Will a Russo-American Nuclear War Happen (Soon)?

(1 September 2008; still topical on 9 August 2017)

Introduction

The first, and also previous, nuclear war consisted of two atomic bomb attacks that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, on August 6 and August 9 of 1945. These attacks by the United States of America against an utterly defeated and prostrate Japan occurred in the last month of the Pacific War (which occurred between December 7, 1941 to August 15, 1945 for the USA) and were demonstrations of remorseless American power intended to deflate the triumphant spirit of a Soviet Union victorious against Nazi Germany (May 8, 1945), and to check the Soviet leadership from advancing its forces into Japan (despite being implored to do so by the Allies at the Yalta Conference six months earlier).

Tsarist Russia had lost its 1904-1905 war with Imperial Japan for control of Manchuria (northern China) and Korea, both of which Japan occupied until 1945. During World War 1 (1914-1918) and the Russian Civil War (1917-1923), a dozen nations invaded Russia, occupying many regions and fielding troops that supported the pro-tsarist, anti-Bolshevik White forces between 1918 and 1920. Japan supplied 37 percent of the troops in this Allied Intervention, 70,000 of the 188,000 total and by far the single largest contingent; they were all deployed in the Vladivostok (northwestern Pacific) region and were the last to leave, in 1922. A series of Soviet-Japanese border wars occurred between 1938-1945, primarily a 1938 war along the Siberian-Manchurian border (western-eastern) just northeast of Korea, a 1939 war along the Mongolian-Manchurian border (eastern-western), northwest of Korea, and the Russian invasion of Manchuria on August 8, 1945.

With the demise of the Japanese Empire, the Russians and Chinese consolidated their adjoining domains of control spanning the Eurasian landmass east of the Baltic and north of the Black Sea, Caucasus and Himalayas, for over four decades until the breakup of the Soviet Union. Over the last twenty years, the United States has actively sought to encircle Russia with military forces implanted in client states that are former Soviet Republics or Eastern European Socialist Republics, now independent, whose compliance has been bought. A similar policy applies to China and its surrounding south and central Asian states. This US policy is often personified by Zbigniew Brzezinski (the Carter Administration National Security Advisor credited with funding the advanced militarization of the Afghani mujahideen that included Osama Bin Laden), who characterizes it as geostrategic dominance radiating from the control of Caucasus and Central Asian republics, several rich in oil.

In recent weeks, US commentators (e.g., P. C. Roberts and W. S. Lind) on Russia’s intervention into the Republic of Georgia (a US client state in the South Caucasus Mountains) to reverse the Georgian invasion of breakaway region South Ossetia, believe the blundering belligerence of US policy toward Russia could escalate to the point of armed confrontation, and this would erupt into a nuclear war.

The logic assumed is that the U.S. would have to rely on missile-borne tactical nuclear warheads launched by air and naval forces to counter Russian troops and armor in the Caucasus, since the U.S. is too distant to transport its troops quickly, and many of them are bogged down in Iraq, Afghanistan, and who knows, maybe also Iran by that time. The Russians could be assumed to use their tactical nuclear weapons to compensate for their possible disadvantage of having less technically sophisticated weapons systems relative to the ”smart bomb” precision-guided munitions and “stealth” delivery vehicles of the US military. Once a shooting war starts, the natural tendency is to reach for your biggest guns and fire away before the other guy can clear his holster.

So, is a new nuclear war possible? Let’s muse on this. After all, the time necessary for rationality to work its good is only available before the shoot-out, or after the killing is done and the survivors are ready to move on to the burials.

The purpose of war is to increase your degree of control OVER OTHERS. This is usually equated to having acquired greater political and military power. This is true even if the the war is conducted as nothing beyond brigandage and piracy: plunder, profit and wealth are seen as increasing your power to control events. Using this metric, it is easy to judge if you have won or lost a war.

We proceed by inquiring about the psychological and technical enabling factors, and the political and diplomatic restraining factors for the outbreak of a nuclear war:

1, psychology: are the prospective belligerents easily inclined to war?

2, technology: are their military establishments ready for nuclear combat?

3, politics: can the ruling class be assured of maintaining control of its own population?, could there be a revolution if the war fares badly?

4, diplomacy: is the potential estrangement of and isolation from European states, and other allies, a significant restraint?; is it possible that in a mid-war or post-war weakened condition your state becomes unable to control new rebellions by imperial subject states, or to stop encroachments into your domain of influence by imperial rivals?

We can contract the previous four major questions in these two: have we identified all possible contingencies and devised alternative plans for each?, does the cost-benefit ratio for the war outweigh that of diplomatic alternatives, and after what period of time? We consider the four factors in turn.

Psychology: Remembering World War Two

It is important to know that the overwhelming fraction of the Allied war effort against Nazi Germany was provided by the Soviet Union (Russia and its union of socialist republics), and they suffered the greatest losses as a result. Consider the following numbers. The combined 1939 population of the fifty-five countries involved in World War Two (WW2) was 1.962 billion; the total number of war dead was 72.8 million, which was 3.7 percent of the 1939 population of participants. Of course, many of these countries bore only a slight to moderate burden in carrying on the war, while a small number provided the greatest efforts and made the greatest sacrifices (see “World War II casualties” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties).

The combined human losses of the Soviet Union, China, Germany and Japan were just under 73 percent of the total deaths for WW2. The Asian theater of WW2 was essentially the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, while the European theater of WW2 was essentially the Russo-German War of 1941-1945.

Let us look at the impact of WW2 on five selected countries, by using three ratios for each country, where these ratios are defined as follows.

Country:

the percentage of its 1939 population killed in WW2;
the ratio of its 1939 population to the 1.962 billion WW2 participants;
the ratio of its WW2 dead to the total WW2 dead;
(all ratios below are expressed as percents).

Soviet Union: 13.7; 8.6; 31.7.

China: 3.9; 26.4; 27.5.

Germany: 10.5; 3.6; 10.

Japan: 3.8; 3.6; 3.7.

USA: 0.3; 6.7; 0.6.

The Soviet Union lost nearly 14 percent of its population (every 7th person) in the war, and this mortality amounted to almost one third of the entire WW2 dead. China was three times as populous as the Soviet Union, so its loss of nearly 4 percent of its people (every 26th person) amounted to over one quarter of the entire WW2 dead. Germany lost over a tenth of its population (every 10th person), which amounted to 10 percent of the WW2 dead; and Japan’s loss of just under 4 percent of its people (every 26th person) amounted to nearly 4 percent of the WW2 dead.

Notice that the United States’ WW2 dead amounts to a fifty-fifth (1/55) of the Soviet total, and the 1939 national populations were comparable, the Soviet population being 29 percent higher. It would be very beneficial to the world if Americans, commemorating their Memorial and Veterans’ Days, would try imagining their feelings if they had suffered war as deeply as the Soviet people (every 7th person instead of every 172nd person lost). Now, we never trivialize the real pain of war veterans, their relatives and and friends, however small a portion of a nation’s population they may happen to be. But, clearly, the impact of a WW2 experience like that of the Soviets will imprint a dread of war far more deeply into the national consciousness than a WW2 experience like that of the United States.

Another interesting numerical result is that the combined losses of Germany and Japan amount to only 13.7 percent of the WW2 dead, and the combined population of these two Axis powers amounted to only 7.2 percent of the WW2 participating population. Advanced industrialized nations hell-bent on war can drag in a multitude of victims vastly more numerous than themselves. A reasonable assumption for today is that the state planners and popular historical memories in both Russia and China viscerally appreciate the importance of this point, but that it may be dimly perceived in US popular imagination, and even dismissed by US policy-makers. This is probably the type of caution introduced by European allies when the U.S. engages them in multilateral diplomacy and planning, and which is so annoying to US unilateralists.

So, the U.S. may have a more casual attitude about bellicose posturing and nuclear war threatening bravado, while the Russians and Chinese are likely to be very circumspect and deliberate about threatening nuclear war; if they do, pay attention!

Technology: The Military Is A Hungry Robot

The US military is a brainless stomach that always wishes to be fed, it is the very definition of fiscal cancer. It has no other goal beyond immediate ingestion of capital drained from the US treasury, so all its pronouncements, papers, studies, proposals and testimony are devoid of meaning beyond their role as advertisements aimed at the audience of policy-makers heading the capitalist, government and propaganda ministries of the military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC). The purpose of these advertisements is to induce as many of these directorate-class individuals as possible to put their influence behind the many schemes for larding the military. So, we can expect any part of the military that sees initiating a nuclear war as an instant benefit to itself by calling its services into action, to lobby for it. A brainless stomach has no concept of consequences, or of others. “More” fills the conceptual space, and all the frenzied, convoluted babble is a drone of incantations intended to materialize that “more.”

While the hardware for nuclear war is complex, both the US and Russian military establishments have decades of experience with it, and they have maintained their training. These military forces could use their nuclear weapons as ordered without a significant number of technical or personnel failures. Some of the warheads launched might be duds, in that their detonation would be flawed and their full explosive yield would be unrealized; and some of the personnel might crack under the pressure of actual combat — either as a blind panic or an intentional rebellion — and fail at their posts. However, we can expect a low incidence of such failure in either the U.S. or Russian forces.

This is unfortunate from the point of view of preventing nuclear war. We now know that “a guy named Arkhipov saved the world” during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “During a naval skirmish between an American destroyer and a Soviet B-59 submarine off Cuba on Oct 27, 1962,” where “the destroyer dropped depth charges near the submarine to try to force it to surface, not knowing it had a nuclear-tipped torpedo…that the submarine was authorised to fire it if three officers agreed. The officers began a fierce, shouting debate over whether to sink the ship. Two of them said yes and the other said no.”

This was no failure of Russian military training (which like that in the arts and sciences is of unparalleled rigor), but instead the operation of vivid historical consciousness. I fear that the culture of the United States is so shallow and immature that thorough military training can transform any callow youth into a robot soldier attuned to his or her assigned functions, and unlikely to have the psychological depth and historical consciousness to question orders and training under conditions of extreme danger, urgency and confusion, or to recognize moments of pivotal importance.

Military establishments are intended to be robotic performers, reliable agents implementing commands abstracted and codified from the political directives of the national leadership. So, we should assume that by far the best way to prevent the military from proceeding with a nuclear war is by influencing the policy that it operates under, so that it is one of restraint.

Still, let me make a direct plea to any US soldier or sailor who finds themselves charged with launching a nuclear weapon: don’t do it, mutiny, revolt. Think, the more and sooner the better. Be Arkhipov. I think the Russians will be more restrained than the Americans about first use, but will have zero hesitation about second use.

Politics: Popular Loyalty Or Popular Revolt?

Because Russia is a lesser power than the United States, and because of the many and obvious provocations made by the US against Russia as part of its encirclement strategy, as well as the shameless advantage US capitalism took of Russia during the immediate post-soviet period of political fragmentation and economic reorganization, the Russian people will have no trouble supporting their government regardless of how any potential war with the U.S. transpires; they will always see themselves as the defenders, not the aggressors. This will be especially true if the U.S. fires first, which it delights in boasting it feels free to do; and we can be sure that if Russia does fire the first nuclear shot, it will be an evidently defensive preemptive strike. The expectation of popular loyalty, won by the robust revival of the Russian economy under Vladimir Putin’s administration, as well as a reaction to US belligerence, frees the Russian leadership of any fear about revolution erupting in reaction to possible reverses in a potential Russo-US war, even a nuclear one. Russia is united.

The US public is unprepared for the sacrifices attendant to a nuclear war, no matter how “tactical” and “limited.” Every nuclear munition carries the destructive power of many conventional bombs or cannons, and shot for shot every fall of a nuclear munition will produce proportionately many more casualties. US soldiers and sailors will fill coffins or dematerialize at rates not experienced since the Civil War. The American public has been protected, shielded and distracted from the impact of war, especially since the Vietnam War, but the number of casualties to be expected from even a limited tactical nuclear war would be impossible to hide (as the casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are hidden today), and the mollycoddled American viewing public would be traumatized on apprehending the magnitude and pace of the carnage.

The reactions to this fright would be varied, but in all cases they would contribute to the agitation of the public, a loss of placidity and thus an increased difficulty of social control. This triggers the primary anxiety of the ruling class. It is nearly inconceivable that US public agitation over the number of military casualties from a foreign nuclear war would rise to the same intensity as the Parisian public’s agitation about starvation in 1789, but the great fear of the US ruling class would be that it had become of the same type. Today’s paycheck-dependent US Americans are disunited by their fearful prejudices and diminishing expectations in an eroding economy, while the Russian people are experiencing historically significant economic growth and political stability. At what point of disaffection would the US public unite into storming its own Bastilles, at what level of unsatisfied wants — in a population indoctrinated to be self-governed by wants — would the US public acquire the motivational rage of a Cindy Sheehan and become the 21st century sans-culottes whose pikes were now the subject of the 2nd amendment?

We should not let such florid rhetoric carry us on flights of fancy of Phil Gramm (‘let them whine for cake’) types arriving at their Sidney Carton moment, but neither should we underestimate the potential for outbreaks of real social unrest in the U.S. as a consequence of losing people to a nuclear war of imperialistic hubris.

Diplomacy: Consolidating Conquest, Or Chaotic Collapse?

The imperialist imagination sees conquest as the method of consolidating power. The emperor projects a conception of order onto the world, and then seeks to subject each actual state and population into fulfilling an assigned role. Every country is a tile that fits into the grand mosaic of the imagined empire, adding its unique hue to the overall image and easing the interconnectedness of all others into a consolidated structure. Conquest is accomplished by force, bribery or inequitable alliance.

However, every tile of the world mosaic has its own conception of itself and its role in the world, so there is always opposition to empire. Most people call this freedom.

Imperialistic thinking assumes that power, the ability of superior force to hold sway, is the only dimension along which international relations operate. It ignores chaos, the ability of nature and reality to erupt with surprises, and entropy, the tendency of all structure to dissipate, as other dimensions of international relations. It is impossible to predict all possible outcomes of present situations, so it is impossible to devise perfect systems of control. While we are always free to take action, we can never be certain of all its possible consequences. Aside from our common-sense plans for managing the practicalities of our lives, the overall contingency plan that comes closest to perfection is to “go with the flow.” This is zen. The only thing we can ever really control is our own behavior. Because all known previous empires have collapsed, chaos and entropy being prominent in their demise, we can anticipate a similar fate for the American empire.

