and put an end to one of Hitler's adventures. Far from reducing enmity, that would have reaffirmed the injustice of Versailles and driven the German electorate even more firmly to support Hitler—or his successor a few years later. It is amazing that, after 50 years, such a hopelessly illogical course can still be commended!

Certainly, the Western leaders could have avoided World War II, and at almost any time up to September 1939. But the needed action would have been very different: to gather and solemnly denounce and repeal the harsh provisions of the 1919 verdict. That would have meant confessing that World War I had been the fault not of Germany alone but of all the statesmen of the combatant nations. It would have meant handing back to the Third Reich all those territories where the people spoke German and expressed a wish to be part of Germany. It would have meant their swallowing their absurd pride and admitting they had been wrong.…

The lesson for today is strong. The root cause of a third world war is that the leaders of two vast powers are locked in global territorial rivalry, each consumed by a mad desire to dominate the world; that neither side is interested in backing off; and that the weapons systems involved have hair triggers that could be tripped by any momentary loss of temper or sanity. This time the price of political pride is not 20 million lives but ten or a hundred times that number. And so far, there is little sign that the lesson of the '30s has even been understood, let alone heeded.…

A.J. Davies
Ridgefield, CT

Mr. Sowell replies: There has never been a time in the history of the world when there were no excuses for war, and no amount of concessions will eliminate such excuses. A.J. Davies's claim seems to be that appeasement in the 1930s did not go far enough, soon enough. But we now know from captured Nazi documents that the Nazi demands were often pretexts and were deliberately raised to new levels when the Western democracies caved in, in hopes of peace.

The role of military deterrence—or its lack—seems to disappear into thin air in Davies's argument. Yet we now know that the German generals' plots against Hitler—both before and during World War II—were based on their assessment of the West's capacity to demolish Germany. Virtually every patch of land on this earth has belonged to somebody other than the present occupants—often to a long list of others. The notion that we can avoid war by returning land or people to their "rightful" sovereigns is childish. Why isn't Mexico invading the United States to take back the southwest? Because there are no "root causes"?

Peace requires power because international relations are power relations—not a seminar or a sermon, but a jungle where the weak and irresolute get eaten. If we haven't learned that from history, we haven't learned anything.

American Aid Is Not Israel's Answer

Having just returned from a visit to Israel, I largely agree with Oded Yinon's analysis (Viewpoint, May) and his prescriptions for economic reform. Many informed Israelis and Americans agree on the necessity to free Israel's economy from the fetters of government control, but the critical question is whether or not the Peres government has the political strength and will to adopt and carry out the necessary reforms. If these reforms are not imposed quickly enough to avoid an economic crisis, many fear a political turn to the right with disastrous implications for Israel's future and ultimately for US support.

In these circumstances, US military and economic aid will play a crucial role, as it has in encouraging mistaken Israeli defense and economic policies in the past. Excessive US aid insulated Israeli governments from the full consequences of an unnecessary military build-up that failed to reflect adequately the strategic advantages of Camp David and led to the costly Lebanon adventure. And without US economic aid, Israel would have had to face up to the necessity for economic reform long before now.

The extra $1.5 billion in economic aid the Reagan administration has now proposed—against its better judgment—in the face of congressional pressures will raise total economic aid for Israel in fiscal years 1985 and 1986 to $3.9 billion. Already the $1.2 billion in grant economic aid provided last fall has "disappeared." So will the rest in the absence of drastic economic reforms. The extra aid may buy some time but it may also relieve the pressure of necessity, without which the Israeli government is not likely to act. I could find no one in Israel who believed they could turn their economy around fast enough to avoid coming back for another extra infusion of US aid. Given our own budget deficits, the American taxpayer's—if not the Israeli lobby's—patience may run out.

Harry J. Shaw
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Washington, DC

From 1967 to 1980, the writer was chief of the International Securities Affairs Branch of the Bureau of the Budget in the Office of Management and Budget. —Eds.

No Drought About It

I was glad to see your editorial on Ethiopia in the May issue ("Death in Ethiopia: Who's to Blame?"), but you omitted a crucial point: namely, that contributing to any relief program calling its intended recipients "drought victims" is immoral.

It is immoral because it sanctions and promotes the shocking, worldwide cover-up of the actual cause of the mass suffering and starvation—the government policies and their underlying ideology—thus enabling those policies to kill more masses of people in the future.

If a charity announced that it were soliciting donations for starving victims of political oppression in Ethiopia, I would consider giving. If an organization announced that it were soliciting funds to help freedom-fighters (if any existed) to overthrow the Ethiopian regime in order to establish a free country, I would consider giving.

