As one of the Department of Defense officials involved in the initial planning for relief and reconstruction in Iraq, I would like to comment on James Fallows's article "Blind Into Baghdad" (January/February Atlantic). At every turn in his description of planning for Iraq, the author overemphasized bureaucratic conflict in the executive branch and distorted the nature of contingency planning.
As the Pentagon's "point man" (his term) for postwar plans, I worked continuously and harmoniously with my colleagues at State, USAID, the CIA, and the NSC. I also participated in numerous interagency meetings and conferences, including the January 2003 National Intelligence Council exercise that Fallows says Pentagon personnel were "forbidden by OSD to attend."
The author states that rather than holding a meeting with the Secretary of Defense or the deputy secretary, the nongovernmental organizations were given an audience only with me. In fact I had been meeting with the NGOs frequently on many topics since the start of operations in Afghanistan. I was not a consolation prize for the NGOs but a frequent interlocutor, and I remain so to this day. Our conversations are substantive and have often resulted in policy changes, even though we forgo the photo ops and the press releases that often encumber one-time meetings with the most senior officials.
Missing from Fallows's narrative was any mention of the official interagency planning effort that went on from early fall of 2002 to March of 2003. The planning group met weekly in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House. Chaired by NSC and OMB officials, this group included senior representatives from State, USAID, the CIA, Treasury, and many other agencies. Tom Warrick, the head of State's Future of Iraq Project, was a back-bencher at some of the sessions. The senior interagency planners were all familiar with the interesting work of his eclectic group.
The interagency group formulated first a strategy and then a detailed plan for relief and reconstruction. Representatives from the group coordinated these plans with international organizations and with General Tommy Franks, the combat commander. Secretaries Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld were briefed on the final plan, as was the President. The group even briefed the press on its work on February 24.
Although none of this planning was as juicy as the bureaucratic infighting that Fallows dwells on, it is an essential part of the story. Jay Garner—appointed in late January of 2003 to lead the field effort in Iraq—did face a daunting task, but not a blank sheet of paper. Indeed, the basic reconstruction plans discussed at the two-day conference that Garner held in February at the National Defense University were in the main developed—and harmoniously so—by the very interagency group that Fallows overlooked.
Finally, Fallows's judgment that when the past eighteen months are assessed "the Administration will be found wanting for its carelessness" does not pass muster. The four conflicts that I have helped to plan in the Pentagon suggest clearly that war, as Clausewitz told us, remains the province of chance. Military campaigns and their aftermath defy prediction. Intelligence accepted for a decade can be wrong. The same experts who incorrectly predict huge refugee flows may accurately predict civil disturbances. Staffs will fixate on things that do not come to pass and assume away the importance of things that do. No plan—political or military—survives contact with reality. Planners will always make more mistakes than journalists who have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
We have not "squandered American prestige, fortune, and lives" in Iraq. Despite high costs and many casualties, the United States and its thirty-four coalition partners have destroyed one of the most heinous and dangerous regimes in the world, captured 80 percent of its criminal senior leadership, liberated the Iraqi people, and started the political and economic reconstruction of a nation that may well bring democracy to that part of the Middle East. Mr. Fallows should resist the temptation to call the game in the third inning.
Joseph J. Collins
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
James Fallows's lengthy list of expert warnings on Iraq that were ignored by the Bush Administration would have benefited from some reference to the strikingly parallel "splendid little war" that provided the other bookend to the twentieth century. (And both of those conflicts boasted a British troubadour, although Tony Blair's flack Alistair Campbell never quite matched the eloquence that Rudyard Kipling showed in his paean to American benevolence, "The White Man's Burden.") In the Philippines a century ago a walkover victory in the capital was followed by prolonged hostilities in the countryside. A foray by General Frederick Funston and his special forces into hostile territory led to the capture of the enemy leader, General Emilio Aguinaldo. (The two Napoleonic figures—both about five feet four—actually got along quite well after that episode.) Mark Twain suggested a redesign of Old Glory, with "the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and crossbones," thereby inspiring legions of antigovernment demonstrators for generations to come. General Elwell Otis flaunted the "Mission Accomplished" sign in May of 1900, and President Theodore Roosevelt did it again on July 4, 1902; but General John J. Pershing was still fighting Muslim forces on Mindanao a decade later. More ominous in today's context, the Philippines action involved three fourths of the entire U.S. Army, and led to 4,200 American battle deaths (and several thousand more from wounds and tropical diseases)—not to mention the deaths of about 20,000 Filipino soldiers and as many as 200,000 Filipino civilians. And today this outpost of empire remains just as dysfunctional as it was under Spanish rule centuries ago.
