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This 1918 recruiting poster
from the Hoover Archives CHRISTOPHER S. DAUER
touches on a turning point DENISE ELSON
in the history of the United COLIN STEWART
States Marine Corps. While
(Bechtel Director of Public Affairs)
it reminds potential recruits
that the Corps is “first to
fight,” it gives no hint of the DIRECTORS
baptism of fire the Marines
experienced in June of that MARY GINGELL
very year. That was when elements of the Fourth Marine Brigade, attached JEFFREY M. JONES
to the American Expeditionary Force and fighting in support of British and CHARNETTE RICHARD
French troops, entered a thicket called Belleau Wood. See story, page 182.

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TWITTER @HooverInst Stay up to date on the latest
FACEBOOK analysis, commentary, and news
YOUTUBE from the Hoover Institution.
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INSTAGRAM audio, and video in one app.
Summer 2018

9 How to Fend Off Collapse
The federal budget’s chilling forecast: annual deficits of
a trillion dollars or more. By Michael J. Boskin, John H.
Cochrane, John F. Cogan, George P. Shultz, and John B.

12 The Taming of the Debt
How to contain the growth of Medicare and Social Security
without cutting benefits. By Martin Feldstein

15 Toxic Tariffs
Tariffs impede trade and help only the privileged few, while
raising prices for everybody else. What’s not to like? By John
H. Cochrane

19 Lifting All Boats
The growth of “inequality” is the wrong metric to use in
assessing our progress. The correct one? The retreat of
poverty. By David R. Henderson

26 No Teens Need Apply
A high minimum wage keeps teenagers out of the job market,
robbing them of crucial experience and lowering their future
earnings. By Charles Blahous

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 3
31 Irrational Numbers
Sweet reason? Not in contemporary American politics. By
James W. Ceaser

36 Fidelity to the Constitution
Textualism holds that judges enforce the Constitution and not
their own preferences. It may seem a mere legal theory, but
our freedoms depend on it. By Clint Bolick

43 Textualism? It Has Its Limits
Even the most faithful judges sometimes have to read between
the lines. By Richard A. Epstein

48 Rightsize the Navy
If we continue to build ships that cost too much and do too
little, we’ll be sunk. By James O. Ellis Jr.

55 The Future of War
Of course we need high-tech weapons. But with great
capabilities come great vulnerabilities. By Williamson

4 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
62 Flow West
A brisk trade in water rights would send supplies where
they’re most needed. By Terry L. Anderson and Henry I.

66 Green Grows the Market
Energy breakthroughs arise from neither political patronage
nor government subsidies. By Lee E. Ohanian and Ted

69 Brushing Up on “Truth Decay”
Separating fact from fiction is an elementary skill. So why
don’t we teach it in elementary school? By Chester E. Finn Jr.

75 Bottling Up Drug Prices
Medicine will just keep getting more expensive until we do
something obvious: introduce price competition. By Scott W.

80 “Moon Shot” for the Flu Shot
Americans just endured another flu season—a rough one—
and the next is always just a sneeze away. Let’s get serious
about improving vaccines and conquering the wily influenza
virus. By Henry I. Miller

85 Where the Great Powers Collide
Syria is a historical “roundabout” around which religions,
civilizations, and nations flow—and clash. By Charles Hill

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 5
89 Elegy for the Arab Spring
Seven years on, those who hoped for a modern, humane Syria
have few illusions left—Syrians fewest of all. By Samuel

96 Target Assad’s Enablers
The Syrian civil war teems with outside actors. American
strategy must reckon with their ambitions—and check them.
By Russell A. Berman

101 Israel at Seventy
A nation that “encourages its citizens to challenge authority,
ask the next question, and defy the obvious.” By Peter

107 Turning Scholars into Unpersons
China is determined to tell its story on its own highly selective
terms. How the People’s Republic has updated Orwell’s
“memory hole” by making it electronic. By Glenn D. Tiffert

115 Goodnight Mao
To the monitors of China’s “Great Firewall,” even storybook
characters can be subversive. By Markos Kounalakis

6 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
120 “What Do You Do with Freedom?”
Black Americans would do better to stand than to kneel.
An interview with Hoover fellow Shelby Steele. By Peter

130 Why Putin Lashes Out
Vladimir Putin is no Josef Stalin, says Hoover fellow Stephen
Kotkin, but his regime’s weakness poses its own kind of
danger. By Tunku Varadarajan

137 Speaking Freely
Lose free speech, and lose our political freedom too. By Bruce
S. Thornton

143 Never Cry “Islamophobia”
Societies learn and grow when they question, challenge—even
offend. Islamists are pressuring free people to give up their
most basic rights. By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

151 Making Countries Great Again
What made America great in the first place, and what
threatens that greatness today. By Victor Davis Hanson

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 7
157 A Window on the Soviet Breakup
It was the biggest purge, and the last, in post-Stalin Russia.
The “Cotton Affair” was a tale of corruption and frustrated
power that preoccupied the dying Soviet Union and presaged
its end. By Riccardo Mario Cucciolla

169 Empire on Trial
Seventy years ago in Tokyo, Foreign Minister Mamoru
Shigemitsu stood accused of “waging aggressive war.” His
documents and sketches enhance a Hoover collection that
gives historians a seat in that courtroom. By David Cohen
and Yuma Totani

182 On the Cover

8 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


How to Fend Off
The federal budget’s chilling forecast: annual
deficits of a trillion dollars or more.

By Michael J. Boskin, John H. Cochrane, John F. Cogan,
George P. Shultz, and John B. Taylor

e live in a time of extraordinary promise. Breakthroughs in
artificial intelligence, 3D manufacturing, medical science,
and other areas have the potential to dramatically raise
living standards in coming decades. But a major obstacle
stands squarely in the way of this promise: high and sharply rising govern-
ment debt.
President Trump’s recently released budget is a wake-up call. It projects
that this year, a year of relatively strong economic growth, low unemploy-
ment, and continued historically low interest rates, the deficit will reach $870
billion, 30 percent greater than last year.
For years, economists have warned of major increases in future public
debt burdens. That future is on our doorstep. From this point forward,
even if economic growth continues uninterrupted, current tax and spend-
ing patterns imply that annual deficits will steadily increase, approaching
the $1 trillion mark in two years and steadily rising thereafter as far as the
eye can see.

Michael J. Boskin, John H. Cochrane, John F. Cogan, George P. Shultz,
and John B. Taylor are senior fellows at the Hoover Institution.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 9
Unless Congress acts to reduce federal budget deficits, the outstanding
public debt will reach $20 trillion a scant five years from now, up from its
current level of $15 trillion. That amounts to almost a quarter of a million dol-
lars for a family of four, more than twice the median household wealth.
This string of perpetually rising trillion-dollar-plus deficits is unprecedent-
ed in US history.
In recent months, we have seen an inevitable rise in interest rates from their
low levels of recent years. Rising interest rates and increasing deficits threaten
to build upon each other to send public debt spiraling upward even faster.
When treasury debt holders start to doubt our government’s ability to repay
or to attract future lenders, they will demand higher interest rates to compen-
sate for the risk. If current spending and tax policy continue unaltered, higher
interest costs will have to be financed by even more debt. More borrowing puts
more upward pressure on interest rates, and the spiral continues.
If, for example, interest rates were to rise to 5 percent, instead of the
Trump administration’s prediction of just under 3.5 percent, the interest
cost alone on the projected $20 trillion of public debt would total $1 trillion
per year. More than half of all personal income taxes would be needed to
pay bondholders. Such high interest payments would crowd out financing
of needed expenditures to restore our depleted national defense budget, our
domestic infrastructure, and other critical government activities.
Unchecked, such a debt spiral raises the specter of a crisis. Some may think
that such concerns are overblown, as there is no current evidence in financial
futures markets that a crisis is on the horizon. But a debt crisis does not come
slowly and visibly like a rising tide.
It comes without warning, like an
Outstanding public debt will earthquake, as short-term bondhold-
reach $20 trillion a scant five ers attempt to escape fiscal carnage.
years from now. Only in hindsight are we able to see
the stresses building and bemoan
that we did not act. While some insulation flows from the dollar’s role as the
global reserve currency, that is neither sufficient nor immutable, and relies on
faith in the United States’ eventual fiscal probity.
As is well-known, our deficit and debt problems stem from sharply rising
entitlement spending. Without congressional action, the combination of the
automatic spending increase per beneficiary provisions of these programs
and the growth in entitlement program recipients as the population ages will
cause entitlement spending to continue to rise far faster than US national
income and tax revenue.

10 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
To address the debt problem, Congress must reform and restrain the
growth of entitlement programs and adopt further pro-growth tax and
regulatory policies. The recently enacted corporate tax reform plan is a good
first step, as it sharply increases the incentive to invest and grow businesses,
which will increase
incomes. The revenue
loss, which amounts A debt crisis doesn’t come slowly
to about 0.4 percent of and visibly like a rising tide. It comes
gross domestic product
without warning.
in 2025, is not by itself
a budget buster, considering both the offsetting revenue reflow from higher
incomes and the far larger long-run entitlement explosion. Moreover, over
the next decade, the tax plan maintains or increases the federal tax claim on
GDP compared with recent levels.
Taxes alone cannot solve our budget problem. Funding programs as they
are currently structured will require high taxes for all income levels, taxes
that would sharply reduce economic opportunity and growth, which in turn
will make funding entitlements that much harder.
If Congress acts now, it can avoid a fiscal collapse while continuing to pro-
vide help to people who need it. If Congress waits for a crisis—which may come
when the United States needs suddenly to borrow significantly to address a
financial meltdown, recession, or war—the result will be fiscal and economic
chaos, as well as painfully sharp cuts to programs that people rely on.
It is time for action. Fixing our fiscal problems is far easier now than it will
be in the heart of a crisis. And if we cannot fix our problems now, in a time of
peace and prosperity, just when can we do so?

Reprinted by permission of the Washington Post. © 2018 Washington Post
Co. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Central
Bank Governance and Oversight Reform, edited by
John H. Cochrane and John B. Taylor. To order, call
(800) 888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 11


The Taming of
the Debt
How to contain the growth of Medicare and Social
Security without cutting benefits.

By Martin Feldstein

he federal government’s most urgent domestic challenge is the
exploding debt and deficit. America’s debt nearly doubled during
the Obama years, reaching 76 percent of gross domestic prod-
uct in 2017. If nothing is done it will surpass 100 percent of GDP
within a decade. The United States will then have one of the highest debt
ratios in the industrial world—topped only by countries like Greece, Italy,
and Japan.
Most of the projected debt increase over the next ten years is a result of
the recent cuts to the personal income tax, including the lower rates, the big
increase in the child credit, and the doubling of the standard deduction. The
personal tax cuts were included in the legislation to get the congressional
votes necessary to enact corporate tax reform, which was economically more
Those corporate provisions, including cutting the rate from 35 percent to
21 percent and changing the tax treatment of profits earned by foreign sub-
sidiaries of US companies, will spur higher productivity and raise real wages.

Martin Feldstein is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the George F. Baker
Professor of Economics at Harvard University, and president emeritus of the Na-
tional Bureau of Economic Research.

12 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
They are not the main driver of the debt problem. Also not to blame, despite
what many critics of President Trump have argued, is January’s boost to
military spending, which will contribute relatively little to the increased debt.
Instead this was a long-overdue correction to a military budget that had
become dangerously low. It was important to enact both these priorities—
corporate tax reform and increased military spending—while there was a
political opportunity to do so.
Now attention must turn to deficit reduction. Shrinking future deficits
without an economy-damaging tax increase means slowing the growth of
government spending. Policy makers looking for savings must focus on two
programs. Excluding interest on the debt, Social Security and Medicare
account for two-thirds of the projected increase in outlays during the next
Between 2018 and 2027, Social Security outlays are projected to grow by
1 percent of GDP, and Medicare by 1.4 percent of GDP. Together they would
account for the entire 2.4
percent rise in the deficit
as a share of GDP. Cut- Medicare premiums for outpa-
ting their growth in half tient coverage could gradually be
would reduce the 2027 increased. At the same time, inpatient
deficit from 5.2 percent coverage could be added.
of GDP to 4 percent of
GDP. That would start to shrink the future debt ratio from more than 100
percent of GDP back to today’s 76 percent. That isn’t good enough, but it’s a
shift in the right direction.
Slowing the growth of Social Security and Medicare doesn’t mean cutting
actual benefits. It would therefore not violate President Trump’s campaign
promise to “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.”
President Reagan showed a politically viable way to slow the growth of
Social Security benefits. In 1983, Congress raised the age for receiving full ben-
efits from sixty-five to sixty-seven. That increase was designed to begin only
after a long delay, so that no one then approaching retirement was affected.
Even after the delayed start, the increases proceeded very slowly; they won’t
take full effect until 2027. As a result of this gradual approach, there have been
neither public protests of the plan nor legislative attempts to repeal it.
Since 1983, the average life expectancy for people in their mid-sixties has
increased by about three years. Raising the retirement age for full benefits
by three years, from sixty-seven to seventy, would cut the future outlay for
Social Security by about one-fifth, or 1 percent of GDP. It would be even

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 13
better to pass a law that automatically raises the age for full benefits as life
expectancy improves. Exceptions could be made for people in strenuous
occupations or for those whose Social Security records show low lifetime
President Trump has already shown a willingness to act on Medicare.
The White House’s fiscal 2019 budget called explicitly for slowing the rise
in Medicare outlays by $500 billion over ten years, or about 5 percent of the
program’s budget. Much more is needed.
Medicare receives a portion of the payroll tax, as well as premiums that
patients are charged for outpatient and drug coverage. But these funds cover
only about half of Medicare’s total outlays. Beneficiaries pay no premiums for
inpatient coverage under Medicare Part A, regardless of their incomes. Why
should I receive Medicare hospital benefits without paying any premium if I
am still working and well-paid?
Under current law, about 95 percent of enrollees in Medicare’s outpatient
and drug coverage pay a “standard” premium that covers only about 25
percent of the cost of their benefits. Starting in 2019, those with incomes of
$500,000 or higher will be required to pay premiums that cover 85 percent of
their costs. But that affects fewer than 1 percent of enrollees.
The premiums most Medicare enrollees pay for outpatient coverage could
be gradually increased. At the same time, premiums could be extended to
cover inpatient coverage. Low-income retirees could be exempted, or the
premium increases could be scaled to income.
There are many other options for slowing the rise in government outlays
for Social Security and Medicare. Congress and the Trump administration
must develop a plan to reduce the long-run cost of these programs before the
national debt threatens the stability of the economy.

Reprinted by permission of the Wall Street Journal. © 2018 Dow Jones &
Co. All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is The
Structural Foundations of Monetary Policy, edited by
Michael D. Bordo, John H. Cochrane, and Amit Seru. To
order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit www.hooverpress.

14 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Toxic Tariffs
Tariffs impede trade and help only the privileged
few, while raising prices for everybody else. What’s
not to like?

By John H. Cochrane

n a remarkable achievement, President
Trump has united the nation’s econo- Key points
mists by proposing tariffs on imported »» There is only one thing
to do with dollars: buy
steel and aluminum, tariffs designed to
American goods, invest
reduce imports of those goods. The consensus in America, or buy our
opinion is this: tariffs are bad for the economy. government debt. Dol-
lars sent abroad always
Tariffs on raw materials, produced by machine- come home to roost.
intensive, dirty, declining industries, are worse. »» If it were good for each
Trade is good. country to protect its
businesses with tariffs, it
Why? Follow the money. If China sells us, say,
would be good for each
a solar panel, what does it do with the dollars? state to do the same.
There is only one thing to do with dollars: buy »» The larger pain from
American goods, invest in America, or buy our tariffs is spread through-
out the economy, and it
government debt. Oh, and we also get a nice adds up.
cheap solar panel.
China might use the dollars to buy, say, wheat
from Australia, so it looks as if the Chinese sell us more than we sell them.
But then Australia must use the dollars here in America. Dollars always

John H. Cochrane is the Jack and Rose-Marie Anderson Senior Fellow at the
Hoover Institution.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 15
come home to roost. So how much more one country sells us than we sell in
return—the “bilateral trade deficit”—really is pretty meaningless.
The rest of the world sells us more than we sell them. But the rest of the
world uses every cent of the extra dollars it gets from that trade to invest
in the United States and
to buy our government
Think of it this way: you run a huge bonds. If we sell the whole
“trade deficit” with the grocery store. world exactly as much as
they sell us every year—in
other words, if there were no overall US trade deficit—we’re the ones who
would have to start saving much larger amounts of our incomes in order to
invest in US companies, offer mortgages to people to buy houses, and to fund
the government’s trillion-dollar deficits.
Think of it this way: you run a huge “trade deficit” with the grocery store.
Why not grow your own food? Well, you’re not very good at growing food.
And if you do, the grocer will not have money to buy what you make, or to
give to the bank to fund your mortgage.
So, trade is good. And tariffs? Tariffs are not good. Tariffs on steel hurt
businesses that use steel, especially those that compete with imported
products made of steel. Tariffs hurt consumers, who pay more for steel-using
products. But perhaps the greatest damage is to the steel industry itself. Tar-
iffs, like all protection, shield the industry from competition. And industries
shielded from competition do not innovate, do not cut costs, and do not make
better products. Only when the Big Three automakers faced import competi-
tion did they start to make better cars, and to cut costs.
If it’s good for each country to protect its businesses with tariffs, then it’s
good for each state to do the same. California, for example, should keep out
those cheap Arizona surfboards. A key to US prosperity is precisely our
Constitution’s firm ban on state politicians’ desire to please local industries
with protection. Until the European Union came along, the United States was
the world’s largest free trade area. Hint: bigger is better.
Why is this so hard to understand? Tariffs, like all protection from com-
petition, are great for the protected business and its workers, at least for
a while. If you’re a practical businessperson, you think the way to get the

FAIR TRADE: A container ship (opposite) sails out of San Francisco Bay. Tar-
iffs on imported products shield industries from competition, and industries
shielded from competition do not innovate, do not cut costs, and do not make
better products. [Daniel Ramirez—Creative Commons]

16 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
economy going is just to replicate for the economy what is good for your
business and hand out protection to everyone. But protection only helps one
business at the expense of all the others, and at the expense of consumers,
and the damage is worse than the gain. What is good for an individual busi-
ness is not good, scaled
up, for the economy as
Tariffs, like all protection from com- a whole. Businesspeople
petition, are great for the protected and bankers-turned-poli-
business and its workers—but only cy-makers miss that.
for a while. Tariffs, like other
protections, also help vis-
ible, large, and politically powerful constituencies. The larger pain is spread
throughout the economy, in ways most of us may not even notice in day-to-
day living. But it adds up.
Some of the blame belongs to Congress. Trade laws invite protection, and
the standard for that protection is only that the industry is hurt. Imagine
if United Airlines could demand that Southwest pay tariffs—an extra tax
at an airport—arguing that Southwest might hurt United’s profits. The
“national security” clause under which the Trump administration is acting
is weaker still.
Perhaps some of the blame belongs to economists as well. The words deficit
and imbalance make it sound as if something is wrong with trade.
Tariffs do have one thing going for them: they’re better than quotas! With
a tariff, at least we can measure and limit the damage; steel, for example, will
be 25 percent too expensive, but you can still buy it when you need it. Under
a quota, in which countries are allowed to sell only a certain amount, the
damage can be much larger and you never even know.

Reprinted by permission of Fox News ( © 2018 Fox
News Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Rules
for International Monetary Stability: Past, Present,
and Future, edited by Michael D. Bordo and John B.
Taylor. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit www.

18 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Lifting All Boats
The growth of “inequality” is the wrong metric to
use in assessing our progress. The correct one?
The retreat of poverty.

By David R. Henderson

conomic inequality is a hot topic, and some people believe that
alleviating poverty requires a substantial reduction in inequality.
For example, Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose book
Capital in the Twenty-First Century became a bestseller, under-
stands the distinction between income inequality and poverty but sometimes
uses the terms interchangeably, as if one necessarily begets the other. But
inequality of income and wealth can remain high or even increase while pov-
erty is decreasing.
To understand economic inequality, we need to ask a few questions. Are
there good kinds of economic inequality and bad kinds? Is it a good idea, as
many policy makers and even some economists insist, to reduce inequality by
taxing those at the top end more heavily? Has poverty been increasing, and
has economic inequality been increasing?
To answer the first question, let us consider two figures of twentieth-
century American history. The first came to prominence in the late 1940s,
when he invented a light, one-man chainsaw, and sold more than a hundred
thousand of them at a price that made him quite rich. That added slightly
to wealth inequality. But although the wealth gap between this man, inven-
tor Robert McCulloch, and his customers was higher than it was before,

David R. Henderson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and an emeritus
professor of economics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 19
the customers got a product they valued that made their lives easier. In
economists’ terms, the wealth of these customers increased slightly. Is that
increase in wealth inequality a problem? When I’ve asked college students
this question, the vast majority say no—and I agree.
Now let’s consider the second figure. In the early 1940s, as a congressman
from Texas, this man defended the budget of the Federal Communications
Commission when a more senior
member of the House of Repre-
sentatives was trying to cut it.
So the FCC owed him a favor.
One FCC official suggested
the politician have his wife
apply for a license for a
radio station in the under-
served Austin market.
She did so, and within
a few weeks, the FCC
granted her permission
to buy the license from
the current owners. She
then applied for per-
mission to increase its
time of operation from
daylight-only to twenty-
four hours a day and at a

[Taylor Jones—for the Hoover Digest]

20 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
much better part of the AM spectrum—and the FCC granted her permission
within a few weeks. The commission also prevented competitors from enter-
ing the Austin market.
These moves made Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, very rich.
When LBJ ran for president in 1964, the radio station accounted for more
than half of his $14 million net worth. This increase in his wealth added
slightly to wealth inequality. But customers in the Austin market, because of

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 21
the FCC restrictions on further radio stations, were slightly less well off than
if more stations had been allowed.
When I tell this story to college audiences and ask them if they think
there’s an important difference between McCulloch’s and Johnson’s methods
of increasing wealth inequality, virtually all of them do, and few will defend
the latter way.

How does this relate to wealth inequality? In any given year, there isn’t
just one inventor or innovator. There are thousands. So each one’s suc-
cess increases wealth inequality a little but also improves the well-being
of tens of millions of people who are less wealthy. Also, as other competi-
tors enter the market and compete with the innovator, they drive down
prices and make consumers even better off. Indeed, Yale University
economist William D. Nordhaus has estimated that only 2.2 percent of the
gains from innovation are captured by the innovators. Most of the rest
goes to consumers.
In short, there is indeed a distinction between good economic inequality
and bad. Entrepreneurial innovation that improves the lives of consumers is
good; using political pull to transfer wealth is bad.
Consider another example. Two of the richest people in the world are Bill
Gates and Carlos Slim. Gates got rich by starting and building Microsoft,
whose main product,
an operating system for
The best way to prevent ill-gotten personal computers,
gains is to take away the govern- made life better for the
ment’s power to grant them. rest of us. Would you
have a well-functioning
personal computer if Bill Gates hadn’t existed? Yes. But his existence and his
clear thinking early on hastened the PC revolution by at least a year. That
might not sound like a lot, but each gain we consumers got from each step of
the PC revolution occurred a year earlier because of Bill Gates. Over forty
years, that amounts to trillions of dollars in value to consumers. The market
value of Microsoft is currently just shy of $700 billion. Assume that Microsoft
was much better than other innovators at capturing consumer value and
captured fully 10 percent of the value it created, rather than the usual 2.2
percent. That means it has created almost $7 trillion of value for consumers
over those forty years.

22 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
Mexican multibillionaire Carlos Slim is currently the seventh-richest man
in the world. He got rich the way Lyndon Johnson got rich. The Mexican
government handed him a monopoly on telecommunications in Mexico and
he uses it to charge high prices for phone calls. Slim is clearly exacerbating
income inequality in a way that makes other people poorer.
Piketty concedes that it matters how one gets rich, and that many rich
people made their money legitimately. But when it comes to advocating
policy, he forgets that important distinction. He advocates an annual “global
tax on capital” with rates that would rise with wealth. “One might imagine,”
he writes, “a rate of zero percent for net assets below one million euros, 1 per-
cent between one million and five million, and 2 percent above five million.”
He adds, “one might prefer” a stiff annual tax of “5 or 10 percent on assets
above one billion euros.”
But such a policy doesn’t discriminate between those who accrued their
wealth honestly and in
ways that ultimately con-
tributed to the social wel- Entrepreneurial innovation that
fare and those who got rich improves the lives of consumers is
through government power. good. Using political pull to transfer
Here’s Piketty’s response
wealth is bad.
to that point: “In any case,
the courts cannot resolve every case of ill-gotten gains or unjustified wealth.
A tax on capital would be a less blunt and more systematic instrument for
dealing with the question.”
Piketty’s last sentence is the opposite of the truth. A tax on capital, no
matter whether that capital was acquired legitimately or illegitimately,
is incredibly blunt. It’s systematic only in the sense that it systematically
takes wealth from all wealthy people. I agree with Piketty that courts are
not usually the ideal way to resolve the issue of ill-gotten gains: much of
what government does to produce those gains is legal, however morally
questionable. The best way to prevent ill-gotten gains is to take away the
government’s power to grant them. If the Mexican government had not
had the power to create a telecommunications monopoly, for example,
Slim’s wealth would be, well, much slimmer.

That brings us to the second question: is it a good idea to reduce inequality
by more heavily taxing those at the top end?

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 23
We know from basic economics that incentives affect behavior. Tax high
incomes or wealth heavily and you will have fewer people trying to make high
incomes and get wealthy. Moreover, even if the incentive effect were slight,
high taxes on highly productive people take wealth out of their hands, where
much of it probably would have been used to finance more pro-consumer
innovation and productivity, and instead put it in the hands of government
bureaucracies. That simple transfer of wealth, independent of the effect on
incentives, makes a society worse off.
Third, has poverty been increasing? No. In fact, what economists call
extreme poverty—living on an income of less than $1.90 a day—has fallen
dramatically over the past three decades. This is all the more striking when
you remember that the world population, at 7.6 billion people, is at an all-time
high. Why has this happened? Because of increased international trade and
economic growth—which have made some people extremely wealthy while
also lifting more than one billion others out of crippling destitution. The
argument that economic
inequality somehow
If we care about poverty, then the exacerbates poverty is
calls to tax the rich and reduce specious.
income inequality are misguided. Finally, has economic
inequality been increas-
ing or decreasing? The wrong way to answer that question is by comparing
the wealth of billionaires to the wealth of the poorest people on earth. The
correct way is to compute something called the Gini coefficient. This coef-
ficient, which can range from zero to 1, measures income inequality. With
total income equality, the Gini would be zero; with total inequality, which
would mean one person having all the world’s income, the Gini would be 1.
So what has happened to the Gini coefficient over time? Economists Tomas
Hellebrandt and Paolo Mauro reported the answer in a 2015 study for the
Peterson Institute for International Economics. They found that between
2003 and 2013, the worldwide Gini coefficient fell from 0.69 to 0.65, indicat-
ing reduced income inequality. Moreover, the two economists predict that by
2035, income inequality will decline further, with the Gini coefficient falling
to 0.61. The reason is not that higher-income people will do worse but that
lower-income people in some of the poorest countries, such as India and
China, will do much better because of economic growth.
If the problem we care about is poverty, then the calls to tax the rich and
reduce income inequality are misguided. Instead, we should be cheering for
policies that lead to higher economic growth.

24 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
One other important measure is increased immigration. Allowing more
immigration to the United States would allow people to move from low-
productivity jobs in poor countries to higher-productivity jobs in America.
That would dramatically improve the plight of the poor while also improving,
but by a smaller margin, the well-being of the rich. Piketty, for all his faults,
put his finger on how to do so. He wrote: “A seemingly more peaceful form
of redistribution and regulation of global wealth inequality is immigration.
Rather than move capital, which poses all sorts of difficulties, it is sometimes
simpler to allow labor to move to places where wages are higher.”
Amen, mon frère.

Reprinted from Defining Ideas (
ideas), a Hoover Institution online journal. © 2018 The Board of Trustees
of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is
Inequality and Economic Policy: Essays in Memory of
Gary Becker, edited by Tom Church, Chris Miller, and
John B. Taylor. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 25


No Teens Need
A high minimum wage keeps teenagers out of the
job market, robbing them of crucial experience and
lowering their future earnings.

By Charles Blahous

he persistent decline in workforce participation among working-
age Americans is among the leading economic policy challenges
of our time. Economists from left to right have cited this decline
as one of the principal barriers to our economic growth, and
thus to prosperity. It’s important to understand the causes of declining work-
force participation if we are to take effective action against it. Unfortunately,
economists still struggle to fully understand—let alone offer consensus solu-
tions to—this problem.
A recent study for the Mercatus Center by renowned labor economist
David Neumark and Cortnie Shupe explores an especially illustrative
trend: declining work by teens aged sixteen to nineteen. While workforce
participation by young US adults has been in general decline for the past
few decades, the decline among teenagers has been especially steep. In
1994, the labor force participation rate of all those aged sixteen to twenty-
four stood at over 66 percent. By 2014, it had dropped to 55 percent. This
decline was sharpest among individuals aged sixteen to nineteen: their

Charles Blahous is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and the J. Fish
and Lillian F. Smith Chair at the Mercatus Center.

26 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
job-holding rate dropped from nearly 53 percent in 1994 to just 34 percent
in 2014.
The reasons for this decline matter, both to our understanding and to the
welfare of the individuals involved. If the work decline has occurred simply
because teens and their families are correctly calculating that they are better
off staying in school without simultaneously holding a job, then the trend might
be benign. If so, we might
expect these individuals
to add to their long-term A study found that “exposure to a
earnings potential by higher minimum wage as a teenager
delaying their entry into is associated with lower wages or
the job market. But if earnings as an adult.”
instead the decline has
occurred because it is getting harder for teenagers to find work from which
they would otherwise benefit, that is a problem warranting solution.

The Neumark-Shupe study examined various possible causes of the decline
in teenage work since 2000. One was whether legislated minimum wage
increases were effectively pricing more teenagers out of the job market
(teenagers have comparatively less job experience and fewer established
skills). Another possibility was increased competition from immigrants filling
low-skill and entry-level jobs that might otherwise have gone to native-born
teenagers. A third possibility was an increased return on education, inform-
ing a rational decision by teens to choose the long-term benefits of more time
at school over the near-term benefits of employment.
Neumark and Shupe summarize their results as follows:

All three factors—the increase in the minimum wage, rising
returns to schooling, and a higher immigrant share—help explain
the decline in teen employment and more generally changes in
teen employment and school enrollment. But the predominant fac-
tor underlying changes in teen employment and enrollment that
began in 2000—in particular, for those age sixteen to seventeen—
is the higher minimum wage. Changes in immigration played a
more limited role, and changes in returns to schooling appear to
have had a negligible influence.

Let’s discuss education first. It’s true that since 2000, more teens have
been enrolled in school, and that this has coincided with the decline in their

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 27
paid employment. There has also been an increase in the returns to
education, meaning that each additional year of schooling adds more
to one’s expected income than was formerly the case. But educational
returns actually grew faster in the years before 2000, whereas the
decline in teenage work has been most pronounced in the years
since then. More telling, Neumark and Shupe found that the
post-2000 drop in teen employment barely
diverges from expectations if there had
been no changes at all in the returns
to education, all other observed
variables being equal. In
other words,

[Taylor Jones—for the Hoover Digest]

28 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
they found no significant evidence that increased returns on schooling have
been driving teen employment downward since 2000.
Neumark and Shupe did find some effects of increased competition from
immigrants upon teen employment levels. Teen employment was measurably
lower compared with what would have been predicted if immigration from
Spanish-speaking countries had remained unchanged since 1999. But these
effects were limited, accounting for only a small fraction of the observed
employment decline.
The larger factor explaining the post-2000 decline in teenage work, Neu-
mark and Shupe found, was legislated minimum wage increases, often at the
state level. Since 2005 there has been a sharp increase in the national aver-
age minimum wage, with several states enacting minimum wages well above
the federal level. Teenagers at the younger ages of sixteen and seventeen
were more likely to be displaced by these minimum wage laws—as one would
expect given their lesser skills and experience.

