Time for NATO to Close Its Door
The Alliance Is Too Big—and Too Provocative—for Its Own Good
Protest against the war in Vietnam became, along with marijuana and long hair, the symbol of the Revolt of Youth in America of the sixties. To be sure, the Revolt of Youth was far from a universal phenomenon among young people. Many millions continued going about the business of studying, staking out a life's work for themselves, launching a family-or fighting in the Vietnamese jungles. To a large extent, this was a revolt of the best educated, the most articulate, the most self-confident and self-conscious. In short, it was a revolt of the élite among youth. The rebels gained influence far beyond their numbers precisely because "The Establishment" was more interested in the escapades of élite youth than in the activities of, say, the blue-collar young. Youthful dissenters and revolutionaries benefited in this way from precisely the élite status they claimed to be rejecting.
The rebels could not escape the consequences of this status, however. The influence of this relatively small youthful pressure group on the American debate over Vietnam was all the more marked because foreign policy questions, unlike domestic bread-and-butter issues, traditionally involve only a relatively small percentage of the electorate. Policy-makers in the foreign policy field have been forced to reckon with the outlooks of youth on foreign policy issues.
With the beginning of the seventies and the gradual end of the American combat engagement in Vietnam, it is appropriate to assess the views of young people on the future direction of American foreign policy as a whole, and the contribution they might make toward changing its direction. For protesting a specific wrong is easier than formulating a thought-out alternate conception of a nation's role in the world. From my own standpoint, as one young person concerned with redirecting American foreign policy, any lasting role youth could play in this regard has been severely limited by a lack of hard thought conditioned by the environment in which college-age students today have reached political maturity. The domination over the entire international scene of the war in Vietnam during our period of political maturation has discouraged thought about the role of America in the world in general. The Vietnam environment has also distorted the perception of my generation of the role of the various power-blocs in world affairs in a way it would not for someone who also remembers World War I I and the late forties.
As a result of the generalized lack of hard thought, the student seeking constructive changes in American foreign policy is caught between the Scylla of campus liberalism and the Charybdis of the campus New Left. Campus liberalism is full of decent humanitarian instincts, but weak on analysis and program. The New Left presents an analysis which is at least internally consistent and a program which is specific, in fact frighteningly so. For the New Left's program is to support bloody totalitarian terror.
In addition, liberalism and New Leftism have come to exist in symbiotic relationship on the campus. Many of the same students violently occupy an administrator's office one day and participate in a Vietnam Moratorium the next
The earlier juxtaposition of protest against American policy in Vietnam with drugs and shaggy hair was neither fortuitous nor viciously intended. It is no accident that the constantly repeated refrain, "All We Are Saying Is Give Peace A Chance," which welled up again and again from the hundreds of thousands of youthful antiwar protesters in Washington on November 15, 1969, is from a melody composed by John Lennon of The Beatles. Nor is it surprising that many participants in the protest described the event as a political Woodstock Festival, referring to a rock festival in the summer of 1969 attended by over one hundred thousand young people. The reflexes of campus liberals when they judge American foreign policy come from the same value system which my generation uses to determine attitudes toward premarital sex, drugs, blacks, mod clothes and rock music. It is crucial to understand that opposition to the war in Vietnam, and by extension support for a foreign policy based on the slogan "Peace Now!", has become part of the life style of youth.
In order to understand how this connection came about, a brief digression far afield from international questions and into the world of the "youth culture" will be necessary.
Growing up in a period of unprecedented affluence, young people tend to be most preoccupied with the age-old search for a sense of human community, for the development of bonds between people. Taking material plenty for granted and not seeing that its prerequisite might well be some "psychic repression" of individual emotions and immediate gratification, the youth culture tends to see the rigors of the social order, and particularly its rigidities and conventions, as the great barrier preventing people from "coming together." Hence the immense popularity on campus of rehashed and refurbished versions of Freud's "Civilization and Its Discontents" in the works of men like Norman O. Brown, Herbert Marcuse and R. D. Laing. To Freud, the paradox of civilization was that the psychic repression which makes the advances of civilization possible makes men individually unhappy. Freud believed, however, that without the repression exacted by civilization, men would be at each other's throats.