San Francisco, Calif.
As a whodunit probing the labyrinthine devolutions of the DOD, the CIA, the INC, NGOs, and USAID, "Blind Into Baghdad" was an entertaining read. American occupying forces should have done a better job preparing for and securing Iraq in the immediate aftermath of our unprecedented military victory, and have compounded this failure through various ensuing missteps. Most notable among these was the wholesale dissolution of the Baathist army rather than selective purging, which left the country without an effective indigenous security force while allowing the most belligerent remnants to escape with their weapons and conduct guerrilla operations against us.
These are points well taken. However, to extrapolate from them, as Fallows does, the assertion that they constitute failures of U.S. foreign policy on the order of the Bay of Pigs debacle and our escalation in Vietnam is fundamentally wrong. Do we actually need to point out that the examples Fallows cites were instances of military defeat for America, whereas Operation Iraqi Freedom was an astonishing military success? That it resulted in the deposition of a brutal, mass-murdering tyrant whose regime posed a persistent menace to civilized world order and whose departure was earnestly wished for by the previous, Democratic Administration?
Would it be impolitic to suggest that the strength of American resolution and the Armageddon-like might of American military power in this instance has reverberated around the world to our immense benefit? That in the wake of this rout a chronic terrorist enemy of America—Muammar Qaddafi— did an about-face, abandoning his nuclear-weapons program and promising to behave himself as he pleaded for Americans to keep him on this earth a few years longer? That North Korea and Iran are suddenly much more cooperative in opening their nuclear programs up to international inspection? That the leader of the most dangerous Islamic state in the world, Pakistan, is now a committed ally of the United States in the war against al-Qaeda and international terrorism? And, finally, that America's newly revealed power and resolve has played a key role in helping to bring Pakistan and India together to work out a resolution over the powder keg that is Kashmir?
James Fallows's dissection of skewed Bush Administration intelligence analyses and flawed postwar planning was excellent. But why the gratuitous hammer blow to the UN Security Council, particularly France and Germany? As Fallows pointed out, no threat from Iraq justified the expenditure of billions and the loss of almost 500 American lives (and counting). The Security Council plan had worked well, and perhaps the finding that should have emerged from Fallows's otherwise marvelously insightful article was that France and Germany (and Canada and Mexico and others) were reluctant to jump on the bandwagon because they never did see any "evidence" justifying the Bush Administration's crusade. I realize Fallows did not undertake to assess that part of the Iraq story, but his sniping at the Security Council and those two members is surprising.
Long Beach, Calif.
Your January/February cover photo is a great piece of photojournalism and a wonderful example of one picture's being worth a thousand words. Its composition (Rumsfeld in sharp focus in the foreground, Powell, President Bush, and Rice fuzzy in the background) and the messages in the subjects' faces (Rumsfeld scowling, Rice exasperated, Bush puzzled, and Powell trying to make sense of it all) perfectly complemented the theme of James Fallows's article. It's interesting that we don't see Rumsfeld's ear. If it had been there, we might also have seen Wolfowitz, Perle, and Feith, whispering. Then again, not seeing them is part of the story, isn't it?
C. Richard Wobbe
I have taught U.S. history for thirty years, and I was startled by James Fallows's statement "Before the United States entered World War II, teams at the Army War College were studying what went right and wrong when American doughboys occupied Germany after World War I." This is the first time I've ever heard that U.S. troops—or troops from any foreign nation, for that matter—occupied Germany after World War I. At the time of the armistice German troops were still in France, and Germany had not even been invaded, let alone occupied. Nor was it occupied after the war, to my knowledge; if it had been, I imagine the British and the French would have been involved long before the Americans.
