The Book Club

Make Jazz, Not Napalm

Dear Fareed,

Now that we have shaken the philosophical dust off of our respective Achesonian armchairs, let’s settle down to specifics. I will take what I take to be your points, one by one. I hope you don’t mind this format.

1) I agree we are having an old debate, but that’s OK, because last time, the wrong side won.

2) Acheson gets no points for letting China go. China, as we can both agree, was never “ours” to lose. The China lobby never had a hope in hell of winning that war–we’d still be in it today. Praising Acheson for resisting a war in China is equivalent to saying he was “not insane.” The United States moreover, did not “consign the Chinese people to years of oppression, famine, and political murder.” The Chinese did that all by themselves.

3) On Vietnam: Approximately 27,000 Americans and who knows how many Asians lost their lives while Acheson was deciding that Vietnam ultimately did not matter. You say that virtually “every other Cold Warrior” agreed with him, alas, Lippmann, Kennan and the great Hans Morgenthau did not and it is they, not Acheson, who deserve our praise today.

4) You say Acheson is a “statesman” for taking the hawkish positions he took on Korea, Cuba, and elsewhere, and that only intellectuals have the luxury of taking the long view. Fine. But call it by its right name. Churchill was a statesman. So were both Adamses; the first one having sacrificed his presidency and his party to keep us out of a foolish war with France. Acheson was just a politician; a smart and savvy one perhaps, but also one who didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blew.

5) You ask me to “imagine a world in which the United States resolutely had not responded to any Soviet expansion outside of Western Europe and Japan.” I ask you to imagine a world where every little country that wanted to chose its own way of governing itself did not have to answer to the CIA if it chose the “wrong” direction. I ask you to imagine a world where millions upon millions of Asians were not killed for a fight that they did not chose. I ask you to imagine a world where Chile could elect anyone it wanted to be president, as could Guatemala, or Iran without being tossed into tyranny. This hubristic notion that every single nationalistic or Marxist revolution was somehow the product of “Soviet expansion” is beneath you, Fareed. Vietnam had nothing to do with the Soviets. Eisenhower himself admitted that Ho Chi Minh would have won an election there with eighty percent of the vote. That’s why we would never agree to allow them to take place, champions of freedom and democracy that we were. So yes, I accept your challenge and I imagine the world a far better place, not without tyranny, but with Third World nations allowed to find their own path to modernization and development. Also, now that you mention it, the U.S. would be a much healthier country had it not fought a global Cold War. We would have healthier cities, a better balanced Constitutional order, and a much less psychologically screwed-up political culture. Without the global Cold War, Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon would likely have died in the complete obscurity each man so richly deserved. (By the way, I hate to be picky, but still no mention of Acheson’s affection for South Africa or Rhodesia here, is there?)

6) Miles vs. the Soviets.

Well, maybe not Miles. He was a little abstruse. More of Slate magazine Cold Warrior than Time or Life. But what about Satchmo? He could have won the Cold War almost single-handedly. Seriously, the main “theaters” of the Cold War were stable by 1950. The rest was a combination of psychological insecurity and macho posturing. We hurt ourselves far more in the good opinion of the rest of the world in Vietnam and Nicaragua than the Soviets could ever have done to us. You say the Soviets were defeated by Star Wars. I say those kids went to the barricades with Yeltsin for rock n’ roll. Pop culture: that’s what we’re really good at, awful as it often is. “Make jazz, not napalm,” I say.

PS. It doesn’t worry me that I hate “Seinfeld.” The only thing America and I agree on is Bruce Springsteen and that’s because they all misunderstood “Born in the USA.”