In "The Tragedy of Tony Blair" (June Atlantic), Geoffrey Wheatcroft's reference to David Trimble's backside hanging out a window because Tony Blair refused to punish Sinn Fein for IRA violence beggars belief. What planet is Wheatcroft writing from?
What (Provisional) IRA violence? Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA are in full compliance with the Belfast Agreement. The PIRA guns are completely silent, and have been for years. Trimble, the Ulster (sic) Unionists, Tony Blair, and the British government have violated the Belfast Agreement ad nauseam, and loyalist violence, complete with British army and police collusion, carries on without mention.
Whether Trimble ever intended to honor the spirit and the letter of the Belfast Agreement only he will know; but after pocketing the Nobel Peace Prize money, he found the intransigence within his own party too hard to take, and Blair has had to save Trimble's neck—sorry, backside—time and again, with completely illegal suspensions of and modifications to the Belfast Agreement. The men within the Ulster Unionists (and the Democratic Unionists) who are determined to destroy the Belfast Agreement include some of the very men who ordered the RUC, the B-Specials, and the Orange mobs to attack the Irish in 1969 for daring to ask for the right to fair elections and a fair allocation of jobs and housing—thus starting this latest violent episode in the British occupation of Ireland.
Auckland, New Zealand
Geoffrey Wheatcroft thinks that Tony Blair's support for the invasion of Iraq was the culmination of his moral disintegration. But that's in fact what convinced me that Blair is the greatest moral leader of our time. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to follow the majority of his party, his country, and the world in opposing the war. And he would have been widely praised for high courage in standing up against the United States. But Blair saw with Churchillian clarity that after 9/11 the world was changed, and that in an era of weapons of mass destruction and global terrorist networks we cannot tolerate the risk of a despot with the clear means and motivation to create such weapons and support terrorism. Blair saw early that a war to remove Saddam, if not inevitable, was highly probable, and should be prudently prepared for. And when the war seemed necessary, he bravely and indefatigably persuaded his country to join in the heroic venture.
Was the war on Iraq prudent? I think it's too soon to tell. Success is not yet assured—but neither is failure. Was the war just? I say there can be no doubt that it was. Saddam's weapons program may have been less advanced than almost any expert thought, but his human-rights abuses were worse than most people thought. Three hundred thousand corpses in sandy mass graves cry out that the war was just.
What Geoffrey Wheatcroft actually described, in an agonizingly pseudo-analytical and patronizing intellectual style, was the heroics of Tony Blair. He put Blair's warts, as he saw them, under a microscope, and then magnified them in his story, but managed to put Blair's strengths and the light he has shown to Britain and the world under a bushel basket. In essence Wheatcroft's article proclaims that the British people on the whole prefer isolationism, so that they can tend their gardens in peace; and Wheatcroft, perhaps unwittingly, endorses this irresponsible posture.
He also gave us a picture, backhandedly, of a Prime Minister who recognized his duty to support the United States in the beginning of a titanic struggle to overcome a worldwide threat—already implemented on 9/11—with horrific potential.
There is much more to say on this subject, and on the subtly meanspirited aspect of Wheatcroft's article (not to mention his spineless posturing as an arbiter between good and evil). However, I will leave you with my most vivid thought, while examining the man behind his rhetoric: that Blair's performance resembles that of Abraham Lincoln during the difficult and personally painful days of 1864, prior to his re-election.
People who make decisions that are necessarily unpopular in the short term but bring about lasting change in the world for the better can only be shown by history to be the true, and too few, heroes.
Thomas J. Ryan
Bethany Beach, Del.
In his floppy attempt at character assassination of Tony Blair, Geoffrey Wheatcroft misrepresents the pivotal error of the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan. Gilligan's infamous report on the BBC didn't merely say that the British government had "exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction," as Wheatcroft claims. Gilligan accused the government of having deliberately "sexed up" intelligence with information it knew to be false. That is entirely different from a benign clumsiness of expression, which, Wheatcroft tells his readers, is all that the BBC report could be accused of. Wheatcroft's disregard of the point of the whole affair becomes parodic when he subsequently asserts that the BBC report "was in itself an elementary statement of fact." Not even the BBC today shares that point of view.