James Fallows replies:
Obviously, I meant no personal slight to Joseph Collins or his importance. Neither did the people I quoted. He is right that the government did extensive interagency planning, and that many of those dealings were harmonious and collegial. He is also right that the government carefully prepared for some postwar problems that did not occur—especially a flood of refugees out of Iraq. It is fair to point out the main reason Iraq avoided a refugee disaster: the United States assumed that the refugees would be fleeing Saddam Hussein's use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, and of course no such attack occurred.
But as I tried to explain in my article, it is not mere "20/20 hindsight" to point out that the Administration dismissed the central warnings of many expert advisory bodies. For instance, the uniformed leadership of the Army insisted that a larger force would be required to secure Iraq's territory than to topple its regime. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz ridiculed such claims in public, and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld overruled them within the Pentagon. But the Army was right. So were the scholars at the Army War College who said that it was better to go in with an impressively heavy force—to make opposition seem almost inconceivable—and then draw troops down quickly. Numerous other groups were unanimous in stressing the need to prevent disorder and looting after the fall of Baghdad, and to peel off the evil leadership of the Iraqi army but keep the main force intact. These and other issues I mentioned were fundamental to winning what the military called "Phase IV" of the war: operations after the fall of Baghdad. They were not secondary issues to be balanced against the refugee question in a "win some, lose some" fashion.
I think Mr. Collins misunderstands my point about the Administration's "carelessness." My complaint is not that it invaded Iraq—even though I personally was in the "What's the rush?" camp about the war. The removal of Saddam Hussein is obviously a blessing for nearly everyone in Iraq and the world. The complaint is that the Administration was sloppy and arrogant in a way that has cost both American and Iraqi lives.
Leonard Bakker may be operating under a similar misunderstanding. As a strictly military undertaking, the conquest of Iraq was masterly. As an example for the rest of the Middle East, it could conceivably have a beneficial effect. None of that affects the question I raised, which is why the aftermath was so needlessly bloody for Iraqis and Americans.
I agree with William Burke about the parallels with the Philippines (as I wrote for The Atlantic in "A Damaged Culture," November 1987), and with Richard Wobbe about the sublime cover photo. I don't understand why Carl Schiermeyer saw any slam at the Security Council. And I agree with John Calderwood that I should not have referred to an "occupation" of Germany after World War I.
Kenneth M. Pollack's article "Spies, Lies, and Weapons: What Went Wrong" (January/February Atlantic) makes the CIA's knowledge of Iraq seem little more than conventional wisdom. Equally depressing was Pollack's contention that the invasion was not a strategic mistake because the Persian Gulf will be more stable. The occupation suggests otherwise. Granted, Saddam Hussein was pure evil, and the United States no longer has to contend with him, but if evil was the criteria, with innocent deaths the metric, why not Rwanda or the Congo? If nuclear weapons were the criteria, why not North Korea, Iraq, or even Pakistan, whose fundamentalists seem only an assassination away from gaining control of a nuclear arsenal?
We hope to give the Iraqi people their freedom, but Iraqis are not free while their country is occupied, and their freedom after the occupation is unlikely. The alternative outcomes of civil war—an Islamic republic or another dictator—are more probable, which is what convinced the first President Bush to leave Saddam in place after the Gulf War.
The war wasn't a strategic mistake if one counts, as Pollack does, only the hoped-for benefits and ignores the cost. When one counts the American and Iraqi deaths; the billions spent for invasion, occupation, and reconstruction; our loss of allies and the hatred of America engendered by the invasion; the occupation's tying up half of our Army and reserves into the indefinite future, with the attendant morale problems; the energized terrorist recruitment; the chaos that lets terrorists now operate in Iraq; and the lost focus on destroying al-Qaeda—when all these are factored in, the war was a strategic mistake.
Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
Iagree with the main argument of Kenneth Pollack's article: that a combination of intelligence shortcomings and intelligence manipulation by Administration neocons led to a major misjudgment in the decision to invade Iraq. But I take issue with some of his assertions, especially the following:
What's more, we should not forget that containment was failing. The shameful performance of the United Nations Security Council members (particularly France and Germany) in 2002-2003 was final proof that containment would not have lasted much longer.
