An Exchange on Liberal Scholarship

Noam Chomsky debates with Richard M. Pfeffer, Ithiel de Sola Pool, J.A. Horvat, and Jon M. Van Dyke

The New York Review of Books, February 13, 1969

To the Editors:

Noam Chomsky’s treatment of No More Vietnams? The War and the Future of American Foreign Policy in his article “The Menace of Liberal Scholarship” (NYR, January 2) is almost exclusively as a foil for his broader argument.

Perhaps Professor Chomsky never intended to “review” the book. But if that were the case, he should have said so. Or perhaps Professor Chomsky felt that his ironic advance comment on the book, to the effect that No More Vietnams? is “an important historical document,” one that “gives a remarkable insight into the mentality of those close to the formation of policy,” freed him from the obligations normally incumbent on a reviewer. But, whatever Chomsky’s intentions, no other review of the book will appear in the NYR, his article was laid out as if it were at least in part a review of the book (the name of the book appears under the title of the article), and many readers reasonably will take it as such.

It is in this context that I must reply. For Professor Chomsky will be taken to have effectively damned this book in the process of “illustrating” what, to my mind, is an otherwise generally valid, broadgauged attack on the dominant strain in American social science. As a review, despite a few passing remarks that “the points of view expressed at the conference were diverse” and that “more searching critical analysis was expressed,” the sections of Chomsky’s article that deal with No More Vietnams? can only be characterized as intellectually irresponsible.

To an incredible extent, Chomsky deals with the book through an attack on two of its twenty-six participants, suggesting to the average reader that the views of the chosen two, Professors Pool and Huntington, are substantially representative. To support this biased interpretation, Chomsky quotes selectively from other participants, such as Stanley Hoffmann and Daniel Ellsberg, in a manner indicating that their expressed views generally were consonant with Pool and Huntington, whereas the fact of the matter is that Hoffmann and Pool, and Huntington and Ellsberg were for the most part in diametrical disagreement about the morality, usefulness, and degree of failure of our Vietnam policy. In order to make his points most effectively, Professor Chomsky glosses over the fact that in a significant sense the book is an intense argument in dialogue form about how and why the US perpetrated Vietnam upon the world and what it means for the future. One would never know from reading Chomsky, for example, that:

(1) Professor Pool played a minor, and, to my mind, essentially negative role at the conference: qualitatively, he helped to define a loose consensus on US foreign policy, from which he was excluded; quantitatively, his contributions to the book comprise approximately 50 percent of those, for example, of Richard Barnet (and if it is true, as I argued at the conference, that few took Barnet seriously, that need not be true for readers of the book);

(2) the relevant sections of Professor Huntington’s paper were greeted nearly as negatively (although much more respectfully) as Barnet’s paper;

(3) Eqbal Ahmad’s critique of Huntington’s argument in favor of stability and order in developing countries began with the words “Professor Huntington’s presentations are a mixed bag of welfare imperialism and relentless optimism,” and continued on that level of acidity and analysis;

(4) Stanley Hoffmann, whatever Chomsky may think of his Foreign Affairs style of framing issues, has been one of the earliest, most consistent, and most intelligent critics of the wisdom and morality of US Vietnam policy;

(5) of the twenty-six contributors to the book, at least six to my knowledge have been contributors to The New York Review (Richard J. Barnet, John McDermott, Theodore Draper, Stanley Hoffmann, Hans Morgenthau, and John King Fairbank) — each reader must draw his own conclusions from that fact;

(6) the book is structured (reflecting, I believe, the growing consensus of the conference participants) to suggest serious defects in the American national character and in the processes and organizations relevant to political and bureaucratic decision making, defects that at least in part illuminate our Vietnam policy and may portend more Vietnams;

(7) relatedly, Stanley Hoffmann and, to use Chomsky’s word, “something of a majority” of the participants generally agreed that if we learn from Vietnam only that we have failed, then Vietnam may signify even greater tragedy for the future than it already has.

Before responding to what I take to be Professor Chomsky’s major (almost only), explicit criticism of the book as a whole, please allow me to respond briefly and in kind to his quote-mongering, if only to indicate that the book has a very different flavor from what Chomsky seems to suggest:

1) Daniel Ellsberg: “The lesson which can be drawn here is one that the rest of the world, I am sure, has drawn more quickly than Americans have: that, to paraphrase H. Rap Brown, bombing is as American as cherry pie. If you invite us in to do your hard fighting for you, then you get bombing along with our troops.”

2) Stanley Hoffmann: “The ethics of foreign policy must be an ethics of self-restraint: our moral duty coincides with our political interest…. The saddest aspect of the Vietnam tragedy is that it combines moral aberration and intellectual scandal….”

