Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

“Is the U.S. Political Discourse Adequate to the Task of Peace?,” Dr. Johan Galtung

October 14, 1988

Video: Response by Seymour Melman and Audience Question and Answer Session 

43:13 - Abstract | Biography


John Byrne: Well, thank you, Professor Galtung. I was tempted earlier to say we have had a nice evening together, but it has been much more than that.

Our format for this evening is to have a respondent, and the respondent will be Professor Seymour Melman. Now, those of you who were here last night heard Professor Melman speak. His topic last night, if I can find it here, was "Consequences of a Permanent War Economy and Strategies for Conversion to a Demilitarized Society."

When I introduced Professor Galtung, I read to you some of the papers, or the titles of papers, that he had prepared. I'd like to do the same thing for Professor Melman, because I think the titles of some of these papers will give you some indication as to why he is a person who is competent to respond to Professor Galtung this evening. And in no particular order: Decision Making and Productivity, Our Depleted Society, The Permanent War Economy: American Capitalism in Decline, and Profits without Production.

Professor Melman has his academic degrees in economics. He is, however, interestingly, Professor Emeritus of Industrial Engineering at Columbia University. He is Chairman of the National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament, and I think if you think of those words, you can see why we have chosen Seymour Melman to respond to Professor Galtung. Professor Melman. [2:12]

Seymour Melman: Five points in my ten minutes.

A discussion of peace is often bedeviled by ambiguity in the understanding of what that might mean. Most ordinarily, peace is appreciated as meaning the absence of war - the absence of ongoing state violence. The condition of our times and the institutional developments of our times dictate a revision of that understanding, as we have to appreciate that we are now in the midst of a permanent war economy, in which preparation for war goes on continuously, so that even though armed state conflict is not occurring, preparation for that conflict is going on all the time. All sizes, all scales, all intensities of conflict - research, training of personnel, industrial production, the training of the armed forces, mock battles, the work of intellectuals in the universities, wargaming - are sort of types of wars. All goes on even as the bullets may not be flying at a given moment. In that sense, we have to reassess the meaning of peace. Peace, then, has to be understood as denoting the diminished decision power of the war-making institutions. For the war-making institutions are the continuous set of operations by which the society prepares, trains, and carries out major military operations and uses military force as principle instrument of policy.

Second point: I am very much concerned about the readiness of peace researchers to turn their attention to armed forces and weaponry in an attempt to try to define or discover weaponry that is less than ultimately horrible - defensive, rather than offensive weapons; defensive, rather than offensive military formations; non-nuclear, as against nuclear weapons. I am skeptical of all these differentiations, first on technical grounds, and secondly on the grounds that the decision-making with respect to these weapons does not inhere in the weapons. These material artifacts have no momentum of their own. The decision to their use is man-made, and is socially determined, entirely. On the technical side, the differentiations between nuclear and conventional weapons are now definitely shaded. Thus, the U.S. weaponry standard equipment now includes vapor bombs, developed first during the U.S. war in Vietnam, whose blast effect over limited areas, the areas being, for example, the width of this auditorium, is comparable to the blast effect of nuclear weapons. It is also a fact that an examination of the military manuals of the U.S. government's armed forces discloses that the writers of these manuals counsel the reader that it is difficult in many situations to define the difference between offensive and defensive use of weapons. Therefore, I discount the attempt to find solutions to the dreadful dangers that we have generated for ourselves in attempting to design different weapons or to shape different kinds of armed forces. Until overwhelming evidence is offered to the contrary, I hold to the understanding that our problem of peace lies in diminishing the power of the war-making institutions - that is, the social organizations that wield dominion over research, production, training, and the operation of the armed forces.

