Garry Wills on the Creation of the National Security State

Q. A question about Israel, which has never admitted that it has the Bomb. What do you think of this as a tactic for its security?

A. It keeps its secrets all right. But not really – we all know they have the Bomb! It’s hard to compare our national security state with other countries. Because they don’t have the United States Constitution. They may be democracies but they’re quite different democracies. England for instance doesn’t have a First Amendment. And it’s very hard to judge. Some of the countries that are getting the Bomb are autocracies. North Korea, or Iran if it gets it. So Israel’s strategy is based on the fact that it’s a small country surrounded by big countries, big enemies. And its only recompense is the outsized-force of the atom. By the way, that’s the same calculus that Fidel Castro made (in 1962). Fidel Castro initially didn’t want to accept the missiles onto his island because why would he want that to be the center of a nuclear conflict when that whole island would disappear in the blink of an eye? It would evaporate if there were nuclear war. So the idea that Cuba would launch a nuclear war, and instantly die, makes no sense. Why did Castro accept the missiles? It’s because he knew what the American people didn’t know – it’s again, secrets are kept not from the enemy but from us – he knew that Operation Mongoose and other things were trying to assassinate him, sabotage his crops, mine his harbors – all of this was going on at Bobby Kennedy’s urgent, urgent insistence. And Castro rightly thought, “The military is using these things, hoping that I will respond in some way that will justify an invasion of my island by this great big superpower on top of us.” And he thought, “The only way I can prevent that is to accept these missiles.” President Kennedy got up and said, “There is no conceivable defensive reason for these missiles. None at all. They only exist there for an offensive purpose, to invade us.” That made no sense. If they invaded us, they’d disappear! In a minute! They WERE there for a defensive purpose – they were there to deter an invasion. So President Kennedy was lying to us. As happens with our presidents constantly under the regime of secrecy. He didn’t fool Fidel Castro. And he didn’t fool Khruschev. They knew why the missiles were there. But if you’re in the position of Fidel Castro, there’s not much you can do as a small country against a big country except get the atom. And of course that’s the position of Israel.