Commentary Magazine


“CBS vs. Defense&rdquo

To the Editor:

We at CBS News are flattered, though not surprised, that COMMENTARY chose to devote so much space to an “analysis” of the recent CBS News documentary series, The Defense of the United-States [“CBS vs. Defense,” by Joshua Muravchik and John E. Haynes, September]. Nor, of course, were we surprised at the conclusions—since those conclusions obviously were formed long before our broadcasts aired.

Regardless of what Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes may believe, we set out, without preconception, to provide the American people with a balanced look at the defense dilemma facing this country today: the Soviet threat, the present state of our military forces, and how much we should spend on defense over the next five years.

In short, we asked—how much is enough? Although the authors seem to question the motives of CBS News and others in raising such a basic question, I should point out that no less a figure than OMB Director David Stockman appears to be doing the exact same thing, with support from Republican members of Congress and other Reagan cabinet members.

We answered our basic question fairly. So fairly, that for every voice from the Left which Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes so proudly quote as praising our series—thereby presumably tainting any validity which the series might otherwise be accorded—there is a William F. Buckley, Jr., who wrote that “CBS’s extensive and in many ways brilliant five-part series on the problems of U.S. defense policy gave a lucid pictorial idea of what is involved in (a) catching up with the Soviet Union, while (b) making the correct decisions on where to place our scarce dollars.”

And for every piece from the Right, such as the one COMMENTARY ran, there is a commentary from Red Star, the newspaper of the Soviet Defense Ministry, which wrote on July 6:

The Defense of the United States—such a hypocritical title was given to a five-part documentary film shown by one of the leading U.S. television networks, CBS. The producers of the film have not set themselves the task to refute a widespread gross invention in the United States concerning the “Soviet military threat.” Moreover, while claiming to give “only the facts,” they present them in such combinations and in such a prepared manner that one cannot but have the impression that some of the installments were none other than a propaganda order from the Pentagon.

And again the authors of the film retreat from an objective and honest answer to these questions. It is doubtful whether it was their task. On the contrary, in the fifth installment, there are more than enough sequences and scenes which are commissioned to mislead the American average man, to distort the essence and purposes of the Soviet peaceful foreign policy, to ascribe to the Soviet Army some “aggressiveness.” Of course, there are no proofs.

Perhaps we should feel good about this series, not only because of its content, but because its attackers make up a rather interesting alliance of COMMENTARY, the American Security Council, and the Soviet Defense Ministry. A pretty good day’s work in our book!

And perhaps we should feel good about this series because “analyses” such as the one in COMMENTARY are forced to distort what we said in an effort to make an ideological point. The general accuracy of the COMMENTARY article can best be shown by analyzing the following sentence: “The insistent ideological slant which informed CBS’s presentation led it to make many erroneous or distorted assertions, but the most important error was one of omission. In five hours given to examining the plans for a U.S. military build-up, there was no mention—none— of the Soviet build-up which precipitated it.”

Really? The authors had better get the fine-tuning on their sets adjusted.

From the first broadcast: “The Russians have put almost all their strategic eggs in the missile silos. They now have 1,400 missiles, with 5,000 warheads, and are still building new ones. To counter the Russian build-up, the Carter administration came up with this, a giant new missile, the MX. . . .”

From the second broadcast: “In Europe, no one has paid much attention to Russian tactical nuclear weapons along the East-West border—the long-range missiles in every Warsaw Pact country or the hundreds of bombers that can carry nuclear weapons. . . . But in 1977, the Soviets started to modernize. They built a new missile, the SS-20, a longer-range missile with three warheads. It has triggered a brand new arms race. . . . For the NATO high command, the SS-20 raised the stakes in Europe. In the late 70′s, reports of the missile’s accuracy raised fears of a Soviet preemptive strike. . . .”

From the third broadcast: “Standing here [near the Berlin Wall], your first thought is that a government that could do this could do anything, even go to war. Then a question: could we stop them? The statistics say no.”

From the fifth broadcast (over pictures of a Russian missile design facility): “We think you’re looking at a missile-design bureau, one of three in the Soviet Union that compete with each other like Ford and General Motors. For security reasons, they said we could not be given any specific information, but we do know that what you are seeing is part of an enormous missile-building program—a program that took off after the Russians were forced to back down in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. It was a turning point in their strategic planning—the humiliation they vowed they would never forget, and may account for the Russian resolve to produce so many of these missiles today. Three-quarters of their strategic strength is focused here, which puts them ahead of us in numbers of land-based missiles and warheads, though behind us in other crucial measurements of nuclear strength.”

