A professor of mine once told me how to make a point that would garner his respect. “It’s very simple,” he said. “This isn’t a prose beauty contest. Tell me what you’re going to tell me; tell me how, then tell me, then tell me what you just told me. I should be able to read the first sentence of every paragraph and understand the flow of your argument, if not get your evidence and explication.”
I don’t know if I subscribe to that, because in my not-so-humble-opinion, if I can’t stay awake long enough to read the paper, I’ll miss the point (when I’m the on reading it). This node brought my lack of a decided position on writing style vs. argument to the fore; so much so that I had to reread the original writeup in order to get its content.
Don’t take these comments as an indictment of the argument; as I said, I’m still undecided on the validity of the approach I come closest to endorsing. I will note, however, that one problem with the argument put forth here is that it is highly inconsistent. It can’t seem to decide on whether to take a moral stance or a logical stance; to depend on recitation of horrors or on the invocation of vague guilt to get its point across.
Yes, I’m going to shut up and make my own point. I know it’s been a bit coming.
Let’s start with my central objection to this writeup. Simply put, it doesn’t have an argument; rather, it’s a simple statement of opinion, with contextualizing history and hyperbole to serve as its spoonful of sugar. While opinion isn’t bad, or wrong, or out of place here (far from it) the presentation of such as discursive participation just makes me shudder.
The title of the writeup is “US no first use of WMD.” I can’t fault the textual shortcuts; however, it makes it sound like a news blurb. The problem is that a news blurb depends to an enormous degree on the assumption of available context to counterweight its brevity. This does not. It simply makes a statement. What about it? Rather than then offering us news, or argument, or factual history, or in fact any manner of fact, it jumps right into the most hyperbolic display of antireasoning that I have seen in quite some time. Let’s have a look at that first paragraph, shall we?
The nuclear bomb is the most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human, outright evil thing that man has ever made. Hm. Let me state this clearly: BULLSHIT. And again: CRAP. Now, note that the only way to even begin to object to my statements just now is to invoke opinion – because, absent facts, that’s all they are. Will we get any relevant facts? Hm, let’s see. Furthermore. any position paper that starts with that many superlatives needs to be burnt, unless the writer is preparing it for Jerry Falwell or his ilk. It’s got something superlative for everyone; religious folk are directed to ‘remember’ that ‘this bomb’ is Man’s challenge to God. If not, well, look out; it’s an offense to the weight of invoked history.
This whole thing may be an expository quote; the writeup isn’t clear on how much of the paragraph is such.
The second paragraph, which at first jump appears to actually argue, is really resorting to what I like to term ‘steganographic reasoning.’ Yes, I know, I’m a knowledge snob. Anyhow, look at it; it’s not much more than a string of assertions, with a few facts thrown in to leaven them. What is going on here is that the writer is attempting to garner the reader’s agreement by bait-and-switch; a quick series of actual (but not so relevant) facts is then followed, with no break, by the author’s own opinion and conjecture, without a stylistic shift to warn us. This is the exact opposite of what my professor told us to do; rather than clearly state one’s intentions and argument by placing it first in each conceptual globbing, the writer here hides them at the end.
As far as I can tell, the entire writeup follows this pattern. Any presentation of opinion is first preceded by a distractingly hyperbolic aphorism (like “A DANGEROUS OUTDATED DOCTRINE,” caps sic) and then by a fast blur of facts. While argument needs facts to support it, said facts are only helpful if we the reader are told clearly why they are presented and how they will be given to us, in advance.
Jumping up a level of detail, the writeup’s flow manages to destroy any credibility the argument might have garnered through the thoughtful inclusion of referenced factual material – something the author has, in fact, done. The problem is that most of the factual references are not constructive reasoning or presented as evidence to support such – rather, they are used to create an ambiguous atmosphere of horror, guilt, fright and anxiety. Any actual opinions presented always occur at the end, both in the cases of paragraphs and of the writeup; as a result, the paper comes across as not a reasoned argument but a summary of the personal opinions of the writer, with disjointed contextual exposition of said opinions. In short, “THIS IS BAD! BAD MEANS EVIL! (um, how?) THUS WE’RE BEING EVIL! WE MUST CHANGE BECAUSE BEING GOOD IS BETTER!”