3) James C. Thomson, Jr.: “And why…is it ‘a bitter truth,’ as Professor Huntington puts it, to discover that probably the most stable government in South-east Asia today is the government of North Vietnam and, beyond that, that it is not only stable but responsive to the needs of its people?…. perhaps North Vietnam might be a more appropriate model for modernization, political development, institution building, nation building, and so forth, than others, and, in fact, might be given an opportunity to be such a model, at least among the Vietnamese people.”

Let me close by responding to one of the few significant, substantive points Professor Chomsky makes about the book, that “an acceptance of the legitimacy in principle of forceful intervention — when it can succeed –“(my italics) was a characteristic feature “of much of the discussion.” Precisely because this is an accurate and potentially important characterization, it is unfortunate that Chomsky makes this point almost in passing. Sad to say, at the least because of its usual consequences in application, the legitimacy in principle of forceful intervention appears to be upheld by almost every major group in our population, by every major power in the world, and, I would hazard to say, perhaps even by a majority of readers of The New York Review. Raise the case of American intervention against Nazi Germany — even as we observe the crimes committed in the process of our intervention in Vietnam — and see how many people reject forceful intervention in principle. The participants at this conference, in so far as they accept this principle, are not perpetrating a kind of evil unique to American social science. Rather, they are reflecting the views of many governments and peoples around the world who too frequently see their interests in narrow nationalistic terms. Pacifists, by definition, may be the only people who reject the principle.

The issue, then, is not the legitimacy of the principle of forceful intervention, but the historical pattern of American intervention. Had Professor Chomsky dealt with the problem at that level, he might well have been able to score effectively against a substantial number of the participants. But then he would have had to face the problems associated with applying general principles.

To argue the case at the level of principle is to obscure the issue for most of us: for those of us who are not pacifists, the “bitter truth” is that the US must learn to be more moral, intelligent, restrained, and responsible in deciding in particular situations when the use of force seems clearly justified. And that decision should be conditioned by the realization that generally the course of history rarely has been “improved” through such use.

Professor Chomsky did not take No More Vietnams? seriously, except at the level of irony. He has allowed both his understandable, if in this context unfortunate, obsession with the likes of Ithiel de Sola Pool and his justifiable antagonism to much of American social science (and the jargon it employs) to color — if not to preclude — considered responses to the substance of the book.

Even more serious, perhaps, Noam Chomsky has raised, by his example, the menace of radical scholarship. I am deeply sorry for that. No group, it seems, has a monopoly on menaces, though I agree that some are more richly endowed, and some certainly have more power than others.

Richard M. Pfeffer
Editor of No More Vietnams
Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs

To the Editors:

It does not occur to Noam Chomsky that one can differ from his criticisms of public policy by dint of intellect. If an intellectual supports the government’s views it must be, so he seems to assume, by some process of corrupting seduction. Clearly, Chomsky, the terror of all establishments, is not corrupted by that particular mechanism. That leaves as an unresolved mystery what mechanism of corruption it might be that makes so excellent a scholar in his own field of expertise incapable of accurately representing the views of those he criticizes. Most of his attacks, says a review of his work in linguistics (American Anthropologist, 1967, p. 414) are “directed against misrepresentation of actual views.” This habit carries into his political tracts, too.

In “The Menace of Liberal Scholarship,” he cites me 11 times, in 6 1/2 of these presenting as my views nearly the reverse of what I happen to believe. Perhaps I may be permitted a reply to a few of the more exasperating misinterpretations.

(1) Chomsky quotes me (correctly and so this point counts as the 1/2 distortion) as describing how the values of political participation and political order are sometimes in conflict. He then asserts that those on my side give “transcendent importance to order” — implying by guilt by association that that is my view. My real view is that only an idiot would pick either side of that issue. Like any dilemma, it is a dilemma. There are times and places for concern with stability and others for concern with participation. For example, as a believer in freedom, I admire Czechoslovak demonstrators against their oppressors. That does not force me to favor cargo cults or Vietnam resisters.

(2) Chomsky says that I am no doubt aware that there were no regular North Vietnamese units in the South in 1964. On the contrary I am aware that there were, any quotes to the contrary notwithstanding.

(3) He says I might agree with my friend Daniel Ellsberg that “we have demolished the society of Vietnam.” I don’t. The only sense in which that is true is the sense in which every modernizing country abandons reactionary traditionalism. Despite the horrifying consequences of the war, South Vietnam is a stronger, more prosperous, more self-conscious country than it has ever been before. It even shows the first small glimmer of a participant political system.