Neumark and Shupe found that legislated minimum wage
increases had significant effects both in reducing the
numbers of those in school who simultaneously
held jobs, and in increasing the number of
those in school who were not so employed.
Minimum wage increases also lowered the
number of teenagers employed without
being enrolled in school. Viewed from
nearly every angle, the recent trend
toward higher minimum wages is a
significant driver of declining employ-
ment among teens.
This might or might not be concern-
ing news were it not for another factor:
the effect of this induced unemployment in
lowering long-term earnings potential. If the
teens who were pushed out of the job market
by higher minimum wage laws had instead been
receiving educations offering them improved
income prospects, there would be less cause for
alarm. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be
the case. Neumark and Shupe found that “exposure

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 29
to a higher minimum wage as a teenager is associated with lower wages or
earnings as an adult.” In other words, teens whose employment has been dis-
placed by higher minimum wage laws are not, on average, reaping compen-
sating income benefits from extended schooling; instead they experience less
income as adults as well. For these teenagers, the income losses arising from
delayed entry to the workforce are not being made up by spending more time
in school.
The purpose of minimum wage laws is generally to increase vulnerable
Americans’ income security. But this tactic comes with a price—specifically,
to reduce the opportunities of inexperienced, low-skill workers, such as many
American teenagers, to
hold jobs. It appears that
Minimum wage laws come at a price: higher minimum wage
reducing the opportunities of inex- laws not only deprive
perienced, low-skill workers, such as many young Americans
many American teenagers. of opportunities to earn
wages as teenagers but
may even lower their expected income over the rest of their lives. Lawmakers
should acquaint themselves with the Neumark-Shupe findings and recon-
sider whether recent minimum wage increases are hurting the very people
they are intended to help.

Reprinted by permission of © 2018 Media Research Center.
All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Pension
Wise: Confronting Employer Pension Underfunding—
And Sparing Taxpayers the Next Bailout, by Charles
Blahous. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit www.

30 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Sweet reason? Not in contemporary American

By James W. Ceaser

t has been more than a half century since the heralded British politi-
cal theorist Michael Oakeshott published his most acclaimed work,
Rationalism in Politics. Oakeshott put forward the thesis that since the
eighteenth century the culture and politics of the West have come to
operate under the sway of a rational mode of thinking, one in which people
think of themselves as the “enemy of authority, of prejudice, of the merely
traditional.” Not old parchments or myth or the supposed wisdom of ances-
tors supplies the foundation of rule, but a modern understanding of reason.
To Oakeshott, this modern view of reason was unreasonable, promoting an
ideological approach to the political world rather than a sensible immersion
in a nation’s own practices. Reason’s growing authority was nevertheless the
cardinal fact of our age.
At the forefront in embracing reason were the Americans, who drew their
thinking from the realm of philosophy in the form of natural rights and who,
perhaps for the first time, brought theory openly into the political realm as
the basis of a new nation. None of this meant, however, that the rise of reason

James W. Ceaser is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Harry F.
Byrd Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and director of the Program
for Constitutionalism and Democracy.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 31
would go unchallenged. In America, after the acceptance of the Declaration
of Independence, the authors of The Federalist were already worried during
the debate over ratifying the Constitution about “passions and prejudices
little favorable to the discovery of truth.” In the Jacksonian era, observers
such as Alexis de Tocqueville charged that the new mass presidential cam-
paigns brought rabble-rousing and demagogy into presidential politics and
encouraged an incumbent to “prostrate himself before the majority and . . .
run to meet its caprices.”
All of the new communications technologies that came along were greeted
with expectations that they would boost rational discussion, only to be sub-
sequently condemned for corrupting the public mind. Newspapers, which
Thomas Jefferson initially lauded and helped to fund, came eventually under
his attack: “the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed
than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to
truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”
Film then entered the scene, enabling average Americans for the first time
to see their leaders, but this medium, as its use during World War I showed,
could be an instrument of mass government propaganda. Electronic media
followed, first radio and then television. TV allowed people to see and hear
their leaders in real time, which promised to favor reasonable dialogue. Yet it
produced three network news giants that pompously celebrated themselves
as representatives of an objective “fourth estate,” which often subtly sup-
ported one side.

In our day we have experienced the rise of social media, which is rewrit-
ing every aspect of political communications. One of its forms, Twitter, now
seems to account for half of every news program, with experienced report-
ers reading out the day’s rantings, insults, rumors, and boasts. The place of
this medium in presidential communication, one already forgets, began only
recently. At 8:38 a.m. on May 18, 2015, Barack Obama surprised internauts
with the first presidential tweet, replete with the usual overuse of the excla-
mation point: “Hello, Twitter! It’s Barack. Really!” The White House later
promised that @POTUS would afford the president a “new way to engage
directly with the American people, with tweets coming exclusively from him.”
Here was another promise of more intelligent dialogue.
Up perhaps to the very end, reason was arguably still strengthening its
claim over political life. For all of the problems that were encountered, more
and more real information was still being made available, at times perhaps

32 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
[Taylor Jones—for the Hoover Digest]
too much for people to digest. Americans came to rely on intellectual com-
mentators who helped served as gatekeepers to the political world. These
authorities disagreed and quarreled, but they usually made an effort to
persuade those who were not on their side.
We have now entered a new universe. Looking back, some may detect the
turning point in the 2008 presidential campaign, when panting Obama aco-
lytes swooned before his phantasmagoric paeans to “hope and change” uttered
in front of faux Greek columns. People were asked to accept this display, just
as they were soon told to swallow the absurdity of the new president’s Nobel
Peace Prize. Had the modern democratic world lost its connection to reason?
Yet nothing prepared the scene for the revolutionary shift that began in the
most recent presidential campaign. Rationalism was shown the door, as Don-
ald Trump turned the Republican presidential primary contest into a food
fight. “Reasonable” dialogue has since completely collapsed, with Democrats
now joining in to make reciprocal charges against the president. Every insult
imaginable has been deployed, from the president’s accusations of treason
against those who will not applaud him to his opponents’ charge of mental
incompetence. Politics of this kind has become the new normal.
The end of rationalism is best seen not in the expression of strongly con-
flicting views but in the abandonment of the idea that one’s opponents can
ever be persuaded by a
rational argument. The
In the Jacksonian era, observers effort would be futile. Pick
charged that the new mass presiden- up a newspaper, and it is
tial campaigns aroused rabble-rous- becoming clearer by the
ing and demagogy. day that more and more
of our commenters have
abandoned even the pretense of addressing a general readership. They speak
only to those who share their views, as if this is now their accepted function.

It is a mistake, however, to think that this new stage means that people have
lost all capacity to act, after a fashion, in a rational way. Political adversaries
are rational when they consider their own interests even after having lost
faith in the authority of reason in society at large.
Most Trump supporters have one or two big reasons for backing the
president, which may be their economic plight, their opposition to politi-
cal correctness, or their opposition to illegal immigration. Some approve of
his behavior as a fighter willing to take on the enemy, or see it as a form of

34 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
entertainment, in the fashion of a professional wrestler who provokes and
taunts his foes; and, finally, others, while wishing that he would act more
presidential, are not yet willing to jump ship.
Trump opponents
who total up each
and every instance of New communications technologies are
outlandish behavior always touted for improving rational
miss the logic of his discussion. Later, they’re condemned
support. They despise for corrupting the public mind.
him as his provoca-
tions against them multiply. Their objective is to get him out and meanwhile
to resist everything he does. With this in mind, they often distort facts, exag-
gerate, and present his deeds and words in the darkest light possible, yet they
are likewise in their own way acting rationally.
Who today clings stubbornly to the authority of reason? Very few, surpris-
ingly, come from among Democrats. Satisfied in their self-righteousness and
convinced of their moral rectitude, Democratic commentators and politi-
cians, joined by some ex-Republicans, spend much of their time acting as
scorekeepers, castigating those who support the president, praising those
who take stands against him, and withholding judgment of those who have
not come along far enough but may still do so. Because their candidate was
defeated in the most recent presidential election, Democrats have the luxury
of not having to answer for how much illegality and corruption they would be
willing to countenance in a leader.
This leaves a smaller group of Republicans and ex-Republicans who are
struggling to defend reason in a world where few care genuinely about it.
These lonely souls are left to wander at the edge of the political scene, hoping
their exile will last not forty years but four.

Reprinted by permission of the Weekly Standard (www.weeklystandard.
com). © 2018 The Weekly Standard LLC. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Milton
Friedman on Freedom: Selections from The Collected
Works of Milton Friedman, edited by Robert Leeson
and Charles G. Palm. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 35


Fidelity to the
Textualism holds that judges enforce the
Constitution and not their own preferences. It may
seem a mere legal theory, but our freedoms depend
on it.

By Clint Bolick

aving spent the past two years as a justice on the Arizona
Supreme Court after thirty-three as a litigator, I’ve gained
unexpected insights into judicial decision making. Most cases
involve judges rolling up their sleeves and combining their
talent and expertise to reach the right outcome. But cases involving consti-
tutional or statutory issues demand something more: a philosophy of legal
interpretation. And what that philosophy is matters a great deal.
All judges have a philosophy of legal interpretation, even if they don’t think
much about it. For many, particularly at the trial court level, it is often a mat-
ter of simply trying to get it right; that is, reading the law and higher court
precedents and trying to make sense of them. Others place a high priority on
their notions of fairness, justice, or efficiency. Even going along to get along is
a type of judicial philosophy, though not exactly what most of us might expect
from our judges.

Clint Bolick is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and also serves as an
associate justice of the Supreme Court of Arizona. Previously he was the director
of the Goldwater Institute Center for Constitutional Litigation in Phoenix.

36 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
For those who are the ultimate judicial decision makers—US and state
supreme court justices, and lower state and federal appellate court judges
in cases that proceed no further—the dominant philosophy of legal inter-
pretation has important ramifications for preserving the rule of law and our
constitutional freedoms.
That is why judicial nominations are so important—and often so conten-
tious. The judiciary’s method of interpreting the Constitution and statutes
will play a large role in determining the relationship between individuals and
their government on a wide range of issues that intimately touch the lives of
all Americans.
Often, debates over judicial philosophy are reduced to sloganeering. Both
liberals and conservatives are accused of judicial activism, a universal pejora-
tive whose meaning
is determined by the
eyes of the beholder. “Textualism will provide greater
Other arguments certainty in the law, and hence greater
revolve around notions predictability and greater respect for
of a living Constitution, the rule of law.”
whose meaning changes
according to judges’ perceptions of the times. But these terms tell us little
about how a particular judge or judicial nominee would go about interpreting
statutes and the Constitution.
Textualism is a term that frequently arises in debates over judicial nomina-
tions and decisions. Textualism does have great meaning. Indeed, textualist
judges provide the greatest possible guarantee that the judiciary will safe-
guard the Constitution and rule of law.

Textualism is easy to define yet often difficult to effectuate. It is grounded
in the belief that the role of judges is to enforce the Constitution and laws
that conform to the Constitution (which is why, after all, judges as well as
other public officials take a constitutional oath). A textualist endeavors
to give effect to the words of the Constitution and statutes. If the mean-
ing of the words is clear, the judge goes no further. If they are ambiguous,
the judge attempts to discern their meaning using well-developed rules of
Justice Antonin Scalia, textualism’s leading modern proponent, co-wrote
with legal scholar Bryan Garner a book called Reading Law that is at the
ready for every textualist judge. “Textualism will not relieve judges of all

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 37
SOUND REASONING: Clint Bolick, associate justice of the Arizona Supreme
Court and a Hoover research fellow, speaks to an audience last year. To Bolick,
textualist judges provide the greatest possible guarantee that the judiciary will
safeguard the Constitution and rule of law. [Gage Skidmore—Creative Commons]

doubts and misgivings about their interpretations,” Scalia and Garner
explain. “But textualism will provide greater certainty in the law, and hence
greater predictability and greater respect for the rule of law.”
Textualism sometimes is confused with the doctrine of original intent, in
which judges try to determine and enforce the intent of those who wrote the
Constitution or laws. A great deal of overlap exists between textualism and
originalism: as with a contract, a law’s words are the best evidence of intent.
But discerning intent through legislative records, newspaper articles, and
the like is highly subjective. And in the end, when a constitution is ratified or
a law enacted, the agreement is to the words rather than the intent, so that
when the words and the intent seem to conflict, judges enforce the words.
For instance, many of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment believed in
legal racial segregation, yet they crafted an unequivocal guarantee of equal
protection of the laws. A textualist enforces that guarantee.
Of course, textualists can have good-faith differences over the mean-
ing of words. But they should have no disagreement over certain essential

38 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
principles: that the federal or state constitutions comprise our organic law,
that meaning should be given to every word, and that laws or regulations
that fail to conform to those constitutions are void.
Often when confronted with constitutional questions, judges begin by look-
ing at prior decisions to determine how they should interpret the Constitu-
tion. The doctrine of stare decisis—honoring past precedents—is important
to the rule and predictability of law. But judges take oaths to the Constitu-
tion, not to the stare decisis doctrine. All constitutional interpretation should
begin with the words of the Constitution, and where the meaning of those
words is clear, that is where the inquiry should end. Our job is not to conform
the Constitution to our precedents, it is to conform our precedents to the
Any other approach, regardless how high-minded, does violence to the rule
of law. Our constitutions reflect the broadest possible societal agreement.
They all contain methods of amendment, most of them intentionally difficult.
Amendment by judicial decree is not among them.
Statutory interpretation evokes important separation-of-powers implica-
tions. The Constitution’s framers assured the people that the judiciary would
be the least dangerous branch of government—but only if it refrained from
assuming the powers of either of the other two branches. That understand-
ing requires judges to construe statutory language as written, even if the
result is not the most sensible or desirable. If we get it wrong, the legislature
can correct us. What we should never do is to rewrite statutes, or to fash-
ion remedies that have such an effect, for such actions transgress judicial
boundaries. For instance, although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 expressly
forbids racial quotas in employment, the US Supreme Court rewrote the law
to require them as a remedy in certain instances, effectuating a policy that
Congress not only did not create but emphatically rejected.

Textualism is not inherently a conservative or liberal philosophy. A textual-
ist interpreting the federal or state constitutions often will reach outcomes
favored by conservatives or libertarians because those constitutions are
primarily freedom charters. Statutory interpretation, by contrast, often can
lead to liberal outcomes given the nature of lawmaking (although a textualist
will strike down statutes that violate constitutional rights or exceed con-
straints on legislative or executive power).
True textualists will not always agree with the policy results of their deci-
sions. As Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in an appeals court opinion, “a judge

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 39
RULE OF LAW: The late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, shown in 2011, was
the leading modern proponent of the legal outlook called textualism. In his
book Reading Law, co-written with legal scholar Bryan Garner, he wrote that
“textualism will not relieve judges of all doubts and misgivings about their
interpretations. But textualism will provide greater certainty in the law, and
hence greater predictability and greater respect for the rule of law.” [Eric
Bridiers—US Mission Geneva]

who likes every result he reaches is very likely a bad judge, reaching for
results he prefers rather than those the law compels.” On three instances, for
example, I have voted against various legal challenges to an Arizona ballot
measure that increased the minimum wage, although I repeatedly criticized
such efforts as a policy advocate. Personal policy preferences must yield to
the rule of law or we have no rule of law. Similarly, although Justice Scalia
was considered a conservative judge, he often quipped that he should be the
darling of the criminal defense bar because he enforced the Bill of Rights
guarantees protecting the rights of criminal defendants just as vigorously
as protections such as the First and Second Amendments. And so a true
textualist should.
The famously liberal Warren Court of the 1950s and 1960s considered itself
unbound by such constraints, applying an elastic interpretation of constitu-
tional provisions and often assuming legislative and judicial powers. Even

40 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
as the court was striking down segregated schools and protecting the Bill
of Rights, it also gave us forced busing, created a trimester-based system of
abortion rights, and removed constitutional constraints on federal govern-
ment power. The popular backlash against the Warren Court’s excesses ush-
ered in a textualist response, and for the past thirty years the US Supreme
Court has largely returned to its intended constitutional role. Among other
areas, a more textualist-oriented court has reinvigorated private property
rights, federalism, Second Amendment rights, constraints on national gov-
ernment power, and freedom of speech.
Most of the current Supreme Court justices, conservative and liberal,
embrace textualism to at least some degree, although they tend to favor
certain constitutional provisions and statutory constructions over others.
Justice Clarence Thomas (at least until the arrival of Justice Gorsuch) is the
most likely, even more than Justice Scalia was, to return to constitutional
text and to jettison subsequent rulings inconsistent with it.
Some justices, however, emphasize certain values they perceive the Consti-
tution to embrace above others. Justice Stephen Breyer, for instance, views
the Constitution through the prism of “active liberty,” which he defines as
citizens expressing themselves through democratic processes. As a result, he
tends to be the justice most deferential to government power.
By contrast, the court’s swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, frequently
extols the constitutional values of “liberty” and “dignity.” I see plenty of
protections for individual liberty in the Constitution and am greatly pleased
when Justice Kennedy and his colleagues vigorously enforce them, such as
in recent decisions recognizing the individual right to keep and bear arms.
But “dignity,” much as I cherish it as a value, is amorphous and tough to find
among our con-
stitutional rights.
True textualists will not always agree
And therefore, it
with the policy results of their decisions.
is an act of judicial
usurpation to define and enforce it. Recent decisions involving gay rights, for
instance, could be grounded in traditional principles of freedom of associa-
tion or equal protection of the laws. But dignity is in the eye of the beholder,
and ultimately a slippery and subjective basis on which to determine where
one’s rights begin and another’s end.

Even as the court has moved in a more textualist direction consistent with
its constitutional role and the rule of law, much mischief remains, often in

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 41
the form of US Supreme Court jurisprudence that judges like me are bound
to implement. Examples abound, but one that my colleagues and I had to
confront in a recent case was especially vexing. We had before us the ques-
tion of police-installed GPS devices on vehicles without a warrant. We had to
determine whether the driver had a reasonable expectation of privacy under
the Fourth Amendment. To do so, we are instructed by a 1967 Supreme
Court decision to
ascertain whether it
Our job is not to conform the Constitu- is “one that society is
tion to our precedents, it is to conform our prepared to recog-
nize as reasonable.”
precedents to the Constitution.
That measure
deeply offends a textualist for two reasons. First, how is a court equipped
to determine what “society is prepared to recognize” as reasonable? Do we
take a poll? Form a focus group? Second, it hitches constitutional interpreta-
tion not to constitutional text but to evolving social consensus, and invites
the court to rewrite the Constitution to reflect the consensus it subjectively
The principal safeguard against judicial excesses is the appointment of
judges who consider themselves genuinely bound to the important yet lim-
ited powers assigned to them. That in turn requires citizens who care about
our freedoms and the rule of law to be informed and vigilant about who is
appointed to federal and state judgeships, especially at the appellate levels.
A professed and manifest devotion to textualism is a good proxy for fidelity
to the rule of law—and a good insurance policy to perpetuate the precious
freedoms we inherited.

Reprinted from Defining Ideas (
ideas), a Hoover Institution online journal. © 2018 The Board of Trustees
of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Two-
Fer: Electing a President and a Supreme Court, by
Clint Bolick. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit

42 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Textualism? It
Has Its Limits
Even the most faithful judges sometimes have to
read between the lines.

By Richard A. Epstein

y Hoover colleague Clint Bolick, an associate justice of the
Arizona Supreme Court, addresses the central question of
modern constitutional jurisprudence: what is the proper way
to interpret the Constitution? Bolick casts his lot with the
late justice Antonin Scalia and his many followers, who endorse textualism as
the one proper method. The argument goes as follows: textualism—the effort
to find the accurate meaning of every word of the relevant provision—helps
prevent activist judges from undermining the rule of law by creating new
rights under the guise of a “living Constitution” on such key issues as abor-
tion, the death penalty, and gay rights, even when there is no basis for such
rights in the Constitution or the laws as written.
Bolick’s strict textualist approach is a needed antidote to unduly adventur-
ous constitutional interpretations. But however necessary the careful read-
ing of text is to constitutional deliberation, it is not the full story. Sometimes,
the courts must overturn erroneous precedents—and other times, they must,

Richard A. Epstein is the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover
Institution and a member of the steering committee for Hoover’s Working Group
on Intellectual Property, Innovation, and Prosperity. He is also the Laurence A.
Tisch Professor of Law at New York University Law School and a senior lecturer
at the University of Chicago.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 43
by “necessary implication,” read terms into the Constitution for its prohibi-
tions to make sense. In such cases, the text alone is not a large enough toolkit
to do the job.
Let’s consider an issue that shows both the power and the limits of textual-
ism. The commerce clause reads: “Congress shall have power . . . to regulate
Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with
the Indian tribes.” In the 1824 case of Gibbons v. Ogden, Chief Justice John
Marshall construed the middle phrase dealing with interstate commerce in
harmony with the text’s treatment of commerce with foreign nations and the
Indian tribes. His interpretation consciously covered all forms of communi-
cation and transportation across state lines, but it also excluded agriculture,
manufacturing, and mining, in large measure to ensure, sadly, that slavery
was immune to regulation or abolition by Congress.
Marshall’s interpretation was, however, rudely upended in the New Deal
decision of Wickard v. Filburn, which in 1942 let Congress escape the earlier
restraints on its power by regulating activities like agriculture, mining, and
manufacturing that were entirely local because of their “indirect effects” on
interstate commerce. By that one stroke, Congress could now regulate all
economic affairs, national or local. The motivation for this radical expansion
of government power could not have been more unwise: cartelization. Justice
Robert Jackson wanted to allow the federal government to regulate the
output and price of all agricultural crops, which could not be done under the
original meaning of “commerce.”
Congress quickly filled the space created by Wickard by enacting major
pieces of legislation such as the civil rights laws of 1964, the Environmental
Protection Act of 1970, and the Affordable Care Act of 2010. But these statu-
tory programs lie on a rickety constitutional foundation. So what should be
done? Do we strike them down, in whole or part, or let them stand? Textual-
ism requires us to upend long precedents notwithstanding the huge reliance
interests that rest on decisions such as Wickard. Yet it offers no guidance for
whether or how that monumental task should be undertaken.

Consider another case. In 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, a unanimous
Supreme Court relied on the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal-protection doc-
trine to end de jure racial segregation in schools by overturning the infamous
1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which enshrined the “separate but equal”
doctrine. But did the text of the equal-protection clause require that result?
Not likely. The original public meaning of equal protection concerned the

44 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
enforcement of the criminal law, not the distribution of public benefits from
education, which is one reason Brown proved so difficult to write. Nonethe-
less, a “faint-hearted originalist” like Justice Scalia would have joined a
unanimous court in 1954 to help end the segregation that flourished in part
because of the systematic denial of the franchise to black citizens.
A different set of challenges to textualism is tied to the Second Amend-
ment: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,
the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” In Heller
v. District of Columbia, Scalia held that there was a constitutional right to keep
and bear handguns subject to the power of the government to impose, under
the police power, reasonable restrictions on their use. But this interpretation
violates two of the textualist canons Bolick supports.
First, as Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in dissent, Scalia treated the
introductory clause of the Second Amendment as “mere surplusage,” with-
out noting that it has a perfectly intelligible purpose. Articles I and II of the
Constitution set out the dis-
tribution of power over the
militia between Congress, Sometimes courts have to read
the president, and the states terms into the Constitution for its
because the militia had dual prohibitions to make sense.
state and federal functions.
On this reading, the Second Amendment as a whole provides that the federal
government cannot restrict the right of the citizens of the states to keep and
bear arms essential to performing their role in state militias, whether or not
they are called into federal service. Accordingly, the Second Amendment
does not apply to the District of Columbia—the one place with no federal/
state relations. That same structural focus explains why the Second Amend-
ment does not, through the Fourteenth Amendment, limit the power of states
to regulate local gun ownership, as was wrongly held in 2010 in McDonald v.
City of Chicago.
Second, Scalia’s interpretation requires reading into the Constitution
some notion of the state’s police power—i.e., its general power to regu-
late—because the right it protects is “not unlimited.” As Scalia writes,
“nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing
prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or
laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools
and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications
on the commercial sale of arms.” Each of these exceptions appeals to the
police power, a phrase found nowhere in the Constitution, which then must

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 45
be first interpreted and then applied to the myriad of federal and state gun
This point about the police power has far broader implications. The substan-
tive provisions of the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment are all stated
in absolute form. The First Amendment, for example, holds that Congress shall
pass no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. But the vast body of
pre-existing common-law
rules governing defama-
A phrase such as “police power” may tion, misrepresentation,
be found nowhere in the Constitution, picketing, intentional
but it must be interpreted and then infliction of emotional
applied to myriad regulations. distress, and invasion of
privacy were not thereby
rendered unconstitutional. Not all forms of speech are protected. The idea of
“freedom of speech” can only be rendered intelligible if federal and state govern-
ments may enact laws that regulate impermissible speech forms. Fraud, for
instance, is not constitutionally protected. And if the common-law damage action
after the fact is insufficient to protect against these abuses, it is perfectly proper
for either or both levels of government to strengthen their protections.
But the text of the First Amendment offers no textual guidance. Thus it is
necessary by nontextual means to identify the permissible ends of govern-
ment power, and decide which means are appropriate to achieve them.

A similar analysis applies to the government taking of private property and
to its regulation of economic liberties. The protection of private property
does not allow anyone to use the guns they own to threaten violence against
others. Nor may any individual use his or her property to commit public or
private nuisances by casting noise, fumes, or filth onto the land of another, or
to pollute public rivers or streams.
Organizing these police-power limitations is entirely nontextual. The nine-
teenth-century justices were wary of construing the police power so broadly
that it left nothing of the constitutional rights that received explicit textual
protection under the Constitution. Their formulaic definition of the police
power, as stated in the 1905 Supreme Court case Lochner v. New York, allowed
the state to regulate in the name of the “health, safety, morals, and general
welfare” of the public at large. But it was an interpretive exercise that let the
state regulate the level of fumes in the workplace or displace the ordinary
tort law of industrial accidents with a scheme of workers’ compensation that

46 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
dispensed without having to either prove the employer’s negligence or dis-
prove the worker’s assumption of risk. Broad as those police-power purposes
were, before the New Deal they did not allow for passage of a minimum-wage
law, or the adoption of mandatory collective bargaining laws. Maximum-hour
laws were a source of constant disagreement.
But these constitutional limitations were all swept away by the New Deal,
which allowed these multiple forms of regulation. The need to overcome
what the National Labor Relations Act called the “inequality of bargaining
power” between employers and employees was sufficient to justify collective
bargaining by assuming that competitive markets generate market failures
that the government may rectify under this expanded definition of the police
Substantively, I strongly favor the narrower Lochner account of the police
power over the elastic modern tests that only ask the government to show
rational basis to sustain highly
intrusive legislation. But the
appropriate level of scrutiny for “Freedom of speech” is intel-
legislation is entirely orthogonal ligible only if federal and state
to the textualist approach. It governments may enact laws to
takes a theory—not merely a
regulate impermissible speech.
reference to the text—to explain
which police-power limitations are permissible and which are not. I believe
that the classical liberal approach that stresses strong property rights and
limited government justifies the narrower view of the police power. But con-
stitutional interpretation remains so difficult because, though we must start
with a scrupulous reading of the text, the law presents innumerable cases
that require judges to go beyond it.

Reprinted from Defining Ideas (
ideas), a Hoover Institution online journal. © 2018 The Board of Trustees
of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Free
Markets under Siege: Cartels, Politics, and Social
Welfare, by Richard A. Epstein. To order, call (800)
888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 47


Rightsize the
If we continue to build ships that cost too much
and do too little, we’ll be sunk.

By James O. Ellis Jr.

he main street of Washington, Georgia, is called Toombs Avenue
in honor of the Georgia senator and Civil War general who was
born nearby. In promoting the South’s secession as the war
approached, Toombs reportedly claimed, “We can beat those
Yankees with cornstalks!” After fleeing to Paris after the South’s defeat,
Toombs later returned, only to be reminded of his prewar claim. Unrepen-
tant to the end, Toombs replied, “Well, they wouldn’t fight with cornstalks!”
This story has been used for years in national security debates by those
advocating for ever-advancing technologies, even at the expense of a larger
force structure.
The capability vs. numbers debate is certainly not new to the Navy; over
centuries, optimization of the “high-low mix” of very large and/or power-
ful ships versus those that are smaller, cheaper, and often built for a single
mission, has raged. The combatants in this operational and budgetary battle
included battleships vs. submarines, aircraft carriers vs. amphibious ships,
Aegis air- and missile-defense ships vs. small combatants, and minesweepers

Admiral James O. Ellis Jr. (US Navy, retired) is an Annenberg Distinguished
Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a member of Hoover’s Arctic Se-
curity Initiative, Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy, and Working
Group on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict.

48 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
and logistics ships against them all. The debate has been recently broadened
to include autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, unburdened by
human presence. While each of these skirmishes, in its time, often had a
clear winner and loser, when examined more broadly, the trend toward fewer,
more capable ships is both unarguable and, with the exception of the Reagan-
era drive toward a 600-ship Navy, inexorable. Navy sources show an active
force level today of 275 ships and a nearly continuous reduction from 933 in
1968 at the peak of the conflict in Vietnam.

For decades, national security leaders have wrestled with finding the sweet
spot that balances quality and quantity. It is also clear that, in most cases,
the scales have tipped toward quality. Often this prioritization has been
driven by the capabilities of existing or potential adversaries that needed
to be countered, but it is also true that multi-mission capability, reductions
in overall force structure, and attendant lower manpower costs have been
touted as long-term budgetary and efficiency advantages. The Navy has had
to deal with fiscal realities, increased operating tempo, maintenance short-
falls, recapitalization requirements, and, most recently, operational failings.
For many years, driven by the need to recapitalize the force structure while
maintaining or improving fleet readiness under a constrained budget, the
Navy has investigated business processes in search of an improved return on
The more technologically advanced a system, the higher are its procure-
ment cost, operational and maintenance complexity, and skill and training
levels. Simple math
shows that fewer ships
means higher opera- Navy leadership knows we need to
tional tempo or, con- break the cycle of pursuing increas-
versely, gaps in presence ingly exquisite capabilities in ever
or operational coverage. fewer platforms.
The Navy has often
found itself in a downward trend of extended deployments and training and
maintenance reductions that have contributed to mishaps, material casual-
ties, readiness failings, and, in turn, further shortfalls. In some cases, it has
been necessary to deploy high-end surface combatants to low-tech presence
or anti-piracy operations simply because there were no viable alternatives.
As the post–Cold War Navy has focused on the demands of ballistic mis-
sile defense and Tomahawk cruise missile land-support and strike missions,

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 49
skills such as anti-submarine warfare, surface combat, and fleet air defense
have declined over decades of sailing in a largely tranquil sea. At the same
time, the recent years of focused regional conflict have generated stresses. In
congressional testimony on readiness last year, the vice chief of naval opera-
tions said, “We have not yet recovered from the readiness impacts result-
ing from a decade of combat operations. The cumulative effect of budget
reductions, complicated by four consecutive years of continuing resolutions,
continues to impact maintenance, afloat
and ashore. The secondary effects of
these challenges impact material readi-
ness of the force, and the quality of life
of our sailors and their families.” Recent
data from the Congressional Budget

50 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
Office allege that the Navy is able to meet only 60 percent of the deployments
requested by combatant commanders. And all this is occurring in a national
security environment that many are calling “the new normal,” a fact of which
Navy and Department of Defense leaders are acutely aware.

