PW: After the September 11 attacks, did you have to substantially revise The Unconquerable World?
Jonathan Schell: There was quite a lot of new material to accommodate. But the basic theme of the book had from the start been that violence was becoming more and more dysfunctional, and that nonviolent means were becoming more and more productive and efficient. I actually began the book in the last years of the Cold War. And two things really struck me at that time. One was that nuclear weapons had rendered great-power war impracticable. The other was that the great powers were unable to impose their will on small powers. The U.S. could not prevail in Vietnam; the Soviet Union could not prevail in Afghanistan; all of the European empires had died. So those two things suggested to me that the very nature of power was changing. And then when September 11 came along, on the one hand, the prescriptions being offered in the book became less likely to be adopted. But on the other hand, themes that I was discussing were suddenly being talked about. It's a sort of a paradoxical, double effect on the book.
PW: How do you see the American public coming to embrace a cooperative approach to security?
JS: I think that the American public is very favorable to such an approach. You'll notice in polls, for instance, that huge majorities don't want to go to war with Iraq without U.N. approval. I think that, at a critical moment in history, this administration has taken a radically wrong turn, that they have re-embraced force as the solution to the problems of the United States and the world. My own view is that that is going to backfire.
PW: The examples you cite of nonviolent liberation were against relatively moderate oppressors. Can it work against a regime like Iraq's?
JS: Until the Solidarity movement arose in Poland, what you heard on all sides was that nonviolent revolution can work against a country like England, but that it was impossible under a totalitarian regime. Turned out that it was more successful there than anywhere else. It's true that it's very hard to see how either violent or nonviolent revolution could succeed in the face of a Saddam Hussein or a Stalin or a Hitler. But I don't know of anything else that could succeed either.
PW: How would you envision dealing with Saddam Hussein?
JS: I would go in for inspections galore, inspections forever. If and when the time came that they failed, then the thing to do would be what we did with Stalin, who was a far worse dictator, and that is contain him.
PW: The book warns of the gravest dangers, yet there's a hopefulness about it. How do you keep back despair at a time like this?
JS: My favorite definition of history is the one given by some general who said that history is "one damn thing after another." What that means to me is that you do not know what is going to happen. In order to despair, you have to believe that you know what is going to happen next. Who in 1980 would have predicted that there would be no Soviet Union in 1991? Precious few. That's one source of hope. But the other and the more important one is that these forces that I described in the book are absolutely real in matters of historical record. In other words, the Soviet Union is gone. Is that not a big, real fact? It's gone and it happened without violence. What it means to me is that we have a terrific amount to work with. And that isn't always the case. Think of Wilson: he did try to turn to a peaceful path. But the conditions of his time were far less favorable. So even though he had the will to do it, he failed. Now we have the wherewithal, but we lack the will.