[This op-ed column appeared in the Wichita Eagle and Beacon, September 13, 1975.] 


Détente: Reflection of Western Weakness 


Dwight D. Murphey


EDITOR’S NOTE: Dwight D. Murphey is an associate professor of business and law at Wichita State University.  His article is written in response to the article “Détente Can Encourage World Peace” by Sen. James B. Pearson which appeared in this space on Aug. 30, 1975.


            I read Senator Pearson’s article with considerable interest to see what a leading member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would have to say in support of détente.  I have long feared that “détente” is more a matter of self-imposed delusion than of substance.

            The senator’s article did not overcome my hesitation.

            Its main thrust was clear: That détente has not removed the main dangers from the world, but that it at least constitutes a beginning toward relaxation and better communication.

            There are, however, significant inconsistencies in the article, which I believe may reflect a naïve and wishful underpinning for the whole détente position.

-         The senator began by saying “it is difficult to pinpoint an exact date when the cold war ended.”  When later he wrote that “the modest agreements reached at Vladivostok, and since, do not justify” the “hopes of Americans for an end to the cold war,” we might think him simply to have become involved in an inconsistency over labelling.  But there is certainly a confusion in rhetoric, and perhaps in ideas, when the cold war is said both to have ended and not to have.

-         He defined détente as “a mutual effort to learn to live together in spite of our differences.”  But then he said that we cannot expect the Soviets to abandon their goals or to stop “exploiting favorable developments in other countries and regions.”  Does this mean that “détente” is consistent with their continuing their Marxist-Leninist ideology and their efforts to expand their hegemony over the non-Communist world?          

-         The article saw real value in “cooling the hot rhetoric of the cold war” and in providing means of negotiation.  But we are then told that “the mood and temper in Moscow today is aggressive and abrasive.”

      Perhaps these questions would be of little importance if détente did not involve so high a price (as symbolized recently by the snub of Solzhenitsyn).  In preparing this response, I leafed through a month’s back issues of the Christian Science Monitor.  Here are a few examples of continuing Communist expansion I found during just that time:

-         Ironically, the report appears that “Western diplomats here do not generally regard Soviet actions in Portugal thus far as violating understandings about détente.  Western intelligence reports of Soviet financing of the Portuguese Communist party are widely believed, but no more direct Soviet involvement is known.”  An Aug. 26 story says Moscow had just issued a statement urging “mass solidarity” in the fight against “the offensives of reaction” in Portugal.

-          There is a chilling line in the Aug. 15 issue: “The Marxist People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen controls Aden.”  How many Americans realize this?

-         As to the civil war in Angola, the Aug. 20 issue reports that “the United States has obtained information that the Soviet Union has shipped armored cars, heavy machine guns, heavy mortars and bazookas… to arm the pro-Moscow Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola.”  If financial support to the Communist Party in Portugal doesn’t violate détente, what are we to think of armored cars to Angolan Marxists?

-         The issue of Aug. 19 speaks of “black soldiers carrying Russian rifles” in Mozambique.  How many Americans are even aware of the loss of Mozambique to the Communists this summer?  The loss is reflected in the Monitor’s reference to “Frelimo, the militantly Marxist movement that led the 10-year guerrilla war against Portuguese colonialists and took over the government at independence on June 25.”

-         The Aug. 25 issue tells of “the Soviet military build-up in the port of Berbera, Somalia.”

-         The Aug. 12 Monitor says that “United States intelligence analysts believe Thailand and Malaysia have about 18 months to prepare for major Communist insurgencies.  Reports indicated that infiltration into Thailand already has increased.”

            There are other reports, involving India, Bangladesh and Argentina, among others, in recent press dispatches, but these are illustrative.

            They show that Moscow and Peking (also frequently referred to) are using détente as a cover to exploit the enervation that follows Vietnam, but it is also a symptom of the “decline of the West,” reflecting the ideological divisions and moral relativisms that underlie our present desire to blank out world reality from our minds.  We live in a hedonistic culture—and if our intellectual and political leaders tell us it is safe to see the world through rose-colored glasses, we are ready to do so.

            The consequences of this self-delusion are far-reaching.

            We do incalculable damage to the prospects for peace in the long run by blanking out the types of encroachment we have just reviewed.  Can anyone seriously believe the world will be a safer place 10 or 20 years from now if we permit the Soviet Union and Communist China to work their will (albeit competitively) in Africa, Asia, Latin America or Europe?

            The delusion permits an entire “revisionist” history of the post-World War II era.  In light of it, American anti-Communist efforts both internally and externally, as in Vietnam, appear to have been paranoid, a product of imperialism and the “military-industrial complex.”

            The delusion adds credibility to those who attack the efforts of the CIA in overthrowing the Communist regime of Allende in Chile.  Such efforts, which were essential to the freedom of a continent, are seen as criminal; and an agency that has been an integral part of the defense of the free world is placed in jeopardy.

            Finally, it predisposes us to adopt an inappropriate set of principles in foreign affairs.  Instead of an on-going opposition to Communist expansion, we are placed back onto the principle of “non-intervention,” since that is the principle that should apply in the absence of an expansionist totalitarianism.

            Perhaps even more important is the fact that our entire interpretation of the world is shifted toward that which liberal ideology has so long endorsed: That the world is primarily a dangerous hotbed of contending nation-states, such as before World War I, and that the main problems consist of a lack of mutual understanding and of an arms race.  To such a view, the fact of an expansionist totalitarian ideology such as Communism becomes submerged, almost irrelevant, despite all the evidence concerning it.