What appears as paradox in the work of Freud becomes polemic in Brown and Marcuse. They see in society only the rigidities and conventions it sets up. They postulate a utopia if only these artificial boundaries and conventions can be broken down.
It is the impulse to break down what are seen as artificial barriers which is at the center of the youth culture's value system, and which explains much of the youth culture's political and nonpolitical mores. Young people view long hair as unruly and uninhibited. Closely cropped hair, held in place with tonic, is rigid and stultifying. Marijuana can be both a means of communal experience in itself, and, when the adult world provides an example of convention-bound opposition to what appears a harmless pleasure, an occasion to protest the barriers society places between people simply trying to "come together." The loud and insistent beat of rock music provides not only a verbal and musical language for the youth culture, but also a calm-shattering inducement to tear down inhibitions and barriers.
What of the reflection of this impulse in the political sphere? The distinctive aspect of the politics of the youth culture in the sixties was the spread of a genuine "end of ideology" attitude. Students have traditionally participated in politics under the banners of various dogmatic ideologies and obscure sects. The youth culture today objects to ideology, any ideology, because it rigidifies, atomizes and separates people into warring camps. Ideology is a barrier to the looseness necessary if people are to "come together." People who think ideologically are rigid and "up tight." The feeling is that were it not for the clash of rigid ideologies, each trying to impose itself upon other people, the world would be a better place. Ideology is the password which opens the door to bombing innocent children, invading other people's countries, beating demonstrators with clubs. Ideologies, like other conventions, serve to prevent people from getting along naturally with one another.
Given this attitude in the youth culture, campus liberals tend to view the entire ideological conflict between East and West simply as a cause of war and brutalization. The cold war of the forties and fifties is regarded as a relic of ancient history, or a fraud. The most common single objection one hears on campus to the war in Vietnam is that we are killing Vietnamese in order to impose "our way of life" on them. We are killing for our ideology. Campus liberals are vehemently and genuinely repelled by the argument frequently heard against immediate withdrawal from Vietnam that the United States must "save face." The anguished reply they make sums up their view of the murderous consequences of ideology: "Which is more important, saving face or saving lives?"
Any attempt to justify the war in Vietnam, or to formulate a foreign policy for America in terms of "national interest," offends campus liberals as an example of rigid ideological thinking. When a member of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom in a suburban upper-middle-class high school posted on the school's bulletin board a bumper sticker reading, "AMERICA- LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT," a number of students scrawled under it comments like "Good-bye" or "I'm leaving." Patriotism, a traditionalistic and particularistic convention which keeps people from "coming together," has simply disappeared as a motivating value in today's youth culture. This does not, of course, mean that most protesters are "anti-American," although a fair number are. Nor does it mean that most don't enjoy living in America. Youth are instinctively "turned off" by the sight of knee-jerk defenders of America's role in the world parading under a sea of American flags. It strikes them as a perfect example of ideology closing minds. (The use of an American flag as decoration sewn onto a leather jacket, introduced by the star of the movie "Easy Rider," quickly caught on among young people in 1969, and represents a more likely use of the flag by the youth culture.)
There is absolutely no trace among young people today of a "my country right or wrong" attitude. Most will support a given American policy if they happen to decide that it is "right," but to support a policy because it is the policy of the United States strikes young liberals as nonsensical. Young people have regarded the whole debate as to whether Vietnam war critics are patriotic or not as irrelevant. Even the statement one frequently hears from young people to the effect that "we are protesting because we want to make our country the best in the world" is manufactured largely for adult consumption.
