Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Threat (1954)

"It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, longstanding concepts of 'fair play' must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage and counter-espionage services, and must learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us. It may be necessary that the American people be made acquainted with, understand, and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy."

If you had to guess, would you say these were most likely the words of George W. Bush? Dick Cheney? Donald Rumsfeld? Tony Blair? Do you think they were uttered in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks? After last summer's London transit bombings? This week after the plot to blow up airliners was revealed?

The title of this post has no doubt tipped you off to the fact that these words come from a different era. In fact, they were uttered in 1954 by General James Doolittle, the Army Air Forces pilot who led "Doolittle's Raid" on Tokyo in 1942. The context was, of course, the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union.

There is much about the so-called "war on terrorism" that differs from the Cold War, but in many ways the early years of the Cold War seem instructive for the post-9/11 world. Much of what has been said about the world--and about our own security--since 9/11 seems to echo what was being said in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Debates over the freedom-security tradeoff today recall similar debates in the earlier period, which is no doubt what prompted George Clooney to make Good Night and Good Luck when he did.

There is never a perfect correspondence between different historical periods, but some challenges do recur in human history--and some mistakes are repeated over and over again. In spite of the generally favorable outcome of the Cold War (I should probably seek to explain in a future post why it wasn't a perfectly favorable outcome), there were many serious mistakes in United States foreign policy between the end of World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union. I'm beginning to think that Cold War history needs to make an early comeback as an element in the teaching of international politics.

My future students have been warned.

(Incidentally, Doolittle's words are quoted in James Carroll's House of War, pp. 215-16.)