The Russian economy is booming in part because Russia is a major supplier of oil and gas to Europe. Russia is also a leading supplier of military and nuclear power technology. Many people easily ascribe the various conflicts occurring in Eurasia to rivalries over the control of oil and gas fields and the routing of pipelines. China’s exploding economy would love to plunge its straw — direct trans-border pipelines — into Iran’s oil pools and drain them without interference; Iran would love China to monetize its oil bonanza, so it wants to power itself with nuclear energy to maximize its oil profits. Russia is eager to supply Iran the nuclear power technology it wants, because it is a profitable business venture, and because they want the security of controlling the fuel cycle of a close neighbor, for the purpose of nonproliferation (of nuclear weapons).

However, these logical commercial synergies fail the most important acceptance criterion of US capitalism, “what’s in it for me?” The U.S. would prefer a compliant Iran drained to its benefit, such as in the days of the Shah, it would prefer Central Asian oil to flow south through Afghanistan and east through the Caucasus, Black Sea and Turkey, and it would prefer Europe to limit its energy dependency on Russia. It is not just a matter of increasing the oil supplied to the U.S., it is about throttling the sources of Russia’s and China’s growing economic power; it is about control.

We can expect the Europeans to try soothing the neo-con fevered Bush Administration, quietly behind closed embassy doors, from working itself into a rabid lather for nuclear war with Russia, initially in the Caucasus. This will have some influence, because the failure of Europe to join in a diplomatic demonization campaign against Russia, like the earlier campaigns against Iraq, would make it more difficult for the U.S. to proceed to war. Also, the U.S. is mindful that were it to be seriously weakened by a unilateral nuclear war with Russia, an unscathed Europe would easily step into control of its empire. After all, this is what Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman did to Winston Churchill’s British empire.

Also, Europe would worry that a nuclear war in the Caucasus might spread, war usually does when one side becomes desperate. If Russia were being “bombed back to the stone age” it would most certainly bomb the US bases in the Central Asian republics along its southern border. These would be legitimate military targets, and would no doubt be actively involved in the US war against Russia (why else are they there?). This would draw the Central Asian republics into the war and probably topple their ruling classes, which Russia would see as their just deserts. A similar catastrophe might happen to Poland and other Eastern European states hosting US missile systems. For Europe, the thought of the disruption of their oil supplies from Russia and Central Asia, along with the possibility of sustaining casualties from nuclear bombardment, should be enough to propel them into vigorous and sustained diplomatic action to restrain US belligerency. They will probably say all manner of nasty things about Russia, to mollify their infantile US emperor, and do as little as possible to disrupt their existing commercial arrangements with Russia.

Analogous to the situation of the US public, if Europe and American “allies” were to suffer directly and severely from the war, they might unite in revolt and then use their military forces against the U.S., or Russia, or both as they guessed would offer the best relief. What is that level of “direct and severe suffering” that would trigger a European military response? Good question.

There are many other possibilities for mischief once the US is embroiled in a nuclear war and inattentive to its empire. Other nations could decide it was an opportune time to settle their own scores with each other, independent of the US-Russia war. China and India fought a border war in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is believed to have erupted because the U.S. was completely preoccupied elsewhere. One can imagine Israel finding it opportune to accelerate its liquidation of the Palestinians, expand into Lebanon, attack Iran or a variety of its neighbors, or all of these, while the US was absorbed in a nuclear war radiating from the Caucasus.

Of course, a restraining consideration here is that the U.S. might not be capable or willing to assist and even fund Israel during the course of its own major war with Russia, unless Israel were a full-fledged partner in that war. If Israel were so blinded by its own ambition that it did join the war against Russia, then Russian arms would quickly and forcefully be turned against it, and this would almost certainly be joined by military actions from many states in the Middle East. The intelligent course for Israel would be to stay out of a US war against Russia (which will really look dirty to the US public as they see their own forces being nuked), but even then it might have to accept a diminished level of support from its great protector, and consequently a more successful opposition from its many subjects and neighbors.

Conclusion

Once the chaotic dimension of reality is realized, it becomes easy to envision any number of disastrous developments for each of the initial combatants, and even the initial bystanders. From any perspective, it is easier to imagine a negative cost-benefit ratio to this war than a positive outcome. For this reason, I think it less likely to occur. However, one must not underestimate the stupidity of imperialists, if war does break out then I think the Russians will have a clearer view of how to proceed, and this will mean painful losses for the U.S., its allies and enablers.

The great fallacy of the imperialistic mind is that the threat of destruction is equated with the power to control. Control is an illusion, chaos is the reality. A successful warrior dances with chaos, and success means simply that one is still alive.

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Originally published as:

Will a Russo-American Nuclear War Happen (Soon)?
1 September 2008
https://www.counterpunch.org/2008/09/01/will-a-russo-american-nuclear-war-happen-soon/

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Nuclear Weapons Are Obsolete

Because of recent media frenzy over nuclear explosives and ballistic missile tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, a.k.a. North Korea), and US President Donald Trump’s angry threats in response that imply nuclear retaliation, I thought it might be useful to remind you of why nuclear weapons are obsolete as military tools for the United States.

The Atomic Bomb was invented during World War II (1939-1945), the energy of explosion being generated by the runaway fission of a temporarily clumped, or imploded, mass of uranium 235 or plutonium 239. By 1952 the Thermonuclear Bomb had been developed; these types of bombs can produce a much higher yield of explosive energy than fission bombs. Thermonuclear bombs are complex devices that combine a “primary” fission bomb and a “secondary” fusion bomb within a heavy metal case. The secondary is a container holding deuterium and tritium gases, or lithium deuteride salt. A thermonuclear bomb explosion involves three steps. First, the standard fission bomb is triggered to implode and generate intense X-ray radiation from the hot fissioning uranium 235 and/or plutonium 239. Second, the X-rays flood the interior of the bomb’s metal case. Third, that intense radiation pressure implodes the initially low-density secondary to the point that the nuclei of its fuel atoms fuse, and nuclear radiation is emitted. This radiation is the “E” of Einstein’s famous equation E = mc^2, where “m” is the amount of nuclear mass converted by the fusion reactions. Clearly, all this happens very quickly, before the bomb case shatters because of the exponential build-up of explosive pressure within it. By the 1960s, ballistic missile technology had been developed sufficiently to carry men to the Moon, or thermonuclear bombs around the world, and bomb designs had been refined for compactness so several could be carried on a single missile.

Because both fission and thermonuclear bombs produce so much explosive energy, and both prompt and lingering radioactivity (radiation and fallout), they are intrinsically large area-destruction weapons. This property could compensate for the poor targeting accuracy of 1940s and 1950s bomber airplanes and missiles. However, the major military drawback of this wide area radioactive destruction is that a massive amount of collateral damage and civilian death is inevitable with the destruction of each concentration of enemy military forces or facilities, which was the intended purpose of the bombing. Lingering radioactivity would not only be a severe health risk to the hapless residents of the bombed-out area, but also to any occupation forces that would wish to exert control over the area after the bombing (or the war).

Today, wide area-destruction bombs are unnecessary for the military purposes of the United States (and other technologically advanced nations) because pinpoint targeting accuracy is possible using the Global Positioning System (GPS). The GPS project was launched by the US Department of Defense in 1973 and became fully operational in 1995. Civilian use has been allowed since the 1980s. Also, advances in electronic and computer technologies have been applied to refine the control and guidance of ballistic and cruise missiles, and aerial drones. Today, chemical explosives – without radioactivity – can be delivered very precisely to “enemy” targets, and a great deal of this has actually been happening for years now.

So, nuclear weapons are obsolete for advanced military powers like the United States. It is also true that modern GPS-guided “delivery vehicles” with chemical warheads are much less expensive to produce than nuclear weapons. The true cost of each bomb and missile will include a share of the overall costs for building and maintaining the infrastructure that produced it. That infrastructure cost is monumental for nuclear weapons, not only because of the complexity of producing the radioactive metal, gas and salt fuels, but also because of the catastrophic legacy of long-term toxic radioactive waste management we are left with.

But, wouldn’t an atmospheric nuclear explosion be useful as an anti-missile defense? Again, destruction vehicles against “incoming” ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones can be devised with chemical explosive warheads, and multiple warheads per missile (like World War II “flak”), because of today’s advanced radar and satellite detection systems, computers (for fast calculation of flight paths), and GPS-guided missile technologies.

Even ten years ago, the obsolescence of nuclear weapons was so obvious that four of the leading foreign policy and military planners of the United States issued a joint public statement to the effect that “We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal.” Those individuals were: George P. Shultz (Reagan Administration secretary of state from 1982 to 1989), William J. Perry (Clinton Administration secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997), Henry A. Kissinger (Nixon Administration national security advisor and secretary of state from 1969 to 1973, then Ford Administration secretary of state from 1973 to 1977) and Sam Nunn (chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1987 to 1995). (You can read more about that at: Nuclear Weapons Obsolescence, December 11, 2008, http://dissidentvoice.org/2008/12/nuclear-weapons-obsolescence/)

So, will the United States attack (“defensively” of course) North Korea with nuclear weapons, because of the perceived threat of the DPRK’s nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capability? I don’t know, but it would not be necessary. I have no doubt that US satellite and other airborne electronic surveillance systems can detect DPRK nuclear warhead manufacturing and storage sites, as well as ballistic missile launch sites, and could if necessary destroy them with precision-targeted conventional explosives. Intelligent diplomacy in concert with the United Nations should be able to eliminate the necessity to use force against the DPRK.

In conclusion, whatever the actual military threat, or perceived threat, or hyped threat (to frighten and shake down the American public for more military industry subsidies), there is no need for the use and maintenance of nuclear weapons by the United States – or anybody who cares to live in a civilized world.

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Now published at Dissident Voice:

http://dissidentvoice.org/2017/08/nuclear-weapons-are-obsolete/

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My Mind’s Ramble in Science

Ferrari P4 (2004)

(Above: 13, 17, 24, 28)

1972 US GP: Ferrari F1 engine (3 liter, flat 12 cylinder).

(Above: 14, 18, 19, 22, 28)

1972 US GP: Ferrari F1: Car 7 = Jacky Ickx (5th), Car 8 = Clay Regazzoni (8th), Car 9 = Mario Andretti (6th).

(Above: 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 28)

P-51 Mustang (EMG photo, 1992)

(Above: 01, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 24, 28)

Spitefire Mk. XVIe (1987)

(Above: 01, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 24, 28)

Supersonic Jacob’s Ladder – Static

(Above: 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33)

Supersonic Jacob’s Ladder – Flow

(Above: 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 35, 40, 42)

Imagine a 1 nanosecond snapshot of a nuclear explosion.

(Above: 26, 28, 30, 31, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39)

Sunflare Blue Sky Clouds

(Above: 27, 28, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45)

Longwood Gardens Greenhouse

(Above: 27, 28, 44, 45)

My Mind’s Ramble in Science (1952-2007):

01. Airplanes
02. Tinker Toys
03. Godzilla
04. Rodan
05. Invaders From Mars
06. The Day The Earth Stood Still
07. Forbidden Planet
08. Tom Swift, Jr.
09. Nuclear Power
10. Submarines
11. Bicycles
12. Skateboards
13. Race Cars
14. Piston Engines
15. WW2 Aircraft
16. Supercharged Piston Engines
17. Race Car design
18. Piston Engine design
19. Engineering
20. Mathematics
21. Computer programing
22. Thermodynamics
23. Fluid Mechanics
24. Aerodynamics
25. Supersonic Flow
26. Fusion Energy
27. Solar Energy
28. Photography
29. Gas Physics
30. Plasma Physics
31. Ionized Flow
32. Molecular Physics
33. Gas Lasers
34. Nuclear Explosion Radiation
35. Electrical Physics
36. Nuclear Explosion Electric Generators
37. Magnetohydrodynamics
38. Solar Physics
39. Cosmic Plasma
40. Lightning
41. Atmospheric Physics
42. De-NOx chemical physics
43. Global Warming chemical physics
44. Solar thermal-to-electric generators
45. Publicly Owned National Solar Electric System

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Reflections on the Wen Ho Lee Case

Reflections on the 61st Birthday of Wen Ho Lee

21 December 2000

Manuel García, Jr.

Previous Address (2000-2004)>> http://www.wenholee.org/WHLreflect.htm

On Thursday evening, 21 December 2000, I attended a birthday celebration for Dr. Wen Ho Lee, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City, on the San Francisco peninsula in California. I had been active in the campaign to gain the release of Wen Ho Lee (WHL) during his imprisonment, a result of the politically motivated nuclear weapons espionage hysteria of 1999. The overarching political story must be told — and argued — elsewhere, of how the Republican Party initiated the affair in an effort to undermine the current administration led by President Clinton of the Democratic Party [1], and how in turn the Clinton administration pounced upon the the plebeian victim selected by its political opponents, as a mutually convenient scapegoat. Suffice it to say that in the thick of the fighting in 1999 and 2000 in that ancient and unending struggle of “money to buy power, power to protect money,” two political clubs — as they would have been called by Thucydides — sunk to their base instincts, their “embedded programming.” One club sought to crest a wave of hysteria by inciting the public with a xenophobic demonizing invective of similar strain to the “yellow peril” of the Gilded Age, and the “commie” paranoia of the Tailfin Era, while the other club was dismissive of the rights and dignity of politically naïve and trusting classes, relying on the submissiveness of government workers generally and Chinese-Americans in particular, to carry the weight of its oppressive display of resolve. This pattern of political dueling, with incitement by Republicans and force displays by Democratic administrations, runs through the last half century of American history — Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, and Iran are painful examples. But enough of these soulless generalizations, this is to be a personal rambling. I think it impossible to influence others by exhortation, people act in accord with the tendencies they have allowed themselves to be conditioned to — “character is fate” [2]. By this point, readers will have either forgiven me my biases sufficiently to allow themselves to drift along this stream of consciousness till the entertainment fails, or they will have left to protect their sensitivities from my irreverence. I have no interest in debate, merely a need to arrive at personal truth from which to chart personal action.

I decided to attend the event quite late. I had wanted to put the WHL campaign behind me because I felt that I had become too annoyingly visible — and isolated — from my professional colleagues in physics and engineering, from the employee population at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and even from the members of the more-or-less pro-union group of LLNL employees, the Society of Professional Scientists and Engineers (SPSE) [3]. Also, I wanted to relax in the company of my family during the holiday season, without any obligations or schedules. I was persuaded to attend by Sue Byars, who had earlier persuaded me to become active in the campaign for WHL. It was with Sue, John Hobson, and few if any others, that I went to the WHL rally in San Jose on 31 May 2000 [4], and the 8 June 2000 rally in front of the Federal Building in San Francisco [5]. Sue said the birthday event “would bring closure” to the WHL chapter in our lives. I realized that I wanted to see the faces that went with the names I had seen so often in distribution lists on e-mail messages. It was to see Sue and the other veterans from my theater of action, in a congenial atmosphere, that I decided to attend. I wanted to feel victory, and be surrounded by comradeship.

