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Iran and the Nuclear Bomb: An Editorial
What this essay is not
This is not an opinion piece about whether or not the United States and Israel should allow the sovereign nation of Iran to develop a nuclear bomb. This is also not an opinion piece about whether or not Iranian authorities should be believed, when they say that they only want to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. I will not take a position on the issue of "proliferation." I will concede, and indeed, proactively acknowledge the existence of anti-Israel---existentially anti-Israel---rhetoric from Iranian sectors.
But I will process this existentially anti-Israel rhetoric in a different way, comparing it to US President Ronald Wilson Reagan's anti-Soviet, Cold War-era, "evil empire" rhetoric. Some of you are already rolling your eyes, but be careful; I am not making an equivalency argument. That is to say, I am not saying that Reagan's implicitly, existentially anti-Soviet, "evil empire" rhetoric was "just as bad" or just as "counterproductive" as Iran's anti-Israel rhetoric; however, if you will excuse the double negative, I will also not, not say that.
Instead, I will take that rhetoric and speculatively and theoretically and retroactively, in the case of Reagan, assign another purpose to it: as a mental focusing tool for economic development and growth. I will take a snapshot of economic history, primarily US economic history, and draw a brutal lesson from it.
That brutal lesson is that, under the regime of capitalism, when the leadership of nation-states think about how to, in theory (and I stress the words, "in theory"), kill more people overseas (and I stress the word, "overseas"), a flood of creativity is unleashed, which often provides the spillover effect of an incalculable benefit to the domestic civilian economy.
Because these plans (and I stress the word, "plans") always involve logistics, the movement of troops and equipment over different kinds of terrain, reconnaissance, communications, production techniques, medicine, and even administrative organization. The insights gained in this manner, not only provided a boon for existing businesses, but are also often generative of entirely new industries.
The basic centrality of the state
So, for example, someone invents the automobile: great, wonderful. But the automobiles don't run very well over hilly, gravelly, dirt roads. The automobile cannot really reach its full potential until a system of paved roads are put in.
Whose going to do that?
But the automobile cannot really, really, really reach its full potential without a national highway system.
Whose going to do that?
Again, the government.
Where does the American interstate highway system come from?
From the post-World War Two Congressional legislation called The National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, which provided for forty thousand miles of straight, four-lane freeways. Its as if US strategic planners said to themselves: Gee, if we were ever invaded again, like in 1812, it sure would be terrific if there were some kind of way we could increase the mobility of troops and equipment around the country, so that we could kill more of the invaders! Actually, that was, more or less, the justification given to Congress (1).
Former US Secretary of Labor, Robert B. Reich wrote: "Its practical effect would be to spur national productivity by radically lowering the cost of transporting and distributing goods across the land, boost the sales of automobiles and generate suburban sprawl" (2).
Notice that if the government does not provide paved roads and highways, the automobile might still exist today, but the horse and buggy would have remained a viable transportation option.
The facilitation of the automobile required an enormous amount of urban planning, which only the government can do.
But the automobile and the enormous amount of urban planning its facilitation required, also led to an additional enormous amount of urban planning, which kicked off the suburban home-building boon of the postwar years. But all of this happens in the context of US planners, apparently, thinking about the most efficient way to kill off an invading military.
Somebody invents the aeroplane: its wonderful, its magical! The story of Wilbur and Orville Wright is very sweet and inspiring. But the plane cannot really go anywhere without an infrastructure of air traffic control, and the system of navigation and communication which that entails. This also requires a great deal of international coordination of some kind, because you can't just fly over other countries without permission and notification.
The United States began its first large-scale production of planes during World War One, and it revived in 1926, when the government announced plans to expand its aircraft fleet. In 1925 the Kelly Air Mail Act was passed, providing for expanded federal airmail contracts to carry subsidies for the adoption of multiengine aircraft, radios, and navigational aids. Government spending on research and development provided more than 70 percent of the aviation industry expenditure, in the years after World War Two (3).
During WWI the US Navy took over all radio patents, thereby speeding up radio's development. After the way, the Navy, General Electric, and Westinghouse set up the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), to hold all patents and steer technological development (4).
Political-economist, Kevin Phillips, wrote, somewhat understating the case: "[T]he slowness of commercial development indicates that innovation rarely creates its own immediate demand. Particularly in electrical power and aviation, government was essential in evolving both the technologies and the demand" (5)[.]
Speculative Creative Destruction-Creation
Where did computers and the Internet come from?
In 1943 the US military was working hard to improve their efficiency at killing more people, at Pennsylvania's Ballistic Research Laboratory. The wartime mathematicians there were falling behind in meeting the military's need for analyzing trajectories and computing artillery firing tables. So, Army Ordnance funded a crash program to produce ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). The ENIAC was completed in 1945 and is considered to be the world's first electronic computer; it was wall-sized, with 18,000 vacuum tubes (6).
ENIAC spent a few weeks calculating firing tables before the Los Alamos mathematicians were allowed to use it for calculating the hydrodynamics of hydrogen bombs. Next was EDVAC, the first stored-memory computer. The next batch, government-funded or commissioned were as follows: SEAC (1949) for the Bureau of National Standards; IAS (1951) for the Army, Navy, and RCA; Whirlwind (1949) for SAGE, Strategic Air Defense System; UNIVAC (1953) by Remington-Rand for the Census Bureau, other governmental agencies, and business buyers; IBM 701 (1953) for the Defense Department: by this time commercial demand was catching hold (7).
In 1949 the transistor had been invented at the American Telephone and Telegraph Company's Bell Laboratories. Because of a federal antitrust suit filed that same year, AT&T was encouraged to disseminate information, spurring demand. In 1954 the silicon junction transistor was produced for the US military for use in radar and missile applications. The year 1958 saw the invention of the integrated circuit. This was a breakthrough that combined a number of transistors on a single silicon chip. Although this had not been undertaken for the military, federal military and space applications became the integrated circuits "market and proving ground" (8).
US antitrust officials pushed for the diffusion of critical technology; the Department of Defense wanted to make sure that they had a second source of the technology they were buying (9).
Kevin Phillips: "Compliance meant that firms had to exchange designs and share enough process knowledge to ensure that the components would match" (10).
The year 1971 saw the emergence of microprocessors, which led to computers and work stations. This owed less to Washington, it is true. But the same certainly could not be said for the development of software. Antitrust pressure, once again, compelled IBM to 'unbundle' its hardware and software, which opened up space for independent producers to compete. It also turns out that much of the fast growth in custom software firms, during the years 1969-1980, reflected the expansion in federal demand, which in turn was dominated by the Department of Defense demand (11).
The Internet began as a project of an entity known as DARPA, the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency. By 1969 the idea of a "network" was awarded a budget of $1 million at DARPA; and by the early 1970s, the "ARPANET" was wired to twenty-three sites, with some connection to government-funded computer research. The ARPANET was taken over, after some years, by the National Science Foundation, and had one-hundred-thousand sites, when it was shut down in 1989. Its sites became part of other networks, which collectively took the name "Internet" (12).
In 1993, Marc Andressen was a code writer at the federally-funded National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Mr. Andressen devised a vernacular protocol for Web access for the multitudes. That same year saw the number of commercial websites jump from 50 to over ten thousand. Andressen and some friends helped found Netscape (13).
Now, that is a fifty-year period of cascading, compounding innovation of computers and the Internet alone, which was the direct result of the activity of the US military, in trying to figure out how to kill more people with missiles, at the Pennsylvania Ballistics Research Laboratory in 1943.
It is well known that the New Deal did not lift the United States out of the Great Depression. FDR had been fearful of inflation, so he ultimately did not spend enough on the program. It was America's participation in World War Two which did that (14).
I would also argue that it was America's participation in World War One, which set the table for the stock market boom of the 1920s. What galvanized things, as far as I can tell, was the government's opening of Manhattan's Pearl Street Station in 1882, which kicked off the commercial use of electric power (15).
