My Meeting with Mr. X

Here is a story that took place many years ago—about twenty-five, if memory serves me right. I was conversing with a high-up defense official in the Pentagon; since he is still alive, though retired, I shall not call him by name. He and I had known each other for some years, and I knew that normally he was the most tight-lipped of men. As, indeed, his position required him to be.

That day, however, he was feeling unusually expansive. We were discussing something, I can’t remember what. “Martin,” he suddenly said, “Out of about 30,000 persons who work in this building today, I am probably the only one who has actually seen a nuclear weapon exploding.” And, he added, “It is not at all like what you see on TV.”

From this point the story went as follows. In 1955—if memory serves me right—Mr. X, who at that time was a young economist cum mathematician, and a friend of his were invited to witness a one of a series of nuclear tests being conducted by the U.S Army in Nevada. Along with many others, they were told to sit down in the desert, about three miles from ground zero. Wearing goggles, they were ordered to turn their backs to the planned site, close their eyes, and put their faces on their arms and knees. Also, for heaven’s sake not to turn around and look before counting ten from the moment of the explosion—or else, if they did so, they would go blind.

If these arrangements sound primitive, that is because they were. This, after all, was the period when U.S combat aircraft, carrying nukes, were standing at the end of runways in West Germany, ready to take off. With little if anything to prevent them from doing so if, for example, one of the pilots went mad. In Nevada, though, there was no time for ifs and buts. Both men were understandably worried about the possibility that they might turn around too early. But they did as they were told, waiting for the explosion to take place.

It turned out that they need not have worried. Not because the detonation was not powerful, but because it was much more powerful than they had thought. Miles away from ground zero, with their backs turned to it, with their faces on their arms and knees, wearing goggles and with their eyes closed, Mr. X and his friend actually saw it taking place. How was this possible? Because the light, reflected from the rocky soil, was so strong as to go right through all the obstacles that had been put in its way.

“Since then,” he concluded, “I have been walking around with an idea in my head. Let there be assembled, every few years, a gathering of all the world’s heads of government. Bring them to Nevada or to some other suitable site, and make them watch a real-life nuclear test. It might drive the fear of God into their heads.” And, by doing so, contribute to world peace.

“It might indeed,” I countered. “But consider the following. There could be, among all these people, a few who do not see your point. Instead of concluding that nukes are too awful to use, they might just say: ‘How wonderful! I too want a couple of these things. Just in case!’” Whereupon we both laughed.

Why am I telling you this story? Because we now have, in the White House, the wildest, least restrained, president in the whole of American history. One who even many of his supporters think may be more than slightly mad. One who, by some reports, asked why his country should have nuclear weapons if it did not intend to use them. One who has openly threatened to launch an offensive war against another nuclear power. One whose verbal bellicosity seems matched only by his ignorance of the consequences that could follow if he carried out his threats. Not just for North Korea. Not just for South Korea, not just for the whole of East Asia, not just for the U.S. But for the entire world. Both present and future.

As Clausewitz wrote, many barriers only exist in man’s ignorance of what is possible. With the result that, once they are torn down, they are not easily set up again. In plain English: if one nuclear weapon is used in anger, then it is very likely that all will be. And sooner rather than later.

There is, however, a silver lining. A few days after the crisis in Korea started, it seems to be more or less over already. The threats, instead of being translated into action, are beginning to fade into history. As, given that no nuclear weapons has been used in anger since 1945, so many other nuclear crises have in the past.

So perhaps Mr. X was right after all. If the prospect of a nuclear war can deter a Trump, then presumably it can deter anyone. Even a Hitler, if you ask me: see on this my recent book, Hitler in Hell. Meaning that proliferation, rather than nonproliferation, is the right route. If not to peace on earth and the brotherhood of men, at any rate to preventing major war between major powers.