The Crowne Plaza is a hotel of modern commercial elegance, and the staging of this event was another demonstration of the marketing skill of Cecilia Chang, who had so effectively put all her capabilities and energy into organizing public resistance to the government persecution of WHL. Cecilia was in full flight all night, keeping the ten thousand and one evolving details all in balance. Three hundred $30 tickets had been sold prior to the event, but one hundred people came and bought tickets at the door, an amazing surge. Cecilia was scrambling to ensure enough tables and food would be on hand. All went well, the volunteers of WenHoLee.org produced a well-run event. Cecilia is a tiger, you feel the electricity she exudes when she speaks about her outrage at the persecution of WHL. You can also feel the power of her convictions when she describes her frustration during the last two years with the timid response of the organized Chinese-American patriarchy to the plight of WHL. They ought to get Michelle Yeoh to play Cecilia in the movie to be made of the WHL affair. Cecilia Chang is a martial artist of the highest order. She went after the mightiest of Goliaths and triumphed, because she had the biggest spirit and she held nothing back. I would like to be equally successful, to use what I know in a good cause and triumph. I have concluded that making the connection between one’s training and skills, and a worthy application of them, is one of life’s greatest challenges. People who do this well make it look so easy, and they add such a luster to living experience. Their example encourages us to keep trying, to work toward having a life of meaning, purpose, and beauty, rather than letting it slip away thoughtlessly, as a waste of awareness.

At 6:30 pm the no-host bar opened for its half-hour run. By then at least one third of the attendees had arrived, and crowded the hotel lobby in front of the ballroom. I found Diane Chin, the director of Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), of San Francisco. Diane was one of the organizers of the 8 June 2000 rally, and a forceful speaker there. I spoke at this rally also, and was chained between Cecilia and Diane as I remember, in a photogenic piece of street-theater protest. I imagine Diane led CAA’s effort to produce the editorial advertisements on behalf of WHL, which appeared in the New York Times (NYT) during the presidential campaign. Sue Byars, John Hobson and I attended a fundraising dinner in San Francisco’s Chinatown hosted by CAA last fall, for the NYT ads. Diane is a person of granite resolve, and her speeches strike me as the workings of deep principles shining through keen intellect. The other impression I’ve gained of her is that her character is an alloy of discipline, persistence, and loyalty. She has a wonderful smile, and I imagine that she is warm and quite witty in a family setting. I was quite impressed by the many women of character, verve, insight, moxie, and determination who took up the cause of WHL. In general, I met more women than men who displayed these traits and joined this cause.

My tickets and those of the others in the Livermore contingent were in the group sponsored by CAA, which took up two tables. The other Livermians [6] were Dick Ling, Kalina Wong and her husband, and Sue Byars and her husband. Dick and Kalina are part of a group of nine Asian-American Livermians joined in a class-action race discrimination suit against LLNL, which is to say against the University of California (UC) as it is the contractor managing LLNL for the Department of Energy (DOE). This group had been restrained by their attorney from taking too active a role in the WHL movement. Dick and Kalina were active compared to most other Livermians, and I only saw one or possibly two other Livermian Chinese-Americans take any part in the WHL movement. It is true I cannot know who among the Livermians may have sent money to CAA or to the legal defense fund initiated by Cecilia Chang and WenHoLee.org, and similarly I cannot know who may have gone to rallies and stayed in the crowd, which was usually outnumbered by the press corps. It is also true that in late summer the Livermian Chinese-American association began to circulate the petition written by Luisa Hansen in April 2000, and for which she gathered about sixty employee signatures, while I gathered almost forty. Luisa sent this petition on behalf of WHL, with one hundred and three signatures, to Attorney General Janet Reno just after Memorial Day (31 May 2000), later she mailed an additional twenty-two names collected by the Chinese-American employee group.

A large press corps had gathered by this time: print, TV, radio, for both English language and Chinese languages markets. WHL was scheduled to give an interview in an adjacent room, and reporters were queuing up to get credentials permitting them access. I saw many reporters, photographers, and camera operators I’d spoken with or seen at prior events during the last year and a half. My contact with the press had shown me both the great value of independent journalism toward the dissemination of truth and the preservation of freedom, and also the relentless voraciousness of the twenty-four hour news cycle and the need to fill the air time and print space between ads with anything even remotely passable as news stories. My impression of this industry is that the frontline reporters by and large try their best to be probing, accurate, substantive, and fair, but information is filtered, massaged and diluted as it travels up the editorial and commercial hierarchy that finally issues “news.” I also think that successful careers in this business are made in the same way as in any other line, when you figure out how to deliver what the front office really wants, they turn on their money spigot for you. This is the most subtle and effective control of the news at its source, as has been so exquisitely detailed by Noam Chomsky (in particular Herman and Chomsky) [7]. I met Glenn Roberts, of the Tri-Valley Herald, a Livermore paper. He was to do an article on WHL for the weekend edition. I had spoken to Glenn quite a number of times during the last two years, among the topics were: Mike Campbell’s resignation as the Associate Director for Lasers at LLNL (and head of the National Ignition Facility, being built), the drive towards mass polygraph screening of DOE lab employees, the Hansen petition drive, and a variety of labor issues. I thanked Glenn for covering the labor stories involving SPSE, and the WHL movement stories involving Livermians. His news stories helped our message to reach a wider audience. I kidded him about being so “fair,” in that he never used my most inflammatory rhetoric when quoting me — which is why I used it, so there would be something with punch left in what he would choose to quote. I know that in covering LLNL, Glenn used me as the ‘extreme left’ voice to counterbalance the soporific ‘conservative’ PR of LLNL media handlers. I could see no occasion in the future where I would be in a knowing position on a lab news story, and I told Glenn I did not anticipate we would converse again, except by chance. I thanked him, expressing my gratitude for his work, which helps to bring some openness into an organization deformed by its obsession with control. I have learned a few things about “using” the media, and foremost among them are that seeking personal publicity is counterproductive, and that identifying and advancing the fundamentals of your cause is essential. You cannot control the telling of a story, but you can create it. Create something of value, that you can take pride in, and whatever stories get told about it will, to some degree, reflect well on you and help advance your cause.

Wen Ho Lee, his daughter Alberta, his lawyer Mark Holscher and others entered the lobby with a cordon of cameras, lights and microphones. The principals and the press went into the interview room, and the media event proceeded as the celebrants mingled, met, and chatted in the lobby. I finally got to see some of the faces whose names I knew quite well. I spoke briefly with Marti Hiken and Merrilee Dolan. Merrilee was part of the New Mexico contingent, which included Nancy Crowe and Bill Sullivan. Merrilee is a neighbor of WHL, was quite active, and was involved in the welcome home barbecue for WHL. Like Wen Ho Lee, both Bill Sullivan and I have mechanical engineering degrees and studied fluid mechanics. Bill and Nancy organized the Albuquerque chapter of WenHoLee.org, and were active as witnesses to the legal proceedings in the WHL case, as speakers at events, letter writers to newspapers, and interviewees. We often tossed ideas into the internet stew watched over by the eclectic members of the WHL movement. More than once I shot down some of Bill’s suggestions, and I am glad that this never grew contentious, that is was all just part of the give-and-take of something much bigger on which we were all united. I did try to push the envelope of the collective imagination of the correspondents, to help produce effective tactics for the movement, basically to increase publicity and move people’s minds into our camp. The tactical objective was clear: find more money to pay for more lawyering — Uncle Sam gets to print money. Nancy Crowe is a firecracker, small and intense. She had framed pictures to give to WHL’s legal team, of the the emergence of WHL, Alberta, and the legal team from the Federal Courthouse in Albuquerque on the day of Judge James Parker’s amazing speech, and WHL’s release (13 September 2000).

Sue Byars and her husband Mike Perez emerged from the crowd smiling to greet me. They were elegantly attired, quite different from the usual workday clothes. Mike and Sue own a bison ranch — buffalo — and Sue hopes to eventually retire from LLNL to work full-time on this. Here we were, the core of Lab Employees For Freeing Wen Ho Lee — LEFFWHL — “leff-well,” the nom de guerre of the LLNL employees willing to band together for the cause of WHL. LEFFWHL was listed as one of the many co-sponsors of the 31 May 2000 rally organized by Cecilia Chang. Sue is quite an amazing woman. She is deeply committed to the cause of Leonard Peltier, the imprisoned American Indian activist, as is Mike, also an American Indian. Sue had been active in the LLNL Women’s Association in an effort to move LLNL management to address the issues of equal pay for equal work, and uniform access to promotions, so central to working women everywhere. She moved on to SPSE when the Women’s Association gave up its independence to become a lab-funded group. The only significant effort on pay equity for women at LLNL being pursued now is the class-action lawsuit by a group of current and former women employees, initiated by Mary Singleton. My use of the word “significant” rather then “independent” in the last sentence is clearly a value judgment (a bias if you don’t agree), it is possible that UC managers are making an effort to document and remedy any pay inequities — I simply discount this possibility. I realize that many would find my attitude unpleasant or worse, as the only evidence I rely on here is my own experience and observation, and my only commitment in this essay is to honesty. Pay equity for women, like hunger in America, is a non-problem — it could be solved in six months if desired. There is obviously enough food and money in America for everyone to live the life of Riley, so why is it otherwise? The reason the pay equity issues of women and minorities will drag on interminably at LLNL is the same reason hunger and other deprivations (most significantly day care for all children, worthy elementary and secondary education everywhere, and universal health care) will drag on interminably in the USA. The have-nots lack the resources to wrest these rights from the economic system, and the haves use all the resources of this system to maintain the exclusivity of their privileges — “other people’s money” — the commonwealth is not managed for the common good, but divided among narrow interests seeking gain. While Sue and I do not see eye to eye on all political and social matters, ours views are so far removed from that of the generally suburban homogeneity of established Livermian thought that we are, relatively speaking, identical mutants with respect to that population. To the extent we are noticed, we get about the same kind of respect as the 1950’s movie monsters that were called “mutants.” So it was most pleasant to be within an assembly of mutual appreciation because of the actions that had issued from our heretical philosophies during the campaign to free WHL. My purpose in writing this essay is to open a mental exploration for a personal perspective that will allow me to pass the unknown stretch of time left to me at LLNL, in what I find to be a socially arid environment largely devoid of appreciation, so I can keep earning a decent living and continue trying to advance my own creative scientific ideas. Sue and Mike had arrived at the hotel just before 7 pm, and they told me that they had heard news accounts over the car radio of WHL’s interview in the other room. Indeed, there were cameras everywhere taking crowd scenes, and my SPSE buddy Jeff Colvin told me later he had seen me in this way on the late night TV news — he knew my charcoal jacket. Earlier, a TV cameraman had poked a big lens and spotlight onto the picture Nancy Crowe was showing me, while I in turn was holding Jeff’s copy of The Nation with the WHL freedom picture on the front cover [8]. It was 7 o’clock, time to enter the ballroom, find a seat, and attack the food tables. The CAA tables were in front of the podium and the speaker’s table, next to us was a table sponsored by Professor Ling-chi Wang. We settled in for the show.

CAA was founded thirty years ago by Professor L. Ling-chi Wang of the University of California at Berkeley, head of the Ethnic Studies Department. I had met Ling-chi over the internet in March 2000, as a result of sharing comments in an evolving network of people drawn to the WHL story. We found much to agree with in each other. At that time Ling-chi was beginning to draw media attention and raise government concern to the public relations consequences of WHL’s imprisonment, then in its third month. Ling-chi had drawn up a resolution, passed by the Asian Pacific Association in Higher Education (APAHE), calling on Asian-Americans graduating from universities and colleges to boycott employment at DOE laboratories, such as LANL and LLNL. Bill Richardson hired Jeremy Wu as the DOE Ombudsman and placed him at the center of a DOE PR counterattack aimed at mollifying Asian-American sentiment both within the DOE complex and in the public domain. The lab-sponsored Chinese-American association at LLNL sought special raises for its members, to compensate for the historic underrepresentation of Asian-Americans in the lucrative management positions of the DOE labs run by the UC (LANL and LLNL). With a handful of exceptions, the lab Chinese-Americans did not participate in the campaign for WHL, so far as I could see. In this they were no different from the overwhelming majority of DOE lab employees. I wonder if Jeremy Wu’s solicitations towards Asian-American lab employees will end after the transfer of power to the Republican administration of George W. Bush. Even though these employees put great stock in this special attention and may be disappointed if it disappears, I wonder if it will ever amount to anything substantive. Ling-chi Wang is a phenomenon, a teacher, a scholar, an activist, a man of tremendous energy and of keen insights. In April of 2000 I acted as the SPSE host of a special presentation to LLNL employees by Ling-chi. This event was quite unusual. There was such turmoil in the labs over the arbitrariness of the punishment of WHL — especially in comparison to the treatment of John Deutch — and such distress among Chinese-American employees over the racial profiling aspect of the WHL case, as well as a general apprehension among employees over the impending mass polygraphing (lie detector intimidation) being pushed by the fascist [9] elements of the government, that SPSE was able to get publicity for the noontime event in both the Tri-Valley Herald and the lab’s internal paper Newsline. This was probably only the second time in the twenty-seven year history of SPSE that it was mentioned in Newsline [10].

