Mark Helprin and Michael Anton debate the war in Ukraine.

Against the New Republican Isolationism by Mark Helprin

I believe that with regard to Michael Anton’s essay “Nuclear Autumn” (Fall 2022), it is necessary to offer a counterpoint to its portrayal of, and the lessons it derives from, the Missile Crisis of 1983, in which I was a minor participant but a close observer. Now unjustly obscure, this was the last great struggle of the Cold War. The Soviet aim was not only to achieve and maintain an unmatched nuclear advantage via the deployment of the SS-20 intermediate-range ballistic missiles menacing Europe, but, more importantly, to convince the West that having provoked this action and thus bearing the guilt, it had better not react, as doing so would be yet a greater provocation that might lead to nuclear Armageddon. Fought in the hearts and minds of Western populations, the battle was a political crisis that willfully and for effect was passed off by one side as a military crisis. The conclusion was hardly certain, but as Ronald Reagan might have said: we won, they lost…

Nuclear Winter’s Tale by Michael Anton

Mark Helprin organizes his response to my essay into three objections. The first is that, contra my argument, it is worth risking nuclear confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. The second is that the Soviets had no reason to suspect American intentions in 1983 (or, by implication, at any other time). The unifying theme of the third is less clear, at least to me, though this section makes many points which are clear enough, but all of which were, or could have been, made under the rubric of the first.

Helprin’s first objection is undergirded by the assumption that the risk of nuclear confrontation with Russia is low. This assumption blends in with his second objection, since his point in arguing that Soviets had no reason to fear us in 1983, and so didn’t go nuclear then, is to assert that Russia has no reason to fear us today and so won’t do so now. Actually, to be more precise, Helprin makes a double assumption: that Russia knows it faces no existential threat from us, and so nukes are off the table, but also that Russia absolutely should fear us giving more aid to Ukraine, which would (and ought to) cause Russia to lose the war…

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