Pollack offers no support for this extreme assertion. On the contrary, at the time the Administration made the decision to invade, Iraq was enduring the most intrusive inspection regime ever, with unannounced visits and no off-limits places. This regime was authorized by the Security Council in December of 2002, with France and Germany voting in support. Subsequent developments undermine the charge that the inspectors were ineffective because they found nothing. At the time, the inspectors complained that the selective intelligence the United States was providing them was garbage, and it turns out they were probably correct in this.
Pollack provides no support for his charge that France and Germany's conduct at the Security Council in 2002-2003 was shameful. Just because a nation vigorously disagrees with U.S. policy does not make that nation's conduct shameful. The French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, showed great energy in traveling to line up uncommitted Security Council members to vote against the proposed U.S. resolution authorizing invasion. Further, France started with a lot more credibility with undecided nations than the United States had. Secretary Powell never once traveled beyond U.S. borders to garner support for the U.S. position. That Villepin outmaneuvered Powell does not make France's conduct shameful.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, facing a very tight re-election campaign, did publicly state that he would not commit German troops or German money for an Iraqi invasion. This was perhaps not the most diplomatic way to treat a close ally. But these were high stakes, and such conduct pales in comparison with America's bullying small countries to agree not to turn over U.S. combatants, should they be charged with war crimes, to an international criminal tribunal supported and funded by virtually all our old allies along with many other nations.
Shaker Heights, Ohio
Kenneth M. Pollack replies:
The question of going to war is an intensely personal one. Gary Brown is certainly entitled to his opinion, but we should recognize that there is no "objective" standard for when to go to war. There are those Americans who opposed U.S. participation in World War II, and those who believe that American intervention in Vietnam was a positive good.
Gary Brown makes any number of debatable assertions, and his contention that the Iraq War was not worth it because costs have been high and gains few is highly subjective and, at this point, probably premature. Another person could just as glibly assert that the sacrifices we made in blood and treasure were a small price to pay for freeing 25 million people from one of the most monstrous regimes of the past fifty years.
For my own part, I still do not believe that the war itself was a strategic mistake. As my article argued, what we have learned about our inaccurate intelligence greatly weakens what I previously believed was one of the strongest of those arguments. However, a case can still be made. Saddam Hussein was a force for tremendous instability in a vital and fragile part of the world. His active enmity toward the United States was a diplomatic, military, and economic drain (which, according to Graham Fuller and Ian Lesser in 1997, cost the United States some $30-60 billion a year). Saddam's was a truly evil regime, the destruction of which benefited the Iraqi people (as they will readily tell you) and all of mankind. If we succeed in building a new, democratic Iraq, we will dramatically change the constellation of forces in the region. In addition, Saddam had not abandoned his WMD aspirations or programs entirely, and he was determined to acquire a nuclear weapon—which would have taken him much longer than the pre-war intelligence recognized.
I personally remain torn on the issue. I think it is a great benefit that Saddam's regime has been removed from the Middle East, and I am overjoyed that the Iraqis are rid of his sadistic rule. But I also recognize that the overstatement of Iraq's WMD threat does change the cost-benefit calculus.
Whether the war itself was justified or not, I believe the Administration's failure to build greater international support and to plan adequately for the war's aftermath was a strategic mistake. This mess was largely of our own making and was not inherent in the case for war. As James Fallows's superb piece in the same issue explained, many of the problems we have encountered in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad were anticipated, and much good planning was done to address them; I know this all too well, because I participated in many of those planning exercises. It was the arrogance of the Pentagon officials charged with postwar reconstruction that brought us the problems we now face. The reconstruction of Iraq was never going to be easy—a point I made repeatedly in my book—but it never had to be this hard.
Gary Brown also challenges the human-rights motive. This, too, is an intensely personal issue—some people reckon that any injustice should be a cause for war, whereas others judge that war is never justified. Personally, I believe that although the United States cannot solve all the world's problems, some situations rise to a level that justifies, even demands, intervention. Iraq met my standards for intervention: Saddam Hussein may have been responsible for the deaths of as many as a million Iraqis (a crude metric, and hardly the only measure), and intervention did offer a solution to this problem. As for Rwanda, as a former member of the Clinton Administration, I wish that we had found a way to intervene there to stop the bloodshed. And as for the Congo, although I have no expertise in sub-Saharan Africa, I am eager to hear realistic suggestions for how the United States could stop that ongoing tragedy.
