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09/16/93

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Book Digest

Nuclear nightmare. The U.S. nuclear weapons system appears to have an extraordinarily good safety record. In reality, though, the system has not been highly reliable, according to Scott D. Sagan, assistant professor of political science at Stanford and author of The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents and Nuclear Weapons (1993 Princeton University Press).

Based on research into formerly classified archives, Sagan's book details many "close calls" that could have produced an accidental or unauthorized detonation of a nuclear weapon - and potentially even an accidental war - had they occurred under plausible different circumstances.

Among the incidents: lost nuclear-armed bombers flying into the Russian warning net, Air Force officers tampering with missiles to be able to launch them without orders, B-52 bombers crashing with thermonuclear weapons aboard and then vanishing from the official histories, and false warnings during the Cuban Missile Crisis, leading pilots and radar operators to believe that a nuclear war had begun.

"If the theories and evidence presented in this book are correct, then there are likely to be a number of hidden bugs in the U.S. nuclear weapons system, latent technical and organizational safety problems that have not been recognized over time," Sagan said.

"To the degree that we become complacent, believing that the end of the Cold War has solved the problem of nuclear weapons safety, fewer of these problems will be identified and fixed. Some day, when we expect it least - during a military exercise, while transporting nuclear weapons to storage sites, during a missile flight test, or even during a routine missile maintenance operation - the unexpected will occur. That would indeed be an ironic and tragic consequence of the end of the Cold War rivalry."

Declaring war. Twenty years after the signing of the Paris Accords ending the Vietnam War, the constitutional ambiguities of American involvement in that conflict - and in subsequent military conflicts - remain unresolved. In War and Responsibility: Constitutional Lessons of Vietnam and Its Aftermath (1993 Princeton University Press), John Hart Ely, the Robert E. Paradise Professor of Law at Stanford, analyzes these ambiguities in the context of U.S. military actions since Vietnam, up to and including the Gulf War.

Ely argues that deliberate congressional waffling, disguised as the authorization of presidential initiatives, has subverted the intent of the framers of the Constitution in vesting the power to commit the nation to war in the legislative branch. He further argues that the subsequent attempt to clarify the authorization standard, embodied in the War Powers Resolution of 1973, has come to nothing.

Ely proposes a revised version of the War Powers Resolution that would force the president to seek congressional authorization before (or, if necessary, simultaneously with) sending the nation's troops into armed combat, and suggests specific ways in which the federal courts can and should induce Congress to reassume unequivocally the obligations entrusted to it by the Constitution.

Jettisoned justices. The recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork were contentious but not unique. In fact, 16 of the 40 presidents from Washington to Reagan had one or more of their nominees rejected.

In The Rejected: Sketches of the 26 Men Nominated for the Supreme Court But Not Confirmed by the Senate (1993 Toucan Valley Publications), Stanford law librarian and Professor Emeritus J. Myron Jacobstein and University of Texas law Professor Roy Mersky profile these nominees, offering a snapshot of the issues that were dividing the country at the times of their hearings.

In recent years, the authors note, "media commentators have lamented the personal attacks on the nominees and that politics rather than qualifications now influence presidential appointments. These sketches, however, reveal that attacks on the character of a nominee and scurrilous name calling are not of recent origin.

"For better or worse, such practices started during the presidency of John Adams, our second president, and have continued during the presidencies of many of his successors."

Democratic Poland. Poland was the only nation in East Central Europe repeatedly to express itself through national upheavals against Soviet-imposed communist rule, in 1956, 1970, 1976, 1980-81 and 1989. "Yet the Polish people also managed to pioneer revolutionary change throughout the former Soviet Bloc, without excessive bloodshed," writes Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Richard Staar, editor of Transition to Democracy in Poland (1993 St. Martin's Press).

Transition to Democracy is a collection of essays by American observers and Polish scholars who are working to lead their country into the 21st century. The book explores party alignments, mobilization, elections, leaders, labor unions and the Roman Catholic Church in Poland. It also covers Poland's efforts to move from a command to a free enterprise economy, and the impact that will have upon international trade, future membership in the European Community and security relations.

What's in store for Poland? One of the more plausible scenarios, Staar says, "would be new national elections, which will remove many of the minuscule political movements, strengthen current coalition partners, and cut down the inflated number of Communist Party deputies to the fringe they truly represent. Only then will a reconstituted government be strong enough to carry through its popular mandate for transition to democracy without undue delay."

Respectable rebel. Fernando Alegria, Sadie Dernham Patek Professor Emeritus in the Humanities at Stanford, was a friend and supporter of Chilean president Salvador Allende, and a frequent guest at the Allende home in Santiago. Now Alegria has written what he considers a conclusive biography of this "respectable rebel" - in novel form.

Why a novel? "Writing about a personal friend who also happens to be a historical figure has induced me to go beyond simple circumstances: There are moods I must describe and interpret, words that I can hear which perhaps were not said, rumors, events that I did not witness and yet I feel I know how they happened," Alegria said. "All this has become a hidden world that calls for a novelist, not just a reporter."

Allende: A Novel (1993 Stanford University Press) chronicles Allende's life from his childhood, schooling and career as a medical doctor to a political career that included three losing presidential campaigns before his victory in 1970. The book ends with a detailed history of the bloody military coup that killed him in 1973.

"At the time that he was democratically elected president of Chile, it became obvious that Allende was offering Latin America a new democratic road toward liberation from economic injustice, foreign intervention by multinational companies and state terrorism by military forces," Alegria writes.