Ling-chi spoke to a packed house [11], with reporters present. During the question-and-answer exchange at the end, Luisa Hansen suggested a petition for WHL be raised by LLNL employees, as a demonstration of support from a group of DOE scientists. She thought that support from such a group would carry great weight with scientists generally, as well as the government and the public. Within days, Luisa would write her petition and begin gathering signatures. She drafted me into this effort (which I tried to avoid), and I then began what would become a terminating experience as regards any illusions I may have had about my place in LLNL. I decided to display my copy of the petition at my lunch table during the lovely days of May. I made a folding sign, “Free Wen Ho Lee,” which I elevated above my table on salt shakers, and read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, while I sat in the middle of the cafeteria drawing a response akin to a drop of soap on a water surface sprinkled with talc. The chill of indifference was occasionally broken by the heat of hostility — all projected from a distance (except once) — and then almost once each day, a person approached, read, signed, and smiled. They always thanked me, glad someone was doing something, and for the opportunity to be a part of it. This was heaven. I had to pan through tons of sand, but in it were flecks of gold. Once, a group of people stopped by my table as one of its members wanted to sign. He urged his companions to do likewise, all demurred, one defending his stance to his colleague, and apparently to me as well, by saying in effect that he never allowed matters of principle to jeopardize his career. This paraphrase is my own, to erase any possible trace of an individual who was quite typical of Livermians and just happened to voice their attitude very succinctly. There it was, “a tyrant never has to fear his doctor or his engineer,” a saying I’ve heard goes back to the days of the Pharaohs (I would be grateful to learn the earliest source). I had so many existing differences with the Livermian norms, on creativity, on technical style, on labor issues, on the purpose of the labs, and now finally on the willingness to face matters of principle that so directly affected us and our colleague WHL. I realized there was nothing left for me, nothing I valued, in the company of the Livermians. I only had my connection to a paycheck (for which I am very grateful) and hopes for a pension, my access to some computers, and the use of the very nice library, to anchor me to the institution. Also, I do have a few friends here, but not that many as I am prickly. It’s one thing to be at odds politically, for instance by being a union man in conflict with management, but this was worse, I had reached the point where I just did not have any respect for Livermians. The lab is merely a very pleasant establishment of Republican welfare, a small link in a gilded chain of tax revenue consumption, a community of convenient patriotism, a servant to the needs of government power, a cocoon against the intrusion of social turmoil and new thinking, and a refuge from uncertain and organized independence when you become accepted within its hierarchy of patronage. I find that passion, enthusiasm, social idealism (socialism for you right wingers), character, analytical thinking, creativity, imagination, and a willingness to take technical and political risks are lacking at the lab. In their place I find shallowness of thought, absence of principle and vision, and a myopic obsession with minutia, position, self-image, and control. Lab people are well-trained in narrow disciplines, but they are badly educated in the main. They can produce work of depth in their field, but often lack the breadth to appreciate the wider social context within which they operate. Lunch hour is a good time to hear the painfully idiotic pontifications of many who erroneously imagine that the depth of their social and political insights match that of their technical specialty. No doubt someone else could find me equally guilty of all I’ve described here, and generally none of this matters anyway except for one thing. And that is this, when circumstances confront you with injustice within the normal arena of your life, then how you act to either help reduce it, or how you avoid this, determines the value of whatever “philosophy” you abide by. I have heard all kinds of involved jargon-laced babble from Livermians, but damn few of them did anything for the cause of WHL or any other noble principle without regard for the displeasure of the political rulers. The purpose of nuclear bombs is to defend American freedoms by the threat of retaliation if attacked. If we American citizens and scientists producing these bombs are so willing to acquiesce to the capricious and cruel denial of these freedoms to one of our own, then how is our entire enterprise to be justified to our fellow citizens? Do we just take their tax dollars to make a buck and screw the principles? If swastikas were raised on the lab flagpole tomorrow instead of the stars and stripes, would we just go on working? Yes, of course we would. People who cannot bestir themselves over a “minor” incident like the WHL affair will not miraculously develop courage in the face of a cataclysmic injustice. This realization has undermined any lingering belief — hope — I may have had in the lab’s social value.

WHL entered the ballroom with his daughter, Mark Holscher, and other close assistants, amid a rising tide of applause. His group broke free of the press corps at the doorway, made its way to the front of the room and took their seats. Cecilia Chang opened the proceedings by welcoming us all and describing the sequence of speakers and presentations. She made a personal statement describing her motivation to become involved in the defense of WHL, her passion and her outrage at injustice being so strong that she was often at the point of speechlessness. Cecilia narrated a short slide presentation of the highlights of the organizational efforts and protest rallies during the last year and a half. She also acknowledged the student chapters of WenHoLee.org, large ones being at MIT near Boston and another in Los Angeles. The movement was nationwide, and chapters were formed in New York, Seattle, Berkeley, Minnesota, New Mexico, and no doubt elsewhere, see [4]. What struck me about Cecilia as she spoke was that now she is a pro at political organization and protest management, whereas prior to the WHL affair, she was neither, nor had she seemed to be politically active. She had been turned on by a personal connection to the consequences of American realpolitik. Now she was a political buzz-saw, and she was sharpening the blades and cranking up the motors of Chinese-American youth. The APAHE boycott was the work of old men and the result of talk, and many dismissively criticized it as a paper tiger, though it did great service as a publicity tool. But this boycott may in fact take a deeper hold as the collective memory of a generation of Chinese-American and Asian-American students who staged vigorous rallies all across the nation — such as the large one in Los Angeles outside the Democratic convention. Who can doubt that some student taking part in the WHL rallies will be a future dynamic political leader in this country, and who can doubt that this new generation will be far more active than their parents, and far less subservient to arrogant power? I think a genie has been uncorked that is beyond the reach of any number of Jeremy Wus.

Cecilia introduced Mark Holscher, the lead defense lawyer for WHL. Mark gave an excellent talk. He described how he was drawn to the case in the dark days when WHL was universally condemned in the Colosseum of public opinion, and how his law company superiors (O’Melveny & Meyers) supported his decision to become involved (pro bono). He noted more than once that he is a Republican, and some were initially suspicious of him, as the early supporters of WHL had to be either family or lefties. All such doubts dissolved as the members of the legal team found they were united by deeply held common principles. Mark used the majority of his talk to describe and laud his “dream team” legal colleagues, Nancy Hollander, Brian Sun, Professor Edward Gerjuoy (Ph.D, physics, and a lawyer), John Cline, Richard Myers, and other assistants. Mark had those of the team present join him onstage (Cline was absent). Mark gave a particularly touching description of Nancy Hollander, not a Republican as I gather from Mark’s description of his initial contact with her. He relates that Nancy, an Albuquerque defense lawyer, fought ferociously for WHL right from the start, even facing off with several large hulking federal marshals (court cops) trying to prevent WHL from waving (signaling in secret code) to his wife and daughter. Mark seemed to think she might end up in jail. Mark described how helpful it was to have Ed Gerjuoy on the team, able as he was to appreciate the full depth of any scientific or technical material under consideration, and to be equally capable of grasping its legal consequences and opportunities. Mark described how he and the team were committed to always being on time with judges’ deadlines, always being prepared, however the schedule shifted, and of never having to seek any extensions. This required many all-night and all-weekend sessions for both he and team’s staff of clerks (legal assistants) composing, printing, copying, and filing all manner of legal briefs. Despite the pressure-cooker atmosphere, they were united by a belief in their man and they were never impeded by dissension. They outclassed the competition with better lawyering and finer principles. “I tried to do everything that would be in the best interests of Dr. Lee.” Mark noted that there were certainly many issues others would want to pursue — the racial profiling, Chinese-American discrimination issues — but that he had focused on what was best for his man as a man, not as a political symbol, and he gently urged those building the political counterassault to the WHL affair to let WHL move on with his private life. I agree. Mark noted that he and the entire legal team have developed fond friendships with WHL, and I could see this quite palpably as he looked toward WHL when he spoke. He mentioned that he was moving on to other work, and that Brian Sun would be leading the charge on the civil, violation of privacy case for the Lee family (pro bono). He and Sun had similar backgrounds as former federal prosecutors, and Mark gave quite an extensive appreciation of Brian during his remarks. I was very impressed, these people love each other and it shows. They had applied their talents to a just and noble cause and triumphed. “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies,” Noam Chomsky, 1966 [12].

Cecilia introduced Ling-chi Wang, who was at the speakers’s table, and he gave an introduction to Henry Der, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, California State Department of Public Education. Henry was the original director of CAA, and he gave a spirited address, without mincing words, on the need for Chinese-Americans to become politically active, to fight against racial and ethnic stereotyping and discrimination, and to enter into a coalition politics with other groups — Latinos for example — with similar concerns and goals. I agree. I stated these same conclusions in my short commentary at the 8 June 2000 rally (see [4]). During the course of the WHL saga, many people must surely have arrived at the same conclusions as to what it all meant and what should be done about it. Those who act on these conclusions will spin anew the karmic wheel, first set in motion by political schemers to kill WHL. In a Judeo-Christian view of divine justice, this wheel would eventually come around to crush the evildoers. I certainly hope so.

Alberta Lee was beckoned to the podium by Cecilia. Here was a daughter to make a father proud. She saved his life. Her story will no doubt be showcased in the movie being made of WHL’s struggle. Alberta found Mark Holscher through a college chum then in law school, just after the FBI third-degree in which WHL was threatened with electrocution. She traveled and spoke tirelessly, raising consciousness and funds for her father’s defense. She sounds like any young American lady — like my own “California Girl” daughter, Marisa, now in college — and that must be a shock for many. You see, she is not the timid, mousy, quiet Chinese woman with broken English and a Chinese accent of the old stereotype. The shock would be the realization that here was a hip, modern, 100% full-blooded, real American woman whose family was being ripped apart by the horrific torture and imprisonment of her father by the US Government. How could this be? Alberta is looking forward to her wedding, which had been delayed by her father’s imprisonment. She expressed a touching gratitude toward her fiancé, for his steady support throughout her long ordeal. I had met Alberta at the 8 June 2000 rally when she introduced herself to me during the set-up of the speaker’s microphone. She was making an effort to see, encourage, and thank anyone who made any show of support for her father. During the rally, she would work the crowd, seeing people one-on-one, rather than just grandstanding in front of a microphone. In her I see the best of the ancient and the modern, filial devotion, and a determined, humane activism. If I may be permitted to modify the words of Jesus, just for a moment, I might say “Greater love hath no woman than she that would turn over her life to the defense of her father.” And wouldn’t it be better to arrange our public affairs to eliminate the call for such sacrifice?

The time had come for the star attraction. Cecilia introduced WHL, a man who “needs no introduction.” I wish I had a transcript of WHL’s address. It was short, clear, simple, thoughtful, and focused to perfection. WHL is a man in the eye of a hurricane, though he has been buffeted and swept along on a terrifying journey, he has observed much of this storm as a dizzying spectacle swirling around him at a distance. His words to us were the result of long and deep thinking out of the dark recesses of his isolated imprisonment. First off, WHL expressed his heartfelt gratitude to all the people who worked to restore his freedom — you could hear a pin drop, tears silently fell. He told his story. He is a simple man, born in Taiwan, seeking a good and interesting life by studying engineering and physics. Like many thousand others, he emigrates to the United States as part of the Taiwanese Invasion of graduate students and technical talent during the American boom of the go-go years [13]. I was in school with these students, at the University of Pennsylvania and then Princeton. WHL got a job, worked hard, got married, loves his wife, had children, tried being a good father, and did not concern himself with issues outside his home and job — precisely what one is encouraged to do by lab management and the higher political authorities, I may add. WHL was a good boy, the “model minority” so dear to the hearts of the nation’s managers. Then he is swept into the political controversy we all know about, and he finds himself contemplating the loss of everything, even life itself. He is alone, chained, in a lit cell with a guard outside watching through a window. Day and night have no meaning, privacy does not exist, the eye of vindictive government is upon him unceasingly. These were the conditions one year ago, on his 60th birthday. WHL then told a touching little Christmas story. The guard watching that day told WHL that he had heard news reports of the birthday party Cecilia had organized, and to which many had gone to commiserate, pray for succor, and encourage each other to action. That was 21 December 1999. WHL knew nothing about the outside world, he had no radio, TV, or newspaper, he was buried alive. The guard told WHL that he didn’t have a cake to give him for his birthday, but he did have a cookie. So WHL accepted this gift from a guard who seemed to think that everyone should be able to have birthday cake on their day. Though we celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, we don’t really know the exact date of the birth of Jesus. It is entirely possible that WHL is 1939 years younger to the day than Jesus Christ. This guard was touched by the Christmas spirit, and to his credit, he was capable of being touched by it. WHL described how he struggled to come to grips with what was happening and why. He felt he had followed all the rules and yet he had drawn a terrible wrath. He came to realize that just following the rules, doing a good job, and trying to do the best for his family, in so typical a Chinese-American way, was not enough. He had come to realize that the people in his ethnic community had to do more, they had to engage with others in the wider American community, they had to get “political.” Shrinking from power does not prevent others from using it against you, and having money and being obedient alone do not ensure that your freedom is secure. WHL said that he spent nine months in his cell, pondering what lesson could be drawn from his experience, and he came to this: “Before you can have others respect you, you must first respect yourself.”

The standing ovation for WHL was long and quietly emotional. All the speakers were well-received, Mark Holscher being the runner-up in the standing ovation competition. As I recall now, WHL had standing ovations bracketing his talk like weighty bookends. Cecilia was managing the shift in the program to its final phase, and many people took advantage of this break to visit each other, the food tables, or move about. As I went to get more decaffeinated coffee, I would catch glimpses of faces I recognized from previous occasions, often without knowing the name involved. I would also catch glimpses of people I had met briefly, or nametags I recognized of people I did not know. I happened to meet Lucky Lee, a jewelry wholesaler in San Francisco. Lucky is a small man, very old-world, and had introduced himself at the 8 June 2000 rally. He seemed so grateful that I would be involved, being from the Livermore Lab, obviously not Chinese-American [14], and speaking openly in public. I was doing little compared to so many others, and my motives were as impure as anyone else’s. I had hoped (note the tense) to attract the support of Asian-American lab employees to the labor cause championed by SPSE by showing my support to their cause, as our causes sprang from the same principle — fairness. By joining forces I thought we could accomplish much more (UC management HATES unions). I quickly gave up on lab Asian-Americans (and all the minority groups on the take at the lab, for that matter), but not the cause. So I know I told Lucky, at the CAA benefit where we had also met, that he was thanking me too much and it was Chinese-American community groups who really deserved any credit, they raised the money and did the work. He gave me his card, and someday I’ll buy jewelry at a good price. He is always so kind when he sees me that I feel embarrassed, because I don’t think I deserve such generous thanks. But I can imagine how happy he was that people outside his immediate Chinese-American circle would embrace his cause. One such person is a man I do not know, but whose nametag I saw floating by earlier that evening, “Sessler.” Andrew Sessler is a former director of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, and has long been active in the human rights activities of the American Physical Society. I mention Sessler, with whom I had no contact, because I want to emphasize that scientists of significant reputation, and knowledge about government security, could and did step forward to the defense of a colleague. As Sessler’s example showed, more scientists in the DOE complex could have and should have stepped forward “to speak the truth and to expose lies.” If Sessler and Garcia could do this, the alpha and omega of the DOE scientist spectrum, then certainly any of the staff scientists, group leaders, project leaders, program leaders, division leaders, associate directors, and directors could have done this as well. Where were you? WHL is any one of us.