Guest Article: Obama after Eight Years


Jonathan Lewy

I was in Washington DC eight years ago when Barack Obama was elected. The atmosphere was intoxicating as people went out on the streets in celebrations, drunk with a sense of victory, chanting ‘Yes, we can.’ The whole world celebrated as a new kindle of hope was supposed to enter the White House. Perhaps that is why Obama received a Nobel Prize for doing nothing, or rather, for not being George W. Bush. But, were people right to celebrate? In retrospect, how did Obama fare in his two terms?

According to Politifact, Obama made no less than 500 promises while campaigning. By the end of his term, he delivered 45 percent of them. Lest you think this is a low figure, consider that the Republican leadership in Congress delivered only 35 percent of their promises. For a politician, to succeed in keeping almost half of his promises, it is probably as high as any supporter could hope for. His success in pushing his agenda is particularly impressive considering the stubborn Congress he had to deal with for the last six years. Perhaps that is why his approval rating is flattering for the first time in his presidency.

A politician is not only judged by delivering on his promises, but also by what he leaves behind. The United States economy is now stable. The $787 billion stimulus seems to have worked. When Obama was forced to bailout the American automobile industry, he did so successfully. Moreover, his terms were far better for the public purse than Bush’s plan with the banks a few years earlier. Unemployment is on the decline, but the national debt is on the rise. America, it seems, keeps on mortgaging its future for living the good life in the present.

One cannot blame Obama for the mounting debt the country has incurred. He has not done anything any of his immediate predecessors had not done; on the other hand, he certainly did not try to curb the beast, or mitigate the huge gamble the United States is wagering against its own future. After all, someone will have to pay this debt eventually, especially if the economy does not expand. If this generation will not live within its own means, future generations will probably have to deal with the problem in the years to come.

An American historian once said that great presidents are rare. Most are mediocre at best, and are remembered for one or two things they have done. This is why the public remembers George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and FDR; but few can name the other presidents such as Martin van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce and the rest of the lot. So, is Obama great?

Domestically he was a good caretaker. He may even be remembered for Obamacare (if it survives the next presidency), even though the plan has suffered in recent months with price hikes, and fewer health insurance companies willing to participate in it. Gas prices are not terribly high, and the dollar is still a global currency. Immigrants are still knocking on America’s doorstep, as they would not have done had they thought the country had no future.

On the international level, the United States has lost ground. In the Middle East, the American footprint has faded. American troops are no longer in Iraq in large numbers, but the region is not stable to say the least. Gone are the days when secretaries of states came to the region and the ground trembled wherever they treaded. Recently, Obama expressed that his swan song will be promoting peace in the Middle East. The chances for that happening in the next three months are next to nil. Hell will probably freeze over before that happens.

Obama did not cope well with the Arab spring. American foreign policy stuttered, as the commander in chief was torn between a desire to see democracy spread on the one hand, and to support old and new allies on the other. Take Libya as an example. Muammar Gaddafi finally succumbed to US pressure, and paid his dues for the Lockerbie bombing. He tried to be a good boy with the West, albeit he remained a dictator at home. But when the going became tough, Obama turned his back on him and left him hanging by an angry mob, bombing some of his cities from the air to boot. Now, the rest of the world will know that even if you follow American dictates, it will not back you in time of need.

Even in South America, the United States lost ground. One of the hallmarks of American foreign policy is the ‘War on Drugs,’ and the international drug control regime it has sponsored since The Hague International Opium Convention of 1912. And yet, a puny country like Uruguay dared to legalize marijuana in 2013 in direct conflict with the official American policy. This would have been inconceivable a decade ago.

And back home again, Obama may very well have been a good economic caretaker, but something is awfully wrong with the country. Racial tensions are high. The high hopes of reconciliation between blacks and whites under the leadership of a half-white president have deteriorated into riots, and the Black Lives Matter movement. The American public is obviously unhappy. So much so that it even considered, for a while, voting for a Socialist president. Who would have imagined this turn of events after the fall of the Berlin Wall? This is certainly not a sign of strength, or a strong belief in capitalism and the American dream.

