A high point in the remarkable string of guest blog posts has been Xujun
Eberlein's investigation (top five items here) into the true nature of something called the Sino-American Cooperative
Organization, or SACO. Chinese school-kids, she writes, know of SACO as a
WWII-era anti-communist concentration camp. Bob, her husband (to be) had not heard of SACO when they first met:
Bob was the first person I know to counter the mainland Chinese notion of
SACO's history, albeit intuitively (and with an American bias). He did later
speculate that, if there were actually such a graphic concentration camp in
China operated by Americans, the ubiquitous US journalists wouldn't have
foregone a Pulitzer-winning opportunity to expose it, ergo SACO would already
have been public knowledge in the US.
Xujun sets up the dichotomy starkly: In the American telling, SACO was a Nationalist-FDR effort to fight a common enemy -- Imperial Japan. The lay (mainland) Chinese belief, influenced by popular and historical material, is darker: SACO was the scene of American-led torture and communist martyrdom. They can even point to a brick-and-mortar museum displaying "Made in USA" torture artifacts.
Who is right?
Xujun paintakingly tracks down Chinese research showing that SACO was, in fact, an anti-Japanese military operation. The truth that it was not a prison, much less a concentration camp, has begun to slowly trickle out. I think of the story of SACO as a fault-line of history.
(SACO's "What the Hell" flag, this one displayed at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredricksburg, TX, surely lacks the gravitas a concentration camp pennant would seem to require.)
The other night I was riffling through the March issue of Flying. It featured a column by the prolific Lane Wallace, recently seen here. Titled "Forgotten Adventures in Real Time," the column opens as a meditation on the ineffability of adventure. But it pivots into something else entirely when Lane takes up a missing persons' case dating to the immediate aftermath of WWII:
Until I read Fiedler's book [303 Squadron -- SS] I wasn't even aware there were Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain. So imagine my surprise at discovering that in the critical month of September alone, the 303 Squadron shot down 108 of the 967 enemy planes destroyed by the RAF and its allies. And that, over the course of the Battle of Britain, its pilots shot down three times as many aircraft, with one-third the losses, of any other RAF squadron.
Yet another fault-line! Lane attributes the erasure of 303 Squadron from historical record to Poland's eclipse by the Iron Curtain, and the West's concomitant depreciation of Polish wartime contribution. A supposedly accountable Western democracy, not an oppressive autocracy, "disappeared" the Polish fighters for political reasons. (Perhaps the story is better known in Eastern Europe?)
Lane's column reminded me of another historical obfuscation from that part of the world. "The Worst of the Madness" is a chilling survey of the blood-soaked history of Poland and points east -- Belarus, the Baltics, Ukraine, and the western periphery of Russia. Last year, Ann Applebaum wrote in The New York Review of Books that this region:
... experienced the worst of both Stalin's and Hitler's ideological madness. During the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s, the lethal armies and vicious secret policemen of two totalitarian states marched back and forth across these territories, each time bringing about profound ethnic and political changes...
Between 1933 and 1945, fourteen million people died there, not in combat but because someone made a deliberate decision to murder them...
Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian... argues that we still lack any real knowledge of what happened in the eastern half of Europe in the twentieth century. And he is right: if we are American, we think "the war" was something that started with Pearl Harbor in 1941 and ended with the atomic bomb in 1945. If we are British, we remember the Blitz of 1940... and the liberation of Belsen. If we are French, we remember Vichy and the Resistance. If we are Dutch we think of Anne Frank. Even if we are German we know only a part of the story.
Amid our frequent and heartfelt invocations of the Holocaust and its lessons, how often do we -- here in the West -- speak of those 14 million victims? Shouldn't cultural literacy include knowing about Polish heroism in the defense of Britain? Will the truth about SACO leaven Chinese views of America? Finally, and most troublingly, how much of the history that we "know" is as incomplete and incorrect as these examples?
Today the U.S. remains mired in two seemingly endless overseas campaigns. Even sanguine observers suspect that the Bomb Iran confederacy is only in temporary abeyance until developments in North Africa and Arabia can be repackaged into a digestible McNarrative. In such fraught times, the recurrent faults in history should induce severe modesty in our pundits and policy-makers. Truth can be obscured by innocent solipsism as easily as venal disregard. Facts once known can be easily lost or banished. Santayana surely doesn't imply that even if we embrace it, we ever actually know the past. History is as much minefield as map.
I view Jim's blog posts -- and those of his office-mates -- as outlines for a first draft of history. With all the world's data-gathering tools at our disposal, we can attempt to understand the present, even if "to see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle".
In this quick turn on Jim's podium, I am covering my own peculiar interests: analytic decision-making, management and entrepreneurship, South Asia, and flying. I confess to an additional, covert, agenda: to imbue issues not usually mentioned here with the possibility of history.
Sanjay Saigal is founder and CEO of Mudrika Education, Inc., with offices in Silicon Valley, CA and Delhi, India.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
Orr: “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Your Grace. My name is Tyrion Lannister.”
