The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the nomination of Gen. Alexander Haig to be Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state were indeed, as the general put it, “a special education.” Henry Kissinger’s former aide, a strong proponent of the notorious Christmas bombing of North Vietnam in 1972, lectured the senators on the need to impose norms of “international civility” on the Soviet Union. A witting accomplice in the devastation of Cambodia and the extermination of hundreds of thousands of its people, Haig told respectful senator-students that improved Soviet-US relations must be preceded by Soviet “adherence to the international rule of law.” These rules, said the general who helped engineer the military coup against the democratically elected Allende government in Chile, “cannot include [Soviet] training, funding, manning and equipping of so-called liberation or terrorist groups around the world.”
Gen. Haig sees diplomacy as an extension of war, and considers the threat of nuclear war as a tool for “managing Soviet power.” But questions of nuclear war and US interventionism got the most cursory attention from the senators. Those few who did not openly espouse Haig’s militarism contended themselves with unsuccessful efforts to have Haig acknowledge that Watergate was “wrong.” The 15-2 vote to support Haig’s nomination and the subsequent Senate approval represented a certified confirmation of collective madness by the US political establishment.
Other developments in the last week of the Carter administration affirm that we face no aberration with Reagan and Haig. In his “farewell address” Carter called attention to the rapidly growing risk of nuclear conflagration: “As the arsenals of the superpowers grow in size and sophistication and as other governments acquire these weapons, it may only be a matter of time before madness, desperation, greed or miscalculation lets loose…the horrifying danger that is posed by the world’s enormous stockpile of nuclear arms.” This same week the same President Jimmy Carter unveiled his fiscal 1982 budget, with nearly $200 billion for the Pentagon. Billions are earmarked for the MX systems, “a missile so hard to hit that the Soviets would give up on trying, “and the Trident II submarine missile, “accurate enough to destroy Soviet missiles in their silos.” Billions more go for “readiness” and “mobility” so the US can move intervention forces to the Persian Gulf as a potential “tripwire” for nuclear war.
Small wonder that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the hands of its Doomsday Clock to just four minutes shy of midnight. Carter’s paralyzed juxtaposition of sober warning against and compulsive accumulation of these same means of assured annihilation calls to mind Edward Thompson’s observation that “the US and the USSR do not have military-industrial complexes; they are such complexes.” Thompson’s cogent and chilling dissection of the “logic of exterminism” (New Left Review 121, May-June 1980) seems to have been adopted as a script in Washington: “At a certain point, the ruling groups come to need perpetual war crisis, to legitimate their rule, their privileges and their priorities; to silence dissent; and to divert attention from the manifest irrationality of the operation. They have become so habituated to this mode that they know no other way to govern.” (Thompson has restated his indictment of nuclear madness more recently in a special issue of the The Nation, January 24, 1981.)
Another manifestation of the political/economic crisis in the US which concerns us greatly is the marked rise of racism and anti-Semitism. The vicious murders of black people in Buffalo, Atlanta and other US cities, and the paramilitary training camps sponsored by racist groups ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to the Jewish Defense League with the complicity of US state and federal authorities, are not incidental to the growing difficulties facing poor and working people in this country. A survey of the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai Brith shows an increase in anti-Semitic incidents — physical assault and harassment, property vandalism — of nearly 200 percent in 1980. About two thirds of the incidents occurred in the economically hard-pressed northeast — New England, New York and New Jersey. Committed and progressive anti-Zionists will have to be in the forefront of the struggle against all these forms and manifestations of racist violence in the period ahead.