A third point: I am, for similar reasons, concerned about the idea of possibly defining armed forces that are not provocative. I'm not altogether sure what "not provocative" means, and I am speaking, of course, against the background of experience on U.S. armed forces primarily, and what I know about Soviet armed forces. For U.S. armed forces clearly define themselves as in their military manuals as having a priority obligation to win the war. The U.S. Army's field manual 100-5, page 1, paragraph 1 tells you that the mission of the Army is to win the first battle, and of course to win the last battle as well, and the whole war as well, but to win. So the mission is not to be non-provocative; it's to win. And the wielding of weapons - all grades, all classes, conventional weapons, nuclear weapons - is all with an eye to winning. [9:15]

I don't see the possibility of willfully reorienting large social institutions that have been trained up with a doctrine of winning to becoming non-provocative wielders of lethal technology. There is a contradiction there. Indeed, my skepticism goes to the extent of understanding that the people in the war-making institutions are probably very susceptible to taking up and discussing and elaborating theories about provocative/non-provocative postures, defensive/non-defensive weapons and the like as a way of defending the war-making institutions in a circumstance where those institutions are under attack as being a primary menace to our very existence. In that case, they are bound to invent all manner of ideologies that would serve to justify their continued functioning, that would serve to justify the continued utilization application of the technical skills about the design, the fabrication, and the form, and the use of military weapons, all classes.

A fourth point: a peace movement has a function that has to be taken up very seriously and for which there is not much of a literature, and that is the function of a peace movement is to change the character of the state, not to be a competitor for the present directors of state power. To change the character of the state means to make the government into an entity less centralized, less concentrated, in decision power. Wielding such authority as it has, primarily on behalf of live-serving constructive functions, that being virtually the obverse of the concentration that now prevails, where the resources and decision power of the state are being wielded in a highly centralized, concentrated fashion, and on behalf of life-destructive purposes.

And finally, fifth: I want to underscore that I regard disarmament not as [an] instant event, a cataclysmic transformation, but rather as a process by which the decision power and resources of the war-making institutions are diminished in all nations participating in a disarmament process, and that the disarmament process must include establishing new forms of institutions for resolving conflicts among states. That's why it's of enormous importance that fresh attention be given to assessing the possible development of the United Nations in the service of an entity participating in a demilitarization process around the world.

And the economic conversion is also to be understood, not as overnight transformation, but rather as an ongoing process, again, by transforming the industrial, the research, and kindred institutions into life-serving, civilian-serving institutions. In the course of doing such transformations, the nature of the economic institutions of the society will necessarily undergo revision, and the perception of the people involved in them will necessarily undergo revision. Thus, persons engaged in life-serving economic development will, in the nature of the case, be less prone to organize themselves for committing acts of gross exploitation on other societies, other peoples, other cultures. [15:12]

I am not suggesting, in making these remarks, that I am settling any single one of the topics on which I have made these brief comments. I rather suggest that these comments should be taken as though a comment in a seminar addressing these issues, because these are topics which have a common characteristic: they have been too little addressed; too little attention has been given to them, and that makes me point to the last consideration in these remarks.

We in the universities have a moral obligation to ourselves and to the whole community of which we are a part, and that is the obligation, as intellectuals, to formulate policy alternatives for the larger community, so that when they explain to people what the policy alternatives might be and what the consequences that flow from them might be. The universities have not been doing that. The universities have been in the thrall of the war-making institutions, so that ideas that do critical examination of the war-making institutions are not part of our ordinary courses in political science, in economics, in sociology, in history, in international relations. That defect deserves to be repaired as a priority matter for all of us in this room. This is where our orientation to a change in the character of the war concentration in American life must begin. And it's not an unserious formulation, to put it that way, because the ideas that we develop, the ideologies that our students, and that we, ourselves, and our colleagues carry form an important part of the expectations that we have and that the surrounding community can have about what is possible in the world. I believe that in doing that, we will make a serious contribution to what looks now like a dreadful impasse in which we find ourselves, both at home and in relation to other countries. Thank you. [17:46]

John Byrne: Professor Galtung - we'll wait a moment while those of you who feel the need to leave can leave - Professor Galtung will say a few comments in response to the response, and then we will address questions from the audience.

Johan Galtung: So, Seymour sees me as being in cahoots with the military - the military designing, as a last line of defense, something called "non-provocative defense" - and I see Seymour as being in cahoots with the military because Seymour doesn't see this category. So, let me spell out the category more clearly.