Wheatcroft also has his own exotic version of events regarding the government's alleged determination to "out" Andrew Gilligan's secret source, Dr. Kelly. The official and independent investigation into the Kelly affair concluded that there never was any underhanded government strategy to name Dr. Kelly.
I found Geoffrey Wheatcroft's article on Tony Blair quite amusing. Prime Minister Blair had been speaking forcefully against the regime in Iraq for three years before George Bush became President, so it seems improbable that his decision to go to war was "made by someone else [Mr. Bush]." Wheatcroft's ridicule and mock pity for this great statesman (please read Blair's major speeches on international relations since 9/11) remind me of the contempt the left (and right) had for Churchill in the early 1930s. Blair's speech three days before the Madrid bombings was Churchillian in its prescience and wisdom. Of course, events proved Churchill correct in his warnings, and the ridicule evaporated; I await the rehabilitation of Tony Blair. Toward the end of his rather thorough character assassination of Blair, Wheatcroft acknowledges that the Prime Minister will most likely retain his post after the next election, but then informs us that "that could prove just another hollow victory." Fortunately, to quote the author one last time, "in a democracy it's not history [or the media pundits!] but voters who judge the leaders."
I was astonished to read Geoffrey Wheatcroft's fevered and irrational anti—Tony Blair and anti—United States rant in The Atlantic. There are issues on which I strongly disagree with President Bush and Tony Blair, but Wheatcroft's attack is largely unfounded and scurrilous. He attacks Lord Hutton's report as "perverse" because it did not find Blair at fault. Any unbiased person who read the testimony of the "multitude of witnesses" would reach the same conclusion Lord Hutton did. It was Andrew Gilligan who "sexed up" his story. It is Wheatcroft who has inflated uncertainties into lies and plots.
Near the end of his tirade he says that Blair "is still a clear favorite" to win re-election. If that happens, I shall watch the obits to see whether Wheatcroft suffers a rage-induced stroke.
Pamela C. Thompson
Geoffrey Wheatcroft replies:
If my essay hasn't convinced readers, I am not going to persuade them now. I shall merely thank them for their interest—with one exception, which should not go uncorrected. John Scarry's little slice of Irish republican propaganda states that "Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA are in full compliance with the Belfast Agreement. The PIRA guns are completely silent, and have been for years."
Since the agreement, in April of 1998, at least eighteen people have been killed by Gerry Adams's colleagues in the Provisional IRA, all but one of them Roman Catholics. Hundreds more have been subjected to "punishment beatings," shot in the legs in the traditional IRA fashion, or driven out of Ulster. There has been a rash of suicides of young men who have been treated in this way in the Catholic areas of Belfast, which are now, thanks to the American-sponsored "peace process," entirely controlled and terrorized by the IRA and other republican groups. Tony Blair's government, supported by Dublin and Washington, has tacitly agreed that the IRA may be regarded as being "on ceasefire" if it refrains from shooting soldiers and policemen, and confines itself merely to mutilating and murdering working-class Catholics. Whatever else David Trimble may be wrong about, I do not think he is wrong to object to this.
Robert Kaplan makes one serious misstatement in his otherwise fine "Five Days in Fallujah" (July/August Atlantic), when he improperly attributes the military's "compassion for innocent civilians" to what he correctly perceives as its predominant strain of evangelical Christianity. Sparing innocents from harm and offering them succor when possible is a basic moral precept that can be found in virtually every faith and in every ethical system, religious or not, that is worthy of the name. Indeed, it is codified in the deeply agnostic—or at least completely ecumenical—international laws of armed conflict, a primary and avowed purpose of which is the protection of noncombatants. To suggest that "Bible Belt" (Kaplan's characterization) fundamentalists have some special claim to this ancient and universal concept—or even manifest it to some unusual degree in their attitudes or behavior—is not only factually incorrect but insulting to the vast majority of human beings who do not share the evangelicals' particular beliefs but would nonetheless gladly share their canteens, MREs, or first-aid kits with an Iraqi in need.