Even worse, the public’s distaste for politically correctness has propelled a candidate who could be best described as a buffoon, whose only redeeming quality is that he says whatever is on his mind. At least he can. Most Americans I know feel they cannot, because they have to constantly ‘check their privileges.’ Though Obama may not be personally responsible for this phenomenon, during his term in office, freedom of speech is on the decline. A pity. It has always been my favorite right.

And finally, under Obama, the current election cycle took place; an unpopular Clinton against a scary Trump. If these are the only two options he left behind him, something is amiss. Neither candidate promised much as a legacy for his term in office, or perhaps the results on Tuesday will be so terrible that his legacy will shine brightly.

Enter the Donald

For a quarter century now, political correctness has been the blight of our age. Using intolerance to enforce what they call tolerance, its self-appointed guardians always seek reasons to take offense and force their victims to apologize while simultaneously squeezing as much money out of them as possible. On the way they have corrupted whatever they touched, turning discourse into a stinking, horrible goo. In academia—where many universities now have groups of vigilantes consisting of students out to humiliate professors—in the media, in public life, they keep spewing forth a single poisonous message. Beware of what you are saying; or else. Even in private, for walls have ears. And even if you have been making an innocuous joke.

They have long since ended any kind of straight talk, any right to call a spade a spade, any attempt to do serious work that might hurt their alleged sensibilities. With them went many, perhaps most, attempts at original, incisive expression. In respect to the range of subjects they censor they have put nice, open-minded gentlemen such as Philipp II of Spain—he of the Inquisition—Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Mao Zedong to shame. Worst of all, by forcing the rest of us to keep using euphemisms they have made people doubt whether they are being told the truth, increased their paranoia, and decreased their readiness to believe anything they hear or see.

Enter the Donald. He is possessed of as big an ego as all of his casinos, hotels, plazas, resorts and towers combined; no other man I can think of so well fits what former vice president Dan Quayle once described as a “temperamental tycoon.” Probably more so even than Ross Perot who was the original target of that jibe. Needless to say, I have never met the Donald and do not expect to do so in the future. From what I see and hear I do not think he is particularly likeable or that I miss much. I do not know what makes him tick. Nor whether his run for the White House will be successful, nor whether he has what it takes to be a good president. Not being an American citizen or an admirer of Netanyahu, whom Trump has publicly praised, I cannot even say any of this interests me very much.

What, in my eyes, makes him unique is that, rather than hide behind all kinds of polite euphemisms, he keeps saying what he thinks about people and things. Without apology and without concern for the consequences. Being dugri (blunt, or straightforward), as we Israelis say. Also that, thanks to his billions, and perhaps an incipient change in public opinion, he is getting away with it as few others can or have. Nor does the way he talks and acts seem to hurt him in the polls. To the contrary, he has made the media follow him and listen to him. Some positively beg him to appear on them. To the point, he says, where he actually found himself spending less than he thought he would have to.

Some people see Trump as a clown (one acquaintance of mine fears he may turn out to be a Mussolini). Many others half believe, half hope that his appeal is already fading. Ignorant of foreign affairs and lacking a proper organization, they say, he will never be able to gain the presidency. No matter. Even in the unlikely case he disappears tomorrow, he has already achieved something important; namely, shaken the barriers on free thought which the professional enforcers of political correctness have been so busily surrounding us with. May others follow his example, and may the barriers disappear like the cobwebs which, in reality, they are.

AliceInWonderlandRedQueenTennielOffWithHerHead1And that reminds me of Lewis Carroll, famed author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Towards the end of the volume the Red Queen is about to have another one of her servants executed. The following dialogue develops:

“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly “The idea of having the sentence first [before the verdict]!”

“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.

“I won’t!” said Alice.

“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

“Who cares for you?” said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time.) “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”

At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her; she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered from the trees upon her face.

“Wake up Alice dear!” said her sister; “Why, what a long sleep you’ve had!”