Protest and Survive. Edited by E.P. Thompson and Dan Smith, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1981 $4.95.
By Allen Tullos
Vol. 4, No. 2, 1982, p. 4
Protest and Survive is a powerful gift from European Nuclear Disarmament (END) to the growing American movement. The book originated as a reaction to “Protect and Survive.” a take-cover pamphlet prepared in 1980 by British civil defense. The U.S. version contains historian E.P. Thompson’s “A Letter to America,” and 11 other essays exploring the current arms race, nuclear war, military bureaucracy and the prospects for peacemaking.
The introduction by Daniel Ellsberg details the secret history of U.S. nuclear threats against other governments since the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The instances include Korea, Berlin, Cuba, Vietnam and Iran. “Every president,” writes Ellsberg, “from Truman to Reagan, with the possible exception of Ford, has felt compelled to consider or direct serious preparations for possible imminent U.S. initiation of tactical or strategic nuclear warfare, in the midst of an ongoing, intense, non-nuclear conflict or crisis.” Most recently, the threats have appeared as public policy in the Carter Doctrine endorsed by the present administration, which would start World War III to protect Western oil interests in the Persian Gulf.
Emma Rothschild opens her essay with the observation that “the United States may buy itself two things with its $1 trillion defense budget of 1981 to 1985. The first is an economic decline of the sort that comes about once or twice in a century. The second is a nuclear war.” She examines the destructive costs of the American arms boom.
A former U.S. War Department analyst, Henry T. Nash, writes about his job with the Air Targets Division of the Air Force in the 1950s and 60s. He tells of the secrecy and professional competition existing in the bureaucratic preparation for mass homicide. Ambitious young analysts select and justify targets in the Soviet Union appropriate for receiving our nuclear warheads. If an analyst’s proposed target is selected for the official “Bombing Encyclopedia,” he may merit promotion and entree into even deadlier, more classified information.
Having left the Air Force project and become a teacher, Nash is now visited by “haunting memories of his work.” “What,” he asks, “enabled us calmly to plan to incinerate vast numbers of unknown human beings without any sense of moral revulsion?” He describes some of the “forces within the system that work against such self-examination.”
Amid insane circumstances worthy of all despair, the present disarmament movement now stirs on an international level. Protest and Survive is one sign that there is still a chance to save ourselves from ourselves. That the chance is genuine we can believe from the history of one of the nuclear threats which Dan Ellsberg recounts. In November of 1969, Henry Kissinger conveyed the warning to the Vietnamese at Hanoi “that Nixon would escalate the war massively, including the possible use of nuclear weapons, if they did not accept his terms.” Hanoi didn’t accept the terms and Nixon didn’t carry out his nuclear threat. Why not? As Nixon himself records in his memoirs, there were already too many Americans in the streets protesting the U.S. war policy.
Allen Tullos is a native Alabamian who is now completing his doctoral dissertation in history at Yale University.