And there are other, similar quotes. The point here is not that our series necessarily agreed with the ideological biases of Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes, but simply that we repeatedly discussed the issue of the Soviet military buildup and its consequences for the United States. They didn’t want to hear or see these references—and they didn’t. That is their problem, as is the sloppy research which characterizes many of their other allegations.

The Defense of the United States was good television, in the best sense of that term. It caused viewers to think, to argue with each other, to question assumptions and ponder solutions. We remain extremely proud of this series.

Bill Leonard
President, CBS News
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

As one of the producers of Ground Zero and The Nuclear Battlefield (the first two segments in the CBS News series, The Defense of the United States), I am deeply offended by Joshua Muravchik and John E. Haynes’s article.

To suggest that we at CBS News engaged in a conspiracy to stage our own “guerrilla attack” would be just plain silly, if it weren’t so serious. You don’t have to be more than an irregular follower of Lou Grant to know that most news people are too ornery, too independent to be able to come to one single-minded conclusion. (In fact, the authors take us to task for not always being consistent, from one broadcast to the next. We weren’t always consistent because the series was produced by a number of people who were given the freedom of independent work.)

Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes try to make fun of executive producer Howard Stringer’s comment that there has been insufficient debate on defense issues. Clearly, he was right. There has been a lot of talk and a lot of concern, but the issues are complicated, the numbers are easily manipulated, and the public is too often put off by obscure language and insufficient facts.

The article tries to prove a “CBS slant” by examining the credentials of some of the people interviewed on the broadcasts. Unfortunately, this examination is limited on facts and long on innuendos.

Example: Roger Mohlander,1 a former staff member of the National Security Council under Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter. The authors take us to task for failing to mention that Mohlander is currently an executive director of an organization called Ground Zero. When CBS News interviewed Mohlander he was still in the White House and his future was unclear.

Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes seem to feel there was an extraordinary coincidence in the fact that the first segment in our series had the same title as Mohlander’s new organization. Both are named “Ground Zero.” But our documentary was in fact titled by people who had never met Roger Mohlander and who knew nothing about his post-White House plans. The coincidence undoubtedly grew out of the increasing awareness of nuclear-war terms and is a reflection of concern, not of an undercover political alliance.

As for the revelations about Drs. Tsipis and Geiger—it might have been interesting if Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes had chosen to debate these scientists’ interpretations of Soviet intent; they seem more interested, however, in detailing Tsipis and Geiger’s affiliations. To try to discredit Geiger on the basis of an article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and a photograph taken of him with Soviet analyst Georgi Arbatov seems like a simple attempt at guilt by association.

The technique appears again in the analysis of CBS’s use of the term the “Iron Triangle” (a term given increasing currency in Washington circles to describe the military-industrial complex). Again, extended debate on the relationship among the Pentagon, Congress, and defense contractors could be valuable. Unfortunately, the authors try to dismiss the term (and the concept it conveys) by pointing out that it was also used as a book title by a man identified as the director of a “New Left organization,” which is funded by men identified with “New Left causes.”

Those of us old enough to have lived through the 50′s find a fearful sense of déjà vu floating through this kind of logic.

Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes (along with the American Security Council) also object to the CBS scenario which used one symbolic 15-megaton bomb to destroy SAC headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. Long before this scenario was filmed, it was discussed with a variety of strategists. While we all agreed it would be most unlikely for any enemy to attack the United States with one nuclear weapon, no strategist we talked to agreed with the authors’ comment that “the Soviets would never expend a weapon that size just to destroy SAC headquarters. . . .” SAC, the central communications center for all U.S. strategic nuclear forces, is clearly regarded as a prime target. A large weapon, the experts say, would compensate for inaccuracy, for an ICBM that was modestly off-course. A smaller warhead, even slightly off-target, might not do the job; a larger warhead would.

The article also seems to suggest that we went to considerable lengths to present U.S. defense planners as Dr. Strangeloves. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example: Admiral Powell Carter, the Navy’s Director of Strategic and Theater Nuclear Warfare, not only has a primary dicision-making job but is also one of the most thoughtful and literate men in the Pentagon. He is certainly not a stereotypical Dr. Strangelove. And General Kelly Burke, Air Force Chief of Research and Development, is another highly respected voice in the defense community.

