Star Wars; African Aids; Yuppies

To the Editors:

Generally speaking, Soviet writers accomplish the statement of strategic principles and military objectives with far greater clarity than westerners. They express clearly that in war there are but two options: first strike and second strike. Every nation is compelled to choose one or the other. Consequently, in place of massive retaliation, countervailing strategy, flexible response, limited option, mutual deterrence, etc., they offer a frank appraisal of war-fighting capability in light of presumed objectives. Their criticism of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) goes correctly to the heart of its first-strike capability, from their perspective. Were we to speak as clearly as they, we would see that there is no real distinction between a supposedly purely offensive and a purely defensive strategy. Thus, a hardened missile silo to house MX could not be opposed to SDI as offensive instead of defensive. To harden the silo is a defensive measure, provided one realizes that it defends citizens only indirectly, through threatened retaliation in the form of a second strike. Just as the “defensive” SDI can very well serve an offensive role, the “offensive” ICBM can serve a primarily defensive role. The real difference, therefore, lies in the disposition of those who resort to the one or the other. A purely second-strike capacity in the hands of an aggressor power restrains that power from injuring its probable victims. That is the proper context in which to view the Soviet Union’s frenetic efforts to build a first-strike capability-to release themselves from that restraint. On the other hand, a first-strike capacity in the hands of a pacific nation serves both to defend the peace and to reinforce a consciousness of the need for restraint on the part of aggressor nations. Reverse that equation and you will no less surely reverse the expected consequences: a first-strike capacity in the hands of an aggressor nation is highly likely to be employed, while a second-strike capacity in the hands of a pacific nation bids fair to fall victim to desuetude.

On the basis of these principles, I would think that Steven Maaranen’s skepticism about SDI (The Claremont Review, Winter 1985, p. 1) is rather misplaced. The point of SDI research is not to pose a choice between defense and offense. The point is to enhance the chances for development of an adequate strategy of defense. Nor again is the point properly expressed as the avoidance of nuclear war. Rather, it is the recognition that reliance on nuclear war (which has forced the pacific United States to prefer a second-strike capability) has proved inadequate to the defense of the country and its citizens. Only the capability actually to strike one’s adversary with meaningful effect can offer an active defense, a defense of citizens. I repeat: the point is actually to defend the lives and property of the citizens of the United States and thereby to enhance the likelihood that they shall perdure.

We are well advised to proceed with caution. The reason, however, is not that a new strategy may work less well than an old one. That goes without saying. The need for caution today stems from the fact that, precisely because we are unable to defend ourselves (we have only a second-strike capacity, effectively) and because in enhancing our defenses (whatever the array of weapons), we run great risk of inviting a foray against our transient weakness, a strengthening of our capabilities now threatens to remove an opportunity too good to be let go by our adver­sary. This danger confronts us-and I believe this is the fact which Maaranen must emphasize-no matter what array of weapons we settle upon to repair the breach in our forces.

While the debate over the Administration’s defense requests tangles the $4.3-billion Star Wars program in a global deficit net, we threaten to lose sight of the fact that our real challenge is to reformulate the terms of strategic superiority. Steven Maaranen reminds us of that first ques­tion. Defense Secretary Weinberger is correct in cautioning us against holding national strategy “hostage to the accountant’s pencil-in which the desire for reduced deficits and domestic comfort overwhelms our common sense, narrows our perspective and compels us to shrink from our obligation to resist the most tyrannical forces in world.” I would remind him and us, however, that the obligation to resist tyranny arises from the necessity to defend ourselves-and that absolutely as far as possible, not simply relatively. That is the premise from which every review of Star Wars apologia must begin.

– Bill Allen
Harvey Mudd College

Steven Maaranen Replies

Bill Allen’s comments compel me to emphasize some points that I had chosen to mute. My review focused on the strategic rationales of two prominent books which favor the development and deployment of strategic defenses by the United States. Those strategic arguments are, I suggested, either fundamentally flawed or at least utterly impractical in the circumstances foreseeable in the next decade or two. That does not make me a skeptic of SDI. But it does mean that, given the profound consequences that would follow upon a misstep in U.S. strategic policy at this time, we need a broader and more thorough discussion of the foundations of U.S. security, and a more convincing concept for employing strategic defenses than those that have been posed so far.

Dr. Allen states some useful “principles” for thinking about defense. It is the character of the regime that possesses the forces, he argues, rather than the details of weapon systems and force balances, which define the prospects for peace and security and should determine our strategy. But this is only a starting point for developing a better understanding of how stra­tegic defenses can serve us. As a practical matter, it is not principles like those of Dr. Allen, but other, significantly different views, which under­lie most current thinking about SDI and its role in U.S. security. President Reagan in his SDI speech argued that a strategy which actively defends Americans is better both practically and morally than one that deters, or ultimately must avenge, an attack on the U.S. by the use of offensive nuclear forces. Moreover, there is an overriding concern in both official policy and in academic circles in the U.S. with attaining and maintaining what is called stability. Stability amounts to ensuring that neither the U.S. nor the U.S.S.R. has any incentive, or can see any advantage, in going to war with the other. And President Reagan in his agreement with Prime Minister Thatcher pledged that the U.S. would not use SDI as a means to attain strategic superi­ority over the U.S.S.R.