All of Seymour's arguments are taken from U.S. reality - all of them, with no exception - and that reality is bleak. I have no difficulty with that. I have also tried to say why it is bleak, and I think it goes down to the country's perception of itself - its exceptionalism, its chosenness - culturally, and structurally, geographically, historically from living in a very different environment from what we do in Europe. In Europe we have thirty countries with an enormous amount of wars, with a horrible record of inability to create peace. Now, in that system now in Europe, the idea of non-provocative defense catches on. It certainly did not come from the military; it came from peace research, and from the peace movement. [20:04]

So let me be explicit and say exactly what does it mean. Those who advance that idea distinguish between three types among military defense: conventional military defense with a limited range intended for battles inside one's own country. It says, "I'm willing to take the battle here. It's so important for me that you shall not feel threatened that I'll take the battle here." B) paramilitary defense - guerilla, militial type, and C) non-military defense - Ghandian type. There is one country in Europe that has all three written into its defense system - that's Yugoslavia. Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, and Austria have the first two, but there is a growing interest also in official circles in the non-military aspect. I leave aside now the problem of whether you can have both non-military and military defense at the same time. I'm convinced one can, but not necessarily in the same parts of the country, or by the same people, or at the same time. The point about this triple posture is to convey to a possible antagonist that you may invade us. You are stronger than we are in offensive arms. But if you do so, you will not win, because we will go on and on and on. There will be no short, sharp shock that you can administer with an immediate victory. Now, even superpowers don't like that. What they like is a grenade effect campaign, and that is what they hoped to get in Vietnam, and they hoped to get in Afghanistan, and they didn't get it.

So, how do we now go about it? In many places in Europe now, very important discussions take place between East and West, and the U.S. is mainly not in it. You find Soviet officers on one side of the table together with their specialists of a non-military kind; you find, let us say, West German on the other side. And each side asks the other side a very basic question: what are the weapons that we have that worry you most? Now that dialogue then goes across the table, and, of course, it can be tricky, because A may think, "I will now tell B what he would like me to tell so that he can tell me what he thinks that I would like to tell, however, he thinks that I am going to say something that he likes, but I'm not going to do that. And in doing so, I may be able to get rid of something in return for nothing on my side." So there are all kinds of possibilities of trickery here, which often will call for a third party present at those discussions. This is now already proven to be a very fruitful approach, and it is based on a sort of Immanuel Kantian principle: do not put up weapons yourself that would make you feel uneasy if the other side had them; put up one of those weapons that do not worry you too much if the other side has them. Since all nuclear weapons are problematic, they are out, because they are not good defense weapons either. Because of short range weapons, you would request that their destruction area is very limited, since the short range weapon also hits yourself.

Now I'll give an example: the new Swedish fighter bomber has a range about a half of the one that they had before. The one they had before could reach Leningrad. Sweden's official posture is non-offensive. It was pointed out repeatedly that that is incompatible with a range that brings you far into one of the most important Soviet military districts. There has been no official declaration about this, but inofficial ones have come, indicating that it is not by chance that the new fighter bomber has half the range. This principle is then used against the Soviet tanks, the point being, not the fighting capacity of the tank, but the range of the tank. [25:05]

And my Soviet discussion partners in this have told me that one difficulty they have with their American discussion partners is to try to convince the Americans that there is something slightly offensive in an aircraft carrier because of its range. And the American response has been that the aircraft carrier, as such, is not a weapon; it's only a platform. Now, that shows you some of the level of the primitivity on the U.S. side.

What I am saying now is that if the Soviet side, to me, seems to be more progressive, it's because it lives in an environment where this becomes much more of a concern: thirty countries, densely packed together, with a relatively high load of chosen people-ness per square kilometer. Now, that load is even higher in this country. A third part of the world where it's very high is the Middle East. But this country is not surrounded by other countries of the same type, [and so] the doctrine becomes different.

Now, having said that, I then assume that the U.S. will be one of the last to change. It was one of the last to give up slavery, and will probably be one of the last in this one, too. And, of course, this will be a battle to be fought exactly along the lines that Seymour points out: the decentralization of the decision-making, and I'll also say the fighting capacity. The kind of defense based on short range, paramilitary, and non-military defense is envisaged as extremely decentralized, and it is meaningless unless it goes into a total package of non-exploitative economic relations, our ability to see other peoples as just as good as yourself, and, as Seymour pointed out, expanding the United Nations to become the instrument for conflict resolving capability that we so badly need.

All of these things go together, and on the last point of Seymour, I cannot enough agree, it's the responsibility of us in academy just to continue, and to continue, and to continue, and to advance debate in this field.

