The Myths of August

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Part autobiography and part policy analysis, Stewart Udall’s book ranges over personalities and institutions with penetrating insights. He is highly critical of the development of the national security state and believes government officials missed many opportunities to end the Cold War earlier by adopting aggressive and even antidemocratic methods that restricted information not only from the American people but from their representatives in Congress.

Udall presents a powerful argument that government secrecy almost always leads to abuses of power. When policies are not openly debated, politicians become arrogant and feel superior to the citizenry. Udall himself has tried to reverse the country’s antidemocratic course by representing people whose health was ruined by nuclear testing, and by other pioneering efforts in the environmental movement.

Udall shows how the myth of atomic power—that it would bring untold blessings to Americans and secure the country’s status as a world power—was not sufficiently challenged after the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He suggests that American politicians demonized the Soviet Union and its leaders. His evidence is compelling, but he tends to minimize Soviet aggressiveness, making it seem as if the American government’s hostility was only an effort to build the national security state and not part of a determined response to contain the Soviet Union’s global ambitions.