The Cuban Embargo, South American Security, and Teaching America's "Officers-In-Training": An Interview with Naval Academy Professor Daniel Mastersontags: Hugo Chavez
Ms. Hart is an award-winning journalist who has covered international affairs and historical topics in her writing.
How has Cuba changed since Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother Raul? And how are U.S.-Cuban relations today? As the U.S.-imposed Cuban embargo turns 50 this year—established the year after Castro came to power in 1959—many Americans wonder if United States foreign policy is still served by the embargo. Historian Daniel Masterson considers the arguments on both sides of the debate, and the Obama administration’s inertia in effecting change. An expert in Latin American civil-military relations, revolution and counterinsurgency, race relations and immigration, Professor Masterson also examines current affairs in South America as well as potential security concerns. Masterson began teaching at the United States Naval Academy, the second oldest of the country’s five service academies, in 1979. He has seen firsthand the academic training of thousands of young men and women who have gone on to provide key leadership roles as naval and marine corps officers and commanders in America’s military establishment. Located in Annapolis, Maryland on a windy stretch of land abutting the Chesapeake Bay, the Academy has influenced military policy and pioneered war technologies in a wide range of global and regional conflicts since its founding in 1845. Academy alumnae include President Jimmy Carter, Republican Senator John McCain, and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullin.
Masterson is the author of Militarism and Politics in Latin America: Peru From Sanchez Cerro to Sendero Luminoso, A History of Peru, and The Japanese in Latin America; 1880 to the Present. He is now writing a cultural biography of Alberto Fujimori, the former Japanese-Peruvian president of Peru (in office from 1990 until his expulsion in 2000), as well as a history of the British auxiliary military corps the Black and Tans in Ireland’s War of Independence in 1920-1921, to be called The Black and the Tans In Irish Memory. Masterson also teaches world history.
In this wide-ranging interview with award-winning journalist Priscilla Hart, Masterson reflects on the broad themes military history as well as his thirty years of teaching America’s “officers-in-training.”
In 2006, Fidel Castro appointed his 78-year-old brother Raul to replace him as Cuba’s head of state. In a recent public forum you described Raul as “the hardest-line communist in all of Cuba,” but also said that there are signs the Cuban military wants to “bury the hatchet” and open relations with the U.S. Can you explain this apparent contradiction? What does “burying the hatchet” actually mean? Is Raul at odds with his military leadership?
Cuba has what I call a “septocracy”—an oligarchy of 70-year-olds. It is similar to China in this regard. When Raul Castro came to power, there was an opportunity for Cuba’s “politburo” to be filled with younger members, but that didn’t happen, because the septocrats didn’t want to hand over their power.
Real reform will come when both Castros are gone. There have been changes in recent years, but these are slow and few. Cuban citizens have been allowed a degree of personal freedom—they are allowed to use cell phones, for example—and are taking more trips outside the country.
Regarding the Cuban army, I might have used a different expression than “burying the hatchet.” I was actually referring to a kind of shift in perspective which I had heard about from a Canadian journalist who spent a couple of years in Cuba studying the army. He told me that what he observed was that army had a new respect for the American military because of what it perceived as the American military’s remarkable ability to recover itself after Vietnam —a catastrophic war for America. This was at a time when the Cuban army had lost its Soviet support, so it basically had to reinvent itself. It watched the U.S. military rebuild itself so successfully after catastrophe, and then carry out the 1990 Gulf War. So there was a kind of “favorable” view of the enemy, an attitude of, “We can do it too, once we bridge the economic storm.” Instead of the usual “imperalist versus anti-imperialist” position, there was a “soldier to soldier” approach.
Could this mean an attempt at a Cuban military “comeback”? I don’t think so. The Soviets are gone. Who would sponsor the Cuban military? The army will change with a younger generation leading it.
Cuba’s 250,000-strong army shrank to 60,000 following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of Soviet financial aid to Cuba. You describe the army as “one of the most formidable military forces in all of Latin America, and one of the most formidable of any Third World country,” and argue that the army still remains the “power broker” in Cuban domestic politics and foreign policy. Can you explain?
What I mean by “formidable” is that the Cuban army has had formidable battlefield training and experience around the world. In the early 1970s the Cuban army was all over Africa, in Ethiopia, in Mozambique, with up to 100,000 troops. They were in the FLN front (National Liberation Front) in Algeria from 1962 onwards, fighting Morocco in a border dispute between the two countries—in effect, “coming to the rescue at a moment’s notice.”