Both Gary Brown and Edward Brown raise the question of containment. The inspections undoubtedly succeeded to a much greater extent than even most of the inspectors themselves realized: by 1996 Saddam had been persuaded basically to suspend most of his WMD programs. However, the inspections had not eliminated all of Iraq's WMD programs, and Iraq remained quite active in the missile field. Moreover, inspections were never the major component of containment—sanctions were. Indeed, the desire to get the sanctions lifted seems to have been Saddam's principle motive in deciding to minimize his WMD holdings. And by 2002 the sanctions were on their last legs—thanks to the perfidy of our allies, led by the French, who refused to punish Iraq or any other country for violating them, and even joined in breaking them. The Bush Administration had attempted in early 2001 to get the UN Security Council to adopt "smart sanctions" that would have refocused the embargo exclusively on military and dual-use items, while adding harsher penalties for breaking them—only to have the Security Council refuse.
While an American force of 250,000 was building up in the region, the Security Council suddenly rediscovered inspections as a way to block an American war. However, the United States could not keep that kind of pressure in place for very long; the inspectors did not find Iraq's minimized programs; and even then the UN did nothing to address the erosion of the sanctions. This was the ultimate problem in 2002: the runup to the war made clear that the Security Council was not willing to take any action that would have allowed containment to survive for the long term. The question was not whether the inspections were intrusive in 2003 but whether the UN was willing to take the steps necessary to keep intrusive inspections and effective sanctions in place for the many years, possibly decades, that would have made containment a reasonable, sustainable alternative. Because the Security Council refused to restructure containment to make it viable for the long run, it left open the choice that the Administration wanted: invade or do nothing. Of course, postwar revelations also suggest that doing nothing may not have been as bad an option as we once thought—because an Iraqi nuclear weapon was not even as imminent as the intelligence communities believed.
Mark Steyn's Post Mortem "The Crucible of Hollywood's Guilt" (December Atlantic) makes some good points, but Steyn did not touch on certain aspects that help explain the opposition to Elia Kazan. The Red hunt initiated by the Republican-controlled House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 threatened the livelihood of about 30,000 workers in the film industry. HUAC charged that Hollywood supported the Communist ideology, but it never produced a list to support that allegation. The specter of political censorship stifled Hollywood's creative talent, and the quality of films made in Hollywood deteriorated as a consequence. Some good films were made—On the Waterfront, for instance—but not enough to hold audiences' interest. Exhibitors, complaining about Hollywood's bland output, turned to foreign-made films for their theaters, and the Hollywood film industry became the first major U.S. industry to lose a share of its domestic market to foreign competition during the post-World War II era. According to data from the 1960 Film Daily Yearbook, U.S.-produced films released in U.S. markets decreased from 378 in 1946 to 187 in 1959. In the same period imports increased from 90 to 252. As a sidebar to the Red hunt, the trend of showing imports guaranteed the demise of the production code that had governed film content for many years. Labor disputes and competition from television exacerbated the situation. Mass unemployment in the film industry followed. Second and third generations suffered along with their parents and grandparents.
Hollywood could use more filmmakers with Elia Kazan's talent, but unfortunately for Kazan, he is associated with the worst decade of Hollywood's history—the decade of political censorship and the blacklist. Political censorship remains a threat to filmmakers, as CBS's recent cancellation of the Ronald Reagan miniseries demonstrates.
Richard L. Olsen
Frazier Park, Calif.
Mark Steyn (and Elia Kazan before him) belabors a flawed analogy between the racketeers in On the Waterfront and entertainment figures who once gave their allegiance to Stalinism. The labor boss Johnny Friendly and his colleagues were directly involved in murder, extortion, and so forth. In contrast, the erstwhile Stalinists attacked by HUAC were generally marginal Communists—dilettantes who were not running the gulags or shooting the kulaks. It's one thing to fink on vicious gangsters or brutal apparatchiks. It is something else to cause trouble for some fatuous old friend who once marched by one's side for peace or signed a petition for Loyalist Spain.
