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The following article is under submission. It is posted for entertainment purposes only and may not be crossposted to any other website, datafile base, conference, news group, or email list, without written permission of the author.
Copyright © 1998 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.
What does a science-fiction story published in a garish pulp magazine 57 years ago have to tell us about the impending war between the United States and Iraq?
In May, 1941, a 34-year-old ex-naval-officer named Robert A. Heinlein, writing as Anson MacDonald, published a short story in Astounding Science Fiction titled "Solution Unsatisfactory."
Heinlein, who upon his death 47 years later was often memorialized as the greatest science-fiction writer since H.G. Wells, often explained that his science-fiction stories were not written to be prophesies. Nevertheless, "Solution Unsatisfactory" is notable because, four years before the United States dropped the first nuclear weapons destroying the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the Second World War -- and published eight months before the United States had even entered the war -- Heinlein portrayed the United States developing a nuclear weapon which is dropped on an Axis-power's city, to end the war. The city is Berlin, Germany, and the nuclear weapon dropped is not a bomb but lethal radioactive dust. Nevertheless, before the daily newspapers caught up with him, Heinlein had not only shown the decisive strategic importance a weapon of mass- destruction could have on modern warfare, but he was busy exploring what the lasting geopolitical consequences of such a weapon would be -- well before the think tanks of the Rand Corporation and Hudson Institute considered the problem as pressing business.
The "problem" of Heinlein's story was later the actual problem resulting in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union: how can you defeat an evil empire when an attack by either side will result in the total destruction of both? The "unsatisfactory solution" of Heinlein's story was to create an American military force whose next act following its first use of the weapon was to demand that all aircraft worldwide that were not under its control be permanently grounded, and to demand that its arms inspectors have complete access anywhere on earth they wished. The final event of the story is a military coup when a newly elected U.S. president tries to get the general in charge of the force to resign -- and the general's answer is to point out to the president his bombers circling over the White House manned by foreign-born pilots under the general's command.
Thus, intentionally or not, in 1941 Robert A. Heinlein -- using the same term -- predicted the Pax Americana that President Clinton now proposes to enact by his threats to bomb Iraq if Saddam Hussein does not allow its weapons inspectors unlimited access to search for weapons of mass destruction. It is a minor detail that the enemy's weapons of mass destruction are said to be biological or chemical in nature, rather than nuclear -- and that the delivery system is said to be missiles rather than aircraft.
The problem of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists -- or simple extortionists for that matter -- becomes even more poignant when one realizes that the technology for creating and implementing several different sorts of weapons with the capabilities of killing thousands of people at a time are well within the capabilities of small groups of terrorists. A slightly more precise placement of the car bombs at the World Trade Center in New York could have produced thousands more deaths than the federal building destroyed in Oklahoma City a few years later. In fact, as I originally wrote this, two men sat in a Nevada jail, arrested February 19, 1998, charged with possessing the biological weapon, anthrax, for use in terrorism. Regardless that these particular charges turned out not to be true, the possibility of such a terrorist attack was real ... and the arrests were an effective show-and-tell for an administration having a hard time selling the American people into supporting a preemptive bombing attack against a country more than an ocean away ... and a country with no army capable of threatening even its immediate neighbors, for that matter.
It is fearmongering: the creation of a frightening enemy for political purposes. Arachnaphobia -- the fear of spiders -- keeps small children awake at night. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, her protestations to the contrary, wants us to lose sleep, suffering from Iraqnaphobia.
Regardless of how evil a dictator Saddam Hussein is, and what weapons he is accumulating, the arguments why the United States needs to make a preemptive strike against Iraq strike me as both hollow and wearily familiar. Time and again through history -- whether it's the Israelite nation or the Roman Empire in ancient times, or the colonial British, Nazis, or Soviets in our own century -- some heads of state claim the moral stature to impose their will on a morally inferior enemy -- and the military advantage to do it. Now President Clinton -- who as a college student decried the American military presence in Vietnam as imperialistic -- asserts that because of its unique status as a superpower, the United States has a moral obligation to "send a message" to a foreign power that does not pose any immediate threat to our national security, by preemptively bombing its cities until it complies with our disarmament demands.
