Cold Warrior on Ice

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Paul Nitze, adviser to eight presidents and one of the architects of the Cold War, has died at the age of 97. As the Wash Post writes,

In 1950, he wrote NSC 68, the official National Security Council blueprint for American strategy in the Cold War, which called for "a rapid and sustained buildup of the political, economic and military strength of the free world" to combat the power of the Soviet Union. Nitze, then chief of policy planning at the State Department, wrote that such an unprecedented peacetime mobilization was required "to wrest the initiative from the Soviet Union [and] confront it with convincing evidence of the determination and ability of the free world to frustrate the Kremlin design of a world dominated by its will."

In the 1980s, he played a role in negotiating arms reduction with the Soviets, including his infamous (and unauthorized) "walk in the woods" (later the subject of a prize-winning play of the same name) with Soviet Ambassador Yuli Kvitsinsky.

Whole Post obit here.

Curious tidbit: A Democrat by affiliation, he hated Jimmy Carter and did what he could while out of power to undermine the Man From Plains' foreign policy.

As we're in the thick of something that both John Kerry and Donald Rumsfeld have dubbed a new cold war, it's especially worth ruminating on the Nitze's life. I think the work of Cold War critic Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr.–especially his The Decline of American Liberalism–is particularly relevant, as it offers up one of the most trenchant analyses of the Cold War's effect on Amerian society.

"As part of the struggle against Communism," wrote Ekirch, "the American people were won over to the necessity of military preparedness on a virtual wartime basis….The individual citizen…live[d] in a near-war atmosphere, in which his own aspirations were subordinated to the demands of the state."

That's not an argument against waging the/a cold war–indeed, it may simply elevate post-war anti-Soviet efforts to the level of tragic necessity, even as it opens specific actions up to tough questions. But it's also definitely something worth keeping in mind as the war on terror unfolds.

NEXT: Child Abuse at the WaPost

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  1. “the American people were won over to the necessity of military preparedness on a virtual wartime basis”

    one of the first major steps away from republic and toward tyranny. the american public now, imo, in the aftermath of 60 years of conditioning, is a paranoid delusional mess waiting to be manipulated into dictatorship.

  2. Yes, yes it is, the camps, I see them a’build’n…OH PUH-LEEEZE, when the militia-types say it its goofie, when the Democratic Underground says it its goofie, and it’s goofie here too….

  3. If contempt and mistrust of governments are prerequisites for its recission, we are at least baby-stepping–or preparing to do so–in that direction

    understanding, mr gillespie, that you were disadvantaged by writing this in 1997, would you say the same now?

    i submit that it isn’t cynicism about the ideological purity of government that is the bulwark against tyranny. the romans of the 1st c. bc, i think, we’re appropriately jaded in this way.

    it is the inevitable attempts to resolve such cynicism in the idealistic restoration of such past purity as may be mythologized that ultimately usher in tyranny.

    to the extent that catastrophes befalling the republic galvanize cynical people to desperate ideological action and can be blamed on the weaknesses of what the republic has become, fear becomes the motive to act against the words of the constitution (ironically, in order to ostensibly save the mythologized “spirit” of the constitution, as well as diluted abstract notions like “freedom” and “liberty”).

    caesar and particularly augustus, after all, justified and defined their rulership as a *return* to the old, conservative, mythologized roman values that the later republic had lost (even though it wasn’t and couldn’t be anything of the sort).

    and the people ate that shit up because it’s exactly what people wanted to hear — people are inherently idealistic and primitivist even in the face of evidence, and it puts the locus of control where you can do something to save yourself.

    and THAT’s just what we’re seeing today in the aftermath of 9/11, imo, and what should inform our view of what is happening to our democracy.

    unfortunately, history suggests too few will really think about it to make a difference.

  4. Like it or not, Joe L, after fifty years’ accretion of legislation and executive orders, the legal and administrative infrastructure already exists for dictatorship. And if Congress was ready to rubber-stamp USA Patriot with public acquiescence after 9-11, what do you think the public would tolerate after a mass-casualty dirty bomb or smallpox outbreak?