When he says that Elia Kazan "was on the right side of history," Mark Steyn reveals that he doesn't know his history. Kazan's naming names did nothing to fight communism. He named no names that the authorities didn't already have, so his information added nothing to the alleged battle against the Party. Nor did HUAC use any of this information in advising on legislation, which is what the committee was formed to do.
Steyn simplistically frames the issue as an either-or proposition: either you supported the Communists and refused to cooperate with the committee, or you were against communism and demonstrated your friendship to the committee by giving a roll call of old associates.
I favor a third and—I think—correct alternative: you could be against Communists and you could also be against the committee. Indeed, a large number of people were exactly that, and acquitted themselves with honor. The committee and the leadership of the Party mirrored each other. Both justified blacklisting, anti-Semitism, and physical and intellectual terrorism in the names of their "patriotic" causes. The committee hearings resembled nothing so much as the show trials in Stalin's Russia. Yes, Stalin's victims ended up dead, and the committee's ended up only unemployed—but are we to claim moral superiority because our evil was less virulent than theirs?
What was Kazan's contribution to history? He gave credibility to a cynical batch of politicians who were trying to raise their own profiles by humbling famous and (often) talented people. He lent legitimacy to the illegitimate (some of whom were subsequently disgraced and jailed for their own activities). I hardly call that being "on the right side of history."
Alas, by his actions Kazan also undermined his own moral credibility. He was a great director, and from what I have heard from mutual friends, he was loved for his many acts of kindness and generosity. (An actress friend recently told me that when her mother couldn't afford her maternity bills, Kazan reached into his own pocket.) It is thus all the sadder to think that, like Marley, he carried into his death the heavy chains he forged in life.
New York, N.Y.
In his comparison of the Scott Moncrieff/Kilmartin and Davis translations of Proust, Christopher Hitchens ("The Acutest Ear in Paris," January/ February Atlantic) made clear some of the virtues and deficiencies of each, and in addition made me itch to read what I haven't of Proust and re-read what I have. Few reviews do so much, so well. If I may, I'd like to propose another way of handling the couplet "Qui du cul d'un chien s'amourose, / Il lui parait une rose." My version is "Who loves a dog's ass can expect his nose / To say it smells just like a rose."
Stuart Jay Silverman
Hot Springs, Ark.
Christopher Hitchens writes that Monty Python's attempt to reduce Swann's Way to a madrigal was yanked offstage as soon as the singing started. Serves them right for choosing the wrong genre. Had they but fielded a barbershop quartet, the condensed strains of " Madeline, Sweet Madeline ..." might have made the canon.
Christopher Hitchens's fine-tuned analysis of Proust translations deserves to be rewarded with the following information about whether the French have a precise equivalent for "killing time." It is tuer le temps, and is the subject of an archly ironic prose poem by Baudelaire, "Le Galant Tireur." Its irony has been definitively analyzed by Barbara Johnson, in her book Défigurations du langage poétique (1980), which Hitchens will have to read in French.
Andrew J. McJenna
When he cites the first sentence of Swann's Way, Christopher Hitchens refers to the tense as the "passé composé, or past perfect." I believe that in French the passé composé is equivalent to the present perfect tense in English, not the past perfect (plus-que-parfait in French). The past perfect in English uses the helping verb "had" and usually refers to an action that took place before another action in the past.
I take issue with a statement made by Terry Castle in her review of Edith Grossman's new translation of Don Quixote ("High Plains Drifter," January/February Atlantic). After informing her readers that she has read the novel twice in her life, first Samuel Putnam's translation and more recently Grossman's, Castle tells us that Grossman "has produced the most agreeable Don Quixote ever." Her boldness is remarkable. Having read all of two versions of the book (and nearly thirty-five years apart at that), how does Castle know that this new edition is the best translation out there? By her own admission, she can't possibly.
