Saturday, May 25, 2013

John Kenneth Galbraith's "Age of Uncertainty: The Fatal Competition", the Cold War

Continuing with John Kenneth Galbraith's 1977 documentary series, The Age of Uncertainty, Episode 8, The Fatal Competition, this one dealing with the Cold War:

Galbraith himself was in Germany in the days following the end of the Second World War in Europe. In the companion volume, he says the following about that period:

Soldiers, businessmen, civil servants, diplomats, assorted idlers and black marketeers were gathered in the city [Berlin] for the tasks of the occupation. By 1946, two parties were taking form: one party wanted very much to get along with the Russians. They - I should say we, for I was among them - saw little hope for a world in which there was conflict between the two powers. [I.e., if there were conflict between the US and the USSR, there would be little hope for the world.] There were things to encourage us. When we met socially with the Russians, we learned how grim had been their experience with war, how passionate was their fear of another. Some of our senior army people were similarly moved. They had experienced war and wanted no more of it. We had as symbolic allies our enlisted men. They were meeting regularly with their Russian counterparts for the sale and exchange of merchandise; the market was in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate which stands between East and West Berlin. Thus they showed that trade was above ideology, that when the armed representatives of capitalism met the armed might of Communism, the natural tendency was not to fight but to do a little business.

There was a second party. It regarded our hopes as ridiculously soft-headed. (There is an interesting point here: political wisdom is thought always to lie with the hard, impervious head and the tough, unyielding mind. One wonders why.) Some members of this group were only concerned to show how tough and hence how intelligent they were. But some, the Foreign Service Officers especially, spoke out of a genuine knowledge of Stalin and the great purges and a genuine concern for his intentions. Also the Soviet activities in Eastern Europe left no room for doubt. It was easy to assume that these would be the same in Western Europe as well.

Present too were the pathologically belligerent, those who even more than the poor are always with us. And there were a few for whom the war had been an exciting thing, a blessed ·escape from dull jobs, dull wives, deadly routine. Better another war than going back to Toledo, Ohio, or Nashua, New Hampshire. [my emphasis]
And, he observes, "On occasion, the debate became rather intense."

Galbraith was not adverse to noting the existence and influence of what President Eisenhower famously called the military-industrial complex:

The Air Force, in particular, had expanded wonderfully in power, prestige, men and airplanes [during the Second World War]. And a whole new industry had come into existence to provide the equipment and technology and share the gains. There followed a very simple, very practical point, far too obvious to be ignored. If there were a continuing menace, these gains would be continued. If not, they would be lost. The Soviets, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, were obvious candidates to be the new menace.

No one - certainly not many - argued that the gains of war should be preserved by the invention of a new menace . This is not the kind of thing that is said openly; the world has little to fear from forthrightly cynical men. Not many admitted this motivation even to themselves. Personal interest always wears the disguise of public purpose, and no one is more easily persuaded of the validity or righteousness of a public cause than the person who stands personally to gain therefrom . Those who perceive the underlying role of self-interest often hesitate to cite it. Nothing so interrupts the flow of polite conversation and so badly repays an invitation to drink and dine. [my emphasis]
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