  5. I would just like to point out that John Kerry would be much worse.

  6. Probably NOT a dictatorship… Sorry to disappoint you and Gaius, Kevin, but I’ve read a bit of US history and basically I think the US is OK… went thru the Civil War and WWII with significant erosions of Civil Liberties,THAT WERE RESTORED AFTER THE WARS. So for you and Gaius to maunder on about impending Fascism in a US that is far freer now than at any time in its history is laughable.

  7. I’m an optimistic anarchic atheist!
    gaius marius is extrapolating historical trends without ackowledging that the rubber of cyber-places like H&R is just beginning to hit the road.

  8. what do you think the public would tolerate after a mass-casualty dirty bomb or smallpox outbreak?

    Probably a whole slew of things. And understandably so. But it’s not as if Patriot hasn’t its share of critics. If Patriot, or parts of Patriot, was indeed a mistake, it’s a mistake that can be rectified with enough public pressure.

    Surely there’s “nothing so permanent as a temporary government program,” but we also live in the age of sunset clauses and (for good or for bad) the ACLU.

    It seems to this rightie/(lowercase “L”)libertarian that wide-eyed claims of pending dictatorship are a bit exaggerated.

  9. … just had another happy thought!
    What if this election is tied up in litigation for years?

  10. It won’t be, Ruthless. Dubya wins by 2% at least AND Congress can chose electors and they can choose a President, too, and have… So, it won’t last years.

  11. Joe L. the Sophist,

    …but I’ve read a bit of US history…

    I seriously doubt that.

    went thru the Civil War and WWII with significant erosions of Civil Liberties,THAT WERE RESTORED AFTER THE WARS.

    Your comments are off-point, because WWII and the Civil War do not share the same characteristics as the Cold War does to the so-called War on Terrorism. In the future use your brain and find appropriate analogies.

  12. the rubber of cyber-places like H&R is just beginning to hit the road.

    lol — oh, yeh, i forgot… 🙂

    poor mr L.

    a US that is far freer now than at any time in its history

    i agree with you. and that is the wellspring of fascism, i’m afraid.

    i suspect you’ve read some history, mr L. i just don’t have reason to think you’ve *understood* much if you can say

    thru the Civil War and WWII with significant erosions of Civil Liberties,THAT WERE RESTORED AFTER THE WARS

  13. What if this election is tied up in litigation for years?

    it’s almost inevitable, isn’t it mr ruthless? when people are filing suits against the executive branch on behalf of marine life, it’s almost inevitable.

  14. What about our liberties lost during the decades long wars on drugs, poverty, income, and now terrorism?

  15. Well Tell me Gaius, are the Japanese still interned, has habeus corpus gone the way of the Dodo Bird?
    Our Freedom will lead to Fascism, or TV or the Adkins Diet? A little more specificity here please?
    So let me get this straight because we are both more free (the basis of our on-coming Fascism) and less free (because we did not restore lsot civil liberites) we are heading towards Fascism?

  16. Well Tell me Gaius, are the Japanese still interned, has habeus corpus gone the way of the Dodo Bird?

    the endurance of habeas corpus does not mean that the american political and legal framework has stood static for two centuries.

    it isn’t as though habeas corpus hasn’t been assailed, either.

    and, fwiw, we’ve recently replaced the japanese with muslims – though i’m sure you wouldn’t admit that.

    So let me get this straight because we are both more free (the basis of our on-coming Fascism) and less free (because we did not restore lsot civil liberites) we are heading towards Fascism?

    this is a complex point, so i won’t expect you to understand it. but the rise of emancipated individualism and the attendant decay in social structures and institutions — what you call “freedom” — has been achieved by allocating to the state many of the tedious duties of a truly free man (things like policing the neighborhood, saving for your retirement and procuring health care in old age). while it allows us — for a time — to feel less inhibited by responsibility, in conceding such responsibility we concede rights (civil liberties) and empower the state over us.