The weakness of the attempt by campus liberals to graft their value system directly onto the analysis of political questions becomes immediately apparent when an attempt is made to evolve out of the youth culture values general foreign policy guidelines. For the only insight which young liberals end up presenting the policy-maker in the complex field of international relations is that America should conduct its affairs in the world the way members of the youth culture conduct their relations with each other. It is not, in my opinion, unfair to say that the totality of campus liberalism's "thought" on the question of a model for American foreign policy could be summarized in the following refrain from a hit song of The Youngbloods:
Come on people now, Smile on your brother. Everybody get together, Try to love one another right now. © 1963, 1965, Irving Music, Inc.
One searches in vain, either in printed writings or even more in campus bull sessions with student liberals, for either thought on or even interest in, questions like: What steps might be taken to extend a system of world law? How should nations deal with the problem of aggression by large states against small ones? Is democracy an "ideology" in the same way either fascism or communism is, or merely a set of rules by which people can decide what if any conventions they wish to live under; and if so, is it appropriate to take steps of some sort to encourage democracy in the world? Would an American foreign policy based on "do your own thing" be reciprocated by other ideological blocs, and if not, what steps would be appropriate in that case?
In short, having come to maturity in a Vietnam world where America seems the "bad guy," campus liberalism's foreign policy suggestions do not go beyond the demand that the United States cease being bad. The problem of other potential "bad guys" and what to do about them receives little or no attention. This is why the tone of campus liberalism's critique of American foreign policy often appears isolationist. Its underlying assumption is that if America would stop using her military power in the world, things would be more or less peaceful and quiet. The world could get along on its own; it is American military power which upsets the calm.
There is one area of the world for which campus liberals do have foreign policy recommendations to make: the underdeveloped countries. Just as student liberals when looking at American society are concerned about the problems of the poor and the black and unaware of the more prosaic ones of the auto or electrical worker, they are interested in the sufferings of the world's poor and unaware of other international problems. In aiding the underdeveloped countries, it is not so much American power which campus liberalism would like to see applied as American money. The suggestion is prosaic, and the political strategy to get it through the Congress is not specified, but the demand has a simple humanitarian motivation.
Europe does not receive from student liberals even the courtesy of a polite yawn. Interest has completely shifted away from European affairs to the problems of the underdeveloped world. Czechoslovakia received pro forma expressions of sympathy, but there was little interest in the events which led up to the crisis. An index of the declining interest in Europe can be seen in course enrollments at Harvard. Different courses on aspects of the urban crisis in America have had enrollments of five to eight hundred students. Courses on different aspects of modernization in the third world attract one hundred to three hundred. But a course on problems of modern Western European politics was attended by under seventy-five, although the professor teaching it had an excellent reputation, and a survey course on modern European history had an enrollment of under forty students. Only thirty students took a course offered on international politics in modern Western Europe.
Campus liberals present the policy-maker more with an outlook than a policy program: that American foreign policy not be determined on the basis of aggrandizing American power, but on the basis of seeking to alleviate the problems of poverty around the world. Policy-makers might argue to the young that the two goals do not contradict each other; the young probably feel that the latter goal has been completely or largely ignored in American policy. Without passing judgment on the polemics over the specifics, perhaps the demand of campus liberals can be rephrased in this way: that policy-makers, when formulating policy, begin to ask different questions and set different standards for what constitutes success and failure.
Although there are differences in emphasis which occasion violent arguments- and sometimes physical violence as well-among various factions of the New Left, the general thrust of New Left attitudes on international questions is clear to anyone who can struggle through the sloganized rhetoric of New Left polemic. These attitudes, however, continue to be hidden or obscured in many discussions of the New Left in the press. The New York Times to this day labels supporters of revolutionary violence like David Dellinger as "pacifists." Students for a Democratic Society, even after adopting the slogan "Bring the War Home Now," continues to be referred to as an "antiwar group."
