Nuclear War – The Moral Dimension – A Review

The book, Nuclear War – The Moral Dimension, by James W. Child, argues that a strong conventional defense, an invulnerable second strike, counterforce capability, and stateman-like prudence deters nuclear war for all sides, even if exercised by only one party. He advocates mutual arms control as circumstances permit. Published in 1986, this work confronts the US–Russia conflict. However, it is still applicable in the multipolar world we live in now.

In the book’s conclusion, Child lays out principles to abide by (quoted and paraphrased below),

1. We have an overwhelming moral duty to avoid nuclear war – Except at the cost of totalitarian slavery or utter annihilation, any cost to avoid it must be borne. Such war, especially a first strike, serves no policy objectives.

2. We must take all reasonable steps which can now be taken to avoid nuclear war. – He says this means, at a minimum, two things. First, strategic nuclear forces must be strong enough to deter and secure enough to survive a nuclear attack. Second, that conventional forces are effective enough to deter conventional aggression. Though the first is mostly met, as we’ve seen in the recent past, the second is not and we foolishly open ourselves to no alternative but nuclear escalation. Establishment of a “hotline” with China is essential to avoid an “inadvertent war,” a war no one wants but no one can avoid, such as happened with World War I. We must also pursue arms control, both nonproliferation and arms reductions, in an effort to lower the chance of nuclear war that benefits all parties.

3. We have a moral right to fight a nuclear war if we are attacked by nuclear weapons. – We have a moral right and duty of self-defense which entitles us to destroy our adversary’s ability to make war (military and industrial targets) or to command making war (governmental, party, and internal security apparatuses.) This “counterforce” retaliation would save millions of American citizens and allies.

4. We have a duty to take great pains to minimize noncombatant casualties. – The unrestrained slaughter of millions of civilians is never justified. Defensive targeting must deliberately reduce collateral civilian deaths. This duty also requires improving weapons accuracy which enables lowered nuclear yields to achieve the same counterforce effects. With this care, we have the moral right to put the adversary’s population at risk if we are to deter aggression and save our own citizens and those of our allies. Citizens have the duty to restrain their governments from aggression and if they fail to do so, they relinquish their absolute immunity as noncombatants. Each side’s citizenry has this responsibility and risk.

5. Within the bounds set above, we have the moral right to use nuclear weapons in our own defense in order to extinguish the war-making capacity of any nuclear aggressor. – It is not a “necessary evil.” It is morally justifiable. Once something safer comes along, such as workable, multilateral disarmament, we would be irrational and immoral not to avail ourselves of this preferable alternative. But until such time, we need not be made to feel guilty by those long on moral indignation but short on genuine alternatives.

Child concludes with these remarks,

We must develop strong, unfrightened, affirmative attitudes toward the risk of nuclear war. Only then can we disenthrall ourselves from myths and perhaps lessen the danger. We must see the threat of nuclear war as it is: of large but still human dimensions; a very difficult but ultimately tractable problem. But like all really important problems of human existence, the solution will come in bits and pieces to be slowly and patiently assembled: a more secure deterrent force replacing a vulnerable one here; a mutually adopted measure against accidental war there. In this painstaking process, we must dare to bear the risk of nuclear war if we are ever to make that risk go away.

This brief summary doesn’t do Child’s thesis justice but will have to suffice. His book is a thought provoking read. Child died in 2005 at the age of sixty-four. He left a legacy of mentoring, moral thought, adventure, and uplifting comradery.

For different reasons, a historicist or futurist might cite the following scripture to say that, ultimately, deterrence must fail,

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 3:7 (English Standard Version)

Here, I must adopt a historical/idealist perspective and say the End will be comprehensive, overwhelming, and supernatural. We may well suffer limited or total nuclear war, but the End will not come until the good news of the kingdom is proclaimed throughout the world.

Fail Safe 1964 Ending, 7 minutes, YouTube, posted Nov. 12, 2020, Bill Lange

The Art of Fiction – A Review

The book: The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner is not prescriptive in the same way as is Jon Franklin’s book: Writing for Story. Gardner surveys contemporary literature in general, pointing out its structure, methods, and morality. Morality in literature, for Gardner, is whether a story portrays what is real and eternally true about human life, as opposed to what is false or philosophically trendy.

His New York Times obituary quoted him writing:

“The value of great fiction is not just that it entertains or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in in us, leads us to feel uneasy about our failures and limitations.”

This quote is from The Art of Fiction. Though he won the 1976 National Book Critic’s Circle Award for October Light, he deeply offended the literary powers-that-be at the time, especially with his book: On Moral Fiction.

In The Art of Fiction, Gardner describes — the work of fiction:

In any piece of fiction, the writer’s first job is to convince the reader that the events he recounts really happened…This kind of documentation, moment by moment authenticating detail, is the mainstay not only of realistic fiction but of all fiction…It’s physical detail that pulls us into the story, makes us believe…The importance of physical detail is that it creates for us a kind of dream, a rich and vivid play in the mind.

Its value:

The value of great fiction, is not just that it entertains us or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us to know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in us, leads us to feel uneasy about our faults and limitations.

In great fiction, we not only respond to imaginary things—sights, sounds, smells—as though they were real, we respond to fictional problems as though they were real: We sympathize, think, and judge…All fiction treats, directly or indirectly, the same thing: our love for people and the world, our aspirations and fears.

The overall method to create it:

The writer works out plot in one of three ways: by borrowing some traditional plot or an action from real life (the method of the Greek tragedians, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and many other writers, ancient and modern); by working his way back from his story’s climax; or by groping his way forward from an initial situation.