(4) I consider one of the glories of democracy to be that it is pacific, that it will not accept raining death from the skies on those who do not attack it. Chomsky alleges that I regard that rather as a weakness of democracy and that I consider such action “proper.” On the contrary, the burden of my remarks was that initiation of war is not a proper instrument of national policy. One of the reasons for being a democrat is that democracies are inhibited from so acting. I draw the conclusion, which Chomsky does not like, that in a nuclear age “we can live in safety only in a world in which the political systems of all states are democratic.” I argue that that is a proper goal of American foreign policy, both in Vietnam and elsewhere.

Please, Noam, if you do not like my views, attack them, not some unrecognizable distortion of them.

Ithiel de Sola Pool
Center for International Studies, MIT
Cambridge, Massachusetts

To the Editors:

No one reading “The Intellectuals and Vietnam” in your last issue is likely to question Professor Chomsky’s sincerity or remain unimpressed by his anguished voice trying to rally the uncommitted intellectuals onto the side of greater sanity and humaneness.

If I feel prompted to raise a point it is because I feel that in a vital area the issue has been left far from clear. If I understood Professor Chomsky correctly, he is trying to rally a pressure group of intellectuals opposed to “counterrevolutionary subordination” — Conor Cruise O’Brien’s phrase — counterrevolutionary subordination now being felt as a subtle threat to the moral and intellectual integrity of the intellectuals whose true function is to be independent and to act as disinterested critics of society in the service of truth.

The two most urgent aims of the pressure group are to bring about a change in the aggressive foreign policy of the US and at home to aid the forces focusing attention on the urgent need of more social justice and change, in other words, dealing with the problem of poverty in the cities.

Professor Chomsky is rightly skeptical about entertaining any hopes of achieving results by converting the ruling circles to his ideas of humaneness and justice, so very sensibly he opts for the more effective way of a pressure group which, if it met with wide-scale support, could become so influential that it could no longer be ignored by the policy makers. So far so good. The two aims: foreign policy and anti-poverty programs are clear. What is less clear is who are the intellectuals who are to be rallied? Surely the appeal is to go deeper than just an ad hoc program? For it could be argued that the two political aims are only very tenuously connected with the health and humaneness of intellectual life. Is it inconceivable that an Administration going isolationist could attempt to realize Professor Chomsky’s objectives without any reference to the intellectuals? However, I would not like to press this point too far.

I am more perplexed by the vagueness of what ideas and programs the disinterested intellectuals could agree on, leaving aside foreign policy and the anti-poverty program. Is Professor Chomsky thinking of a wide spectrum of intellectuals ranging from liberal humanists — those who have not sold the pass — to democratic socialists? I took it that “revolutionary subordination” was equally objectionable but it has been left uncertain whether this term was used as a synonym for the Soviet state of affairs, or whether it included the Chinese system. The enthusiastic account of Maoist achievements, a quotation from a Filipino journalist, makes one wonder whether the Chinese communist experiment is to be taken as embodying essential elements of liberal humanism. I am not unwilling to accept it provided a stronger case is made out for it, and a good deal of supporting evidence is produced.

Professor Chomsky gives an interesting account of the overwhelming preponderance — not to speak of importance and prestige — of the natural and social sciences over humane studies in the States. It is not unknown across the Atlantic that increasingly methods of study are being adopted in the humane fields which have proved a great success in the natural and social sciences. Professor Chomsky argues very convincingly how intellectuals are turned into mere experts for whom moral criteria are excluded as irrelevant from their own specialty.

Surely unless there is a revival of humane studies in the true sense of the word Professor Chomsky’s appeal will be heeded by only a residual number of disinterested humanists. It will no doubt attract a large number of intellectuals of a variety of revolutionary persuasions for whom humaneness is at best of marginal importance, and in practice soon to be jettisoned when overriding demands of ideology are set against it.

Is Professor Chomsky’s appeal more than an attempt at creating a cultural Popular Front? Not that there is anything wrong with the idea of a Popular Front conceived of as a pact of disparate elements united on a temporary common platform to oppose a common threat, but it can hardly be equated with the more fundamental question of how a humane intellectual tradition can be revived or sustained if it is in danger of being snuffed out.

J. A. Horvat
The Cambridge Quarterly
Cambridge, England
To the Editors:

I would like to correct a small point in Noam Chomsky’s article. Mr. Chomsky said that four-fifths of the three million tons of bombs dropped on Vietnam had been dropped in South Vietnam. The United States government refuses to release the precise fraction, but there are indications that it is lower than four-fifths. First of all, the tonnage figure includes bombs dropped on Laos, although this bombing is not officially acknowledged. Secondly, a Pentagon spokesman told me after extensive questioning last month that about one-third of the three million tons had been dropped on North Vietnam. It seems probable therefore that as of the end of 1968 only half of the US bombing has been in South Vietnam.