The conviction that we were trying to portray Dr. Strangelove is supported by a quote from a young crewman at a missile site. Yet anyone who saw our broadcast knows very well that the senior officers were given the lion’s share of time, the young soldier but a few moments.

As for the second broadcast, Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes are outraged at our stating that “some say a device like this [a U.S. tactical nuclear weapon] might be used to start World War III.” They declare the idea baseless and preposterous. I hope they’re right. But they must know that this very concern about U.S. short-range nuclear weapons is creating enormous pressure on a number of West European governments, is shaking the NATO alliance, and has already created tension between this country and its European allies.

For an American to understand what is behind the growing anti-American feelings overseas, he must have a basic picture of the U.S./NATO nuclear arsenal, its weapons and strategies. Most of our viewers had little information about the thousands of warheads on the continent. They did not know that U.S. weapons remain under U.S. control or that U.S. NATO policy retains the right of first use.

To understand why there are Europeans who believe that the trivialization of nuclear weapons could lead to their use, it is helpful to know that field commanders describe nuclear artillery in terms of combat-power ratios and that the U.S. Army general in charge of our tactical nuclear forces believes it possible for a war in Europe to swing back and forth between conventional and nuclear phases.

The authors say, “It is just not true that ‘the Army insists’ it must use tactical weapons.” They are right, but their quote is not. Unfortunately they dropped an important modifier, although the statement is correctly quoted earlier in the article. Our script states, “The Army says it must be able to stop such an attack with battlefield nuclear weapons.” There is quite a difference.

There is more in the article than any of us have the time or space to contend with (as I am sure there were hundreds of points in the five-hour series that Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes were unable to take on). What concerns me are not the disagreements over content. Disagreements are the noble business we are all in. I am, however, deeply distressed by the authors’ tone.

We agree that we live in dangerous times. We may disagree on how we define the problems or on the solutions, but to suggest that the CBS News staff responsible for the defense series is less than honorable or any less committed to our country’s well-being than the COMMENTARY authors, seems to me to diminish the very thing we are both trying to defend.

Judy Crichton
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

In their rush to discredit CBS and its series, The Defense of the United States, Joshua Muravchik and John E. Haynes slip too easily into misguided and ill-informed criticism.

For example, the authors are quick to criticize the scientists CBS interviewed who discussed the effects of a nuclear attack, principally because these scientists are active in the “peace movement.” Is one to conclude, then, that membership in organizations like SANE, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War invalidates one as a source of expert opinion? CBS may have been negligent in not informing viewers of the scientists’ organizational affiliations, but a fair-minded criticism of CBS would rely on the integrity and factual accuracy of the scientists’ substantive contributions to the series, rather than on a broad-brushed dismissal of these professionals because of their devotion to the cause of peace. And what sinister conclusions do Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes want readers to draw from their observation that one interviewee, Dr. Jack Geiger, published a paper from an IPPNW conference in a magazine which also featured “a lead photograph of conference participant Georgi Arbatov,” a Russian whose medical credentials the authors impugn (without substantiation)? Are we creeping into guilt-by-association here?

Conceding that experts have biases, one might conclude that CBS sought out only those experts who question the logic of the current arms race. But, in fact, CBS was careful to solicit opinions from those favoring current or expanded defense expenditures. These opinions are belittled by Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes, however, as “a good deal of footage of military brass,” and dismissed as merely “a foil for CBS’s biting critiques.” Perhaps Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes have as low an opinion of military experts as they do of those in the “peace movement.” In any case, CBS did fulfill its obligation to present meaningful opposing views. . . .

Even more disturbing about this critique of the CBS series is the authors’ shallow understanding of fundamental tenets of defense and interest-group politics. They cite as telling evidence of CBS’s liberal bias its choice of the term the “Iron Triangle” as a label for the process of arms procurement; they attribute this term to a publication released the week of the CBS broadcast by a group called the Council on Economic Priorities, backed by such leftists as Stewart Mott, Gordon Adams, and the Samuel Rubin Foundation. . . . In fact, however, the concept of the Iron Triangle dates back at least to the early 1960′s (see, for example, Douglass Cater, Power in Washington). The term refers to the accommodating, low-visibility relationship among bureaucratic agencies, congressional committees, and private-interest groups. It is a relationship widely acknowledged to exist in most sectors—labor, agriculture, and commerce, as well as defense. The notion of Iron Triangles is a commonplace among introductory texts in American government and politics, and CBS should be commended for introducing a concept so widely accepted and used by students of politics. Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes’s suspicion about CBS’s use of this term would be amusing if it weren’t such an obvious commentary on their lack of expertise in the field.

