11 MARCH 1966, Page 8


Hog Fat at Armageddon


WASHINGTON 'What all the wise promised has not happened, and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass:—Melbourne on the Irish troubles.

WHAT must it be to have based one's whole sentient life on science and scientifically to have predicted the way Vietnam would go and now to have the wild intuition of Senator Wayne Morse turn out correct and your own sober com- putations turn out wrong? Robert McNamara must toss with nightmares about the repeal of the third law of thermodynamics.

Mr. Johnson's Secretary of Defence seems the sanest, the most detached and the most precise public servant we have had in a generation; and still, to see him now is to understand that Dr. Strangelove is a newsreel.

Last week he was moved to proclaim publicly the exact dimensions of our armament and troop deployment in South East Asia. 'I have given you,' he told the journalists, 'more classified in- formation than I ever have because it was so necessary.' These disclosures turned out to be necessary because Chairman Stennis of the Senate Preparedness Committee and Hanson-Baldwin of the New York Times had both recently asserted that the war in Vietnam had stretched American military resources dangerously thin. So now this war is the overmastering issue of our domestic politics; and secrets previously withheld because their disclosure might give aid and comfort to the enemy must now be revealed because their non-disclosure might give aid and comfort to the Republicans.

'Last month,' the Secretary of Defence said, 'we delivered two-and-a-half times the airborne ordnance that we did in the average month of the Korean War.' Computations of this sort rolled forth fearsome in their immensity but far more terrifying for what they had to say about the impotence of power. Here, as of February, are what Secretary McNamara chose to call 'our annual rates of consumption in South East Asia': 1.7 million bombs (or eight bombs for every Vietcong in the field).

4.8 million rockets (twenty-four for each Viet- cong).

16 million 40-mm grenades (fifty-five for each Vietcong).

And on and on the roll went; and then the next day the Secretary left his septic barracks and crossed the Potomac to tell the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that, at prevailing rates, Ho Chi Minh and the Vietcong will have increased their forces in the field by 50 per cent by next December.

This is a world where all laws of force and mass are suspended and the reeling mind flounders for some proof that scientific manage- ment works. So here we were, the Secretary of Defence consoled us, in the first major war America has ever fought 'with no serious strain on the civilian economy' and the total defence budget only 7.8 per cent of the gross national. product. Such is the ultimate triumph of systems analysis; thanks to sound management, we stand at Armageddon hog fat.

There were times last week when the Secretary of Defence's face, usually so composed, so pleasant and so keen, looked like a fist. He bad prepared himself with considerable effort for the Foreign Relations Committee, and he was there more than four hours. Yet it was all a waste of time; dove followed hawk from the Committee room and every Senator said in turn that his opinion was just what it had been before he beard the Secretary.

Russell Long, the Senate's Democratic whip, came forth wearing an American flag, enamelled, in his lapel. He handed round a card which said, 'I wear my country's colours to show 1 support its cause.' Nobody's mind had been changed, he said; the Foreign Relations Committee hearings seemed to him useful only to the enemy. 'I just don't agree,' Russell Long finished, 'that the white man is going to be driven out of Asia.'

That spirit, in its simple way, has rescued America in other days. But how terribly sad it must be to be Robert McNamara and the first scientific intelligence to manage the Department of Defence that of all your arguments none should touch the heart and soul of a Senator so deeply as that of Russell Long, who was already convinced by his animal instinct.