Jon M. Van Dyke
Assistant Professor of Law
Catholic University of America
Washington, D.C.


Chomsky’s response:

Richard M. Pfeffer
I am in almost complete agreement with Richard Pfeffer. He is quite right in stating that I referred to the book he edited only insofar as it had bearing on a broader argument. To make my own position clear: I did not write my article on liberal scholarship as a review of No More Vietnams?, and I was as surprised as he to find it listed as a review of this book. I therefore gladly join him in informing readers who might have been misled, that is not a review of the book, and was never intended to be.

Perhaps I can clarify the matter by explaining how the article was put together. My proofs are thirty pages long. The first twelve are taken, almost verbatim, from an essay entitled “Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship” in a book submitted for publication before the Stevenson Institute Conference even took place. The examples used to illustrate the general thesis in the book are selected from a number of branches of scholarship. I replaced this rather elaborate and somewhat academic documentation by the more topical material selected from No More Vietnams?, which runs from pages 13 to 18 of my proofs for the NYR article (including one page dealing with an article in Foreign Affairs). Pages 19 to 30 then take up the same topic with other material and deal with the current situation in Vietnam and at home, as it looks to me. The idea of reviewing the book never occurred to me. I am sorry for the confusion that may have been caused by what was merely an inadvertent and unfortunate error in format.

It is true, as Mr. Pfeffer notes, that my references to No More Vietnams?, are largely restricted to the chairmen of the political science and government departments of the two Cambridge Universities — not an idiosyncratic choice, given the structure of the essay. I quote other participants only where their contributions related to my general thesis, with which I take it Pfeffer is largely in agreement, about a dangerous tendency in liberal scholarship and in the relations of intellectuals to power in an advanced industrial society (for example, I quoted Ellsberg’s ironic reference to Huntington’s concept of “modernizing instruments,” namely bombs and artillery; as well as James Thomson’s sharp criticism, with which I fully concur, of “technocracy’s own Maoists,” the “new breed of American ideologists…”; and a number of others). Similarly, my references to Huntington and Pool included other articles of theirs. The quotations that I gave (for a different purpose) illustrate the diametrical disagreement between Huntington and Ellsberg to which Pfeffer refers. Had I been reviewing the book, I would have also emphasized the divergence between the views of Pool and Hoffmann — the latter, a sharp critic of the war, on grounds to which I return below.

Since I am now in the unwanted role of reviewer, perhaps I should quote from the letter I sent to the publisher, parts of which appeared in advertising copy in this journal: “The book gives a remarkable insight into the mentality of those who are close to the formation of policy, and in this lies its primary value and significance. I think it will be an important historical document for this reason. I should add that my own reaction to what this record reveals is one of profound concern.”

Had I undertaken to review the book, I would have mentioned a number of important contributions which were not relevant to the thesis of my essay, among them the following: Eqbal Ahmad’s comments on American political culture and “psychological propensities” which lead us to a “welfare imperialism” with an “anti-nationalist thrust” that benefits primarily the ruling elites of our client states; Theodore Draper’s observations on strategic theory and on the Caribbean; Hans Morgenthau’s report of Asian views of the historical significance of the Têt offensive; Sir Robert Thompson on how to and how not to succeed in forceful intervention; John McDermott on popular participation and economic development (along with James Thomson’s “subversive thought” on North Vietnam, which Pfeffer quotes); James Thomson’s remarks on policy making and public relations, and also his pertinent question about earlier days: “Where were the experts, the doubters, and the dissenters who could warn of the dangers of an open-ended commitment to the Vietnam quagmire?” — a charge that few can escape, myself included; George Kahin’s informative comments on Thai insurgency; Pfeffer’s comments on “the real limitations and deficiencies of social science”; Barnet’s analysis of the role of the national security bureaucracy, to which I alluded only in noting the inability of most of the participants to understand what he was saying; and so on.

Having done all of this, I would still have concluded, as in my essay, that “points of view expressed at the conference were diverse, but it is fair to say that…something of a majority opinion” is that where intervention can succeed, it may be undertaken. I take it that again I am in substantial agreement with Pfeffer, who states that my characterization of “much of the discussion” as accepting “the legitimacy in principle of forceful intervention — when it can succeed — is an accurate one.

At this point, however, there arises my only disagreement with Pfeffer’s letter. Note that my statement, which he quotes, criticizes the view that intervention is legitimate when it can succeed. Those who defend our “intervention against Nazi Germany” do not do so on grounds that it promised success, but on grounds that it was just; hence this reference is not relevant to my point. Furthermore, I think that the use of the term “intervention” to cover both the Second World War and the American war in Vietnam is unilluminating. For the latter, a more appropriate historical context would include the American war in the Philippines, the French war in Indo-China, the Czech and Dominican interventions, and other similar ventures. It is this sort of “intervention” that I was discussing. There is much to say about the other sort — I have an essay on it in the book cited above — but it has little bearing, so far as I can see, on the questions of intervention discussed in the Stevenson Institute conference or in my article.

