Schiller Institute on YouTube Schiller Institute on Facebook RSS

Home >

The Schiller Institute's
30th Anniversary Conference

It's Time To Create A World Without War

New York, NY, June 15, 2014

Back to Conference Program

Ray McGovern's Speech to Schiller Institute Conference:
‘The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be’

Ray McGovern.


Ray McGovern served 27 years as a senior analyst on Soviet affairs at the CIA. After retiring from government, he has become a tireless political advocate for avoiding wars, and restoring America to its traditional Constitutional roots. He was the founder, and is still the head, of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, VIPS.

The USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier sailing from the Arabian Sea into Mideast waters—it’s a sitting duck, folks. How many people are there on that aircraft carrier? 6,000, I’m told. It’s a Nimitz class, the biggest one we have. It’s the biggest sitting duck that we have. It’s susceptible to all manner of provocation. Did you remember when Dick Cheney was ordering those PT boats, boats with Iranian colors on them? This is really dangerous stuff, folks....

There’s an awful lot of hubris, and a lot of delusion, going on here. We act as though we are the sole remaining superpower, and I suppose we were at one point. Let’s take a close look at that.

Secretary [Leon] Panetta, Secretary of Defense, 18 January, 2012: “I think the main message the world needs to understand is, America is the strongest military power, and we intend to remain the strongest military power, and nobody ought to mess with that....”

The President at West Point: “By most measures, American has rarely been stronger, relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise, who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away, are either misreading history, or engaged in partisan politics.”

Well, you know, I prefer another political philosopher. His name is actually Yogi Berra. He used to hang around here. And what he said more profoundly, was, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

A Sunset for All Empires

Now, I know a little bit about empire because when I sat at my Irish grandfather’s knee, he told me about the British Empire. He said, “Raymond, do you know why the Sun never sets on the British Empire?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Well, because the Good Lord would never trust the British in the dark.”

So, there’s a sunset for all empires. And it’s getting to be dusk here for the American empire. And that’s not all bad, as long as we can handle the sunset.

...This was the policy set when we really became for the first time, the sole remaining superpower in the world. And when I read that it was George Kennan, my idol, that devised this as the first policy planning paper of the new Policy Planning Council at the State Department, I was aghast. But this is what it was, folks. Read it for yourself.

We’ve got to avoid all kinds of sentimentality and altruism, right? The day is not far off when we will have—[reads quote from Kennan]:

“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. Our real task in the coming period is to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford the luxury of altruism. We should cease to talk about vague, unreal objectives like human rights, the raising of living standards, democratization. The day is not far off when we will have to deal in straight power concepts.”

So, there you have it, folks. It wasn’t when the Soviet Union imploded. It was after World War II, when we survived and the Soviet Union, for example, lost—the estimates are 25 million. And there were some pundits who wanted to keep Russian leaders away from Normandy [at the 2014 celebration of the anniversary of D-Day]. Can you imagine, can you imagine the lack of sense of history here?

It was the Russians that turned the Nazi hordes back, at Stalingrad and Kursk, and they wanted to keep them away from Normandy.

Well, what I wanted to do is just show you, that this all started back then. And now it’s kind of not attenuating very much, and it needs to. Kennan was one of those responsible for adding an operational arm to the CIA, a CIA that President Truman envisaged as an analysis division that would tell him what was going on, without fear or favor, reporting just to him.

So, we’ve got a covert action tacked on there, when the OSS came back. We got Iran in ’53, Guatemala in ’54, Chile in ’63. That was the way we were going to enforce these concepts that were so eloquently put in that first policy planning document.

Now, to his credit, Kennan did learn. Some of us even at our old age can learn. And he criticized bitterly, he excoriated, Congress people, Senators and Representatives, for their slavish, their cowardly, their servile acquiescence in a war of aggression.

Fast forward to 2008. From Wikileaks we hear, or we learn, or we see on paper, that the current Deputy Secretary of State, William Burns, was burned by Sergei Lavrov, who even then was the Russian foreign minister, who told him, look, forget about the Ukraine. Nyet means nyet. Actually, Burns titled his cable, “Nyet means nyet.” This was just a couple of months before NATO decided that nyet might mean da. And so, at the Bucharest summit, they said, Ukraine and Georgia would become, will become—no subjunctive there—will become memebers of NATO.

And that’s how it evolved, okay? That’s how we get the putsch in Ukraine on the 22nd of February this year. Two months later, interestingly enough—nobody seems to read what Putin says; after all, he’s only the head of Russia—what he said two months later was this. Missile defense, this is the issue. This is a direct quote: “It’s probably even more important than NATO’s eastward expansion. And incidentally, our decision on Crimea was partially prompted by this.”

Oh, missile defense. Why Crimea? Why the Black Sea? Because [former Secretary of Defense] Bobby Gates thought, hey, it’d be good to put some of this stuff on ships. And if we sail into the Black Sea, and if we get Ukraine into NATO, we can have the naval port of Sevastopol, which has been Russian since Catherine the Great—we’ll seize that.

Well, Putin, he didn’t really appreciate that. And in a jocular tone, at one of his press conferences, he said that we know that the sailors of NATO and the U.S. are really chummy guys. They must be really nice fellows. But we’d rather not have to visit them at their naval base in Sevastopol. We’d very much prefer to have it as it is now, where they can visit us.