The percentage of horsepower used in manufacturing, that came from electricity, kept going up. During the war years of 1917 and 1918, the United States built power plants of unprecedented size, with a large number of interconnections being made for electric lights and power systems. Between 1919 and 1929, the percentage of horsepower used in manufacturing coming from electricity, jumped from 55 to 82 percent (16).
The really interesting thing about this, is that vacuum cleaners, dishwashing machines, and clothes washing machines were actually developed in the 1850s and 1860s. But these devices could not begin to be operated to their full potential until they were brought together with electric motors (17); and, of course, now they become infinitely more desirable as time and labor-saving consumer goods.
There is, of course, more we could say about this. This is just a tiny slice of the economic history of a single nation-state, the United States. As far as I can tell, the pattern holds, going back to the founding of the country in 1776. Moreover, one could write similar profiles for England, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, perhaps Italy and perhaps Russia, at different points during the past five hundred years of the capitalist era.
For example, let's consider England's welfare system, with its universal, single-payer healthcare system and everything. It seems so warm and sentimental, so humane and gentle, so full of sunshine; and I suppose it is. But one would never guess that it has its historical roots in Great Britain's nineteenth century militarism and imperialism and colonialism.
In the late nineteenth century the English government sponsored an inquiry by the "Physical Deterioration Committee." This committee did its work in the context of the Boer War (1899-1902). There was a great deal of concern about the low physical caliber of the recruits, and what this augured for Britain's ability to wage that war and future wars (18).
An 1871 government report stated: 'It is well established that no town-bred boys of the poorer classes, especially those reared in London ever attains... four feet and a half inches' in height of a chest of 29 inches 'at the age of 15. A stunted growth is characteristic of the race' (19).
Ronald Reagan, His Rhetoric, and "Star Wars"
The officially reached conclusion was that what was needed, 'the obvious remedy... is to improve the stamina, physical and moral, of the London working class.' A succession of laws followed which did things like limit the hours children could work, and banned employment for women in industries which might have damaged the chances for successful pregnancy. The government's direct response to the "Physical Deterioration" report had been, among other things, was the introduction of free school meals (20).
Let's come to the issue of US President Ronald Wilson Reagan and his anti-Soviet, "evil empire" tough talk, in context of his imagining of SDI, the "Star Wars" nuclear missile defense system.
Fortunately for the world, Reagan's hard talk against the Soviet Union---then the only other nuclear power in the world---did not come to catastrophe.
Anyway, after he left office, the U.S. was the one left standing at the conclusion of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was peacefully dissolved. But, of course, the "Star Wars" thing turned out to be, let us say, a highly speculative matter at best. Those of you old enough to remember, know that two basic conclusions about Reagan's legacy were posited, on this specific set of issues, by the center-left and the center-right.
1. The center-left generally decided that Reagan's talk about the Soviet Union as the "evil empire" had been indicative of his administration's belligerence; not that the center-left necessarily disagreed with the assessment of the Soviet Union. They thought that Reagan's foreign policy, in general, was "heavy-handed."
But his talk of SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) or "Star Wars," had been fanciful, proof of a senile, or stupid mind that had very little grasp of the world, or foreign policy, or even reality itself, according to them. A cottage industry developed on the part of liberal-leaning media outlets to dig up old, funny quotes by Reagan, which they supposed offered proof of Reagan's simplicity. Remember that?
2. The center-right started to develop a line of argument that said that Reagan had been "crazy like a fox," as it were. They said that Reagan's tough talk against the Soviet Union, including the "Star Wars" stuff, had actually been a clever ploy to draw the U.S.S.R. into an arms race, which their inferior grade economy could not sustain; that is to say, the Soviets proved incapable of maintaining the spending levels necessary to keep the thing going; and they went "bust," as it were, trying to "keep up with the Joneses," so to speak.