The authors further criticize CBS for asserting that Soviet weaponry is not as sophisticated as that of the U.S. (and therefore perhaps we are more or less evenly matched with the Soviets)—a fact validated by examples such as tank and plane development. But they seem unaware of the tactical argument that mechanical simplicity on the battlefield is better, because complex weapons systems are more likely to break down under adverse battlefield conditions. Thus, greater numbers of less sophisticated weapons systems may serve to benefit the Soviets as in, for example, a tank engagement between Soviet tanks and our more sophisticated XM-1 tank.

Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes also criticize CBS for pointing out that the U.S. possesses more warheads than the Soviets. They argue that there are other measures of nuclear strength “which are at least as important as numbers of warheads,” and, presumably, the Soviets are ahead of us in these other areas. Without specifying exactly what these areas are, the authors allude to throw-weight (though this is not their label) as being of greater importance. Throw-weight is a reference to the number (weight) of warheads that can be delivered on target. In fact, the number of warheads (and their destructive capabilities) is the important consideration. The Soviets have bigger rockets capable of delivering heavier payloads, such as the SS-20, but the crucial question still is: how many warheads?

Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes trumpet the fact that key congressional committees consistently slash Defense Department budget requests as evidence that defense-related committees are not part of an Iron Triangle where “you don’t hear many hard questions” (they claim this is “blatantly false”—a laughable assertion to any outsider who has ever witnessed or studied a congressional hearing). This conclusion ignores budget gamesmanship—requests are inflated in expectation that they will be slashed—and the reality that most members of defense-related congressional committees, especially the powerful leaders, are more hawkish on defense and procurement matters than the average member of Congress. . . .

Messrs. Muravchik and Haynes decry the fact that CBS did not address the question of the Soviet arms build-up, but they miss the main question of the series—namely, are our defense dollars being well-spent, in accordance with logical priorities?

The rather simple-minded (but for TV, commendable) evaluation of U.S. defense by CBS has been surpassed by the even more simple-minded, hysterical, and ill-considered response of these two COMMENTARY writers. A rational debate on the Soviet arms build-up, and on America’s appropriate response to it, is advanced by a substantive debate over the issues raised; it is not advanced by ad hominem tactics of attacking the debater rather than his arguments.

Robert J. Spitzer
SUNY Cortland
Cortland, New York

_____________

 

To the Editor:

The devastating Muravchik-Haynes analysis of the CBS “guerrilla-attack” documentary on the U.S. rearmament program raises a question which needs answering: why would six nationally-known TV reporters—Cronkite, Rather, Reasoner, Bradley, Schieffer, Threlkeld—involve themselves in an exposé of the U.S. defense effort which the authors of the COMMENTARY article charge was full of “factual errors, distortions, misrepresentations”? Why would CBS News President Bill Leonard and the two producers avoid, as the writers charge, a discussion in the five-hour script of the Soviet arms build-up, and why would they use out-of-date figures on defense? These CBS people are known to most of us as good stand-up journalists. What would impel them to produce and participate in a “documentary” so loaded against “the emerging consensus in favor of rearming America”?

Reductiveness as to motive or conspiracy theories are insufficient to explain why CBS journalists would participate in or lend their names and reputations to so viciously deformed an enterprise. There is something in American culture which still lives by the slogan “no enemies on the Left.” Walter Cronkite, as war correspondent, saw the destruction achieved by a politico-military dictatorship in a disarmed, democratic world. His colleagues know the events which led to World War II. Some of them have reported what the triumph of Communism has meant in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. And yet despite the history, the daily reports of Communism in operation from Afghanistan to Poland, the easily accessible texts of Soviet military publications which are quite clear about the USSR’s world military-political strategy—despite all this, for CBS the U.S. and the USSR are simply mirror images of each other. And, if anything, the U.S. is just a little worse because the Pentagon is run by Dr. Strangeloves, none of whom resembles kindly, intelligent General Mikhail Milshtein, whose interview with Cronkite must be the classic case of Soviet disinformation visited on an American television audience.