An even broader challenge needs to be confronted. The military is often
accused of preparing for the last war; how do we best prepare for a future
that, in Churchill’s terms, is a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enig-
ma”? In May 2012, then–major general H. R. McMaster admitted: “We
have a perfect record in predicting future wars—right? . . . And that
record is zero percent.”
As the Navy addresses its future needs and the nation considers
how best to allocate its national security treasure in terms of dol-
lars and people, the urgent question is: do we risk rac-
ing to expand today’s capabilities only

[Taylor Jones—for the Hoover Digest]

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 51
to find that they may be dramatically less relevant to tomorrow’s threats? In
a different national security context, Ben Buchanan, a Harvard postdoctoral
fellow, worries that we, like the old generals (and admirals), may be prepar-
ing for the last war. He sees far too much unconventional thought and focus
on budgets, programs, and regions. And he wonders whether we realize that
“America’s adversaries
are playing ‘Calvinball’
The more technologically advanced [a game from the comic
a system is, the higher its cost, com- strip Calvin and Hobbes in
plexity, and skill and training levels. which there are no rules]
while the United States is
still playing a regimented and well-defined game of chess?”
How do we counter threats to the homeland from depressed-trajectory
submarine-launched ballistic missiles or submarine-launched cruise mis-
siles? How do we operate in a far more hostile sea where the apparent civil-
ian container ship may, harking back to the Q-ships of World War II, carry
antiship cruise missiles, and every merchant ship or fishing boat with a very
small aperture terminal (VSAT) antenna can be configured to jam commu-
nications or GPS? How does one deal with the purported Russian nuclear-
powered and nuclear-armed submarine drone with a 6,200-mile range? The
list of possibilities is nearly endless, but the resources and time are not.
Navy leadership is increasingly aware of the need to break the cycle of pur-
suing increasingly exquisite capabilities in ever fewer platforms. According
to a recent Financial Times article addressing the needs of the US Navy,

Dramatic improvements in the fields of robotics, artificial intel-
ligence, additive manufacturing, biology, and nano-materials are
changing the cost/effectiveness calculation in favor of the “small,
smart, and cheap” against the “few and exquisite but extremely
expensive.” The convergence of these technologies, and the steady
decrease in costs even as capabilities increase, is rapidly expand-
ing the destructive power, range, and precision of weapons that
soon will be both widely available and relatively cheap.

As we look at increasingly lethal global challenges, we should remember
that although potential national security threats are increasing every-
where, in many ways a naval force is far less vulnerable than forces ashore
that are fixed in location, reliant on vulnerable lines of communication,
and, as we have seen repeatedly over the centuries, subject to the vagaries
of host-nation tolerance. Speed, mobility, and the ability to operate over

52 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
BIG SPLASH: The littoral combat ship USS Wichita is launched into the
Menominee River in Wisconsin in 2016. The Wichita is scheduled for sea
trials this summer, but the Navy has scaled back its once-ambitious plans for
the littoral combat ship after a host of problems. The Pentagon is pondering
how to sustain a Navy that can meet current threats while preparing for chal-
lenges yet unknown. [US Navy]

three-quarters of the planet’s surface and disappear into the “trackless sea”
will always offer an advantage.
The challenge is not so much change as it is the rate and acceleration of
that change. In Lincoln’s words, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inad-
equate to the stormy present.” But it is also true that technology is rarely
the exclusive answer; that courage, leadership, and innovative tactics count;
and that, as former senator Sam Nunn said many years ago, “At some point,
numbers matter.”
There is a saying: “If you want a new idea, read an old book.” One of my
favorites is James Michener’s The Bridges at Toko-Ri, his classic 1953 novel
of American naval aviation in the Korean War. In it, his fictional admiral,
in addition to wondering “Where do we get such men?” presciently muses
about the role of technology in future conflict:

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 53
Long ago, he had begun to argue that some new weapon—rockets
perhaps or pilotless planes of vast speed—would inevitably con-
stitute the task force of the future. He had seen so much change,
indeed had spurred it on, that he could not rely perpetually on
ships or airplanes or any one device. But until America was secure
behind the protection of some new agency that could move about
the earth with security and apply pressure wherever the enemy
chose to assault us, it would be wise to have young officers trained
to command a sea burdened with ships and speckled with the
shadows of a thousand planes.

Rightsizing the US Navy will require reaffirming the national security
constants, acknowledging the changing scale and complexity of the mari-
time security challenges,
understanding and adapt-
Skills such as anti-submarine war- ing to the growing range
fare, surface combat, and fleet air of threat and budget
defense have declined after decades uncertainties, and, finally,
of sailing in a largely tranquil sea. blending technological
innovation with the his-
toric strengths of a Navy that, since its inception, has guarded our national
security and ensured freedom of the seas.

Subscribe to the online Hoover Institution journal Strategika (www. for analysis of issues of national secu-
rity in light of conflicts of the past. © 2018 The Board of Trustees of the
Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Total
Volunteer Force: Lessons from the US Military on
Leadership Culture and Talent Management, by Tim
Kane. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit www.

54 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


The Future of War
Of course we need high-tech weapons. But with
great capabilities come great vulnerabilities.

By Williamson Murray

uring the past half century, American political and military
leaders have attempted to make war less costly in human terms.
Lowering American casualties in combat is a wholly worthwhile
endeavor. But that effort has carried over into the creation of
unrealistic rules of engagement governing the use of weapons and represent-
ing efforts to reduce civilian casualties.
To a certain extent, this has driven the revolution in precision munitions.
In the Gulf War of 1991, interviews with Iraqi prisoners indicated that the
coalition aircraft they most feared was the ancient—even at that time—B-52
bomber. Above all, they emphasized the terrifying shock that strikes carried
out miles away had on their perspective of the war and morale. Ironically,
because the B-52 computers were misaligned, the heavy bombers never hit
the targets they were aiming for. It did not matter, because the impact of the
B-52 strikes was largely on the morale of Iraqi soldiers hunkered down in the
deserts of Kuwait and southern Iraq.
Yet today’s military and political leaders have been unwilling to use the
B-52 to attack ISIS’s military forces and encampments. The reason lies in
a belief among the political leadership in Washington that precision strikes
prevent all collateral damage, which they do not. Such beliefs entirely miss

Williamson Murray is a member of the Hoover Institution’s Working Group on
the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict and a professor emeritus of
history at the Ohio State University.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 55
the purpose of the use of military force and air power in particular, which is
to wreck the enemy’s morale as much as to achieve physical damage and kill
his soldiers.
The emphasis on technology is not surprising, given that it has been one
of the strengths of American society for more than a century, yet there are
limits to what technology can achieve by itself. The enemy will always get a
vote, as the saying goes,
and the more sophisti-
The futuristic weapons now being cated and competent he
designed may never be used in the is, the more likely that he
fashion for which they were created. will seek out and discover
means to disrupt and
distort our technological capabilities. In the conflicts that spun out of the
global war on terrorism, the United States has enjoyed a massive superiority
in weapons and the technology of those systems over the capabilities of its
opponents. Nevertheless, one should not forget that even with the Ameri-
cans’ technological superiority, the ragged guerrillas of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and
the Taliban in Afghanistan have caused US and coalition ground forces no
end of trouble since 2003.

The world is going through a technological and scientific revolution that in
every respect rivals the great “military-social revolutions” of the past. But
unlike the period from 1914 through 1990, where the military organizations
were the primary drivers behind revolutionary changes in technology, the
current period resembles the period before 1914, when developments outside
the military were largely responsible for the technological revolution. On the
Western front, the murderous process of adaptation to those technological
and scientific changes led to a bloodbath, which destroyed the comfortable
assumptions on which European and American progress rested.
The impact of the computer-driven technological revolution on military
capabilities and future potential is clear. The British military thinker and
professor Christopher Coker notes the rapid pace of technological develop-
ment in military capabilities over the past two decades:

It is the “intelligence” gained from sensors that allows artillery to
be integrated into a “system” that permits coordinated fire from a
multiplicity of platforms, such as attack helicopters and Unmanned
Aerial Vehicles, and the intelligence of some of these systems is

56 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
already impressive. Take the Smart-155, a projectile which releases
two sensor-fused submunitions from the shell case in midflight.
Each can identify targets by size and their 3D heat signatures
(in other words, each can choose other targets if the initial one is
found to be on fire). And with the introduction quite soon of 3D
mapping, an observer will be able to pinpoint the exact location of
a target on a 3D map and share it with the shooter. Soon artificial
intelligence in command and control systems will come onstream
and allow the next generation of projectiles not only to identify tar-
gets but even to prioritize “kills.” In the not-too-distant future, they
will be able to determine autonomously whether to fire or not.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is pushing the
development of new weapons in a fashion unusual for a federal bureaucracy,
particularly for an agency active since the 1950s. Unmanned aerial vehicles
(UAVs) are already a game changer at every level, from Marine and Army
infantry platoons to
potential future fighter
aircraft. The ability to Military force, and air power in par-
hit terrorist targets ticular, is meant to wreck the enemy’s
virtually anywhere in morale as much as to achieve physi-
the world from UAVs
cal damage and kill his soldiers.
controlled from Nevada
has enabled the United States to wage a war on terrorists that puts no one in
danger except the collateral victims. It is likely that the F-35 will be the last
manned fighter produced by the United States. Robots will play an increas-
ingly large role in ground war. Hypersonic missiles are being tested by the
United States, Russia, and China; traveling at Mach 10 or more, such missiles
will make a defensive response almost impossible, given the time between
detection and arrival on target.
But many of the advances in weaponry are largely aimed at potential
high-end conflicts—that is, against opponents such as the Chinese, whose
capabilities approach those of the United States. Such opponents will also
possess nuclear weapons, so in reality, as with the standoff with the Soviet
Union during the Cold War, improved conventional weapons will serve in the
framework of deterrence. Thus, the advanced weapons may never be used in
the fashion for which they have been designed.
At current funding, the United States will enjoy significant military supe-
riority over its potential opponents for at least a decade. But, given China’s

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 57
buildup, a potential American victory may not be the case a decade from now
unless US leaders make a significant military investment in the near future.
One of the incalculables in thinking about future wars lies in the techno-
logical systems that midrank powers or groups such as ISIS might gain. The
most frightening would be the possession of a nuclear weapon by groups that
have no sense of responsibility for the long-term effects of detonating such
weapons. That, of course, is why the collapse of Pakistan into a failed state
would be so dangerous for the world. Moreover, a war between Pakistan and
India would carry the dangerous possibility of going nuclear, which would
create an unbelievable humanitarian crisis and nuclear fallout.

Although the United States military enjoys extraordinary advantages at
present, there are danger signs. The military services and their capabilities
rest on a robust communications network as well as cyber and electronic
systems. Especially important are the space-based systems for a vast array
of intelligence functions, communications, the accuracy of munitions, target-
ing, and even the movement of US combat vehicles on the battlefield. As one
Army officer noted to the author, “we can’t (and won’t) go to war without
SATCOM, GPS, or space-based imagery.” As one briefing recently noted,
the Army has evolved over the past decade “from a space-enabled Army to
a fully space-dependent Army.” Virtually all US military operations rely on
links to and through space-based systems, on which ground forces depend
to execute even their most basic battlefield tasks. This is true to an even
greater extent for the Navy and the Air Force.
“Capabilities create dependencies, and dependencies create vulnerabili-
ties,” according to an Army official. Both computer-based and space-based
systems are vulnerable to being hacked by an enemy. Fred Kaplan, a national
security reporter, recently noted the vulnerability of the Defense Depart-
ment’s sophisticated communications network: “In several recent exer-
cises and war games that [a defense science board] reviewed, Red Teams,
using exploits that any skilled hacker could download from the Internet,

LOOK OUT BELOW: A British soldier watches a Tarantula Hawk drone (fac-
ing page) as it hovers over the desert in Afghanistan. The drone gives ground
troops a clear view of the terrain ahead. As one military official says, “we can’t
(and won’t) go to war without SATCOM, GPS, or space-based imagery.” At the
same time, high-tech weapons and surveillance systems may be vulnerable
to hackers. [Captain Dave Scammell—Royal Navy]

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 59
‘invariably’ penetrated the Defense Department’s networks, ‘disrupting or
completely beating’ the Blue Team.”
What makes this so astonishing is that in 1997 the National Security Agen-
cy’s Red Team, in an exercise with the title “Eligible Receiver,” broke into virtu-
ally every system the Department of Defense possessed. During that exercise,
only one Marine officer recognized something was wrong and disconnected his
system. One would have thought that in the intervening decades there would
have been significant improvement in the ability of the Defense Department
and the services to protect their communication and computer systems from
hackers or simple incompetence. But it is well to remember how easily Edward
Snowden downloaded the masses of highly classified material that he then
uploaded to the Internet. In his case, gross security breaches by the contract-
ing firms working for the National Security Agency were to blame.
I remember a briefing I received from a British army brigadier in 2000 that
examined the nature of special-operations forces thirty years into the future.
The officer posited that 70 percent of the force would look much as it did in
the past. However, the remaining 30 percent would look very different. It
would include women, because they could go places where men could not, par-
ticularly in the Middle East. But the key new group in British special forces
would be twenty years old or younger, personnel who would hardly fit into the
military culture of the Special Air Service or the Special Boat Service but who
would possess extraordinary capabilities as hackers. There lies the problem
with the hierarchical nature of the American military and the nation’s intel-
ligence agencies. One can hardly imagine the use of such individuals or a
willingness to reach out
to them or, for that mat-
Any war between sophisticated pow- ter, other subject-matter
ers will, to a considerable extent, take experts in most of the
part in the dark. intelligence community.
The continued inability of
US intelligence agencies and military organizations to close the gaps in their
electronic systems suggests deeply troubling bureaucratic malaise, a refusal
to judge individuals by competence rather than by age and seniority.
America’s opponents in future wars will target the extensive space-based
communications systems upon which the military depends to conduct its
global operations. The simplest way to disrupt the satellites upon which
those systems depend would be to explode a relatively low-yield nuclear
device in lower orbit. The resulting electromagnetic pulse would render
useless virtually all the satellites in low orbit. It is unlikely that either the

60 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
United States or China would explode such a weapon, because it would take
out friendly systems as well as those of an enemy. Moreover, since none
of the commercial satellites on which the Internet, civilian communica-
tions, and television transmissions, among other commercial usages, are
protected from such a burst, the result would be catastrophic to the global
economy on which both
the United States and
China depend. But if Virtually all US military operations
neither the Chinese nor rely on links to and through space-
the Americans are likely based systems.
to explode a nuclear
weapon in space because of the damage it would cause to their own satel-
lites, the same cannot be said for the North Koreans or the Pakistanis. One
can imagine a North Korea on the brink of collapse or confronted with heavy
US and Chinese economic pressure taking such a risk to preserve its regime
without the risk of actually killing people. The damage to a global economy
would be considerable.
If China would be unwilling to attack the US satellite system by exploding
a nuclear weapon in space, it has already proven to have other means at its
disposal: antisatellite missiles aimed at taking out particular satellites that are
in orbit. The US military had better be prepared for conflicts in which it must
operate with a significant portion of its capabilities degraded. Any war between
sophisticated powers will, to a considerable extent, take part in the dark. How
effective will American fighting forces be when the communication links fail,
when commanders on the sharp end have to make decisions on their own, and
when GPS no longer provides accurate readings or any readings at all?

Excerpted from America and the Future of War: The Past as Prologue, by
Williamson Murray (Hoover Institution Press, 2017). © 2017 The Board of
Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is America
and the Future of War: The Past as Prologue, by
Williamson Murray. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 61


Flow West
A brisk trade in water rights would send supplies
where they’re most needed.

By Terry L. Anderson and Henry I. Miller

ape Town, South Africa, a city of
450,000 in a metropolitan area Key points
of 3.7 million, is experiencing a »» When prices signal the
catastrophic drought. Capetonians real value of water, agri-
cultural users switch to
dread the arrival of “Day Zero,” when taps in
water-saving irrigation
private homes will be switched off and resi- technologies or crops.
dents will have to go to collection points for »» Organic farming,
rationed allotments of water. which yields less than
conventional agriculture,
Some version of Day Zero could one day uses more than its share
come to parts of California, where water woes of low-cost, high-value
continue to bedevil government officials and
»» Taxing the most
citizens. From 2011 to 2015, the state experi-
wasteful uses of water
enced the driest four-year period in recorded would ease the pressure
history (though geologic evidence indicates on California’s water
there have been worse droughts in the past). A
robust rainy season in 2017 replenished many
reservoirs, but the winter of 2018 was disap-
pointing. On February 1, the snowpack, which provides much of California’s
water during the dry months, was only 21 percent of its normal size. The

Terry L. Anderson is the John and Jean De Nault Senior Fellow at the Hoover
Institution and past president of the Property and Environment Research Center
in Bozeman, Montana. Henry I. Miller, MD, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Sci-
entific Philosophy and Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.

62 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
2011–15 drought led Governor Jerry Brown to mandate a 25 percent reduc-
tion in water use, but mandating it doesn’t mean that Californians will follow
the rules, or continue following them. Mandated reductions that require
homeowners to spend money and time irrigating with nonpotable water and
replacing old toilets are unlikely to meet their targets, given the low nominal
cost of water.
A number of remedies have been suggested, one of which is to allow
markets, rather than politics, to allocate water. At a recent conference at the
Hoover Institution, scholars focused on the importance of market signals in
getting people to change their behavior in the face of climate uncertainty.
Economist Gary Libecap noted that when prices signal the real value of
water, they encourage “agricultural users to switch to water-saving irrigation
technologies or to water-saving crops.” (Agriculture accounts for 80 percent
of California’s water consumption.) The same is true for urban users, who
pay much more per unit of water than agricultural users.
In the absence of water markets, prices don’t reflect the full cost of
using this precious resource, resulting in inefficient use. The best example:
organic farming. Organic agriculture produces lower yields than traditional
agriculture and uses disproportionately more inputs—especially low-cost,
high-value water. Lower yields in organic farming mean less output per unit
of water used.
Plant pathologist Steve Savage analyzed data from the US Department
of Agriculture’s 2014 Organic Survey, which measures productivity from
most of the nation’s certified organic farms, and compared them with those
at conventional farms,
crop by crop and state
by state. His findings Scientists have enhanced the salt
were extraordinary: of tolerance in crops as diverse as toma-
the sixty-eight crops toes and canola and made them irri-
surveyed, organic gable with brackish water.
farms showed a “yield
gap”—poorer performance—in fifty-nine. Many of the shortfalls were large:
organic strawberries yielded 61 percent less than conventional farms; fresh
tomatoes, 61 percent less; tangerines, 58 percent less; cotton, 45 percent less;
rice, 39 percent less; peanuts, 37 percent less. “To have raised all US crops
as organic in 2014 would have required farming of 109 million more acres of
land,” Savage concluded. “That is an area equivalent to all the parkland and
wildland areas in the lower forty-eight states, or 1.8 times as much as all the
urban land in the nation.”

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 63
THIRSTING FOR SOLUTIONS: Because of a severe drought and poor policy
decisions, the reservoir held back by the Theewaterskloof Dam in South
Africa is perilously close to empty. Earlier this year, the nearly four million
residents of Cape Town were living in dread of “Day Zero,” the day the res-
ervoir would run dry. Extreme conservation measures and borrowing from
other water sources staved off Day Zero, at least for a while. [Zaian—Creative

One reason that inefficient organic agriculture uses more water is that
it excludes the cultivation of crop varieties crafted with molecular genetic-
modification techniques—so-called GMOs—that can be made to withstand
droughts and to be irrigable with brackish water. For example, more than
a decade ago, Egyptian researchers showed that transferring a single gene
from barley to wheat allows the wheat to grow with far less irrigation than
conventional wheat; it can survive on meager rainfall alone. Similar genetic
modification has created drought-tolerant corn varieties, and more such
crops are in the works.
Genetically engineered crops also conserve water by allowing cultivation
in salty soils. Fully one-third of irrigated land worldwide, including much
of California, is unsuitable for growing crops; every year, nearly five hun-
dred thousand acres of irrigated land are lost for cultivation because of salt
accumulation. Scientists have enhanced the salt tolerance in crops as diverse
as tomatoes and canola, and made them irrigable with brackish water, thus
conserving fresh water for other uses. Another innovation: by making no-till
cultivation possible, the genetic engineering of crops for herbicide tolerance

64 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
helps trap soil moisture (and also releases less carbon dioxide into the atmo-
sphere). Under drought conditions, this can mean the difference between a
harvest and a crop failure.
The best solution to California’s water problems would be to encourage
water markets and end water subsidies for farmers. A second-best approach
is to tax the most
egregious examples of
waste—and organic Without water markets, prices don’t
products are at the top reflect the full cost of using this pre-
of the inefficiency list. cious resource. Inefficient use results.
Placing a tax on already
outrageously priced, water-wasting organic products would lessen the
demand for them and alleviate some of the pressure on California’s uncertain
water supplies. And such a tax would be progressive, falling disproportion-
ately on wealthy consumers. In short, reducing California’s organic agricul-
tural production in favor of more efficient, modern techniques would deliver
“more crop for the drop.”

Reprinted by permission of City Journal ( © 2018
The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Greener
than Thou: Are You Really an Environmentalist? by
Terry L. Anderson and Laura E. Huggins. To order, call
(800) 888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 65


Green Grows the
Energy breakthroughs arise from neither political
patronage nor government subsidies.

By Lee E. Ohanian and Ted Temzelides

n fifty years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet
of manure.” With this 1894 prediction, the Times of London warned
that the era’s primary source of transportation energy—the horse—
would soon create an environmental crisis. In New York City, about a
hundred thousand working horses produced roughly 2.5 million pounds of
manure a day. Residents were exposed not only to the stench but to biohaz-
ards like anthrax. One commentator estimated in 1908 that roughly twenty
thousand New Yorkers died each year from diseases related to horse waste.
But the deluge of dung predicted by the Times never arrived. Instead the
free market solved the problem in roughly twenty-five years, while creating
new goods and industries that transformed society.
The enormous demand for a cleaner and more efficient source of energy
led to remarkable innovations in the internal-combustion engine. By 1920,
horses in cities had been almost entirely replaced by affordable autos and

Lee E. Ohanian is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of eco-
nomics and director of the Ettinger Family Program in Macroeconomic Research
at UCLA. Ted Temzelides is a professor of economics at Rice University and a
scholar at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

66 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
PULL OVER: Horses by the millions were the chief means of transportation in
the early twentieth century, and some thinkers worried that major cities would
eventually be buried in manure. Instead, inventors and businesspeople,
responding to market incentives, perfected the internal-combustion engine.
Future transportation progress also will run more smoothly if market incen-
tives are allowed to operate. [Martin Engelmann—Newscom]

The revolution was not driven by government. In fact, the transition away
from horses would have taken longer if states had followed today’s policy of
subsidizing specific energy sources.
Since the 1970s, politicians have artificially pushed resources into renew-
able energy. Today the solar industry employs nearly four hundred thou-
sand workers. That sounds impressive, but it accounts for only 1 percent of
America’s electricity production.
Suppose governments in the 1890s, desperate to replace the horse, had
jumped on the first available alternative, the steam engine. Heavy subsidies
would have produced more steam engines and more research on steam
technology. This would only have waylaid the development of the far superior
internal-combustion engine.
The lesson is that governments are in no position to predict technologi-
cal breakthroughs, and their attempts to do so can delay innovations by
entrenching inferior technologies.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m er 2018 67
Diesel cars are another example. European states have been subsidizing
them for decades, but diesel engines create considerably more noxious gases
and particulates. Now Britain and Germany are reversing their policies and
trying to phase out diesel.
Or take the attempts to push renewable energy into poor countries. About
1.3 billion people, many in sub-Saharan Africa, lack electricity, making it
incredibly difficult to
purify water or preserve
Suppose governments in the 1890s, food and medications.
desperate to replace the horse, had Worldwide subsidies for
jumped on the first available alterna- renewables total more
tive: the steam engine. than $100 billion a year,
according to the Interna-
tional Energy Agency. But scientists still haven’t solved their core problem:
peak electricity demand comes early in the morning and at night, when the
sun isn’t shining and the wind may not be blowing.
Nearly a half century of subsidies has not delivered the next energy revolu-
tion. The great manure crisis of 1894 suggests a far better way to advance
clean, affordable, and safe energy: open competition on a level playing field.

Reprinted by permission of the Wall Street Journal. © 2018 Dow Jones &
Co. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is
Government Policies and the Delayed Economic
Recovery, edited by Lee E. Ohanian, John B. Taylor,
and Ian J. Wright. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit

68 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Brushing Up on
“Truth Decay”
Separating fact from fiction is an elementary skill.
So why don’t we teach it in elementary school?

By Chester E. Finn Jr.

he RAND Corporation’s provocative policy brief on “truth
decay”—defined as the blurring of the “line between fact and
fiction in American public life”—identifies four major sources
of this degradation: changes in how we get information, includ-
ing the rise of social media and the twenty-four-hour news cycle; cognitive
biases such as the human tendency to “seek out information that confirms
pre-existing beliefs and reject information that challenges those beliefs”; the
general polarization of contemporary politics and society; and “competing
demands on the educational system.”
As a habitué of the education policy world, I paid attention to that last
point. RAND president Michael Rich and political scientist Jennifer Kava­
naugh, the authors of the report, suggest that demands and constraints
on K–12 schooling have “reduced the emphasis on civic education, media
literacy, and critical thinking.” They add: “Without proper training, many
students do not learn how to identify disinformation and misleading informa-
tion and are susceptible to disseminating it themselves.”

Chester E. Finn Jr. is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, former chair
of Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, and president emeritus of the
Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 69
Such training is indeed vital. Kids will believe almost anything unless and
until adults help them learn how to distinguish fact from fiction. They can
see for themselves that the sky is (usually) blue but they won’t know which
hand is right and which is left without explicit instruction; they won’t grasp
“trial by jury” until it’s taught to them; and they surely won’t intuit the blurry
but crucial line between freedom of speech and shouting “fire” in a crowded
That truth matters should be obvious, and any obscuring of the boundaries
between truth and falsehood, fact and fiction, news and “fake news,” should
alarm us all. “Where basic facts and well-supported analyses of these facts
were once generally accepted,” the RAND duo soberly declare, “disagree-
ment about even objective facts and well-supported analyses has swelled in
recent years.”
It’s hard to disagree with that—and impossible not to lament the change.
I well recall the much-quoted aphorism of my mentor, the late Daniel P.
Moynihan, that “Every-
one is entitled to his own
What holds us together as a society is opinion, but not to his
a shared body of knowledge, without own facts.”
which shared values, principles, and When there’s no agree-
practices are impossible. ment on the facts, we’re
left only with opinion—
spin, if you will—and that opinion often masquerades as information. That’s
what President Trump terms “fake news,” of course, and he’s not entirely
wrong—nor is he entirely innocent of perpetrating it: the “fact checker” in
the Washington Post reported in January that he had tabulated 2,140 “false or
misleading claims” made by Trump during his first year in office.
As would-be suppliers of news fill their pages and our screens with opinion
and cater more and more to their own echo chamber of subscribers and
viewers, it becomes ever harder to get the straight story.
When it becomes difficult to know what’s real and what’s fantasy, what’s
information and what’s opinion, what’s scientific and what’s unproven (and
perhaps unprovable), people become both cynical and gullible. Kids worry
about a mythical “endangered tree octopus” (
topus). Grown-ups get nervous about UFOs. Hoaxes become credible—as
Orson Welles famously demonstrated when he terrified the nation with his
“War of the Worlds” radio broadcast in 1938. This unmooring of credibility
is then compounded by actual errors that yield frightening misinformation,
as happened recently in Hawaii when an employee of the state’s Emergency

70 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
Management Agency sent out a false alarm that a ballistic missile was going
to strike the islands. What can one actually believe? Whom can we trust?

Yet just as it’s wrong to place all responsibility for blurring fact with fiction
on the president and the media, it’s also wrong to blame schools for not doing
enough to combat such blurring because of inattention to “critical thinking.”
A curricular and pedagogical emphasis on critical thinking has been all the
rage for years now among K–12 educators, but how that’s been construed and
applied—rather than its absence—is what contributes to truth decay.
Critical thinking in the schools can go awry in at least two ways. The first
is when it replaces knowledge. Actual information—facts. How often have
you heard education savants and practitioners say something like: “In the age
of the Internet, we don’t need to supply kids with information. That they can
always look up. What we must focus on are their analytic skills, especially
their critical thinking.”
The problem is that once “thinking” gets detached from “knowledge,”
the sky becomes the limit as to what one might think and whether it has
any foundation in reality. Three decades ago, Diane Ravitch and I wrote in
What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? that “the power of the facts-versus-concepts
dichotomy has grown so great within the social studies field that some pro-
fessionals now harbor
an instinctive distrust of
facts per se.” So instead When there’s no agreement on the
of teaching “about maps facts, we’re left only with opinion—
and chaps,” as old-fash- spin, if you will—and that opinion
ioned British educators often masquerades as information.
described geography
and history, teachers are more inclined to explore themes such as “man-
kind’s interactions with the environment” and “why the powerful oppress the
weak”—and to assign students essays and exam questions with prompts like
“describe ways that you may yourself have contributed to global warming,
how you feel about it, and what you could do differently to prevent it.”
That sort of activity calls for plenty of critical thinking but no actual
If educators don’t teach students to acquire, possess, and value knowledge,
as well as the ability to analyze and apply it, there’s no way they can teach
them to distinguish truth from error. Truth clings to facts like barnacles to a

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 71
What’s more, as veteran education thinker and curriculum designer E. D.
Hirsch has been writing for years, the vitality and viability of our democracy
itself depend on “shared knowledge.” What holds us together as a society and
polity are the things we understand in common, a shared body of knowledge,
without which it’s impossible to have shared values, principles, and practices,
much less informed citizenship. As Hirsch writes:

A lack of knowledge, both civic and general, is the most significant
deficit in most American students’ education. For the most part,
our students (and teachers) are bright, idealistic, well mean-
ing, and good natured. Many students and teachers are working
harder in school than their counterparts did a decade ago. Yet
most students still lack basic information that high school and col-
lege teachers once took for granted.

Beyond that, as cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham explains, it’s impossible
to teach “critical thinking” in the abstract. One must possess information to
think about—and the way one thinks about information in one field (history,
say) is almost entirely different from how one thinks about it in another
field (chemistry, perhaps). In other words, critical thinking isn’t an abstract,
transferrable skill. It’s what psychologists call “domain specific,” which
means it’s intimately tied to knowledge.

The second way that our notions of critical thinking go off track was
bequeathed to primary-secondary schooling (and many other realms of
our society) by postmodernism, particularly as it—over the past several
decades—has infected higher education, which is where our educators and
education thinkers learned what they are now putting into practice with
their K–12 pupils. Postmodernism, according to a helpful definition provided
by PBS, is

a general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature,
art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary
criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to
the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain
reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is
not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather,
is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particu-
lar and personal reality. . . . In the postmodern understanding,

72 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through
our interpretations of what the world means to us individually.

“Interpretation is everything.” Is that not also a definition of “truth decay”?
And is it not amplified in our schools—despite the valiant efforts of the
Common Core State
Standards, the Advanced
When it’s hard to know what’s real
Placement program, and
others to push students and what’s fantasy, people become
to seek actual evidence both cynical and gullible.
in original texts rather
than just saying what they think about something—especially as contempo-
rary liberalism pushes them to embrace what historians call “presentism”?
When we adopt a presentist perspective, rather than striving to understand
why something happened the way it happened when it did, we judge what
happened then by today’s norms, causing us to be guided by our opinions of
the past rather than a clear-eyed understanding of the past. Consider, for
example, our curricular squeamishness in acknowledging that Christopher
Columbus “discovered” America. To be sure, those who were already here
didn’t see it that way, but from the perspective of fifteenth-century Europe, it
was indeed a newly discovered place.
Presentism merges with political correctness to distort the truth both in
K–12 schools and on university campuses, as we see in the recent spate of
tearing down statues and renaming buildings and mascots. For example, two
schools near Portland,
Oregon, are losing the
name Lynch, never mind “Presentism” merges with political
that an actual family by correctness to distort the truth.
that name donated land
a century ago so that schools might be created in places that didn’t have any.
What does such a move tell the children who attend those schools about his-
tory? About the fact that some people are named Lynch? About the value of
charity versus contemporary offense-avoidance?
We know from decades of National Assessment data that young Ameri-
cans emerge from school with frighteningly little knowledge of the country’s
actual past and its civic foundations. Hirsch is spot on about that. And there
are valiant efforts in some places to combat that problem, as in the feisty
Knowledge Matters Campaign and the College Board’s courageous overhaul
of its AP courses in history and civics. Though it is growing, however, the

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 73
knowledge army still consists of just a few platoons while the critical thinkers
field many divisions.
I’m not sure what can be done at the macro level, beyond recognizing the
challenge and applauding those willing to tackle it. State academic stan-
dards, properly framed and applied, would help. A more immediate and vivid,
if partial, solution is for
concerned parents to
It’s impossible to teach critical think- choose schools that buck
ing in the abstract. One must have the truth-decay trend—
information to think about. and for policy makers to
enable more such schools
to come into existence, through mechanisms like chartering and vouchers,
so that more families can make such choices. There are great schools—such
as those affiliated with Hirsch’s own Core Knowledge Foundation, and others
that use its curriculum—that strive to impart both essential information and
critical thinking to their pupils. Creating more such places of learning won’t
eradicate the problem of truth decay—too many other forces are advanc-
ing it—but it would at least offer a refuge for those who want to shield their
children from it, and for educators who know better.

