Michael KreponStimson on Dangerous States

As we now contemplate how to deal most effectively with the nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, it may be worth remembering how hard it was for U.S. officials to devise policies for the Soviet Union after World War II ended. The surprise unveiling of the Bomb meant that an unprecedented level of cooperation would be required to reduce and eliminate nuclear dangers. But the Kremlin was led by a ruthless and paranoid leader, Josef Stalin, who was utterly untrustworthy. Here’s what Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War for Presidents FDR and Truman, advised in a Foreign Affairs article published in 1947 (The Challenge to Americans):

We do not yet know surely in what proportion unreasonable fears and twisted hopes are at the root of the perverted policy now followed by the Kremlin. Assuming both to be involved, we must disarm the fears and disappoint the hopes.

My all-time favorite Stimson quote, which appeared in his autobiography, On Active Service in Peace and War, is:

The man who tries to work for the good, believing in its eventual victory, while he may suffer setback and even disaster, will never know defeat. The only deadly sin I know is cynicism.


  1. Andrew Tubbiolo (History)

    Get used to it. At it’s root every nation, ethnicity, ideology, government, or gang is always out at some point or another to establish it’s special place in the world. Combining cheap industrial capability that is easy to acquire with with a poor nonindebtted population to act as the work force, and you have instant neo-riche with a case. Unless we return to a neo-colonial world where industrial development is regulated, we’ll be facing DPRK’s time and time again. Which of course means an end to the world as we know it now because the developed world, with some reason, will adjudicate the independent/rouge undeveloped world unworthy of development. From the left will come problems with industrialism and militarism, and the right will adjudicate the undeveloped world as a further threat to established power structure. So here we stand looking at a future world of ultra-industrial regulation, which of course will be used to keep the down down, and the up up. Or a world where time and time again wars will be fought against or by the nuvo-riche with a militaristic bent. No doubt at some point mushroom clouds will bloom. Or a world in which some global hegeman, and it won’t be the US we’re broke, plays global ‘whack a mole’. None of those futures look like the kind of world I want to live in.

    Stimson had it easy. He ONLY had Stalin and the Eastern Bloc to deal with as an enemy. And had a almost uniform West that had gone thru the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment. We face a world of many Stalins in a religo-political world that has to jump the gap from substance agriculture to CNC machine tools in ony one generation. A process that took the West 500 years. This is going to be ugly.

  2. J House (History)

    We’re going on 60 yrs now where no country has ever invaded, conquered or annihilated another country that possessed nuclear missiles.The previous 60 yrs didn’t seem to work out too well.
    I’d say the cynics seem to be right so far.

  3. Major Lemon (History)

    There are many more deadly sins in addition to cynicism. one of them is writing tosh in this forum.

  4. V.S. (History)

    Dear J House,

    a factual correction. The United Kingdom had nuclear missiles when invaded by Argentina at the Falklands pretty recently. Israel in ’73 had the bomb and Egyptians and Syrians already knew about it when they launched the surprise attack that kickstarted the Yom Kippur war. And terrorists like the ones that perpetrated the 9/11 crime were also undeterred by the vast nuclear arsenal of the U.S.

    You see, the ones opting for nuclear weapons are not the only cynics in the world. Their enemies are cynics two and they cannot be both right at the same time.

    So even countries that possess nukes have been invaded. As for why no country that possesses nukes has not been conquered or annihilated in the last 60 years, I would have to say two things. Two of the greatest empires of all time, Britain and France, lost their imperial status at the same time that they were acquiring the nukes. The country with the largest nuclear weapons arsenal in history, the USSR, disintegrated despite that. Also I’d say that no country at all has been conquered or annihilated in the last 60 years. So it has to be something else rather than the nukes. The United Nations and international law maybe.

    So here is my deadly sin, I think I’m not a cynic.