Two assumptions clash in Op-Ed Page commentaries by Robert E. Hunter and George F. Will (Dec. 7).
Hunter assumes that the Soviets under Gorbachev are pursuing through perestroika and glasnost the restructuring of the Russian economy and the democratization of their union, and that detente and denuclearization are imperative conditions of such daunting ends.
Will, apparently dismissing the appearances of perestroika and glasnost as beneath contempt, assumes that the Soviets under Gorbachev, as under all his predecessors, are about the ever-devious business of dismantling NATO, disabling our deterrence, and generally winning the war, cold or hot, the two superpowers have been waging since World War II.
I suggest it is important to notice that Hunter doesn't deny the Soviet prerogative of demonstrating at home--if they can--the superiority of their socialist system. He may be skeptical of that denouement (as am I); but he is not prepared to so press the moral asymmetry of the two systems that the Soviets can't be right or well-intentioned about anything. On the other hand, it is important to notice that Will is convinced beyond argument that domination and power, never justice and security, are the unswerving objectives of Russian politics.
Hunter is assuming that without a willingness to grant the possibility of change in the direction of Soviet politics, there is no future--not only for accommodation with them (which is what Hunter has in mind), but I would add, for mankind. So Hunter proposes "a historic gamble: that a Soviet Union, able, relatively, to prosper under Gorbachev's leadership will be less threatening to Western interests than was the truculence of his three immediate predecessors. . . ."
But by an irony I cannot help viewing as tragic, the paranoia that Will and his kin are incapable of viewing as the explanation of much previous Russian "adventurism," has descended like a miasma on them. For is it axiomatic that the Soviets want "victories" at any cost, even their own survival? And is it equally axiomatic that all signs on this side of the great divide of recent history that "we want to get out of the game" are signs of our moral inferiority, rather than our recognition that the game of war is over, obsolete?
GEORGE ERIC MASSEY