Cecilia announced that it was time to wish WHL a happy birthday and to cut cake! This celebration was a world away from last year’s. She called for WHL’s brother to come up and lead the singing of “Happy Birthday,” because he likes to sing and has a good voice. And up steps Lucky Lee, can you beat that, I never knew. As four hundred people sang “Happy Birthday,” variously in English, and what I assume to be Cantonese and Mandarin, I reflected on the fact that here was a quiet, slightly-built, peaceful man who was surrounded by love, a love so powerful it could span the nation and even penetrate the heart of one of his jailers. His family loved him, his lawyers loved him, his neighbors loved him enough to pledge their homes and property for him, the Chinese people in this room loved him, and clearly, many others in this big wide country loved him. This love had shamed the conscience of a nation. This love had brought many people together to a higher purpose. Is there any greater patriotism?

The planned events had ended, and people all began moving at once, some to leave, others to meet, and many to schmooze with the stars. I had met my goals, and so I just listened to the chatting of my friends at the table, sipping decaf. Very shortly, Helen Zia pulled me over to meet Mark Holscher. I was surprised. I know that WHL, Alberta, Holscher, and the other stars of the drama are now continuously besieged with requests, greetings, and calls for attention, and I had committed myself to refrain from adding to this stress upon them. Helen and Holscher would surely have been well acquainted, as Helen is a leading member of CARES, so Helen interrupting herself to introduce me was very flattering. Helen had just gotten the job of writing WHL’s story for the book and movie to be premiered in the fall. I shook Mark’s hand, mentioned my affiliation most briefly, and thanked him for the excellent work he had done. I also told him that I was very appreciative of the fact that he chose to apply his training, his experience, and the resources and connections available to a man of his position, to a noble and humanitarian cause. I have great admiration and respect for him because of this. This is the Parable of the Talents, it is what you do relative to the opportunities given to you that determines your worth [15]. His wife was next to him, and I flatter myself in thinking that she was very satisfied to hear this. I told him what was in my heart, I hope he does well, he is a good man. Alberta Lee cruised by, surrounded by a twittering cordon of attention. I noticed her ever-patient fiancé standing by. Poor guy, if he only knew, this is the husband and father’s lot — to wait. He has glasses, slightly wavy hair, and looks the picture of a young English gentleman, he is not Chinese. I introduced myself and told him that I admired his selflessness and patience in helping Alberta through this long ordeal. It is not easy waiting and standing aside while someone you love is captured for long periods by adversity or, now, adulation. I also told him to make sure he and Alberta took a long honeymoon, to push the world and everything in it out of sight, and to relax in each other’s company without interruption. Alberta now appeared, and I mentioned that we’d first met at the 8 June 2000 rally. She was gracious, and I could tell tired. Despite my best intentions, here I was, dulling the shine of the stars. Brevity is the soul of wit. I said this to Alberta, “No father could wish for a better daughter than you have been. You are a credit to your family, a wonderful example, and very courageous. I wish you the best, a nice wedding, a happy marriage, and a quick return to a peaceful and private life.” What can one tell her, except “Well done, live happily ever after.”

Cecilia had conceived the idea of having WHL hand out a small batch of remaining WenHoLee.org tee shirts to major contributors (I forgot the exact criterion), but this rather quickly became disorganized. As people now swirled around WHL, I notice that the birthday cake, at the other end of the speaker’s table, was quite free, so I told my son, Erik, “Now’s our chance, let’s get some cake.” I had brought Erik, my second child and now 16, because in the complicated gyrations of the comings-and-goings of each of my family members during the Christmas season, this just turned out to be the easiest option for me that day. I had told Erik how to comport himself at a slow-paced, low-action, all-talk, boring-politics adult sit-a-thon that his father was forcing him to go to: “Be polite, listen first, talk as needed, and take every opportunity to hit the food tables. Youth is permitted any number of forays so long as they are discrete. Obvious gluttony is to be avoided. You are also permitted to learn something and have fun.” I don’t think the evening was as thrilling for him as spending it in front of Tokyo eXtreme Racer, his latest computer game, but I do this father thing every now and again and he has to go along with it. I remember telling Erik, earlier in the evening as we weaved our way between TV cameras, “You can see history in the making, a very tiny little part of it, but something of our times. You can learn something by comparing what you see, with how people report it and comment on it afterwards.” As Erik and I began to cut cake, Sue Byars came up and said “come on, meet the man.” I had caught glimpses of Kalina and then Sue talking to WHL, at least that is my memory now. In any case WHL had more or less backed up towards the cake, and we had drifted into the ruckus around him. Well, why not, we couldn’t possibly add to this stress. Alberta was near him at this time, as she and the family spokeswomen (a media blocker, and believe me this is needed), were trying to get WHL away, to peace, quiet and rest. It seemed to me that though he was obviously a strong introvert and would much prefer privacy and calm, he was determined to be visible and available to supporters who wanted some personal contact. He was showing his gratitude and probably working through fatigue. We stepped up, Alberta introduce me by telling her father “he’s from Livermore,” and he picked this up right away “oh yes, the petition.” Alberta had told him about the Hansen petition sometime during her prison visits. This would have had to be done obliquely, as WHL and his daughter talked through glass while under intense scrutiny for the outbreak of “secret code” [16]. Another avenue for the news may have been through WHL’s legal team. In any case, it was clear that though this petition did little to stir the hearts of the Justice Department or of the Livermian masses, it was one more little spark of hope helping WHL keep up his spirit in a very dark time of his life. For that I am immeasurably proud. We shook hands, he said kind words, and I told him, “I admire you as a man and as a father. You have raised very courageous children, and you have lived in such a way that your neighbors would offer their homes to free you. I cannot imagine any man doing better at the truly important things in life. I wish you the very best.” We parted, and then Alberta and the media-shield guardian angel whisked him away, to what is still at times an elusive peace.

Now I was left with myself, to think about my next chapter, and wonder how I would approach work at the lab in the New Year. What have I learned, and what do I do about it?

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” Neither the lab nor its people can be as I can imagine, and it is pointless for me to wish otherwise. Projecting anger on these people and their institution because they fail to live up to my standards will neither help them nor change them. And it doesn’t do me any good either.

The lab can learn nothing from the WHL affair. People who block an awareness, avoid an experience, and evade a responsibility cannot possibly learn anything from it. Those who studiously inoculated themselves against the WHL affair are immune from drawing lessons from experiences they did not have. This is the general case at the lab. Lab PR will broadcast words about security, improvements, awareness, diversity, and other related phrases, primarily as a systemic vibration to radiate away its own stored tension, and to have a soothing hypnotic effect on its patron, in the same way that male spiders ever so gingerly vibrate the webs of females they are compelled to court. The lab exists to convert DOE money into UC pension fund. Any path deviating from this short circuit is one of high resistance. Anything else, whether it be from my overblown idealistic rhetoric (unions, principles, freedom, all that) or the lab’s stolid equivocal pronouncements (directorate, security, programs, and hyphen-based self-praise) is either a distraction, an impediment, or a mandatory hurdle to the true course of Livermian aspiration. They live to retire.

I have not reached Buddhahood nor the level of the Christian ideal set by Jesus, where I look upon the world and its people with a sense of compassion — turn the other cheek — and forgive them all the failings I judge them to have. “Judgment is mine sayeth the Lord.” A fully realized Bodhisattva reenters the world of fallible, suffering, and predatory beings — sinners — and offers his life as a selfless example of peace, so as to inspire others to awaken to a similar compassionate realization. We can only create peace within the compass of our personal worlds, recall the Parable of the Talents. I can enact peace within myself, and transmit peace as a tangible and direct experience to people in my family, my place of work, and around my village [17]. My compass is quite small, not like that of people of great means, great power, and great renown. Merely becoming angry because I cannot mandate “peace” outside my compass only diminishes peace within it. Converting the unfocused energy of this anger into a calm resolve can propel new action on my part to expand my circle of peace — to act, to be an activist. However, I have not reached this plane, I am still somewhat mired in selfishness. I don’t really want to make any effort for lab people. I don’t wish to be hostile or unfriendly, quite the contrary in fact, but I don’t really want to make any efforts for them; I don’t feel like summoning up the compassion. Puncturing their logic bubble [18] is just too unrewarding. As I don’t want to share their fears, and I refuse to dilute my character and defocus my perspective to acceptably mirror them, I have little choice but to devise a role that remains in the background, and may permit me to pursue my own thoughts unnoticed during the course of my work. I won’t find this easy because I thrill to bring passion and enthusiasm to work. But I have been hurt by the defensive hostility, ridicule, scorn, and condescension from utterly fatuous hypocrites that have greeted my innocent passion and enthusiasm at the lab. Jesus may forgive you, Buddha may forgive you, Garcia is not ready. Having rejected compassion for others, I can hardly expect sympathy in return. Neither can I expect my alienation, anger, and isolation to be emulated by others as an attractive alternative to submission within a politically organized hierarchy. I must rely on poetic truth, independent of other people. My criticisms of lab people may seem cruel, but I think they are accurate. I also think these criticisms are of no importance whatsoever. They are of no interest to the concerns of the political rulers, they are opaque to lab people by and large, and they are inconsequential in comparison to the ocean of public apathy. The lab is a bubble of illusion and privilege, withdrawn from a vast sea of ignorance and indifference, behind a skin tension of fear. The WHL affair backlit the labs for a brief while, revealing their usually cloaked inner workings. But this has passed and all are returning to their former, narrow pursuits. Lasting consequences are most likely to emerge as the political choices made by young people whose eyes have been opened by this struggle.

Notes

[1] The WHL affair began as a tactical maneuver in the Republican assault on the Clinton administration. The Cox committee was a US House of Representatives committee led by Christopher Cox, Republican of California. It originally investigated Clinton administration approved sales of satellite technology to China, which it claimed involved the “loss” of sensitive computer technology, and as that story evaporated it began investigating the supposed loss of classified US nuclear weapons information to Chinese espionage. This committee was initiated after the 1996 election as part of the general Republican attack on Clintonian credibility, claiming that foreign money — specifically Chinese — had entered the Democratic Party coffers and tainted the legitimacy of their administration. The fundraising excesses of 1996 were both scandalous and bipartisan. One senses that the Republicans were piqued by the adroitness the Democrats displayed in what was taken to be an exclusively Republican specialty. Also, the Republicans were probably covetous of the commercially valuable Chinese political connections being made by financial backers of the Clintonian Democrats, who opened the Chinese market to US investor penetration with the passage of the legislation granting China normal trading status with the United States — “It’s the economy, stupid,” “Follow the money.” A story circulating among Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) employees was that when Bill Richardson, Secretary of the US Department of Energy (DOE), called LANL Director John Browne in March 1999, ordering him to fire Wen Ho Lee, who had been branded a spy two days before in a New York Times (NYT) article tailored to the aims of the Cox committee, Senator Shelby of Alabama, a visiting Republican present in Browne’s office, exclaimed “Great! This is the best thing since Monica Lewinsky!” Putsch lust trumps nuclear nightmares.

[2] Herakleitos (romanized as Heraclitus), 540—480 BC, “ethos is man’s daimon,” as translated by Guy Davenport in Herakleitos and Diogenes, San Francisco: Grey Fox Press 1994, ISBN 0-912516-36-4 pbk.

[3] SPSE, http://www.spse.org

[4] WenHoLee.org, http://www.wenholee.org, Cecilia Chang’s organization. This web site has many documents — letters, speeches, news stories, e-mail chatter — produced by members of the WHL movement. I hope that this documentary evidence can be stored in a convenient and compact electronic form, because I am sure it will eventually be of interest to those who study the history of the public’s response to the WHL affair. I told a young Asian-language US reporter at the CAA fundraiser last fall that there were three stories woven through the WHL affair: the personal story of WHL and his family (akin to those Jean Valjean, Edmund Dantes, and Alfred Dreyfus), the political story in which WHL was merely a pawn, and the “people’s story” — clear to any reader of Howard Zinn [A People’s History of the United States (Revised and Updated Edition) NY: HarperCollins Publishing, Inc., 1980, 1995] — the story of how people reacted, some awakening to activism, others hiding in fear, all together a mirror of our society and our times. The personal story will no doubt be showcased in a TV miniseries planned for the fall of 2001, while the political story will be massaged, diluted, and even possibly illuminated, by writers, historians and reporters of sanctioned importance (of PBS Newshour and New York Times acceptability, for example). Anyone interested in the potential impact on American politics by young Chinese-Americans would do well to research the third story. Any Chinese-Americans interested in building greater political influence for their community would do well to study its response during the WHL affair.

[5] CARES, Coalition Against Racial & Ethnic Stereotyping, an effort of the Asian Law Caucus of San Francisco, California.

[6] Livermians, ‘Livermians’ is my phrase, without apology, because I dislike all the single-word alternatives I’ve heard for Livermore Lab employees: Livermorians, Livmorians, Livermorons, labbers. Livermorians is grammatically correct, but it indicates all residents and natives of the city of Livermore — too broad.

[7] Chomsky, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media, NY: Pantheon Books, 1988.

Other Chomsky titles to consider:

The Chomsky Reader, edited by James Peck, NY: Pantheon Books, 1987. Every Ph.D should read the essay “On the responsibility of intellectuals,” in the same way that every M.D. takes the Hippocratic Oath.

Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies, South End Press (116 St Bodolph St, Boston MA 02115; 617.266.0629 or 800.533.8478), 1989.

Deterring Democracy, Verso (29 W 35th St, New York, NY 10001; 212.244.3336), 1990; updated edition, NY: Hill & Wang, 1991.

What Uncle Sam Really Wants (compiled from talks and interviews), Odonian Press (Box 32375, Tucson, AZ 85751; 602.296.4056 or 800.REAL.STORY; odonian@realstory.com), 1992.

The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many, (compiled from talks and interviews), Odonian Press, 1993.

For an excellent “beginners documentary comic book” see

Chomsky for Beginners, David Cogswell, illustrated by Paul Gordon, Writers and Readers Publishing, Inc. (P.O. box 461, Village Station, New York, NY 10014), 1996.

Go ahead, live a little, “To confront a mind that radically alters our perception of the world is one of life’s most unsettling, yet liberating experiences,” writes James Peck in his introduction to The Chomsky Reader.

[8] I…was holding Jeff’s copy of The Nation with the WHL freedom picture on the front cover …and a good Robert Scheer article inside with precisely the thesis I advanced in a 13 September 2000 broadcast e-mail to the WHL network and my LLNL audience (some of it reluctant), on the probable motivation of WHL in compiling the information at the heart of the case — job insecurity in a time of threatened downsizing (1993), and the struggle to devise some tangible evidence of prior intellectual achievement held captive in classified work, the loss of ‘resumé-ability.’

