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Whether the situation is resolved in the next few hours or days, one fact has
been with us for a week: A communist-led nuclear power has provoked a
military incident with the United States.
At no time have the Chinese attempted to take a reasonable position. Diplomatically they have sought to humiliate the United States, which is supposedly the world’s most powerful
How is it possible that a third-rate nuclear power should so fearlessly
harass a first-rate nuclear power, taking its servicemen hostage? If the
situation were reversed, does anyone seriously imagine we would act to
intensify international hatred? Would our government incite the American
press to launch a “hate China” campaign as Chinese officials have done?
Aside from those who despise the United States, does anyone seriously believe
we would hold 24 Chinese servicemen against their will after an accident near
our own coastline?
In recent days Chinese propagandists have incited the world’s most populous
country to indignation, resentment, envy and general outrage against America.
The Chinese press openly describes us as “arrogant” and “aggressive.” We
are said to be plotting against China and the rest of the world. “Hang the
U.S. spies and take revenge for Xu Xinhu,” said one
writer in the People’s Daily, a communist Chinese newspaper. “America always
bullies us,” complained a leading Chinese internet news site. “We must do
something to make America suffer.”
Naturally, there are those in America who feel the same way when push comes
to shove. But American policymakers are far more cautious than Chinese
policymakers. There has been no official attempt to mobilize U.S. public
opinion in the direction of anger or indignation over the incident. Instead,
American officials have sought to calm the situation.
anti-American voices in our midst may claim, the United States has acted very
generously toward China. We have helped them in many ways, with money and
technology, with diplomatic recognition and tolerance. In the name of good
relations we have winked at spying. We have looked the other way when the
Chinese government has committed atrocities, and we have apologized when we
accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia two years ago. Contrary
to what the America-haters allege, we have apologized when we are wrong. One
has a hard time finding an instance in which the Chinese government has
apologized for anything whatsoever.
Evidently, China is a perfect country without evil intentions. Of course,
only a blind fool thinks of China in this way. We are talking about the
world’s largest police state with the world’s most extensive gulag. We are
talking about a country that harvests kidneys from innocent victims so that
sick Communist Party officials can continue their predatory existence. We
are talking about a country that has invaded nearly all of its neighbors over
the last 50 years. The rape of Tibet is only the most tragic example out
of many atrocities.
Given China’s aggressive and violent history, the current boldness of China,
in terms of building an air accident into a major international incident,
cries out for a further analysis. Why have the Chinese directly challenged
We need to acknowledge, in this regard, the weakness of the U.S. government,
the strange silence of our senators and the misguided softness of the
president. We have given China a pass on many occasions, and our sorry
tendency is to give China a pass once again, allowing ourselves to accept a
defensive stance. China’s own internal documents, exposed in the American
press over the past year, reveal their hostile intentions toward us, their
willingness to wage nuclear war if necessary. But none of this has sunk in
on the American side. We just don’t get China’s leaders. We don’t want to
comprehend the way they think.
Weapons of mass destruction figure largely in official Chinese thinking. It
is said today that even small countries, like Israel and Iraq, possess
nuclear weapons. Large countries, like India and China, have built hundreds
of these weapons. Russia and the United States have built thousands. How
does this impact our military strategy? How does it distort our diplomacy?
The proliferation of nuclear weapons has progressively rendered us weak and
hesitant. The record will show that we often act boldly when confronting a
country which has no nuclear weapons. But when a country has such weapons,
we stumble over ourselves to appease and assist.
Even though it is the foremost nuclear power, America is frightened.
“People all over the world are now discussing whether or not a third world
war will break out,” said Mao in February 1957. “On this question, too, we
must be mentally prepared and do some analysis.”
The same advice applies to the American side. One of the reasons I wrote my
book, “Origins of the Fourth World War,” was to mentally prepare people
regarding the use of mass destruction weapons. After sitting in one graduate
seminar after another in the latter half of the 1980s, I realized that U.S.
scholars and experts either treat the subject as a game, or they do not
regard nuclear war as a possibility worthy of careful study.
Two years ago I spoke to a group of retired U.S. military and intelligence officials together
with Col. Stanislav Lunev, a high-ranking defector from the Main Intelligence
Directorate of the Russian General Staff. Before the meeting, I told Col.
Lunev, “These people do not believe nuclear war is a serious possibility.”
Lunev, educated in the nuances of Soviet nuclear war strategy, expressed
surprise. “But why not?” he asked.
The American mind is full of false notions about nuclear war. We think of
such a war as “the end of all life.” We have numerous false theories, from
“nuclear winter” to global fallout, that assure us such a war cannot be won.
