Reagan, God and the Bomb

F.H. Knelman, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1985. $22.95. 343pp

By Gideon Foreman (reviewer) | 1986-10-01 12:00:00

ANY ILLUSIONS WE MAY HARBOR ABOUT a friendly old man inhabiting the White House are systematically exploded in this well-documented, wide-ranging study of U.S. Military policy, the peace movement, and Canadian complicity. Ronald Reagan is the central focus of the book and after F.H. Knelman has finished exploring the President's secret agenda and religiosity, we are left with the image of a sinister and world-threatening man.

Reagan, God and the Bomb takes as its starting point the premise that the policies of the present U.S. government "constitute a radical discontinuity in American political history." Specifically, Knelman argues that the Reagan administration is the first since World War II to have nuclear warfighting plans and "to translate into operational programs the central and implicit goal of the decapitation of the Soviet state." Reagan is also likely the first president to integrate openly politics and a belief in God. And Knelman explains that the president's warfighting plans and his religious beliefs actually go together: Reagan and the Moral Majority believe that God is guiding them toward a "holy Christian war against 'godless communism."' The Soviet Union is satanic and must be destroyed:

Thus there exists perfect religious justification for a nuclear attack. The author even shows that, for key members of the government, "Armageddon is the basis of policy."

Having set out the Reagan world view, Knelman explores the administration's methods. He suggests convincingly that the president has no interest in arms control or disarmament and that he actually works against these. U.S. negotiating teams come to the Soviets with proposals that are designed to achieve nonagreement; Reagan appoints arms control personnel who share his beliefs. Thus Knelman writes: "Kenneth L. Adelman directs the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) because he is clearly not in favor of negotiated arms control treaties."

EAGAN CLAIMS THAT ARMS CONTROL I agreements cannot be adopted because they lack verifiability. Knelman gives ample proof that such is not the case. Agreements fail to materialize because the president does not want them.

Reagan's desire is not parity but superiority and he will use any means-including deceitful claims of Soviet military ascendancy-to achieve his goal of increased armament.

Not surprisingly, the administration perpetrates a number of myths. Central among these are the claims that nuclear war is both winnable and survivable. Reagan argues that through the combination of military might and a program of crisis relocation planning (CRP), the U.S. can destroy the USSR while protecting the majority of its own people. The administration is compelled to offer this myth as part of its whole warfighting package: If it is to sell the notion of nuclear war, it cannot admit how millions of Americans will die. Knelman points Out that to prepare for CRP is not merely to indulge in a hoax but indeed to make ready for confrontation.

Knelman, a Canadian, examines the activities of his own government and here too there is involvement in the arms race. The author shows that despite its peacemaker image, Canada is an accomplice to U.S. nuclear strategy. Both the Trudeau and Mulroney governments have allowed testing of the Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM), a first-strike weapon which Knelman sees as critical to Reagan's warfighting plans. Virtually impossible to shoot down and very difficult to verify, ALCMs serve only to promote superpower tension. In passing, Knelman mentions what may come as a surprise: As recently as 1980-81, defence contracting made up 68.7 percent of our federal government's total purchases.

DESPITE ITS TERRIFYING SUBJECT, THE BOOK retains a certain optimism and alludes frequently to the good work of the peace movement. Knelman is convinced that average, committed citizens-much more than leaders-are the hope of the world. He praises grassroots organizing and, in particular, sees the issues of "Star Wars" and "nuclear winter" as a basis for new mobilization. Though cautious, he writes: "The small force of the many voices of reason and peace grows more rapidly than the speed of global conflict."

This credible and honest book-one that criticizes both superpowers but is not afraid to lay greater blame on the United States-is flawed only by a tendency toward repetition. Information this important needs to he discussed widely. My fear is that verbal excess may reduce the readership of a deeply necessary study.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1986

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1986, page 41. Some rights reserved.

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