The following is excerpted from George Kennan's speech at the Albert Einstein award ceremony last Tuesday .
ADEQUATE WORDS are lacking to express the full seriousness of our present situation. It is not just that our government and the Soviet government appear to be on a collision course, and that the process of direct communication between the two governments seems almost to have broken down completely; it is also -- and even more importantly -- the fact that the ultimate sanction behind the conflicting policies of these two governments is a type and volume of weaponry which could not possibly be used without utter disaster for everyone concerned.
For over 30 years wise and far-seeing people have been warning us about the futility of any war fought with nuclear weapons and about the dangers, involved in their cultivation. Every president of this country, from Dwight Eisenhower to Jimmy Carter, has tried to remind us that there could be no such thing as victory in a war fought with such weapons. So have a great many other eminent persons.
When one looks back today over this long series of warnings, one has the impression that something has now been lost of the sense of urgency, the hopes and the excitement that initially inspired them so many years ago. The danger is so obvious. So much has already been said. What is to be gained by reiteration? What good would it now do?
Look at the record. Over all these years the competition in the development of nuclear weaponry has proceeded steadily, relentlessly, without the faintest regard for all these warning voices. We have gone on piling weapon upon weapon, missile upon missile, new levels of destructiveness upon old ones. We have done this helplessly, almost involuntarily: like the victims of some sort of hypnotism, like men in a dream, like lemmings heading for the sea.
And the result is that today we have achieved, we and the Russians together, in the number of these devices and their means of delivery and their destructiveness, levels of redundancy of such grotesque dimensions as to defy rational understanding.
I say redundancy . I know of no better way to describe it. But actually, the word is too mild. It implies that there could be levels of these weapons that would not be redundant. Personally, I doubt that there could. I question whether these devices are really weapons at all.
A true weapon is at best something with which you endeavor to affect the behavior of another society by influencing usefully the minds, the calculations, the intensions, of the men that control it.
To my mind, the nuclear bomb, if it is a weapon at all, is the most useless weapon ever invented. It can be employed to no rational purpose. It is not even an effective defense against itself. It is only something with which, in a moment of petulance or panic, you commit such fearful acts of destruction as no sane person, no healthy person, would ever wish to have upon his conscience.
There are those who will agree, with a sigh, to much of what I have just said, but will point to the need for something called "deterrence." This is, of course, a concept which by implication attributes to others -- to others who, like ourselves, were born of women, walk on two legs and love their children, to human beings, in short -- the most fiendish and inhuman of tendencies. But all right: Accepting for the sake of argument the profound iniquity of these adversaries, no one could deny, I think, that the present Soviet and American arsenals, presenting over a million times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb, are simply fantastically redundant to the purpose in question.
If the same relative proportions were to be preserved, something well less than 20 percent of these stocks would surely suffice for the most sanguine concepts of deterrence, whether as between the two great nuclear powers or with relation to any of those other governments that have been so unwise as to enter upon the nuclear path.
How have we got ourselves into this dangerous mess?
Let us not confuse the quesiton by blaming it all on our Soviet adversaries. They have, of course, their share of the blame, and not least in their cavalier dismissal of the Baruch Plan so many years ago. But we must remember that it has been we Americans who, at almost every step of the road, have taken the lead in the development of this sort of weaponry. It was we who first produced and tested such a device; we who were the first to raise its destructiveness to a new level with the hydrogen bomb; we who introduced the multiple warhead; we who have declined every proposal for the renunciation of the principle of "first use"; and we alone, so help us God, who have used the weapon in anger against others, and against tens of thousands of helpless noncombatants at that.
I know the reasons that would be and have been offered for some of these things. I know that others might have taken this sort of a lead, had we not done so. But let us not, in the fact of this record, so lose ourselves in self-righteousness and hypocrisy as to forget our own measure of complicity in creating the situation we face today.
What is it then, if not our own will, and if not the suposed wickedness of our opponents, that has brought us to this pass?
The answer, I think, is clear. It is primarily the inner momentum, the independent momentum, of the weapons race itself -- the compulsions that arise and take charge of great powers when they enter upon a competition with each other in the building up of major armaments of any sort.
Is it possible to break out of this charmed and vicious circle?
It is sobering to realize that on one, at least to my knowledge, has yet done so. But no country, for that matter, has ever been faced with such clear, obvious and inalterable catastrophe, at the end of the road. Others, in earlier decades, could befuddle themselves with dreams of something called "victory." We, perhaps fortunately, are denied this seductive prospect. We have to break out of the circle. We have no other choice.