    that is, even as we are made to feel more free, we are in fact less free and simply emancipated — less responsible for ourselves and those around us.

    moreover, when such emancipated individualism has run so far as to become overwhelming and absurd, there will inevitably be a backlash — generated by the people who fear the signs of decay and potential implosion of society under the weight of the irresponsible members of it. these people (while being unacknowledged individualists themselves) will usually hearken back to a mythologigized history and a primitivist “old-time” morality and patriotism that needs to be “restored” (though it never before existed) for the preservation and good of us all — and, with so much as stake, being unbounded individualists themselves, no means of saving the state will be exempted.

    in this way, emancipated individualism sows the seeds of its own demise in tyranny.

    and this, i fear, may be what we’re seeing in the neocons. read this article on michael ledeen that was run just a couple weeks ago (and featured on h&r, i think).

    note ledeen’s intellectual history. note the lessons he draws from machiavelli and d’annunzio. note his aims — which he conflates with the founding fathers intentions, but unfounded (indeed, the opposite) in any history i’ve been able to locate:

    “. . . It is crucial for us to remember that the 18th-century revolutionaries and statesmen who created this country recognized that it is impossible for [democracy] to flourish if it is limited to a small corner of the world. The revolution, in other words, must be exported.”

    sould like iraq and afghanistan?

    ledeen is unfortunately very typical of the neocon ilk — well versed in the mythological nationalism of fascism, machiavellian, and expansionist. these are potential candidates for tyrant.

    i will not be surprised if, in the event of a kerry win, something “happens” between november 2 and january 20 that precludes a peaceful transfer of power. that’s not a prophecy or a conspiracy theory — i’m simply saying, someday, something *will*, and these people in the bush administration are candidates to be bad actors.

  17. I’m with you, Joe L.: heading towards fascism? I mean is freedom the foundation for fascism?

    The whole world is getting freer. I think we can mainly thank the computer.
    It helps us be more efficient at being subversive in the puruit of livelihoods and places of refuge and freedom such as blog sites.
    We have become The Roadrunner, and government is Wile E. Coyote still working with yesterday’s technology: Acme MFG.

  18. gaius marius,
    I agree that the pendulum do swing, but I think it has only BEGUN to swing our way.
    Granted also much is in the eye of the beholder.

    Call me Polly Annarchy

  19. I agree that the pendulum do swing, but I think it has only BEGUN to swing our way.

    you might be right, mr ruthless — historicism is not a science, and where we are in the cycle will always be an endless source of debate. but i think mr carson correctly asked:

    Like it or not, Joe L, after fifty years’ accretion of legislation and executive orders, the legal and administrative infrastructure already exists for dictatorship. And if Congress was ready to rubber-stamp USA Patriot with public acquiescence after 9-11, what do you think the public would tolerate after a mass-casualty dirty bomb or smallpox outbreak?

    we are already conditioned, after decades of training, to accept as de rigeur the kind of adminstration installed by fdr — which was scandalous, a breach with all tradition and moderation, and a manipulation of dire events to co-opt unchallenged power in the executive branch (which it has never relinquished). warmaking authority is now squarely in the president’s hands (“force approval resolutions” are, imo, face-saving efforts by a congress that knows it is powerless to intervene). budgetary authority is increasingly executive, with billions in black-box spending and congressional rubber-stamp approval.

    and, indeed — in a little discussed piece of american history pointed up by niall ferguson in “colossus” — the american people (but for some brilliant politicking by truman) might have installed macarthur in 1951 as something like dictator with a mandate to nuke china. consider it a bullet dodged.

    to be honest, i see this as less of an american trend than a western one. many of the issues in political development we’re confronting today are remarkably similar to those (barely) survived by weakly-traditioned modern nations germany and italy in the 1930s. it’s almost as though our cultural tradition — deeper than those two — simply took some decades longer to unravel in this way. but obviously i’m speculating there.

  20. REALLY we’ve replaced the Japanese with MUSLIMS??? I hadn’t heard, I guess Detroit’s pretty empty now, did we move to Manzana again?