These Cuban-African military engagements have hardly been studied and really deserve attention. How were the African armies trained under the Cubans? How were the Cuban officers who went to Africa trained? In the Soviet Union? In East Germany? For intelligence training, they may have gone to East Germany.
The Cuban army is also remarkable in that besides being the military and the FBI, it directs pretty much everything in Cuban society—development projects, agricultural relief, any kind of crisis. If there is trouble getting the sugar harvest in, the army is there to help the farmers.
The Cuban army also has a remarkable esprit de corps. It is a very proud institution, and has a strong ethos about military action which almost no other South American military does. Elsewhere in South America there is a kind of looking backward to the heroes of independence who died over a hundred years ago.
After Castro’s catastrophic attempt in 1969-1970 to increase sugar production, the Soviets stepped in. They said, “Stop screwing around. You’re wasting our money.” Castro had attempted to increase sugar harvest yields to higher levels than ever before—to 10 million tons—but there was a shortfall, so the Cuban army got into it. The Soviets forced it to change from a revolutionary army to a more traditional force. Cuba then adopted a Soviet-style Five Year Plan that regularized the economy similar to most other communist nations. With those changes in place, the first Communist Congress was held in Cuba in the mid-1970s, more than a decade after Castro’s rise to power.
Despite the long-standing U.S. embargo against Cuba, a loophole during the Bush administration allowed U.S. farmers to sell over $2 billion of produce to Cuba, on a cash-only basis. This has had the effect of turning the United States into Cuba’s fifth largest trading partner. Does this mean the embargo is dead? How do you view the embargo from a historical perspective? What are the pros and cons of maintaining the embargo today?
I believe the fastest way to liberalize Cuba would be to remove the embargo. The greatest effect of the embargo has been to give Castro an excuse for his economic failures. The Cuban embargo was a bad idea from the beginning. But one can imagine why the embargo was established at the time. Cuba was clearly flirting with the “enemy.” We had the Cuban Missile Crisis. Later there were the Cuban army missions in Africa in the 1970s. The embargo was punitive in nature. We should remember, though, that we were trading with the Soviet Union in the 1970s—literally “feeding the beast,” sending huge grain shipments. This was an acknowledgement of the complete failure of Soviet economic policy. Also, if we look at the embargos imposed elsewhere, against North Korea and Afghanistan, these were multilateral, imposed through the U.N. This was not the case in Cuba.
No, the embargo is not dead. We still don’t ship out consumer goods. Obama has increased the quota for incoming Cubans. But for now, the Obama administration is probably thinking “Leave it alone,” since it will generate a lot of political heat when there are already so many other crises going on. No president has ever been able to face up to the factor of Florida —with its large anti-Castro immigrant voters—in effecting national election outcomes, so no president, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, has ever said, “I am going to try to normalize relations with Cuba.” When Carter did that, in the late 1970s, the Cubans were all over Africa militarily. Carter said, “If you make no further advancements in Africa, no further military expansion, then we will end the embargo.” Cuba opposed this offer, but Carter was the only president to make it.
How do you assess Castro’s legacy?
Within months of coming to power after the 26th of July Movement, the guerilla movement which ousted the corrupt U.S.-backed regime of military dictator Fulgencio Batista, Castro had established a dictatorship. He wanted a quick fix to Cuba’s brutal poverty. He saw himself as the messenger of the Marxist-Leninist vision and the containment of imperialism. He did not want to be a stooge of America—and that is actually what he would have been. He decided on a broad alliance with the communist bloc countries, but after the split between China and the Soviets in the 1950s and 1960s, he committed more to the Soviets.
Castro annihilated the old Cuban army, putting the fear of God in many military establishments across South America. “This guy came out of nowhere and look what he has done,” was what military leaders said elsewhere. This had the effect of making many Latin American countries turn to counter-insurgency. Many began to think, “Maybe we need to have closer ties with the U.S.” The men who captured Che Guevara were trained by the U.S. In Panama, Fort Gulick (the “School of the Americas” post-WWII U.S. military training center which trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers and police, eventually relocating to Georgia) got involved in this.
