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Ad Hominem Attacks

DISSENTING OPINION

By Charles T. Kurzman

THE MAJORITY CONDEMNS the Reagan administration's belligerent stand on nuclear arms, and correctly so. But it also falls into the same panicky anti-Sovietism we've seen so much of over the past four years. As soon as authors lodge legitimate criticism against the insanities of U.S. foreign policy, they feel compelled to impress their patriotism upon their readership, with usually annoying and frequently distressing results.

Such is the case with the above editorial, in which cogent and important insights metamorphose into bungled equivocations. The U.S. has spoken repeatedly with a forked tongue, deliberately misleading the American public with totally implausible proposals for arms cuts which fool no one abroad. Reagan has shown he has no intention of reducing the threat of nuclear war by deploying the Pershing II and cruise missiles despite repeated Soviet and European protests. The USSR has said for years it would walk out of Geneva if the new missiles were deployed, and they meant what they said. For some reason, this strikes the majority as an indication of Soviet belligerence, rather that as an expression of the futility of negotiating with a power that makes preposterous "peace" proposals while piling up warheads in Europe.

The Soviets, the majority say, walked out of Geneva because they don't want peace. Even to its authors, this conclusion must seem peculiar. The fact is, they just have to attack the USSR for something. It doesn't really matter what. That's why Sharansky and Sakharov show up in an editorial nominally about nuclear arms talks. Not sure if the Geneva walk-out alone would constitute harsh enough evidence against the Soviets, the authors throw in the sure-fire dissident issue, to reassure their readership, and perhaps themselves, that the USSR really is the bad guy, in arms-control talks and every other issue.

The USSR is nasty towards dissidents, true. And the U.S., through its backing of totalitarian regimes, is responsible for the oppression of thousands of dissidents in countries like South Africa, El Salvador and Chile. Neither of these cases, however, is remotely connected to the issue of nuclear arms negotiations.

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