The issue of legitimacy of intervention — in the narrower sense here discussed — is raised in a complex and interesting way in Stanley Hoffmann’s contributions to No More Vietnams?, to which I alluded only briefly — and perhaps misleadingly — in my essay. Pfeffer is right to stress, as I did not, Hoffmann’s role as a critic of the war, and his conclusion that the war “combines moral aberration and intellectual scandal.” Hoffmann explicitly condemns “any policy of universal intervention.” He argues that we must learn “to accept violent social and political change — even if private American interests happen to be the targets, even if communists should occasionally be the local beneficiaries and communist powers the likely allies of the local winners.” Yet in other places he merely urges “modesty and limitation,” more rigorous definition of “what it is that so threatens us that we feel we have to intervene either by political subversion or by military action.” In summarizing his argument, he cites the “precepts violated by our conduct in Vietnam” as these: “No policy is ethical, however generous its ends, if success is ruled out. And no policy is ethical if the means corrupt or destroy the ends, if the means are materially out of proportion with the ends, if they entail costs of value greater than the costs of not resorting to them.” I understood him to be saying that our ends were generous (“our political and our moral roads, paved with good intentions, have led to hell,” as he remarks just before); that had success been attainable, had the means met the stated conditions of scale and cost, then we would have been justified in intervening with force. With this latter judgment I do not agree.

Two questions arise: am I right in so interpreting Hoffmann’s position; and if so, am I right in rejecting it, while sharing his horror of the war? As to the latter, I cannot comment in the scope of this letter. As to the former, my interpretation was reinforced by a number of other comments, some of which I cited. “The central problem,” he states, “does not lie in the nature of America’s objectives” but rather in “the relevance of its ends to specific cases” (his italics). The ends were these: “to protect the majority” which “does not want to live under Communist rule and ought to be allowed to choose its own form of government” from being overwhelmed by an “armed minority,” “supplied from outside the limits of the country it tries to seize”; “assuring other Asian governments of America’s concern for their security”; “preserving a balance of power in Asia”; ” ‘buying time’ for the countries situated around China”; “…these were all worthy ends.” “The tragedy of our course in Vietnam lies in our refusal to come to grips with those realities in South Vietnam that happened to be decisive from the point of view of politics” (his italics).

I read this as in essence an argument for the legitimacy of military intervention — a justification which could have been used, to mention just one example, in the case of the American revolution. A British opponent of the war could have argued that though Colonial policies were bound to fail, their ends were nevertheless just: a majority of colonists professed no desire for independence; there was massive outside support (as Bernard Fall has noted, “at almost no time did Washington’s forces exceed 8000 men in a country which had at least 300,000 able-bodied males — and backed by a force of 31,897 French ground troops and 12,660 sailors and Marines manning sixty-one major vessels”). The point is that we have no authority and no competence to make such judgments about Vietnam or any other country and to use our military power to act on these judgments.

Elsewhere, Hoffmann describes our failure as in large measure an intellectual one. We constructed false analogies to Greece and the Philippines (where, if I understand him correctly, he believes our intervention was justified): “We have blundered through failure to analyze rigorously enough the conditions for large-scale insurrection”; “An optimistic and simplified reading of reality served as the basis for our hubris” (one “great failing of our policy”). He goes on to describe the Viet Cong as follows: “The Viet Cong, in zones under its control, has replaced the old village structures by a mass movement, substituting the politics of mass involvement for the politics of traditional society.” In the face of what he describes as “Viet Cong and North Vietnamese mischief, the anticommunist majority failed to organize and unite.” This made the situation hopeless, “since the elimination of this mischief required both the demolition of South Vietnam’s society and the political and social success of pacification, which our acts of war precluded.” “We have fought a war for objectives that were unreachable”—but were “worthy ends.” We believed in myths and “illusion fed by a social science imbued with engineering pretensions and an ideological justification for the less savory aspect of our role.” Our “original sins” were “ignorance of the conditions and excessive self-confidence.” “…the situation in Southeast Vietnam”—for example, “the upheaval in Indonesia…” “The broader implications of our Vietnam experience can all be summarized in one formula: From incorrect premises about a local situation and about our abilities, a bad policy is likely to follow” (his italics).