All factions of SDS affirm their support of various "revolutionary" countries of the third world and their hostility to any of the democratic reformist régimes in the third world, such as Venezuela, Chile or Singapore. For the advanced countries they are seeking to establish a "revolutionary communist" dictatorship. They affirm their opposition to a multiparty political system and to "bourgeois" civil liberties. They are more sympathetic with the Soviet Union in its old Stalinist revolutionary terroristic stage than in its current "bourgeois" flabbiness.
It is impossible to answer the question, "How would the New Left change American foreign policy?" because the question assumes a frame of reference not shared by New Leftists. They are not agitating for this or that specific change. They aim to become the government as the result of a successful revolution in America. Short of revolution, the intermediate- range goal of the New Left is to attempt to prevent the United States Government from having any foreign policy. For, if the American system is an utterly evil one, then any role the United States plays in the world is automatically evil as well. This is not merely a slogan on the part of the New Left; New Leftists present a logic behind this attitude. If the United States acts, say, to help put down a guerrilla war, supports a backward dictatorship, or builds an ABM, such actions are clearly reprehensible from the point of view of the liberal as well as the New Leftist. But, the New Leftist adds, if the United States helps a nation build a hydroelectric dam to provide cheap power for peasants, reaches an amicable settlement with a régime which nationalizes American investments, or supports land reform, this is also bad, for it merely improves the prestige of America in the eyes of the world and postpones the "revolutionary consciousness" which will eventually overthrow "American imperialism."
Thus at Harvard, an SDS "exposé" of ways in which research by Harvard professors contributes to "administering the (American) Empire" listed not a single research project which could remotely be described as conservative or militarist in effect. Projects listed by SDS included developing a system by which Chile could effectively tax its rich people, discovering new strains of grain to improve agricultural productivity in underdeveloped countries, or curing certain African tropical diseases. American moves toward any détente in the cold war, traditionally looked upon with favor by liberals, are vociferously opposed by the New Left. Arms limitation is seen as a plot to "build the idea of pacifism and discourage struggle by the people of the world against American imperialism" by Progressive Labor magazine. Challenge saw the debate over the ABM as "shadow boxing" between elements in the ruling class which sought to spend money for arming against external threats and those who preferred to spend the money to put down revolution at home.
International questions are at the heart of New Left concern. Even when participating in a seemingly unrelated domestic policy activity, the New Left attempts to add an international "twist." An SDS campaign during 1968 against a transit fare increase in Boston exhorted the people of Boston to "struggle hard, like the Vietnamese people have struggled against American imperialism." SDS activities during the winter of the 1969 strike by General Electric workers emphasized that General Electric was an "imperialist corporation" seeking "cheap labor" abroad and defense contracts at home. Furthermore, when one attempts to probe New Leftists further about how they expect the unlikely event of a successful revolution in America to take place, the discussion quickly resolves into Lin Piao- like visions of the revolutionary countryside of the world coming to surround advanced countries like the United States. According to this view, it is the exploitation of the third world which is the major source of America's wealth, and, once America is "kicked out" of the underdeveloped countries, the workers will rise up as they cease gaining the "crumbs from the imperialist table." This approach to international economics may be utter fantasy, but we must seek to answer the question of why it has a relatively wide appeal on élite campuses.
The New Left's emphasis on international questions is simply a reflection of the fact that it is such questions, rather than prosaic issues of domestic policy, which have always had the greatest appeal to the New Left's constituency. It was not the civil rights activities of the early sixties but protests against the war in Vietnam which turned the New Left into a mass movement Vietnam provided the right mixture of a cause that was both abstract and immediate. Abstract in that concern with the problem could show how much more "sensitive" the student was than the ordinary American, preoccupied with beer and television; and immediate in that the draft threatened most college-age young people.