Today there are still the issues of free speech and releasing political prisoners. Part of the dilemma is that the older generation still remembers the brutal poverty of the pre-Castro days, while the younger generation has no memory of this, and just sees how different their life is from young people outside Cuba. Political repression has remained consistent over time. There have been notorious detention camps on the Isle of Pines off Cuba’s coast, and over the several decades of Castro’s rule probably more than ten thousand were detained or imprisoned. Figures about the number of political detainees and prisoners can be exaggerated. But the point is that there was always a “safety valve”: Castro simply let his enemies leave the country. In 1980-1981, there was the Mariel Boatlift, when Cubans flooded the Peruvian Embassy in Havana and eventually came to the United States. Castro just let them go, and released prison inmates and mentally ill patients with them. Up to 125,000 Cubans came to the U.S. during the boatlift.
I have always said that if Castro had not let Cubans leave the country, he would have had trouble from within a long time ago.
In economic matters, there will have to be reform. One urgent matter is currency liberalization. Cuba has created a dual class system by allowing Canadian dollars and European currency into the economy via tourism, which is its second most profitable industry after sugar and tobacco production. With this dual monetary system, Cubans in tourism are making good incomes while Cuban doctors and other professionals are earning as little as $200 a month.
What impact has the post-Cold War period had on communist and anti-American movements in South America? Has there been a reduction in proxy conflicts in the region? Are countries showing greater independence in their political and economic decisions? What do the cases of Cuba, or Venezuela, now experiencing President Hugo Chavez’s anti-American “Bolivarian Revolution,” or Peru, with its Maoist guerilla movement Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), tell us?
The Cold War was the catalyst for Argentina’s Dirty War from 1976 to 1983, which was run by some of the meanest and nastiest military men around. In the name of God and country, the Argentine military imprisoned thousands. It took babies born to imprisoned women, who were then murdered, and gave some of the children to officers’ families. The assassination of Chile’s President Salvador Allende in 1973 also occurred within the context of the Cold War. In Peru, the Maoist guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso had its heyday from 1980 to 1992, at which time the movement’s leader was captured in Lima. Sendero still exists in the remote south central highlands, but since the 1990s it has sustained itself by stealing weaponry and the drug trade. In Colombia we have the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).
Since the end of the Cold War, ideological movements that are anti-American have lost their intensity and strength, and are taking pragmatic steps to survive like increasing drug trafficking. Sendero Luminoso got involved in drug trafficking in the 1980s and 1990s. FARC in Colombia is heavily involved. Drug trafficking is an enormous security threat, and overlaps with the debate over immigration into the United States. This is a security risk that Obama should act on more aggressively. In Mexico, drug traffickers are now accessing the former trade routes of Colombians. There is no greater security threat than narcotics and the violence it causes and what it is doing to people from their teen years to their sixties in this country and in our country. Still, calling Mexico a “failed state” is inaccurate, but this is the most destabilized it has been since the Revolution of 1910-1920.
Today in Venezuela, we have Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution, named after Simon Bolivar, the so-called “Liberator” of South America from Spanish colonial rule in the 1800s. Chavez sees himself as the successor to Fidel Castro—waving the anti-American flag. He actually confers with Castro in counseling sessions. Chavez is witty and clever, in contrast to Castro’s brother Raul, who is lackluster. He is anti-American in rhetoric, and once when he was told that Bush had left a U.N. summit, he commented, “Ah, Bush, the devil. I can still smell the sulfur.” But he is also a military caudillo, strongman, of the pre-1950 old style. Chavez’s launching pad was the military. He casts himself as the savior of Venezuela’s poor, and has a political foothold in Bolivia and Ecuador whose leaders have a similar outlook. As a populist he has also sent cheap oil to poor consumers in western Massachusetts, Canada and Alaska. He has bought jet planes and tanks from China and Russia, but not long-range missiles.
What steps can be taken to reduce the security threat posed by drug trafficking?
First, there must be a reform of the police force. In South American countries local and regional police forces are weak and badly underpaid and thus subject to corruption. With better paid and more professional local, state, and federal levels of police there would be better monitoring of trafficking. Still, you have to imagine being a policeman and having to choose between two things: accepting a bribe, or having your head shot off. Which would you choose?
Second, there are border issues and immigration reform issues. People don’t like my position on this, but I believe we need to have a national identification card system here. With the Arizona law, that would mean that when the cop stopped you and you showed him your ID card, he would go away. This would instantly identify you as an American citizen or an alien in process of naturalization. This would be one way to track which drug traffickers were coming into the country.
