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Albert Einstein once observed that the advent of nuclear weapons had changed everything except our modes of thinking. If even so dramatic a development as the nuclear revolution has taken a long time to be fully understood, how much longer has it usually taken to understand the implications of the more subtle, intangible historical changes taking place around us.
When the helicopter rose in flight from the roof of the doomed U.S. embassy in Saigon a decade ago, Americans hoped they had finally left Vietnam behind them. For years afterward there was a widespread effort in the United States to put the Indochina experience out of mind. In the late 1970s, Mike Mansfield, the professor of Far Eastern studies who became U.S. Senate majority leader and then ambassador to Japan, told an English radio audience:
The events of the Vietnam era significantly defined the generation that came of age during that period and is now emerging as a mature force in American life. How our country finally comes to grips with Vietnam will depend on how the Vietnam generation comes to grips with its own experiences. The results will determine for decades how well America faces up to questions of war and peace, and of international relief, development and cooperation.
To many people throughout the world, the name Lebanon now suggests nothing but war and violence. Once the most peaceful of Mediterranean countries, in the last decade Lebanon has suffered more death and destruction than any of its neighbors. The bare statistics are chilling enough, but no statistics can even begin to convey the psychological and social damage which has affected the very nature of society and civilization.
In the Shia vision of history, born of centuries of oppression and marginality, a time comes when the mighty are humbled; the lowly who kept the faith rise up and inherit the earth free from oppressors. From this vision has come consolation. It sustained an embattled minority faith through the eras of worldly and political dispossession.
Two trendlines suddenly intersected in March 1985. The arms control negotiations between the two superpowers resumed, after a long break that had threatened to become a permanent breakdown. As the delegations were arriving in Geneva, Konstantin Chernenko died in Moscow, and Mikhail S. Gorbachev was quickly named the new general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The succession to Leonid Brezhnev had at last been completed.
Our policies for preventing nuclear war, mercifully, have never been tested to the point of failure. This cannot be said of our policies that have sought to reverse, or at least to halt, the expansion of nuclear arsenals threatening our annihilation. For more than two decades now, the United States, using both diplomacy and self-restraint, has tried--and failed--to halt the nuclear arms competition with the Soviet Union.
It is a delicate matter to defend deterrence, the doctrine that it is the very lethality of nuclear weapons that lessens the likelihood of their use sufficiently to make us safe. That the consciousness of that lethality in the corridors of power in Washington and Moscow has played an important role in the keeping of the peace since the advent of the nuclear age is beyond doubting, as is the unwisdom of tampering with that consciousness, of accepting theories or technologies that will diminish the terror with which the prospect of nuclear war has been traditionally regarded and make nuclear weapons in any way less inhibiting to use. Still, if it is possible to underestimate the contribution that nuclear weapons make to the prevention of nuclear war, it is possible to overestimate it, too.
Over the past four years, President Ronald Reagan and his national security team have succeeded in rewriting the context of the defense debate. The need for a massive defense buildup has been accepted; the only open question is the future rate of growth. In budgetary terms, the impact of this buildup has been dramatic. Excluding inflation, the 1985 defense budget approved by Congress is 51 percent higher than five years ago, reflecting a remarkable $330 billion in cumulative real growth since 1980. During the same period federal support for domestic programs, excluding interest payments and entitlement programs (retirement, health care, unemployment), declined by over 30 percent. In the recently submitted budget request for 1986, President Reagan has proposed to continue this transfer of funds from domestic programs to defense. His budget accords the Pentagon a further increase of six-percent real growth--while many domestic spending programs have been slated for major cutbacks.
Indira Gandhi's assassination on October 31, 1984, marked the passing of the generation that brought India to independence. Mrs. Gandhi was nourished, almost from birth, on the Congress Party's struggle against the British, and was particularly influenced by her party's close links with British socialism in the 1930s. She was deeply suspicious of the business class, even though it supported her with millions of rupees. She was convinced that only if the nation's industry, agriculture and services were closely guided by the state would equity and justice be assured. Wary of "imperialist" pressures on India--political, educational and economic--she never relinquished her belief that "foreign hands" sought to undermine not only Indian stability and independence but her personal political power as well. Although the United States seemed most often to be the target of her concern, the Soviets, British, Chinese, French and most of her South Asian neighbors were also frequently suspect.
This is a strange and painful year to talk about grain. Our televisions bring us pictures of starving African children, but world grain stocks exceed 190 million tons--a record surplus. Federal subsidies for agriculture will total nearly $19.5 billion in 1985, but U.S. farming is in a historic recession. Ironically, the most important customer for U.S. grain exports is the Soviet Union; the United States and its allies now must compete for the privilege of selling to our chief adversary. It is a curious year indeed.