At last! I know I speak for quite a few book readers when I say that pretty much the only thing that kept me going through the eleventy thousand discursive, digressive pages of George R. R. Martin’s fifth tome, A Dance With Dragons, was the promise of Tyrion finally meeting up with Daenerys Targaryen. And, of course, after eleventy thousand pages, it never happened. So on behalf of myself and everyone else who sacrificed sleep, work, family, and friends waiting for this moment, let me say thank you, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. Bonus points for what seemed to be a cameo by Strong Belwas (a book character who was written out of the show) as the nameless fighter who freed Tyrion from his chains.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Some fans are complaining that Zack Snyder’s envisioning of the Man of Steel is too grim—but it’s less a departure than a return to the superhero’s roots.
Since the official teaser trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice debuted online in April, fans and critics alike have been discussing the kind of Superman Zack Snyder is going to depict in his Man of Steel sequel. The controversy stems from Snyder’s decision to cast Superman as a brooding, Dark Knight-like character, who cares more about beating up bad guys than saving people. The casting split has proved divisive among Superman fans: Some love the new incarnation, citing him as an edgier, more realistic version of the character.
But Snyder’s is a different Superman than the one fans grew up with, and many have no problem expressing their outrage over it. Even Mark Waid, the author of Superman: Birthright (one of the comics the original film is based on), voiced his concern about Man of Steel’s turn toward bleakness when it came out in 2013:
The country’s political dysfunction has undermined all efforts to build an effective fighting force.
The Obama Administration has run out of patience with Iraq’s Army. On Sunday, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” to discuss the recent fall of Ramadi, one of Iraq’s major cities, to ISIS. Despite possessing substantial advantages in both numbers and equipment, he said, the Iraqi military were unable to prevent ISIS forces from capturing the city.
“That says to me and, I think, to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.”
Carter’s frustrations are shared by his boss. When asked about the war against ISIS in a recent interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, President Obama said that “if the Iraqis are not willing to fight for the security of their country, then we cannot do it for them.”
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
Changing neighborhoods may be a class issue, but in America, that means it's also a racial one.
Ask city-dwellers to describe what, precisely, gentrification is you’ll get an array of answers. The term is a murky one, used to describe the many different ways through which money and development enter poorer or less developed neighborhoods, changing them both economically and demographically.
For some, gentrification and gentrifiers are inherently bad—pushing out residents who are often older, poorer, and darker than the neighborhood’s new occupants. For others, a new group of inhabitants brings the possibility of things residents have long hoped for, better grocery stores, new retail, renovations, and an overall revitalization that often eludes low-income neighborhoods.
Rebel groups that employ terror in civil wars seldom win or gain concessions—but they tend to prolong conflicts, a new paper finds.
Nearly 14 years into the war on terror, there are signs of terrorism all around us, from Memorial Day tributes to the victims of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the raging congressional debate over reauthorizing the Patriot Act.
Yet some of the most basic information about terrorism remains surprisingly elusive. For example: Does it work?
There have been some attempts at answering the question, but many of them are either largely anecdotal or geographically constrained. Other studies have focused on international terror. But as political scientist Page Fortna of Columbia University notes, the vast majority of terrorism isn’t transnational—it’s localized, utilized in the context of civil wars and fights for territorial control. Many of the intractable conflicts the U.S. is involved in today fit this definition: the fighting between ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other groups in Iraq and Syria; the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria; al-Shabab’s terrorism in Somalia and Kenya; Yemen’s civil war; the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Is terrorism an effective tool when used in those conflicts?
In an interview, the U.S. president ties his legacy to a pact with Tehran, argues ISIS is not winning, warns Saudi Arabia not to pursue a nuclear-weapons program, and anguishes about Israel.
On Tuesday afternoon, as President Obama was bringing an occasionally contentious but often illuminating hour-long conversation about the Middle East to an end, I brought up a persistent worry. “A majority of American Jews want to support the Iran deal,” I said, “but a lot of people are anxiety-ridden about this, as am I.” Like many Jews—and also, by the way, many non-Jews—I believe that it is prudent to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of anti-Semitic regimes. Obama, who earlier in the discussion had explicitly labeled the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an anti-Semite, responded with an argument I had not heard him make before.
“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”
Think that these odd finger-shoes are "bullshit"? Think again.
I gather that there is much gleeful stomping on the grave image of Vibram and the weirdo/chic "finger shoes" it has popularized, because the company has settled a suit claiming the shoes offered no health benefits. That's me and one of my sons, modeling Vibram shoes, in the picture above. I'll let you figure out the extremities.
That picture comes from four years ago. I'd been running regularly for many decades before that, but since the early 2000s I'd been vexed by one wear-and-tear problem after another. Never involving the knees, miraculously; most frequently afflicting the Achilles tendons.
Then, as I shifted to Vibram shoes, I also shifted to what has been (again miraculously) a multi-year stint of injury-free running. True, my change of footwear coincided with some other injury-buffering changes: Always taking at least a day off between runs. Opting for rubberized tracks rather than hard paved roads. Stopping as soon as something started to hurt, rather than "running through" the distress; and generally acting like a senior-status wimp.