David A. Shlapak
I am a combat veteran of World War II and have very distant memories of Ernie Pyle's articles for the Scripps-Howard newspapers, articles that may also have appeared at times in the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes. Robert Kaplan accomplished three things in his report: He personalized the action in Fallujah by the Marines' "1/5" in the way Ernie Pyle personalized the combat in World War II. He described the nature of the combat in a way that no other descriptive material I have read on the Iraq operation has done. Finally, he demonstrated the power of the pen in comparison to television coverage of military actions in Iraq and elsewhere.
Santa Fe, N. Mex.
P. J. O'Rourke's piece on Iwo Jima ("Sulfur Island," June Atlantic) was beautiful: both a tribute to those lost in battles past and an inspiration to those of us who may yet wield power in battles present and future. However, I must correct him regarding the Medal of Honor. I study military conflict, and have never known or heard of a member of the U.S. Armed Services who would regard the award he speaks of as the Congressional Medal of Honor. Though often called the "Congressional" Medal, the award is actually bestowed on the recipient by the President in the name of Congress. It is no more the Congressional Medal of Honor than it is the Presidential Medal of Honor; it is simply the Medal of Honor.
Amy J. Williamson
Clear Lake, Iowa
I was the only Marine sergeant major at the ceremony described, and I'm the only Marine sergeant major who gives tours on Iwo Jima. I doubt that I would say such a thing. My father fought Nazis, and my grandfather never saw action in World War I. I have no anger or bitterness toward the Japanese people. In fact, many of them are my friends.
M. W. McClure
As a longtime admirer and fan of P. J. O'Rourke, it pains me to have to correct him, but it is, as we say, my duty as a former noncommissioned officer.
O'Rourke makes the common error of denoting the plural of "sergeant major" as "sergeant majors." In fact two or more senior NCOs of that rank are "sergeants major." In a similar vein, two or more military trials would be properly referred to as "courts martial," two or more pointy-headed academics as "doctors of philosophy," and two or more John Ashcrofts (God forbid) as "attorneys general."
Thousand Oaks, Calif.
P. J. O'Rourke replies:
I plead guilty (or stupid, as the case may be) to all three charges. But I feel particularly bad about the complaint from Sergeant Major McClure, who greatly impressed me on Iwo Jima. In matters of military rank and insignia I am … a civilian. I can't tell a brigadier general from the doorman at the Ritz. I wasn't quoting Sergeant Major McClure, but I can't say who I was quoting. The sergeant (or officer, or whoever it was) who said "spinning in his grave" was on the periphery of my vision, because I, too, was standing at attention and facing the Japanese flag. I have no anger or bitterness toward the Japanese people either, but my father fought them in New Guinea and the Philippines. And I'm afraid that as the Japanese national anthem was being played, I could practically hear Dad's casket whirl.
Paul Starobin ("Dawn of the Daddy State," June Atlantic) would put the United States, Russia, and the EU in the same category as Israel, surrounded by terrorist Muslim states all eager for its destruction. He would also trade in democracy for a Hobbesian authoritarianism that I—and, I think, most Americans—feel would be an unwelcome anachronism, and not worth the reach back to mid-seventeenth-century England.
What Starobin is missing happened after Hobbes—an Age of Enlightenment, which largely managed to separate religion from the body politic, as France continues to do today in banning Muslim headscarves in its public schools. From there evolved an Age of Revolution, fired by, among others, John Locke, the English philosopher who superseded Hobbes and later so influenced Jefferson. Hobbes, after all, still pontificated under the burden of the divine right of kings, so may be excused for worrying about his head when many about him were losing theirs at their sovereign's pleasure. A royalist during the English Civil War, Hobbes had to make peace with Cromwell in order to return to England from Paris, where he had written Leviathan; after the Restoration he sought and received patronage from Charles II despite the fact that other royalists wanted him drawn and quartered for paying homage to Cromwell.
Locke, on the other hand, penned his ideas after the Glorious Revolution, which had substantially changed the relationship between the King and Parliament, and which a century later led to Parliament's being handed de facto power and the monarch's being relegated to titular status. But Starobin wants to take power away from our Congress, thus disrupting the balance of power in American government. Too demagogic a body, he thinks. And it is "a serious hindrance" to absolutism in a Daddy State.