    And though i’m no intellectual I did follow your point on freedom sowing its own seeds of destruction, but guess what that’s a truism. Marxism/Fascism/Scholasticism all sowed their own seeds of destruction, BIG DEAL. I am not convinced that freedom will yield to Fascism, but then as cynical as I am, I am more fundamentally optimistic about people than you I guess.

    Oh yeah something BAD to happen to preclude power transfer… that did it there. You just might as well join the FREEPERS or DU with that S^&*. Yeah ole Dubya Bushitler, he’ll do SOMETHING! Like what??? Shoot the French-looking JFK? Oh I get it, He’ll pop a nuke and then blame the French Muslims and declare martial law… You need to get past that paranoi Gaius.

  21. You need to get past that paranoi Gaius.

    it isn’t paranoia, my friend — it’s an eventual certainty. there has never been a thousand-year-old republic — indeed, the only example that managed as much as 400 years to my knowledge was the city of venice. plato studied republics critically, and the scot historian alexander tytler, after writing his study of the athenians, who is said to have concluded in 1803:

    A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

    The average age of the worlds greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

    From Bondage to spiritual faith;
    From spiritual faith to great courage;
    From courage to liberty;
    From liberty to abundance;
    From abundance to complacency;
    From complacency to apathy;
    From apathy to dependence;
    From dependence back into bondage.

    it’s up to you if you want to deny that this country will die and be forgotten in time.

    At what point would you give up on the “we’re heading into fascism” meme?

    mr jdm, there’s a fundamental problem with my outlook: it is not scientific. historicism is neither experimental nor rigorous. i obviously don’t have a meter for social decay.

    there’s also a timescale problem — even if i’m right, i may not live to see it. there’s also a perception problem — i may be misinterpreting the events of my time.

    but, at the same time, i think few would say that human history does not provide lessons that are currently applicable. and all prior examples of republics of any size have had serious duration problems — and some have exhibited very similar symptoms of decay to what we are experiencing.

    indeed, i present none of this as fact or truth or science. it is my opinion, my philosophy, my outlook. that i haven’t fled the country already says (or i think it says) that i take it all of my thoughts on this subject with that perspective. but i refuse to ignore — simply because i dislike the possibility — that we may indeed be in the dying years of democracy.

    and what it would take to convince me that i am wrong about it all, frankly, being human, i can’t say.

    but, right now, i’d need to see a convincing broad-based step back from the cult of emancipation and personal ambition — and start seeing people (particularly public figures, role models and those in power) believe that limiting, compromising and subordinating themselves for the good of their families and neighbors was not just the virtuous thing but the compelling thing to do. does anyone expect to see that? i don’t.

  22. “…a rapid and sustained buildup of the political, economic and military strength of the free world…”

    Statements like that always make me nervous. Is he saying that government should prime the economic pump by building up a giant Military-Induistrial complex? And what’s to stop said complex from abusing its power? No accusations, mind you, just asking…

  23. Heck Gaius you’d make a good Barrow Wight or one of the Ring Wraiths… I guess I’m not such a Gloomy Gus.
    Oh BTW you never addressed the SOMETHING that would PRECLUDE the transfer of power… You see you’re not just saying SOMEDAY, you’re really saying sometime between 3 Nov. 2004 and 19 January 2005.

  24. You see you’re not just saying SOMEDAY, you’re really saying sometime between 3 Nov. 2004 and 19 January 2005.

    yeah, i’m aware of that — mr L, these events are not deterministic. there is no clockwork that that takes input A and spits out B in an exact time.

    complex systems are chaotic, probabilistic and unpredictable with accuracy. what i would speculate about the end date of the republic is that it is most likely to fall (imo) between approximately 1900 and 2100 (that is, it could have fallen in the past but happened not to). furthermore, when certain circumstances arise — such as a party in power whose description closely fits a potential tyrant, the odds are increased. fdr was one example; macarthur another; nixon another; the neocons another.

    sorry i can’t be more specific. 🙂

  25. Gaius-

    I don’t deny that history has some sobering lessons for republics. But history is better seen as a source of lessons rather than prophecies. One interesting thing about the present is the degree to which more-or-less-freely elected governments have spread around the globe. Democratic republics aren’t just islands; they are trading partners, military allies, vacation spots, sources and recipients of immigration, etc.