My understanding is that, while those two theses may continue to survive, if not thrive, in the popular consciousness, scholars have decisively left them behind.
I will propose a third alternative. But before I do that, I need to backtrack a bit, and hit and re-hit a few points.
Once again, the creative inspiration of war
I want to reassure you that my thesis about how war often inspires a dynamic creativity in the civilian economy, is indeed anchored in some professional scholarly literature, so let's check in with historian, William H. Chafe, who touched on this in a 1995 book.
Referencing World War Two Dr. Chafe wrote: "With the war as an impetus, scientists made lightning breakthroughs in nuclear physics, aerospace, chemicals, and electronics. Not surprisingly, the industries that housed such enterprises experienced a parallel growth" (21).
Still quoting: "After the war, Washington disposed of its investments in aluminum plants, aircraft factories, and machine-tool facilities, giving private businesses a head start --- in ready-made facilities --- in some of the nation's fastest growing industries. Moreover, government-sponsored research in areas like plastics --- which grew 600 percent during the 1950s --- made possible the development of whole new consumer industries" (22).
And again, Dr. Chafe: "With the Cold War tensions and the outlook of fighting in Korea in 1950, government involvement in the economy remained a primary source of support for research and development, as well as new jobs. As Richard Hofstadter commented, there was a new form of 'military Keynesianism' that made the government almost a guarantor of full employment" (23).
Finally, William H. Chafe pointed out that one result of the great breakthroughs in computer technology during the 1950s, was to make "theoretical knowledge a centerpiece for economic development, supplying the foundation for such crucial innovations as systems analysis, micro economics, and chemical engineering" (24).
The scholar, linguist, activist, author, and professor emeritus, Noam Chomsky, confirmed this understanding, writing in 1993: "For 40 years, US industrial policy has been based on the Pentagon system, with its regular stimulus to high-tech industry and state-guaranteed market to cushion management decisions. When a government stimulus was needed, a threat to our existence could be readily concocted: the Korean War in 1950, Kennedy's 'missile gap,' the impending Russian takeover of the world and the 'window of vulnerability'" (25).
Lest you think that the paranoid ramblings of the "loony left," know that no less a mainstream figure than a former United States Secretary of Labor for President William Jefferson Clinton (you can't get more mainstream than that), Robert B. Reich, confirmed Dr. Chomsky's understanding.
Mr. Reich puts that matter even more bluntly: "The adjective, 'national defense' when applied to almost any area of policy seemed automatically to justify large public expenditure." For example, he says, when the Soviets launched Sputnik, this provided the impetus for the US National Defense Education Act, whose stated purpose was to ready more American scientists and engineers to compete with the U.S.S.R (26).
That last bit reminds us that the US space program had its origin, largely in the ideological militarization of space flight and discovery.
Mr. Reich's blunt statement of the matter also suggests, that since the 1950s, there had been something of an understanding by White House administrations, that if you wanted to get Congress to allocate millions of dollars (for the purpose of giving a shot in the arm to technological industry), the thing to do was to invoke an 'emergency' or 'crisis' of 'national defense.'
As we work our way back to Reagan's anti-Soviet, "Star Wars" tough talk, of the 1980s, let us also take note of something else. By the 1970s the business community were becoming concerned about low rates of productivity and investment growth. Even more distressing to them, was the failure of corporations to keep up with the more advanced foreign methods of production. Noam Chomsky pointed out that the business press were, then, calling for the 'reindustrialization of America' (27).
A major Pentagon program, called MANTECH (manufacturing technology), was rolled out. Here comes the direct relevancy to Reagan: MANTECH's outlays were doubled as the Reagan administration came into office. One of MANTECH's tasks was to design the "factory of the future," integrating computer technology and automation in production and design, developing flexible manufacturing technology and efficiency, so as to try to catch up with Europe and Japan (28).
Under Reagan this Pentagon-supported research promoted new technologies in many areas including supercomputers and information technology and further improvements in the Internet (which, as we have seen was initiated by the military in the first place) (29).
