By Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch.com
[This essay is a review written by Chalmers Ashby Johnson for the book: Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire by Alex Abella]
The RAND Corporation of Santa Monica, California, was set up immediately after World War II by the U.S. Army Air Corps (soon to become the U.S. Air Force). The Air Force generals who had the idea were trying to perpetuate the wartime relationship that had developed between the scientific and intellectual communities and the American military, as exemplified by the Manhattan Project to develop and build the atomic bomb.
Soon enough, however, RAND became a key institutional building block of the Cold War American Empire. As the premier think tank for the U.S.’s role as hegemon of the Western world, RAND was instrumental in giving that empire the militaristic cast it retains to this day and in hugely enlarging official demands for atomic bombs, nuclear submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and long-range bombers. Without RAND, our military-industrial complex, as well as our democracy, would look quite different.
Alex Abella, the author of Soldiers of Reason, is a Cuban-American living in Los Angeles who has written several well-received action and adventure novels set in Cuba and a less successful nonfiction account of attempted Nazi sabotage within the United States during World War II. The publisher of his latest book claims that it is “the first history of the shadowy think tank that reshaped the modern world.” Such a history is long overdue. Unfortunately, this book does not exhaust the demand. We still need a less hagiographic, more critical, more penetrating analysis of RAND’s peculiar contributions to the modern world.
Abella has nonetheless made a valiant, often revealing and original effort to uncover RAND’s internal struggles — not least of which involved the decision of analyst Daniel Ellsberg, in 1971, to leak the Department of Defense’s top secret history of the Vietnam War, known as The Pentagon Papers to Congress and the press. But Abella’s book is profoundly schizophrenic. On the one hand, the author is breathlessly captivated by RAND’s fast-talking economists, mathematicians, and thinkers-about-the-unthinkable; on the other hand, he agrees with Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis’s assessment in his book, The Cold War: A New History, that, in promoting the interests of the Air Force, RAND concocted an “unnecessary Cold War” that gave the dying Soviet empire an extra 30 years of life.
We need a study that really lives up to Abella’s subtitle and takes a more jaundiced view of RAND’s geniuses, Nobel prize winners, egghead gourmands and wine connoisseurs, Laurel Canyon swimming pool parties, and self-professed saviors of the Western world. It is likely that, after the American empire has gone the way of all previous empires, the RAND Corporation will be more accurately seen as a handmaiden of the government that was always super-cautious about speaking truth to power. Meanwhile, Soldiers of Reason is a serviceable, if often overwrought, guide to how strategy has been formulated in the post-World War II American Empire.