Allende's socialist regime, though, was doomed from the start, Alegria says. "He was sabotaged by local political bosses and isolated by international economic interests. His own party drew away from him. At the end, Allende was a lonely fighter desperately struggling for a lost cause."

Russian birth pangs. Communism collapsed in the Soviet Union not simply because of the reform efforts of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, say Michael McFaul, a research associate at Stanford's Center for International Security and Arms Control, and Sergei Markov, a lecturer at Moscow State University. Since 1988, anti-communist political parties and movements had been forming openly, challenging the Communist Party's monopoly on power.

McFaul and Markov interviewed dozens of anti-communist leaders in the months immediately preceding and following the August 1991 coup. The result, The Troubled Birth of Russian Democracy: Parties, Personalities and Programs (1993 Hoover Institution Press), offers a snapshot of the distinct political forces in the Soviet Union shortly before and after its collapse, and of the people creating the new Russia.

"Political parties will play an ever-increasing role in the consolidation of Russia's nascent democracy," the authors point out. Among the leaders interviewed for the book include Nikolai Travkin of the Democratic Party of Russia, Eduard Shevardnadze of the Movement for Democratic Reform, Oleg Rumyantsev of the Social Democratic Party and Vladimir Lysenko of the Republican Party of Russia.

Multiparty system. In the spring of 1992, a group of Russian and American scholars met at Stanford for a three-day workshop on Russia's changing political scene. The resulting essays are collected in Political Parties in Russia (1993 University of California-Berkeley, International and Area Studies, Research series, no. 88)), edited by Alexander Dallin, the Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History and professor of political science at Stanford.

"The task we set ourselves was not to trace the history, the ups and down, the splits and gyrations of each party, but rather to identify trends, to diagnose problems and to attempt to chart the way they had traveled, as well as the road ahead," Dallin writes.

"Whatever the shortcomings, the experience of building movements, blocs and parties in recent Soviet and post-Soviet history constitutes fascinating raw material, too important to be ignored, for the students of both comparative politics and contemporary Soviet history."

Other Stanford contributors include political science Professor Philippe Schmitter and graduates Steven Fish and Michael McFaul.

Changing directions. In 1990, when Coit D. Blacker, director of the Center for International Security and Arms Control, began work on his book about Soviet security policy, Mikhail Gorbachev was still in charge as head of state and general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

"The collapse of the Soviet Union, and the revolution in world politics that this remarkable development denotes, transformed the character of this study - from an analysis of events in progress to a study in contemporary history," Blacker writes. "The purpose of the book changed as well . . . to become an attempt to construct a concise explanation for the causes and consequences of the Gorbachev revolution."

Hostage to Revolution: Gorbachev and Soviet Security Policy, 1985-1991 (1993 Council on Foreign Relations Press) is based on three themes - the centrality of the Soviet Union's domestic crisis, its urgent need to contain the military and political competition with the West, and the stark contrast between Soviet security policy in the first and second phases of Gorbachev's leadership.

"For students of Soviet affairs, the passing of the Land of Lenin is bittersweet," Blacker writes. "It is rather like losing a close, if detested relative: You may not have liked him, but at least you believe that you understood both his motives and his conduct. What lies ahead for the people of this last, great multinational empire is anyone's guess."

Disarmament diary. In his career as a Stanford physicist and campaigner for arms control, Sidney Drell has been an insider in two spheres, living a life divided, as he writes, "between pursuing the dream of discovery and working to avoid the nightmare of a nuclear holocaust."

In the Shadow of the Bomb: Physics and Arms Control (1993 The American Institute of Physics) is a collection of essays, speeches and congressional testimony by Drell touching on both endeavors. The first three articles focus on his work in elementary particle physics over the past three decades, while subsequent chapters are devoted to personal reminiscences about his colleagues in the physics community, including the Russian "giant of science" Andrei Sakharov, with whom Drell enjoyed a close friendship.

The remainder of the book examines past and future themes in the arms control and national security debate, beginning with Drell's work as a defense consultant during the darkest days of the Cold War and Mutual Assured Destruction.

"During those days of confrontation and challenge," Drell writes, "it was ever more clear to me how unhealthy it is for a society when its intellectuals and its leaders are split into two warring camps: the intellectual-scientist academic critics on the outside, and the governmental decision-makers on the inside.

"Since 1960, I have tried to walk a straight path with one foot in each camp. This collection gives a representative sampling of the public side of that effort."

Gold Rush days. Hilton Obenzinger, a doctoral candidate in Stanford's Modern Thought and Literature Program, already has written a history of New York in verse. Now, in Cannibal Eliot and the Lost Histories of San Francisco (1993 Mercury House) he offers a fanciful, sometimes lurid collection of short stories from that city's past.

The title story, set in Gold Rush days, tells of a quiet New Englander, captured on the island of Hatutu by cannibals and "branded with tattoos crossing his eyes like some barbaric mask." He ends up in San Francisco, where he becomes an aide to a Mormon- turned-unscrupulous-businessman.

The colorful mix of history and fiction continues in seven other stories, with subjects ranging from the first recorded crime during the mission period of the 1700s to an 1877 Nob Hill real estate war. The book ends with "Calamity and Crime," an account of the disruption on the streets of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. (Editor's note: Obenzinger will read selections from his book at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5, at Printers Inc. bookstore, 310 California Ave., Palo Alto.)

-tmj-

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