As I understand Professor Hoffmann’s position, it is accurately represented by this selection of quotes, along with those in my essay. I am aware that a selection of quotes can be misleading, and perhaps this selection distorts his intention. At this point I can only suggest that the reader find out for himself. Hoffmann’s position, which is more elaborate and nuanced than I originally indicated, contains elements with which I agree. But it is based on fundamental assumptions that seem to me very wrong.

Ithiel de Sola Pool
Let me turn next to Ithiel Pool’s letter. First, to eliminate an irrelevance, it is quite true that there is considerable controversy over my various attempts to reconstruct explicitly the leading ideas of post-Bloomfieldian structural linguistics, and the reviewer whom he cites is one who thinks them unsuccessful. I could easily construct a long list of those on both sides of the debate. No scholar will be surprised at the fact that there is disagreement over a matter of this sort, which involves interpretation of diverse and often vague formulations. Whatever the merits of the case, it has no relevance to the question at issue.

Turning to the matter at hand, Pool cites four cases of alleged distortion. The facts, as I see them, are as follows. First, he feels that my remarks imply that he is always on the side of order and stability. I am happy to repudiate any such suggestion. It would never have occurred to me to suggest that he would assign transcendent importance to stability and order on the other side of the iron curtain, and, as he points out, he has a great concern—which I share, of course—for participation and freedom in Czechoslovakia. This was exactly my point. I noted explicitly that those who give “transcendent importance to order” tend to see Pool’s “dilemma” in this way: given their particular ideological bias, “a certain form of stability—not that of North Vietnam or North Korea, but that of Thailand, Taiwan, or the Philippines—is so essential that we must be willing to use unparalleled means of violence to ensure that it is preserved.”

Thus, as Pool says, “there are times and places for concern with stability and others for concern with participation”—our empire and their empire, respectively. In the section of my essay to which Pool refers, I quoted his opinion that preservation of order “depends on somehow compelling newly mobilized strata to return to a measure of passivity and defeatism from which they have recently been aroused by the process of modernization” and to accept “a lowering of newly acquired aspirations and levels of political activity.” I then pointed out that “Pool is merely describing facts, not proposing policy,” that “a corresponding version of the facts is familiar on the domestic scene,” and that there is, obviously, another way, not mentioned by Pool, in which order can be preserved in all such cases. No distortion in case one, so far as I can see. Rather, his letter simply confirms my remarks.

Secondly, Pool objects to my statement that “In 1964, as Professor Pool is no doubt aware, there were no regular North Vietnamese units known to be in the South…” I had assumed, perhaps wrongly, that he was familiar with the kind of documentation assembled by Theodore Draper (Abuse of Power). Until those who claim that there were regular North Vietnamese units operating in the South prior to 1965 meet the challenge that Draper and others have presented, the objective observer can reach only one conclusion in this regard. Pool apparently does not think highly of quotes from McNamara, Mansfield, and the State Department White Paper, but he will perhaps agree that they outweigh his entirely unsupported allegations.

Thirdly, Pool objects to my assertion that he “might also agree” with the conclusions of Ellsberg and Fall that I quoted. The reporting from Vietnam has been sufficient so that literate readers may judge for themselves whether “the only sense” in which we have demolished the society of Vietnam “is the sense in which every modernizing country abandons reactionary traditionalism.”

To determine the validity of Pool’s fourth and final claim of distortion, the reader may compare the text, from which I quoted at length, with Pool’s comment in his letter. In the text, he specifies exactly one respect in which we have failed in Vietnam, namely, in the “failure of our own political system” to contain dissent (p. 142). He says that “the gloomy performance of our political system disappointing as it may be,” in this regard, is the kind of failing “of which we usually accuse the Vietnamese, but the criticism is more fairly addressed against ourselves.” His view, which I quoted, is that “unless it is severely provoked or unless the war succeeds fast, a democracy cannot choose war as an instrument of policy. Any other sort of war will destroy the cohesion of the democratic community that wages it” (my italics). This is the conclusion derived (p. 206) from a consideration of what happened when “we rained death from the skies upon an area where there was no war.” The “moral protest” was not immediate, but “time brought it on.” His conclusion: “Many actions that public opinion would otherwise make impossible, are possible if they are short term.” The reference is to the policy of raining death upon an area where there is no war. The reader can determine for himself that this is the only conclusion that Pool draws from “our worst mistake,” namely, the bombing of the North — a mistake only because of the resulting “moral outrage” in a political system with such “failings” as ours, namely a democracy.

Perhaps Pool now wishes to retract the views that he expressed quite explicitly in No More Vietnams? But the text is quite clear. As to the claim that democracies will refrain from initiating military actions, this will, as I. F. Stone once said of Secretary Rusk, improve Pool’s reputation as a humorist in Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, and all too many other places. His claims concerning the “pacific orientation” of our “value system” (p. 208) are belied not only by history, but also by his own prediction (p. 203): “…I predict that there will be a number of effective interventions in foreign crises in America’s future”; though it is true that because of the “failure of our own political system” noted above, we will be unable to use war as an instrument of policy “unless the war succeeds fast” and “we will have to learn how to use police and intelligence operations,” in Pool’s view.