    I readily admit that Russia’s experiment with elected government isn’t going as well as, say, Switzerland’s, and that elected government is by no means a sure-fire recipe for freedom. Still, the ever-increasing number of elected governments around the world suggests to me that maybe dictatorship is no longer the inevitable fate of republics. Then again, maybe it just means that the collapse will be all that much worse when it happens. Still, I see reason for hope.

  26. The problem I have with the return to bondage is that it has always in the past been necessary to remain rich by keeping others poor. In the modern world, the wealthier the “masses,” the wealthier the rich. If money is power, and the gap between the rich and the poor just grows larger under the current system, what incentive is there for the powerful to enslave the the public? (Unless you take the view that we are presently enslaved.) It is just not in the interest of the powerful to ruin the public.

  27. It is just not in the interest of the powerful to ruin the public.

    i don’t think, mr jdm, that anyone will set out to ruin anything. even the tyrant will believe he is doing what he must for the good of us all — just as bush sincerely (imo) believes the iraq war had to be fought. many things people do in life are inadvertently counterproductive to their goals.

    a source of lessons rather than prophecies

    i agree, mr thoreau. i don’t mean to give the impression that i’m predicting an immediate and certain future. i’m offering forecast of what is possible — not prophecy of what is certain.

    i’m simply saying that this grand western experiment in democracy will eventually come to an end; that nothing says the end cannot come now; and that some of what is transpiring around us can be convincingly interpreted as consistent with that possibility.

  28. some of what is transpiring around us can be convincingly interpreted as consistent with that possibility.

    Gaius-

    I do admit that there are some aspects of the current situation that worry me. I do admit that Bush is probably the most dangerous US President since FDR, although I think Nixon could give him a run for his money.

    Still, as dangerous as Bush is, I don’t think he’ll be able to march us into fascism. He might weaken a few barriers, but our culture and institutions are (at least for now) too strong to allow a nightmare scenario. And some of the barriers can be reinforced again once he leaves office.

    And in a way, those who say “the sky is falling” are precisely the reason why the sky won’t fall any time soon.

    The biggest question is not whether Bush will bring about fascism (the answer is clearly no), the question is how much time we’ll have to recover before the next onslaught. If Kerry wins in November but the GOP retains control of Congress I think we’ll see another weakening of the Presidency. Indeed, Kerry’s incompetence might even hasten that needed reform. As long as the next FDR or Nixon or W doesn’t come around in 2008 we should be OK.

    On the other hand, if Bush wins re-election then we might need more time to recover, but as long as the next FDR or Nixon or W gives us 20 years of breathing room we will be fine.

    Of course, if Bush is followed by FDR2.0 then we might be in trouble.

  29. Joe L.-

    I don’t think FDR was a tyrant or anything like that. But I say he was dangerous because of his potential. I think that in a different country with weaker institutions and a less freedom-oriented culture he could have become a dictator. Ditto for Bush II. Just look at the way that FDR transformed the gov’t and broke the sacred tradition of not serving more than 2 terms. As for Bush II, his legacy won’t be a transformation of the gov’t like FDR. His danger comes in the realm of civil liberties, foreign policy (I know, we’ll have to agree to disagree there), the power of the Presidency, and the political power he commands via a very loyal base and a (fairly) unified Congressional party.

    The amazing thing about America is that we can survive men who under other circumstances could have become tyrants. The only proviso is that we have always had pauses between our dangerous leaders. FDR was a dangerous leader, but we remained free because we had time to recover before Nixon. Nixon was dangerous, but we remained free because we had time to recover until Bush. Bush is dangerous, but we will remain free unless somebody else comes along right after him to finish the job. Or unless they change the Constitution to allow a third term (which I deem very unlikely).

