Tuesday, July 06, 2004
Practical intersubjectivity for the sophisticated gentleman
I figure spiders play an important role in the ecosystem of my house. They eat bugs. Some people prefer cats or exterminators, but spiders are free and they don't sit on your keyboard when you're trying to type.
Spiders offer you very clear terms of cooperation.
"Let me live," the spider says, "and I'll kill bugs."
Thinking about spiders and nukes has got me thinking about Robert McNamara and strategic bargaining.
Strategic bargaining, you'll recall, was the centerpiece of the McNamara Doctrine -- the American nuclear doctrine that replaced Massive Retaliation and preceded Mutually Assured Destruction. The idea of strategic bargaining is that you would have a series of limited nuclear exchanges with a cooling off period between each during which belligerents could negotiate an end to hostilities. So, if the Russians nuked New York we'd take out Moscow, but if they only took out Dallas then we'd only vaporize Vladivostok.
It always seemed to me that the problem with strategic bargaining as a nuclear doctrine is that it makes it look like limited nuclear war is possible and might sometimes be a viable option. But, as W.O.P.R. taught a generation of school children, when it comes to nuclear war, "The only winning move is not to play."
Those pesky spiders have made me reconsider. I had always thought of military doctrines as kind of a crib sheet for generals and Presidents. You know, something they could use as a guide to action in case they got flustered during wartime.
This is dead wrong.
The point of a military doctrine is to communicate to potential enemies the terms on which you're willing to co-exist. Or not.
So the McNamara Doctrine said to the Soviets that we were willing to fight a limited nuclear war. We were willing, for example, to absorb a nuclear hit or two in Florida as the cost of doing business if we felt the need to flatten Havana.
The Soviets took a look at this, said "I don't think so, buddy" and Mutual Assured Destruction was born.
All of which reminds me of a joke a friend of mine told. He called the Iraqi insurgents the 'coalition of the willing.' Pretty funny, huh?