I’ve gone on far too long, I realize, but I have to at least make an attempt to do what I set out to, which is argue this on its merits. First of all, i would point out that the writer seems to suffer confusion between the terms First Use and the separate concepts of Pre-emptive First Strike, Launch On Warning and unprovoked attack. In addition, there is confusion between nuclear weapons and WMD; the former is a subset of the latter. I bring this up because the paper seems to be unclear on the relative evils of the ‘first use’ (whatever that means) of WMD vs. nuclear ordinance.
No First Use means, simply and sweepingly, that the U.S. would deliberately and credibly cede the advantage of the first use of nuclear weapons to its opponents. In other words, we would be offering the world the equivalent of ‘Take your best shot.’ We’d be betting that our opponents, who by definition (if they take the shot) don’t have qualms about killing large numbers of people or even simply releasing the nuclear genie, are simultaneously rational enough and of similar enough mind to us to think to themselves (beforehand) “Gee, no matter what we do, they’ve got a second strike, so I guess we shouldn’t try.”
If, in fact, one is patently unable to compete with an opponent on WMD force levels and availability, then there is NO PENALTY to making such a pledge. Your first strike (ref. China’s handful of long-enough range ICBMs aimed at the U.S. mainland) is incapable of doing crippling damage, and everyone knows it; or at least, your own rationality is called into question if you don’t! Ergo, in a unipolar world, it is logical for every nuclear power save one – the largest – to undertake this action since it is relatively costless and serves to restrict the range of options of the unipole power. However, the unipole must deal with the nonzero probability that at least one player other than itself will acquire these weapons and be irrational enough to be looking for ways to ‘get away with’ using them against the hated superpower. Or, worse yet, be willing to sacrifice tens, hundreds, thousands, millions of human lives to achieve its objective. Keep in mind; typically, those sacrifices aren’t even members of the superpower polity; they’re people of the challenger’s own polity or group!
Now, if in fact the challenger is willing to kill so many people within its own borders to achieve domestic ends, what would it care if a few thousand or few million of the superpower’s citizenry perish? Bonus! In fact, all that it would take for the challenger to “rationally” use their WMD capability is the chance that they’d get away with it – or even, in extreme cases of suicidal intent, the chance they’d succeed, and never mind the aftermath. What chance do they have of succeeding? Well, a U.S. No First Strike or No Nuclear First Use policy would make the actual interdiction (as opposed to the deterrence) of small, scant weapons even more difficult than it is now. Limited intelligence on location might require wide area strikes. Well-constructed challenger storage or delivery of weapons (bunkers or submarine) might require high-energy attack to produce any reasonable chance of stopping an inbound srike.
If, however, the superpower has formed and actively agreed to a protocol that deliberately creates a norm or pressure against first use of such weapons, it may find that the threat of eventual detection and death isn’t good enough to stop the attempt from being made.
The history of the No First Use pledge, while interesting, is irrelevant (and in some cases, incorrect). For example, the actual ‘First Use’ policy was not formed during the ‘deepest depths of the Cold War’ but, in fact, by Harry Truman many years earlier. The reliance on the first use of nuclear weapons to end or win a conventional confrontation did, in fact, come during the heart of the ‘Red Threat’ to the Central Front – however, this reliance was noteworthy not because it relied on nuclear weapons (that wasn’t new; ask Curtis LeMay) but because immediately preceding its emergence and during its existence, the reason for it was a failure (despite massive attempts) to instill confidence in Western planners that the nuclear genie could be rebottled or that the obligations of the the NATO Treaty weren’t likely to be required.
The final paragraph is as close as we get to seeing an argument formulated. Let me offer highlights of my objections: “...to the future of mankind” is irrelevant, hyperbolic opinion and bullshit. It’s only validly there if the reader already agrees, if you think about it. Our current policy is nowhere near developed enough to be called a ‘policy’ – ‘doctrine’ is even too strong a word. Essentially, for the past twelve years, the nuclear community of the U.S. armed forces and policymaking arms has thrashed around fairly aimlessly. The remainder of the paragraph offers unsupported assertion as an attempt at rational and logical argument, interspersed with paternalistic and nonsensical religious claptrap.
Think before you write, people. That is, if you’re going to try to contribute to knowledge and reason, as opposed to poetry, opinion and vitriol, or the rest of the general lunacy that pervades this place, and thank God for it.