International questions, and specifically Vietnam, were also the driving factor which moved the New Left from a left-liberal toward a revolutionary totalitarian ideology. The dynamic in the changes in New Left ideology is provided by the attempt of students to answer the question which is at the source of their frustrations: why haven't our protests ended the war in Vietnam? If several years of civil rights activity did not succeed in eliminating racism in America, this failure could plausibly be attributed in significant measure to the widespread extent of racial prejudice in the United States. Convinced that opposition to American policy in Vietnam was as self-evident as opposition to racial prejudice, and extremely frustrated by their inability to bring about the change sought after, antiwar students began groping for explanations of this failure. Through a winding and degenerating path which started with theorists like C. Wright Mills and the "power élite" and ended with Lenin's theory of imperialism, antiwar protesters on the New Left evolved their answer: our protests can't change foreign policy because American foreign policy is in the ueconomic interests of the class which rules this country." It is not "accidental," "misguided," or a question of "saving face": it is a question of coldly calculated economic interests.
While most students were naturally led to seek the cause for racism below, it seemed more plausible to seek the explanation for foreign policy above. And the key to the growth and success of the New Left on campus lies in its ability to provide an answer to the question, "Why haven't our demonstrations succeeded?" New Left leaflets constantly berate the liberal student for his belief that the war is a "mistake," and repeat, again and again, the litany of an explanation which, in the curious response of most student liberals, is "at least internally consistent" The most frequent explanation one hears from New Leftists about why they ceased attempting democratically to bring about the changes they sought goes something like, "We wrote letters to the President, we signed petitions, we marched, and the war still went on." Never once does one hear the question posed, "But did we ever convince a majority of Americans that our views are right?"
What is the view which SDS presents to students about the sources of American foreign policy? It is disarmingly simple and traditional. American corporations, obeying the profit maximization principle, are rushing into the third world, where better profit opportunities are available than at home. America is in Vietnam to protect its investments around the world. Profit opportunities in the third world are tremendous-"the maximum wage in South Vietnam is $1.40 a day"-and it is for our profits around the world that we are fighting in Vietnam. SDS accepts with a vengeance the domino theory: if Vietnam falls, the entire third world will fall. The theory of imperialism provides, says SDS, the reasons why American engagement in Vietnam is logical, from the point of view of capitalists, and tells why the war continues despite protests.
Of course this theory will not survive any careful reading of the evidence. Low wage levels should not be confused with high profits, for productivity and transport costs must be considered. If it were merely a question of taking advantage of labor which is paid much less than American workers, Cuba and China could develop quickly into industrial superpowers. But more importantly, American investment in the third world-as those who urge business to invest there bemoan-is pitifully small. The total value of capital invested in the entire third world (Asia, Africa, Latin America) is a mere $16 billion, an insignificant 1.1 percent of the $1.4 trillion of capital investment in this country and over $1 billion less than our investment in Canada. In Latin America and East Asia the rate of return on American investment is lower than it is domestically. In 1966, the last year for which complete figures are available, Latin American investment returned 13 percent and East Asian investment returned 11.2 percent (the American rate of return was 13.4 percent). Profits from American investments in all of East Asia (including Japan) amount to some $248 million annually. To say we are spending $30 billion annually in Vietnam to protect some fraction of $248 million is ludicrous. America's dependence on the raw materials of Asia, most notably rubber, is declining with the development of synthetics. While business interests may very well influence American foreign policy in non-liberal directions, the New Left notion that American capitalism as a whole is dependent or even vitally interested in investments in the third world is simply nonsense. That this "theory" has received such widespread support casts grave doubt on the intellectual integrity of much of the student community. While the New Leftists are ideologically dishonest for presenting such ideas, campus liberals are ideologically bankrupt for not making any attempt to refute them.
Caught in the mire of anti-democratic and élitist thought which it discovered in the attempt to answer the question of why their protests did not end the war, the evolving New Left also began to pick up positive models for identification from anti-democrats on the Left. At the same time as they began talking about imperialism two or three years ago, the pages of New Left Notes began to be filled with explanations of why strikes are not permitted in Cuba, articles praising the Arab liberation movement, criticism of the Czech reformers for opening up contacts with Western imperialism, and pictures of North Vietnamese infantrymen heading off to the front.
