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Bernard and Richard and Us

Two dead authors.

We are amidst a great transition. One important sign of the big change is generational: the defining minds of the recent past are leaving us. Two of the finest took their leave of late.

When we moved to Washington from Rome in 1977, we soon became friends with Bernard Lewis and Richard Pipes, both of whom have just passed away. They were the epitomes of the public intellectual in the last generation of the Cold War. Bernard at Princeton, Dick at Harvard. Both challenged the establishment, which took nerve, and they did it with rare elegance.

Both spoke in complete paragraphs, which made it a rare pleasure to be present at their talks, albeit both had distinct foreign accents, Bernard being a Brit and Dick a Pole. But those were years in which many of our finest professors were refugees, many of them — like Pipes and Lewis — Jewish, so it wasn’t all that surprising to sit in a classroom or a public lecture and receive dazzling insights about America in a foreign accent.

Both were friends, and informal advisers, to Scoop Jackson, the great senator from Washington state. If Scoop had become president (instead of Carter. Think of that!), they would have had an even greater effect on U.S. policy. As it was, they were significant players. Pipes was a major figure already in the '70s, when he headed the so-called Team B that challenged the CIA’s assessment of Soviet military strength. As Steve Hayward reminds us:

Team B examined more than just the number of missiles or their “throw weights” (which was a centerpiece of arms control controversies in the 1970s).  Team B thought Soviet missiles were more accurate than previous estimates, and that Soviet efforts at civil defense were more extensive.  Team B’s conclusions were stunning.  “The evidence suggests that the Soviet leaders are first and foremost offensively rather than defensively minded. . .  While hoping to crush the ‘capitalist’ realm by other than military means, the Soviet Union is nevertheless preparing for a Third World War as if it were unavoidable. . .  Within the ten year period of the National Estimate the Soviets may well expect to achieve a degree of military superiority which would permit a dramatically more aggressive pursuit of their hegemonial objectives. . .” (Emphasis in original.)

Pipes served on Reagan’s National Security Council, and was arguably the person who shaped our Soviet policy in those years. He did not believe, as did many of the leading “Sovietologists” in the late Cold War, that it was possible to reform Communism. Thus, we had to choose between consigning it to history’s trash heap, or finish there ourselves. “We win, they lose,” as Reagan put it.