It’s by the whole process of first planning the fiction and then writing it—elaborating characters and details of setting, finding the style that seems appropriate to the feeling, discovering unanticipated requirements of the plot—that the writer finds out and communicates the story’s significance, intuited at the start.

Pitfalls in its creation:

The most obvious forms of clumsiness, really failures in the basic skills, include such mistakes as inappropriate or excessive use of the passive voice, inappropriate use of introductory phrases containing infinite verbs [e.g., Slapping him silly, she proceeded to…] , shifts in diction level or the regular use of distracting diction, lack of sentence variety, lack of sentence focus, faulty rhythm, accidental rhyme, needless explanation, and careless shifts in psychic distance [i.e., the reader’s nearness to the character].

And, finally, the real work that the fiction writer does:

The true writer has a great advantage over most other people: He knows the great tradition of literature, which has always been the cutting edge of morality, religion, and politics, to say nothing of social reform.

To write with taste, in the highest sense, is to write with the assumption that one out of a hundred people who read one’s work may be dying, or have some loved one dying; to write so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs; to write, as Shakespeare wrote, so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on.

John Gardner describes, in far more detail, these things, the state of fiction writing up to the early nineteen eighties, and his thoughts on it all in his book. A worthy read, especially after studying a process for creating works of fiction. The Art of Fiction is highly motivational and recommended.

The Art of Fiction - Gardner

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, John Gardner

The Guardian Personality

Roughly forty percent of all men and women are guardian personalities. They are solid, sensible, follow the rules even when no one is looking, move associatively from topic to topic in conversation, always on the lookout for rule breaking, humbly shoulder responsibilities “no matter what,” and suffer when unappreciated.

Guardians are dutiful, prepare for the worst, suffer bravely and patiently, catch and reprimand trespassers, and keep traditions, customs, and continuity with the past. They are helpmates as spouses, socializers as parents, and stabilizers as leaders. Presidents Washington, Bush (41), Truman, and Nixon possessed guardian personalities.

No doubt you know many that fit this description. The concerned citizens that attend town council meetings and staff polling places, the project manager who facilitates timely production, packing, and distribution, the police officer on the street who shields others from imminent danger, the loan official who goes the extra mile to get you affordable loan terms, and the long-suffering wife and mother next door with the truck driver husband and hellion son who sometimes shakes up the neighborhood.

Two weeks ago, we described the artisan personality. The guardian is another of the four personality types that’s important for writers to recognize and portray. David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me is a useful reference for writers who want to fully flesh out their characters.

Keirsey says Hippocrates and Galen observed that there are four personality types. Later scientists refined their observations by identifying four distinctions within each type.

Keirsey defines the guardian personality as concrete in their word use and cooperative in their tool use. They talk about what’s solid and sensible: commerce, household items, weather, recreation, news items and personalities. They believe that only by establishing and obeying rules and regulations can civil order be maintained.

Guardians fall into four subcategories, each containing approximately ten percent of the population. Two are characterized as monitoring: the expressive supervisor and the reserved inspector. The supervisor enforces standard operating procedures. In the home, it’s not enough that others do assigned duties, they must want to do them. The inspector works behind the scene on products and accounts, is watchful for irregularities from rules, and is simple and down-home.

The two other subtypes are conserving: expressive providers and reserved protectors. The provider furnishes others with life’s necessities, makes others part of their group, and is personable and talkative. The protector shields others from dirt and danger of this world, sees to others physical safety and security, and chats tirelessly with a close circle of friends.

Guardians regard companies and corporations as indispensable social institutions that enable them to earn their keep and provide for family. They feel responsible for the morality of their group, guarding right and wrong.

They give their all from a young age. Pain and suffering are unavoidable and must be faced bravely. They believe: “if anything can go wrong it will,” and prepare accordingly. They keep others in line. They are creatures of habit who faithfully follow routines. They value family and societal history.

They shoulder responsibilities “no matter what.” They feel: “if I don’t do it, who will,” and suffer when they’re unappreciated. They are obligated to do good deeds. But they may feel put upon if help isn’t offered (to be shooed away, of course). Receiving service is blow to their self-respect. Modest, unassuming, self-effacing, they crave respect and public recognition.

Concerned about homes, jobs, families, their neighborhood; duties and responsibilities; health, finances, how they dress, whether they’re on time. They worry too much about loved ones and society’s direction. They believe in hierarchical authority structures and are likely to believe in a supreme being. Since the world is going to hell in a handbasket, it’s the institutions that hold people accountable and teach values. They feel appreciated to the degree others are grateful for what they’ve done for them. It is galling when others take them for granted, but they believe responsibility far outweighs entitlement to gratitude. They desire the power to set things straight in light of right and wrong.

They’re ready to roll up their sleeves and work side-by-side with their spouse to build a comfortable, stable family life. Loyal and obligated to stand by their mate in times of trouble and help them straighten up and fly right. Guardians see to it that children are civilized, enculturated, in support of and in step with the community. They carefully administer what is done, how it is done, and who is to do it.

As we wrote in “Why Are There Four Gospel Accounts?” an earlier blog posting, these traits describe some peoples’ predispositions. Their experiences can mold them, as far as they are willing and able, so that they acquire attributes of the other personality types. These attributes in sum could be said to be their overall dispositions.

If you are a writer, I heartily recommend reading Keirsey’s book for yourself. I created detailed outlines for my personal use. You may profit from the same effort. We’ll review Keirsey’s take on the Idealist and Rational personality types in the next few weeks.

Truman - The Buck Stops Here

Former President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) at a president’s desk reproduction with foreground “The buck Stops Here” sign, ca. July 1959, Public Domain, Credit: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum