Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
Science and the increase of population are the major dynamics of our time. Science promises civilization its highest fulfillment but simultaneously threatens its survival. A billion more people will populate the earth in 10 years, three to four billion more in 30. No one can escape the combined impact of mass population and technology. We are, finally, truly interdependent.
In a world of such sweeping change, causing greater differences in daily human experience in one generation than in all previous history, the old rules have limited relevance. History teaches the wrong lessons. Metternich misleads. Present leaders of the world powers, indelibly impressed by Munich, fought in a world war before the Bomb. The experience that dominates much of their judgment was gained three decades ago, or more. It seemed then that weak men, confronted by fascism, doomed us to World War II because they sought "peace in our time," and as a consequence Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France fell like . . . dominoes.
The old wars, though cruel and inhumane, were gentle compared to what can be. Generals who fought battles with rifles, tanks and propeller-driven airplanes on strategies developed by Bonaparte, Lee and Rommel have new weapons that cannot be used in a traditional manner. More and more nations seek to devise and wield the destructive power of technology. Unless it is prohibited, they will.
Politicians, emotionally conditioned by conflicting ideologies such as communism, capitalism, imperialism, totalitarianism and democracy, and schooled in alliances, colonial empires, economic exploitation, spheres of influence, balances of power, détentes, wary stalemates and summitry, endlessly negotiate, or quarrel over meaningless issues. Meanwhile, all around them divisions grow, tensions heighten and fear and mistrust rise.
We must ask ourselves how long we can go on like this. Contemplate the vast change of the past 30 years. Assume there will be even greater change in the next 15. Does a continued standoff really assure survival?
In America-at least subjectively-we have come to realize that our system is no longer working as it should. While the velocity of change has increased dangerously, institutions and national attitudes adapt at the leisurely pace of the nineteenth century. Leaders posture, tinker and finesse. Clearly our efforts are inadequate. Population, rising crime, racial injustice and strife, the decaying hearts of our great cities, the mechanics of supplying essential needs in an interdependent mass society, anonymity, mobility, sheer quantities, the pollutions of air, water, noise, fear and violence, the armaments race and world peace all seem beyond our ability to control. But among the many clear and present dangers, the highest priority belongs to war.
Violence as a way of solving problems must be relegated to the past. It is no longer tolerable. It can no longer succeed. The once romantic ideal of peace has become essential realism. For we have no evidence that man is now possessed of a wisdom which failed to stop the club but can restrain the bomb. Has fear, even certainty, of mass destruction effectively contained the flood of violence? What of Warsaw, Schweinfurt and Hiroshima? It is more frequently the failure of reason that permits an act of violence than the force of reason that guides it.
The major powers must come quickly to understand the peril of the mere presence of nuclear weapons. They are not Caesar's legions, to conquer, occupy, control or even successfully intimidate. They can only destroy. No nation has discovered methods of wielding power over others with such weapons. None will. Has China coerced Cambodia; France, Algeria; the United States, North Vietnam?
Nuclear weapons are developed and placed in delivery systems out of fear and mistrust and to feed the war machines we have created. Even a first strike can only be a defensive measure. Can there be any conceivable justification for the use of nuclear armaments? There is no greater test of the capacity of man's reason to affect his destiny than his efforts to ban the production and use of all nuclear weapons. The cost of developing and deploying them has been enormous in terms of economic outlay, human anxieties and our assumptions as to what civilization is and can be.
In the quest for peace, the highest priority must be given to neutralizing the means of mass destruction. Nuclear powers must agree to stop production and begin dismantling. They must act under law, realizing with Grotius that "This care to preserve society ... is the source of all law." Governments through international law can prevent production, effectively police nuclear weapons development and provide opportunities for inspection to satisfy others. No increment in the offensive or defensive nuclear systems of a nation large or small can offer protection. Finally, if international agreements cannot be obtained, unilateral deëscalation of the arms race can change the course for all. The balancing act is over, for the weight of weaponry created by technology has crushed the scales.
Nothing in our experience indicates it is possible or even desirable to impose some seemingly preferred political, social or economic concept on a foreign culture. People remain much as they were. They do not suddenly start playing the game of life by a completely new and strange set of rules. But they do sense whose spirit is generous and whose selfish; whose character is violent and whose benevolent; what builds and what destroys. While an international police can reduce international violence, the underlying causes must be addressed directly by massive economic efforts that afford the opportunity for human dignity, for health, education, employment, housing and other basic human needs. Such efforts must be made by the rich nations without seeking to gain influence or control in return. At this time the United Nations remains the major institution for distribution of technical assistance and economic aid that will be generous, benevolent and constructive in purpose.
World law will have to begin with some manifestation by the world powers of their ability to abide by the rule of law both national and international. Vietnam has placed enormous strains on America's adherence to constitutional law. The power over war and peace was delegated by the people to the Congress in the Constitution. Vested in the lawmakers was authority "to lay and collect taxes ... to provide for the common Defense"; "to define and punish . . . Offenses against the Law of Nations"; "to raise and support Armies . . ."; "to provide and maintain a Navy"; "to make rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces"; "to provide for calling forth the Militia"; "to provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the Militia" and "to declare war."