Reprinted from Defining Ideas (
ideas), a Hoover Institution online journal. © 2018 The Board of Trustees
of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is What
Lies Ahead for America’s Children and Their Schools,
edited by Chester E. Finn Jr. and Richard Sousa. To
order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit www.hooverpress.

74 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Bottling Up Drug
Medicine will just keep getting more expensive
until we do something obvious: introduce price

By Scott W. Atlas

ealth and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has identified
his main priorities. At the top of his list is lowering prescription
drug prices.
Even though prescription drugs constitute only 11 percent
of US health expenditures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and US drug
spending ranks in the bottom one-third of comparison lists with other devel-
oped nations, prices continue to increase rapidly, with a year-over-year rise of
almost 10 percent for drug list prices, according to a 2017 Credit Suisse report.
Controlling drug prices through government action, though, is fraught with
peril, because it could also slow the process of making new drugs available
to Americans. A much smarter way to go is to make drug prices—which
can vary dramatically from one pharmacy to another—readily apparent to
patients and equip them with the incentives to shop around.

Scott W. Atlas, MD, is the David and Joan Traitel Senior Fellow at the Hoover
Institution. He is the author of Restoring Quality Health Care: A Six-Point
Plan for Comprehensive Reform at Lower Cost (Hoover Institution Press,

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 75
Drugs are the most significant reason for the past half century of gains
against both chronic and life-ending disease. Policies aimed at reducing drug
costs must not restrict their supply, jeopardize their quality, or inhibit essen-
tial drug innovation that will effect tomorrow’s cures.
American patients, in particular, have benefited more than others from
drugs. For decades, the United States has been the most frequent country,
by far, where new drugs
are first available. Life-
One study showed that price regula- saving cancer drugs, to
tion strongly delayed launches of 642 offer one critical example,
new drugs. are at least four times as
likely to be made available
first in the United States as in any other country, including Germany, Japan,
Switzerland, France, Canada, Italy, or Britain, as reported in the Annals of
Oncology in 2007.
Similarly, two-thirds of the novel drugs approved in 2015 were approved in
the United States before any other country. In a 2017 study, of forty-five new
cancer drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2009–14,
all of which were covered by Medicare in the United States, only twenty-
six were approved and covered in Britain, nineteen in France, thirteen in
Canada, and eleven in Australia.
This early and broad drug access is key to delivering America’s better
treatment results than nationalized systems elsewhere, where drug prices
are strictly regulated by government, for virtually all serious diseases reliant
on drugs, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and the most important
chronic disorders, including high blood pressure and diabetes.

Not surprising, prices and profit margins for prescription drugs in the United
States dwarf those in foreign markets. It is obvious that economics represent
a key incentive for the constant innovation and first access to life-saving
drugs that Americans enjoy. Indeed, that is the conundrum: the same policies
that are associated with the lower prices seen in other countries—price regu-
lation and weaker patent rights—are those typically associated with delayed
launches and reduced access to drugs.
In addressing legitimate public concern about drug prices, our politicians
must resist the temptation to impose top-heavy regulations. Price caps may
seem intuitively attractive, yet price caps always restrict supply of a product,
and drugs are no different. One study showed that price regulation strongly

76 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
delayed drug launches of 642 new drugs in seventy-six countries. Another
showed that price controls significantly diminish early-stage research and
We also know that if a single buyer is as dominant as Medicare, it functions
like a monopsony, where price “negotiation” ultimately leads to supply short-
ages and fewer new products, as economist Paul Krugman and others have
noted in other industries. Empowering the government as price negotiator
would also facilitate future restrictions based on political budgets rather than
on medical data.
An example is Britain’s National Health Service and its 2017 “budget
impact test,” which delays introducing any new drug—even one already
proven to be cost-effective—if the cost would exceed an arbitrary £20 million
(about $28 million) per year, and even though prices of all branded drugs are
already regulated under Britain’s Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme.

Patients are not in a position, nor do they have incentives, to exert pressure
on drug prices directly. In the United States, many different parties pay
directly for drugs—employers, government, and insurers—but the end user,
the patient, is not one of them. Patients are sheltered from any incentive to
shop for lower prices by
insurance that minimizes
out-of-pocket costs. Drugs are the most significant rea-
Adding to that is an son for the past half century of gains
extraordinary lack of against serious disease.
price transparency,
fueled by complex behind-the-scenes rebates totaling $179 billion (in 2016) from
companies to pharmacy benefit managers, the government, and insurers that
pervert incentives and prevent any possible price consideration by patients.
Worse, many pharmacy benefit managers contractually prohibit pharma-
cists from volunteering that a medication may be less expensive if purchased
at the “cash price,” according to a 2016 survey of more than six hundred
community pharmacies. And newly published data reveal that well over 20
percent of patient co-pays using insurance actually exceeded total drug costs
if patients had paid cash.
Some have proposed that Medicare provide even more coverage for drugs,
but further reducing out-of-pocket payment would only prop up prices. It
would eliminate incentives for patients to consider price and prevent the
very competition necessary to lower prices while enhancing quality.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 77
Instead, patients should be positioned to pay directly for more of their
drugs with cheaper, higher-deductible drug coverage, coupled with larger,
liberalized health savings accounts, including specifically for seniors, the big-
gest consumers.
Senior citizens make up about 12 percent of the population but account for
more than 34 percent of medication use. More than fifteen million seniors
take five or more medica-
tions, and that number
Elderly patients have massive market has tripled from 1988 to
power. This argues for letting Medi- 2010, according to a 2015
care beneficiaries hold health savings study. Health savings
accounts. accounts are prohibited
for seniors, but longer
lives require medical care for decades after Medicare eligibility. Moreover,
the massive market power of the elderly argues for permitting Medicare
beneficiaries to hold such accounts.
Reducing regulatory barriers to the supply of new drugs and generics also
would leverage the power of competition. Under Food and Drug Administra-
tion chief Scott Gottlieb, the FDA has dramatically reversed the downward
trend in drug approvals, with sixty-eight new drugs and biologics approved
in 2017 (including those by the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and
Research), the highest in decades. Gottlieb’s FDA also increased generic-
drug approvals 60 percent in 2017 over the previous year. More work is
needed, including considering selective importation of generics.

Prices vary tremendously between drugstores for the same exact medica-
tion, yet patients have little incentive to shop around. In a December 2017
Consumer Reports study, the national average price between different retail-
ers for a one-month supply of five common generics ranged by up to a factor
of twenty; for example, the generic version of cholesterol-reducing Lipitor
ranged from $12 or $13 at or Sam’s Club to $242 at
Even in a single city, the price of a thirty-day supply showed a ten- to
seventeen-fold variation per drug. For the nearly forty million senior citizens
taking five or more medications daily, the savings would be many hundreds
of dollars per month.
Prices for medical care actually do respond to competition—when patients
have incentives to save money and as long as prices are transparent. Prices

78 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
have plummeted for medical procedures that relied on direct patient pay-
ment because they were not covered by insurance, such as head-to-toe
screening by CT and MRI, or LASIK surgery for vision correction. In models
incorporating price transparency with defined benefits, prices for MRI and
outpatient surgery were quickly forced down by nearly 20 percent thanks to
the leverage of value-seeking patients.
Congress and the Trump administration are poised to propose policies on
prescription drug prices, an issue made more visible after widely covered
price gouging as well as inflammatory comments by some pharmaceutical
executives. Americans have noticed. A September Politico/Harvard School
of Public Health poll indicated that from 76 percent to 88 percent of voters,
depending on party, said it “should be a priority” for Congress to address
prescription drug prices.
But instead of replicating the same misguided policies that ultimately con-
tribute to worse disease outcomes in socialized systems, the Trump adminis-
tration should unleash competition for price-conscious patients. Eliminating
excess regulatory barriers to the supply of drugs, and empowering patients
who have incentives to compare prices, would reduce prices through compe-
tition. This would optimize value without harming the unique access to drug
treatment enjoyed by American patients. And for those who argue against
leveraging market forces in health care, we are reminded of what Milton
Friedman observed: that underlying most arguments against the free market
is a lack of belief in freedom itself.

Reprinted from Defining Ideas (
ideas), a Hoover Institution online journal. © 2018 The Board of Trustees
of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is In
Excellent Health: Setting the Record Straight on
America’s Health Care, by Scott W. Atlas. To order, call
(800) 888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 79


“Moon Shot” for
the Flu Shot
Americans just endured another flu season—a
rough one—and the next is always just a sneeze
away. Let’s get serious about improving vaccines
and conquering the wily influenza virus.

By Henry I. Miller

easonal outbreaks of flu kill many thousands of Americans even in
a good year, and the most recent flu season was a bad one.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), each year since 2010 flu has caused “between 9.2 million
and 35.6 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations,
and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths.” This past winter, influenza inflicted
misery and debility on much of the country: emergency rooms and isola-
tion wards filled up with flu sufferers, reports of illness were “widespread”
throughout the country, and pharmacies reported shortages of the most com-
mon oral anti-flu medication—oseltamivir, or Tamiflu—and also of intrave-
nous solutions needed to keep hospitalized patients hydrated.
Vaccination, as always, is the key to prevention. According to estimates
from the CDC, in six flu seasons, starting in 2005–6, flu vaccination against a
variety of strains prevented almost fourteen million cases. That might seem
impressive, but our current vaccines often are barely adequate. Too many

Henry I. Miller, MD, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and
Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.

80 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
vaccinated people still get the flu, and when it comes to research funding, our
public health agencies seem little exercised about it.
Because flu viruses mutate frequently, vaccines are reformulated early in
the year as a mixture of virus strains predicted to prevail during the next fall
and winter. Depending on how good the selections of strains are, during a
given flu season the effectiveness can vary widely. Since the 2004–5 season,
vaccines’ effectiveness has varied from 10 percent to 60 percent. This past
season, the vaccine was a poor match (probably around 30 percent), in part
because most illnesses were caused by a virulent strain called H3N2, against
which the flu vaccine typically isn’t very effective.
One of the reasons for flu vaccines’ relative ineffectiveness is that most
flu vaccine is prepared from fertilized chicken eggs, a method of production
known to reduce the effectiveness against certain flu strains, particularly
Most flu vaccines work by exposing us to noninfectious components of a
virus—the viral antigens—that elicit an immune response. Regulators should
encourage manufacturers to stop using chicken eggs and instead prepare
vaccines in “cultured cells”—cells that have been removed from animals and
grown under controlled conditions. That method would produce vaccines
with greater fidelity to the targeted flu strains. Many US-licensed vaccines
are already produced this way, such as those for rotavirus, polio, smallpox,
hepatitis, rubella, and chickenpox, plus at least two flu vaccines. Regulators
should require manufacturers to phase out flu vaccines produced with infe-
rior, seventy-year-old technology.
We also need more research on vaccine additives called adjuvants, chemi-
cals mixed with the viral antigens to further boost our immune response. But
most of all, we need to accelerate research on the holy grail of flu prevention:
a universal vaccine that would target a part or parts of the virus that remain
unchanged among different strains, even during the virus’s rapid mutations.
A universal vaccine has the potential to provide us with long-standing protec-
tion—perhaps even permanent protection—from all strains of flu.
There is also a need for more clinical research into making flu vaccina-
tion more effective in elderly patients. Within the population, a vaccine’s
effectiveness varies widely because it is affected by the general health and
age of the recipient. Although people sixty-five and older make up only
15 percent of the US population, they account for about 60 percent of the
hospitalizations and 90 percent of the deaths attributed to seasonal flu.
Seniors respond less well to vaccines than younger people because, as
we age, our immune system functions less well. Scientists at the National

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 81
Institutes of Health (NIH), after reviewing thirty-one vaccine response
studies comparing groups of different ages, called for more potent formula-
tions for the elderly.
But exactly how strong the shot should be, and whether additional injec-
tions would boost immunity, requires more study. There is currently a flu
vaccine for people over sixty-five that contains four times as much antigen as
regular flu shots, and one that contains an adjuvant, but they have improved
the shot’s effectiveness only marginally. These epidemiological and biochemi-
cal findings indicate a need to systematically study ways to increase the
effectiveness of flu vaccination in the elderly.
The NIH researchers offered several suggestions for future clinical trials of
vaccine efficacy:
»» Stratify subjects older than sixty-five into five- to ten-year age groups.
»» Gather data on whether subjects had been vaccinated during the previ-
ous flu season.
»» Ascertain whether subjects live in an institution (such as a nursing
home) or independently.
»» Measure all of the three standard blood tests that quantify the response
to vaccines.
To those, I would add several more:
»» Include vaccines of two types—one with virus that is inactivated and
another with live but weakened virus—in separate groups in the study.
»» Include vaccines with and without adjuvants.
»» Study the effects of increased amounts of vaccine and more doses.
Several different approaches to a universal vaccine are being pursued, but
significant challenges remain. The difficulty is that the most immunogenic
part of the flu virus—protein spikes on the surface of the virion—is the part
that mutates, or drifts, from year to year, which is why vaccines need to
be constantly updated.
(That contrasts with the
Regulators should encourage manu- vaccines for other viral
facturers to prepare vaccines in diseases such as measles
“cultured cells”—animal cells grown and mumps, which confer
under controlled conditions. long-standing immunity.)
There is a portion of
the flu virion that is stable, but it is not very immunogenic, so for it to be an
effective vaccine, researchers will need to find a way to make it stimulate the
immune system sufficiently after it’s injected.

82 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
THE NEXT FRONTIER: A nurse administers an influenza shot to a boy in
Vietnam during a recent flu season. Although vaccines are the key to preven-
tion, the virus’s ability to mutate means the annual flu shot might not be fully
effective. [CDC Global—Creative Commons]

Another approach, reported only last January in the journal Science, uses
genetic engineering techniques to construct a live but low-virulence virus
that has been crafted in such a way that when tested in mice and ferrets
it elicits both an antibody response and immunity mediated by a subset of
white blood cells called T-cells. This dual response of antibodies and cell-
based immunity is promising because T-cell-mediated immunity tends to be
In spite of the importance of research on universal vaccines, there is
surprisingly meager federal research funding in this area. A recent New
York Times article by Michael T. Osterholm, director of the University of
Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, and writer
Mark Olshaker tracked the government’s investment in universal flu vaccine
research: “The National Institutes of Health has publicly declared developing
a [universal] vaccine a priority, [but] it has only about $32 million this year
specifically for such research.”

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 83
Another federal agency, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Devel-
opment Authority, is spending $43 million on a single project in pursuit of
“game-changing influenza vaccines.”
These are puny efforts when compared to the roughly $1 billion spent
annually on developing an HIV vaccine and the many billions that have
been spent on vaccines
for the Zika and Ebola
We need to accelerate research into viruses, which have little
the holy grail of flu prevention: a uni- relevance to Americans.
versal vaccine. An increase in research
funding into adjuvants,
more effective dosing regimens (especially for seniors), and better produc-
tion methods would lead to achievable changes that would better prepare us
to face flu outbreaks.
In the meantime, an easy and often-neglected intervention would be for
public health officials and the media to make the public more aware of the
currently available anti-flu medications, Tamiflu and Relenza, which can not
only often prevent the flu but also shorten the duration and severity of the
The recent fearsome flu season should serve as a reminder: on several
research and public health fronts, we need to redouble our efforts to prevent
and treat the flu, especially the development of improved vaccines that pre-
vent infections as we’ve done for many childhood viral illnesses.

Reprinted by permission of Newsweek. © 2018 Newsweek LLC. All rights

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is To
America’s Health: A Proposal to Reform the Food and
Drug Administration, by Henry I. Miller. To order, call
(800) 888-4741 or visit

84 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Where the Great
Powers Collide
Syria is a historical “roundabout” around which
religions, civilizations, and nations flow—and

By Charles Hill

n Time magazine’s cover in 1947 was Arnold Toynbee, the world’s
most renowned scholar at the time, author of the monumental,
ten-volume Study of History. “Taking all the knowable human
past as his province, he has found rhythms and patterns which
any less panoramic view could scarcely have detected,” wrote the editors.
Toynbee’s reputation soon plummeted when historians turned away from
big ideas to nibble at small-scale trends. But Toynbee’s unique perceptions
still leap to mind. Today, we recall his remarkable recognition of historic
geostrategy: that “two relatively small patches of geography”—one in “the
Oxus-Jaxartes basin,” that is, Afghanistan, and the other in Syria—have been
“roundabouts” where traffic from any point of the compass can be switched
to any other point in alternative combinations and permutations as civiliza-
tions and religions jostle and collide at exceptionally close quarters.
Simply to list the disruptive forces—the “traffic,” in Toynbee’s term—now
jostling one another in the greater Syrian space is to know how each holds

Charles Hill is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and co-chair of
Hoover’s Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the Interna-
tional Order.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 85
potential for shoring up or battering down one or another of the elements of
international order. Three categories stand out:
»» The state as the fundamental unit of world affairs. With the collapse
of the Ottoman empire and caliphate after the First World War, the entire
Middle East region was brought on course to enter the modern international
state system. If that structure is collapsing, world order as a whole is jeop-
ardized. The possibilities reveal the stakes: what of America’s long com-
mitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon? Can Saudi
Arabia define itself as a true state rather than a tribal royal family? Iran’s
double game of playing a legitimate state role while pursuing its revolu-
tionary ideology has been exposed, but not repulsed, even as it accelerates
preparations to attack Israel from Lebanon. Can Iraq be guided to relative
stability as a reformed state encompassing Shia and Sunni and protective of
minorities? Should the Kurdish people establish a state? Autonomy short of
statehood has served the Kurds well; declaration of a Kurdistan could arouse
the dogs of war on every border of such a new state.
The maelstrom of these forces is Syria: even if the state borders of Syria
are re-affirmed, the likelihood of even more horrific layers of war with big-
power involvement is mounting.
»» International conventions. The roundabout exercises a centripetal
pull, drawing violations of major international agreements toward it, then
spinning them out to infect other parts of the region and beyond. Iran’s 2015
“deal” with the United States made Tehran a de facto threshold nuclear
weapons state while failing to constrain its advances in ballistic missile tech-
nology or its omnidirectional undermining of regional order. Iran has used
the Syrian roundabout to extend a form of neo-imperial sphere of influence
in a corridor to the Mediterranean, further enhancing its profile as a nuclear
weapons power. Other regimes in the region now must consider whether to
match Iran’s nuclear breakout.
If left unaddressed,
Iran’s nuclear program
North Korea’s link to the Assad regime will mean the end of the
shows that the roundabout’s spinoff Non-Proliferation Treaty,
effect can reach around the world. one of the pillars of the
international system. Is
the idea of a nuclear-free zone for the Middle East, on the order of the 1967
Latin American Treaty of Tlatelolco, an utter impossibility?
The Assad regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons and its continuing
possession of a variety of chemical and biological weapons—after the US “red

86 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
COUNTDOWN: Medium range ballistic missiles are displayed next to a
portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last September
in Tehran. Iran’s 2015 deal with the United States has made Tehran a de facto
threshold nuclear weapons state. [Rouzbeh Fouladi—Newzulu]

line” went unenforced and Russia stepped in to claim that all such weapons
had been located and collected—demonstrates that the Chemical Weapons
Convention of 1993 is being rendered nugatory by the Syrian war. Evidence
that North Korea is linked to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons
reveals that the roundabout’s spinoff effect can reach around the world.
The Genocide Convention also has been mocked by the course of seven-
plus years of conflict in Syria. The number of dead exceeds a half million,
with several million people displaced or in refugee flight throughout the
region and beyond. This amounts to the most extensive human disaster since
the Second World War. The language of the Genocide Convention was so spe-
cifically drawn as to make it easy for governing authorities to conclude that
virtually no major human cataclysm precisely falls under the convention’s
terms. Now, when international commitments so evidently require renova-
tion and enforcement, they instead are circumvented and openly defied.
And the fundamental principle of the laws of war—that states must field
professional militaries—already repudiated by Russia in Ukraine, was even

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 87
more blatantly violated by Russia’s battalion-sized, unmarked attack on the
US base at Deir Azzor in early February.
»» Alliances. The roundabout war that began in 2011 has drawn in Russia,
Iran, Turkey, Iraq, the Kurds, and an array of factions. A second roundabout
war is in the offing and is likely to add Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, the Gulf Arab
states, and others. As dangers gather and threats expand, the question of
alliances is paramount.
There is no current alliance-category relationship of the United States in
the Middle East that does not urgently call for restrengthening, reappraisal,
revival, or revision. If the very concept of America’s alliances is not shored
up, deterrence will fade, partners and friends will make new accommoda-
tions, and the chances
of avoiding a new, wider
Iran has used the Syrian roundabout war will vanish. Turkey,
to extend a neo-imperial sphere of for instance, remains in
influence toward the Mediterranean. NATO, but President
Erdogan is shaping new
quasi-alliance relationships with Russia and Iran. The possibility of a “great
alliance shift,” with grave consequences for Asia as well as the Middle East,
will worsen.
Turbulence from the current Syrian roundabout has pulled outside powers
into the region’s conflicts and made power rivalries with wider war a danger-
ous likelihood. The United States, for its own national interest as well as the
survival of the modern international state system, must take on this primary

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( © 2018 The Board of Trustees of
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88 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Elegy for the Arab
Seven years on, those who hoped for a modern,
humane Syria have few illusions left—Syrians
fewest of all.

By Samuel Tadros

reetings, softer than the breeze of Barada. . . . I send my tears,
which will never dry, O Damascus.” The opening line of Ahmed
Shawqi’s famous poem was written as news of the Syrian defeat
by the French in 1920 reached Egypt. Less than two years
earlier, Faisal I had entered Damascus and raised the flag of Arab national-
ism. The jubilation was felt across the Levant. Egypt, confident in its own
newly discovered national identity, had little appetite for the illusions of Arab
nationalism, but the pain of Damascus could not be ignored. Euphoria would
visit the city again in 1958 as the Damascene crowd crowned Gamel Abdel
Nasser the region’s indisputable king, but those moments were few and
short-lived, and soon gave way to disappointment. That city would know little
but pain as coup gave way to coup, before the specter of Hafez al-Assad rose
to torment its inhabitants.

Samuel Tadros is the Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Middle Eastern Studies at
the Hoover Institution and a member of Hoover’s Herbert and Jane Dwight Work-
ing Group on Islamism and the International Order. He is also a senior fellow at
the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and a professorial lecturer at
Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 89
Seven years have passed since the outbreak of protests in Syria calling for
change. By now, many illusions have been shattered. First was the illusion
of the “reformer son” of the late strongman. The shy eye doctor was surely
different from his father. John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi had fallen for his
charm during the Bush years, and the Obama administration still held the
same hope. It was not to be. Syria’s great poet Nezar Qabbani had described
the breed well in his Autobiography of an Arab Man of the Sword: “I decided
to ride this people from now until Judgment Day.” The son of the butcher of
Hama would outshine his father, adding the names of Aleppo, Homs, Daraa,
and countless others to his list of butchery. Next was the illusion of a regional

[Taylor Jones—for the Hoover Digest]

90 H O O VER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
solution led by Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have fancied himself an
Ottoman sultan, but Suleiman the Magnificent he was not. A more appropri-
ate resemblance was to Abdul Hamid II, a ruler of a crumbling state day-
dreaming of grandiose designs.
There was, of course, the hope of a future democratic Syria, of
which many brave young Syrians dreamed, but the Syria
of 2011 was a country that had known little but cruelty.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 91
“Men are not angels,” Fouad Ajami once wrote of Libya’s descent into car-
nage, “these were the hatreds and the wrath that the ruler himself had sown;
he had reaped what he had planted.” The sectarian divides had been too large
to overcome and the wounds too deep to heal.
Then there was the illusion of the Syrian conflict remaining within the
country’s borders, but as Charles Hill has written, “Syria is the roundabout
in which all the forces face one another and spin off consequences, for good
or ill, around the compass.” What happens in Syria can never remain just in
Syria, as the Iraqis soon discovered. We turn to Ajami again; “If the Sunni
Arabs had lost Baghdad to the Shia, there was suddenly within grasp the
prospect of restoring Damascus.”
Most painful was the illusion of a world consciousness that would be
moved by atrocities and an American president who had drawn a red line.
Barack Obama, once described by Ajami as a man who had “made a fetish
of caution,” had little interest or sympathy for the children of the Levant.
An accommodation with Iran would be signed in Vienna with the blood of

A year and a half ago, Donald Trump came into office riding a wave of
discontent, not just of economic frustrations but also of disillusionment with
America’s adventure in the Middle East. Long gone were the days of enthu-
siasm for the fall of Saddam’s statue. Candidate Trump had made his skepti-
cism of nation building in the Middle East known, and his skepticism was
warranted. America had visited the region once already and had no appetite
for another try. Between George W. Bush’s adventure and Obama’s inaction,
the administration has
chosen a middle course:
Seven years have passed since pro- bombing Assad for his
tests erupted in Syria. Many illusions use of chemical weapons,
have been shattered. allowing the Pentagon to
send more troops and to
keep them there, and drawing a red line east of the Euphrates. But troops
and firepower are no political strategy, let alone a political solution and
If America has lost its excitement for adventure and Obama’s abandon-
ment has been exposed for its hollowness, neither are current measures
equipped to achieve a much better result. Islamic State may be defeated for
now, but a fire smolders under the ashes. Assad continues his savagery, aided

92 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
by Russian airpower and Iranian militias. Israel’s security is threatened by
an expanding Iranian presence and Turkey is unhappy with the US assis-
tance to Syria’s Kurds. Besides half a million killed, there are more than five
million refugees with no prospect of returning home, and others are soon to
follow as enclave after city falls to Assad’s bombardment. Confusion reigns.
The United States is an ally of the Kurds east of the Euphrates but abandons
them west of the river; it will not accept an Assad victory but is not inter-
ested in his defeat.
At the center of the US failure to develop a coherent strategy towards
Syria lay two illusions that continue to shape the administration’s approach
to the conflict. The first
illusion is that there
remains and should What happens in Syria can never
remain a country named remain just in Syria, as Iraqis soon
Syria. Writing of the discovered.
Sykes-Picot Agreement
of 1916 that reshaped the Middle East, Ajami warned that “it is rarely a good
idea to draw maps in a hurry” but equally problematic to set those same
maps in stone. Even if Assad were to defeat the various militias fighting him,
rebuilding Syria as a functional state is beyond his abilities, let alone within
his interests. Neither will the Sunni majority accept him, nor does he want a
Syria with an overwhelming Sunni majority. “The bonds between them and
their rulers,” as Ajami warned, “have been severed.” Too much blood has
been spilled and the wound will not heal. More likely is an Assad strategy of
emptying the country of as many Sunnis as possible and achieving a better
demographic balance, even if this means giving up some territory on the
periphery of his core territory.
A more problematic illusion is that of an Assad regime fighting militias.
While the United States has removed its ambassador from Syria, it has tech-
nically remained committed to a mindset that views Assad and his cronies as
a regime, albeit a brutal one. The reality is starkly different. There is today
no Syrian regime. There are instead various militias fighting each other,
and Assad is merely the leader, if we can even call him that, as the Russians’
humiliation of him during Putin’s December 2017 visit exposed.
Abandoning these two remaining illusions would allow the United States to
think clearly about its goals in Syria. While the United States cannot com-
pletely end the Syrian civil war, curtailing the level of destruction and blood-
shed remains an objective, not merely on humanitarian grounds, but also on
strategic grounds, as the prolonged violence will continue to attract foreign

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 93
intervention and have a spillover effect on neighboring countries, destabiliz-
ing them further. While a military confrontation with Russia is to be avoided,
a Russian victory has to be denied. A Putin victory in Syria would embolden
him further in expanding his influence in the Middle East, undermining US
interests and sending a clear message that he is the new sheriff in the region.
And while stopping Iranian involvement in the Levant is a long-term proj-
ect, checking Iranian moves and containing those remains within immediate
US interests. Most important in this regard is reinforcing the Israeli red line
in the southern part of Syria, ensuring that no Iranian expansion takes place
in the area. Instead of hoping for a permanent solution to the Syrian civil
war, the United States should aim for an equilibrium. America is incapable
of stopping Syrians and their neighbors from killing each other, but it can
surely remove their ability to inflict so much death and increase their costs of
doing so.

How to achieve these goals? As things stand, there is no reason for Assad and
his masters to compromise. From the Russian and Iranian perspective, they
are winning. With the current cards in their favor, what is needed is a reshuf-
fling of the deck to force the parties to come to an agreement.
As long as Bashar al-Assad remains in the picture, there is little reason
to believe a settlement of sorts is possible. Thus the United States should
explore ways to offer a combination of carrots and sticks to Alawites and
other supporters of
Assad, assuring them
While a military confrontation with that no massacre would
Russia is to be avoided, a Russian vic- take place if Assad were
tory has to be denied. removed, while also
inflicting damage to the
Assad militia’s power. The goal should be to convince enough supporters of
Assad that there is no path forward for victory in Syria and that an accom-
modation, without Assad, is both possible and desirable for their long-term
Assad has no place in the future of Syria, and a settling of scores with the
man responsible for the deaths of countless American soldiers in Iraq is long
What of the Syrians longing for a better future? The world is a cruel place.
In 2011, a path forward for them could have been devised, a path that would
have avoided countless deaths and destruction, but this is not 2011. For these

94 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
inhabitants of the land once known as Syria, I have little to offer, beyond
returning to another line from Shawqi’s poem: “Children of Syria, leave
behind your wishes. . . . Forget your dreams, just forget them!”

Subscribe to The Caravan, the online Hoover Institution journal that
explores the contemporary dilemmas of the greater Middle East (www. © 2018 The Board of Trustees of the
Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is
Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt, by Samuel
Tadros. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit www.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 95


Target Assad’s
The Syrian civil war teems with outside actors.
American strategy must reckon with their
ambitions—and check them.

By Russell A. Berman

ith all the optimism of the Arab Spring, the Syrian rebel-
lion began with the belief that the people of Syria deserve
better than the cruelty meted out by Assad family rule.
That aspiration alone ought to be sufficient grounds to
stand with the democratic forces pursuing self-determination. Yet the United
States has been hesitating, a legacy of the Obama administration’s preference
for tyranny in Tehran over freedom in Damascus. We should reject that sort
of cynicism: not only because it is wrong to abandon the rebels pursuing a
noble cause, but also because of the moral corruption we ourselves face when
we dismiss even the possibility of genuine principles and bona fide ideals.
There is reason aplenty to recoil on humanitarian grounds at the brute vio-
lence that Bashar al-Assad, backed by Tehran and Moscow, heaps on belea-
guered civilians. If we no longer embrace the idealistic “democracy agenda”
of the Bush administration, we might still evaluate Syria in terms of basic
human charity and a responsibility to protect. The leveling of Aleppo and the

Russell A. Berman is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a member of
Hoover’s Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the Inter-
national Order, and the Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford

96 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
onslaught on East Ghouta have elicited outcries around the world. In the long
history of wars in the region, there is no comparable campaign of brutality
against civilians on this scale. Pundits who shamefully equate Assad’s cam-
paign against the population with the American war on ISIS are transparent
apologists for the dictator.
The Assad axis has never been fighting ISIS. Instead, it uses the pretext
of Sunni rebels, Islamist or not, real or imagined, to barrel-bomb civilians to
continue what has been, from the start, an intentional campaign of ethnic
cleansing. The Alawite minority regime is still trying to eliminate or at least
reduce Syria’s Sunni majority (and the consequence of this programmatic
depopulation is the “refugee crisis” in Europe). On the long list of casual-
ties in this devastation, one must now include the United Nations Security
Council, whose call for a cease-fire proved to be absolutely inconsequential.
What better symbol for the demise of that institution and the rule of law in
international affairs?

