Space to Be Free

Of course the government-funded space program had dubious goals and was ill-managed, costly, and poorly designed ("Why Did We Go to the Moon?", July). Isn't that inevitable when the government gets involved? But to conclude, as T.A. Heppenheimer apparently does, that because Apollo was a failure manned space flight is a joke, is absurd.

One reason space flight (manned and unmanned) has languished is its appalling cost. But that cost is mostly a contrived one. There are at least three technologies (laser-launch, electromagnetic rail-launch, and ram-jet launch) that would be vastly cheaper than the current one-shot, throw-away-rocket technique. It is the cozy monopoly created by NASA, the Defense Department, and the defense industry that is preventing the development of these alternative approaches.

Heppenheimer's claim that manned space flight is and will always be utterly useless and an example of hubris shows a pathetic lack of vision. Freedom (economic and political) is not the inevitable state of mankind. It is, in fact, terribly fragile. Our current situation, characterized by decreasing resources and an increasing population, is clearly tending toward more and more regulations, less and less liberty, and an ever-growing state. The only solution to this trend that seems at all possible is space travel. Only the exploration, exploitation, and colonization of space (the "science fiction" concepts sneered at by Heppenheimer) can provide the physical and mental vistas that freedom needs.

Steven Johnson
Renton, WA

In Defense of the Boss

Stephen Chapman, in his review of The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition by Athan G. Theoharis and John Stuart Cox ("Man Most Feared," July), brings a carload of ignorance, distortion, and falsehood to his task.

It would take more space than a letter to the editor allows to take up all the errors and distortions in Chapman's review and in his quotation from the book. But for starters: "Trampling on constitutional freedoms is the consistent theme of [Hoover's] service in government," Chapman writes. Perhaps he was in knee pants when Morris Ernst, who devoted his legal career to the defense of human rights and was the guru of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote his cogent and dramatic article analyzing the record of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI on constitutional freedoms. In that article, which appeared at the height of liberal and left-wing criticism of the bureau, he demonstrated conclusively that the allegations so maliciously tossed about were simply hogwash—and that in fact Hoover and the FBI had an exemplary record.

Does Chapman know that J. Edgar Hoover was the only federal official who opposed throwing Japanese-Americans into concentration camps after Pearl Harbor—or that the champion of this blot on FDR's record was none other than that sterling liberal, then–Attomey General Earl Warren of California? It took courage in those hysterical times to oppose this emulation of Nazism, but Hoover had it. As to the Palmer raids—Chapman & Co. might do a little research on them and on Hoover's role.

Chapman also perpetuates malicious error when he writes that "Hoover also got approval to compile a list of people who might warrant 'custodial detention'" during World War II. For the information of Chapman and your readers, this was not during World War II but during the early 1950s—and Hoover did not get "approval" but was ordered to prepare such a list by the Congress of the United States in legislation introduced by Sen. Hubert Horatio Humphrey.

Hoover, moreover, opposed bugging Martin Luther King, Jr., but was ordered to do so by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Hoover was astute enough to insist on a signed order from Bobby Kennedy—an order produced and published when efforts were made by Bobby and the likes of Stephen Chapman to place the blame on Hoover.

Chapman quotes the authors of this fictional account of Hoover's life: "Beginning in 1941, virtually every American radical group active in the 1940s and thereafter was the target of an FBI tap, bug, or both." Would Chapman care to make a large bet that he cannot document this statement? If so, he's got a taker. And it may be of interest that the FBI did not begin its infiltration of the Communist Party until it was ordered to do so by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was, Chapman should be informed, the president of the United States.

As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., once admitted, it is easy to write "history" about people who are no longer around to defend themselves. A publication like REASON should bear this in mind when it assigns a book to so error-prone a reviewer.

Ralph de Toledano
Washington, DC

Mr. de Toledano is the author of J. Edgar Hoover: The Man in His Time. —Eds.

Mr. Chapman replies: I can't be the only person grateful to Ralph de Toledano for clearing up the lingering mystery over the identity of Franklin D. Roosevelt. I'm also pleased to report that I am innocent of his most damaging accusation: I wasn't in knee pants when Morris Ernst's article was published, because it appeared before I was born. On his other points, de Toledano is equally well informed.