Terry Castle replies:
Dani Schwartz catches me out indeed in a Sancho-like gaffe. But reading "around," as it were, in Don Quixote over the past thirty years (and intensively over the past month) has also meant reading around, necessarily, in multiple translations—from the classic versions of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries (Thomas Shelton, Charles Jervas, John Ormsby) to a raft of others published in the past five or six decades. If one has any sensitivity to style at all, one can get a workable sense of a translator's idiom, I'd argue, by looking at certain "potted" narrative moments: the famous opening sequence, for example, or the episode of the windmills, or the heartbreaking sequence in which Quixote is returned to his village in a cage at the end of Part 1. How naturally and well a translator renders dialogue is also key; the book lives on, as I suggested, in its characters' exquisite, disarming conversations. Even in the light of other outstanding modern versions (Putnam, Walter Starkie, J. M. Cohen, John Rutherford), it's hard for me to imagine a suppler and more readable English text than Grossman's; indeed, I could not find one.
I squirmed and laughed and nodded my way through Caitlin Flanagan's column "Do As I Say" (January/February Atlantic). As with her past commentaries on sex and the married girl and America's obsession with the plastic storage tub, she manages to be right and right on without being self-righteous or right-wing. I suspect that she's not looking for another job, but as far as I'm concerned, she is the hip and glamorous spokesperson for those of us who are struggling to do the right thing for ourselves and our kids.
Regarding Caitlin Flanagan's piece on Laura Schlessinger: When people such as William Bennett and Dr. Schlessinger take it upon themselves to hector the rest of flawed humanity for not holding to a perfect code of behavior, of course they open themselves up to heavy criticism. Most public figures who harangue us about the perils of our declining moral fiber have this exact problem. Why should adults who were no more chaste than you or I prior to marriage endlessly harp on the virtues of abstinence? The problem is that the "declining moral fiber" they lament doesn't exist. Disagreeable behaviors (premarital sex, adultery, marital misery with or without subsequent divorce) have been with us forever and perhaps always will be. Children find out, one way or another, that their parents are human. Schlessinger's shtick is the same "Do as I say, not as I do" baloney that puts our adolescents off whatever sincere moral guidance we might be able to offer them.
When I think about the general conditions under which most of the world's children live, I can't say that I get all that overwrought about the nine-year-old middle-class American child who must start dealing with two households and a "blended family." Life and relationships are messy and complicated, and no amount of moralizing and prescribing simple solutions will change that. I do believe that parents should try to put children's needs first in the unhappy marriage or the divorcing family, but even the most stoic parents, resigning themselves to some kind of unfulfilling arrangement on behalf of their offspring, will exact a price. People just aren't that good at "sucking up" the daily grinding misery of an unhappy primary relationship—unless they are saints, and most of us are not.
The whole laughable issue of "wifely duty," the latest profit-producing bandwagon on which Dr. Laura has jumped, lowers the interaction of spouses to a form of prostitution or patronization. If my spouse cannot handle the fact that I am tired or anxious, or cannot bear to sleep with him because he has been sniping at me all week for my flaws, so I don't feel terribly sexy, then we don't have a relationship of equal partners or adult companions. That is the reality—the day-to-day complexities of a marriage can often not be fully appreciated through the lens of simplistic prescriptions.
Nancy J. Melucci
Huntington Beach, Calif.
Caitlin Flanagan replies:
Nancy Melucci has a hard time feeling sympathy for children of divorce. I don't. To sit a child down and tell him that Daddy is moving out is to destroy the thing that matters most in the world to him: his home. When parents divorce, they inflict deep pain on their children. It's legal to do it; it's sometimes necessary to do it; but let's not lie about it: it breaks children's hearts.
Since writing my review of Laura Schlessinger's new book, I have had countless people tell me that they can't stand her because she's "mean." But Laura says you'll hurt a child if you divorce; don't do it. Nancy says she can't work up much compassion for a nine-year-old from a broken home. So who's mean?
The question asked by "Would Shakespeare Get Into Swarthmore?" (by John Katzman, Andy Lutz, and Erik Olson, March Atlantic) is not relevant in the context of evaluating the writing section of the new SAT. Evaluating the new SAT is not a bad thing to do, but I believe that the authors of this piece ignored a prose author's first duty to an audience: assuring readers that the writer has the facts straight.
Why would anyone be surprised that a blank-verse passage from As You Like It doesn't have the characteristics of a good persuasive essay? Surely the authors don't believe that the purpose of an expository writing test for high school students is to uncover a twenty-first-century Shakespeare.
We know that one must learn basic rules, structure, and techniques of a domain before departing from them, before finding innovative ways to break away, before creating new forms for expressing ideas, arguments, and discoveries.