But for "drought victims"—not a penny.

Charles Seidel
New York, NY

Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic?

The name of your magazine may be REASON, but you lost sight of it in a couple of places in your editorial on Social Security ("We Must Touch the Untouchable," May).

In the sixth paragraph you point out, correctly, that Social Security is not insurance. But…in 1936 it was presented to the American public with a barrage of propaganda saying that it was indeed insurance. Furthermore, the funds taken in were to be held in a fund separate from the US Treasury, to make a reserve from which your retirement benefits would be paid when the time came. Anyone with a little critical faculty could see immediately that it was not insurance.…

In the next paragraph you say, "Aren't people entitled to the return of an amount equivalent to what they paid in, plus a reasonable rate of return?. . .So let's look at those numbers." Then, you don't look at those numbers at all; you return to the solecism of comparing total dollars paid in over almost five decades to dollars paid out in one year. On top of which you add injury (not merely insult) to injury by not counting the amounts paid in by the employers, equal to the direct tax on the workers.

The two fairest ways to reduce Social Security outgo are to extend the "normal retirement age" to correspond with the increase in life expectancy since 1936, and to increase the reduction in payments for those who elect "early" retirement. Don't forget that increasing the retirement age produces double benefits to the system: not only does it reduce the total amount that a worker takes out, it also keeps him putting in taxes longer.

I would acquiesce in another postponement of the cost-of-living adjustment, provided it is accompanied by a really healthy cut in transfer payments (social programs) so that others besides Social Security recipients help carry the load.

I can see a certain justification for income taxes on one-half of Social Security payments on the grounds that the employers' contributions were not taxed at the source, but only if half of all payments were added into gross income. The present system makes it just another soak-the-"rich" scheme, of which there are already far too many.

H. Orlo Hoadley
Rochester, NY

Mr. Poole replies: Mr. Hoadley is correct in pointing out that employer payments to Social Security should also be counted, since that money is likewise part of the cost of employing someone. But adding in that sum (which doubles the amount paid in) changes only the magnitude of the inequity; instead of receiving 28 times what he has paid in, the recipient now receives 14 times as much. The balance comes from today's workers, who will not receive anything like that when they retire.

I'm glad Mr. Hoadley agrees that this Ponzi scheme must be reformed, but his proposals are merely token steps. Real reform will require replacing the Ponzi scheme with true retirement insurance, as proposed by Peter Ferrara and other analysts.

Hayek on Human Order

Dr. F.A. Hayek's letter (May) provides REASON readers with a wonderful sketch of his major contribution to sociopolitical analysis. It is valuable to have this accessible statement on record so that those not ready to read Hayek's numerous works can have a clear summary of his views by the author himself.

My own conclusions differ somewhat from Hayek's, particularly on the question of how much influence human reflection and deliberation has had on the emergence of institutions within human societies. For example, when Hayek quotes Hume saying that "the rules of morality are not the conclusions of our reason," it is possible that Hume means either that those rules exist independently of any conclusions we may arrive at, or that our reasoning is not what brings these rules to our awareness. The former seems to me dead right, the latter quite doubtful.

Obviously this is not the place to try to resolve these matters. It is worth noting, however, that one area wherein Hayek is probably overstating the lack of influence of reason is in the development of political institutions. Is he saying that no matter what he, for instance, concludes about the nature of political or economic matters, these matters will simply proceed on their way? In short, will he claim that neither he nor anyone can have an impact? I hope he is wrong.

Tibor R. Machan
Senior Editor, REASON

Individual Efforts Can Make a Difference

In his letter (May), Prof. F.A. Hayek tries so hard to discount the effect of individuals (dictators, despots, politicians, etc.) guiding social evolution that he sets up a rather dismal determinism. I wonder what Tom Paine would say to the notion that individuals can't make a difference.

Claiming that individuals, with or without plans and intentions, can't have a profound influence upon the direction of social evolution, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, is surely question begging. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, and Marx can't be so easily dismissed. Neither can Locke, Adam Smith, or Jefferson.

To propose that cooperation will never be the result of a deliberate, creative, intellectual process is not very much more original, humanistic, or inspirational than B.F. Skinner's fatalistic ravings.

Certainly almost all social movement is the result of inertia. But some one usually starts and stops the inertia. This is no less true of turns for the worse, such as the 1,000-year detour from reason precipitated by Jesus, than it is for turns for the better, such as the exponential influence of John Locke.

Chris Brockman
Dryden, MI