Gerard Piel: 'The Fork in the Road'

In his 1961-2 annual report, Edwin N. Griswold, dean of the Harvard Law School, quoted from the Phi Beta Kappa oration given June 11 by Gerard Piel. Piel's address was headlined in papers throughout the nation the next day, and is one of the most important speeches delivered at Harvard Commencements. Following is an expanded version of the CRIMSON's June 12 news coverage.

Gerard Piel '37 somberly warned in Phi Beta Kappa oration that the United States has "come to the fork in the road" and must choose the path of disarmament, now that expenditure of arms can no longer provide an adequate stimulus to the economy.

The publisher of Scientific American charged that one-quarter of our industrial output is dumped into "the sink of armament," not because of true military but because it serves the same economic function of pump-priming as does government investment--"to certify additional workers with paychecks" to consume surplus production, without itself adding to the over-abundance of goods.

Claiming that the U.S. has a 6-1 edge over the Union in ready nuclear strike power, Piel asserted that only a modest-sized force is necessary to deter an any from striking first. He stated there is not, nor was there ever, any missile or bomber gap; and hinted that only "vested interests" keep giant industries devoted to armaments.

The supposed justification for maintaining what Piel termed a "monstrous capacity for destruction which darkened the prospects of the world" merely obscures what is the critical threat to our economic system--the insidious growth of unemployment."


Piel said that disemployment of workers by technological progress has outstripped the growth of the economy and has made ineffective the classical" techniques for dampening the fluctuations of the business cycle. "Now in 1962, despite a 25 per cent increase in military expenditure, the number of unemployed again exceeds the number unemployed at the last recovery peak."

If the United States and the U.S.S.R. terminated the arms race in a draw by adopting a second-strike or purely deterrent nuclear strategy, Piel declared, the result would be clear: "we could offset the reduction in the arms budget by worthwhile and overdue investment in the upgrading of our human and material resources and the enhancement of our domestic existence."

Spend for Peace Projects

Federal expenditure would not be reduced, he said, but instead channeled in to education, mass transportation, urban renewal, conservation, and public health. "The question is: what are we waiting for! If education should indeed command twice the present annual expenditure at some future date, then the children now in school are being cheated. If our cities cry out for $100 billion worth of reconstruction in the coarse of a half-decade, some years hence, we are losing time and corrupting precious human resources in the slums and ghettos of the present."

Senate Poses Ban

Piel quoted the recent economics report of the Disarmament Agency as his answer: "the chief obstacles [to disarmament]...would be political resistance rather than deficiencies in our economic knowledge." And he added that "we would have to do so much more disarming than the other side, that ratification by the U.S. Senate would begin to look like a bigger miracle than an agreement at Geneva."

The possibilities "inherent in the expenditure of Pentagon-sized sums on these [peace] objectives stagger the imagination," Piel declared. He pictured the lesson which the prospect of disarmament teaches us--"that the public sector must continue directly and indirectly to certify a major and a growing percentage of our consumers with purchasing power."

At the same time he emphasized the "vision of the Founding Fathers: the realization of the values of freedom, equality, security, abundance, and excellence in the life of the people."

Piel pointed out that military expenditure, accounting for more than half the federal budget, "has been playing the same role as public works in the first two administrations of Franklin D. Roose- yelt. After ten years of this kind of pump-priming, is it any wonder that our magnificent industrial establishment should have burdened us with such as enormous surplus of weapons?"

But ironically, said Piel, no such over whelming nuclear strike forces is necessary for deterrance, since the civilian population of a country is highly vulnerable to attack--for example, an attack with a total weight of about 1000 megatons directed against the 111 largest metropolitan regions in the country could yield up to 100 million casualties.