Arnold Beichman
Naramata, British Columbia

_____________

 

Joshua Muravchik and John E. Haynes write:

We find Arnold Beichman’s diagnosis of the problem at CBS intriguing, but the letters of Bill Leonard and Judy Crichton suggest another possible diagnosis. They reveal a highly developed sense of self-righteousness combined with a poorly developed sense of precision—a perilous combination indeed.

Amid the invective, Bill Leonard makes two points; both are wrong. First he argues, quoting William F. Buckley, Jr., and Red Star, that those who favor strengthening U.S. defenses are just as likely to have applauded the CBS series as to have found fault with it and that those on the opposite side of the defense debate are equally divided. Including Red Star in this debate is something of a red herring. CBS would have had to go far indeed to have won the editorial approval of Red Star, given that Soviet eschatology holds the U.S. media to be nothing but tools of the ruling class. As for Buckley, Mr. Leonard might have given Buckley’s next sentence, which chided CBS for “its failure to award itself sufficient credit for the disrepair of our defense system.” We recently wrote to Buckley for additional clarification, and we quote, with permission, his reply: “I wrote carefully the statement [Leonard] quote[s], which I believe to be true. I don’t see how CBS can argue with your specific criticisms, since they make an overwhelming case insofar as they focus on the planted axioms you discuss.”

But Mr. Leonard is disingenuous when he says that the Buckley and Red Star quotes are just as representative as the quotes that we gave from the Washington Star, the Village Voice, the American Security Council, and the Christian Science Monitor. We have seen more than twenty articles about the CBS series. Among these, the Buckley and Red Star articles are not merely unrepresentative, they are unique. Every other article appearing in a journal generally favoring a strong defense—the Detroit News, the Dallas Morning News, the Washington Star, Human Events, Accuracy in Media, Armed Forces Journal, the Retired Officer, and others—was sharply critical. Every one appearing in a journal generally critical of U.S. defense efforts—the Nation, the Village Voice, the Minnesota Daily, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and others—was laudatory. Articles appearing in journals of no particular point of view on defense also generally concurred in identifying the advocacy in CBS’s reportage. Thus TV Guide observed: “Not unlike ‘The Selling of the Pentagon,’ the series is remarkable, in the current political climate, for its sharp point of view.”

We call Mr. Leonard disingenuous because he gives himself away. If he genuinely believed his series to be as likely to win the approval of hawks as of doves, why does he begin by sneering, “Nor, of course, were we surprised at the conclusions”?

Mr. Leonard’s other point is to dispute our assertion that CBS made no mention of the Soviet build-up. To refute us, he quotes four fragments from the series. Each quote is removed from its context, which, in all four examples, was a passage designed to minimize the Soviet threat or to ridicule U.S. responses to it. But in context or out, all of Mr. Leonard’s quotes don’t add up to a mention of the Soviet military build-up as the term is usually used. Yes, CBS mentioned the growth in the Soviet ICBM force. Yes, it mentioned the SS-20. But two weapons do not a build-up make.

What is meant by the Soviet build-up is not the growth in any one, or two, or three weapons, but rather a vast, across-the-board increase and Modernization of land, air, and sea forces; of conventional, tactical nuclear, strategic nuclear, and chemical weapons; of offensive and defensive and mobile forces; of troops and tanks and airplanes and ships and missiles. To make clear the import of the term, we quoted at length from former Secretary of Defense Brown’s statement warning that military expenditures consume 11 to 14 percent of the Soviet GNP, exceed U.S. expenditures by 30-50 percent overall and by 85 percent in investment in hardware, and that the Soviet trend appears “to be aiming toward some sort of war-winning capability.” It is the very breadth and depth of this military effort that give rise to two worries (worries that woud not arise from the expansion of any one or two weapons systems): (1) that the Soviet Union will gain overall military superiority over the United States; and (2) that Soviet intentions are less benign than many U.S. analysts had once believed. This is what has given currency to the term the “Soviet build-up.” And it is this problem that received no mention—none at all—from CBS.

_____________

 

Judy Crichton finds that we are “limited on facts and long on innuendos” and that our “simple attempt at guilt by association” creates “a fearful sense of déjà vu” in those who “have lived through the 50′s”: in short, we are McCarthyites. After reading this and the relentless stream of ad hominem attacks on us in Bill Leonard’s letter, we find incongruous Miss Crichton’s conclusion that what “distressed” her about our article was its “tone.”