The totalitarianism of the New Left was born in the attempt to resolve why they had been unsuccessful in the attempt to change U.S. foreign policy toward détente, arms reduction and internationalism. It ended with the New Left hawks and hardliners-in vociferous support of an expanding communism.
In the real world of the campus, a major problem of the liberal position is that it is far too other-worldly and vague to be viable. To be sure, the New Left position is rigidly ideological and therefore contrary to the gut do-your-own-thingism of the youth culture. But it is being advocated by other young people, and it answers some of the same frustrations that campus liberals feel. Thus New Left ideology tends to be granted a special dispensation, especially since so many New Leftists come out of youth culture backgrounds and still wear the clothes, hair and other appurtenances of the youth culture. Most students do not adopt the New Left ideology as their own, but painfully few are those who will roundly condemn it. Indeed, campus liberalism persists as the dominant undercurrent at the university for reasons having little to do with politics at all. It persists because it allows a "groovy" lifestyle without sacrificing the student's desire for material success after the years of his college fling. Nobody should underestimate the amount of careerism which still exists on the campus, paeans to the so-called "rejection of material success" of my generation not withstanding. But guilt persists about this, and the New Leftist is secretly admired, even when he is not joined, for his "commitment" and "self-sacrifice."
Given all this, the general pattern on campus is for a de facto alliance between liberals and New Leftists, on the terms of the latter. On the rare occasions, like the Vietnam Moratorium, when the New Left does not provide the tactics, it provides the rhetoric and-because the liberals have none- the ideology. When one hundred thousand Boston youths assembled in the Boston Common on October 15, 1969, for the first Moratorium, a brief appeal by Senator McGovern for America to save her national honor by leaving Vietnam (which might better have been addressed to a middle-aged audience) was followed by a series of bloodcurdling exhortations by members of various extreme Left sects to root for the Vietcong, to smash the State, or to back the Black Panthers. The overwhelming majority of those present had come out on a beautiful afternoon to protest the war-and to show off their clothes, lie together on the grass with a friend of the opposite sex, to sing and to make peace signs. The speeches were alien to the spirit of their gathering. But the perversion of the event is a commentary on the weakness of the do-your-own-thing position.
Out of the value system of the youth culture could come an intelligent outline for an alternate model of American foreign policy. In my view, the perhaps simpleminded ethical imperatives of my generation represent a justified reaction to the excesses of "tough-mindedness" and "thinking about the unthinkable" among policy-makers. I would like to see young people present a foreign policy based on three major considerations.
First, that none of the major power blocs in world politics represents the embodiment of the Forces for Good. The Western democracies are frequently allied with backward and repressive forces in the third world, forces which hinder the modernization of underdeveloped countries. At the same time, the communist blocs represent régimes that are both internally repressive (and hardly sympathetic to the do-your-own-thingism of the youth culture) and allied in the third world with violent revolutionaries whose brutal practice is in stark contradiction to the rhetoric of bread and liberation.
Second, that regardless of the fact that there are ideological and political struggles going on in the world, the murderous potential of world armaments makes moves toward arms limitation and détente a practical necessity.
Third, that America has a positive role to play in the world, not only in Europe but in promoting economic development and political pluralism in the third world. Isolationism or agnosticism about the spread of totalitarian régimes in the third world is scarcely less reprehensible than the New Left's support for the spread of communism.
In short, the existence of different political ideologies in the world simply cannot be avoided, however much the liberal may want to, and the student liberal has the duty to favor a foreign policy course which gives peaceful encouragement and aid to pluralistic institutions around the world- the only institutions where divergent lifestyles are tolerated. Until student liberals develop their own set of coherent proposals, the proposals of the New Left will continue to dominate the stage. From the point of view of changing American foreign policy, nothing could be more counterproductive.