All of these views or policies relating to SDI, and many ideas that are imbedded in current U.S. strategic policy, run counter to the principles Bill Allen recommends to us. But because of the advent of SDI, and because the main path of U.S. strategic policy relying exclusively on offensive forces has apparently entered a cul de sac, we now have an opportunity and an obligation to rethink, fundamentally, our security policy. The
books by Robert Jastrow, and Gregory Fossedal and Daniel Graham are a helpful beginning of that process. They are not its conclusion.


African AIDS

To the Editors:

In support of Dr. Wettergreen’s reply (Winter 1985) to criticisms of his article, “AIDS, Public Morality, and Public Health” (Fall 1985), I would like to cite the following information regarding the dissimilarity of African and American AIDS, which appeared in the December 6, 1985, issue of Science (p, 1141).


Researchers have long believed that the retro-virus that has been implicated as the primary cause of AIDS originated in Africa. . . . [D]ata, recently published in Science (22 November, p. 951), [show] that a retrovirus isolated from wild African Green monkeys is very similar to the AIDS virus. The suspicion is that the virus may recently have crossed the species barrier and infected man. . . .

Serum samples taken from prostitutes in Senegal were found to have been infected with the monkey virus itself, rather than the closely related AIDS virus. . . . [N]one of those who tested positive had any signs of AIDS or AlDs-related diseases. Similarly, African green monkeys infected with the virus are healthy. A possible explanation is that the monkey virus itself may not be pathogenic but it may have mutated in man and acquired some destructive properties.

[It was also found] that serum from only 53 percent of individuals in the United States who have antibodies to the AIDS virus itself read with proteins from the monkey virus, while almost 100 percent of serum samples from similar antibody-positive Africans cross-react with the simian viral antigens. This suggests that strains of the virus causing AIDS in Africa are more closely related to the African Green monkey virus than are the strains causing AIDS in the United Slates.


Different strains can certainly manifest them­selves in different ways. . . .

Even though evidence indicates differences in the viral strains causing African AIDS and American AIDS, possibly accounting for some of the noted variances, the mode of transmission of the two strains, in Africa among heterosexuals and in America among homosexuals, may very well be the same: anal intercourse.

According to a letter [from Uli Linke of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, Science, January 17, 1986], female circumcision, which may include infibulation, is still a widespread practice in central Africa; anal intercourse is common among such women who have undergone this ordeal; and the recent outbreak of AIDS in Africa corresponds geograph­ically to those regions where female mutilation is still practiced.

– Edwin E. Rosenblum
Science Editor of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.


Philosophy and Yuppies

To the Editors:

. . . . I am very new to the study of political philosophy, and it seems to me to be, to quote what James Dickey once said about poetry, “the best damn thing in the world.” For this reason, I am especially dismayed by the “rift among Straussians” as it appeared in the pages of the Fall, 1985, Claremont Review of Books (Correspond­ence). (I just got here, at the University of Dallas.) The differences between Dr. Thomas West and Dr. Gregory B. Smith would only suffer a mang­ling in my girlish and incapable hands; however, I would like to comment, if I may, on the following remarks from Dr. Smith’s letter:

. . . . I have every reason to believe that West’s neighbors are either urbanites or suburbanites, and his students primarily children of the middle or upper-middle class, the same as mine, and that they are every bit as caught up in the ethic of the “yuppie” as are my neighbors and the students I have had in Chicago and Philadelphia. And in that unrepentant materialism, I find no cause for delight, and no reason to wax poetic. Which of us is really the romantic?

Now, I just recently moved here from El Paso, and El Paso is thought to be a primitive and backward town, even for Texas. Everyone there assured me that in Dallas I would encounter screaming hordes of ruthless yuppies. I was very excited about this, because I had read so much about them in weekly news magazines. I kept my eyes peeled, expecting to see, at any minute, a yuppie reeling down the sidewalk, blindly intoxicated with comfortable self-preservation, wearing a Ralph Lauren polo shirt. I also knew what to do when I finally met a yuppie: hate and revile it. Yes, I knew, because I had read it in weekly news magazines, that yuppies were vicious, grasping, mercenary, hustling, supremely selfish, materialistic “last men.” My lips were all pursed for spitting.