Miss Crichton takes us to task for “try [ing] to make fun of executive producer Howard Stringer’s comment that there has been insufficient debate on defense issues.” But CBS went further than saying there had been “insufficient debate.” Stringer, as we reported, told the Christian Science Monitor that “We want to stimulate a debate which . . . CBS News President Bill Leonard felt had never been started” (emphasis added).

Miss Crichton defends CBS’s not identifying Roger Molander (whose name she misspells) as executive director of Ground Zero, an organization opposed to the modernization of U.S. strategic forces, on the grounds that at the time CBS interviewed him he was still working in the White House. We don’t know when CBS interviewed Molander. We do know that CBS aired its program in June 1981, many months after Molander left the White House, and it identified him on the air as someone whose White House service was in the past.

Miss Crichton accuses us of engaging in an “attempt at guilt by association” because we noted that Drs. Tsipis and Geiger are active in the peace movement, a fact that CBS did not tell its viewers. We disagree with Drs. Tsipis and Geiger on defense policy, but we don’t regard them as guilty of anything. The only guilty party is CBS News which presented these two advocates as neutral “experts” and failed to provide a contrasting viewpoint.

Miss Crichton states that we dismissed the need to examine the relationship among the Pentagon, Congress, and defense contractors and instead simply pointed out that the CBS use of the term the “Iron Triangle” coincided with the publication of a book by the same name by an author associated with the New Left. But far from dismissing the issue, our article went into great detail to refute the caricature CBS presented of the military procurement system. Indeed, we spent more space on this than on any other subject. It is noteworthy that neither Miss Crichton nor Mr. Leonard defends that caricature or challenges any of the evidence we presented which discredited CBS’s description.

The American Security Council, an organization made up in large part of retired military officers, found the CBS scenario of the use of a 15-megaton nuclear warhead on SAC headquarters improbable. We mentioned the issue and also noted that CBS’s rebuttal—that the Soviets did possess some warheads of that size—was probably true. But our main concern was with what CBS didn’t say. As we pointed out: “What went unmentioned in all this was the megatonage of American missiles; CBS never told its viewers that there is nothing nearly the size of 15 megatons in the U.S. arsenal. The submarine-based weapons which, as CBS pointed out, provide the U.S. with its most reliable retaliatory power are one-three-hundredth that size.”

Miss Crichton criticizes our seeing a Dr. Strangelove theme in CBS’s depiction of the U.S. military and points out that neither Admiral Carter nor General Burke sounded Strangelovian during their interviews. That is correct, and it may be why CBS immediately followed these officers’ rational defense of the need for improved strategic weapons with a belittling editorial comment: “No general or admiral is ever likely to say enough is enough.”

Miss Crichton takes pains to defend CBS’s credulous report that “some say” that U.S. tactical nuclear weapons “might be used to start World War III.” CBS would have been on firm ground had it said there are fears that such weapons might be the first nuclear weapons fired in World War III if the Soviet Union began such a war by undertaking a massive conventional invasion of Western Europe. NATO doctrine does allow for a tactical nuclear response to such an attack if NATO’s conventional forces are overwhelmed; that is, of course, a fair subject for disagreement. But the fears to which CBS (and again Miss Crichton in her letter) lend such credit are that the U.S. would “start World War III,” presumably by a NATO attack on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, using NATO’s tactical nuclear weapons. Throughout its existence, NATO’s doctrine, its weapons, its deployments have always been defensive. The only people who say that World War III might start with NATO aggression are Soviet spokesmen and Soviet apologists.

Miss Crichton asserts that we misquoted CBS. Actually, it is she who misquotes. She says the CBS script states: “The Army says it must be able to stop such an attack with battlefield nuclear weapons.” The copyrighted transcript provided by CBS says: “The Army insists it must be able to stop such an attack with battlefield nuclear weapons.” Miss Crichton has substituted a weak “says” for a strong “insists” and added emphasis where there was none. In our article we quoted the entire sentence exactly as it appears in CBS’s transcript. At another point we (correctly) quoted the first three words (“The Army insists”) from the same sentence.

Miss Crichton’s letter reinforces our judgment of what CBS was trying to convey. She credits the charges of European pacifists and neutralists that American weapons, not Soviet ones, are the problem, and she invokes a Strangelovian image of American soldiers by noting ominously that “it is helpful to know that field commanders describe nuclear artillery in terms of combat ratios. . . .” She tries to make this invocation seem more innocent than it is by misrepresenting the issue of the theater-nuclear-weapons debate. The issue is not whether “trivialization of nuclear weapons could lead to their use.” Of course it could. The issue is whether U.S. policy does in fact trivialize those weapons. Any serious examination of U.S. doctrine and presidential restrictions on the use of nuclear weapons would, in our opinion, suffice to show that it does not. CBS (and Miss Crichton in her letter) attempt to preempt that examination by pretending to find significance in the discovery that soldiers use military jargon.