I thought it bad enough that some conservatives yearn to take us back to the Gilded Age, or to the Eisenhower or the Reagan decade, but Starobin apparently longs for a seventeenth-century restoration of royalty to put some order into the world. Alas, Caesar, Bonaparte, and Mussolini all wanted the same thing. After reading Starobin, am I to believe that we are in the last stage of our great experiment in American democracy?
John G. Schmidt
Paul Starobin writes that "[the] condition of extreme vulnerability is borne by, for instance, Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip." Now, it would be hard to think of a more vulnerable population in the world than Israeli Jews, whose every bus ride and every trip to school, pizza parlor, disco, or Passover seder carries with it the very real possibility of death at the hands of those same Palestinians, who have chosen their vulnerability by disdaining possibilities of peaceful and respectful coexistence in favor of the wicked goal of exterminating Israel by means of suicide bombings and other murders—making Israeli action against them both necessary and predictable.
No doubt one who murders his parents is thereby an orphan, but to declaim that he or she is entitled to the sympathy and protection of the state on that account is preposterous—and really, in itself, wicked as well.
Paul Starobin replies:
John Schmidt's depiction of Thomas Hobbes as an unabashed believer in the divine right of kings—and something of a political opportunist—sent me scurrying to The English Philosophers From Bacon to Mill, a 1939 anthology from The Modern Library that I lifted from my father some years ago. Hobbes, who was born in 1588, is situated between Francis Bacon, born in 1561, and John Locke, born in 1632. During the "turbulent period of the civil wars" in England, Edwin A. Burtt, a professor of philosophy at Cornell, writes in the introduction, "British philosophy was challenged to clarify the principles of political organization." Hobbes was chiefly concerned about "the competition of political control" between King and Parliament, with sectarian partisans on each side: "the only solution of the evil lay in recognizing an absolute and undivided sovereignty in the established government of the state." Hobbes was above all searching for a formula for peace and stability—and in Leviathan he argues that either a sovereign assembly or a sovereign monarch could do the trick. His refusal to come down squarely on the side of the royalists displeased them—just as those on the other side, the parliamentarians, were unhappy that his recipe left the door open for a monarch. Another interpreter of Hobbes, the Canadian political philosopher Crawford Brough MacPherson, writes in an introduction to Leviathan (Pelican Books, 1968) that Hobbes's doctrine "was not calculated to please any of those who successively held power through this period, for it denied all of them the sorts of justification they wanted." And even though "some of Hobbes's enemies tried to make him out a turncoat," MacPherson notes, Hobbes "maintained and published a single doctrine throughout," and "when one looks at the way his mind arrived at the doctrine there is every reason to believe that he had been thinking all along as a scientist, not as a partisan."
Coming along a half century later, Locke broke with Hobbes on a key point: Whereas Hobbes gave the sovereign, whether a monarch or an assembly, the power to appoint successors, Locke endorsed the election of a parliament by the people. Nevertheless, Hobbes represented enlightenment for his time. Had he not named his principal tract after a sea monster (the benign subtitle to Leviathan was "The Matter, Forme & Power of a Common-Wealth"), I suspect his reputation would be less fearsome.
As for Robert Cohen's comment on Israel, it is certainly right to fault the leadership of the Palestinian community for some terribly shortsighted judgments in diplomatic negotiations with Israeli and U.S. leaders, but surely it's a stretch to say that the Palestinian people have in any fashion chosen their vulnerability. The core problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a basic asymmetry: the Israelis have both a nation and a state; the Palestinians have a nation but no state. There is no prospect for less bloodshed without a Palestinian state.
Normally book reviews attempt to accurately indicate the author's purpose and arguments. Calling these into question is fair game, as long as the reviewer provides countervailing arguments or evidence. Tom Carson's review of my Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids ("The Kids Are All Right," July/August Atlantic) simply skips this and launches into misrepresentation and gratuitous sarcasm. Snide and irrelevant remarks aside ("they'd be better off not going to Uncle Murray with their problems"), Carson seems to have three primary charges.
