Gwynne Dyer has seen the future and does not like it one bit. In his seven episodes of the series "War," beginning Oct. 1 on public television, he says we are doomed to nuclear winter unless we scrap the "whole system" of nation-states. In episode seven, he says a solution is at hand in . . . the United Nations.
In the book derived from the series, Dyer perversely applies a principle of mathematics to political affairs for the purpose of advancing the "peace" agenda. Any event that has a definite probability, however small, "that does not decrease with time," will "eventually" occur. So nuclear war is a "statistical certainty" unless the probability is decreased. But, he says, the prerequisite for that decrease is the dissolution of national sovereignty.
Wearing a semi-Trotsky beard and dressed in the designer-proletarian style favored by Europe's middle-class leftists (jeans, leather jackets, turtlenecks, never a necktie) Dyer, a Canadian, sounds at the ragged edge of weariness and sarcasm. It is, evidently, a tiring business being one of the few sensitive people on the planet. Here is a representative judgment from the man who finds almost everyone else morally obtuse:
"It is impossible to care much about who won the battle (of Megiddo in 1479 B.C.), because both sides lived long ago and far away, and most of what they cared for . . . has vanished utterly. This is not at all the way we feel about the Normandy invasion of 1944, but if history goes on long enough, the day will come when Megiddo and Normandy will seem on a par: equally futile and equally meaningless. . . . That war of 3,400 years ago was obviously a mere power struggle with no moral justification, whereas any war our nation becomes involved in today will be just and necessary. The soldiers who were killed on the battlefield of Megiddo died in vain, but if today's generation of young men have to die on the Central Front in Europe, it will decide the moral fate of mankind forever. . . . And I am the Queen of Sheba."
Working back from that sophomoric ending, through the caricature (no one says any war settles mankind's fate "forever"), Dyer's message is that the war against Hitler was meaningless because all wars are morally identical power struggles. He says Britain's resistance to Argentine aggression in the Falklands had "exactly the same effect" as the aggression in undermining international order.
He uses the word "all" relentlessly to deny moral distinctions that interest reasonable people. "We all live in fortresses we call states." Well, fine, but if he wants to turn "fortress" into a classification that does not classify, he could at least notice the (some of us think) morally significant differences between the internal arrangements and external aims of the world's more than 160 "fortresses." "The Israelis live much the same way everybody else does." Oh? Dyer lives in placid London.
"All soldiers belong to the same profession" and "beneath the uniform there is very little difference." Commenting on a film of Soviet soldiers, Dyer says that had their parents emigrated to America, the soldiers might be serving in the U.S. Army. When he joins two banalities (yes, young men everywhere are physically similar; yes, they join the armies where they are born) to an assertion vague to the point of meaninglessness (Hitler's and Lincoln's soldiers were in "the same profession"), he inadvertently raises an interesting question: is this why we have public television -- to treat grave subjects flippantly?
Being a determinist of the most childish stripe, he argues that the "system" (of nations; of military-industrial complexes) churns along autonomously, manufacturing concepts such as honor and valor for manipulative purposes. The Soviet and American military-industrial complexes are "exactly the same." Both sides in the Cold War are morally equal because both have chemical-warfare capabilities. (He does not mention that the Soviet Union is using its.) Both sides have provisions for protecting national leaders. (He does not say that the United States has nothing remotely comparable to the huge and rapidly expanding system of deep shelters clearly designed to enable the Soviet leadership class to fight and survive a nuclear war.)
The eighth episode of "War" will be hosted by Edwin Newman, not Dyer, and will examine alternative views. This ratio is too often typical of public television: seven parts propaganda, one part "balance." But who needs alternatives? Dyer's solution -- "setting up some world authority" -- should be a piece of cake. He says the nations agreed in 1945 to surrender to the United Nations their right to defend themselves.
If he believes that, he can believe the oddest things. In seven hours he does.