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Pub Date: Dec. 2nd, 1982
Publisher: Knopf

These 16 essays from Commonweal, 1976-82, are presented as reflective spin-offs from a work-in-progress on the history of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Consequently, they don't represent what Pulitzer Prize winner Powers does best--telling a story (as also in his biography of CIA chief Richard Helms). As a ruminator, Powers is hot so interesting. After depicting a small Southern town near a military base (which, dismayingly, is giving way to shopping centers and scattered fast-food operations), he notes that, unlike Europeans, ""most Americans never see a man in uniform.' Without so much as a paragraph-break, he adds: ""Sometimes I think about this while waiting for the Seventh Avenue IRT subway in New York. Believe me, it's getting to be a long wait."" Then, guessably, he ponders how much good the money spent on defense might do for mass transit and other social problems. The whole essay amounts to very little in terms of insight or information, or as a literary effort. Other, more close-hauled pieces.are no longer timely. Thus, Powers notes that improvements in missile accuracy have made enemy military installations--and particularly missile sites--into nuclear targets (whereas once cities were the smallest targets that missiles could be expected to hit); and that this is a dangerous new situation, resulting in a spur to the arms race and the possibility of a multi-stage nuclear war. That said, Powers has nothing further to say--while other, newer works, like Lawrence Freedman's (above), do a better job of presenting material to ponder. Still other essays offer reflections on Clausewitz (again); Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August; a friend who wants to take off for New Zealand at threat of war (e.g., during the hostage crisis); and the sensibility of kids. (Re the last, Powers quotes his daughter's description of war: ""it would probably be very smokey, and not many people, and lots of things mined, and dark."") Realists will find this light-headed and soft-hearted.