My problem was that, in Dallas, I have seen a great deal of strange and whimsical architecture, and a great many well-dressed men and women who go to work in the mornings and head for health spas and fern bars in the evenings. They’re so cute, you know, with their accents and every­thing. Obviously, I want to make sure not to spit on the wrong person. Imagine my confusion, then, when I found that none of them would admit to being yuppies. There is a local newspaper that runs “personal” classified ads every week-“men seeking women, women seeking men, etc.”-and every ad contains a set of rigorous qualifications. One of the strictest rules is-you guessed it-“no yuppies.” It seems that no one wants to own up to being grasping, mercen­ary, and hustling, and certainly no one wants to meet anyone who is.

Nevertheless, I was sure, because simply everyone told me so, that those yuppies were out there somewhere, but not a one of them would come forward in the flesh and confess. I had almost given up when I opened the latest issue of The Claremont Review and discovered that (Great balls of fire!) was a yuppie. My search was over.

Yet, before I began to hate and revile myself, I began to wonder. I couldn’t figure out how I had become a yuppie. As far as I knew, I hadn’t done or said anything to qualify. I didn’t even have a credit rating before Dr. Smith refused to delight in my unrepentant materialism. Then, I divined the truth, I was a yuppie only because someone, with grave authority and “reason,” chose to call me one. That was all it took.

This idea presented me with a landscape even more strange and whimsical than downtown Dallas (if that is possible). I saw, all across this great country of ours, screaming hordes-all right, hordes of healthy, well-dressed, well-nourished, reasonably intelligent men and women, each one pointing out the window towards the urbanite and suburbanite neighbors, each one crying out with genuine impassioned frenzy to anyone who cared to listen (God?): “Don’t come looking in my living room for a grasping, mercen­ary, supremely selfish human being! No! Look over there! Across the street! Next door! At Southern Methodist University! That’s where they are, the yuppies. That’s where they are, the last men.”

There is something truly comic, and I am sure quite purgative, in this national act of self-absolution, especially as it accompanies, as far as I can tell, no sacrament of confession. I was surely not about to confess to being caught up in the ethic of the yuppie when Dr. Smith tracked me down. Fortunately, I know how to wiggle out of his accusation. It’s not pretty, but it must be done:

Dr. Smith, child of the middle class I certainly am (it seems that you have access to my parents’ income tax returns), but (please! God! Someone! Believe me!) I am no yuppie. No way. Not me, them. Out there. Somewhere. . . .

There is something hauntingly familiar about this new trend of yuppie-bashing, like an old song with new lyrics, the muzak I have heard all my life without ever quite learning its source. It was Dr. Smith who uttered those magic words that brought it all into perspective: “Children of the middle and upper-middle class . . . caught up in the ethic of the ‘yuppie’. . . .” Yes, there it is, whole and untransformed, handed down from generation to generation, practically built into the standard college degree. The poor, miserable, unwanted, much-accused and never-advertised-for yuppie is just a screen, just the hip, updated version of the most sacred and noble prejudice of the American intellectual: hatred of the middle class. In my youthful naiveté, I had assumed that it found its home only among left-wing intellec­tuals, whose Marxist creeds demand hostility towards whole “classes” of human beings. I must confess that I am frankly embarrassed to see a Straussian dragging the middle-class boogeyman out on the floor for another waltz.

In his book Nine Lies about America, Dr. Arnold Beichman has effectively demonstrated what often lies beneath this intoxicating prejudice: complacency in the face of, even casual demands for, mass extermination. At the same time, Tom Wolfe, who has written so much and so well on this particular topic, begins his foreword to Nine Lies about America by saying “Arnold Beich­man takes a far grimmer view of the people in his book than I do.” Wolfe finds them “quite out to lunch” and “marvelous.” Wolfe believes that American intellectuals are motivated, not by a desire for any real change, but by a frenzied effort to protect their “status.” In his essay “The Intelligent Coed’s Guide to America,” he writes:

The American intellectual had become not so much an occupational type as a status type. He was like the medieval cleric, most of whose energies were devoted to separating himself from the mob-which, in modern times, in Revel’s phrase, goes under the name of the middle class.

What Wolfe finds so tickling about all this is, I think, terribly obvious, but worthy of some consideration. Dr. Smith teaches political science at the University of Pennsylvania. Now, I don’t have access to [his] income tax returns, but it’s a safe bet that [he] is not ill-fed, ill-housed, or lacking in the material comforts of life. Here we have one of the greatest phenomena of Twentieth Century America: comfortable people raging about . . . other comfortable people.

Ah, but I forget the rules of the game. It’s all those other comfortable people who are a problem. Some individuals are capable of absolv­ing themselves through the miracle of the printed word. Having done so, they are no less comfort­able (don’t be silly), but their comfort has been purged . . . washed clean . . . rendered noble. If only everyone had time to sit down and tap out a complaint against the middle class on the old word processor, the great virtues Americans are said to lack would suddenly appear among us, as if by magic. That’s all it takes.

