This is a letter Philip K. Dick wrote in response to Israel’s bombing of the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981. It’s worth reading these days because, as with his science fiction, PKD remains prophetic….
Philip K. Dick is, arguably, the science fiction author, and the mind behind such movies as Blade Runner, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, and many others.
The letter is fascinating in many regards; for a start PKD’s approach is well thought out, in his first paragraph he outlines the logical problems inherent in Israel’s attack on Osirak. In the second, he discusses the state of mind that leads to such paranoia, and in the third, he warns Israel, and insinuates that they are possessed by the memory of a madman…
Read on –
Dear Ron Hendren,
Regarding Israel’s pre-emptive air strike on the Iraqi nuclear power plant I see several objections to the P.M.’s position. Israel’s government should have been prepared to offer substantial proof that weapons were in fact going to be produced at the reactor site. This proof should have been presented at today’s news conference, since Israel would have anticipated long in advance the adverse world opinion. Does this mean that Israel has no substantial proof? The burden of proof is on Israel, not on Iraq; this is, Iraq does not have to prove that it was not going to produce weapons; Israel must prove that it was. Second: Israel’s P.M. has stated that if Iraq rebuils the power plant Israel will destroy it again, but the P.M. did not say “if it appears that the plant will be converted to weapons production”; does this mean that Israel regards any nuclear power plant in an Arab country a threat, even if international regulatory agencies monitor and inspect the plant regularly? Third: why was the air strike conducted one day before the six-month inspection was to take place? On the Monday following the air strike it would have been possible for the international regulatory agency to have ascertained if in fact there had been – or was planned – a diversion toward weapons production. Fourth: Israel’s P.M. pointed out that once the plant was hot were it to be bombed many thousands of Iraqi citizens would have died from the radioactive fall-out; in that case, by possessing a nuclear power plant, Iraq was making itself incredibly vulnerable to destruction from the air – titanic destruction; possession of the plant, then, would be a two-edged sword. It could possibly be diverted to weapons production but it de facto was a time bomb situated near Baghdad. The actual military advantage, it would seem, lay with Iraq’s enemy, Israel. How could Iraq possibly attack Israel under such circumstances?
The fallacy of the argument in favor of pre-emptive war is that it assumes knowledge of the motives and intentions of other countries. It was a primary contention of Nazi Germany that a ring of enemies surrounded it, justifying (at least in the eyes of the Germans) pre-emptive war. By this same argument, the U.S. should have attacked the Soviet Union before the U.S.S.R. developed the A-bomb and certainly before it had the H-bomb. And in fact this argument was advanced in the late Forties. I am a Quaker and I deplore military “solutions.” The premise here seems to be that Arabs are unstable people who cannot be trusted. They should not have nuclear power plants because they will sneakily find a way to divert plutonium to weapons production despite all efforts at oversight and regulation. Now, it is the opinion of U.S. intelligence that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, and would have used them in the last war had the war gone against them. (In fact the U.S. is said to maintain constant tracking of the deployment of Israel’s nuclear strike force by means of observation satellites.) What Sunday’s air strike really boils down to – and I think you pointed to this in your commentary today, but perhaps only by implication – is that the balance of power in the Middle East must be kept in Israel’s favor in terms of nuclear weapons, since Israel is one small country surrounded by many hostile Arab countries. But it is Israel’s tragedy if she alienates world opinion and finds herself standing alone; she will have engineered the very thing she fears and suspects: an implacable, hostile ring around her, much as Germany experienced after World War One. The problem with paranoia in individuals and in nations is that it brings about the exact conditions that it suspects; paranoia is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Israel must not taunt the world with the fact that she is militarily capable of destroying any and all nations who might attack her because there is always the chance that this boast will be tested precisely because it is made.
Israel’s best chance for survival lie in the goodwill of the international community, not on sophisticated American weapons, plus Israel’s own nuclear capability. Military power is not, in the final analysis, the answer to Israel’s problems any more than it is the answer to ours or the Soviet Union’s. International cooperation is the answer in this global village we inhabit. Israel expresses a reactionary stance that would, perhaps, have made sense three thousand years ago. Those days are gone. Unless Israel can accept the existence of the Arab people as her neighbors she will by fighting pull her own self down, as many nations have done before her. There is a wonderful thrill in pre-emptive military strikes utilizing the most advanced weapons the world has to offer, and this thrill drove the Third Reich to horrible ruin, and, with her, much of the world. It was Hitler’s theory that the ultimate victory of fascism was that it would compel its enemies to imitate it, to become what it itself was. The ghost of that madman inhabits the taunts proffered the world by Israel’s P.M., and this is tragic indeed.
Philip K. Dick,
June 9, 1981