[9] fascism, “a system of government characterized by rigid one-party dictatorship, forcible suppression of opposition, private economic enterprise under centralized government control, belligerent nationalism, racism, and militarism,” Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, 2nd College Edition. Corporate ownership of the political duopoly as a method of controlling government is the modern equivalent of 1930’s fascism. Without the resistance of the citizens who would demonstrate in the streets against the World Trade Organization (WTO), are active in the labor movement, or are involved in the many progressive (liberal!, yeah!) groups that tend to coalesce during national elections, our “compassionate conservatives,” would slide effortlessly over the ice of American political apathy toward becoming a fascist elite worthy of the court of Darius the Great, or Saddam Hussein.

[10] SPSE in Newsline. The mention of SPSE in Newsline prior to the announcement of Ling-chi Wang’s talk was the previous September, when SPSE members spoke out vigorously against mass polygraphy, in a DOE Public Hearing held at Livermore; another possible mention was the reporting on employee comments to Jeremy Wu in an open meeting at LLNL during Wu’s introductory tour. The staff at Newsline are excellent journalists and writers, but they don’t own the paper.

[11] Ling-chi Wang’s LLNL talk. A detailed account of Ling-chi’s talk was written by Cheryl Remillard, the SPSE Office Manager, and is available.

[12] The responsibility of intellectuals. Chomsky goes on to say what the alternative is, which is basically to never allow principles to jeopardize career:

“It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass without comment. Not so, however. For the modern intellectual, it is not at all obvious. Thus we have Martin Heidegger writing, in a pro-Hitler declaration of 1933, that “truth is the revelation of that which makes a people certain, clear, and strong in its action and knowledge”; it is only this kind of “truth” that one has a responsibility to speak.”

Here in a nutshell is the genesis of all our ‘policy institutes,’ issuing made-to-order propaganda disguised as objectivity. See “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” in American Power and the New Mandarins, NY: Pantheon Books, 1969, or most conveniently in The Chomsky Reader, edited by James Peck, NY: Pantheon Books, 1987.

[13] 1960’s. I believe it was Garry Trudeau, the artist of the Doonesbury cartoon strip, who described the American 1960’s as that period of time between the assassination of John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963, and the onset of the Arab oil embargo in 1973. The party really ended in 1971, when President Nixon dismantled the Bretton Woods agreement, ending the convertibility of US dollars to gold among regulated currency trading partners. There was a recession, quite severe in aerospace — I decided to go on to graduate school.

[14] Chinese-American me. The I Ching is my guide.

[15] Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25, 14—30; “For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from he who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

[16] Secret code. There was in fact a secret code used between WHL and Alberta during the prison visits. In this way some minimal news was conveyed to WHL, and some privacy snatched from captivity. The contents of these messages had everything to do with a family united in struggle, and nothing to do with classified data. I hope this detail finds its way into the movie. “Code” of this type is minimal, and only works because it is linking two closely united minds. Another similar story would be that of the code devised by Maria Von Wedemeyer to convey messages to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, her fiancé, who was imprisoned by the Gestapo during April 1943 to April 1945. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian and minister, executed by the Nazis during the last month of the war in Europe, for his part in the plot to kill Hitler.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, edited by Eberhard Bethge, NY: Touchstone, 1997, ISBN 0-684-83827-3

Bonhoeffer, Agent of Grace, a motion picture shown over PBS television stations in 1999 and described in detail at a site linked to http://www.pbs.org

[17] Being Peace. Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, Parallax Press (P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707), 1987, ISBN 0-938077-00-7

[18] lateral thinking. Edward DeBono, New Think, The Use of Lateral Thinking in the Generation of New Ideas, (NY): Avon (Books), 1967. DeBono talks about the “logic bubble,” the forgotten complex of assumptions within which people restrict their thinking and thus can find themselves stymied by apparently unsolvable paradoxes. He also describes “movement value,” where ideas may not in themselves be correct, but may be valuable in moving us to consider what later emerges as the solution to the problem being addressed.

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The above is still posted on my abandoned website, at:

http://www.idiom.com/~garcia/whl.html

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Asian Philosophies, Oppenheimer, & the New Age

Asian Philosophies And The “New Age”

The New Age is the name given to an amorphous mood elevation movement that mushroomed into Western pubic consciousness during the 1960s, and congealed in the 1970s as a wide array of commercial activities involving bodywork services, psychological counseling, and the marketing of literature, seminars and paraphernalia intended to vivify individual meditation.

The themes blended into the New Age movement include: metaphysics and the mysticism in major religious traditions, Western esotericism, self-help and motivational psychology, holistic health, herbal and hallucinogenic pharmacologies, consciousness research, parapsychology, environmentalism and Gaia philosophy, non-mathematical popularizations of quantum physics, and archeoastronomy. Wikipedia provides a nice summary of the New Age. (1)

Clearly, the label New Age can be stretched over a multitude of activities, with some that are admirably sacred, probing and intellectual, while numerous others are just banal hedonism, farcical psychobabble, and commonplace hucksterism. Thus, the phrase New Age lacks specificity, and both praise and criticism of the New Age in general lacks meaning. Only discussions and critiques of specific activities under the New Age label can be substantive.

This essay will describe a few of the streams of thought that contributed refreshing insights to the large pool of ideas over which New Age consciousness floats.

Esotericism has been a part of the intellectual histories of both Europe and the United States from their earliest times. During the early 20th century, popular esotericism in the United States was stimulated by the Theosophy of Helena Blavatsky, the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, and the dervish-yoga combination of Caucasian and Indian ideas by George Gurdjieff, as described by the Russian writer Peter D. Ouspensky. Additionally, the public lectures on Vedanta (the ancient Hindu religious philosophy) given to Western audiences by traveling Indian swamis and teachers broadened public awareness of Eastern metaphysical thought.

However, during the fifteen years of the Great Depression and World War II, Americans were more focused on the immediate concerns of their economic and physical survival, so the study of esoteric and exotic philosophies was left to amateurs in secure personal circumstances, and university scholars. With the return of prosperity in 1942 as a result of the full-employment war economy, and then the victorious conclusion of the war in 1945, the American public was more financially secure to give attention to personal metaphysical thought, and more psychologically in need of philosophical insights to counteract the mental traumas and disappointments carried by war survivors.

I take the postwar release of American public consciousness from the immediacy of concerns of survival to be the beginning of modern popular interest in finding a sustaining and motivating personal metaphysics beyond the irrational trust (faith) in traditional Judeo-Christian formulas. Books, based on good scholarship, published to satisfy this interest can be seen as the secular scriptures of the intelligent portion of the New Age movement. A small number are described here.

Bhagavad Gita

In 1944, the Vedanta Society of Southern California published an English language version of the Bhagavad Gita, the renowned veda (Sanskrit sacred scripture) written between the 5th and 2nd centuries BCE. Swami Prabhavananda translated the Bhagavad Gita from Sanskrit, and Christopher Isherwood coauthored the rendering into English. Aldous Huxley wrote the introduction to the book. The Bhagavad Gita is a masterpiece of both Hindu philosophy and world literature. Its central lesson is of the life-affirming value of fully committed selfless action combined with a devotion to the appreciation of the ultimate reality (God or its equivalent in your philosophy), and an all-consuming effort to experience that ultimate reality. The Prabhavananda-Isherwood edition of the Bhagavad Gita was well received and remains a popular source of insights from ancient Hindu religious literature. Among the serious American students of the Bhagavad Gita was J. Robert Oppenheimer, “the father of the atomic bomb,” who learned Sanskrit in 1933 so as to read the Bhagavad Gita in its original form. (2) (The Bhagavad Gita is described in greater depth in the article cited, which follows after this one.)

I Ching

The I Ching is a Chinese book of divination, from the end of the 2nd millennium BCE (most likely), whose interpretation was expanded philosophically during the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE) to describe the dynamic balance of opposites and the inevitability of change in the phenomenal realm. Perhaps the most compelling translation of the I Ching into English appeared in print in 1950. This particular version began as a translation from the ancient Chinese into German by Richard Wilhelm guided by the Chinese scholar Lao Nai-hsüan, and was made during the years of World War I. In about 1927, Wilhelm’s friend the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung asked one of his American students, Cary F. Baynes (the former wife of Jaime de Angulo) who worked as a translator of Jung’s books into English, to translate the Wilhelm edition of the I Ching from German to English. This effort was slowed by the death of Richard Wilhelm in 1930, the death of Cary’s husband Helton Godwin Baynes in 1943, and dislocations resulting from the social turbulence of the 1930s and 1940s. The English translation was completed in 1949, and the book included an extensive forward by C. G. Jung explaining how to use the I Ching for divining the right course of action on a question of serious personal interest to the seeker.

The philosophy of the I Ching is of the organic unity and intrinsic appropriateness of the unforced unresisted phenomenal realm, or Nature, called the Tao; and the dynamic balance of opposites of every type, the ying and yang, whose ceaseless interplay give an illusion of duality, yet which dance is really just an alternation of images of the underlying eternal monism, the Tao. (3)

The purpose of the I Ching is to guide the seeker toward a proper psychological balance for the circumstances of the moment. Such balance is essential when making the significant decisions of a lifetime. The propriety of that balance is defined by a moral code that can be characterized as Confucian combined with Taoist flexibility. The I Ching was already ancient by the time of Confucius (K’ung Fu-tzu, 551-479 BCE) and the coalescing of formalized Taoism (traditionally 6th century BCE, more likely 5th-4th century BCE), which movement identified its founding text as the Tao Te Ching, a masterful collection of poetic logically ambiguous yet conceptually clear aphorisms ascribed to legendary author Lao Tzu. Modern scholarship is uncertain about the historical authenticity of Lao Tzu, and some scholars believe the Tao Te Ching is a collective work by now unknown authors. Regardless, the Tao Te Ching is one of the finest gems of world literature, philosophy and psychology. The Confucian school of thought is one of building up systems of social organization from simple elements and rules. Taoists see society as immersed in the organic whole of a phenomenal existence of infinite fractal complexity (4), hence impossible to systematize by reductionism. So, the interpretative commentaries that became attached to the I Ching during the Warring States Period were primarily written by Confucians, which infused the I Ching that has come down to us with sensible and honorable Confucian morality.

For the man or woman of today’s modern Westernized culture, more interested in utility that in airy metaphysical prattle, the I Ching can be used for practical divination by means of intuitive fuzzy logic (5): a way to reshuffle the imagination to see present circumstances from a fresh perspective, and then to visualize how these circumstances could change into a specifically different situation as a result of adopting a particular attitude or performing a recommended action. Rather than proceeding with an operational description of the I Ching as a decision-making tool, I recommend you obtain a copy of the Wilhelm-Baynes volume, read Jung’s instructional essay (“Forward”), and try it for yourself (seriously, not frivolously). The answer is in the question, and both — an illusory duality — come out of you.

Philosophies Of India

Heinrich Zimmer was an Indologist and historian of South Asian art who was purged from German academia by the Nazis in 1938. Zimmer, who along with Richard Wilhelm was one of C. G. Jung’s few male friends, emigrated to England and then the United States where he secured an appointment as a visiting lecturer of philosophy at Columbia University (in New York City) in 1940. Zimmer met Joseph Campbell, a scholar of mythology and a young professor at Sarah Lawrence College who attended one of Zimmer’s lectures early in World War II, and the two became good friends. After Zimmer died from pneumonia in 1943 at age 53, Campbell was given the task of editing Zimmer’s papers for posthumous publication. (6) Campbell worked at this for 12 years, converting Zimmer’s manuscripts and lecture notes into four books published between 1946 and 1955, the third of which was Philosophies Of India, which appeared in 1951. (7)

In his New York Times Book Review article on Philosophies Of India, Alan Watts wrote that “It is both the most complete and most compelling account of this extraordinarily rich and complex philosophical tradition yet written.” This book is an entire universe; it is deep, detailed and inexhaustible. Zimmer first describes the differences between Eastern and Western thought and the foundations of Indian philosophy; then the philosophies of temporal matters: success (politics, war, treachery), pleasure and duty; and finally more than two-thirds of the book is occupied with descriptions of the philosophies of eternity: Jainism, Sankhya (or Samkhya), Yoga, Brahmanism (which includes the Bhagavad Gita), Buddhism and Tantra. This is a great book: coherent, panoramic, deeply informed, richly detailed and absorbing.

The Way Of Zen

In his New York Times Book Review article on my favorite Alan Watts book, The Way Of Zen, published in 1957, Joseph Campbell wrote “No one has given us such a concise, freshly written introduction to the whole history of this Far Eastern development of Buddhist thought as Alan Watts, in the present, highly readable work.” This book is such a lucid account of both the history of Zen Buddhism and its manner of direct conscious experience of reality without abstract concepts or language as intermediaries. (8)

Alan Watts was an amazing autodidact who began teaching himself Chinese as a child by comparing the corresponding English and Chinese passages in a bilingual Bible. He became a popular writer and lecturer, the “guru of the hippies” until his death in 1973. All his books and recorded lectures on Eastern philosophy and particularly on Zen and Taoism are enlightening and refreshing. Watts brought out the core of insights from beneath the layerings of cultural ornamentation that most Westerners see when facing Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Zen, and he presented these liberating ideas in a way that made them relevant to our modern lives and psychological problems. Watts was not a professional academic teacher but instead a very talented seeker who allowed us to see out to farther horizons than most of us could ever have done on our own.

The common impulse in all the Indian philosophies of eternity since the Vedic period (1700-1100 BCE) was to identify a unifying principle underlying all existence. The Hindu philosophies of Yoga and Vedanta grew out of the earlier Vedic religion, identifying Brahman as the fundamental undifferentiated essential underlying and immanent in all phenomenal existence. The aim of both Yoga and Vedanta was to break the hold on consciousness by the illusory multiplicity of the universe suggested by the ceaseless interplay of apparent forms; and to merge consciousness into unity with Brahman, thus experiencing eternity (nirvana). Buddhism is a revolt against both the extremes of asceticism and pleasure as paths to achieving unity with Brahman, it is the Middle Way. The liberation of consciousness from the illusion of duality is called Moksha, and achieving that is enlightenment.

The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, was born in what is today Lumbini, Nepal (though other Indian sites also claim that honor) and he is estimated to have lived from 563 BCE to 483 BCE (though some scholars estimate a similar lifespan occurring about 80 years later). (9) The Middle Way of liberation taught by the Buddha (“the enlightened one”) sparked the growth of a movement that continues today. Buddhist teachings remained an oral tradition until the 1st century BCE, when the Pali Canon (the earliest of Buddhist scriptures) was written.