Even in narrowly realist terms, the United States has much at stake in win-
ning the Syrian war. To describe these stakes means arguing in terms of
American interests rather than the good of the Syrian people, which is neces-
sarily troubling from an ethical point of view.
However, instrumentalizing Syria is hardly new. Perhaps it is the geograph-
ical destiny of a territory with the misfortune of a location between a Persian
empire, old or new, to the
East, and the Mediter-
ranean world to the European supporters of the Iran
West. Syria’s geopolitics nuclear deal were delighted to over-
are as uncomfortable as
look human rights violations, dazzled
that of Poland, trapped
between Germany and
as they were by the prospect of com-
Russia. The most recent mercial gain in the region.
instance of this geo-
graphical destiny involved the Obama administration, whose reluctance to
uphold international law in Syria followed from its absolute priority, a deal—
any deal, or any terms—with Iran. The administration long knew of Assad’s
use of chemical weapons but chose to do nothing. Not until the evidence
could no longer be concealed did it respond to the killing, and then it would
not even defend its own “red line,” for fear of antagonizing its wily interlocu-
tors in Iran.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 97
Nor was it only Washington that behaved deplorably: the Europeans, sup-
porters of the nuclear deal, were delighted to overlook the crimes in Syria,
bedazzled as they were by the prospect of commercial gain in Iran. How else
can one explain their reluctance to raise human rights concerns there, while
they do so with such moralism elsewhere? For the West, Syria was only a
means to an end, the pot of gold imagined in Tehran.
It was that deal-making that transformed Syria from one more chance for
an Arab Spring—full of hope, perhaps naive at times, but certainly deserv-
ing of at least moral support and solidarity—into a tool for other powers to
pursue their competing goals. This is how the Syrian rebellion, an indigenous
uprising against a dicta-
tor, has been replaced by
If the United States were to walk a confrontation among
away from the Syria conflict, it would outside actors, testing,
be interpreted as a rout. probing, and challenging
each other. A historical
comparison (with all the limits of any such comparison) would be the Spanish
Civil War where, on the terrain of a local conflict, the great powers of the era
tested each other’s mettle. That Spain was a gateway to a much larger war is
not necessarily predictive here, but the example shows how much might be
at stake, and why the United States has an interest in its outcome.
As the threat of ISIS subsides, Washington must recognize that it is effec-
tively engaged in a barely camouflaged war with Iran and Russia, and US
strategy has to factor that international aspect into its calculations.

Since the revolution of 1979, Iran has made hostility to the United States the
cornerstone of its foreign policy. It is determined to drive the United States
out of the Middle East. Without anti-Americanism, the mullahs would have
nothing to say. Despite handing Iran a sweetheart deal, the Obama adminis-
tration failed to elicit any moderation from Tehran. The belief that anyone in
the Iranian political class is open to a reversal of its definitive hostility to the
United States has been exposed as a delusion.
For Iran, Syria is vital as a pathway to the sea via Lebanon, which has
already fallen under Iranian domination through Hezbollah. Iranian access
to the Mediterranean means the availability of shipping routes and therefore
a significant advantage in minimizing the impact of American sanctions
and evading some future blockade. Access to Lebanon also obviously brings
Iranian military power closer to the border of US ally Israel, which Iran has

98 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
promised to destroy. While the Israelis are certain to be able to take care of
their own defense, the United States has a significant interest in blocking the
Iranian land route through the Euphrates Valley while also working to pry
Lebanon free from the Iranian stranglehold.
As for Russia, Egypt expelled its erstwhile allies in 1972 and Moscow’s
presence in the Middle East waned for decades. The Obama policies, includ-
ing the promise to withdraw from the region, ushered in Moscow’s return, as
it rushed to the aid of the beleaguered Assad dictatorship. As a result, Syria
has become terrain for a potentially direct confrontation between Russia
and the United States, and not only for a competition between their proxies.
In the fighting at Deir Ezzor in early February, between forces supporting
Assad and their American-backed opponents, US airstrikes resulted in a
significant number of casualties, including Russians, probably mercenaries.
There are accounts that the United States deployed its advanced F-22 stealth
fighters in that battle. Two weeks later, on February 24, Russia reportedly
brought in its Sukhoi-57, its own fifth-generation aircraft, equal to or poten-
tially superior to the F-22. No better evidence is needed for the claim that
Syria has become a showdown between Washington and Moscow.
Without Iran and Russia,
Assad would have lost long ago.
The Assad axis has never been
By propping him up, they have
fighting ISIS.
also been pursuing their own
hegemonic ambitions: Iran’s route to the Mediterranean and Russia’s return
to the Middle East. If the United States were to walk away from this conflict,
it would be interpreted as a rout, an indication of declining American power
with deleterious ramifications for our credibility around the world.

Yet one should not lose sight of the fact that the United States has a much
stronger hand than either of these opponents, with their fragile economies
and, in the case of Iran at least, a very restive population. The more the Unit-
ed States can raise the cost of the war for Moscow and Tehran, the more it
can undermine their respective dictators. A visible blow to Russian forces—
growing casualties or loss of aircraft—would weaken Vladimir Putin’s hand
at home. Simply bogging the Iranians down into a more costly war would
drain resources away from domestic spending, especially if coupled with
tightened sanctions.
Russia and Iran entered Syria of their own accord, but they thereby made
themselves vulnerable. The United States can exploit this vulnerability,

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 99
damaging its adversaries in Syria and, in turn, weakening them at home.
Any blow against Assad degrades his defenders in ways that will echo in
their distant capitals. Putin and the mullahs came to support Assad, but now
undermining Assad can weaken Putin and the mullahs.
While a realist American agenda should include ending the Assad regime
to damage its patrons, it would simultaneously achieve the goal of the origi-
nal rebellion, a Syria that provides for dignified lives for all its people.

Subscribe to The Caravan, the online Hoover Institution journal that
explores the contemporary dilemmas of the greater Middle East (www. © 2018 The Board of Trustees of the
Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is In
Retreat: America’s Withdrawal from the Middle East,
by Russell A. Berman. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or

100 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Israel at Seventy
A nation that “encourages its citizens to challenge
authority, ask the next question, and defy the

By Peter Berkowitz

ven beyond its extraordinary success in launching high-tech
companies chronicled nine years ago in the bestselling Start-up
Nation, Israel is an innovation capital of the world. But the inspir-
ing story of its inventors and entrepreneurs and their discover-
ies, devices, and services that have benefited the Jewish state and people
around the globe has not been fully told. Nor have the cultural, religious, and
political roots of Israeli exceptionalism been sufficiently explored.
Israel’s security threats and political challenges understandably preoccupy
the media. Newspaper headlines and TV news coverage give the impression
that the country exists in an all-consuming state of crisis. The press duly
reports that the country has been subject to international opprobrium owing
to its control since the 1967 Six-Day War of the West Bank, or Judea and
Samaria; for decades it has been mired in a battle on several fronts against
Islamists; and its political leaders seem to operate amid perennial charges of
corruption and government investigations.
Feature articles examining the discord within Israel only bolster the sense
of crisis. Much has been written about the obstacles to full integration into
the country’s society and economy faced by Israel’s Arab minority—slightly

Peter Berkowitz is the Tad and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Insti-
tution and a member of Hoover’s Working Group on the Role of Military History in
Contemporary Conflict.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 101
more than 20 percent of the citizenry. Alarming stories report the high birth
rate among Israel’s ultra-Orthodox—about 11 percent of the population—and
describe how the community, by shielding its children from nonreligious
education, produces young men and women ill-prepared to participate in the
nation’s defense and join the labor force. And plenty of pieces examine the
bitter divide between the intellectual and cultural elites who live in the great-
er Tel Aviv municipal area and vehemently oppose Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, and the working class, many of whom reside on the periphery of
large-city centers and consistently support him.

102 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
Small wonder then that many believe Israel is a fortress state embattled
from without and from within. But any portrait that overlooks Israeli dyna-
mism is woefully incomplete.

Israel celebrated its seventieth birthday in May, and it abounds with energy,
creativity, and intelligence. Its citizens come from a diverse array of coun-
tries. Its Jewish population runs the gamut from deeply pious to ardently
irreverent. Israeli Arabs, Christians, and other minority populations share
the same political rights as Jewish citizens. Newspapers, TV and radio, and
social media crackle around the clock with raucous political debate. Litera-
ture, music, painting, theater, and dance thrive. In the past decade or so,
Israelis have discovered the joys of cooking: celebrity chefs share their reci-
pes and techniques on a steady stream
of popular TV shows. And Israel’s

[Taylor Jones—for the Hoover Digest]

H O O V ER D IG E S T • S u m m er 2018 103
EYES ON THE FUTURE: A woman tries out a virtual-reality headset in Jerusa-
lem’s Old City. The Tower of David Museum hosts its Innovation Lab in a site
two thousand years old. Its goal is to use tech opportunities to enhance the
visitor experience. [Debbie Hill—Newscom]

burgeoning wine industry has given rise to more than two hundred wineries
in a country that, though the size of New Jersey, boasts an amazing variety of
soils and microclimates.
In the book Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World, my
friend Avi Jorisch argues that Israel’s “remarkable culture of innovation” fur-
ther testifies to Israeli dynamism. It also reflects, he stresses, the influence of
“the Jewish prophetic tradition.” Israel, he suggests, “is a nation with the soul
of a synagogue.” The country’s stunning advances in agriculture, water, medi-
cine, and defense have been fostered “consciously or unconsciously,” Jorisch
argues, by the divine imperative “to make the world a better place.”
American born, Jorisch spent many of his formative childhood years in
Israel and returned for graduate school, which led to studies in Arabic and
Islamic philosophy in Egypt. Now residing in the United States and active as
an entrepreneur, a Middle East expert who has served in the departments

104 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
of treasury and defense, and a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy
Council, he writes about Israel with an insider’s knowledge of Zionism, Juda-
ism, and the fabric of Israeli life, and with an outsider’s astonishment at the
Israelis whose ingenuity, pluck, and moral purpose he depicts.
Jorisch tells the story of Eli Beer, who, having witnessed the terrorist
bombing of a bus when he was in kindergarten, was inspired as an adult
to create the “Uber of ambulances.” Beer’s “ambucycles”—motorcycles
equipped with essential first-responder equipment—have dramatically
improved emergency care by enabling EMTs to dodge traffic and arrive on
the scene in the crucial first moments after an accident or attack.
Jorisch recounts Simcha Blass’s development of drip irrigation, which
gives farmers the ability to make hot, arid regions bloom, and which is widely
used on several continents. Before Blass, desert irrigation could lose up to
50 percent of water to evaporation. By depositing water directly at the base
of plants, the inexpensive plastic pipes with regularly spaced outlets and
cleverly designed valves that Blass pioneered have greatly reduced the waste
of a scarce resource.
Jorisch describes the race to build the Iron Dome missile system, which
came online in 2014 to provide an affordable defense against the short-range
rockets and missiles with which Hamas and Hezbollah have terrorized Israeli
He relates the urgent development in the 1950s and 1960s of solar technol-
ogy that allowed Israel, a country with few natural resources (in the past
decade Israel discovered vast offshore reservoirs of natural gas), to substan-
tially reduce energy outlays by mounting cost-effective water heaters on
roofs throughout the country.
He also reports on a paralyzed Israeli physician who invented an exoskel-
eton that permits paraplegics to walk; an Israeli Arab husband-and-wife
team who created a device that guides doctors to the precise spot to implant
electrodes for deep-brain-stimulation therapy; and a botanist who nursed
back to life two-thousand-year-old seeds of the extinct Judean date palm, an
achievement that may yield wondrous new medicines.

It is not Judaism’s prophetic tradition alone to which Jorisch attributes the
amazing outpouring of innovation in Israel. He recognizes as well the linger-
ing effects of the Talmudic tradition—which cherishes education, authorizes
dissent, and celebrates mastery of opposing viewpoints—on a “culture that
encourages its citizens to challenge authority, ask the next question, and

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 105
defy the obvious.” Charity and service to the community, he notes, have been
long-standing Jewish teachings. And he credits Israel’s mandatory military
service, which simultaneously imposes discipline and encourages young
officers with big responsibilities to improvise, and well-designed government
programs that fund inventions and entrepreneurship.
Jorisch mentions but understates the political dimension. A commitment
to a more just world, he observes, is inscribed in Israel’s declaration of inde-
pendence. In May 1948, as five Arab armies sought to destroy the new Jewish
state, Israel’s founding
fathers proclaimed, “We
Newspapers, TV, radio, and social extend our hand to all
media crackle around the clock with neighboring states and
raucous political debate. their peoples in an offer
of peace and good neigh-
borliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual
help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land.” It should be
emphasized also that the declaration emphatically guaranteed equality of
rights to all Israel’s inhabitants regardless of religion, race, or sex, and, over
the seventy years since its birth, Israel has, good to its promise, cultivated
the Middle East’s first and only liberal democracy.
A distinctive synthesis of liberty, equality, and nationhood provides the
conditions in which an ancient religious spirit has entwined with a distinc-
tive contemporary culture to produce in Israel technological innovations that
continue to better the world. The prospering of this political synthesis in an
uncommonly tough neighborhood is a crucial and still-to-be-fully-told part of
Israel’s exceptional story.

Reprinted by permission of Real Clear Politics. © 2018 RealClearHoldings
LLC. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Israel
and the Struggle over the International Laws of War,
by Peter Berkowitz. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or

106 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Turning Scholars
into Unpersons
China is determined to tell its story on its own
highly selective terms. How the People’s Republic
has updated Orwell’s “memory hole” by making it

By Glenn D. Tiffert

n recent years, technology has supercharged the dark art of agitprop,
that potent portmanteau of political agitation and propaganda Russian
revolutionaries gave to the world a century ago. While attention now
centers on how its current devotees are exploiting social media to sow
mistrust, intimidate, provoke, and polarize, for China such chicanery is but
one facet of a much more ambitious suite of influence operations designed to
shape discourse and achieve policy objectives.
True to its Leninist roots, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) depicts
public opinion as a battlefield upon which a highly disciplined political strug-
gle must be waged and won. This battlefield knows no borders; it encompass-
es the full panoply of domestic actors as well as foreign universities, busi-
ness and policy elites, and the media, among others. Abroad, the struggle is
often waged covertly, through proxies such as private firms, businesspeople,

Glenn D. Tiffert is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was the distin-
guished postdoctoral fellow in residence at the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese
Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, from 2015 to 2017. His forth-
coming book, Judging Revolution, examines the birth of the legal system of the
Peoples Republic of China and draws on sources from the Hoover Archives.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 107
and social or educational organizations. Its tactics range from cooperative
ventures that foster goodwill, quietly build leverage over foreign partners,
and establish asymmetric conduits for wielding sharp power and managing
or exfiltrating knowledge, to coercive measures such as express or implied
economic threats, bureaucratic reprisals, and physical arrest.
History is a fiercely contested part of this battlefield. As Orwell once
observed, “who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present
controls the past.” Cognizant of this, the CCP is shrewdly leveraging its econom-
ic muscle and the technologies of the information age to globalize its domestic
censorship regime, enlisting observers everywhere, often without their knowl-
edge or consent, in an alarming effort to sanitize the historical record and
propagate its own competing narratives. It is, in short, honoring Mao’s dictum
to “use the past to serve the present, and make the foreign serve China.”
Its timing is impeccable. Economic and technological disruptions to
our information ecosystem are eroding our capacity to detect, much less
combat, this information war. For example, motivated by thrift and effi-
ciency, many academic libraries are shedding old volumes and outsourc-
ing growing parts of their collections to online providers, trusting these
providers to supply full replacement value and to guarantee the integrity of
their products. But much can go wrong with that bargain, especially since
many of these providers are market-driven ventures subject to commercial
pressures. They may adhere to values, priorities, and standards of steward-
ship different from those of traditional libraries, and may be accountable
to different constituencies, such as shareholders. Furthermore, things can
go spectacularly wrong when they confront the demands of a mercurial
censorship regime and the authoritarian government behind it, as with the
People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Two recent cases demonstrate the dystopic possibilities of this new reality. In
the summer of 2017, acting on a request from its Chinese importer, Cam-
bridge University Press (CUP) quietly removed 315 articles and book reviews
from the online edition of the respected British academic journal The China
Quarterly. For subscribers in China, the affected items simply disappeared,
though they remained accessible elsewhere. CUP ultimately reversed itself
after exposure led to widespread condemnation, but in a separate case the
German academic publisher Springer Nature held firm, effectively arguing
that its censorship of more than one thousand of its own publications was the
cost of doing business in China.

108 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
SILENCED: Chinese legal scholar Yang Zhaolong (1904–79), standing,
examines a book with Harvard legal scholar Roscoe Pound. Yang was one of
the most accomplished Chinese jurists of his generation, and in the late 1950s
he publicly challenged the communist legal orthodoxy and pointed out flaws
in the system. For this he was imprisoned for twelve years. Today, electronic
databases of Chinese legal history are disappearing both Yang and the debate
he provoked. [Harvard Law School]

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 109
Not long ago, such post-publication censorship was toilsome. Tearing out
passages, or seizing and destroying entire volumes, demanded physical control
of the relevant texts, and there was always the possibility that some would
slip through the net to bear future witness. That has changed. Increasingly,
our knowledge resides not in tangible objects dispersed redundantly among
libraries and collectors, but in evanescent bitstreams delivered from distant
servers along a centralized distribution chain. As the CUP and Springer epi-
sodes illustrate, the providers who control those servers can silently alter our
knowledge base without ever leaving their back offices, making one alteration
after another, each with the potential to propagate instantaneously around the
For censors, the possibilities are mouthwatering. Digital databases offer
them dynamic, fine-grained mastery over memory and identity and, in the
case of China, they are
capitalizing on this to
To the Communist Party, public opin- engineer a pliable version
ion is a battlefield on which a highly of the past that can be
disciplined political struggle must be tuned algorithmically to
waged and won. always serve the party’s
present. Yet, dazzled by
the abundance of sources on these databases, we have failed to grasp this
Potemkin-like project, much less its epistemological implications.
Consider, for instance, the PRC’s dominant academic law journals from
the 1950s, Political-Legal Research and Law Science. The original print edi-
tions of these journals document the emergence of China’s post-1949 legal
system, and the often-savage debates that seized it. Few libraries outside
China possess complete, original print runs of these journals, and with the
advent of convenient digital editions, those that do have them have typically
relegated the paper volumes to offsite storage. For most users, online access
is now the norm.
The online editions of Political-Legal Research and Law Science have been
redacted in ways that materially distort the historical record but are invis-
ible to the end user. The consequences are as unsettling as they are deliber-
ate: the more faithful scholars are to this adulterated source base and the
sanitized reality it projects, the more they may unwittingly “serve China” by
promoting the agendas of the censors.
Take the issues originally published in China from 1956 through 1958.
These chronicle how budding debates over matters such as judicial inde-
pendence, the transcendence of law over politics and class, the presumption

110 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
of innocence, and the heritability of law abruptly gave way to vituperative
denunciations of those ideas and their sympathizers. Currently, only two
online databases—China National Knowledge Infrastructure and the Nation-
al Social Sciences Database—offer full-text coverage of these issues, and
their holdings are identical, down to their silent omission of exactly the same
sixty-three articles, a coincidence that suggests a common blacklist.
The temporal distribution of these omissions is striking. It resembles a bell
curve that peaks in the summer of 1957, when a wave of political persecutions
known as the Anti-Rightist Campaign crested, and then tapers off in the
following months as that campaign wound down. For the years in question,
more than 8 percent of the articles and 11 percent of the total page count has
been erased from the online editions of these journals, with some individual
issues missing around 50 percent of their pages. Notably, the gaps are con-
centrated at the tops of their tables of contents, which means that the cen-
sors are today suppressing the articles these journals once proudly led with.
There is no substitute for a close traditional reading of these sources,
but computational
techniques can supple-
Increasingly, knowledge resides not
ment that by effectively
reverse engineering the
in tangible objects held by libraries
logic guiding the censors, but in evanescent bitstreams. Those
and probing the argu- who control the servers can silently
ments and topics their alter our knowledge base.
handiwork is selecting
for and against. For instance, one of these techniques, chi-squared feature
selection, measures the strength and statistical significance of the correla-
tion between the appearance of a term in a text, and the membership of that
text in the censored group. Take rightist element, for example, the term most
highly correlated with censorship in Political-Legal Research. As one might
expect, labeling someone a rightist element singled him out for persecution
during the Anti-Rightist Campaign. It turns out that censors have expunged
nearly half of the “rightist elements” from our three-year sample of this
journal, which at the very least warps our sense of how the term was actually
used, how that usage may have changed over time, and why.

Likewise, consider “Yang Zhaolong” (1904–79), the term most highly corre-
lated with censorship in Law Science. Yang was one of the most accomplished
Chinese jurists of his generation, but in late 1956 and early 1957 he had the

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 111
temerity to publicly challenge the legal orthodoxy of the Communist Party
and point out flaws in the young PRC legal system. This ultimately led to his
twelve-year incarceration as a rightist and counterrevolutionary.
The original paper issues of Law Science document the virulent backlash
against Yang and his ideas, but the online editions omit the lion’s share of
this content, as if it had never happened. Moreover, my analysis reveals that
much the same can be said for others who, like Yang, promoted a raft of
concepts connected to the rule of law, or greater separation between party
and state. Today, the record of their arguments and persecutions sticks like
a thorn in the side of a regime that has since not only written the rule of law
into its constitution but also presented its current policy of “socialist rule of
law with Chinese characteristics” as the culmination of a proud originalist
It falls to the censors to resolve such inconsistencies, and they have been
busy. Other journals hosted on these databases are missing not just discrete
articles but also entire issues. Given the breadth of the CCP’s insecurities,
arguably no historical period or topic is safe from such manipulation. Fur-
thermore, the complicity of the database providers in hosting this sanitized
content raises grave doubts about their good faith. They are violating the
trust of users everywhere, and contaminating research based on their hold-
ings. Worst of all, by tendentiously distorting consciousness of China’s past,
they are prejudicing its possible futures.
It is worth noting that the computational techniques I employed are dou-
ble-edged weapons; they can also be repurposed to automate and enhance
the work of the censors. Simply by manipulating any of the 30,000-plus
parameters in my sample,
an enterprising censor (or
Thanks to new technology, it’s a very hacker) could fabricate
short hop to Orwell’s memory hole, bespoke versions of the
where reality is continuously rein- historical record, each
vented by the powerful. exquisitely tuned to the
shifting ideological or
political requirements of the present. It is a very short hop indeed from the
technologies that already dynamically filter and sort our newsfeeds to the
nightmare of Orwell’s memory hole, where reality is continuously reinvented
by the powerful at will.
We must not suppose that these dangers are limited to China. They are, in
fact, illustrative of the broader ramifications of our deepening digital depen-
dence and the redistribution of power it entails. As knowledge transcends its

112 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
traditional corporeal vessels, it is slipping from our grasp and moving ever
more under the control of those able to enclose, harness, and commodify it
anew. In myriad ways, this places us at their mercy—reliant on their steward-
ship, and more vulnerable than ever to the political, regulatory, commercial,
and licensing terms that may impinge upon it. Seduced by the digital dream,
we actually hasten our submission when we purge from our shelves the phys-
ical evidence necessary to independently monitor the performance of these
new providers and hold
them to account. The
conditions for agitation, Today’s China touts “socialist rule of
censorship, propaganda, law with Chinese characteristics” as
and disinformation to a proud originalist vision, erasing the
flourish could scarcely
dispute from history.
be more favorable.
Remarkably, intellectual-property law aggravates this predicament.
Political-Legal Research and Law Science will be under copyright in the United
States until ninety-five years after their original date of publication, or the
early 2050s at least, which precludes republishing the censored content
in print or online without the consent of its Chinese rights holders. Thus,
simply by digitally consolidating sources onto servers under its control, a
savvy authoritarian government can lawfully project its domestic censorship
regime abroad, the better to mislead foreign observers, advance its policy
agenda, and shape the public opinion battlefield globally. Alternatively, by
flexing its market power or by arranging for proxies to take ownership stakes
in foreign content providers, it can achieve similar results.

The digital turn is undoubtedly here to stay. If we are to prevent the practic-
es described above from proliferating, then we must confront them head on,
lest growing distrust about the authenticity of the knowledge we consume
and produce metastasize. A subscription to an online commercial database
can cost a research university tens of thousands of dollars annually, and it
has a powerful interest in ensuring that it gets what it is paying for. Collective
action by a group of universities to raise awareness of what is happening, and
to demand redress from the vendors, is a necessary first step. Collaborative
ventures to conserve legacy media and to reinvest in the institutions that
preserve it, such as libraries and archives, are also essential.
Beyond that, knowledge creators, professional societies, rights holders,
content providers, and the institutions that subscribe to their products must

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 113
also design and implement a set of industrywide best practices to uphold
the integrity of our digital collections, transparently log omissions and
modifications, and defend against tampering at the levels of the individual
character, document, and corpus. Such standards must apply not only to the
digitization of legacy analog sources (which are, after all, not eternal), but
also to those “born” digital, and it is imperative that commercial providers in
particular adopt them.
In short, we are well past the point when we can naively trust; we must
now also verify. A variety of solutions, such as digital signatures, blockchain
certification, or ISO 16363 certification, with logos signifying validated
standards compliance, are potentially available to meet those needs. We
absolutely must engineer such technical safeguards into the foundations
of our knowledge infrastructure and back them up with mutually reinforc-
ing statements of principle and firm contractual obligations. The menace is
real and already among us. Never before has knowledge been prone to such
sweeping and supple manipulation. Our understanding of ourselves and our
future, as well as the continued vitality of the ideas and practices that define
a free society, depend on it.

Special to the Hoover Digest.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is One Day
We Will Live Without Fear: Everyday Lives under the
Soviet Police State, by Mark Harrison. To order, call
(800) 888-4741 or visit

114 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Goodnight Mao
To the monitors of China’s “Great Firewall,” even
storybook characters can be subversive.

By Markos Kounalakis

ictators hate a challenge to their rule. That’s why China uses
its vast policing and advanced technological resources both to
arrest individuals and to remove from public view any pro-
test words, phrases, images, or symbols that might be seen as
threatening the state. The kinds of things that, if unchecked, can potentially
overthrow a regime.
One of the high-priority targets of China’s security systems today? Winnie
the Pooh.
Yes, Pooh Bear is a danger to the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese
state, and, most important, President Xi Jinping.
Xi should be feeling pretty confident these days, as China changes its
constitution to rid it of presidential term limits. Not since Chairman Mao
Zedong will China have had a more powerful and unchallenged leader. But
the power of Pooh must not be underestimated.
Why Pooh and his media parent company, Disney? Popular protest in
countries where speech is controlled often finds expression in seemingly
innocent ways as well as through symbols loaded with hidden or ironic mean-
ing. From blue Smurfs in Poland in the late 1980s to yellow rubber duckies in

Markos Kounalakis is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and a senior
fellow at the Center for Media, Data, and Society at Central European University
in Budapest, Hungary. He is the author of Spin Wars and Spy Games: Global
Media and Intelligence Gathering (Hoover Institution Press, 2018).

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 115
[Taylor Jones—for the Hoover Digest]

contemporary Russia, Serbia, and Brazil, the absurd directly challenges the
In China, an inspired citizen saw a resemblance between Xi Jinping and
the cuddly, befuddled Pooh and posted it on Weibo, a Chinese version of Twit-
ter. The picture of an oversized Pooh benevolently sitting in a car instantly
ricocheted around social media in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It
was quickly interpreted by the Chinese public as mocking an official image of
Xi Jinping in a car reviewing a People’s Liberation Army formation.

116 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
The Chinese state, the Communist Party, and Xi—China’s “core” leader—
are now seen as the PRC’s holy trinity. They must be considered one single
solitary and infallible unit with perfectly aligned interests. Any attack or
mockery of Xi is thus also considered an attack against the party and the
state. Therefore, it is potentially punishable by all the tools and methods
available to the state.
It’s not officially declared policy that Pooh—or any Disney character—is
an anti-China agitator. But the reality is that the Chinese state actively

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 117
censors subversive words from being searched on the carefully controlled
and firewall-protected Internet. The China Digital Times dynamically crowd-
sources phrases that are blocked online, an ever-changing list that recently
included the following:

Long live the emperor Incapable ruler
Disagree Rule the world
Personality cult Great men sent from heaven
The wheel of history Emigrate
Xi Zedong 1984

Information sovereignty is China’s goal. That means being able to decide
and control what its population reads or sees. Chinese authorities have been
astute students of the Soviet Union’s demise and collapse. They have under-
stood that free-flowing information and state counternarratives are powerful
and effective at undermining a state’s legitimacy.
It may seem simplistic and naive today, but in the pre-Internet era, radio
broadcasts with jazz music and alternative, credible news programming
could infect the minds of an otherwise programmed people with visions of
liberation and dreams of democratic governance. That’s why the Soviets put
so much effort and expense into jamming shortwave radio signals and pro-
gramming—the kind I also once produced for Radio Sweden International in
the 1980s.
Total information control proved impossible. The populations of East-
ern Europe and the USSR knew there was an alternative to their political
oppression and economic suffering. It took a good seventy-four years before
the Soviet Union dis-
solved, but the slow drip
Blue Smurfs, yellow bathtub duckies, of truth eventually helped
Winnie the Pooh: seemingly innocent corrode the Iron Curtain.
images might carry a hidden political China is on an economic
message. tear, boasting an astro-
nomical annual growth
rate with high future financial growth targets. It has successfully lifted
hundreds of thousands of its people out of poverty, in part, as Donald Trump
has rightly argued, thanks to huge American and European trade deficits. As
long as the country stays economically viable and financially underwritten by
the West, the only thing the Communist Party and Xi need to stay in power is
to control regime-challenging democratic messages and ideas.

118 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
The twenty-first century gives any state sophisticated tools for filtering
information and finding malcontents. Monitoring IP addresses and social
media accounts allows the Chinese state to track and control its population.
Managing the message, and the messengers, prevents subversives from
spreading revolution-
ary ideas or organizing
In the pre-Internet era, jazz music
antistate protest. “The
Great Firewall of China” and credible news on the radio could
effectively keeps out fill the minds of an otherwise pro-
news, information, and grammed people with visions of
ideas that challenge the liberation and democracy.
state–party–Xi trium-
virate. While Americans protest for Net neutrality to keep an anarchic flow
of information moving freely within the United States, the Chinese state
is practicing and preaching Net neutering of its citizens to ensure China’s
domestic tranquility and maintain the state’s legitimacy.
President Trump has broken ranks with his predecessors and America’s
traditional values as he looks enviously at totalitarian states’ control of
media, message, and manipulation. His benevolent attitude towards China’s
blind pursuit of its own interests makes it more difficult for China’s global
critics to pressure Xi’s regime.

Reprinted by permission of the Sacramento Bee. © 2018 Sacramento Bee.
All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is Spin Wars
and Spy Games: Global Media and Intelligence
Gathering, by Markos Kounalakis. To order, call (800)
888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 119


“What Do You Do
with Freedom?”
Black Americans would do better to stand than
to kneel. An interview with Hoover fellow Shelby

By Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson, Uncommon Knowledge: A native of Chicago, Shelby Steele
taught English literature for a number of years at San Jose State University.
Then, in 1990, his book, The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in
America, established him as an author of national importance. Now a fellow
at the Hoover Institution, he’s the author of a number of books, including
White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil
Rights Era and Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country.
He is also a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, where he recently
published a column headlined “Black Protest Has Lost Its Power.”
You wrote of the players who took a knee during the national anthem in
this last football season, “They were mindlessly loyal to a black identity that
had run its course.”

