From the Bookshelf
Comment is getting there; this year's second (November) issue is better looking than the first and, on the whole, better written. In time the magazine may establish itself as a respected forum for articulate student discussion of political problems. articles of the quality of Christopher Z. Hobson's "Two For the See-Saw" will certainly help it make the grade.
Mr. Hobson's article is an argument for a new approach to foreign policy, generally known as "unilateral initiative." Mr. Hobson's argument for it is clear, well-organized, and spirited but not logically infallible.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hobson has chosen to rest his case on a metaphor suggested by Professor Charles Osgood of the University of Illinois. Osgood describes the actions of two men standing on either side of a see-saw. When one takes a step backward, the other is obliged to do likewise to preserve the equilibrium of the system. As the two men continue to move backward to the ends of the see-saw, the board on which they are standing strains to the cracking point, and the balance becomes more precarious.
How much better it would be if one man took the initiative to move forward, toward the center of the see-saw. His opponent would then be obliged to respond in kind to preserve equilibrium. Progressive movement toward the center, says Osgood, would lesson the tension on the board and minimize the effect of a single wrong step. And so it would. Osgood's teeter-totter tale is sound physics. It is not very good practical politics.
For application of the see-saw model to the Cold War assumes that if one side initiates a conciliatory act the other will somehow be compelled to reciprocate. But what does the compelling? Mr. Hobson has two answers: world public opinion and "pacific" factions within each government. At best these answers are only probable; and they are dead wrong if both East and West have an interest in prolonging conflict.
It has been asserted (by Communists) that capitalist nations thrive on war and (by capitalists) that Communist nations starve for conquest. If both assertions are true, unilateral initiative is impossible, world opinion impotent, and "pacific" factions subversive. Mr. Hobson blithely assumes that both assertions are false and that East and West have something to gain from reduction of tension; he might have given some proof. Some situations in international relations may fit Osgood's idyllic see-saw model, but most seem more like a tug-of-war, in which any slack released by one side is immediately snatched up by the other.
Perhaps it is unfair to expect Mr. Hobson to anticipate and repulse all such attacks in the body of a brief article. But one is dismayed to see him supply the attacker with ammunition. At one point, for example, he accuses the proponents of deterrence with "assuming that command decisions will always be made rationally" and ignoring such "long-term weaknesses" as "accident," "miscalculation," "hysteria," and "the N-th country problem."
Since only two men can ride a see-saw, the mere mention of "N" possibilities for initiative can only be embarrassing to Mr. Hobson when N is greater than 2. As for the harsh words about ignoring the effects of irrationality, miscalculation, hysteria and the like, examine the following (straight faced) quotation and decide to whom they best apply:
... Osgood's paper supposes that the United States, in one phase of an Imagined program, has announced that on a given date it will move the seating of the People's Republic of Chins in the United Nations. The Chinese, misinterpreting this as a sign of weakness, stop up bombardment of Quemoy and Matsu and prepare to Invade . . . there is an invasion attempt, which is repulsed, but no counterattack on the Chinese mainland. Eventually hostilities peter out. In the meantime we have nevertheless moved the seating of the Chines in the United Nations--Just as If nothing untoward had happened. It would be vital to follow this apparently contradictory policy. . . .[Hobson's emphasis].
If there is a flawless presentation of the unilateral case, Mr. Hobson has not presented it. 'But he has written a coherent and forceful article that is a pleasure to read.
If would be nice if the same could be said for Arthur D. Hellman's piece on bomb shelters and Thomas J. Babe, Jr.'s critique of the Bender Report. Both articles contain much good research and many perceptive thoughts. But lapses in writing and organization are their undoing. Only the most dedicated reader will follow Mr. Hellman's string of quotations to the end. And those who are initially impressed (as I was) with many of Mr Babe's observations will be disappointed to see him overcome by inarticulateness when he tries to formulate conclusions from them.
Three more articles round out the November Comment. David N. Klausner's "Death by Half Life" is fully as morbid as the author intended it to be. Arthur Springer's defense of the peace movement has moments of eloquence. And Peter Scharfman's didactic book review is provocative, but jumps much too abruptly from Atlantic Union to World Federation and back.
In all, this is an encouraging issue of Comment. If the articles are not smooth or profound, they do at least grapple with current events and provoke thought. And that is no small service.