Between the 1st century BCE and the 2nd century CE, a more sophisticated concept of Buddhist practice had developed, called the Mahayana. The traditional practice, which was based on the Pali Canon, said little about the practical psychological difficulties of achieving nirvana.

Thus the great concern of the Mahayana is the provision of “skillfull means” (upaya) for making nirvana accessible to every type of mentality…The Mahayana distinguishes itself from the Buddhism of the Pali Canon by terming the latter the Little (hina) Vehicle (yana) of liberation and itself the Great (maha) Vehicle — great because it comprises such a wealth of upaya, or methods for the realization of nirvana.

By the 1st century CE, the practice of Buddhism had spread throughout the Indian subcontinent and along the Silk Route from northeast China to present-day Iran. (10) The awareness of Buddhist ideas had been carried along the trade routes west as far as the Greco-Roman Mediterranean. The Mahayana Buddhist way of achieving enlightenment by a proper concentration of the mind (samadhi) through meditation (dhyana) was adopted by Taoists in China, who devised a form of Mahayana Buddhism that used Taoist concepts to interpret existence and reality, and was better suited to Chinese culture. The idea that enlightenment could be achieved instantly, or suddenly, was developed in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism by the time of Tao-sheng (360-434), who stated the idea explicitly. This “sudden school” of Buddhist meditation believed samadhi could be naturally triggered after the mind had been prepared by meditation (later know as the Soto School), or caused by a teacher’s spontaneously skillful improvisation by word or deed taking advantage of the circumstances of the moment to jolt a seeking student into enlightenment (later known as the Rinzai School).

This “sudden school” formally emerged as Chán Buddhism in the 6th century CE and grew to become the dominant form of Chinese Buddhism during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1297) dynasties. The Chinese word Chán is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyana, and is better known by its Japanese equivalent Zen. While Buddhism had been introduced into Japan during the 8th century CE, the separate schools of Zen Buddhism were only established in the 12th century CE, when Eisai introduced Rinzai Zen to Japan in 1191, and Dogen introduced Soto Zen in 1227. (11)

For us, the real fun and value of Zen is as a way to expand our awareness, to not miss out on really living. The value of reviewing Zen Buddhist history as summarized here is to realize that we can be just as free as the Buddhists of times past to modify the externalities of the vehicle carrying the life-affirming Buddhist insights, to suit our culture and psychology, so long as we not obscure, corrupt or lose those insights and the compassionate heart of the teaching. Lives conducted along these principles would help nudge humanity toward the better possibilities for a New Age.

Zen And Japanese Culture

Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki was Japan’s foremost authority on Zen Buddhism, authoring over one hundred books on the subject before he died at age 95, in Tokyo in 1966. Suzuki trained in the Zen monastery at Kamakura, and then began his literary career as an English teacher and translator (between Japanese, Chinese, Sanskrit and English). He worked in the United States as an editor and translator from 1897 to 1908, and in 1911 married Beatrice Erskine Lane, a Theosophist, with whom he founded the English language journal The Eastern Buddhist published in Kyoto. He spent most of the 1950s teaching, writing and speaking in the United States.

Susuki’s book, Zen And Japanese Culture published in 1959, is a modern classic. It is a revision and expansion of a collection of essays that had been published in Japan in 1938. The form of the book gives each chapter its own completeness, each is a unique meditation or tour through its subject such as Haiku, the tea ceremony (cha-no-yu) or swordsmanship (kendo), without the need for preparation by an earlier chapter, nor the burden of introducing a subsequent one. For this reason, one can open Zen And Japanese Culture at any page and become instantly absorbed, and later repeat that arbitrary beginning, to read the book in random order over any stretch of time.

The great psychological advantage of the Zen attitude to understanding — let us not be so bold as to say “being enlightened” — is equanimity. With this evenness of temperament, one experiences life as a self-motivated participant in this vast Tao of infinite fractal complexity unified by the “interdependence of all things.” (12) For too many people whose minds are glued to the temporal ying-yang of their ambitions and anxieties orbiting desires attached to externalities, Life — seen as an immense external separateness — can be an indifferent and arbitrary victimizer jerking them around. The benefit of the Zen attitude is being able to pass through the routines of daily life, as well as the occasional emergencies, while remaining cool, calm and collected. Also, for those who understand what they are doing, training in a martial art is simply a method of physical exercise for getting one’s Zen.

Zen And Japanese Culture imparts tranquility to its appreciative readers through writing of calm graceful clarity telling many delightful stories reflecting the influence of Zen Buddhism on aspects of pre-industrial Japanese culture: the philosophy of the samurai and their swordsmanship, mindfulness and its celebration with the drinking of tea, sudden ineffable awareness and Haiku, the appreciation of nature in its self-so essence (ziran or tzu jan), its innately right existence (13), and expressing this with effortless action (wu wei) (14) in the unforced fluidity of the calligraphy depicting it poetically and graphically.

A monk asked Daishu Ekai (Ta-chu Hui-hai), one of the T’ang masters, when Zen was in its heyday:

 
“What is great nirvāṇa?”

 
The master answered, “Not to commit oneself to the karma of birth-and-death is great nirvāṇa.”

 
“What then is the karma of birth-and-death?”

 
“To desire great nirvāṇa is the karma of birth-and-death.”

 

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Erinnerungen Träume Gedanken is the title of Carl Gustav Jung’s autobiography, which was published the year he died, 1961, appearing in English as Memories, Dreams, Reflections. C. G. Jung was the famous doctor of psychic maladies (psychiatrist) and researcher into the human psyche (psychologist) who founded analytical psychology, and introduced the concepts of the collective unconscious, the archetypes, individuation, the introverted and extroverted personality types, the complex and synchronicity.

Jung’s father was a Christian minister, and Carl was always interested in understanding the psychology of religious experience, or “how to know God.” To plumb the depths of the human psyche, he attempted to analyze the dreams and remembered ramblings of minds half asleep and half awake in the dead of night (hypnagogic images), both of his patients and himself, and to classify this eclectic library of dreams into a smaller number of generalized thematic types, which in turn could be unified by a general psychodynamic theory.

Jung explored the occult and esoteric movements of Europe’s past (alchemy, astrology, gnosticism) to find useful archetypal concepts of human imaginings with which to categorize specific dreams (clinical data) into generalized types. He saw these earlier movements overtly as efforts by more primitive cultures to devise unified theories of material transformation, the mechanics of the universe, and the structure of humanity’s relationship to the divine, but he also saw these overt aspects as analogies with esoteric meaning, basing this interpretation on esoteric texts from those early times.

Jung interpreted esoteric alchemical, astrological and gnostic treatises as attempts to devise unified theories of the psyche. Basically, Jung assumed that the templates of ideas that erupted unconsciously out of the human minds of his day were identical to the unconscious conceptual templates of our ancestors. So, by a logical process of convergence, earlier streams of scholarship into the foundations of being and consciousness should have arrived at consensus on the archetypes of the unconscious, and these images would then be ubiquitous throughout each culture’s art and literature.

In digging down into the philosophical, psychological, metaphysical and folkloric literature of Christian Europe, Jung eventually (in 1916) burrowed into an underlying rhizome of Vedic imagery — the mandala. Geometric designs of circular symmetry are innate to all cultures because the circle with a focal center is an image innate in the human brain, being the entire focus of the infant seeking its mother’s breast. The rose windows of Gothic cathedrals are beautiful examples of circular symmetric designs used as symbols of the completeness of Christian theology, with Christ, God the Father or the Virgin Mary in the center light and surrounded by Biblical notables and works of creation each in its angular segment. However, when Jung sought to understand the meaning of the windows into his own soul, which he was drawing, it was the concept of the mandala of the Vedas and the Buddhists that he used.

Between 1912 and 1927, Jung was in a period of uncertainty and anxiety about his professional career, he had broken with Sigmund Freud’s school of psychoanalysis and was now on his own. During this period of mental turbulence, he recorded many dreams and fantasies into his famously secret, handwritten and illuminated Red Book. After 1916, he had fallen into the habit of drawing mandalas often to interpret them as momentary representations of his personality’s state of wholeness and vibrancy. By 1920 he had connected the mandala to Vedic and Buddhist ideas, and was experimenting with the I Ching. In the early 1920s, Jung met Richard Wilhelm, who completed his German translation of the I Ching in 1923.

In 1927, Wilhelm gave Jung a translation of a 12th century Taoist text on the practice of meditation as an inner alchemy, The Secret Of The Golden Flower. The golden flower in this text is a mandala representing the image held by the mind when perfectly concentrated on Brahman. Jung saw this Taoist book as validating his psychological interpretation of mandala symbols, and wrote a commentary to accompany Wilhelm’s translation (and that German publication of 1929 was translated into English by Cary F. Baynes, and published in 1931).

In Jung’s synthesis, the mandala of The Secret Of The Golden Flower linked two concepts, one Taoist and the other psychological. The Taoist concept was that of the highest inner alchemical refinement of consciousness achieved by Taoist meditation, the oneness with Tao, the Hindu nirvana. The linked psychological concept was of the central archetype of personality, the self, the totality of the psyche, which includes both the conscious and the more extensive unconscious of the individual. The ego is merely the center of the conscious part of personality.

Jung describes his realization of the archetype of the self, which was precipitated by his reading of The Secret Of The Golden Flower, as the pivotal experience of his professional life, and the end of his anxieties about it.

It was only after I had reached the central point in my thinking and in my researches, namely, the concept of the self, that I once more found my way back to the world.

The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life — in them everything essential was decided. It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me. It was the prima materia for a lifetime’s work.

It has taken me virtually forty-five years to distill within the vessel of my scientific work the things I experienced and wrote down at that time.

Jung saw the successful development of personality, what he called individuation, as the awakening in a person of the awareness of the nature of their psyche, that is to say recognition of the self and its four associated archetypes: the shadow, the anima, the animus and the persona. Achieving this perfected psychological awareness would also bring personal consciousness into the experience of the divine. Jung’s deepest motivation was that of the ancient Vedanta scholars: to know God. For Jung, psychological individuation is a modern Western approach to the eternal, so it coincides with the Hindu-Buddhist method of meditating to concentrate the mind and bring it into unity with Brahman.

My Stroke Of Insight

Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who experienced a massive stoke at age 37 in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996, and survived to write about it. Her book, My Stroke Of Insight was published in 2006. (15)

Taylor recounts her moment by moment loss of faculties during the course of her stroke: mobility, speech, reading, writing, and memory; and she recounts her increasingly desperate efforts to contact the outside world to get help. Taylor was the victim of a congenital defect she was unaware of, a malformed blood vessel in her brain’s left hemisphere had burst and a pocket of blood was being inflated to the size of a golf ball by her pumping heart, and pressing against the area of her brain where her speech, sensory, physical orientation and motor centers converged.

Taylor’s recovery rested on three essentials: excellent medical care (though she did have anxieties in the middle of her stroke about being taken to the “wrong” hospital because of the restrictions of her health insurance!), a devoted mother who had the ability and resources to nurse and re-educate Jill at home during her years of recovery, and Jill’s own resolve to return to full functionality and tell the world what she had learned from the experience.

During her stroke, Taylor experienced nirvana. The wondrous functioning of the human brain was such that her center of consciousness shifted from the logical hierarchical analytical left hemisphere of her usual clinical work to the sensory-affective integrative right hemisphere that always lives in the moment mediating our instantaneous contact with external reality though our senses and emotions. Taylor characterizes each brain half by comparison to computer architecture, the left being a serial processor and the right being a parallel processor. The two halves exchange information through a bundle of connecting fibers called the corpus callosum.

In shutting down the functioning of her left hemisphere, Taylor’s hemorrhage had unglued her consciousness from the myriad gritty piecemeal rectilinear and scheduled minutia of modern Western living, what we unthinkingly take to be “reality,” and had centered her consciousness in the right hemisphere’s endless moment of sensory integration with the enveloping reality of organic existence: Brahman, the Tao.

Taylor had to struggle against her ecstatic attraction to this state of bliss to maintain some contact with her left hemisphere so as to perform the many little tasks of now exceeding difficulty necessary to make a telephone call for help. After the immediate crisis, Taylor sought to maintain an ongoing connection to right-side consciousness for the rest of her life: “Frankly, I didn’t want to give up Nirvana.” Her book is a celebration of cosmic consciousness, which she describes entirely from biophysical brain science concepts, and which experience she endorses with touching sincerity and compassion because she knows how transformative and uplifting it can for the individual, and thus for the betterment of society.

To encourage the reader, Jill describes the many gentle and healthy ways she uses to induce right-brain centered consciousness, or even just simple tranquility. Her stroke of insight is that deep peace is possible for everyone, it lives in our own “right” minds, and accessing it is a portal to joyous living.

Finally

Is there a core truth common to all these schools of thought, which can be captured in a single phrase? What would you say to someone who asked for a simple answer?

The Buddha’s parting words were: “Work out your salvation with diligence.” Jesus Christ told his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Joseph Campbell (author of the 1949 classic The Hero With A Thousand Faces) is remembered for his advice: “Follow your bliss.” Each of these is good, but none can convey all the meanings we intend to those who have not already heard them.

I can think of two imperfect options, a ying and yang version if your will.

The first is to just smile and “keep calm and carry on” enjoying life.

The second is: “WAKE UP!”

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Notes

1. New Age, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Age

2. Manuel García, Jr., “The Esoteric J. Robert Oppenheimer,” follows below.

3. I Ching, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Ching

4. Fractals, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractal

5. Fuzzy Logic, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzy_logic

6. Heinrich Zimmer, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_Zimmer

7. Joseph Campbell, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell

8. Manuel García, Jr., “My Favorite Classics,” http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci51.html

9. Gautama Buddha, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gautama_Buddha

10. History Of Buddhism, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Buddhism

11. Chán Buddhism, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Ch%C3%A1n

12. Pratītyasamutpāda, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prat%C4%ABtyasamutp%C4%81da

13. Ziran, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziran

14. Wu wei, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei

15. Jill Bolte Taylor, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jill_Bolte_Taylor

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The Esoteric J. Robert Oppenheimer

“We dream of travels throughout the universe: is not the universe within us? We do not know the depths of our spirit. The mysterious path leads within. In us, or nowhere, lies eternity with its worlds, the past and the future.” Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, 1772-1801)

Julius Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) was the brilliant American theoretical physicist who guided the Manhattan Project during World War II (1942-1945) when it industrialized the technology of nuclear fission power and produced the first atomic bombs, including the only two ever used in warfare.