So, Seymour, I think we agree on four fifths, and the disagreement I would like to reduce to the difference between being an American and a European. Thank you. [27:48]

John Byrne: There may be a few of you who wish to stay and ask some specific questions, and so we will take some questions at this point. We will keep the question period brief. I ask that we have no minor speeches from the audience, but only questions. And so, yes, down here....The question was, "What do you mean by exporting pollution? Can you be more specific?"

Johan Galtung: Putting a car factory in Columbus, Ohio instead of having it in Toyama prefecture in Japan. Would you like an Oregon-specific example?....Supply it yourself.

John Byrne: Question here....The question was, "Would you care to comment on the opportunity provided by the obsolescence of some of our nuclear reactors?"

Johan Galtung: It's a great opportunity, of course, that can be seized. The problem about it is that it can also be seized exactly to do the opposite. The Bush call will be for modernization, and, as he pointed out very clearly in the debate yesterday, he saw no opportunity, to debunk the whole thing, and get out of it. I have noticed, with some interest, to get a little bit more specific about your question, that the U.S. has decided to abolish bases around the world and save about six billion dollars that way. Now, I think it is fairly obvious that the reason why they are doing it is that they can't afford it any longer, and also that the protests have accumulated. However, it's not referred to in those terms. The term that was used was very interesting: the bases are "unnecessary." So, maybe they should be granted the right to have their own terminology for what they do as long as the process is in the correct direction. [30:43]

John Byrne: Question back here....."How do you see SDI fitting into the equation of non-provocative defense?"

Johan Galtung: Of course, it doesn't fit at all, and I have, for a very long time, been of the opinion - I am still of that opinion - that it not even was intended as a defensive capability. I think the essence of "Star Wars" is a highly offensive capability and a successive weapons system to nuclear arms.

I think the reason why it was brought into being was that nuclear arms are highly unpractical. A) they leave radioactivity behind that might come to the sender, B) there is the possibility of a nuclear winter effect, C) they destroy by far too much to be politically useful, and D) not that there is too little warning time - there is too much warning time, because the missiles are too slow, so that the other guy might get the idea that something is happening and might retaliate.

Now, SDI, or SOI - Strategical Offense Initiative, as I like to call it - would presumably get around those difficulties by the third generation directed energy weapons that would then be capable of sending pulses, beams, laserized or not, capable of incinerating large territories, possibly having a very devastating EMP effect, and possibly also being able to kill individuals.

Now, how far this has come? I don't know. But I think I know one thing: the offensive capability is far cheaper than the [defensive] one. Second, the defensive capability presupposes a system of such a magnitude, including the information processing, that the arguments that have come up showing it is probably impossible seem, to me, relatively tenable. But the offensive capability does not presuppose that, because if you want to incinerate the other guy's territory, his territory is not moving at the speed of 12 Mach or something like that. In other words, you have a lame sitting duck to hit. It's much easier, and what I fear is that it is already developed.

I would also tend to think that the SDI discourse, as if this is a defensive, serves to mask what is really going on, and I would go as far as to say that I think quite a lot of physicists in these countries have been duped by that discourse. I can tell you a little story on that point. A friend of mine, Hans-Peter Dürr, the German nuclear physicist, was a very staunch critic of SDI in Germany, until he was told by a former student of his working in the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, "Hans-Peter, some of these things you say against what we are doing are a little bit out of date, because we have solved that problem already, and when it comes to the other things, we are so grateful to you because you really give us good ideas about what we should be more careful about."

In other words, I have feeling that there has been a dialectic going on that, instead of trying to de-mask what is going on, actually has encouraged it. For that reason, I'm not optimistic, now that, possibly, the budgets are being scaled down. It may sound paranoid, but it could be that it's being scaled down because the job has been done already, and the job is to find a weapons system that A] doesn't leave radioactivity, B] does not lead to nuclear winter, although there might be a laser winter of some type coming out of it, C] has a much more specific, well-targeted destruction, and D] operates by the speed of light, and I then add number E] comes from above, which is where it should come from when you are God's own country. [35:33]

John Byrne: I think we'll take one last question from Dr. Bella.