There is no other word for that sort of policy than imperialism. Naked imperialism. Evil imperialism. It is imperialism of precisely the sort that has buckled the knees of every superpower throughout history that has attempted it, destroying its people's domestic liberties along the way and replacing personal freedom with an intrusive state that spies on its people, raids their homes, businesses and churches based on nothing more than suspicion and rumor, and attempts to leave them disarmed and helpless against its official predations.
Don't tell me it can't happen here. I remember Kent State. I remember Waco. Don't tell me it can't happen here when the standard method of arrest nowadays is black-suited commandos busting in your door at 5:00 AM. Don't tell me it can't happen here when soldiers on border patrol can shoot down an innocent rancher with impunity. Don't tell me it can't happen here when I can't drive between Los Angeles and San Diego without being stopped by police check points. It's already happening here, and such tumors attacking the body of a democracy, unless treated when they're small, historically metastasize into a police state.
Justice -- whether it's applied to the individual or a state - - -- demands that force may only be used in retaliation against someone who has attacked you, or who is a clear and present danger. That's why Timothy McVeigh is sitting on death row, and that is surely a credible response to potential future terrorists.
Saddam Hussein has made no threats to attack the United States of America, or Great Britain, or Canada, or Australia, even though all four countries have made threats to attack Iraq. He has made no credible threats to attack the countries that border his, nor do those countries have such a fear of Saddam Hussein that they wish him removed from power. If Saddam Hussein were to make such a threat of using weapons of mass destruction, the United States could inform Saddam Hussein that if he wasn't paying attention, the United States of America has the ability to turn his entire country into a vacant lot in about five minutes. Saddam Hussein, if he survived, would then be the attendant of the world's biggest parking lot, and his only source of income would be the tips he might get for parking the Emir of Kuwait's limousine.
That is a credible deterrent against Saddam Hussein contemplating the use of anthrax-tipped missiles against any foreign country; and if it turns out not to be, we can always take a page out of Heinlein's 1941 story and tell Saddam Hussein that we'll shoot down anything -- balloons, cropdusters, or kites - - -- that approach his country's borders until he resumes weapons inspections. Surely this is preferable to carpetbombing Iraqi civilians on the off chance we might hit a test tube of anthrax hidden deep in some underground vault?
Writing in 1941, Robert Heinlein contemplated the thought that only an imperialistic military dictatorship could prevent weapons of mass destruction from destroying the planet. Perhaps it is no accident that nuclear policy analysts such as Herman Kahn paid close attention to Heinlein's concerns, and the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction which they engineered kept the United States intact through a half-century-long cold war with the Soviet Union.
The threat of assured destruction -- if he uses weapons of mass destruction other than in retaliation against an attack by such weapons -- should be just as effective against a dictator in Baghdad as one in Moscow.
I've also heard it said that Saddam Hussein is the sort of madman who would order the launching of anthrax-tipped missiles against Israel if he thought he was about to be deposed. That sort of attack would undoubtedly provoke an Israeli nuclear response that would destroy Iraq. If that prospect does not deter Saddam Hussein, certainly the moment he resolved to destroy his country by such a mad act it would provoke an assassination by those contemplating removing him in the first place.
The recent satiric movie, Wag the Dog, suggests that the President of the United States would invent a foreign enemy to distract the American people from a pending political scandal. In the movie, the war is conducted only on videotape. It appears that President Clinton isn't content with an imaginary war but is willing to bomb foreign children for publicity purposes.
Of course, it was also a sexual harassment scandal at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms that led to the raid on the Branch Davidian church in Waco, as a publicity stunt.
Well, as author L. Neil Smith has pointed out, I suppose we finally know what the purpose was of federal troops burning down a church in Waco.
A trial run.
February 22, 1998
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