There is another alternative, hardly worth consideration, and certainly not worth putting into practice; nevertheless, I offer it for public derision: We could all admit that a little comfort­able self-preservation is okay, in fact we ourselves like it. This accomplished, we could put an end to the wholesale dehumanization of “classes” and “generations,” and get down to the serious task of “regenerating the virtues that sustain American life.” (I’d like to call this outlandish practice “repentant materialism.”) However, I might just as well be trying to talk Marxists out of their lust for world revolution.

Dr. Smith reproves Dr. West for being “curiously silent about Aristotle.” I find Dr. Smith a little silent, myself, about Aristotle’s praise of “the middle class which forms the mean” (Politics, Book IV, chapter 11). I am sure Dr. Smith is more familiar with it than I am, and I feel he shunts it aside too quickly in his rush to assert that “no serious theoretical synthe­sis of Hobbes, Locke, and Aristotle is possible.” This particular section of The Politics, however, doesn’t concern “Ideal States in Theory,” but “Practicable Types.” Allow me to quote Dr. Smith on the importance of distinguishing between the two: “The failure to recognize the difference between politics and philosophy is precisely what makes the philosophers prone to ‘will’ their own projects for humanity.” (In the same way, I once knew a philosophic young man who longed for a “revolution for virtue,” willing, in effect, virtue through war. I found this difficult to take seri­ously, coming, as it did, from a man wearing argyle socks.) The size of the American middle class, the millions of “well-fed products,” the “increase in leisure time with no ends to pursue” could possibly be fertile ground for real education. I am wary of those who find it a suitable occasion for hand-wringing and self-righteous diatribes. According to Aristotle, “It is therefore the greatest of blessings for a state that its members should possess a moderate and adequate property.” Informed opinion has not yet persuaded me that this is a blessing to be taken lightly, color televisions and compact disc players notwithstanding.

In this respect, I seem to be in disagreement with Dr. Smith, for if his contempt of the middle class is as thorough as he would have us believe, he must intend to recruit his noble young souls from the ranks of the very rich or the very poor. (The one is “nurtured in luxury” and never acquires “a habit of discipline, even in the matter of lessons,” the other is “far too mean and poor-spirited,” according to Aristotle. Of course, the possibility of middle and upper-middle class masochists remains open to Dr. Smith as well.) Certainly no one would call such an expectation “romantic.” Not me, anyway. But then, my narrow, middle-class mind remains frightfully closed when a high moral and spiritual vision is delivered up to me with a brisk slap across the face. “Whack-o! Take that, last men.” This, as Wolfe has discerned, is too often the attitude of “The Soul Engineers” of the Left. Moreover, it has become not only self-defeating, but truly pathetic. In The Painted Word, Wolfe presents the tragic plight of The Modern Artist, who, having made every conceivable effort to render his work inaccessible to the middle-class herd, then rages and despairs because almost no one will buy it. Far be it from me to suggest that there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Dr. Smith takes great pains to remind Dr. West that “the word has leaked out” that “God is dead.” A few years ago, Elton John also leaked this “news” in a song called “Levon.” “God is dead” is also a remarkably popular piece of graffiti, and I first heard it twenty years ago from a six-year-old who lived down the block from me. Those who have not yet confronted “the implica­tions” of a “phrase” that is commonly found on restroom walls must be even more naive than I am. Nevertheless, there are some who still insist on writing “Jesus loves you, sinner” right up there next to it. From these innumerable exchanges among the herd’s more outspoken members, I am given to conclude that “belief in the eternal and transcendental” has not yet been completely “shattered,” and that the dread aphor­ism is losing its power to startle and amaze. Those who would will it otherwise must be racking their lofty and detached intellects for a new device that can complete this “shattering.” (“God is really, really dead”?) No doubt the continued, repeated insistence that the American herd is composed entirely of soulless “last men” is of great use to them.

It seems that, among some Straussians, as among some on the Left, we are to be reduced to faceless “mass men” whether we want it or not. I suppose it is of no avail to ask them not to do us any more favors. And obviously, it is fantastic to expect that those who affect to despise comfortable self-preservation might dem­onstrate their nobility with deeds, for a change, by sacrificing their comfort that they might advance their virtue. No, this effort is clearly beyond the reach of mortal men. Such virtue as mere mortals can achieve must lie, by my observation, in the protection of status and the compulsive, futile acts of self-absolution.

I would like to thank Dr. Smith for bringing all this to my attention. These days, it is nearly impossible to get the attention of middle-class children with an insult they have grown so used to; it is quite possible, however, to show them something worthy of “that noble striving in man,” and, I hope, in girl. That is, after all, how I got to Dallas in the first place.

Heidi Ann Baker
Graduate Student
University of Dallas