Audience Member: As an American, one of the things that's distressed me since I was very young, was how people would define in terms of power what it meant to be an American. When I was young, the flag meant justice and sticking up for the little guy, and that sounds almost corny now, and I think Jesse Jackson was one of the first to really speak to the American that was part of my culture, because for so long I had been told by others that what it meant to be American was to be number one.

Now, how are you any different than that? Because I feel like you're saying, in a sense, the same thing, and I experienced that as a form of cultural violence, because it's been going on to the point that a lot of Americans believe it. And I think one of the things that Jesse Jackson has held out to us, and I know he's not going to win the majority of votes, is that there's another culture there that needs to be acknowledged, and he would cite some of the gospel hymns, for example, from the black church, and that rang a bell for at least some of us, and so, in a sense, I guess I'm getting fed up with going along too much with defining what it means to be American in a sense of power. Now, I realize the political reality, because that's how they're defining it, and it seems to me you're doing the same thing.

John Byrne: I'm not sure I can repeat all of that, so perhaps you'd just like to respond.

Johan Galtung: I don't think I'm doing the same thing. What I think I'm trying to say is that the moment a country, especially its leadership, sees itself, not only as number one, but thinks it has a right and a duty to maintain that position, then quite a lot of potential evil is in it for all of us. I'm saying that. So I'm saying that peoples - nations - who see themselves like that would, I think, benefit greatly from coming down from that position and see themselves as one in a family of nations.

And if I were now an American, I could now - and let me try to do some of it - I could try to answer your question. I could try to say what I find beautiful about America. What is beautiful about America is that inside America, with some glaring exceptions - the Native Americans, the blacks, there are some others - it has become, and it was, and it is, and will continue to be a family of nations. In other words, it has practiced that dream - it has made it possible - for all the multitude of peoples from Europe, from many Asian countries, and from some others to live together and, to a large extent, be themselves. I find that fantastic. I find also a generosity and a universality that the moment a person comes and says, "Here I am. I want to join you for life, forever, with my family, or for a shorter period," there is an openness in this country which is found nowhere else.

So imagine now that that principle could also be practiced among the states of the world. Now, to practice it among the states of the world, there is an institution called the United Nations. It has all the possible faults and shortcomings, and when you look at the five last sessions of the United Nations, the country that was most often in minority, and sometimes in minority of one - as a matter of fact it was a minority in 82% of the votes - was [the] United States of America. Why is that? Well, to my mind, because it doesn't want to be dictated, because if it is the first of them all, nobody else can dictate to them. [39:53]

So I would then say take your boyhood dream, which seems to me to be Jesse Jackson's dream, and expand it to all the nations, and you get a formula which is very much a formula of peace. However, in this country, a line is drawn around it the moment the question is "How do we relate to others?" unless those others are sufficiently submissive. And that's where the difficulty comes. Now, I have said in my talk that how one goes about this, I don't know, and we don't know it, so I only want to put it on the agenda as a key problem, and I would like to end that remark with a little story, which ties it in with Seymour Melman's remark.

Giving a talk on non-defensive defense to a peace movement group some years ago, the reaction was much more positive, say, than in the United States Air Force Academy. As a matter of fact, it was so positive that one of them said, "Professor Galtung, that is great! How can the U.S. become a leading country in this?" You get my point?

So I said, "Couldn't you just be a normal country? I mean, just one of all of us, so to speak? Is it so important that the U.S. should be number one also in this?" And I could see the inner light in the eye extinguish, and the eyes became dull.

John Byrne: Thank you very much, Professor Galtung. Thank you, Professor Melman. And Linus Pauling, thank you very much for making this possible. You have added a dimension to our academy, which, hopefully, will have an impact far beyond this auditorium and this evening.

And in order for that to happen, each of you has received a challenge. You heard it from Professor Galtung, you essentially heard it from Professor Melman, and it has been made possible by Dr. Pauling. And so as you leave here, don't leave this lecture behind you. Think about it. Talk to your friends about it.

If you'd like further stimulation, the seminar, the symposium on the military-industrial complex, continues tomorrow. It starts at eight o'clock in the Memorial Union building. It would be a good place to renew the conversation, to discuss some of the points that were brought up tonight, and to really make a difference, as these gentlemen are attempting to do with us.

Thank you all for coming this evening. [43:13]


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