Immediately after the war, Oppenheimer advocated publicly for international control of nuclear arms, and against the urge for an arms race. This stance brought him into conflict with the political factions and economic interests that Dwight D. Eisenhower would call the “military-industrial complex” fifteen years later, and who were intent to revamp the economic engine that had pulled the United States out of the Great Depression and through World War II, into the war-machine industrialized economy Gore Vidal would call “the national security state.” This politics was Oppenheimer’s undoing as a national policy advisor, but the arguments used against him were phrased as doubts about his loyalty to the nation, and imputed deficiencies of character and judgement, not as political analysis and policy differences. Little has changed.

Every now and then when a new sensationalist book is published with a rehashing of the intrigues detailed in once-secret files of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wiretaps, domestic spying and subterfuge, the question of “the real story” behind J. Robert Oppenheimer’s true loyalties and fate resurfaces. Having worked in the Livermore nuclear weapons lab (1978-2007), some have assumed I know more about that presumably untold story. However, I am too young to have gained any direct or even indirect knowledge about Oppenheimer or any of the bomb physicists of his generation. Beyond riding in a elevator with Edward Teller once (which he did not like, he wanted a private ride) I only know about these people by what I have read or seen on television, like everyone else. The wikipedia article on J. Robert Oppenheimer summarizes what I have read, heard and seen about Oppie. (1)

In 1933, Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit to read the Bhagavad Gita in its original language. The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Hindu scripture (written between the 5th to 2nd centuries BCE), which is a masterpiece of philosophical integration as it combines the monism of the Upanishads, the dualism of Samkhya and the theism of Yoga.

The philosophy contained in the collected texts of the Upanishads (most written between about 1200 and 600 BCE) is called Vedanta, which asserts the existence of one absolute reality called Brahman, and urges seekers of truth to bypass ritual in favor of meditation governed by loving morality, as this will assuredly lead to blissful enlightenment. The 19th-century German Sanskritist Theodore Goldstücker found the philosophy of Spinoza to be a European equivalent of Vedanta, and Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) himself to be “a man whose very life is a picture of that moral purity and intellectual indifference to the transitory charms of this world, which is the constant longing of the true Vedanta philosopher.” (2)

Samkhya philosophy (which coalesced between the 5th and 2nd centuries BCE) asserts that reality is a duality of consciousness (Purusa) and material phenomenology (Prakriti), and that no God or other external influence exists. For the existentially trapped, a glue of desire bonds their Purusa to Prakriti, for example being a wage slave in the rat race to keep up with the Jones. Liberation (Moksha) is the ending of this bondage, when materialism no longer imprisons your consciousness and there is no distinction between your individual and the universal Purusa.

Yoga means union, and is a school of Hindu philosophy based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (written in the 2nd century BCE, codifying yogic traditions that originated between the mid 3rd millennium BCE and about 400 BCE). The aim is to use meditation to gain enlightenment and tranquility by merging with God, the ultimate and fundamental reality.

The Bhagavad Gita unfolds as a philosophical conversation between Prince Arjuna and his guide and charioteer Krishna, on the eve of battle in a fratricidal war. Arjuna seeks guidance from Krishna, who is an avatar of the preserver-god Vishnu. Krishna instructs Arjuna to proceed vigorously with fully committed selfless action (Karma Yoga), a compete devotional surrender to God (Bhakti Yoga) and finally to experience Brahman directly, which knowledge will carry him past his own desires and materiality (Jnana Yoga).

The Dharma, or law fitted to his nature, which Arjuna must follow is this linking of the paths of selfless action, devotion to and knowledge of the ultimate reality. These linked paths are yogas because Arjuna must unite with and embody selfless action and devotion to the sacred ultimate, and the experience of merging consciousness with It.

The Bhagavad Gita has resonated with the stirrings in many souls, besides that of J. Robert Oppenheimer, for over two millennia because each of its readers is always Arjuna forever on the eve of the battle for the salvation of his or her soul.

Oppenheimer followed the path of selfless action in guiding the Manhattan Project because he was motivated to prevent the globalization of fascism, and he was motivated to use his physics knowledge and personal charm to develop technology that under international control could checkmate the aggressive impulses of dictators, and prevent the recurrence of massively destructive and profoundly tragic wars like World War II. In reference to Heinar Kipphardt’s 1964 play In The Matter Of J. Robert Oppenheimer, which he disagreed with, Oppenheimer stated:

“I had never said that I had regretted participating in a responsible way in the making of the bomb. I said that perhaps he [Heinar Kipphardt] had forgotten Guernica, Coventry, Hamburg, Dresden, Dachau, Warsaw, and Tokyo; but I had not, and that if he found it so difficult to understand, he should write a play about something else.”

Guernica, Coventry, Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo are cities which suffered merciless aerial bombardment; Dachau was the site of a Nazi concentration camp; and Warsaw was the scene of the Jewish Ghetto Uprising of 1943 (a resistance to the population transfer to Treblinka), and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, when the Nazis defeated the Polish Resistance Home Army and destroyed the city during 63 days of fighting while the Red Army waited encamped 5 minutes flying time east of the Vistula River (which runs through Warsaw).

Since I, too, have an interest in Eastern philosophy (Buddhism), I can identify with Oppie as both a “hard” science guy and a person of poetic sensibility and mystical inclination, always at odds with simplistic thinking and narrow vision.

I would suggest that Oppie’s mystical-poetic side was akin to the sensibilities of the esotericists Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925, metaphysics out of late German Romanticism, “anthroposophy”) and Peter D. Ouspensky (1878-1947, psychology out of Gurdjieff esotericism). I assume that sensibilities of this sort would have seeped into Oppie’s subconscious by cultural osmosis, as he was a New York Jew born of cultured and prosperous German immigrant parents early in the 20th century (1904), and his own personality was naturally refined and thus easily receptive to esoteric thought. The way he worked out bringing these subconscious metaphysical currents into the foreground of his conscious mind was to invoke the conceptual structures and language of Hindu philosophy, and specifically that of its philosophical and literary jewel the Bhagavad Gita.

The popular awareness of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s was likely to be a result of exposure to esotericism based on borrowed Asian ideas, such as with the theosophy of Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), and the dervish-yoga collage of George Gurdjieff (1866-1949); and more accurately through the traveling or immigrant Vedanta teachers like the swamis Vivekananda (1863-1902), Prabhavananda (1893-1976) and Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), and the writer and speaker Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986).

Oppenheimer flourished in the highest strata of American and European academia, and could easily interact with Sanskrit, Indology and Sinology scholars. So, it was an unusual commitment for him to learn Sanskrit to independently read and interpret the Vedas (the Sanskrit scriptures) instead of just relying on the lectures and scholarly translations by his fellow academics. But, he was thus better informed.

A highly regarded and popular translation into English of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Prabhavananda appeared in 1944, it was coauthored with Christopher Isherwood, and its introduction was written by Aldous Huxley. In describing the yoga of knowledge, Krishna tells Arjuna:

“Die, and you win heaven. Conquer, and you enjoy the earth. Stand up now, son of Kunti, and resolve to fight. Realize that pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat are all one and the same: then go into battle. Do this and you cannot commit any sin.”

A book retelling an ancient teaching of selfless action during the conduct of war, published near the end of World War II; I wonder if Oppenheimer read it?

Consider the following projections of how Oppenheimer might have internalized Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga.

Karma Yoga

Commit to swinging the sword and letting the blood flow. This is your unique time and place in the universe, your dharma, and to gain the enlightening insight that can be taken as the purpose of life it is necessary to learn from the consequences of your acts, your karma. So, lay down the best karma you can trail in the wake of your actions by being unattached to personal gain from them. Fulfill your duties and act out your existentially appointed role in a selfless manner, for the noble though temporal purpose of defeating fascism, and for the higher and eternal purpose you are now aware of. You cannot moan that “the world is a mess” because for all men and women at all times and places the world is and has always been a mess. It is forever imperfect and filled with suffering and injustice. You are of this world, this realm of phenomenal existence, and cannot remake it. What you can do is to change yourself from a being trapped by lack of awareness of the ultimate reality, and your own true nature as part of that ultimate reality. Do not run from the unavoidability of karmic diffusion that material existence entails, but instead merge with your karma selflessly, and realize you are the ultimate unrecognized. Then you will begin to see that ultimate, and transcend karmic diffusion.

Bhakti Yoga

Devote yourself to the appreciation of the ultimate reality by delving into the workings of phenomenal manifestations. Unfolding these for the understanding of others raises the amount of such appreciation among men and women, and inspires others to follow along similar paths of discovery, bringing more souls toward self-realization. This is so different from chicken-scratching in the dirt of reality to peck out some hidden nugget, some secret recipe, to be used in petty schemes of self aggrandizement and in temporal power plays. Devotion to the ultimate reality is that “moral purity” which elevates you to “intellectual indifference to the transitory charms of this world.” This is completely beyond conventional social morality, which is entirely a matter of seeking acceptance, currying favor and maintaining social standing. All that is about keeping Purusa glued to Prakriti. Devotion to the ultimate and indifference to the temporal are liberating, they are Moksha.

Jnana Yoga

Oppenheimer used his considerable intellectual talent to pursue this goal of “knowing,” which paradoxically is unattainable by the conscious effort of abstract thinking alone. Jnana Yoga is like Zen, the direct experience of the ultimate, or “cosmic consciousness” as Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) called it. This is knowledge by direct experience, not the mere thinking in abstractions, which is so much of theoretical physics. The understanding of quantum mechanics and general relativity is not the same as the experience of cosmic consciousness. Still, such abstract thinking on philosophical concepts can prepare you to recognize when the plunge into cosmic consciousness envelops you. One usually seeks the experience by some form of meditation, or is jolted into it by the force of circumstances. Rather than trying to tease out a verbalization of the experience of the ultimate, from distortions of Vedanta in European languages, Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit to burrow down into the primary references in their original language. Is this not Bhakti Yoga, a devotion to the appreciation of the the ultimate? Is this not Karma Yoga, a selfless merging with the task to be done for the greater purpose of complete enlightenment, the merging with “the one,” Brahman?

“The true philosophical Act is annihilation of self; this is the real beginning of all Philosophy.” Novalis (1772-1801)

I can only assume that Oppenheimer experienced his true self at some point, and perhaps several times during his eventful life. Certainly, we will all merge with eternity eventually when we die, though sadly so many will pass through still unrealized.

Oppie was a man of much keener vision than the average Joe, so from the perspectives of mundane viewpoints comfortably settled within conventional thinking and behavior he was always seen to be on the edge intellectually, psychologically, morally and politically. To those of straightforward robotic thinking at the service of monomaniacal ambition within the bureaucracies of the US military-industrial-political complex, Oppenheimer would be instinctively perceived as a threat. It was inevitable that people like Lewis L. Strauss, Edward Teller and Leslie Groves would oppose Oppenheimer in 1954, during his security clearance hearing. In 1945 they had loved him because he enabled their ambitions and because he was acknowledged as “absolutely essential” to the gargantuan Manhattan Project.

It just so happens that people with any psychological similarity to Oppenheimer tend to be Democrats (or far more leftist), and people like Oppie’s psychological opposites tend to be Republicans. So, at the time there was also a partisan divide on the matter of Oppie’s security clearance, which struggle was entirely about allowing the arms control perspective to be given a place in the councils of government or suppressed, and was framed as an argument over the degree of policy-forming power that Oppenheimer was to be given or denied. Today as then, the battles over what types of ideas and thinking are to hold sway in the making of government policy are couched as arguments over the personal merits or deficiencies of selected high-profile individuals. Oppie “lost” his security clearance (one day before it was to expire anyway) because he was a high-profile symbol of the type of prewar East Coast urban leftist Jewish intellectual New Dealer who was now being excessed, since the war was won, in favor of a new generation of guardians of concentrated wealth, in the tradition of Robert A. Taft (1889-1953), the establishment white Christian grand bourgeois managers of post-war corporatism.

Was Oppenheimer subversive? Did he betray the trust put in him? Oppenheimer’s marital life was complicated, being interspersed with extra-marital affairs. But then, so are the lives of billions of other husbands of all political persuasions. His marital fidelity or infidelity was really of matter of concern best left to his wife Kitty Harrison, who remained with him till he died in 1967. However, on the matter of national security the record is clear, Oppenheimer never passed any classified information to the Soviet Union (based on the Vassiliev notebooks of KGB archival material), and even removed Los Alamos scientists whom he suspected of excessive Soviet sympathies from the Manhattan Project. He did not break trust in his technical-academic nor public-technocrat lives. (3)

Oppenheimer was a “subversive” only in the sense of being opposed to, and opposed by, the postwar military-industrial corporatists. These included J. Edgar Hoover who would use the federal policing agency he lorded over to undermine Oppenheimer’s postwar political standing, rather than protecting him from intrigue as the FBI had been required to do during the war, when Oppenheimer was “absolutely essential.”

Notes

1. J. Robert Oppenheimer, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Robert_Oppenheimer

2. Vedanta, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedanta

3. Alexander Vassiliev, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Vassiliev

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Asian Philosophies and the “New Age” originally appeared at:

Asian Philosophies and the “New Age”
5 November 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci56.html

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The Esoteric J. Robert Oppenheimer originally appeared at:

The Esoteric J. Robert Oppenheimer
22 October 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci55.html

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MG,Jr Essays on Nuclear Weapons 2003-2012

America’s Nuclear Weapons Labs, The Reality Beneath The Headlines
7 July 2003
http://www.swans.com/library/art9/mgarci01.html

Letter to Senator Feinstein, on Nuclear Weapons
22 September 2003
http://www.swans.com/library/art9/mgarci02.html

Nuclear Test, Political Flare (North Korea)
17 October 2006
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia10172006.html

North Korea’s Nuclear Test: a Q & A
19 October 2006
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia10192006.html

Will A Russo-American Nuclear War Happen (Soon)?
1 September 2008
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia09012008.html

Nuclear Weapons Obsolescence
10 December 2008
http://www.counterpunch.org/mango12102008.html
11 December 2008
http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2008/12/nuclear-weapons-obsolescence/

Iran’s Uranium
(“horde” should be “hoard”)
11 March 2009
http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2009/03/irans-uranium/

Fearful Pride (North Korea’s Second Nuclear Test)
26 May 2009
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia05262009.html
27 May 2009
http://dissidentvoice.org/2009/05/fearful-pride-north-koreas-2nd-nuclear-test/

Assassinating The Iranian H-Bomb?
18 January 2010
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia01182010.html

The Esoteric J. Robert Oppenheimer
22 October 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci55.html