First, he says, the findings are obvious: "This is certainly stop-the-presses stuff"; "the results of his painstaking investigations [are that] adolescents seem to care a lot about clothes"; "teen social hierarchies exist; he's got the field reports to prove it." Early in the book I note that most people already know a lot about teenagers from their own experience and a variety of other sources, and continue,
While I will identify particular crowds and cliques and provide descriptions of how teenagers behave, this is not the primary purpose of this book. Rather it is to provide a set of systematic explanations—not simply to describe how teenagers behave, but to explain why they behave this way.
Carson virtually ignores the theoretical arguments and the explanations offered, which constitute the bulk of the book.
Second, Carson claims that I "reduce adolescent behavior to consumerism alone, or to status-seeking alone." On page ten I say,
All theories focus on some features of the concrete world and ignore others, [enabling] you to see important processes that are obscured if you try to look at everything . . . This book will focus on status relations and status processes . . . Certainly students' experience in high school is not solely a matter of competing for status. [I
then indicate some of the other important things that happen during the teen years, and continue:] My goal is not to portray the full complexity of high school life. It is to highlight an aspect of behavior especially characteristic of teenagers and explain why these patterns . . . are so salient . . . To document widespread drug use is not to say that everyone uses drugs, or that all users are addicts. [Explaining] the status processes that shape teenage behavior is not to capture the totality of teenage experience. Describing and explaining status processes is, however, a crucial prerequisite for understanding teenage behavior, and the significance of this behavior in the wider society.
I also make clear that neither adolescent nor adult life can be reduced to consumerism.
Third, Carson claims, my analysis of teen behavior "is just window dressing, because Milner has a larger thesis to share—or, rather, since it's only tenuously connected to much of the behavior he elaborates, a rant." I do argue that the status competition in high schools plays a role in creating an overemphasis on consumerism, at the expense of other values and needs in our society. My arguments and evidence cannot be repeated here, but I invite anyone to read either of my two chapters on consumerism to compare this with Carson's review, and to decide for themselves who is engaged in a meanspirited, unsubstantiated rant.
Murray Milner Jr.
Institute for the Advanced Study of Culture
University of Virginia
Tom Carson starts out on the right foot by aptly pointing out the basic difference between what high school means in this country (the beginning of freedom) and what it means in other developed countries (the beginning of responsibility). But he fails to explain the fundamental cause for the stark contrast: a completely different vision of how to educate young people. In Europe and in many Asian countries, for example, stiff national exams are administered to sort out students at the end of primary or middle school. Only those who pass these exams are allowed to enter specialized high schools. The United States opposes this system of differentiation, opting instead for a system of democratization. The controversy surrounding the use of the SAT, high school exit exams, and No Child Left Behind—mandated standardized tests is evidence of our resistance. The adolescent subcultures that develop in the books Carson reviews are predictable in light of the students who fill the schools.
Los Angeles, Calif.
The piece on Wayne Shorter by Francis Davis ("A Real Gone Guy," June Atlantic) contains a couple of factual errors and also a few dubious statements. The "infrequent albums" Shorter released during his fifteen years with Weather Report consisted of exactly one: Native Dancer, a lovely collaboration with the Brazilian singer Milton Nascimento that was hardly "awash in synthesizers." Nor did it contain the "trite funk rhythms" that Davis describes.
It is simply not true that Shorter's "first working band" is "the quartet he played with on a tour of Europe in 2001." Starting in the summer of 1985 he had a touring and working ensemble consisting of Gary Willis, Tom Canning, and Tom Brechtlein that toured through the end of 1986 (Mitch Forman replaced Canning in the spring of 1986). In 1987 and 1988 he had a working band that featured Terri Lyne Carrington and Renee Rosnes. The list goes on through the 1990s. To be unaware of Shorter's extensive touring schedule through the eighties and nineties is to be curiously uninformed about his career.
The comments about Weather Report ("Zawinul converted the supposedly leaderless jazz-rock fusion ensemble into a vehicle for his electronic gadgetry") make me wonder if Davis ever actually heard that band. Even if he is relying solely on recordings to make that judgment, he should consult the recently released two-CD set of live material on CBS Sony. Shorter was by no means handcuffed or overshadowed in that ensemble.