Finally, Miss Crichton’s last two paragraphs concede the main point of our article. She says that “disagreements are the noble business we are all in” and she implies that the members of the CBS news staff are just as entitled to get across their opinions as are contributors to COMMENTARY. COMMENTARY, as its name suggests, is a journal of opinion. CBS News is a licensed oligopolist and is under legal, and in our opinion moral, obligation in its news documentaries to observe the policy expressed a few years ago by Walter Cronkite: “I give you the news, and I don’t help you make the judgment. . I don’t share the philosophy that it is good to resort to personal opinion [just] because we cannot be 100 percent objective.”

_____________

 

We suppose that Judy Crichton’s complaint about our “tone” should have prepared us, but we are still startled by Robert J. Spitzer who describes our article as “misguided,” “ill-informed,” “shallow,” “lack [ing] expertise,” “laughable,” “simple-minded,” “hysterical,” and “ill-considered,” and who concludes by admonishing us that “rational debate . . . is not advanced by ad hominem tactics.”

Our reference to Dr. Geiger’s activity in the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War did not imply any “sinister” conclusions. IPPNW is a group of Western and Soviet physicians whose stated goal is to warn their respective governments of the dangers of nuclear war. We did not suggest that any of the Western participants in IPPNW are unpatriotic or pro-Communist. In our view, Western physicians who participate in such an “even-handed” enterprise have grievous illusions about the relationship between Soviet physicians and their government, the nature of which is illustrated by the participation in the Soviet delegation to IPPNW of Georgi Arbatov, whose medical credentials Mr. Spitzer taxes us with impugning. Russia has many secrets, but Arbatov’s lack of medical credentials is not one of them. He heads the Institute of the USA and Canada, which is not an academic unit but a KGB-linked arm of the Soviet government that undertakes policy-oriented research on North America and designs propaganda and disinformation operations against the U.S.

Mr. Spitzer is correct in stating that the term the “Iron Triangle” has been in use for some years to describe the relationship among bureaucratic agencies, congressional committees, and private-interest groups. However, it has commonly been used to refer to domestic, non-defense programs. CBS’s use of the term to apply to defense is new, and it coincides with the publication of a New Left book of that title which uses the phrase in the exclusive military sense which CBS gives it.

Mr. Spitzer argues that Congress has not really cut defense budgets; all that has occurred, according to him, is a game in which artificially inflated budgets were cut back to levels truly, but secretly, desired by the military. In fact, defense outlays in FY 1979 were 29 percent lower in constant dollars than they had been in 1969; discounting funds spent to prosecute the war in Vietnam, the real dollar reduction over that decade was 11 percent. This leaves only two possibities. Either the Iron Triangle portrayed by CBS doesn’t exist, or if it does, it is a pacifist cabal.

Mr. Spitzer’s venture into the subject of nuclear weaponry is a muddle. Referring to ICBM’s he says: “The Soviets have bigger rockets . . . such as the SS-20.” The SS-20 is not an ICBM at all, but a theater weapon. The big Soviet ICBM’s are the SS-18, its predecessor the SS-9, and, to a lesser degree, the SS-19. It is simply false to say that “the crucial question . . . is: how many warheads?” Other crucial questions are: how many warheads of what size; of what accuracy; of what survivability; aimed at what targets; facing what defenses? To say that the way to measure strategic nuclear strength is to count warheads and see who has more is to say that all warheads are equal. But it is silly to suggest that a 40-kiloton warhead on an American Poseidon missile is a one-for-one equivalent of the warhead on the Soviet SS-18 (mod 1); the warhead on the latter has an explosive power of 24-megatons, some 600 times more powerful than the Poseidon warhead.

We said that CBS had mentioned the U.S. lead in warheads without mentioning other equally crucial measures by which Soviet weapons have the advantage. Our conviction that such unbalanced reporting is inexcusable in regard to a subject about which the general public knows little is confirmed by the example of the confusion exhibited by Mr. Spitzer.


Footnotes

1 Sic. See p. 12—E.d.

About the Author