Closing Pandora's Box: Arms Races, Arms Control, and the History of the Cold War

By Patrick Glynn | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 9
The New Morality

You know as well as we do that, when these matters are discussed by practical people, the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept. --Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War Thus conscience does make cowards of us all. -- Shakespeare, Hamlet

Is it too obvious to point out that few experiences so shatter the confidence of a nation as defeat in war? Nothing might seem more commonplace, yet for Americans the commonest truths of nationhood have often been the most elusive. Americans did not view war, and particularly the Vietnam war, as a pan of them; it was something imposed from the outside, a temporary aberration. Much of the trauma of Vietnam could be traced to the unwillingness of the government even to admit that the country was at war--despite the fact that at the conflict's height half a million troops were committed and up to 400 per week were perishing in battle. By the time the helicopters rose off the roof of the American embassy in besieged Saigon in 1975, with fleeing South Vietnamese reaching desperately for the skids, most of the nation had dissociated itself from the spectacle. It was someone else's problem, perhaps the government's problem. The country was in it but not of it, in the way that a victim in a serious car crash might report an out-of-body experience.

This is not to say that the trauma of defeat had not racked the nation.

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