The Age of Terror

     We have arrived at an awful moment in history, and 
worse may lie ahead. And yet it has been in the cards for 
a lifetime.

     The most fateful decision since, oh, the Garden of 
Eden was Franklin Roosevelt's order to develop the atomic 
bomb. This is not to blame him alone; the idea originated 
with others, among them Albert Einstein, who urged the 
project on Roosevelt.

     It must have seemed like a good idea at the time; 
with the urgency of war, it seemed vital for the United 
States to get the weapon before Germany did. The idea of 
using it on Japan came much later.

     Only a few of the scientists in the Manhattan 
Project, such as Robert Oppenheimer, seem to have been 
troubled by the implications. A terrible threshold had 
been crossed, irreversibly. Not only would it mean the 
slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent people in the 
short run; it would bring an era of endless terror 
afterward, as other governments acquired the same weapon. 
What could prevent them? The inevitable might be delayed 
for a while, but the U.S. had no monopoly or patent on 
the use of new discoveries in physics to make the 
horrible thing.

     "Proliferation" loomed from the beginning. But our 
rulers chose to get on with the business of the day and 
worry about the consequences later.

     It's astounding that the man who launched the age of 
nuclear terror is still venerated as a benefactor of 
mankind. When will the obvious lesson sink in? Second 
thoughts are at least half a century overdue.

     So here we are, weighing the option, as they say, of 
war on Iran, which has at least the capability of 
manufacturing nuclear weapons. This won't be the last 
time. The dilemma is more or less permanent.

     Interestingly, in light of all that has been written 
lately about "the Israel lobby," the Jewish weekly THE 
FORWARD, in an April 14 editorial, offered the most 
measured, forceful, and intelligent argument I have yet 
seen against attacking Iran.

     Quoting European diplomats who have called the idea 
and its certain results "inconceivable," "completely 
nuts," "a catastrophe," "an absolute calamity," and 
"unimaginable," the editorial listed some of those 
results: another unwinnable quagmire, far worse than the 
Iraq war, chaos in Iran itself, an explosion of global 
terrorism, and worldwide fury against America, not to 
mention the blame that would be directed at Jewish and 
Zionist influence. And all this is assuming the unlikely: 
that the Bush administration would, in spite of its 
record, execute the attack with competence and precision.

     "The world faces terrifying choices right now," the 
editorial concluded. "No options are good ones. Some 
carry a high risk of calamity. Others carry a certainty."

     The editorial might also have mentioned the global 
economic impact of war on Iran, beginning with the world 
oil market. Readers who own cars may already have noticed 
higher prices at the gas pump.

     But there is really no telling what the ultimate 
consequences might be; even those who opposed American 
entry into World War II never foresaw its chief result, 
an era of nuclear terror, which didn't end with the Cold 

     Finally, could the state of Israel withstand an 
uncontrollable conflagration in the Mideast? In the short 
run, the government (which has its own nuclear and other 
high-tech weapons) probably could; but what would happen 
to the Jewish and Palestinian people?

     All we can be sure of is that they wouldn't be 
better off; the only question is how much worse off they 
would be in the long run after such a convulsion.

     Wars are usually started by optimists (I could name 
one) who expect easy victories and beneficial results -- 
optimists oddly tinged with hysteria about the enemy, 
that is.

     They rarely turn out to be right. Should we trust 
them this time?

The Gracious Giant

     The noted economist John Kenneth Galbraith is dead 
at 97. I met him once in Switzerland, in the company of 
our friend Bill Buckley; and it was immediately apparent 
why, in spite of their differences, they were so fond of 
each other. This tall liberal with the slashing wit was, 
in person, a kind and gentle man, a charming giant.

     Of course his opinions were generally wrong, because 
they generally boiled down to the proposition that more 
power should be given to "the public sector," meaning 
government, at the expense of "the private sector," 
meaning you and me. For all that, it was hard to resent a 
man who spoke his mind so wittily and forced you to 
think. If he was a bit short on common sense himself, he 
provoked it in others.

     Only once did I ever agree with him: An obituary 
quoted his quip that George W. Bush made him miss Ronald 
Reagan. (Liberals can be funny, sometimes on purpose!)

     Writing in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, David Henderson 
wrote a fine critical assessment of his work, pinpointing 
its flaws without spite. One was Galbraith's tendency to 
exaggerate the power of corporations and advertisers to 
manipulate consumers, as witness the collapse of General 
Motors against foreign competition. Like the USSR, GM 
turned out not to be so formidable after all. And "the 
public sector" has turned out to be much less competent 
than Galbraith's generation of liberals had dreamed it 
would be.

Snow's Job

     Another old acquaintance of mine, Tony Snow, has 
succeeded Scott McClellan as President Bush's press 
secretary. The virtually unanimous early word on him is 
that he'll be more candid and free-wheeling than the 
starchy McClellan; as a columnist and Fox News pundit, he 
has sometimes been sharply critical of Bush, from a 
conservative angle. Bush picked him because of, not in 
spite of, his relative independence. So they say. I 

     I should say that I haven't seen Tony for years. We 
used to dine occasionally with an informal group of 
conservatives, and though he's a perfectly decent fellow, 
I always sensed that he was anything but a maverick. He 
struck me as an ambitious young family man, not a bad 
thing to be, but one who wouldn't take risks by straying 
too far from the herd. Intelligent enough, quick on his 
feet, but not exactly exciting.

     Since then he has won a fierce, nearly fatal 
struggle with colon cancer, so he must have iron in his 
soul. I'm happy for his success, even if it's not the 
kind of success I myself would aspire to; but I hope 
he'll be something more than an apologist for this sorry 
administration. He reportedly accepted the job only on 
condition that he'll be included in policy discussions, 
not as a mere mouthpiece or robot.

     Who knows? Maybe he'll turn his boss into something 
more like the conservative Bush is wrongly accused of 

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