I strongly urge the reader to study carefully the original statements from which I have quoted. Here he will find a more convincing demonstration than I could possibly construct by quotation for the thesis of my essay that among the new mandarins, the self-styled “rational and humane social scientists,” there are potential forces that pose new and severe dangers to civilized existence. Mr. Pfeffer questions my “obsession with the likes of Ithiel de Sola Pool,” and perhaps he is correct, but I think that the opinions and values that they express demand serious attention. The reasons are those outlined in my essay. The access of a technocratic elite to influence and power carries with it the strong likelihood that this elite will attempt to use its claims to knowledge and technique as an ideological instrument, to justify its new role.

As Pool correctly notes, there can be intellectual dispute over questions of policy, and there is every reason to bring knowledge and reason to bear on these questions. For all his talk of “applied social science,” however, I fail to see how his analysis of the Vietnam situation is grounded in anything but ideological bias. For this reason, his criticism of the “anti-intellectuals” rings quite false, to my ears. Applied social science may make interventions more successful, as may new weapons systems. For those who are concerned with freedom in Vietnam as well as in Czechoslovakia, in Guatemala as well as in Hungary, the merits of applied social science and exotic weapons will appear slight, however. In short, I see no indications that there is an “intellectual dispute” here, but rather a dispute over the right of small nations to find their own way in relative freedom from great power intervention. Pool evidently defends these rights in the case of Czechoslovakia, whereas in Vietnam he takes it to be our responsibility to determine who are the “legitimate nationalists” and what are the proper institutions, and to impose this decision by force. This conclusion does not derive from the findings of applied social science, though it seems to me not at all unreasonable to suppose that it is related to the hopes of the applied social scientist to exercise his techniques of social management.

J.A. Horvat
Mr. Horvat raises a number of substantive issues. To clear up a misunderstanding, I would be delighted if the “methods of study” used in the natural sciences were to be adopted more widely in the social sciences and humanities. The natural sciences are concerned with objectivity and intelligibility. Their achievements are important insofar as they provide insight and understanding, explanatory principles that illuminate a reality hidden in a mass of superficial data. In contrast, the social sciences quite often — though not entirely — provide a caricature of the sciences, taking as their model a concept of science that might have been appropriate for Babylonian astronomy or Linnaean botany. This is a matter about which I have written in some detail elsewhere, as have many others. As an example, I might cite a huge research proposal now on my desk that calls for new tools and facilities to enable the behavioral sciences to derive theory from data — tools which are lacking in the natural sciences, of course, except in so far as human intelligence provides such a “tool.”

Furthermore, the social sciences often fail to achieve objectivity for ideological reasons, as they often fail to challenge accepted doctrine — which may in the past have served well — when its limitations impede further understanding. I think that serious social scientists would agree that much of what passes for science in this field is really a kind of play-acting at science. As for the humanities, if scholars wish to use computers to collect and organize masses of data, that is their privilege. Conceivably, it may even be useful for some purpose. If they think that by so doing they are using the “methods of the natural sciences,” they merely delude themselves. It seems to me that a “revival of humane studies in the true sense of the word,” to use Horvat’s phrase, would bring these studies closer in concept and attitude to the natural sciences, at their best and most valuable. This is not to say that an explicit commitment to certain values should be avoided. Far from it. Clear articulation of this commitment, which is never absent, is a prerequisite for objectivity. In the same sense, I do not believe in the existence of “radical scholarship” as a separate category. Rather, it seems to me that a search for objectivity carried out within the framework of decent values will lead to “radical” conclusions, now and forever in the future — a belief that must be justified by serious work.

Horvat’s questions are fair ones, and I cannot provide general answers that satisfy me. I have no overarching theory of social change, though, like anyone else, I have certain impressions of how specific problems might be met and of the kind of society that we should try to create. For what it is worth, my own opinions derive from the range of opinion exemplified, say, by certain anarchosyndicalists and non-Bolshevik Marxists such as Rosa Luxemburg. I could elaborate, but this is not the place. I do not feel that sufficient understanding of these matters exists for any position to be argued with the dogmatism which is all too characteristic of discussion on the Left, and which has enormously hampered the development of a genuine revolutionary movement (there are implicit value judgments here, to be sure). This dogmatism is an unpleasant counterpart to the smug superficiality of those who can perceive their own ideological commitments no more than a fish can perceive that it swims in the sea. Personally, I feel that the “humane intellectual tradition” of which Horvat speaks quite appropriately might develop from a commitment to these values and ideas of how social relations should be reconstructed, assuming that this commitment is accompanied by an open mind, an ability to learn, a willingness to challenge any orthodoxy.