Does he deny that Hoover drew up a list of people for possible custodial detention during World War II? The program continued into the 1950s, but it began in June 1940 when Hoover sent a memo to Attorney General Robert Jackson raising the idea of "a suspect list of individuals whose arrest might be considered necessary in the event the United States becomes involved in war." Theoharis and Cox provide copious documentation, which de Toledano is welcome to refute if he can.

He puts all the blame on Robert Kennedy for the electronic surveillance of Martin Luther King, Jr. While I hate to be accused of excessive generosity to any member of the Kennedy family, Hoover's own assistant director for domestic intelligence, William Sullivan, said later that the impetus for the bugging came from Hoover and that Kennedy agreed only after years of lobbying by the director.

I have not personally inspected the list of the thousands of radical groups tapped and bugged by the agency, which Theoharis and Cox got with a Freedom of Information request. If de Toledano has, maybe he can provide an even longer list of radical groups that were not subjected to FBI surveillance.

It's true, as de Toledano notes, that Morris Ernst was both a defender of Hoover and, as the general counsel and a member of the national board of the ACLU, a civil libertarian of some renown. It was discovered only after his death, and Hoover's, that he was also a secret informant for the FBI for 22 years. That fact is only one of many that de Toledano has heroically managed to overlook.

Beyond Damned Lies

James D. Wright's analysis of the Seattle-Vancouver handgun study ("Guns and Sputter," July) was superb, and I concur fully with his final diagnosis: "polemics masquerading as serious research." As Professor Wright unequivocally demonstrated, the study design was so methodologically flawed as to make the report and its stated conclusions a parody of scientific investigation. The fact that "research" of this ineptitude appeared in one of America's most prestigious medical journals has implications that I shudder to contemplate.

None of these things concerns me nearly as much, however, as the amount of uncritical attention this advocacy piece has received in the popular media, and how little attention has been given to individuals, such as Professor Wright, whose serious, competent analysis has led them away from the gun control bandwagon. During course work in epidemiology and research design I conducted several reviews of the medical literature on the relationships between firearm ownership and homicide rates. Answer: There doesn't appear to be one. The real problem, however, is that the voting public will never hear that side of the story. Unless, of course, we can get every voter to read REASON.

Robert J. Stepp, M.D., M.P.H.
Grissom Air Force Base, IN

James D. Wright's article pointed out some of the statistical and semantic traps set for the unwary in a report on gun ownership published by The New England Journal of Medicine. Another semantic gem from the journal is the much-quoted statement that "guns are 43 times more likely to be used in a murder, an accidental death, or a suicide than to kill an intruder."

The key to this one is the word kill. In real life the mere presence of a firearm in honest hands prevents crime in many instances without a shot being fired. But usually only bloodshed and pain make the news; only injury and death become statistics. People don't call the police or the news media to boast of having run off a burglar or potential rapist, for fear of inviting unwelcome attention.

Tom Burckhalter
Lake Bluff, IL

A Monopoly on Villainy?

David Henderson's law ("Henderson's Law of Heroic Movies," July) may hold, so that every antibusiness movie has a libertarian premise—the people in business who are bad were crooked to begin with. Yet too much of popular drama fingers only people in business as bad guys. How often are TV newscasters, environmentalists, novelists, editorial writers, philosophy professors, athletes, or artists the villains in contemporary drama? Hundreds of shows put the smoking gun in the hands of some corporate executive.

There's nothing wrong with nailing business people gone bad. But it is perverse to spare all other professions and make it seem that commerce has a monopoly on vice. I yearn for the flick that finds some social worker squandering money or a Federal Trade Commission bureaucrat taking it on the chin for restraining trade too much, while the heroic business professional wins and makes a good profit. (Even in Tucker, it appears only fat cats go to Washington for favors, never university deans.)

And I am still awaiting the segment of "60 Minutes" in which Mike Wallace marches into a college classroom and confronts the tenured professor with the evidence, garnered by CBS News plants taking the course, righteously asking the question, "Haven't you been teaching this course from notes that are 20 years out of date?" I doubt I will ever see him turn to an artist with the question, "Have you not been plagiarizing your music from a little-known Danish composer?" To paraphrase Ayn Rand, people in business are still a persecuted minority—that's why the Jews and the kulaks got it; let's not kid ourselves. We have a long way to go before commerce gains morally legitimate standing in Western culture.

Tibor R. Machan
Auburn, AL

Professor Machan is the author of Commerce and Morality. —Eds.