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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

The Age of Terror

(Reprinted from the issue of May 11, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo 
for The Age of TerrorWe 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 War.

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. Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!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 wonder.

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 being.

“I suspect we hold elections so that at least some of our rulers can avoid the perils of confirmation hearings" -- SOBRANS. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.

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Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

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