In the short range, I think that intellectuals can do a great deal toward meeting specific problems by their work and their willingness to undertake the personal sacrifice entailed by resistance to ominous, deep-seated tendencies in our society. For example, the commitment of resources to destruction and waste is, as I tried to indicate very briefly in my essay, a feature of our society that will not easily be eradicated, as many social critics have rightly emphasized. The scientists who realize full well that putting a man on the moon has a ridiculously low priority, and that an ABM system will increase international instability as well as waste precious resources, will nevertheless implement these plans. They need not do so, though if they refuse, they will, I believe, find themselves engaged in resistance and probably in acts that will be designated as “illegal” to the extent that they succeed in challenging deeply entrenched and powerful social forces. Similarly, Asian scholars who are repelled by the kind of attitudes represented by the document of the “moderate scholars” that I discussed can strike at one pillar of American counterrevolutionary ideology by helping to develop a more accurate — and in consequence, more humane, more sympathetic, and more fraternal — appreciation of the problems of Asian societies and the means being undertaken in an attempt to meet them. To mention another case, the very important attempts of Gar Alperovitz and others to explore in a serious way the problems of community development seem to me to offer great promise for the long-range movement toward a more decent society that will try to bring about genuine popular control of social institutions. Many other examples might be cited, some embodying future hopes rather than the reality of today. I think that any genuine movement for social change will have to involve many strata of society in political and social action, in objective study and application of new ideas and concepts that will, one hopes, arise from it.

Insofar as developments in the third world are concerned, I think that in some respects Chinese Communism does “embody essential elements of liberal humanism,” side-by-side with authoritarianism and much irrationality which, though understandable in the specific context, must nevertheless be deplored. Similarly, one can point to certain developments in Yugoslavia that transcend anything existing in the West so far as true democracy is concerned. The same can be said of Cuba, and other examples might be mentioned. At the same time it would be absurd, regressive in fact, for us to take third-world societies as a general model for progress in an advanced industrial society with different potentialities and problems, though I believe that we can learn a great deal from the study of the impressive social experimentation that exists alongside repressive practice in several of these societies. Those who prefer simple heroes and villains may find this position too complex, but I think it is correct.

I quoted the Filipino journalist Hernando Abaya to illustrate the “threat” posed by China, not because I entirely agree with his assessment, though I think he is right to be impressed by many of the achievements of modern China. Incidentally, his remarks are not untypical of non-Communist Asian opinion. Compare for example the qualified but basically sympathetic assessment of the staff of the Yomiuri Shimbun, recently translated into English (This Is Communist China, edited by Robert Trumbull, David McKay, 1968). By world standards (though not, of course, American standards, where the spectrum of opinion is sharply skewed to the right), this is fairly conservative opinion. I presume that it is this kind of audience that Walt Rostow has in mind when he speaks of the “ideological threat” posed by Communist China. To repeat, I think that Abaya is right to be impressed by many of the achievements of modern China, carried out in the face of our cruel and stupid policies and many other problems, and by the vision of man and society that appears as one element in Maoist thinking — again, along with much else that I think quite wrong. Our task, however, is not to assign good or bad marks to various societies of the world, but to learn what we can from them, to help them where we can, and to face seriously the critical problems of American society. I think this means that we must try to develop a mass movement for social change in the United States that escapes the cold war psychosis and the stranglehold of narrow ideology and that turns to constructive tasks, one such task, of high priority, being resistance against American militarism. Unless we can succeed in this specific task, we are unlikely to live long enough to have to face our other problems. And if by blind luck we survive, the consequent demoralization of American society will make life as meaningless here as it is hopeless for the Guatemalan peasant.

Let me emphasize what is in any event obvious: these are not adequate answers to the questions Horvat raises. Perhaps they suggest a point of view that, in my opinion, might be developed further in a fruitful way, not only by thought and research and study, but by committed action as well.

Jon M. Van Dyke
Professor Van Dyke presents figures that are at variance with those I cited, the latter obtained by I. F. Stone directly from the Pentagon Press Office. I have no further information; reports in the press have varied slightly. Whatever the exact figures may be, all reports confirm the qualitative conclusion of Bernard Fall that I quoted: “It is Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity that is threatened with extinction” as “the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size.” Personally, I would have been opposed to the dispatch of ten green berets to Vietnam. What we have actually done, what we do today, what we threaten for tomorrow, constitutes a crime of historic dimensions. And the “new mandarins” bear a significant share of the guilt.