Congress, however, has not adequately exercised its powers or fulfilled its responsibilities for the conduct of war or the quest for peace. During this century, it has slowly relinquished these essential functions while the executive branch has assumed them. And when it finally endeavored to perform its constitutional duties through a Cooper-Church resolution or a Hatfield-McGovern amendment to end the war, it met the opposition of the Executive. But each branch should endeavor to assist the others in the performance of their constitutional duties. We now find, as Justice Robert H. Jackson told us 18 years ago, that "only Congress can prevent power from slipping through its fingers."
The executive branch, on the other hand, has manifested no significant capacity to question its own actions in Indochina. At both the Defense and State Departments it is so captive of interests committed to military containment that executive leadership has hardly questioned our course. From the vantage point of 1961 and 1965, what presidential leadership possible under our system would have been likely to avoid war in Vietnam? Was there anything inherently more bellicose in the characters of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson than of Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater that might have caused the latter to avoid the conflict the former became immersed in? Once a course is taken those who participated in its choosing, and persons who identify with them, are unlikely to doubt and quick to defend.
Government must exercise powers over peace and war in accordance with constitutional directions and separation of powers. Nor may we hope for salvation from the judiciary. It can interpret constitutional standards, but it can only act after the fact, and that is too late. Courts cannot end unconstitutional wars by fiat any more than they could end unconstitutional racial segregation. All institutions must act responsively, swiftly and forcefully to fulfill judicial decisions, but this will not be enough. Wars will be ended only by a comprehensive effort on all fronts.
Ultimate power indeed rests in the people. In a mass society sheer numbers dictate this. And it was from the people that the realization of the tragedy of Vietnam first came. Our representative system did not work-the legislative branch failed to scrutinize the actions of the Executive and check them. We entered South Vietnam with little awareness by the public of what was happening. The views of our people were formed after we were deeply involved and were presented as protest. The First Amendment, guaranteeing free speech and the right of assembly, gave Americans the chance, with youth in the vanguard, to communicate their opposition to the war. They did, and their voices multiplied until the entire nation became aware of the intensity of their concern. Doubt as to the wisdom of our course in Vietnam grew from small protests until a substantial minority came to view it as tragically wrong.
Through participatory democracy the power of the people can be exercised directly on the political system. Inclusionary politics that seeks to involve all Americans in the selection of leadership will quickly alter the constituencies of elected officials, vitalize government and make it responsive to the needs and wishes of people who have had little or no power: the poor, the young, minorities, women. Universal voter enrollment by which government seeks to register every eligible voter and encourages him to vote, can bring the 47 million Americans who did not vote in 1968 into the system. The eighteen-year-old vote will make politicians more responsive to the young. Democracy will then work and all will benefit.
There was not enough skepticism in the executive branch to alter our purpose in Vietnam. Except for the protest of the people, U.S. policy in Indochina would have proceeded right on. A course of action seeking a violent solution was changed by young America to one of withdrawal-though our government still unwisely relies on violence. The First Amendment may have saved us from the ultimate disaster promised by our earlier purposes in Vietnam because it made dissent easier to communicate, and dissent is the principal catalyst in the alchemy of truth. But Vietnam imposed heavy burdens on our adherence to the First Amendment itself. A people who speak constantly of the rule of law placed many barriers in the path of this constitutional right. We did not want to hear how strongly people felt or see how many they were.
The ultimate test of our willingness to follow the rule of law arises from conduct that only slowly comes to light in the Green Beret case, the My Lai incident, the Con Son prison discovery. Is law more than power? Do we believe in it to the extent that it will be enforced wherever it falls? From the American standpoint, the allegations of atrocity do not raise the issues of Nuremberg, though a nation that presided at the Nuremberg trials should be meticulous about enforcing its rules in such situations. Killing prisoners or noncombatant civilians is murder. Inhumane treatment of prisoners is a crime, and if a nation knowingly makes it possible for an ally to engage in such conduct, it shares in the responsibility for the crime. Without thorough, public vindication of the rule of law when such allegations arise, the world can only assume that war remains a lawless hell whoever the participants. Others will conduct themselves accordingly; violence will remain their technique for solving international problems. America must provide strong moral leadership by firmly enforcing its laws and leaving no doubt that it will never condone atrocities.
Adherence to just rules of law will not, however, be possible if we cannot know and face the truth. We still shield ourselves from the enormity of the tragedy of Vietnam by obscuring facts. We barely perceive what we have done and are doing to ourselves. The increment of violence in our national character is immense; the loss of faith and goodwill throughout the world profound. Few people in Asia, Africa or Latin America can identify sympathetically with well-fed representatives of a rich society journeying ten thousand miles to pilot multimillion dollar B-52s and drop death and destruction on underfed Indochinese in miserable villages or along jungle trails. The racial implications of Vietnam internationally and within the United States are also inescapable. When Dr. Martin Luther King, the apostle of nonviolent change, called for an end to the war and incurred the opposition of much of the civil rights movement, it was because he saw not only violence, but a diversion of national energies, conflict between races, and young black Americans killing and being killed for white America. The body count has marked us as a nation that judges success by the number of foreign human beings it kills.