Of course, a key to the problem is also consumption. We need to support drug rehabilitation centers and Twelve-Step programs.
Would you have national identity card systems for Latin American countries?
Yes, I would.
Are you saying that drug therapy centers and Twelve-Step programs should be set up in South American countries as well?
They already exist but are underfunded. Twelve-Step programs would refuse subsidies but rehab centers could clearly benefit from financial assistance.
In light of radical Islamic threats to the United States, are you concerned about terrorist initiatives emanating from South America? In 1992 a Lebanese terrorist organization (either Islamic Jihad Organization or Hezbollah) attacked Argentina’s Israeli Embassy, killing 29 and wounding 242, mostly Argentine civilians. Hezbollah is also suspected in the 1994 bombing of the Israeli cultural center in Buenos Aires, which resulted in 85 dead, mostly Jews. The State Department and other agencies have also warned of the build-up of extremist militia units in the tri-border or Triple Frontier area between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. The 1990s bombings may have initiated from operatives moving through this area. These militia units are reportedly exploiting the frustrations of roughly 25,000 Arab residents who emigrated here from Lebanon following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the 1984-1989 Lebanese Civil War. Interestingly, Muslim communities in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico originate in the colonial era, when Muslims from Africa arrived as slaves, Iberian-born Muslim sailors accompanied Spanish and Portuguese explorers, and Muslim refugees fled Spain following the 1492 Reconquista. The first large wave of Muslims came in the 1850s and 1860s chiefly from Syria and Lebanon, followed by another wave after the fall of Ottoman Empire and the advent of the Palestinian diaspora. South American Muslims now number in the hundreds of thousands. Some estimates say there may be a million or more, and many have become farmers and merchants.
Following centuries when Muslims could not practice their faith publicly, how do you assess the current “revival” of South American Islam? (The story of former Argentine President Carlos Menem, born of Shiite Lebanese parents who immigrated to Argentina, is interesting in this light. Menem converted to Catholicism when Argentine’s constitution still required the president to be Catholic. This constitutional requirement was dropped in 1994.) Given the religious revival of South American Muslims, coupled with high unemployment and radicalized Islam, is there reason for concern?
The Hezbollah attack on the Israel embassy in 1992 was really awful. They tried to kill as many people as they could. This was thought to have been an outside job, from outside Argentina. As for Islamic militias within South America, I cannot really speak to that issue. I would view this as a pretty small security concern at this point. For hundreds of years, however, the tri-border area has been a center for illegal activities. The Muslim community there is an example of chain migration—a small community immigrates, settles down and sets up businesses, then writes home to say, “come on over.” So you have a chain reaction. Why are there so many Brazilians in western Massachusetts today? That is chain migration.
As far as militias go, I think a far greater security concern is the anti-government militias we have in our own country, in Montana, for example. There militias are racially motivated against Obama. A much greater security concern in Brazil itself is the high level of crime, and the numbers of people being killed and injured.
You are an expert on patterns of American immigration. How do patterns of South American immigration and the treatment of minorities compare between South America and North America? And can you talk about Alberto Fujimori, the Japanese Peruvian who became Peru’s president from 1990 to 2000?
Across South America, immigrants from Asia—even from different countries—have been lumped together as “Chinos.” The same is true of immigrants from the Middle East, who are called “Turcos.” Immigrants do well—feel they have a future—when they go to “settler colonies” like Brazil, with so much land, and Argentina, with so much agricultural work. The great settler colonies across the globe historically have been Brazil, Argentina, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. Peru and Mexico did not attract settlers to the same extent.
Japanese came in smaller numbers than the Chinese. At first these immigrant populations were not looked upon favorably. In Peru, they eventually moved up and this allowed a second-generation Japanese—Fujimori—to become president. Fujimori ran his campaign on the platform that he was a “man of color” like the Peruvians. He had a remarkable career. As an engineer he studied mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. At the time of Fujimori’s election in 1990, Peru’s economy was in shambles and he carried out effective policy to get it running again. He also effectively dealt with the Sendero Luminoso, the Maoist organization that had taken over large areas of the country, combining relief efforts for peasants with widespread atrocities and drug trafficking. He was able to capture its head and thus weaken it. But he was determined to stay in power, so he dissolved Congress, and then, after a second term, manipulated the law so he could run a third term, which is not allowed by the Peruvian constitution. There were alleged gross human rights violations as well.
