Is it sensible to analogize between the first decade of the War on Terror and the first decade of the Cold War? What lessons can we draw from the comparison? I am finishing a manuscript to be published by the University of Michigan Press with the working title International Travel, National Security, and the Constitution in War and Peace. In the book, I plan to defend this analogy, at least when it comes to the role travel restrictions have played in the national security policies of that time and our own.
Some officials and experts whom I’ve interviewed for this project thinks that this is a bad idea! They point to differences they perceive between terrorism, al Qaeda, and asymmetrical warfare on the one hand, and communism, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War balance of power on the other. But I also think that their reluctance to embrace the analogy is partly driven by the disconcerting feeling that it teaches the wrong lesson. Maybe we over-reacted then, they sometimes concede, but we are certainly not over-reacting now. Whatever shadows we boxed during the Red Scare, terrorism today is the real deal.
I’m keeping the analogy as a core feature of my book because I think that history has a lot to teach us. Back then, very thoughtful people were certain that communism was a clear and present danger that required extraordinary measures to defeat. The issue isn’t the objective merit of the threat assessment, but how we react to the threats we perceive. After the break, I’ll give you a taste of this analogy by way of introducing Mrs. Ruth Shipley, whom Time magazine described in 1951 as: “the most invulnerable, most unfirable, most feared and most admired career woman in Government.” Not only was she powerful, she was also one of a very small cohort of women to rise to the commanding heights of power in the Washington of her day. Here she is receiving the Distinguished Service Medal from John Foster Dulles: