BEYOND THE COLD WAR: A New Approach to the Arms Race and Nuclear Annihilation by E. P. Thompson
Kirkus Star

BEYOND THE COLD WAR: A New Approach to the Arms Race and Nuclear Annihilation

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

British historian Thompson (The Making of the English Working Class) has been a tireless polemicist of the European Nuclear Disarmament movement (END); and this collection of recent essays and articles--from The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, British newspapers, and the New Left Review, among others--shows how much more sophisticated the European movement is than its American counterpart. Thompson's strength lies in the links he forges between political and social forces and nuclear issues. The collection's centerpiece is an essay entitled ""Notes on Exterminism, the Last Stage of Civilization,"" in which Thompson examines the logic of discrete theories and choices--deterrence theory, for example, or decisions to build weapons like the MX missile--and the way they have of adding up to a colossally irrational result; in this case, nuclear war. Thompson roots this logic of exterminism in the power of defense establishments and of the state. In both the US and the USSR, the state is the promoter and consumer of weaponry, and the needs of the state for total power and total control are the only needs met by the ever-growing stockpiles. Thompson thus rejects any effort to end the race by appeals to the participant-states. END was begun as an attempt to circumvent the state through direct contacts between the citizens of different countries, whose collective power might one day be able to thwart the logic of statist exterminism. Several of the pieces take up the charge of appeasement or of communist conspiracy leveled at END, and at the antinuclear movement generally. Thompson emphasizes the importance of each side's existence for the other in the institutionalization of the Cold War, and is equally merciless toward both. He also stresses the importance of building bridges with Eastern Europeans, evoking images of a reunited Europe. Throughout, Thompson avoids doomsday scenarios, sticking to empirical evidence closer at hand--like the Falkland Islands war: a case-study, in his eyes, of the logic of escalation, the role of ""face"" in international affairs, and the lack of any place to hide from modern warfare. He writes, moreover, without jargon or hysterics; and with wit and good sense. In the current context, it all amounts to a ""new approach.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1982
Publisher: Pantheon