When the Chinese came to South America, they worked on the railroads in the 1860s and 1870s. They also became part of the guano labor system on islands off the coast of Peru. This involved stink and filth beyond belief—farming and loading the guano [seabird droppings] for use as fertilizer in Great Britain. These horrible labor conditions came to an end only after pressure from China and Britain.
Italian immigrants came in the 1860s and the 1880s-1890s to two places: Argentina and New York City. In Argentina, they became agricultural workers. Since Italy and Argentina have reverse harvest seasons, they could work in one country one season and the other in the next. But without significant land reform, they could not buy land, which was held by the large hacienda estates or estancias. Gradually they edged up into the middle class, from laborers to merchants. Today about one-third of Argentines have Italian ancestry.
For over a quarter of a century you have taught men and women who are preparing to serve their country as naval officers and commanders. All USNA graduates receive Bachelor of Science degrees. Sixteen out of the Academy’s twenty-one majors are in engineering or science fields. Where does the teaching of history fit in?
Our students get an unusual degree here. Those who major in humanities fields are required to take an additional 25 hours of technical subjects, which is more than at other military academies. We have about a 65 to 35 percent divide between students in science and engineering fields and students in the humanities.
How are the challenges of teaching history at an American military academy different from those encountered at a civilian university? Critics claim that American universities have been “radicalized” in the disciplines of history and the humanities. What spectrum of viewpoints do teachers represent at the Naval Academy?
There is no “company line” here in terms of what we are expected to teach. We say what we think. Anyone teaches what he or she wants. This department tends to be more liberal than others. Recent hires have been more conservative. I think our image has changed over time. When I came here in 1979, it was the end of the Vietnam era, and I remember feeling somewhat sensitive about working at a military institution. Now, when I go to University of Dublin, it’s different. I am not viewed as some kind of fascist messenger. I have heard from colleagues in other American universities that the liberal representation can be overwhelming.
You are an advocate of teaching world history, and have criticized the slow pace at which high school and colleges are incorporating the subject into their curriculums. Critics of world history textbooks point to an inappropriate “West-bashing” in some of the writing. Congress concurred with the view in 1994 when it voted 99-1 against new History Curriculum Standards issued by a commission of historians. Critics also fear that American and Western history will be truncated to the point of trivialization. How has the world history vs. U.S,/Western history debate taken shape at the Naval Academy?
I was the burr under the saddle, so to speak, to get world history taught at the Academy. That finally happened nine years ago. We had people who were strictly “Western civ” or strictly “world history.” But I’ve also argued that we need a mandatory course in American history. People need to understand their own history first as a point of reference.
The Naval Academy was founded in 1845 by Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, also known as the “Father of American History,” under President James Polk. Bancroft helped direct the naval blockade against Mexico in the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War, which won the U.S. the territories of California and New Mexico. Bancroft went on to write his monumental History of the United States, which defended the broader nationalist movement of “manifest destiny.” In the decades ahead, American military commanders would begin building a “world-spanning empire of the United States,” to quote a new USNA exhibit on campus today. In the new century, American military interventions in South America were numerous. In your view, what key examples show where U.S. expansionism and intervention were justified, and where it was not?
This is a long story, and it sheds more bad light than good light on American interventionism. I have been asked to work on a book about this.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson has said, “Revision is the lifeblood of historical scholarship.” Over your thirty years of teaching, what good and bad examples of revisionist history have you seen at the Academy? What would revisionist history make of Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1854 gunboat display in the port of Tokyo? Was the 1898 Spanish-American War a “splendid little war,” as Secretary of State John Hay labeled it at the time, in light of revelations that American forces “established martial law in certain military zones and filled concentration camps with civilians… often kill[ing] Filipinos without bothering to distinguish between combatant and civilian” and causing as many as 200,000-600,000 deaths or more, mostly civilian, according to military historian Stuart Murray? How have interpretations of the Vietnam War changed? And most controversially, what useful revisions have been made to the complicated narrative behind the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
We certainly talk about “imperialism” and “neo-colonialism” here. In the 1898 Spanish-American War, after U.S. defeated the Spanish, it did not allow Aguinaldo, the Philippine nationalist, to assume power. We did not want Germany to take over the Philippines. In the end, we took more civilian lives than the Spanish-American War did in sum in combatant deaths. We did more damage than the war itself.
