No one who writes of nuclear war can be accused of tackling a small issue. To be sure, neither the courage nor the books are in short supply. We pay attention to these books, however, in fits and starts, depending on the state of the world. The Reagan Administration--until its final years--spoke of evil empires and winning nuclear wars. If this gave rise to nightmares, it was good for books on nuclear disaster.
The nuclear freeze movement of 1982-84, itself a product of these renewed fears, provoked Jeff Smith to reflect upon the nuclear debate; his book seeks to go beyond the usual policy discussions to a more illuminating cultural dimension. By learning what "made nuclear weapons thinkable . . . we might, finally, unthink them." His title alludes to Herman Kahn's "Thinking About the Unthinkable." Kahn, a RAND theorist, delighted in calculating the utility of nuclear war, which he judged possible, probable and, even with no preparations, not too bad. "Would the survivors live as Americans are accustomed to living--with automobiles, television, ranch houses, freezers and so on? No one can say," wrote Kahn, "but I believe there is every likelihood."
For Smith the cultural dimension necessitates a historical and textual approach. Previous studies have failed on both accounts; they have generally slighted history and "discourse"--symbols and texts. "No text is going to turn cities into firestorms or bring on nuclear winter. But if those things happen, they will be results of discourses and ideologies." This supposition justifies Smith's critical appraisal of various writings, a commitment that sometimes takes him far afield. For instance, one chapter focuses on Shakespeare's "Henry V" because the play "encodes" attitudes about their state and war.
Elsewhere Smith is tough on Jonathan Schell's widely read "The Fate of the Earth." He faults Schell for a "dubious psychology," superficiality, technological determinism and a failure to look at causes. "We need," writes Smith, "to search for actual causes." Unfortunately Smith never quite does this. It requires "problematizing the sovereign state" or realizing that the warring state is founded on a questionable "metaphysics of virtue." Fine, but who today believes in divine right of leaders, the ethical purity of the state? Too much of "Unthinking the Unthinkable" attacks straw-men. Moreover while Smith commendably wants to address the educated public, not simply the professionals, "Unthinking the Unthinkable," rarely breaks free from academic language.
Smith closes with six suggestions derived from a "true cultural history;" an anti-nuclear politics, runs the first proposal, should "reflect a newly sophisticated understanding of the relationship between people's personal feelings about things and their political actions (or inactions)." The practical touch is welcome, but the recommendations reveal how little Smith achieves.
Jerome S. Bernstein's book shares with Smith's a dissatisfaction with previous studies of nuclear warfare; a Jungian analyst, he is less interested in texts than depths or "the psychological dynamics underpinning superpower conflict." Drawing on Carl. G. Jung's theories of archetypes, collective unconscious and "shadow" he posits a "new way of looking at Soviet-Union conflict and the nuclear peril."
Freudian analysts from Freud himself to Bruno Bettelheim have long written about war and politics. As Bernstein notes, the Jungians have written little along these lines. Their forte has been mythology and religion, but political reality and the Jungians do not mix. This is not surprising, since Jung was--to put the best face on it--confused by the politics of his day. In Nazism he glimpsed an ecstatic Wotan; he babbled about the creative Aryan unconscious and the inferior Jewish psyche.
According to Bernstein, Jung taught that one of four qualities dominate in all individuals: thinking, feeling, intuition, sensation. In addition Jung divided individuals into two major groups, "introverted" or "extroverted," which gives eight types. For instance, former President Reagan, Bernstein writes, is "Extroverted Feeling," Bush "Extroverted Thinking." The common American typology is "Extroverted Thinking" and the common Soviet, "Introverted Feeling." Americans spout facts; Russians brood. See the problem? "The two societies are typologically opposite," and consequently talk past each other. Bernstein proposes to use psychological testing to select especially appropriate American negotiators; perhaps the Soviets will do the same.
Bernstein's book follows a pattern. He offers some indisputable psychological truths; he cites some cloudy statements from Jung; and he proposes some practical solutions which are usually impractical if not inane. For instance, he writes that war is not simply a political but a psychic problem, which seems fair enough. He obscure this by drawing on Jung, explaining that "man's psychological predisposition toward pseudo-speciation serves as a perpetual generator of energy that feeds the archetype of war." Inasmuch as deterrence and negotiations do not allay the militaristic instincts, we need ritual warfare or war games between the United States and the Soviet Union; these games would "permit the dissipation of the instinct to aggression . . . a kind of archetypal therapy."
Bernstein also suggests that the United States and Soviet Union establish a "war-peace" institute. "The hyphen in war-peace is important, since the artificial split between the archetype of war-peace must be redressed." As if he were redressing not split archetypes but obscure ideas, Bernstein spells out the make-up of this institute: 20 participants with eight-year staggered terms; two co-chairs, neither of whom can be removed without the other; a $20-million budget.
It is easy to ridicule this stuff. Yet as Bernstein himself observes, the resources--money, time, talent--spent on war towers over those devoted to peace. Nothing is lost if a well-intentioned book hardly advances the cause of peace. Smith's is more successful; amid the posturing, he sometimes compels the reader to rethink terms and approaches. His chapter on Reagan perceptively takes apart the assumptions and myths of "Star Wars." Even if the yields are not large, we should be grateful that authors like Smith and Bernstein seek to hammer weapons into plowshares.