Francis Davis replies:
Exactly when Shorter quit Weather Report has always been ambiguous, so I counted albums such as Atlantis (1985) and Phantom Navigator (1987), which were similar to those of Weather Report both texturally and rhythmically. Native Dancer was lightweight; the bands Michael McLaughlin mentions were hardly permanent working and recording units, as Shorter's current quartet appears to be; and I am hardly alone in thinking that Weather Report quickly became a vehicle for Zawinul's electronics.
Nasra Hassan's insightful discussion of Pakistani jihadis, "Al-Qaeda's Understudy" (June Atlantic), started me thinking how little we've adjusted military doctrine to fit the realities of ancient-cum-modern religious warfare. All the talk about transforming the Defense Department has more to do with establishing new capabilities derived from technology than with understanding how our new enemies organize and operate against us. Since our adversaries get a vote on how wars are fought, we should try to understand the ground rules of combat from their perspective as well as our own. Religious warfare may have its own rules quite apart from what we understand about asymmetrical warfare, sometimes called unconventional warfare or, in a loose sense, counterinsurgency.
Both regular and irregular armies have some kind of doctrinal base. I use the term "confessional warfare" to characterize war with an enemy motivated by religious conviction. Hassan explains how some militants move between the religious and the secular with very little change in conviction, depending on the rage at the moment. From the perspective of confessional warfare, the distinction lacks significance. Or so it seems to me.
Fighting those who fight for a religious or a secular god should not be undertaken lightly, using conventional forces or tactics. When one confronts true believers, the notion of psychological operations acquires a totally new meaning. What does "body count" mean in the context of those anxious to die? Leaflets suggesting that our enemy is not fighting for "the one true God" are likely to produce a negative result, if any result at all. Failing to recognize motivational religious and political shifts is itself failure. For too long we've relied principally on our technology edge and our superior equipment and professional training. If this is the rule today rather than the exception, is there any doubt why Osama bin Laden calls us an arrogant contestant? Superior hardware and ultimate victory are not necessarily connected.
Too often we treat our enemies as if they were fanatics, in some way mentally deranged. But Hassan explains that "fanatics" use terrorist tactics as a means, not an end. All of this is rather confusing at first blush—but we must learn to fight the enemies we have, not the ones we'd like to have. Most military thinkers I know found the Cold War rather simple and clear-cut: the issues between East and West would be decided in a gigantic clash of armor at the Fulda Gap … or somewhere.
The same people today are grasping for ways to cope with threats from confessional elements they cannot intuitively understand. I'm not sure how al-Qaeda defines victory. Nor am I sure how we define defeat. The only thing I'm sure of is that those who embrace the al-Qaeda agenda in one form or another have studied Ho Chi Minh's playbook. They are going to play not to our strengths but to our weaknesses. Our greatest deficiency to date may be that we understand so little of what fuels the engine of those who seek our collapse.
Charles A. Krohn
Former civilian deputy chief of public
affairs, U.S. Army
Having just finished Scott Stossel's article "Knifed" (May Atlantic) on how Ted Kennedy may have kept Sargent Shriver from being Hubert Humphrey's running mate in 1968 and thus helped throw the election to Nixon, my conclusion is that this is an old case of a conclusion in search of a supporting story.
Although Stossel offers convincing evidence that Ted Kennedy did not want Shriver on the Democratic ticket that year, his case that the Paris-based Shriver was even seriously considered by Humphrey is slim indeed. One also has to question how serious a vice-presidential prospect Shriver was if Theodore White and the three young British journalists who wrote An American Melodrama—by far the four best chroniclers of the 1968 campaign—agree that Senators Ed Muskie (Maine) and Fred Harris (Oklahoma) were the only candidates seriously considered for the ticket by Humphrey. Indeed, Shriver is not even mentioned in either book.
More disturbing to me, as a student of history, is Stossel's conclusion that "as one of the nation's most prominent lay Catholics, Shriver would most likely have fared better than Muskie among Catholic voters." Coupled with his earlier remark that "the matter of Humphrey's vice-presidential selection" might have tilted the election, this is all quite an insult to Senator Muskie. Tom Wicker, of The New York Times, wrote that Muskie was "one of the few advantages the ill-financed Humphrey campaign could boast." Much was made of the fact that Muskie was only the third Roman Catholic in history on a Democratic national ticket, and also the son of immigrants; it is hard to imagine how Shriver could have fared better among Catholics. In fact, if any vice-presidential candidate helped a national ticket, it was clearly the senator from Maine, who "impressed voters with his dignified demeanor, his knowledge, and his obvious ability," as Wicker reported. "It became a campaign cliché to refer to the lanky Muskie as 'Lincolnesque.'"