Noam Chomsky: "The Reagan administration also virtually doubled protective barriers, breaking all postwar records in protectionism. The purpose was to keep out superior Japanese products: steel, automobiles, semiconductors, computers, and others. The goal was not only to save domestic industries that could not compete, but also to place them in a dominant position for the 1990s --- now called a 'triumph of the market,' thanks in large measure to public subsidies, public sector innovation, straight bailouts, and other device" (30).
I have been saying that it is my thesis that when the leadership of nation-states, in this era of capitalism, think about how to kill more people overseas, this often has the side effect of unleashing a torrent of creativity (remember this activity includes logistics, communications, etc.) which provide a spillover effect of incalculable benefit to the civilian domestic economy.
The evidence I have given shows mostly showed how this work when nation-states actually fought wars. But I am supposing that this effect can and is reproduced when the powers-that-be merely "think" about waging war against somebody.
Therefore, I put it to you that when Reagan was talking all of his tough talk against the Soviet Union, in the 1980s, including the "Star Wars" stuff, he was not making a statement of intention or even inclination.
I don't even think Reagan was issuing a real verbal threat to the Soviet Union.
I believe that Reagan's tough talk against the Soviet Union, including the "Star Wars" stuff, was just a mental focusing tool. It was a way to get the collective mind of the American military merely "planning" about how they would attack the Soviet Union, in the hope that this would generate the desired creativity, which would prove to have practical applications for invigorating the dynamism of the private, high-tech industrial economy.
What in "Sam Hill" has all of this got to do with Iran and the nuclear bomb?
My point is to say that, if Reagan's rhetoric served the purpose I have indicated---provided I'm right, of course---then maybe other chief executives have the same idea. Maybe that is the idea of the Iranian authorities.
Mind you, if I am correct, you know that Reagan or his people could never cop to it while they were in office. There is no smooth way to say to America: Don't worry folks, I don't really mean what I'm saying. I'm just trying to inspire the military, and by extension, our civilian domestic economy, which is rather sluggish right now, especially compared to the awesome innovation of the Japanese economy!
There's no way to say that. And, I would imagine, there is no way for Iran's leadership to say that. Don't mind our "wipe Israel off the face of the map" talk. We're just trying to inspire our security apparatus, and by extension, give a shot in the arm to our civilian domestic high-tech industrial base.
By denying Iran the right to develop nuclear energy (even it they do mean to build the bomb), a case can be made, according to the thesis I have presented here, that the United States and Israel are holding back the economic growth and development of Iran.
Ultimately, I don't think you can enforce a thought-blockade on a nation of people, no matter what "agreement" or "treaty" or whatever other piece of paper they allegedly signed. You cannot really hold back their curiosity and journey to satisfy that curiosity. At the end of the day, a sovereign nation simply will not submit themselves to being controlled that way.
I hope that cooler heads prevail. Surely the powers-that-be in Iran know that the United States of America guarantees Israel's security in perpetuity until the end of time.
It therefore seems quite unimaginable that Iran would purposely fire their atomic weapon at Israel without any expectation of retaliatory annihilation from the United States. It also seems quite unimaginable that Iran's leadership would just "give" the technology to supposedly allied "terrorist" groups, after all that they would have gone through to crack the secret of the atom.
Thank you for reading.
1. Reich, Robert B. Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life. Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. 42
3. Phillips, Kevin. Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich. Broadway Books, 2002. 244
6. ibid, 245
9. ibid, 247
14. citation pending
15. Philips, K. Wealth and Democracy, 243
18. Harman, Chris. A People's History of the World: From the Stone Age to the New Millennium. Verso, 2008. 382
21. Chafe, William H. The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II. Oxford University Press, 1995. 113
25. Chomsky, Noam. Year 501: The Conquest Continues. South End Press, 1993. 111
26. Reich, Robert B. Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life. Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. 42
27. Chomsky, Noam. Hopes and Prospects. Haymarket Books, 2010. 88
29. ibid, 88-89
30. ibid, 89