In terms of the human spirit, the world sees an impoverished people waging a ceaseless war over decades; perhaps a million deaths; little men and women jogging for weeks over dangerous trails with 50 pounds of rice or ammunition on their backs. They wonder, as we all must, what motivates such determination? They see our conduct tearing a great and wealthy nation apart because it will not admit to itself that it is wrong. Are these nations dominoes? If so, why then do they not send soldiers to Vietnam to defend it and therefore themselves? Does the Thieu-Ky government represent any appreciable segment of the South Vietnamese? Is it supported, feared, or hated by its own citizens? How rich are its generals? How many have wealth and family outside the country? How pervasive is corruption? How brutal is conduct? Did the North Vietnamese and Vietcong gain more food and arms from Cambodia after the American incursion than was lost to our forces? Are we systematically shielding our leaders and the nation from knowledge of the My Lais, of the defeats, and creating the illusion of imminent military victory? Must our invasion of Cambodia be defended and the truth strained because we lashed out there? Until we seek facts fearlessly and act openly on them, we cannot hope to proceed wisely or gain the confidence of thinking people at home or abroad.
Vietnam is only symptomatic of the inadequacy of violence in mass society and its peril for technologically advanced nations. Military victory would have been far more disastrous than military failure for the United States. The apparent lesson of victory would have been that force and violence were still possible as solutions of international problems. Force and violence would be relied on again. It is a terribly expensive lesson, but if we learn from Vietnam that we can no longer use military force to coerce the conduct of others, we can survive and flourish.
Vietnamization of the war is ignoble as an end in itself. The effort began within several years after the present conflict started on December 19, 1946, when the French, in the last vestiges of colonialism, sought to extricate white boys by substituting yellow ones. Our earliest presence through technical advisers was intended to create new Vietnamese military capabilities to resist or overcome the natural dynamics that sought to change inadequate institutional structures. In the present context, Vietnamization says to the peoples of Southeast Asia, let's you and him fight. The Cambodian incursion manifests as clearly as does the continued and increasing bombing that American leadership still seeks to solve problems by violence. But while it may show we have a flexible and fierce striking power, it also demonstrates that we have no knockout punch. We can only go on fighting. It tells us American leadership has learned nothing from Vietnam. We want to walk out the victors by killing, by leaving a prolonged war in our wake. We cannot win that way.
Our purpose in Vietnam now must be the end of violence. We should immediately act to remove our military presence. All bombing should halt. For Vietnamese who want sanctuary, it should be offered. The most ardent and relentless effort possible directed at Moscow, Peking, Paris and Hanoi should seek a political solution-a government reflecting the interests and needs of the people as comprehensively as possible. We should announce a firm, speedy schedule for complete military withdrawal and adhere strictly to it. Six months is ample. We should announce now that there will be no offensive, aggressive military action. We will return fire when fired upon and protect our evacuation by military action as necessary, but we will not initiate military engagements.
Simultaneously, we should offer rehabilitation and development: billions for food, health, construction and economic assistance. Nonmilitary technical advice and labor should be extended as needed, in ways and places best designed to end violence. Supervised through the United Nations, the International Red Cross and other groups, it should offer a swift and massive improvement of the lot of the people of Indochina. Plans for such programs exist. We owe this effort to ourselves, to the Vietnamese and to future generations. We must show that we can learn, that we do not believe in violent resolutions of problems, that our purposes as a people are generous and humanitarian.
We cannot be deterred by fears of blood baths or loss of face. The bath of blood in Vietnam has already nearly drowned humaneness. Deaths far exceed those of our Civil War among a people numbering a fraction of our population at that time. There is no easy choice in Vietnam. We can simply offer sanctuary and let those whose lives are at stake either way make their decision.
Americans hate this war. It divides us and corrupts our character. We have an obligation as a great and powerful nation to overcome weakness that will neither admit wrong nor do right. We cannot expect others to agree to every move we make toward peace and we cannot wait until they do. But by word and deed America must move directly and fearlessly toward peace. The world will see our strength when we who have six percent of its people and half its wealth manifest a clear, steady, single purpose-peace.
Real strength can change institutions and attitudes and improve the quality of life for all. This is the strength of a helping hand that does not strike out in anger, fear or hatred: a hand that is nonviolent and humane. We must recognize the newness of our situation and disenthrall ourselves from outworn attitudes and leisurely adaptations. We must act boldly and massively. Clever statements characterized by sporadic violence and continuous threats and outbursts cannot offer safety, freedom or fulfillment. It is for America to liberate its generous spirit, its gentle regard for every individual, its will to live together on this earth with dignity, respect and love. We must end violent responses. We must inspire a passion for justice and reverence for life.