So, Crimea was very clear. I don’t know how Putin keeps his sense of humor under these circumstances.

Bobby Gates, of course, brags about violating any chance for the Russian reset. He said, well, the State Department, elsewhere in Washington, they said about this, “but making the Russians happy wasn’t exactly on my to-do list.”

Talk about hubris. Talk about delusion.

The ‘Noah Principle’

Now, we’re going to isolate Russia. Yeah, we’re going to isolate. Actually what we’ve done is thrown Russia into the arms of China. Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, to their credit, were able to play that triangular relationship in a very thoughtful way, to our advantage. As a result, we got strategic arms limitation agreements, we got the four-power agreement on Berlin. The Russians were hell-bent and determined not to let China steal a march on them in developing rapprochement with the United States.

That’s all delusional now, that’s all across the board. What we have now is a situation where there’s a $400 billion deal on gas [between Russia and China], as you know. In my day, actually 50 years ago, I was given the account for Russian relations with China—in my day, we were convinced they could never cooperate. They hated each other.

It was sort of like watching a Gene Autry picture here in New York. The Iroquois Indians, they hated Gene Autry from another picture. So they hate each other, they’d never come to rapprochement. Well, now they have. And the triangle is being exploited by the Russians and the Chinese.

So, we have a triangular relationship that is not going to isolate the Russians, and we have BRICS, and other things that have been mentioned. The Russians aren’t going to be isolated. They may come under more Chinese influence than they would like, but that’s the way the thing is evolving.

So, two or three can play the game of triangular relationship, and that’s what’s going on now.

The question is, in my view: Will the Sun set, at sunset of the U.S. empire, without violent thunderstorms, or even tornados? And my answer to that is, it’s up to us. It really is up to us. We have to ensure that Yogi Berra is correct. That the future ain’t what it used to be.

Dennis Speed asked me to sing a song here, and I never hesitate to sing a song. I’d like to sing one from the church-based Southern liberation struggle, from Vincent Harding, one of my patrons, who was so instrumental, and who helped draft Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at Riverside Church, the one on Vietnam.

[Sings: “We’ve going to keep on movin’ forward.”]

Okay, now there is hope. If you keep that kind of attitude, there is hope.

Look what we all did at the beginning of September last year, when John Kerry lied through his teeth about those chemical attacks, and almost got us into a war with Syria. The American people didn’t want a war with Syria. They let their Representatives and Senators know that, because they happened to be at home during the month of August, and that was one major factor why we were able to prevail.

So, let me invoke now, in my few minutes left, the “Noah principle.” The Noah principle is, no more awards for predicting rain—rewards only for building arks. So, what kind of arks are we going to build?

Well, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was mentioned here. I think the thing is exposure. Our co-citizens need to know what’s going on. King spoke beautifully to this when he compared—what he said was, like a boil, it can never be cured as long as it’s covered up, but must be opened, with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural elements of air and light. So too, violence. So too, oppression, must be disclosed, with all the friction its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience, and to the air of national opinion, before it can be cured.

That’s our first task.

Such a Thing as ‘Too Late’

Now, for a lot of us—some of you have as much grey hair as I do—it’s not a formidable task. Just get your grandchildren to teach you just two or three things on the computer, and you’ll find out what’s going on. Now I’m preaching to the choir here, but tell your friends. Tell your friends it’s really easy. You can find out what’s going on. And it’s essential that you do.

The other thing that I’d like to just close on here, is another thing that Dr. King said, and that is, that there is such a thing as “too late.” We’re getting close, folks. We’re really getting close. And I’d like to tell you of a person who stood up to the Nazis in Germany, one of the few who did. His name is Albrecht Haushofer.[1] Anybody heard of him?

Ah, some of you have. Well, he, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was wrapped up toward the end of the war. Bonhoeffer was hanged, and they condemned Haushofer to be shot. Now, the Nazis were very meticulous, of course, and they insisted that you sign a confession before they shot you. Haushofer said, no way, forget it. I’m not going to.

Well, the Allies were coming, so they shot him anyway. And as they picked him up off the floor, out of his pocket came a small Zettel, a little piece of paper. It was a sonnet. The title was “Schuld” [Guilt]—it was his confession. It was very brief; I’d like to read it to you.

“... Doch schuldig bin ich. Anders als Ihr denkt!” Yes, I’m guilty, but it’s not what you’re thinking.

“Ich musste früher meine Pflicht erkennen.” I should have earlier recognized my duty.

“Ich musste schärfer Unheil Unheil nennen.” I should have more sharply called evil evil.

“Mein Urteil hab ich zu lang gelenkt.” I put off my judgment, or my decision, far too long.

“Ich hab gewarnt”—and he did warn. He gathered some folks around him, and that’s why he was wrapped up.

“Nicht hart genug und klar!

“Und heute weiss ich, was ich schuldig war.” I did warn, but not enough, and today, I recognize what I was guilty of.

There’s a lot of guilt to go around in this country these days. Let’s recognize what we’re called to do. Let’s keep on moving forward. Let’s do what we need to do to turn this country on to a right path. Thank you very much.

[1] Not to be confused with his father Karl, the geopolitical theorist and general.—ed.