Regarding Perry’s gunboat diplomacy in Japan, we have to ask, “Why did Japan begin the process of modernization?” Because it did not want to negotiate at the barrel of a cannon and have one-sided treaties. The Japanese said, “Let’s sign on. We’ll either control this situation or we’ll be consumed by it.” So by 1868 the Japanese warrior class decided to reinvent itself. The warrior class became a government class, a bureaucracy, an autocracy. Of all the countries in the world, Japan had the quickest and most successful modernization process. It took the military models the West provided but rejected its models of spirituality, keeping its own.
I teach my students about two wars in particular as a point of reference for imperialism. The first is the Algerian War from 1954 to 1963. The second is the Irish War from 1919 to 1922.
We are now fighting two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. How do you teach the history of Western and Central Asia to help your students understand these conflicts?
My honest feeling is that if we can get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, our terrorist concerns would lessen. We have to understand that the leadership of the terrorism movement in the Middle East has one main point of reference: they are not interested in fighting America, they are interested in getting Americans out of their own countries. Their point of reference is, “Get the infidel out of Saudi Arabia.” We have to decide if our own security interests are best served by putting $400 billion into Afghanistan and one trillion dollars into Iraq. History tells us that when the British and Soviets went there, they failed. The geography of the area is part of the problem.
In Iraq, our goal was to get Saddam Hussein. After that we got into trouble, and now we are in the middle of civil, or caste, war. Our intelligence leading up to the war was poor, our entry into the war precipitous. Colin Powell’s speech before the U.N. about Iraq’s nuclear situation was not based on fact.
I try to convey to my students the historical context for what they are doing. Keep in mind this generation was just eight or nine years old at the time of 9/11. They are very removed from the Vietnam War, too.
Do you have any problem telling students who may soon be going off to war that these wars should not be fought? That Colin Powell lied about the intelligence that led to the war they are fighting? Can they have this much doubt about what they do?
This is not about “doubt,” really. It’s about having open eyes to the situation. I think it is better to go off with a completely comprehensive view of the situation they are getting involved in. If they can handle the truth, I believe they will be better off doing what they are called to do. Technically, they understand, “I have a mission to follow.” Technically, they understand, “My commander will tell me what to do and I will carry it out.”
I believe it is best to be armed with the truth.
The nineteenth- and twentieth-century industrial and electronic revolutions have allowed us to create the most violent war technologies in the history of mankind. By all accounts, the advancement or “progress” of “industrialized warfare” has led to unimaginable destructive capacity. Eisenhower spoke about an unprecedented military-industrial complex and its potential for “disastrous misplaced power” in a scientific-technological elite. Does the sheer production of massive arms itself bring about war? And what can be done to check this?
Earlier in the century we tried to come up with explanations for the scale of warfare. It was not that “mankind had gone mad.” It was not just social Darwinism. The argument that it was the mainly sheer industrial production of arms that led to World War I has been discredited. Events such at the Great War have many causes. The point that huge arms and defense industries help push us towards war might be true, to some extent. The fact is that one U.S. Navy destroyer has the capacity to destroy entire cities should remind us how fragile world order can be.
We have such immense capability to destroy—and yet, at the same time, we are rendered impotent by small guerilla movements. A good rule of thumb for establishing limits to our power would be: what should we be doing in our national interest? What can we do well, and what not? Where are our defense requirements? Are they in Iraq? Are they in Afghanistan? The current Secretary of Defense is the one of the best we’ve ever had, and that’s why President Obama chose to keep him. He has talked about major cutbacks in the military for some time. This is in keeping with our own financial limits as a nation.
The nuclear reduction process has been going on since the Cold War. It is probably unrealistic to think we can completely eliminate nuclear weapons— countries will continue to keep a limited supply on the assumption that others will have their own, even if they are hidden. We have had, I believe, something like a 60-70 percent reduction of nuclear weapons systems since the Cold War.
You have just returned from a trip to Ireland where you were researching the role of the English paramilitary force, the Black and the Tans, during the Irish War of Independence in 1919-1921. How is that research going, and how does Ireland seem today?
I just got back from five days in Belfast and was in Dublin working at the National Library. I made a point to ask everybody, including the police. Belfast seems like it is healing—many signs point in that direction. I have good stories to tell.
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