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Arms control and the Emperor's clothes

May 23, 1986



I appreciated George Ball's article ``Reagan's Ramboism -- the fantasy of star wars and the danger of real wars,'' April 28. President Reagan's insistence on the necessity and feasibility of the Strategic Defense Initiative reminds me of the story of the famous Emperor who paid a great deal of money to two con men who said they would weave him a beautiful set of clothes. These clothes would be the finest in all the land, but only a very wise person could see them. Those who could not see them were fools -- so the Emperor paraded naked until a small child said, ``But the Emperor is wearing no clothes!''

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When are Americans going to be willing to say to Reagan, ``You are spending a great deal of our tax money for the illusion of `star wars,' but in terms of security we are less secure than ever before.'' It is time the US put aside the fantasy of SDI and started to negotiate with the Soviet Union for everyone's sake. Carolyn Harris Los Angeles

The synopsis of a lecture given by Ball before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences reads as if it were written by an impassioned, well-meaning college student rather than by a man who was an undersecretary of state. I am in sympathy with Ball's objectives, but his rhetoric, replete with hyperbole and sarcasm, is designed to appeal to the emotional rather than reasoning person. The article illustrates the type of emotionally oriented thinking in our government that, since World War II, has led to the mess we're in today. William Drake Nantucket, Mass.

Judith Chettle's review of ``The Heavy Dancers'' [May 2] seriously misrepresents the work of E. P. Thompson. He is portrayed as reflexively and enviously anti-American, insufficiently anti-Soviet, and a lightweight. If Chettle wishes to fairly evaluate Thompson's work, she needs to read, carefully, his essay ``Notes on Exterminism, the Last Stage of Civilization.'' His thesis, that the arms race has broken loose from its historical moorings and now feeds solely on itself, is controversial, but not simplistic. His prescription -- a lone citizen's struggle for a reunited neutral Europe (hence his emphasis on independent contacts with East European dissidents and his antipathy for the World Peace Council) as a way of mending the basic ``fault line'' underlying the arms race -- is a ``patient, gradualist approach.''

The late Alva Myrdal, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has persuasively argued that state-run arms control talks merely serve as a ``patient, gradualist'' smoke screen for a continuing arms race. Thompson's patient gradualism, focusing on civil society rather than the state, deserves far better than the short shrift given it by Chettle. Michael McIntyre Chicago

The articles ``Soviets shift arms tactics'' and ``US rejects test-ban proposal'' [March 31] fail to emphasize the fact that arms control is an international problem not merely confined to two nations. Several other countries with nuclear weapons are quite capable of initiating a major nuclear holocaust. The recent onslaught of terrorism would tend to excite this frightful probability. The only realistically effective arms control agreement is an internationally unified one. Greg Pate Chapel Hill, N.C.