We are adding a writing section to the SAT because we care deeply about helping to improve the writing skills of all young people in our nation. Writing allows students to contextualize their knowledge and is central to self-expression, professional growth, and civic participation. Yet according to national research, about one twelfth-grade student in five produces completely satisfactory prose; about 50 percent meet "basic" requirements; and only one in five can be called "proficient."
President, The College Board
New York, N.Y.
Bruce Hoffman's graphic article "Aftermath" (January/February Atlantic), about cleaning up after suicide bombings in Jerusalem, should give pause to anyone considering the possibility of a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, not to mention Arab nations still at war with the Jewish state. With Jerusalem's having had a majority of Jews ever since the censuses of the mid nineteenth century, Arab terrorists might have conceded that Jerusalem is an integral part of Israel and not a target for terrorist suicide bombers.
Obviously they have not—for Jerusalem or for Tel Aviv, Haifa, and other cities within Israel. The brutality of these suicide bombings precludes the possibility of negotiations with the perpetrators. Until Palestinian organizations accept the continuing existence of a terror-free state of Israel, neither a Palestinian state nor economic well-being will be possible for Arabs living west of the Jordan River, whether in Judea, Samaria, or Gaza.
Silver Spring, Md.
Ben Birnbaum's "A Family Deposition" (January/February Atlantic), regarding the lawsuit of an Egyptian jurist against the Jewish people for alleged thefts during the Exodus, reminded me that I have been discussing the very same issue with my attorneys. We are considering litigation against Egypt for the enslavement of the Jewish people for several hundred years prior to the Exodus. We will probably seek damages in excess of two trillion dollars.
Milton B. Lederman
Fans of Puccini's Tosca will quickly recognize William Matthews's "E lucevan le stelle" (published posthumously in the January/February Atlantic) as almost certainly a poetic-licensed translation of Cavaradossi's famous tenor aria from Act III of the opera.
Matthews's poignant lines and those penned by Puccini's librettists, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, flow as kindred, though not perfectly confluent, streams. Cavaradossi, certain that he will face a firing squad within the hour, begins a farewell letter to his beloved Tosca. But this is death row at the opera, so the condemned artist soon lifts his pen, and then his voice:
E lucevan le stelle ...
ed olezzava la terra ...
stridea l'uscio dell'orto ...
e un passo sfiorava la rena ...
Entrava ella, fragrante,
mi cadea fra le bracccia ...
In the English translation of the libretto that accompanies the celebrated Callas-Di Stefano-Gobbi recording of Tosca, these opening lines of the aria become
And the stars shone
And the earth was perfumed
The gate to the garden creaked
And a footstep rustled the sand to the path...
Fragrant, she entered
And fell into my arms...
Matthews's poem begins
And the stars shone, and the
its perfumes, the garden gate
open, footsteps lisped along the path
and they were hers, and she was mine.
Cavaradossi's tearful farewell (and the aria) concludes with "E muoio disperato! E non ho amato mai tanto la vita!"—"And desperately I die! And never before have I loved so much!"
Unlike Illica and Giacosa, Matthews gives his lucevan a final star turn:
and, like any star, I have nothing
to burn but the life I love.
The Atlantic cites as the source of the poem the just published volume Search Party: Collected Poems by William Matthews, edited by Sebastian Matthews and Stanley Plumly. Indeed, "E lucevan le stelle" is found on page 262, in the section labeled "Uncollected Poems (1982-1997)." There are no further citations or commentary in Search Party about the poem, other than acknowledgments in the front matter that the work has not previously appeared in book form and that The Atlantic is the "journal" where the work was first published.
William Matthews's penchant for translation is evident from his earlier works, including Selected Poems & Translations, 1969-1991. The editors of Search Party and The Atlantic are both to be applauded for bringing "E lucevan le stelle" to light. However, readers should know that Matthews surely found inspiration from Puccini's librettists, just as Cavaradossi was stirred to passionate desperation by the memory of Tosca's kiss. (And of course we're talking here about "Oh, dolci baci"—not the rather more hard-edged "kiss" that Tosca, dagger in hand, lays on Baron Scarpia back in Act II.)
Chevy Chase, Md.