Shelby Steele: Yes.

Shelby Steele is the Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow at the Hoover
Institution. His latest book is Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polar-
ized Our Country (Basic Books, 2015). Peter Robinson is the editor of the
Hoover Digest, the host of Uncommon Knowledge, and a research fellow at the
Hoover Institution.

120 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
Robinson: Wow. That’s quite a claim.

Steele: Blacks, obviously, have undergone over the centuries slavery and
segregation and victimization, all those things we’re all very much aware of.
My point is that out of that came an identity, a group identity, that has been,
for better and worse, grounded in the idea of blacks as victims, and black vic-
timization has become the sort of centerpiece of that identity. That identity, I
think, in the case of the NFL protesters, is sort of dislodged from reality and
functions pretty much on its own. Once they felt called upon to make some
symbolic protest against American racism, they sort of mindlessly went
along with that without ever stopping to investigate whether there really was
oppression—what degree of oppression is involved in American life today
for blacks. My argument is “not very much.” There was an incongruence in
refusing to stand for the national anthem when this country, despite its sins,
also was a country that, for the past sixty years, has truly transformed itself
morally, and Americans today are a different people in regard to all these
issues. I thought the protest was an obsolescent gesture that no one found
much meaning in.

Robinson: You said in a recent interview, “This is not segregated America.
I grew up in segregated America, so I know the difference.” Let’s talk a little
bit about Shelby Steele as a young man. I have a few experiences here that
you’ve written about,
notably in Shame, your
latest book, and that I’ve “Black America touched greatness.
heard you talk about, We extended democracy past the bar-
because we’ve been rier of race, so historically that was, in
friends for years. Your a sense, our gift to America.”
elementary school in a
Chicago suburb, your parents joined other parents in suing to change that.
What was that school like?

Steele: That school was an elementary school in a district where there were
only two schools. One was all white, and one was all black. We would see the
white kids drive to school in the school bus in the wintertime, while we had to
walk. We got their textbooks when they were worn out. We got their teachers
when the teachers began to have problems, a nervous breakdown or some-
thing. They’d be transferred to our school.
It was abusive. There’s no doubt about it. It was a horror, and even among
segregated schools, this one was particularly bad. My parents actually led the

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 121
protest. My mother and father organized the parents and boycotted that school,
and so there were no students going to it. Eventually, they prevailed. The teach-
ers were fired, the principal was fired, and a new school was started up.

Robinson: Beginning when you were a little boy, you saw real segregation
and real abuse.

Steele: Yes. Everywhere.

Robinson: And protest when there was something to protest.

Steele: Well, that’s the point. I think of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act as the
point at which America capitulated and apologized: “We were wrong. Here’s
a huge piece of legislation affirming our commitment to not do this anymore.”
Now, that bill has a lot of problems that have subsequently come to hurt us,
but as a historical gesture,
it was one of the great
“Black victimization has become the moral acknowledgements
sort of centerpiece of that identity.” of any society, ever. It was
a really remarkable event,
and blacks deserve an enormous amount of credit for protesting in that era,
because there was no debate in America about whether or not there was
racial discrimination. Everybody knew there was. The question was what
we’re going to do about it, and blacks’ protest pushed that all the way to the
point where America finally did capitulate.

Robinson: Rosa Parks was genuinely a great figure.

Steele: She was genuinely a great figure.

Robinson: Martin Luther King Jr. is genuinely a historic figure.

Steele: Genuinely. These people sacrificed enormously. They took every kind
of risk imaginable. They achieved something truly great. It was a moment
when black America touched greatness. We extended democracy past the
barrier of race, so historically that was, in a sense, our gift to America.

Robinson: Now, you write in Shame about a trip that you took to Africa at the
age of twenty-three. You write, “This entire trip was organized around visits
to cities like Algiers, cities associated with independence movements and
revolutions that had swept the Third World in the 1950s and ’60s. I wanted
to see if there was some counterpoint to the American way of life that was
better.” What did you see?

122 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
“DO NOTHING WITH US”: “There are, I believe, millions of people on both
sides, whites and blacks, who know something’s wrong, who know this is not
real, this can’t be depended on in the future.” [Hoover Institution]

Steele: I didn’t find that. You know, I was coming of age. I was just out of col-
lege. I was working in the War on Poverty programs and there was a point,
after the civil rights victories in the late ’60s, where black people began
to create this identity that we call blackness, and it was angry, and it was
resentful, and it was separatist, and it held the illusion in it that somehow
we would get farther as a separate, unified people than we would by joining
America and becoming regular citizens. I confess; I was caught up in that.
What was so seductive was that it said blackness is the answer to all your
anxieties about life, what you should do . . . if you’re just really focused on
blackness, those issues seem to go away.
So yes, my wife and I took a trip to Africa, beginning in Algeria, where
we met with the Black Panthers who were in exile. Then, we traveled
south of the Sahara and to Ghana, where Kwame Nkrumah had been the
president, to Senegal, where Léopold Senghor . . . you know, these great
romantic, anticolonialist, sort of revolutionary figures . . . and it was a
good lesson learned very quick. Those countries were not doing well. They
were disorganized. Overwhelmed with corruption. There was no sort of
common direction. They were lost. They couldn’t go back to being a colony

H O O V ER D IG E S T • S u m m er 2018 123
again, and yet they also didn’t know how to go into the future and build a
new nation.
I learned a lot there. It transformed me. It made me realize that your
racial identity is a passive thing. Your racial identity is not an agent of
change. It is not going to build a new life for you. It is not going to do all the
things that life calls upon you to do for yourself. In fact, it’s a delusion in
which you can waste an awful lot of time.

Robinson: In the Journal you wrote, “Racism is endemic to the human condi-
tion just as stupidity is. We will always have to be on guard against it, but
now, in the United States, it is recognized as a scourge. What has happened
is that black America has been confronted with a new problem, the shock of
freedom.” Explain that problem.

Steele: Well, if you have
“What do people do with freedom been an oppressed
when they don’t know how to handle people—and we were,
it? They reinvent their oppression, obviously, truly oppressed
for centuries—you learn all
even as it has faded away.”
sorts of things in order to
survive. We learned how to reinvent ourselves. We learned how to live with this
oppression, with this negative force in your life. We were, I think, miraculous.
We created a great music out of this. We did other things that had a worldwide
impact: we expanded the idea of democracy and made freedom an absolute. We
did all those things. The one thing we never did, never had a chance to do, was
to live in freedom. We were never free. We were always in a position of calcu-
lating our fate through those who dominated us. We were never free to invent
ourselves as we wanted to. And in the Sixties, when we began to confront free-
dom, when America backed up and said, “OK. Discrimination is wrong. Here
are a bunch of laws to support that,” the problem is, well, what do you do with
freedom? What are you going to do now? Historically, it scared the hell out of us.
Who wouldn’t be scared? Freedom is a frightening thing. It places such
a burden of responsibility on you, on the person who has it. You’re now
responsible. Your reputation is based, now, on what you do. Four centuries of
oppression had left us, in many ways, underdeveloped, yet freedom requires
a wholly different orientation toward the world. When you’re afraid, you
don’t know how to move forward. You start to move backward.

Robinson: Here are some statistics I found. In 2015, black households at
the twentieth and fortieth percentiles of household income, that is lower

124 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
middle class and pretty poor people, earned an average of 55 percent as
much as white households at those same two percentiles, and that’s exactly
the same figure as in 1967. So the question is, “Dr. Steele, African-Americans
haven’t made an iota of progress. Of course, this has to be because we’re still
oppressed.” How do you deal with that argument, Shelby?

Steele: It’s a corruption. Who says that’s because of racism? Maybe it’s
because you haven’t yet developed the value system, the ideas with which
to thrive in freedom. Maybe you don’t know what to do with the opportuni-
ties that surround you. It’s understandable: you were oppressed, and people
have not pointed out to you the challenge of freedom. What do people do with
freedom when they don’t know how to handle it? They reinvent their oppres-
sion, even as it has faded away. They make it up in their mind all over again.
“Racism is around every corner. There is systemic racism. There is struc-
tural racism. There are microaggressions, and there’s white privilege.” All of
this, again, is the shock of freedom and not knowing.
I mean, look at today’s black leadership. They have no clue about how
to move ahead. All they can think to do is ask for more from the govern-
ment. Well, we’ve asked and the government has given us almost everything.
Nowhere in history has
a government paid off
its people more than “Your racial identity is not an agent of
America has in the past change. It is not going to build a new
sixty years, and yet we life for you.”
are, by most socioeco-
nomic measures, farther behind white America than we were in the Fifties,
when we had none of these social programs and other help.
One of my points about the NFL protest, and the same with Black Lives
Matter, is that they can’t even articulate what they’re protesting against,
when if racism is so virulent, it ought to be obvious. When I was a kid, it was
obvious. No one denied it. It was visible to everybody every day, and that
was the beginning and the end of it. Today, where is it? Where are you being
stopped? “Well, I want to rise. I want to be a politician. I want to be the presi-
dent.” OK. You want to be the CEO of such and such a corporation. OK. You
can do anything you want. The reality and the problem that occupies black
America today is the fact that we are, at last, a free people.

Robinson: Shelby, you know this well. President Johnson’s 1965 commence-
ment address at Howard University. “You do not take a person who has been
hobbled by chains and bring him up to the starting line of a race and say,

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 125
‘You’re free to compete with the others.’ Equal opportunity is essential but
not enough.” In your view, was Johnson correct in 1965 but that view is wrong
now; that affirmative action, transfer payments, all of that was necessary, but
at some point, it began to hold African-Americans back? Or was it wrong to
begin with?

Steele: That speech has been quoted . . . I’ve quoted it I don’t know how many
times. What that is really about is not black people, because black people were
in the position of coming into freedom. You can help them or not, but they’re
going to have to deal
with it in some way. That
“As blacks, we need to ask ourselves statement was about what
why we have become so dependent I’ve written a good deal
on this delusion that we live in a soci- about: white guilt. And
ety that is intent on keeping us down. it was a horrible histori-
cal mistake, as far as I’m
That’s over with.”
concerned, because what
Johnson was saying was: “We oppressed you. Now, we’re going to lift you up
and redeem you.” Your fate remains in our hands, the government’s hands,
every kind of philanthropic group’s hands, everybody’s hands but yours.
We then had to have sixty years of white guilt. White guilt is a very specific
thing. It is not a genuine feeling of guilt, nothing to do with that. It is the terror,
the literal terror, of being seen as a racist. Everybody knows in America, that’s
the bottom line. If you are seen as a racist, openly, in public, you are ruined.
You have no life. Johnson is saying, “I can’t have you call me and this country
racist, and so I’m going to give you a whole bunch of things.” I worked in those
programs, so I know them intimately. We don’t care whether it works. We had
school busing for how many decades, ruining the public school system? School
integration did absolutely nothing. Black students were still unable to compete,
because the focus was on what the government was going to do and not on
what black students do. All these bad ideas. White guilt has been a real driver
of these corruptions, and these football players down on their knees know that.

Robinson: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “They’re talking about
equality issues, and we’re doing everything we possibly can to give people an
opportunity, whether it’s education or economic.” What do you make of that

Steele: What in the world has that got to do with football? That is just a
perfect white guilt statement. He may as well just say, “I’m innocent. I’m

126 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
innocent. I’m innocent. I’m innocent. I’m innocent. I’m not a racist. I’m not
a racist.” I understand he has given millions of dollars to some cause called
social justice. Well, what is that? I can tell you what that is. That’s a lot of
hustling. That’s a lot of black hustlers stepping forward to take that hundred
million dollars and put it in their pocket. You create a whole class of hustlers.
Black leadership today is pretty much nothing left but hustlers who work
white guilt.

Robinson: All right, so what is to be done? Let’s just work our way through a
couple of the obvious problems here. We’ve got poverty. African-Americans
are disproportionately poor. Two-fifths of African-American households
receive food stamps, a much higher percentage than any other ethnic group.
And we’ve got inequality. Turns out, even if you go up the income scale,
upper-class and middle-class blacks earn about two-thirds as much as their
white counterparts, which is the same figure as half a century ago. What do
you do?

Steele: The first thing I think you do is you name the reasons why—and
certainly, racism is no longer a reason. If it is a reason, it is eighteenth or
twentieth on the list of reasons. It is not worth your time, is not worth focus-
ing on or worrying much about. There are no important forces in American
life advocating for racism. As blacks, we need to ask ourselves why we have
become so dependent on this delusion that we live in a society intent on keep-
ing us down. That’s over
with. We need to face
ourselves more frankly, “Free people are free to move from
you guys, as 75 percent one thing to another, to find them-
of all black children are selves, to find their voice, to find out
born out of wedlock. Do
what they can do in life. To me, that’s
you understand the kind
of dysfunction? Just that
statistic alone, that’s a problem, and who’s going to fix that? The government?
There’s no examination of how self-reliance, more personal responsibility
for one’s decisions in life, how these are the things that now determine our
fate. Again, I blame a lot of this on the original oppression. That was not an
experience that taught us these values and principles that other people take
for granted. Well, now we’ve got to take up those principles. Now we’ve got to
stop thinking of ourselves as victims and think of ourselves as free men and
women in this world with every kind of opportunity.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 127
Life is tough for everybody, no doubt about that, but free people are free
to move from one thing to another, to find themselves, to find their voice, to
find out what they can do in life. To me, that’s blackness. That’s blackness,
or it ought to be. What passes for blackness now is just a kind of mindless
mimicry of anger and resentment that is really an instance of pathos. It’s just
sad to see these football players out there on their knee when they can’t even
articulate what they’re protesting against. I can tell you that Martin Luther
King knew what he was protesting against.

Robinson: Affirmative action—still need it? Do away with it?

Steele: I have an ambivalent position on affirmative action. As I’ve said, if
the Ku Klux Klan had invented a social policy to keep black people down,
they could not have done a better job than affirmative action, but I have a
very mild point of view
about these matters.
“The one thing we never did, never had a Affirmative action
chance to do, was to live in freedom.” basically says what’s
important about you
is the color of your skin, the very thing that was important about us when we
were oppressed. When do we get to be human beings? When do we get to be
people who compete on their own merit?
Affirmative action is a sort of archetypal re-oppression of people.

Robinson: You wrote in your column: “The oppression of black people is over
with. We blacks are, today, a free people.” What was the response among

Steele: I’m sure they will be apoplectic and thus prove my point about focus-
ing on our victimization. Rather than say, “Oh my goodness. In fact, it is over.
Our oppression is over with. We really are a free people,” we scream to high
heavens that Steele is crazy, can’t you see racism everywhere? That white
supremacy is just infused into, literally, the air of America. . . . This longing
for an identity is a longing for an excuse not to accept the challenge of free-
dom. It is a way to escape that challenge.

Robinson: A lot of my friends said: “Wait a minute. We just went through
eight years of an African-American president, and every one of those young
African-American men who’s taking a knee is a millionaire,” but whites don’t
get to say, “What the heck are you guys thinking?” What they do is just turn
off the channel.

128 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
Steele: It’s what I call race fatigue, and as we keep going down this path,
whites are going to become more and more immune to it, and I think the
football protest was a good example. Whites have now said: “We’re not going
to come out in public, but privately, we don’t believe you anymore. We think
you’re a fraud. We don’t think you’re that oppressed. You know, we can’t say
anything, because then, you’ll just call us racist and we’ll pay another way,
but we don’t buy it.”
I believe that America’s going to see more and more whites turning away,
disbelieving. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to become racist. It means
that they’re going to see the reality, that blacks have not yet taken enough
responsibility for the freedom they enjoy.
The blacks who are not in the victim-focused identity, they’re going to be
called Uncle Toms and rejected and so forth, but there are, I believe, millions
of people on both sides, whites and blacks, who know something’s wrong, who
know this is not real, this can’t be depended on in the future.

Robinson: Last question. Let me quote Frederick Douglass, the great former
slave. This is 1863. “What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not
sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious
to know what they shall do with us. Do nothing . . .

Steele: “Nothing.”

Robinson: . . . with us. Your interference is doing us positive injury.” What
does Shelby Steele say to white Americans today?

Steele: Well, I couldn’t say anything better than that. I’m a great fan of Fred-
erick Douglass. What truth. How long is it going to take us to absorb that mes-
sage? What I would say to whites is: “Have a little more faith in yourself. Do
you have ill will toward people of different races and backgrounds? Then you,
obviously, know that’s something you cannot indulge.” That’s it. That’s it.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 129


Why Putin
Lashes Out
Vladimir Putin is no Josef Stalin, says Hoover
fellow Stephen Kotkin, but his regime’s weakness
poses its own kind of danger.

By Tunku Varadarajan

ussians participated a few months ago in a presidential elec-
tion that was, let’s agree, lacking in any competitive tension.
In fact, says Stephen Kotkin, Vladimir Putin’s re-election was
“preordained, a superfluous, if vivid, additional signal of Russia’s
debilitating stagnation.”
Few Americans understand Russia better than Kotkin, a Hoover senior
fellow who late last year published Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941, the sec-
ond of an intended three-volume biography of the Soviet dictator the author
describes as “the person in world history who accumulated more power than
anyone else.”
President Putin, by comparison, is a dictatorial lightweight. “We wouldn’t
want to equate Putin with Stalin,” Kotkin says. The Soviet Union—which
Stalin ruled for three hair-raising decades, until his death in 1953—had “one-
sixth of the world’s land mass under its control, plus satellites in Eastern

Stephen Kotkin is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the John P. Birke-
lund ’52 Professor in History and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson
School and History Department of Princeton University. His latest book is Stalin:
Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941 (2017, Penguin Press). Tunku Varadarajan is
the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

130 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
Europe and Northeast Asia.” There were also communist parties in scores of
countries, which did Russia’s bidding. “We talk about how Russia interferes
in our elections today,” says Kotkin, “but Stalin had a substantial Communist
Party in France, and in Italy, inside the Parliament. And when Stalin gave
instructions to them, they followed his orders.”
The Soviet economy, at its peak in the 1980s, reached about a third of the
size of the US economy. Russia’s economy today, Kotkin points out, “is one-
fifteenth the size of America’s. Russia is very weak, and getting weaker.” Not
long ago, Russia was the eighth-largest economy in the world. Today, Kotkin
says, “you’re lucky to get it at twelfth or thirteenth, depending on how you
measure things. Another two terms of Putin, and Russia will be out of the top
But don’t be reassured by Russia’s feebleness. Kotkin says this weakness is
what makes Putin such a threat to the West.

Kotkin, a professor at Princeton, is the sort of historian who has gone out
of fashion at American universities. He readily admits that the subject that
interests him most is power: “Where does power come from, how does it
work, how does it accumulate and dissipate?” He is a historian of politics and
international relations at a time when history faculties everywhere are recoil-
ing from big themes and grand strategy, embracing instead an increasingly
narrow social and cultural historiography.
“We have more than sixty professors in the history department at Prince-
ton,” Kotkin says. “I consider that a very substantial number. We don’t have a
single one whose specialty is US diplomatic history.” He stresses that he’s not
against the other types of history being taught at universities, just that he’s
saying that there “should
be room for straight-
forward, old-fashioned, “Stalin had a substantial Communist
political-diplomatic his- Party in France, and in Italy, inside
tory, about foreign policy the Parliament. And when Stalin gave
and current events.” instructions to them, they followed
Kotkin became a
his orders.”
historian by messy
accident. He was a pre-med student at the University of Rochester, where
he boasts that he had “the highest average in organic chemistry, the most
difficult course.” He was in the operating room one day with a professor—“a
bit of a showman”—who’d opened a carotid artery in a way that made blood

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 131
spurt. “I’d never seen anything
like this,” says Kotkin—his
face faintly green even in the
remembering—“and I began
to feel woozy.” The callow
Kotkin threw up and passed
out. “That ended my medical
A switch to English
literature followed, with a
minor in history, which put
Kotkin into contact with
the legendary Christo-
pher Lasch. A moralist
as well as a historian,
Lasch was writing The
Culture of Narcissism
at the time. “He was
a kind of Midwest-
ern, prairie popu-
list,” Kotkin says,
“and his critique of
American progres-
sivism was something
you cannot now hear on
American campuses.”
Attracted to history,
and away from literature,
Kotkin ended up at the
University of California,
Berkeley, for his doctor-
ate, specializing in Rus-
sia. “I started learning
the Russian language
in the third year
of my PhD,

[Taylor Jones—for the Hoover Digest]

132 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
and then four years later I was assistant professor of Russian history at
Princeton.” That was 1988, Kotkin was twenty-nine, and the Soviet state was
withering away. There couldn’t have been a better time, one imagines, for a
historian of Russia to find a wide and hungry audience.

Kotkin was drawn to Stalin
because “the history of Stalin
was a history of the world.” He
was also “the gold standard
of dictatorship.” With Soviet
nostalgia sweeping Russia
today alongside a revival of
Stalin as a paragon, Kotkin
welcomes my asking him
how much of Stalin we
should see in Putin
today—and how much
of Stalin the current
Russian leader sees
in himself.
Old-school histo-
rian that he is, Kotkin
responds with a narrative.
“The way you have to begin
with this is with Russia’s
place in the world. How do you
get a figure like Stalin or Putin
in the first place?” The answer
lies in Russia’s aspiration “to have
a special mission in the world—
something that most people
attribute to its Byzantine heritage.”
Russia, in Russian eyes, is “not a
regular country, it’s a providen-
tial power that’s ordained
by God.”
This is where
the threat

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 133
from Putin springs. It’s very difficult to manage the proposition of Russian
power in the world, says Kotkin, when the “capacities of the Russian state
today, like the Soviet state before, are not always of the first rank.” They’re
economically modest and technologically mediocre, so they “look for ways to
compensate,” and subversion of competitors is an obvious, low-cost strategy.
Kotkin invites us to
ponder Putin’s options.
“The better they get at surveillance “We have a situation
and suppression of dissent, the less where a desire for a spe-
they know about their own society cial mission in the world
and what the people really think.” is the overriding orga-
nizational framework of
Russian national culture, and the Putin regime is the inheritor of this.” Putin
couldn’t possibly abandon Russia’s self-image and decide that his is going
to be “just another country,” the way France and Britain did, and Germany
and Japan were forced to do. Among major world powers today, Kotkin says,
“those countries that feel they’re destined under God to be special are really
only the US, China and Russia.”
Russia, it would seem, is providential yet impotent. “That’s why the Rus-
sians love the UN,” Kotkin says. “They have a veto on the Security Council.”
It is also why Russia today retains a state-led economy: “You use the state
to beat your people up, and the state also picks the winners and losers in the
marketplace.” Russia is beggaring itself, Kotkin believes, in relation to China,
but it’s staying afloat strategically “vis-à-vis the West because the West itself
is in disarray in a way that China is not. The United States is in a period you
can describe any way you wish, but it’s not one of vigorous global leadership.”
Russia appears to have
resigned itself to China’s
Russia sees itself not as “a regular inexorable rise. It has
country; it’s a providential power therefore turned its com-
that’s ordained by God.” petitive focus entirely on
the West. “Russia’s grand
strategy,” says Kotkin, “is Western collapse. Just wait it out. If the European
Union breaks up, if the US withdraws into itself and gives up all of its alli-
ances around the world, Russia has many fewer problems, and its relative-
power gap can narrow substantially.”
Putin’s modus operandi, Kotkin suggests, is to “enhance the process of
Western collapse. You can try to interfere in Western elections and support
disarray in the West, but ultimately only the West can destroy itself.”

134 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
Putin did not “hijack the US election,” Kotkin says. “He hijacked American
public discourse.” Moscow conducted an intelligence operation to discredit
Hillary Clinton and US democracy by obtaining compromising material, “of
which there was plenty.” This evolved into “an operation to obtain compro-
mising material on Donald Trump as well, with the aim of getting sanctions
lifted and a whole lot more.”
Clinton and her campaign were, says Kotkin, “unwilling victims; Trump
and his campaign were willing ones.” As a result, “America’s counterin-
telligence investigation of Russia’s intelligence activities morphed into a
criminal investigation of the Trump campaign. And then, sadly, into an
attempted manipulation to derail that investigation.” Russia’s actions, Kotkin
says, “failed to decide the election, or to have the sanctions against Russia
removed, but succeeded in stealing America’s attention.”

As Putin bets on Russia’s survival at the expense of the West, one wonders
what his own ideology is, beyond an obvious belief in Russian exceptional-
ism. “He is a Russian patriot in his own way,” says Kotkin, “but I don’t think
his version of Russian patriotism is enhancing the long-term interests of that
country.” Like other authoritarian rulers, Putin believes that “the survival of
his personal regime and the survival of his country as a great power in the
world are the same
That conflation “If the European Union breaks up, if
has put Russia “in a the US withdraws into itself and gives
downward spiral,” and up all of its alliances around the world,
Kotkin lists several
Russia has many fewer problems.”
measures that show
how poorly Russia has fared under Putin. Most striking is the “hemorrhage”
of Russia’s human capital. “It’s hard to measure,” as “there’s no census,” says
Kotkin, “but anywhere between five and ten million Russians are now living
beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union.” The brain-drained Russians
average about 20 percent above the mean income in the countries where they
live, “which tells you that they’re a talented group, an educated, entrepre-
neurial, dynamic population. We have them at Princeton University—in our
laboratories, our math department. You name it, they’re all over the place.”
One wonders if Putin, like Stalin, may have a job for life in the Kremlin.
Kotkin says he has “self-assigned tenure, meaning he can be there as long as
he wants unless he’s assassinated in a palace coup.”

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 135
He may not have any choice in the matter: “It’s not clear he can leave if
he wants to leave, because of the fact that he has narrowed the regime so
considerably.” Authoritarian regimes tend to become victims of their own
success. “The better they get at surveillance and suppression of dissent,”
Kotkin says, “the less they know about their own society and what the people
really think.” When authoritarian rulers first come to power, “they’re kind of
like umpires. There are many different powerful groups that have disputes
among themselves, and they turn to the leader to adjudicate.”
Entering his fourth term as president, Putin is no longer the arbiter over
a “scrum of competing interests, but is, instead, the leader of a single fac-
tion that controls all the power and all the wealth,” Kotkin says. This fac-
tion needs its protector to stick around so it can stay rich—and stay alive.
“There’s really no way for Putin to retire peacefully.”

Reprinted by permission of the Wall Street Journal. © 2018 Dow Jones &
Co. All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is Russia and
Its Islamic World: From the Mongol Conquest to the
Syrian Military Intervention, by Robert Service. To
order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit www.hooverpress.

136 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Speaking Freely
Lose free speech, and lose our political freedom

By Bruce S. Thornton

ree speech has come under attack on two fronts. Many unhappy
with Donald Trump’s election charge that Russia interfered on
his behalf by using social media such as Facebook and Twitter,
which should be held responsible for the content on their sites.
Meanwhile, some political activists and politicians are calling for a revision of
our free speech laws to prevent “hate speech” and “fake news” from polluting
the public square. Everybody complains about false or biased reporting that
distracts and confuses voters with disinformation and appeals to unsavory
emotions. One of the pillars of American exceptionalism, the right of citizens
to speak freely, no matter how rough or hateful their words, seems to be
Twitter, Facebook, and Google executives have been hauled before Con-
gress to answer questions about the parts their businesses may have played
in supposed Russian electoral interference. According to the testimony of
these executives, Russian-sponsored Facebook ads reached 135 million Amer-
ican voters over thirty-two months, and the New York Times reports “more
than 126 million users potentially saw inflammatory political ads bought by
a Kremlin-linked company, the Internet Research Agency.” Many Congress
members from both parties have demanded to know what social media

Bruce S. Thornton is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a member of
Hoover’s Working Group on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict,
and a professor of classics and humanities at California State University, Fresno.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 137
companies will do to control the dissemination of questionable or hostile
Similarly, even before the violent demonstrations by white supremacists
in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer, critics were demanding a revision
of our First Amendment to make it resemble the laws in Europe that pro-
hibit “hate speech” and speech that attempts to “spread, incite, promote, or
justify hatred based on
intolerance.” The free
The founders recognized free speech marketplace of ideas,
as a natural right, not one granted by critics argue, in the age of
government. the Internet is no longer
adequate for sorting out
“legitimate” speech from hateful propaganda that, if left unchecked, could
lead to political tyranny, as happened in Germany under Nazism in the 1920s
and ’30s. The safety of the larger political community, they say, should take
precedence over the right of individual citizens to speak their minds.

Such critics, however, ignore the fundamental role that speech protections
play in developing consensual governments in which power resides with
the people. It is no accident that ancient Athens, the first constitutional
government allowing widespread participation in governing, also invented
the idea of free political speech. The link between political freedom and
speech is obvious in the formula that opened the Athenian assembly and
that Euripides declared “the call of freedom”: “What man has good advice
to give the city, and wished to make it known?” Throughout Greek lit-
erature and history, the connection between free speech and freedom is
ubiquitous. This link is made explicit in Sophocles’s adage “Free men have
free tongues,” or the philosopher Democritus’s “Freedom of speech is the
sign of freedom.”
The value of free speech for monitoring politicians and holding them
accountable is also a constant theme in Greek political philosophy and has
served as a cornerstone for the two millennia of subsequent political philoso-
phy. Aristophanes, in his sexually vulgar and slanderous plays, which depict-
ed Athenian political leaders by name as traitors, perverts, and prostitutes,
justified his comedies as checks on corrupt and power-hungry politicians. In
his Acharnians, the chorus advises the audience not to allow anyone to silence
Aristophanes, “who will always fight for the cause of justice in his comedies,”
and promises that “his precepts will lead you to happiness” and “point you to

138 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
the better way” by satirizing the leaders attempting to misguide the people
and threaten their freedom.
The example of Aristophanes reminds us that the political purpose of free
speech is more important than its power to insult or make uncomfortable its
listeners, or to violate standards of decorum and manners. Especially when—
as in the Athenian audience or America today—the citizens comprise a wide
variety of points of view, socioeconomic classes, and levels of education, any
attempt to censor speech because it is offensive or indecorous will compro-
mise political freedom. That is why the founders wrote the First Amendment,
which recognizes the right to free speech as a natural right, not one granted
by government.
Another problem with these calls to restrict speech involves the inability
to agree on the standards that would designate speech as objectionable
or dangerous. What is “hateful” or “intolerant” to one person is not so to
another, a consequence of subjective, even irrational standards. In a thera-
peutic age that prizes protecting people’s feelings, the only way to ensure no
one’s feelings are hurt is to make the most sensitive listeners the arbiters of
what counts as offensive. Hence the proliferation of “speech codes” on college
campuses, the policing of “microaggressions,” the limiting of free speech only
to certain areas of campus, and the demands for “safe spaces.”