American officials seriously delude themselves about the reasons for the
Russian and Chinese nuclear buildup. They do not realize there are generals
and politicians in Moscow and Beijing who believe that nuclear war is
terrible, yet winnable.
With decades and centuries of time lying before us, is it really possible that humanity will avoid another world war in which weapons of mass destruction are used to alter the demography of the planet?
As Rome dominated the ancient Mediterranean world with legions, a future Rome
may dominate the globe with nuclear missiles left over from a great nuclear
But to acknowledge this long-term threat we’d have to change the way we think
about our foreign policy and our economy. Trading with gangsters in China,
who are intensively building up weapons of mass destruction for future use,
would not be acceptable if the American public understood how likely war is
in the long run. Thinking of our children and grandchildren, there would be
no question of becoming an economic partner with a country intent on our
Unfortunately, Americans have fallen prey to comfort and willful ignorance.
If we misunderstand the effects of world war, we yet understand one aspect of
this situation very well, namely, that nuclear war would put an end to our
standard of living. And serious preparations for nuclear war would spoil
today’s fun. Let’s be honest here. We aren’t simply afraid of losing a
nuclear war. From our country’s unique hedonistic perspective, winning such
a war would perhaps be more frightful than losing. In other words, we are
afraid of winning, and we are afraid of losing.
“If you are afraid of war day in day out, what will you do if war eventually
comes?” asked Chairman Mao.
It is clear that America as a whole has been cowardly in its attitude toward
nuclear armed countries like Russia and China. Almost everyone in America
refuses to face up to the very real possibility of a mass destruction
campaign aimed against us. The fact that we have not developed national
missile defenses, that we have no shelter programs, that U.S. high school
students receive no instruction on fallout effects and self protection
measures, indicates the extreme degree of our irresponsibility. Our culture
is so cowardly in this regard, it is afraid to even study or discuss the
On the other side, the Russians and Chinese are naturally afraid of nuclear
war as one might expect. It is only human. But they are not so corrupted by
comfort, by a desire to continue in peace at any price, that they are
incapable of accepting that war is always inevitable in history, and the mass
use of nuclear weapons may be unavoidable. Both Russia and China therefore
have nuclear shelter programs. Both countries are working to build national
missile defenses. In the United States, however, national missile defense is
a controversial subject, and neither Congress nor President Bush are
proposing that we build defenses capable of stopping a mass Russian strike.
Even more to the point, nobody is talking about civil defense. Apparently
it’s too inconvenient.
In America there is an intellectual unwillingness to recognize that weapons
of mass destruction are effective instruments of war. We tend to think that
their terribleness renders them useless. We ought to put ourselves in the
position of a Chinese or Russian general. In other words, we should
consider the brutal point of view and attempt to see the world through the
eyes of those who slaughtered the students at Tiananmen Square.
The fourth chapter of my book is entirely devoted to this exercise. The
chapter is entitled “Fiendish logic.” Therein I contend that sheer economic
power is no longer the basis for military power in the nuclear age. Nuclear
missiles are actually quite cheap, and might easily destroy economies much
larger than those required to make the missiles. In my book it says: “The
perspective of military strategy, with its new instrumentalities of mass
destruction, now denies the sociological primacy of economics.”
Americans believe that their great economy guarantees that the U.S. will
remain supreme and invincible. We cannot even imagine what it would be like
to find ourselves conquered and subservient. But we have forgotten that a
few hundred missiles can reduce our economic power overnight, and thereby
cripple our military potential. “Military-technical progress has brought
about an inversion,” I explain in the book. “At last the forces of
destruction turn the tables on the forces of production, and weapons of war
now promise transformations more sudden and dramatic than ever did the
implements of peace.”
The resentful and envious Chinese leaders know all of this. They have
thought long and hard about revenge against the West. The reasons for last
week’s incident, where the Chinese side was making all the demands and
dictating terms, is based on this knowledge. They know that we overrate our
economic power in the scale of things. We ignore the strategic realities and
think only of money. As my book points out, “We expect Mammon, at whose
temple we worship, to marshal our military forces. But Mammon is not a god
of war. He is a corrupter who confiscates the concrete of the nation and
diverts it from fallout shelters to freeways. At every turn he cries butter
and not guns.”
Those who have not read my book may not realize there is a deep philosophy
behind the Russian and Chinese development of nuclear weapons. This
“fiendish logic” is well known to the analysts and strategists in Moscow and
Beijing. But it is unexplored territory for Americans.
If only our people understood — if only they had the will to understand
these things — American policy would not appear so helpless. As it stands,
the best of our presidents and the finest of our secretaries of state find
themselves culturally conditioned to retreat and surrender again and again.