  30. Well Thoreau obviously I don’t see it that way. You are too apt to see danger where I see greatness. FDR, Bush are like SEALS or Rangers. Do I live in fear of SAELS or Rangers, I could, I guess, I simply respect them… It’s true that they can kill 15 ways with a fountain pen, BUT I trust that they’re not going to. With great ability comes great danger, there’s no denying it. But it also yields great opportunities too. You can’t have the one without the other.

    I don’t fear Bush because, sure I’m GOP, but also because as far as I can see he’s a good man… most of our leaders have been. Freedom, Liberty are socialized and ingrained in our culture I don’t think that FDR or Bush or Lincoln had any desire to extend their administrations into a REGIME or a tyranny.

    And to be honest, I think you are too paranoid about Nixon. Point out where he was likely to have instituted some one-man rule or anything like it? Plus in these cases you ignore the bureaucracy and the military. The US Armed Forces are NOT going to tolerate the imposition of some form of authoritarian governnment, much less the bureaucracy. I’m sorry the US Army and Marine Corps are very REPUBLICAN, but that means only that they like tax cuts, not that they feel the need to launch a putsch…

    I guess I am respectful, civilized fear, of Rangers or FDR’s but I am not fearful of them, realizing that without them the US is much the poorer place.

  31. Gaius,

    I believe the appropriate historical methophor for the long-term impact of 9/11 on our nation’s republican values will be (or could be) Hannibal’s victory at Canae, including the slaughter of 50 sitting Senators.

    It convinced the Romans of the need to project force into the less civilized nations that could threaten them, in order to pacify them. The major difference being, the Romans’ descent into empire took a couple centuries, while things happen much faster these days.

  32. Joe L. the Sophist,

    The US Armed Forces are NOT going to tolerate the imposition of some form of authoritarian governnment, much less the bureaucracy.

    How do you know that with any certitude? To be blunt, you don’t.

    …I don’t think that FDR or Bush or Lincoln had any desire to extend their administrations into a REGIME…

    Do learn the definition of the term “regime.” All it refers to is the governing authority of a state. Also, would you stop butchering the English language?

  33. I don’t think FDR was a tyrant or anything like that. But I say he was dangerous because of his potential.

    precisely. this is a probability game! since the rise of demagoguery in the west as a response to plebiscitarianism, all that needs be done is to wait. if we pull the trigger often enough, the loaded chamber will come around.

    we can all sit around and praise ourselves about the strength of our institutions and all that — i assure you, the athenians and the romans did the same, even though their (and now our) institutions had degraded markedly. that does not reassure me. we make too much of glorifying our virtuous past (so typically determinist) while we discount the blessed role of chance in our run at the top.

    mr thoreau, i thoroughly respect your intelligence, but i must point out that

    The amazing thing about America is that we can survive men who under other circumstances could have become tyrants.

    may also simply be (imo, probably is) the result of good luck. we could easily be a dictatorship by now; we’ve certainly been primed for it, culturally.

  34. I believe the appropriate historical methophor for the long-term impact of 9/11 on our nation’s republican values will be (or could be) Hannibal’s victory at Canae, including the slaughter of 50 sitting Senators.

    mr joe, i think close-parallel drawing is probably more entertaining than meaningful — but it IS entertaining! 🙂

    i think america’s punic period is probably more closely analogous to 1941-1989. this was the series of conflicts that truly was seen to jeopardize the state and galvanized rome to a mentality of permanent “defensive” warfare. i sometimes think of mccarthy as cato, saying “moscow delenda est”.

    i rather think of 9/11 and terrorism generally as pompey’s pirates — rome essentially unthreatened from abroad, the institutions of the aristocratic senate already weakened by the rise of populares, the paranoid mentality in place at all levels, fear rife among a people politically empowered with demagogues their heroes.

    the ill-advised and unprecedented commission given pompey to counter that modest threat showed the advanced absence of sensible moderation under popular pressure and fear. from that position, really, a more ambitious man than pompey could easily have taken over. and it wasn’t long before someone did.

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