Likewise, sexual-harassment law is vaguely written, often leaving what con-
stitutes a “hostile and intimidating workplace,” for example, up to the overly
sensitive, thin-skinned, or neurotic. As a consequence, in the public square,
our schools, and in our workspaces, citizens are pressured into practic-
ing self-censorship to
avoid giving offense and
suffering possible legal Throughout history, the connection
sanctions. between free speech and freedom is
Worse yet, standards everywhere.
often reflect political
prejudices. Political correctness is the expression of identity politics, the
predicating of personal identity on being a victim of historical oppression.
Hence white, heterosexual, “cisgendered,” Christian males, the epitome of
the historical oppressor, are unprotected by the strictures of political cor-
rectness. Free speech protections are reserved only for those who qualify
as victims of oppression, according to historically dubious or ideologically
slanted standards. On college campuses today, calls for revising the First

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 139
Amendment often come from those on the multicultural left, who seek to
bar conservative speakers, prevent them from coming to campus, or disrupt
their speeches, often violently. As a result, the key institution of open political
deliberation is compromised, threatening the freedom of all.
Most important, the critics of democracy since the days of ancient Greece
have always used the offensiveness of free speech as a tool to restrict the
people’s right to use it. The argument is that the masses are poorly educated,
fickle, and guided by their selfish passions. Therefore, giving the power
of open deliberation to people who cannot transcend their intellectual or
moral weaknesses is dangerous, for they will be vulnerable to manipulative
During the presidential election, we heard a species of this argument from
both sides of the aisle. They claimed that many of Trump’s supporters, as
Hillary Clinton said frankly, are a “basket of deplorables. The racist, sexist,
homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it.” Republicans opposed
to Trump were just as
dismissive. The constant
Without question, free speech has the comparisons of Trump
potential to make mischief. But it is to fascist leaders of the
also fundamental for holding elected 1930s by commentators
officials accountable to the laws and like Bret Stephens and
the people. Robert Kagan implied his
supporters were as gull-
ible, selfish, and irrational as the voters in Germany and Italy who helped put
Hitler and Mussolini into power.
The assumption behind this criticism is that the American people are not
intelligent or educated enough to use free speech properly, and so will end
up being misled by self-serving demagogues. Indeed, the current fears about
“fake news” and social media often are accompanied by a similar denigration
of the citizens.
A New York Times opinion article accuses the critics of social media
of scapegoating the tech companies for our sins: “Facebook and Twit-
ter are just a mirror, reflecting us. They reveal a society that is painfully
divided, gullible to misinformation, dazzled by sensationalism, and willing
to spread lies and promote hate. We don’t like this reflection, so we blame
the mirror, painting ourselves as victims of Silicon Valley manipulation.”
Echoing critics of democracy going back to ancient Athens, the writer
concludes, “The real crisis is Americans’ inability or unwillingness to sift
fact from fiction.”

140 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
No doubt the rise of cable television, talk radio, the Internet, and social
media has increased astronomically the volume of information available to
the people, much of it false or biased. But the problem of the people’s ability
to distinguish the true and well-argued from the false and the badly argued
has been around since Plato and other anti-democrats decried the ignorance
and irrationalism of the people in similar terms. Without question, free
speech has the potential to make mischief in an open society where all have a
say. But what critics seem to forget is that free speech is also fundamental for
holding elected officials accountable to the laws and the people, and protect-
ing freedom from tyranny.
Moreover, any attempt to limit or censor speech or to control the flow
of information compromises this function and runs other, more dangerous
risks. Social media such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter already censor
political speech in direct and indirect ways. During the presidential election,
critics accused Facebook of deleting from its “trending” list articles from
conservative news sources. These claims gained credence from statements
by Facebook executives criticizing Trump and from the disclosures that edi-
tors, not algorithms, selected the titles promoted as “trending.”
Twitter and Facebook have censored posts by critics of Islam like Brother
Rachid, while allowing harsh criticisms of other religions. PayPal, which
many online sites use to collect donations, banned Jihad Watch, another crit-
ic of militant Islamism,
because it had appeared
on a so-called “hate list” Democracy in the online age has been
compiled by the left-wing strengthened by the breaking of the
Southern Poverty Law monopoly over political speech.
Center, which lists some
conservative and Christian organizations as “hate groups.” PayPal backed off
only after a widely reported public outcry.
Given the immense power and market dominance of social media business-
es like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, compelling them to practice further
censorship is dangerous. With subjectivity and political prejudices com-
promising the standards censors will use, it would be difficult to guard the
guardians and make sure that standards are applied evenly. And since “hate
speech” is in the eye of the beholder, letting private corporations be the eyes
controlling public speech makes it difficult to hold them accountable to the
people. Controlling information has been one of the most important instru-
ments for tyrants who seek to deny people their political freedom.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 141
Finally, for all the dangers of unregulated information on the Internet and
social media, we are better off today with our many options and variety of
voices. Our democracy has been strengthened by the breaking of the monop-
oly over political speech
exercised in the decades
Critics assume that the American after World War II, when
people are not intelligent or educated three television networks
enough to use free speech properly. and a few score national
newspapers controlled
information and decided what to talk about and how to talk about it. Today
we have a true marketplace of ideas, in which any citizen can easily access
multiple sources of information and opinions once available only to an elite
with the time and leisure to seek them out.
In the end, free people are responsible for judging the quality of informa-
tion and opinions upon which their political decisions are based and for
which they must be held accountable. Whether from good intentions or bad,
trying to shape people’s opinions by excluding or censoring information
diminishes political freedom and citizen autonomy, which has always been
the aim of despotism hard or soft.

Reprinted by permission of FrontPage Magazine. © 2018 FrontPageMag- All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is Unstable
Majorities: Polarization, Party Sorting, and Political
Stalemate, by Morris P. Fiorina. To order, call (800)
888-4741 or visit

142 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Never Cry
Societies learn and grow when they question,
challenge—even offend. Islamists are pressuring
free people to give up their most basic rights.

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

public event with the eminent
scientist and rationalist Rich- Key points
ard Dawkins was cancelled »» Silencing debate is not
only the pathway to censor-
late last year by a Berkeley
ship. It threatens the clos-
radio station. A representative of the station ing of the Western mind.
said Dawkins had “said things that I know »» Enlightenment thinkers
have hurt people,” a misleading allusion to wrote some of the most
pungent criticisms of Islam.
the atheist Dawkins’s forthright criticism
»» Guilty feelings and moral
of Islam, which, along with all religions, he relativism blind many in
regards as irrational. The station’s general the West from seeing why
their own values are worth
manager declared: “We believe that it is our
free speech right not to participate with
»» Using the cry of “Islamo-
anyone who uses hateful or hurtful language phobia” to shut down dia-
against a community that is already under logue violates the interests
of Muslims themselves.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and founder of the
AHA Foundation. She is the author of The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam
as Ideology and Movement and How to Counter It (Hoover Institution Press,

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 143
This was only one of a recent string of “disinvitations” of public figures on
North American college campuses. Since the violence at Charlottesville last
August, free speech has become a thorny subject. But all speech, no matter
how evil, is protected by the Constitution, even that of antifa activists and
white nationalists. The cliché that sunlight is the best disinfectant holds true:
by allowing such groups to express themselves in the open, we can clearly
see what they are saying, and, if we disagree, counter it.
I am among those who have been “deplatformed” for speaking critically
about the political and ideological aspects of Islam that are not compatible
with American values and human rights. The usual justification for disinvit-
ing us is that speaking critically of Islam is “hate speech” that is “hurtful” to
However, this use of the words “hate” and “hurt” to silence debate is con-
trary to the Western tradition of critical thinking. It is not hyperbolic to say
that this is the pathway to censorship and the closing of the Western mind.

Richard Dawkins is one of the great thinkers of our time. It is curious to
look back through history and wonder which other intellectual and political
giants of Western culture would receive the same treatment as Dawkins if
they were to appear in the United States in 2018. Considering their published
views on Islam, we can assume that Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams,
and Mark Twain would all be deplatformed on American campuses today.
So, too, would the great Enlightenment thinkers Montesquieu, Hume, and
Voltaire. And neither Winston Churchill nor George Bernard Shaw would be
welcome at Berkeley. Although their views on Islam are not as easily digest-
ible as a tweet and some of their language is archaic, they are not fundamen-
tally different from Dawkins’s.
“If Mahomet forbade free argument—Mohametanism prevented Reforma-
tion,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1776, when reflecting on the dangers posed
by Roman Catholicism (which, in his view, was also guilty of obscurantism).
Islam, he argued, was just as guilty of “stifling free enquiry.”
Even harsher was the language used by John Quincy Adams:

A wandering Arab of the lineage of Hagar [i.e., Muhammad]
. . . spread desolation and delusion over an extensive portion of
the earth. . . . He poisoned the sources of human felicity at the
fountain, by degrading the condition of the female sex, and the
allowance of polygamy; and he declared undistinguishing and

144 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
exterminating war, as a part of his religion, against all the rest of
PART OF HUMAN NATURE [Adams’s capitalization] . . . While
the merciless and dissolute dogmas of the false prophet shall
furnish motives to human action, there can never be peace upon
earth, and good will towards men.”

(Admittedly, the original of this quotation does not bear Adams’s signature,
but Georgetown Professor Karine Walther, a reputable scholar, attributes it
to him, as have other scholars.)
Such ideas were commonplace at the time of the American Revolution, not
least because they originated with the Enlightenment authors the founding
fathers read. “It is a misfortune to human nature,” wrote Baron de Mon-
tesquieu, “when religion is given by a conqueror. The Mahometan religion,
which speaks only by the sword, acts still upon men with that destructive
spirit with which it was founded.”
The great Scottish
skeptic David Hume
observed caustically Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy
that the Quran “bestows Adams, and Mark Twain would all be
praise on such instances “deplatformed” on American cam-
of treachery, inhumanity, puses today.
cruelty, revenge, bigotry,
as are utterly incompatible with civilized society.” His French counterpart
Voltaire was in the same camp. “That a camel-merchant [Muhammad] . . .
delivers his country to iron and flame; that he cuts the throats of fathers and
kidnaps daughters; that he gives to the defeated the choice of his religion or
death: this is assuredly nothing any man can excuse.”
Perhaps the “no platform” movement would argue that what happened in
the eighteenth century should stay in the eighteenth century. But more-mod-
ern authors have committed the same offense of “hate speech.” Take Twain,
who is well loved today for his anti-imperialism. “When I, a thoughtful and
unblessed Presbyterian, examine the Koran,” Twain wrote in his Christian
Science, “I know that beyond any question every Mohammedan is insane; not
in all things, but in religious matters.”
Or how about George Bernard Shaw, in other respects a hero on the
left? “There was to be no nonsense about toleration” in Islam, wrote
Shaw in a 1933 letter. “You accepted Allah or you had your throat cut by

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 145
someone who did accept him, and who went to Para-
dise for having sent you to Hell.” I doubt there would
be an invitation, much less a disinvitation, for Shaw at
Berkeley today.
A Conservative for most of his career, Winston
Churchill remains the most famous British prime minister
on both sides of the Atlantic. But he, too, would surely be
deplatformed for writing this in his account of the British
campaign in Sudan in the late 1890s:

[Taylor Jones—for the Hoover Digest]

146 H O O VER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to
some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a
concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith
of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. . . . The influ-
ence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who
follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world.

All of them are dead white males of Christian heritage, you may say. But
would you also disinvite Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey?
“Islam,” he once declared in an interview, “this theology of an immoral
Arab—is a dead thing. Possibly it might have suited tribes in the desert. It is
no good for a modern, progressive state. God’s revelation! There is no God!”

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 147
These quotations illustrate a simple point: societies since the Enlightenment
have progressed because of their willingness to question sacred cows, to
foster critical thinking and rational debate. Societies that blindly respect old
hierarchies and established ways of thinking, that privilege traditional norms
and cower from giving offense, have not produced the same intellectual dyna-
mism as Western civilization.
Innovation and progress happened precisely in those places where per-
ceived “offense” and “hurt feelings” were not regarded as sufficient to stifle
critical thinking. Deplatforming thinkers like Dawkins today is thus a betray-
al of the values of the Enlightenment.
It’s all the sadder that the censorship we are seeing on American campuses
and in the public domain is self-imposed. The latest in the growing body of
literature on this subject is Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe.
Murray chronicles Europe’s lack of civilizational self-confidence and inability
to perpetuate its core values. Murray argues that European culture cannot
survive its current bout of “civilizational tiredness” without suffering major
and permanent damage to core European values. Blinded by historical guilt
and moral relativism, Europeans are increasingly willing to elevate other
cultural values above their own, to the point of being unable to see why their
own values are worth preserving.
Perhaps the most glaring illustration of Murray’s point is the reluctance
to subject the political and religious views of immigrants to the same scru-
tiny and critical debate
applied to Western values.
The true harm comes from withdraw- This is the very point
ing the intellectual tools, such as criti- Dawkins made in his
cal thinking and rational debate, that response to the cancel-
many Muslims crave. lation of his Californian
event. “Why,” he asked,
“is it fine to criticize Christianity but not Islam? . . . I am known as a frequent
critic of Christianity and have never been deplatformed for that. Why do you
give Islam a free pass?”
In a similar way, some progressives in the United States today refuse to
acknowledge the difference between Islam as a spiritual belief system (rely-
ing on fasting, dietary restrictions, cleanliness, prayer) and the political and
repressive system of Islamism that seeks to impose sharia on society. Com-
mitted atheists and ex-Muslims like myself have no problem with the spiri-
tual belief system that Muslims choose to follow. We do, however, oppose the

148 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
blurring of religion and state that Islamism advocates. We oppose second-
class citizenship for non-Muslims; the devaluing of a woman’s testimony; the
death penalty for those who leave Islam; and slavery. We insist that sharia
in its current form is not compatible with liberal values. Prohibiting such
arguments as “Islamophobia” is in fact contrary to the interests of Muslims
Speaking in a public setting about subjects such as the death penalty for
apostasy in Islam is not uncivil; no harm is caused, no violence is done. You
cannot cause physical or psychological harm to a set of ideas in the way you
can to individuals. It
makes no sense to argue
that submitting Islam Innovation and progress happened
to the same rational cri- precisely in places where “offense”
tique as any other set of and “hurt feelings” weren’t allowed to
ideas or religion is harm- stifle critical thinking.
ful. What is harmful is
withdrawing the intellectual tools, such as critical thinking and exposure to
rational debate, that many Muslims crave.
It is crucial that all Americans understand the distinction between Islam
and Islamism so that we can have a meaningful debate about these issues.
We cannot risk stumbling down the path Europe has taken, as Murray warns,
where almost no one will “dare write a novel, compose a piece of music, or
even draw an image that might risk Muslim anger.”
And we should remind ourselves why this debate is necessary. The major
impetus has been violence committed by Islamists in the name of Islam. If
there were no ISIS or Al-Qaeda, we would be talking about Islam much less
than we are today. If we wish to understand the behavior of those people
invoking the Quran and Muhammad to justify terrible acts of violence, then
Islam and Islamism cannot remain off limits as subjects for public discussion.

Should these questions be postponed until everyone feels emotionally com-
fortable talking about them? Or are there reasons to hold these challenging
conversations now? I would argue that the increasing incidence of Islamist
terrorist attacks in the past couple of years means we must debate these
issues today.
Whether Islamist violence is perpetrated by new immigrants or estab-
lished citizens, the isolation and ghettoization of Muslims (and especially
Muslim women) in Europe and, increasingly, in the United States, creates an

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 149
environment where Islamist advocacy is permissible and sometimes sup-
ported by communities. And yet to point this out—to say that the rights of
Muslim women are being curtailed—is denounced as “Islamophobia” by self-
styled progressives.
Attempts to silence dissenting voices, particularly on college campuses,
have gotten so out of hand that some state legislators are developing laws
to safeguard First Amendment rights at public universities. Such laws are
already on the books in Colorado, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia—and other
states, including California, are considering them as well. One law, passed
last year in North Carolina, prohibits college administrators from disinviting
controversial speakers. It seems almost comical, and certainly tragic, that
state governments feel the need to enshrine good manners in law.
Disinviting anyone to speak is of course bad manners, but in the Dawkins
case and so many others, it also represents a clumsy attempt at censorship.
The practice of deplatforming must end, not just for the sake of politeness
but for critical thinking. Free thought, free speech, and a free press were at
the core of Western civilization’s success.
However uncomfortable free speech about Islam may be for some people,
enforcing silence on the subject will do nothing to help those who are genu-
inely oppressed—above all the growing number of Muslim dissidents around
the world whose courageous questioning of their own faith risks death at the
hands of the very Islamists whose feelings progressives are so desperate not
to hurt.

Reprinted from Defining Ideas (
ideas), a Hoover Institution online journal. © 2018 The Board of Trustees
of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is The
Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam as Ideology
and Movement and How to Counter It, by Ayaan
Hirsi Ali. To download a copy, go to https://www.

150 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Making Countries
Great Again
What made America great in the first place, and
what threatens that greatness today.

By Victor Davis Hanson

s President Trump’s slogan
Key points
“make America great again”
»» Britain and America both de-
mere campaign rhetoric in the fied history’s norms of tribalism,
tradition of Barack Obama’s theocracy, and sectarianism.
“hope and change,” George H. W. »» Renewal focuses on investing
more than consuming, limiting
Bush’s “kinder, gentler nation,” and
bureaucracies and entitlements,
Ronald Reagan’s “morning in Amer- and avoiding costly optional wars.
ica”? Or do such renaissances really »» Greatness also requires pre-
occur in history? serving the rule of law, enshrin-
ing meritocracy, and nourishing
The Roman republic and empire national pride while making sure
together lasted for more than a citizens are equal under the law.
thousand years. Yet at various times »» Every generation must choose
whether to unite around an ideal
throughout this period, Rome was
that transcends class, race, and
declared finished—for example, regional divides.

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the
Hoover Institution and the chair of Hoover’s Working Group on the Role of Military
History in Contemporary Conflict. He is the recipient of the 2018 Edmund Burke
Award, which honers those who have made major contributions to the defense of
Western civilization. His latest book is The Second World Wars: How the First
Global Conflict Was Fought and Won (Basic Books, 2017).

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 151
during the Punic Wars (264–146 BC), the civil wars of the late republic
(49–31 BC), and the coups and cruelty of the twelve caesars (49 BC–AD
96), especially during the reigns of Caligula, Nero, and Domitian. Infla-
tion, revolts, barbarian invasions, corruption, and decadence were seen
as insurmountable problems. Witnesses such as Livy, Tacitus, Petronius,
and Suetonius all recorded that the Rome of their generation was simply
too corrupt to continue. As Livy famously put it in the introduction to
his massive history of Rome, written almost five hundred years before
its eventual implosion, “We can bear neither our diseases nor their
In fact, throughout
the centuries of these
By late 1916, Britain seemed on the serial crises, Rome usu-
brink. The French and British armies ally found ways to bear
were being bled white at the Somme the necessary remedies.
and Verdun. Often, it was saved
through the intervention
of exceptional generals like Scipio Africanus. Sometimes, stabilizing figures
such as Augustus sought a moral revival. Effective rulers such as those
whom Niccolò Machiavelli called the “five good emperors”—Nerva, Trajan,
Hadrian, Antonius Pius, and Marcus Aurelius—gave the world a hundred
years of calm prosperity between AD 96 and 192. The magisterial Edward
Gibbon described their century as an era when “the condition of the human
race was most happy and prosperous.”
Amid radically changing times, with novel internal and external enemies,
Roman institutions and culture persisted. The rule of law, transparent
administration, and habeas corpus flourished alongside clean water, good
roads, sewage removal, and the professionalism of the Roman legions. Rome
endured for a millennium as it went through cycles of decline, recovery, and

A millennium-old Great Britain was also considered finished on a number of
occasions. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the statism of Napo-
leonic France seemed the way of the future, destined to unite all of Europe
against the British navy and to create an everlasting proto–European Union
under French soft despotism. Yet the defiant admiral of the British fleet,
John Jervis, First Earl of Saint Vincent, assured the British sea lords in 1801,
“I do not say, my lords, that the French will not come. I say only they will not

152 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
come by sea.” The Duke of Wellington dispelled the remnants of the French
army at the Battle of Waterloo and helped usher in a century of relative
European peace.
By late 1916, Britain seemed again on the brink. The French and Brit-
ish armies were being bled white at the Somme and Verdun. The German
army was considered the most fearsome in history. Russia and France,
Britain’s allies, seemed on the brink of surrender or mutiny and rebellion.
And the United States had no desire to enter the European meat grinder
of World War I. Yet Britain persisted at great cost. A nearly ruined France
rallied. America came into the war. And Germany and Austria collapsed.
A quarter century later, Britain once more seemed on the verge of being
crushed by Germany. After June 1940, Britain was the only major free Euro-
pean country left as Hitler occupied most of the continent from the English
Channel to the Russian
border. Still, Prime Min-
ister Winston Churchill Rome endured for a millennium as it
and the British people went through cycles of decline, recov-
remained unmoved. The ery, and efflorescence.
strange little island had
turned out replicas of John Jervis and the Duke of Wellington in the form of
figures like Churchill and field marshals Bernard Montgomery, Alan Brooke,
and William Slim.
After the war, during the 1950s and 1960s, Britain gave up its empire,
nationalized most of its industries, and suffered from dismal economic
growth. It was largely written off as a neosocialist, post-imperial, hopeless
relic. Yet after the reforms of Margaret Thatcher, the London of the 1990s
once again became the financial capital of Europe, as British cultural influ-
ence reverberated throughout the world in film, television, literature, and
Throughout all these challenges, British parliamentary government
persevered. There were no coups or revolutions. An attenuated Royal
Navy kept its traditions of protecting the island nation, even in the age
of richer and far more powerful superpowers. British civility, ancestral
manners, patriotism, and independent thinking endured. Traditional
education and values kept producing men and women of genius when the
hour was darkest. Oxford and Cambridge remained at the forefront of
scholarship and scientific research. On each occasion of crisis, Britain
returned to its roots and reasserted itself, even as its obituaries were
being written.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 153
The same holds true of the United States—another flexible republican idea
wedded to the rule of law and antithetical to history’s norms of tribalism,
theocracy, and sectarianism.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, an exhausted and dissolute America was said
to have reached “peak oil” and soon would become near bankrupt, importing
all its energy needs. Ronald Reagan, however, claimed it was actually “morn-
ing in America” after growing the economy at 7 percent between November
1983 and 1984 and facing down the “evil” Soviet empire.
During the past decade, experts have declared that the US economy will
likely never again achieve 3 percent per annum economic growth, given an
aging population,
globalization, and
National and collective decline among the rise of entitle-
constitutional societies such as ours is ments. Americans
almost always a choice, not a fate. were, instead, to
adjust to an “era of
limits” and to forget ideas that they were an “exceptional people.”
That pessimism was not new, instead echoing past existential crises such
as the Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, and other financial
meltdowns. Postwar Americans had been warned in the 1950s that Soviet-
style communism would sweep the Third World and bury the West. In the
1980s, Americans were to defer to the superior economic model of Japan
Inc., which soon would take over the world. Then the next colossus was said
to be the European Union’s transnational democratic socialism of the 1990s.
Now, it is the supposed fated dominance of twenty-first-century communist-
capitalist China.
In all of these cases, the flawed assumption was that the US Constitution;
a free market tradition of entrepreneurial capitalism; a multiracial people
united through the assimilative melting pot; and federalism under the banner
of e pluribus unum were either passé or ossified ideas. People thought the
days of an America with a booming stock market, an energized manufactur-
ing and industrial sector, plentiful and affordable gas and oil, and a world-
dominant tech industry were over.
Yet as 2018 began, the United States had become the largest producer
of gas, oil, and coal in history. The economy is growing at a 3 percent
rate—and unemployment may dip below 4 percent, even though some
commentators have claimed over the past decade that it likely would
never fall below 5 percent again. The auto, steel, manufacturing, financial,

154 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
agricultural, and high-tech industries are ascendant. The world’s aspir-
ing professionals prefer graduate schools in Cambridge (Massachusetts),
Palo Alto, and New York to those in Beijing, Moscow, or Tehran. The
health of a society is still judged by age-old criteria such as the quality
of its educational institutions, the stability of its constitution, the moral
caliber of its citizenry, and the ability to feed, fuel, and protect itself—and
on these measures, the United States is doing far better than its peers the
world over.

National and collective decline among constitutional societies such as ours is
almost always a choice, not a fate. Rarely do war, disease, or environmental
catastrophe lead to inescapable national regression. Instead, states wither
away from complacence and ennui brought on by affluence and leisure,
which often lead to amnesia about the sacrifices and protocols required for
Declining states reverse course not so much by reinventing themselves as
by returning to the values that once made them singular. Renewal focuses
on investing more than consuming, limiting the size of state bureaucracies
and entitlements, and avoiding costly optional wars. It also requires pre-
serving the rule of law, enshrining meritocracy, and reinculcating national
pride in ancestral customs and traditions while ensuring citizens equity
under the law.
In an age of instabil-
ity—with China ascen- Pessimism isn’t new. Postwar Ameri-
dant, rampant global cans were warned in the 1950s that
terrorism abroad, and Soviet power would sweep the Third
increasing racial tension World and bury the West. Then it was
at home—can America Japan, and then the EU. Today the fear
return to its economic,
is of China.
cultural, and military
pre-eminence while offering security, prosperity, and a continuation of
American values to its citizens?
“Make America great again” hinges on remembering what made
America “great” in the first place, but also what has threatened to not
make America great at various times in our history. The options are not
Each generation must choose whether to unite around an ideal that
transcends class, race, and regional divides, or to give in to the more natural

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 155
state of tribal solidarities and prejudices. There is always a choice whether to
abide by the Constitution or to warp it.
We are always pondering whether to liberate the American economy or to
nationalize it, and whether to honor or be ashamed of our icons of the past.
Can an often second-guessing, apologetic, and overly litigious America still
feel confident that it can be good enough without having to be perfect?
Every nation’s next generation must decide whether to leave behind a
country better than the one it inherited. And sometimes, the resulting
choices can re-energize or squander their collective inheritance.

Reprinted from Defining Ideas (
ideas), a Hoover Institution online journal. © 2018 The Board of Trustees
of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Rugged
Individualism: Dead or Alive? by David Davenport
and Gordon Lloyd. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or

156 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


A Window on the
Soviet Breakup
It was the biggest purge, and the last, in post-
Stalin Russia. The “Cotton Affair” was a tale of
corruption and frustrated power that preoccupied
the dying Soviet Union and presaged its end.

By Riccardo Mario Cucciolla

he “Uzbek Cotton Affair,” the largest purge in the post-Stalinist
Soviet Union, offers a useful lens through which to interpret the
Soviet collapse and see how perestroika changed the Soviet system,
especially the relationship between the center and the periphery.
This episode during the final years of the Soviet era was a drawn-out judicial
and political imbroglio that grew out of falsified cotton production data and
corruption. It involved 58,000 party and state officials—20,000 of whom were
criminally charged—in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. This long period
(1983–89) of mass purges and criminal cases makes up a relatively obscure but
highly charged episode of historical significance in late Soviet history.
Scholars focusing on the Soviet Union and Russia lately have turned their
attention to the centenary of the 1917 October Revolution, which brought
the Bolsheviks to power. Also important to history is perestroika, the

Riccardo Mario Cucciolla participated in the Workshop on Authoritarian-
ism and Democratic Breakdown at the Hoover Institution. He is a postdoctoral
research fellow at the International Center for the History and Sociology of World
War II and Its Consequences at the National Research University Higher School of
Economics, Moscow.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 157
KING COTTON: Under the Soviet system, cotton was identified as a strategic
sector in Cold War competition, crucial to building “communism in twenty
years.” Uzbekistan moved heavily into cotton monoculture, providing the
material for not only robust, cheap textiles but military products as well. [Max

restructuring movement launched by Mikhail Gorbachev just over thirty
years ago. Despite the importance of this reformistic period and its conse-
quences for the Cold War and the Soviet system, perestroika and Gorbachev-
ism remain under-researched.
To understand Gorbachevism, we must go back to Yuri Andropov’s circle.
Indeed, the former chairman of the KGB and then the secretary responsible
for ideological affairs was among the Soviet figures most informed about the
political system that was largely floating adrift. Andropov believed in the
Soviet project and promoted a new, younger generation of politicians—such
as Gorbachev, Yegor Ligachev, and Nikolai Ryzhkov—all of whom were distin-
guished for their moral integrity and who were supposed to follow a prudent
but effective reformist agenda. Andropov considered a struggle against the
rampant corruption within the Soviet system the only way to heal the Soviet
Union. However, he did not realize that corruption, in its broadest meaning,
had become the system. Andropov’s rule was too short (1982–84) to show the
results of this moralizing campaign aimed at uprooting these “negative phe-
nomena” in the party and state apparatus.

158 H O O VER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
“WHITE GOLD”: Cotton production in Uzbekistan, pursued for centuries,
increased dramatically in the early twentieth century, driven by quotas. The
increasing demands on the collective farms in the Soviet era led to falsifica-
tion of data and corruption. [Sovfoto Universal Images Group/Newscom]

In March 1985, Gorbachev, one of Andropov’s closest associates, became
the new general secretary of the Communist Party after the short Chernenko
interregnum. At that time, the new general secretary did not have a defined
reformist agenda, and until 1986 he limited his action in continuing the mor-
alization mission started by his mentor. Gorbachev’s “neo-Andropovism” was
evident in the unpopular policy of partial alcohol prohibition (1985–87), along
with the timid reforms announced by the acceleration (uskoreniye) program
and the continuation of “demonstrative terror” against local cadres who
had been held responsible for stagnation, purging them with a limited use of
violence and publicly exposing their wrongdoings.

Gorbachev had emphasized this “purging” narrative during the twenty-sev-
enth party congress, and the most notorious episode of this “demonstrative
terror” would become the Uzbek Cotton Affair. Indeed, the case enjoyed vast
media coverage from 1988 to 1991 when the two prosecutors of the cotton
affair—Telman Gdlyan and Nikolai Ivanov—entered politics; at the time even
prominent members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party were

H O O V ER D IG E S T • S u m m er 2018 159
ECOCIDE: A satellite photo shows the extreme shrinkage of the Aral Sea,
which was drained amid extensive cultivation of cotton, a notoriously thirsty
crop. The dry Aral lakebed continues to be responsible for releasing salt and
pesticides into the air, causing many reports of health problems. [NASA]
being accused of colluding with the Uzbek “mafia.” Public opinion threatened
the credibility of Gorbachev, the legitimacy of the party and the state, and the
Soviet Union’s survival in a time of freedom of increasing information and
debate, important changes, and great internal challenges.
The roots of the episode reached back several decades, when, after Stalin’s
years of terror, the
Soviet system assumed
a more peaceful, decen- Eventually the Soviet demands for
tralized, and inclusive Uzbek cotton became unsustainable.
nature. Encouraged by Corruption and environmental disas-
increasing indigenization ter ensued.
of cadres, the system
began to rely on party officials (patrons) using public resources to secure the
loyalty of local elites (clients). This posture was particularly evident during
the long reign (1959–83) of Sharaf Rashidov, first secretary of the Communist
Party of Uzbekistan, who turned Uzbekistan into a “cotton republic” provid-
ing Moscow planners more than 60 percent of the total Soviet production
of “white gold.” In fact, cotton was identified as a strategic sector in Cold
War competition and for building “communism in twenty years.” It was not
only key to producing robust, cheap textiles but was largely absorbed by the
military industry to produce gunpowder and even propellant for ballistic
Responding to increasing demand from Moscow, the Uzbek republic
improved cotton monoculture and in 1959–81 more than doubled production,
concentrating much of its budget on plans for irrigation and mechanization.
In the mid-1970s, more than twenty thousand square kilometers, an area
roughly the size of New Jersey, was under intense cotton cultivation.
The unintended consequences of cotton monoculture for society and the
environment were dramatic. Intensive production of cotton served to rural-
ize Uzbek society, separating the largely rural Uzbeks from the urban Slavic
settlers, while annually exposing millions of field workers (including thou-
sands of children) to toxic agents—fertilizers, pesticides, and defoliants—
with catastrophic consequences for public health and the environment. The
ecocide of the Aral Sea became the most dramatic and evident consequence
of the cotton fever. Yet in the tenth five-year plan (1976–81), Soviet planners
demanded an annual production of six million tons of raw cotton from Tash-
kent—a demand that seemed physically impossible. However, reaching this
target at any cost was a matter of political stability, legitimacy, and survival
for the Uzbek ruling elite at local and central levels. Thus during this period

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 161
systemic corruption spread from the collective farms to the Central Commit-
tee in an attempt to cover the inefficiencies of the planned production and
falsify production data.

The rise of Andropov and his moralization campaign coincided with an
attempt to legalize, cleanse, and ultimately revitalize a system in which
stagnation and fraud had reached unprecedented levels. In 1983 the cot-
ton scandal unveiled the systemic scam and exposed the degree of official
corruption. The first phase of the affair was characterized by preliminary
inquiries, the preservation of power structures in Uzbekistan, and general
institutional silence. It revealed a scheme of falsified production data that
every year absorbed billions of rubles from the state per half million tons of
cotton produced merely on paper. This phase culminated in the sudden and
mysterious death of Rashidov, the Uzbek party leader, and exacerbated the
subsequent struggle among local elites.
Andropov died in February 1984. However, his anticorruption mission con-
tinued under his successor, Konstantin Chernenko, and collaborators such
as Ligachev, who in June 1984 chaired the famous sixteenth plenum of the
Communist Party of Uzbekistan, defining the systematization of the purges.
In this phase, hundreds of anonymous letters reached the central commit-
tees at the local and central levels to allege the moral and material corrup-
tion of some cadres; this eventually degenerated into a witch hunt that was
ordered from above but fed from below. The Cotton Affair extended far and
wide to other economic sectors of the republic, while the influence of Moscow
became increasingly stronger. Gorbachev, who became general secretary in
1985, continued the work of his predecessors and reinforced anticorruption
Indeed, the scope of the Cotton Affair extended even further at the begin-
ning of 1986. While Gorbachev was about to launch his reformist program,
the central party demanded that the Communist Party of Uzbekistan pub-
licly confess to its failures. Tashkent’s leadership accepted its fate, extending

MORAL REFORM: Soviet leader Yuri Andropov (opposite), who is buried at
the Kremlin necropolis, attempted to root out corruption in the Soviet sys-
tem. The former KGB chairman cultivated new, younger politicians—notably
Mikhail Gorbachev—who were distinguished for moral integrity and who were
supposed to follow a prudent but effective reformist agenda. [Ben Sutherland—
Creative Commons]

H O O V ER D IG E S T • S u m m er 2018 163
A REDEFINITION: Uzbek President Islam Karimov dances alongside then–
prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev (the current Uzbek president) during
independence day celebrations in August 2007. Karimov (1938–2016) ini-
tially appeared on the scene as a peacemaker, a go-between to balance Uzbek
interests and Moscow’s demands. Eventually he characterized Moscow’s
prosecution of the Cotton Affair as “colonial,” “repression,” “terror,” and even
“genocide.” [Shamil Zhumatov—Reuters]

the purges to the whole party nomenklatura and the state apparatus and
posthumously condemning Rashidov as the main culprit of the affair. The
former leader—previously a symbol of integration within the Soviet sys-
tem—was now considered a mobster and the main scapegoat of the stagna-
tion, corruption, and economic and political failure of the republic, and his
memory condemned.
The process of “de-Rashidovization” was not merely symbolic. It affected
all the power structures that in previous decades had dominated the repub-
lican political scenario. Afterward, the Central Committee of the Soviet
Communist Party advanced the krasnyi desant (red paratroopers) campaign.
These “party reinforcements” led by Moscow consisted of several hundred
Slavic officials “exported” to Uzbekistan to heal the corrupted situation and
directly govern the republic, replacing local cadres in key posts. The reversal

164 H O O VER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
of the long process of indigenization and the imposition of outside rulers
among the highest ranks of the republic defined a sort of trust administra-
tion run by Moscow under the banner of perestroika. Throughout the rest of
the country, the slogans of economic reform, transparency, and democratic
openness dominated the political scene. Meanwhile, in the Central Asian
periphery the largest systemic purge of the post-Stalin period was taking

Uzbekistan was not an isolated case. In the other Central Asian parties, first
secretaries who had been leading their respective republics for decades were
finally replaced by Gorbachev’s purges. In November 1985, the Kyrgyz leader
Turdakun Usubaliyev (in power since 1961) was replaced by Absamat Masali-
yev on the basis of allegations of corruption concerning the livestock sector.
In December, Qahhor Mahkamov replaced Rahmon Nabiev and became the
leader of the Tajik party. Saparmurat Niyazov replaced the longstanding
Turkmen First Secretary Muhammetnazar Gapurov, who had been in power
since 1963. In December 1986, the longstanding Kazakh First Secretary Din-
mukhamed Kunayev, in power since 1964, was replaced by the ethnic Russian
Gennady Kolbin, triggering a wave of protests that were violently quelled by
Soviet authorities.
In Uzbekistan, as in the other republics, these operations were changing
the center-periphery relations and reversing the process of indigenization.
They appeared to be
forms of colonial inter-
ference against periph- In the Soviet realm, Uzbekistan was a
eries of the empire that “cotton republic.” Its task was to pro-
had enjoyed some degree vide Moscow planners more than 60
of political autonomy in
percent of the total Soviet production.
the previous decades.
Despite slogans of democracy and reform, perestroika was perceived as an
intrusive policy of controlling the periphery, fueling a sense of frustration
and, in many places, humiliation of local elites who had suffered the burden
of scandals and the imposed rule by cadres who were considerably closer to
Moscow than to local communities.
In 1988, while perestroika was taking effect, the incredulous first secretary
of the Uzbek Communist Party, Inamzhon Usmankhodzhaev, was struck by the
same corruption scandals that he himself had fueled, and was ousted. In his place
Rafiq Nishanov, a Moscow loyalist close to Gorbachev’s circle, was appointed and

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 165
THE NATIONALIST CARD: A soldier stands guard in front of a portrait of Islam
Karimov after the Uzbek leader died in September 2016. Karimov’s view of
Uzbek identity became an ideological pillar of the post-Soviet state, compar-
ing the nation to other newly independent states in the nonaligned move-
ment. In fact, Karimov reiterated the old Soviet system, preserving its authori-
tarian and centralist characteristics. [Alexei Druzhinin—TASS]

acted as a sort of Moscow viceroy attempting to destroy local neopatrimonial
networks in the last and most intense period of the Cotton Affair. The little-loved
Nishanov heavily played up scandals and acted against his opponents, fueling a
climate of disaffection against the regime in a time of economic and political cri-
sis. In June 1989, Nishanov’s failure to quell interethnic clashes in the Ferghana
Valley determined his own political end. In his place, Islam Karimov—previously
minister of finance and head of Gosplan—was appointed head of the Uzbek Com-
munist Party. Karimov appeared as an outsider, aloof from the political struggles
of the Cotton Affair, who could act as a peacemaker while representing Uzbek
interests and mediating between local elites and Moscow to get more autonomy
and economic benefits for the republic.
The new Uzbek leader openly criticized the “mistakes” of the Soviet
regime—such as its ethnic policy, the imposition of cotton monoculture, the

166 H O O VER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
total dependence on the planned economic system, the ecological disasters
in the Aral basin, and the last “repressions” carried out during the Cotton
Affair. He promoted the concluding of the purges and trials, the rehabilita-
tion of the “victims” under the law (with a general amnesty), and restoration
of the indigenization and of “clan” superstructures that had been uprooted in
the previous years. However, the newly appointed Uzbek president also tried
to rebalance the role of the republic within the Soviet Union until separation
became inevitable after the August 1991 failed coup in Moscow.

The Cotton Affair was pivotal to Karimov’s first years of rule in Uzbeki-
stan, when the story was officially narrated using terms such as “colo-
nial,” “repression,” “purge,” “terror,” “new 1937,” and even “genocide.”
This framing, in a republic once considered among the most loyal in
the Soviet system, defined one of the first ideological transitions of the
post-Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan. Thus, the affair figured strongly
in Karimov’s ideological shift from communism to “Mustaqillik”—an
ideology based on the values of Uzbek independence. It fueled a sensi-
tive identity issue of revenge and resistance against the former rulers,
conjuring a postcolonial, trauma-based discourse that helped legitimize
the president’s regime and define his relations with local power networks
and opponents.
Despite Karimov’s interpretation of the affair as the last colonial repres-
sion, opposition groups criticized the rehabilitation of Rashidov and other
“victims” and accused the establishment of covering up malfeasance. Yet it
is clear that Karimov’s regime was able to turn the narrative of the Cotton
Affair to its advantage.
Previous Uzbek lead-
ers had confirmed their Despite its slogans of democracy and
devotion to perestroika, reform, perestroika was perceived as
encouraging purges an intrusive policy aimed at control-
and the replacement of ling the periphery.
leaders with Moscow
loyalists. In 1989, when the Communist Party’s authority grew weak and the
popular fronts’ claims more and more threatening, the new leader of the
Communist Party of Uzbekistan was able to craftily change the official nar-
rative, play the nationalist card, and consolidate his power. Karimov was thus
seen as promoting an Uzbek version of the political concept of trasformismo:
co-opting potential allies and marginalizing opponents while presenting the

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 167
old regime in a renewed style to justify an ornamental transition to a post-
Soviet republic—and to consolidate his power.
The self-serving narrative gave Karimov the chance to renegotiate the role,
rights, and redistributive quotas of Uzbekistan within the Soviet system in
1989–91, to justify secession in 1991, and finally after independence to create
a solid basis of identity.
It became an ideological
As the affair unfolded, leaders fell all pillar that represented
across Central Asia. post-Soviet Uzbekistan
as a postcolonial entity
comparable with other newly independent states in the nonaligned move-
ment. In the following decades, the Uzbek president and his Mustaqillik
ideology reiterated the old Soviet system, preserving the same authoritarian
and centralist characteristics, while the republic still struggles to find its own
national and post-Soviet identity.
It is necessary when reconstructing the political history of the late Soviet
era to go beyond party-oriented perspectives. The collections of the Hoover
Institution Library & Archives make it possible to study sensitive issues of
the late Soviet era—such as NGOs, civil society organizations, and Uzbek
opposition groups during the late 1980s and early 1990s—in a free, safe, and
challenging environment. They also offer myriad documents, papers, news-
paper articles, and reports on the transitions of Uzbekistan and other former
Soviet republics, offering a more comprehensive picture of the role and
perception of civil society in the late Soviet era.
The next challenge for historians is overcoming such divergences between
evidence, official storytelling, and popular perceptions of perestroika—and
even of the Soviet experience in general—while trying to find firm facts. The
Cotton Affair remains a good starting point for further research into the
Soviet collapse.

Special to the Hoover Digest.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is
Hammer, Sickle, and Soil: The Soviet Drive to
Collectivize Agriculture, by Jonathan Daly. To order,
call (800) 888-4741 or visit

168 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8


Empire on Trial
Seventy years ago in Tokyo, Foreign Minister
Mamoru Shigemitsu stood accused of “waging
aggressive war.” His documents and sketches
enhance a Hoover collection that gives historians
a seat in that courtroom.

By David Cohen and Yuma Totani

amoru Shigemitsu (1887–1957), a career diplomat who rose
to top positions in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
during the Asia-Pacific War (1931–45), appears in one of
the most famous images of the Second World War. Attired
in formal dark suit, white gloves, top hat, and cane, he leads a delegation of
defeated Japanese officials and signs the Instrument of Surrender on the
deck of the battleship Missouri, moored in Tokyo Bay, on September 2, 1945.
Shigemitsu also was among the wartime Japanese leaders whom the Inter-
national Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE, 1946–48) found guilty
of aggression and atrocities. The Hoover Institution Library & Archives has
long been home to a vast collection of IMTFE materials, which include a
complete set of the transcripts of court proceedings, court exhibits, and volu-
minous internal records of the International Prosecution Section. Shigemitsu
becomes more prominent in the Hoover holdings this year with the digitiza-
tion of the newly acquired “Shigemitsu Mamoru Sketch Books,” which join
the existing IMTFE collections.

David Cohen is the director of the WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and In-
ternational Justice, WSD Handa Professor in Human Rights and International Jus-
tice, and professor of classics at Stanford University. Yuma Totani, a visiting fellow
at the Hoover Institution, is a professor of history at the University of Hawaii.

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 169
DEFEAT IN TOKYO: The Japanese delegation, led by Foreign Minister
Mamoru Shigemitsu, in formal suit, top hat, and white gloves, prepares for the
surrender ceremony aboard the battleship Missouri on September 2, 1945.
(Shigemitsu walked with a cane and an artificial leg after being wounded in a
1932 bomb attack by a Korean independence activist.) Shigemitsu, who had
filled many top posts in the imperial Japanese government, including ambas-
sador to the Soviet Union and Great Britain, was put on trial the year after
Japan surrendered. He would keep a diary and draw sketches of the historic
tribunal that was convened to try him and Japan’s other top wartime leaders.
[US National Archives and Records Administration, Army Signal Corps Collection]

The new digital collection hosts some one hundred and fifty pages of
sketches that Shigemitsu drew while observing the two-year court proceedings
from the defendants’ dock at the IMTFE courtroom in Tokyo. He depicts in his
small sketchbooks, in quick pencil work, his impressions of witnesses, judges,
members of the prosecution, defense attorneys, and other court personnel. He
portrays some individuals in a comical manner, others with realism, suggesting
varying states of mind as he rendered his impressions of courtroom events.
For instance, Shigemitsu developed the habit of depicting Sir William F.
Webb, the member from Australia and the president of the Tokyo tribunal, as

170 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
a round-faced, smiling icon that floats over the court scenes. Webb is generally
known in the historical literature as an ill-tempered, ill-informed jurist whom
his fellow justices disliked, but Shigemitsu appears to have had a different
impression of him. Webb, in fact, was a highly experienced war crimes inves-
tigator and a rare legal mind to serve at the IMTFE; however, he had the mis-
fortune of having far less qualified, politically motivated individuals as fellow
justices, and naturally had difficulty getting along with them. By the end of the
proceedings, seven of the eleven IMTFE justices formed a majority to reject
a well-reasoned draft judgment Webb had produced, and three other justices
produced dissenting opinions of varying and questionable quality. In place
of the draft judgment, Webb submitted a short separate opinion in which he
stated his views on certain legal and factual problems, including the wartime
authority of the emperor of Japan and its implication to the case.
The Allied powers established the IMTFE in January 1946 pursuant to sur-
render terms. Following the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg
(IMT, 1945–46), the IMTFE had the task of determining the accountability of
those Japanese whom the Allied authorities identified as principally respon-
sible for the commission of aggressive war (then known as “crimes against
peace”), war crimes, and crimes against humanity in the Asia-Pacific theater.
The case covered the years from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931
until the cessation of hostilities in 1945. Eleven nations that had been at war
with Japan participated in the Tokyo proceedings: Australia, Canada, France,
Great Britain, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, the
Republic of China, the Soviet Union, and the United States.
Of some one hundred
individuals the Allied
governments initially Emperor Hirohito was named neither
named as major war as an accused nor as a witness. The
criminals, twenty-eight Allies wanted his unique authority
were chosen for trial. used to ensure Japan’s compliance.
(This number was later
reduced to twenty-five because of two deaths and one case of mental unfit-
ness to stand trial.) They included General Hideki Tojo, who served as
prime minister and concurrently army minister for much of the Pacific War
(1941–44), and Marquis Koichi Kido, a personal confidant of Emperor Hiro-
hito and the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal (1940–45). Hirohito himself was
named neither as an accused nor as a witness due to a high-level policy deci-
sion of the Allied authorities, adopted in early April 1946, that the emperor’s
unique authority be used to ensure the Japanese people’s compliance with

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 171
the surrender. It remains a matter of controversy whether the Allied powers
should have put Hirohito on trial.

Shigemitsu and his co-accused faced as many as fifty-five counts of various
offenses, but Shigemitsu appears to have been relatively unconcerned, at
least at first, about the gravity of the case against him. Three circumstances
may explain his seeming lack of concern.
First, he knew he had not been in the initial list of defendants. His name
was added at the last minute, upon urging of the Soviet prosecution team.
This knowledge appears to have given Shigemitsu a measure of confidence
that the prosecution had named him hastily and might not have a well-devel-
oped case against him.
Second, Shigemitsu had a fair number of friends and sympathizers in the
West, some of whom offered favorable evidence concerning his wartime
diplomatic service. For instance, John Powell, formerly a news correspondent
reporting from Shanghai, offered extensive testimony on brutality of the
Japanese military police but singled out Shigemitsu (who was ambassador to
China in 1930–32) as a committed pacifist who did not belong in the dock.
Third, Shigemitsu appeared confident about his innocence not only of
“aggressive war” charges but also of war crimes. In a diary he kept dur-
ing the Tokyo Trial, he recorded that as the prosecution showed, he had
the capacity as foreign minister (1943–45) to receive inquiries and protests
regarding Japanese mistreatment of Allied prisoners of war. He put the army
authorities on inquiry notice on such occasions, only to receive in reply a flat
denial that prisoners of war were being abused. “This did not satisfy me,”
Shigemitsu wrote. “At last, I appealed directly to His Majesty the Emperor,
who admonished the army strictly.” Shigemitsu’s thinking appears to be that
he could not be held liable, given that he did everything in his power to rec-
tify the situation, including seeking the emperor’s intervention.

LEGAL DRAMA: During court proceedings, Shigemitsu (opposite page, back
row of chairs, with cane) drew sketches of defendants, judges, witnesses,
prosecutors, and military police. He also kept a diary during his trial in which
he appeared confident that he would be acquitted of the “waging aggressive
war” accusation and of war crimes. Describing his behavior, Shigemitsu wrote
that he had not ignored protests of prison mistreatment but rather had taken
them directly to the emperor. Trial testimony, however, eroded Shigemitsu’s
confidence that he would be absolved of shared responsibility for the conflict.
[Hoover Institution Archives, Shigemitsu Mamoru Sketch Books]

H O O V ER D IG E S T • S u m m er 2018 173
BENIGN JUSTICE: A comical, smiling face floats at the top of a page from one
of Shigemitsu’s sketch books. It represents Sir William F. Webb, the member
from Australia and the president of the Tokyo tribunal, and appeared often
among the defendant’s sketches. Oddly, Webb is often characterized in histor-
ical accounts as ill-tempered and contrarian. Moreover, his conclusions about
Shigemitsu’s culpability were less than favorable to the defendant. [Hoover
Institution Archives, Shigemitsu Mamoru Sketch Books]

Shigemitsu appears to have felt less sure about the strength of his case over
time, however, especially with regard to charges of war crimes. On February
10, 1948, the tribunal received oral evidence from Tadakatsu Suzuki, a defense
witness and Shigemitsu’s wartime subordinate. This witness attested that
prisoner-of-war affairs fell outside the jurisdiction of the Foreign Ministry but
that, deeply concerned about the protests, Foreign Minister Shigemitsu had
taken steps to verify facts and put pressure on the government and military
colleagues. Suzuki also testified that Shigemitsu took up the matter with the
Supreme Council for the Direction of the War, the highest-level policy mak-
ing body of the Japanese government during the Koiso cabinet (1944–45). He
stated that as a result, there was a degree of improvement in prisoner-of-war

174 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
TESTIMONY: Military witnesses who appeared before the Tokyo tribunal
included Rear Admiral Kunji Tange; Lieutenant General Masaichi Shimamoto;
Rear Admiral Toshitane Takata; Major General Yukihiro Hirata; Rear Admiral
Narisuke Arima; Lieutenant General Saburo Endo; and Lieutenant General
Torashiro Kawabe. Working quickly in pencil, Shigemitsu produced about a
hundred and fifty pages of such sketches. [Hoover Institution Archives, Shigemitsu
Mamoru Sketch Books]

treatment. When cross-examined, however, Suzuki conceded that Shigemitsu
did not bring the information of prisoner-of-war mistreatment to the attention
of the cabinet, because “the administration of matters relating to prisoners of
war was under the jurisdiction of the army.”
This last piece of Suzuki’s testimony was bad news for Shigemitsu, since it
could be used against him as inculpatory evidence. Shigemitsu himself con-
ceded in his diary, “Today, I scored a loss for the first time since the start of the
court proceedings.” This remark reveals that Shigemitsu understood the theory
of “government responsibility” by which the prosecution sought to establish the
linkage between former top-tier Japanese government officials such as himself,
and widespread prisoner-of-war mistreatment by Japan’s armed forces.

H O O V ER D IG E S T • S u m m e r 2018 175
KEY FIGURE: Among the most well-known defendants in the Tokyo trial was
General Hideki Tojo, prime minister and army minister for much of the 1941–
44 period. Tojo (center, wearing headphones) was prime minister when Japan
attacked the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, triggering the American entry into the
war, and was deeply involved in Japanese actions for the duration of the war.
He tried to kill himself after Japan surrendered, but his wound was not fatal;
as he was being treated, he told reporters, “I wait for the righteous judgment
of history.” After he recovered, he too was put on trial. The military tribunal
sentenced Tojo to hang, and executed him on December 23, 1948. [US National
Archives and Records Administration]
CROSS-EXAMINED: Tadakatsu Suzuki, sketched at right, was formerly chief
of the Bureau in Charge of Japanese Nationals in Enemy Nations and reported
to Shigemitsu during the latter’s tenure as foreign minister. His testimony first
supported his former boss’s account but then undermined it. Shigemitsu wrote
in his diary, “Truth be told, the one who struggled the most on prisoner-of-war
affairs was myself.” [Hoover Institution Archives, Shigemitsu Mamoru Sketch Books]

With a tone of regret, Shigemitsu wrote in his diary that, “Truth be told, the
one who struggled the most on prisoner-of-war affairs was myself,” and that, as
a matter of fact, he did bring up the matter to the cabinet repeatedly. Suzuki,
however, was uninformed of this fact. Shigemitsu had bypassed him by not
ordering him to prepare a written brief, and instead raised the issue with the
cabinet directly and orally. Suzuki’s testimony was left to stand nonetheless, as
Shigemitsu did not take the stand himself. Nor did the defense call any further
witnesses on his behalf. It is hardly surprising, then, that Suzuki’s testimony
materially affected the verdict of the Tokyo Tribunal, to which we now turn.

The conviction of Shigemitsu for both crimes against peace and war crimes
has aroused controversy and charges of victor’s justice. The dissenting

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 177
opinion of the Dutch judge, B. V. A. Roeling, for example, portrays Shigemitsu
as a diplomat who worked for peace and hence should have been acquitted.
In light of Shigemitsu’s own account of his role, how did the majority judg-
ment justify conviction on these charges?
Unfortunately, the majority judgment did not extensively review the evidence
on which it based its legal conclusions and verdicts. This was particularly the
case in regard to war crimes charges as opposed to crimes against peace. The
tribunal found that Shigemitsu, as foreign minister, had received continuous
information from foreign governments from 1943 to 1945 about the mistreatment
of prisoners and civilian internees. The majority also found that Shigemitsu

took no adequate steps to have the matter investigated, although
he, as a member of the government, bore overall responsibility for
the welfare of the prisoners. He should have pressed the matter,
if necessary to the point of resigning, in order to quit himself of a
responsibility which he suspected was not being discharged.

The majority thus convicted Shigemitsu for war crimes on the basis of what
he failed to do, a culpable omission, rather than for any actual conduct.
Shigemitsu claimed that he had, in fact, acted affirmatively, but because he
refused to testify on his own behalf this evidence never came before the court.
Now we return to the unpublished draft judgment of the president of the
IMTFE, Sir William F. Webb, which cast a different light on Shigemitsu’s
liability for war crimes. Webb had prepared the draft as a majority judgment,
but it was rejected, certainly in part because of Webb’s uncompromising
stance on the responsibility of Emperor Hirohito as the ultimate source of
actual authority in wartime Japan. Webb focused in greater depth on the
actual conduct of the accused, the nature of the information available to
them, and the evidence of what they must have known.
In regard to Shigemitsu, Webb examined the evidence that he both had
knowledge and also participated in some affirmative way. Webb provided a much
fuller analysis than did the majority. He noted that Shigemitsu as foreign minister
received repeated protests about the treatment of POWs. Webb documented how
Shigemitsu not only had knowledge of mistreatment (or at the very least sufficient
information to put him on inquiry notice) but also responded to Allied queries
and protests with false information and refusals to allow visits to relevant camps.
Webb gave multiple examples of such conduct and adduced Japanese government
documents that clearly demonstrated the falsehood of Shigemitsu’s replies.
Webb concluded that Shigemitsu’s knowing provision of false information
involved more than a failure to prevent—it inferred an acquiescence in the

178 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
DISSENTER: Sir William F. Webb’s unpublished draft judgment—which his
fellow jurists refused to endorse—focused in greater depth on Shigemitsu’s
behavior. In Webb’s analysis, the defendant, amid repeated wartime protests
about the treatment of Allied prisoners, responded with false information
and refusals to allow visits to POW camps. To Webb, these actions signaled
an acquiescence in criminal activities. He concluded, “when Japan resorted
to war he was as foreign minister a strong advocate of its continuance until
final victory. He was responsible for waging war.” Because this judgment was
unpublished, it could not be used to correct postwar attempts to challenge the
trial’s legitimacy. [US National Archives and Records Administration]

criminal activities. It was on this basis that Webb justified the conviction on
war crimes charges.
The majority acquitted Shigemitsu on the first count, conspiracy to wage
aggressive war, because by the time he became foreign minister in 1943 “the
policy of the conspirators to wage certain wars of aggression had been settled
and was in the course of execution. Thereafter there was no further formula-
tion of that policy.” This conclusion was puzzling. The judgment indicated
Shigemitsu was aware of the aggressive policies—he advised against some of
them—but he nonetheless accepted the position of foreign minister, for which
the majority convicted him of waging wars of aggression starting in 1943. That
would seem to compel a conviction on the conspiracy charge as well. Indeed,

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m er 2018 179
WAS HE RESPONSIBLE?: A snapshot shows Shigemitsu around 1946. Con-
victed in 1948 by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, he was
sentenced to seven years in prison but was paroled in 1950. Soon he returned
to politics and government. He was foreign minister again in 1956 when Japan
formally applied for membership in the United Nations. Shigemitsu died in
1957 at the age of sixty-nine. [Copyright unknown, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum]

the court’s findings spelled out that “all of those who at any time were parties
to the conspiracy or who at any time played a part in its execution are guilty
of the charge contained in Count 1.” It is difficult to see how the majority, using
this definition, could find him not guilty under the conspiracy count.
Webb’s draft, again, cast a different light on Shigemitsu’s role through its much
more thorough examination of the evidence. For instance, as ambassador to
Great Britain, Shigemitsu sent telegrams after the outbreak of war in Europe,
advising Tokyo on how to take advantage of the German conquest of European
colonial powers. Shigemitsu’s telegram of August 5, 1940, cited in Webb’s draft,
conveys the importance of such evidence in assessing Shigemitsu’s liability:

In order to establish our position in Greater East Asia, it would be
necessary to consider measures for gaining the maximum benefits

180 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
at the minimum loss by carrying them out at the direct expense of
small nations (for example, France and Portugal) (although indi-
rectly it may turn out to be at the expense of Britain and America)
and by avoiding conflict with other countries so as not to make
many enemies at once but to dispose of them one by one.

Shigemitsu claimed that when he became foreign minister in April 1943 he
did so to work for peace, but Webb quoted several of his statements that indi-
cated the contrary. In a statement of December 12, 1944, Shigemitsu extolled
Hitler as a hero who would save Europe and pledged that Japan would fight “to
the last, together with our allied countries, at any cost.” In making his findings
Webb also calls attention to Shigemitsu’s policy suggestion “to attack and plun-
der the small nations . . . who had never threatened Japan.” Webb concluded
that “when Japan resorted to war he was as foreign minister a strong advocate
of its continuance until final victory. He was responsible for waging war.”
Shigemitsu was sentenced to seven years in prison for waging aggressive
war, but was paroled in 1950. Later he was elected to the Japanese Diet and
served in several post-occupation governments. A widespread opinion holds
that Shigemitsu should not have been convicted. This view, however, too
often relies on the shoddy analysis of the evidence before the court as pro-
vided by the majority judgment. Because Webb’s draft judgment remained
unpublished and largely unknown, it could not serve as a corrective to the
political use to which the convictions of Shigemitsu and others have been
put in attempts to delegitimize the Tokyo trial. As we have seen, the contrast
between Webb’s account and that of the majority compels us to go back to
the transcript, exhibits, and arguments of the parties before drawing conclu-
sions about Shigemitsu’s guilt or innocence.

Special to the Hoover Digest. The Hoover Institution Library & Archives
extends its gratitude to the Shigemitsu Mamoru Memorial Museum and
the Shigemitsu family for making the sketch books available to the public.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is The
Crusade Years, 1933–1955: Herbert Hoover’s Lost
Memoir of the New Deal Era and Its Aftermath, edited
by George H. Nash. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 181
On the Cover

his 1918 recruiting poster from the Hoover Archives touches on
a turning point in the history of the United States Marine Corps.
While reminding the potential recruit that the Corps is “first to
fight,” it gives no hint of the baptism of fire the Marines expe-
rienced in June of that year. That was when elements of the Fourth Marine
Brigade, attached to the American Expeditionary Force and fighting in sup-
port of British and French troops, entered a thicket called Belleau Wood.
The battle came after the Spring Offensive, the last great German cam-
paign of World War I, had sputtered to a halt. General Erich Ludendorff
tried to force the Allies into an armistice. Newly freed of its second front by
Russia’s withdrawal from the war, Germany finally saw its chance to pour
significant forces into the stagnant Western Front. Seasoned troops surged
ahead against the exhausted Allies. The Germans did gain significant terri-
tory, which ultimately they could not hold, but Ludendorff failed to compel
the Allies to offer terms. Meanwhile, American troops were arriving in
significant numbers at last. The Allies would counterattack.
It was June 6 when Marine infantry advanced on German lines, exhibit-
ing fearsome discipline and marksmanship. Nonetheless, the Marine Corps
suffered more casualties at Belleau Wood than it had in its entire previous
history—some 1,100 dead or wounded on the first day. Three weeks of vicious
fighting ensued: bayonets, knives, hand-to-hand combat. But the German
road to Paris was blocked.
Fast-talking Chicago newsman Floyd Gibbons, whose left eye was shot out
during the battle, sent back a colorful account that helped cement the legend
of Belleau Wood. His dispatch also let slip that he was with the Marines—
a breach of wartime censorship that only added to the Corps’ luster back
home. The fighting was so fierce that even Gibbons earned an award for
valor, France’s Croix de Guerre.
Belleau Wood made several pithy contributions to Marine lore. There
was Captain Lloyd Williams, warned by the French to turn back, replying,

182 H O O V ER DI GEST • Summer 201 8
“Retreat, hell!
We just got here.”
He was killed a
few days later.
Also celebrated
is First Sergeant
Daniel Daly, a
grizzled veteran
who rallied his
Leathernecks by
yelling, “Come on,
you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?” (Daly later offered a slightly
less salty account, recalling the first part of his shout as “For Christ’s sake,
men—come on!”) Tough even by Marine standards—he was a boxer by the
age of twelve—Daly had twice earned the Medal of Honor, first for service
during the Boxer Rebellion and again in Haiti. After Belleau Wood, he wore
the Navy Cross as well.
When the woods were finally secured, at the cost of 8,100 American dead
or wounded, US commanding general John “Black Jack” Pershing would
exclaim, “The Gettysburg of the war has been fought!” In tribute, France
renamed the woods Bois de la Brigade de Marine, a name it bears to this day.
Charles Buckles Falls (1874–1960) created this poster. After the war, he
made colorful woodcuts for his ABC Book, whose bright colors, lively ani-
mals, and unusual lettering would charm generations of children. Falls also
designed fabrics, furniture, and stage sets.
Falls produced several other recruiting posters, including one that helped
popularize the Marines’ nickname, “Devil Dogs.” The sobriquet originated
sometime in 1918 and came to be associated with Belleau Wood. Some said
the Germans came up with it; H. L. Mencken, for one, thought it was invented
by an American reporter, perhaps the one-eyed Gibbons. In Falls’s poster, a
Marine Corps bulldog chases down a dachshund wearing a pointy German
Across from the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery where the US fallen lie,
water pours from the mouth of a stone mastiff. The dog fountain was there
before World War I, but today’s Marines make pilgrimages to what they call
“the Devil Dog fountain.” Drinking from it is said to make a Marine live lon-
ger—though not forever.
—Charles Lindsey

H O O V ER D IG E ST • S u m m e r 2018 183


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184 H O O V ER DI GEST • SUMMER 201 8

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Roderick W. Shepard Stephen D. Bechtel Jr.
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David L. Steffy Frederick L. Allen
Thomas F. Stephenson Joseph W. Donner
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H O O V ER D IG E ST • S UMMER 2018 185
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