This is in no way to disparage Shriver's contribution to public life—only to say that his biographer could have said just as much good about him without revising political history.
My regard for Christopher Hitchens is substantial. But his aching polemic, "Poor Old Willie" (May Atlantic), works hard to change that. The "review" was sadly much more about W. Somerset Maugham's gay lifestyle than about the new biography by Jeffrey Meyers; pluck out a sentence and one would simply never have a clue as to what it was all about.
I hope the new biography shows more than just the gay Gomorrah that so preoccupied Hitchens, because Maugham's autobiography, The Summing Up, is both fun and short, akin to Stephen King's recent On Writing. And like King's booklet, it may be most valuable in assisting the new or struggling writer with humble tools and philosophies.
For example, kick-starting the stalled writer: Maugham admits to the simple, repetitious copying of the works of masters, which is not an unsound exercise for any beginner. Maugham added a second layer to his study: after copying, he would attempt to write out the passage from memory.
If some of that influence found its way into his work, it should neither affront nor surprise Hitchens. Conrad (to whom Maugham's "The Outstation" was an obvious homage) was doubtless one of Maugham's many writing "teachers," as were Swift, Dryden, Dr. Johnson, and many others. Maugham had simply copied him once too often, I suppose.
Scott W. Crytser
In the July/August "Primary Sources" is a report on the Arab world's view of the movie The Passion of the Christ. Turkey, however, which had the most box-office revenue for The Passion at the time you went to press, is not an Arab country but a Muslim one. "The Passion of the Muslim World" and "Muslim box office" would have been correct and appropriate.
Abe Lebovic is correct. Turkey is not an Arab country, and the item would therefore have been more accurately titled as he suggests. We regret the oversight.
In Max Holland's important article "The Assassination Tapes" (June Atlantic), Holland has Lyndon Johnson wondering whether the Kennedy assassination might have originated in the Castro government. There is one plausible idea that I haven't seen considered anywhere—namely, that the Castro government had something to do with it, but not Castro himself. As in any crime, you have to analyze motives, and there is clear evidence that Castro and Kennedy were both looking at the possibility of rapprochement. I traveled through Cuba with my late father, the New York attorney James B. Donovan (negotiator for the Bay of Pigs prisoners), in the spring of 1963, and the idea of rapprochement was discussed for many hours. Indeed, it was on this trip that the process of exploring such an option originated. Thus I don't believe that Castro would have felt he had anything to gain by plotting Kennedy's assassination.
Certain people on the American side would have fiercely opposed accommodation with Cuba, and conspiracy theories have grown up around that fact. But there was also fierce opposition within the Castro government to my father in his negotiations, and to any idea of accommodation with the United States. One of the highest-ranking opponents was José Abrahantes, then the Minister of the Interior in Havana, who was executed some years later for drug trafficking. I have no evidence to implicate Abrahantes in the Kennedy assassination, but any examination of motives should take his faction into account. These observations are in no way a criticism of Holland's excellent piece.
John B. Donovan
In response to Jonathan Rauch's "A More Perfect Union" (April Atlantic), and to support the argument that the purpose of marriage is procreation, Gail T. Lambert (Letters, June Atlantic) cites an Arizona law that allows first cousins to marry only if one is sterile. The logic behind this argument is fundamentally flawed. If the purpose of marriage is procreation, what is the point of allowing infertile people to marry? Additionally, assuming that the state has an interest in heterosexual marriage as the source of future taxpayers (as Lambert claims), and that two-parent families give children the best chance for a successful adulthood, one would expect divorce to be strongly discouraged, if not outlawed—at least until the children reach adulthood, at which point marriage no longer serves the purpose of raising children. Perhaps the state should dissolve any marriage that is not in the process of producing and rearing children.
Lambert goes on to ask, "Must we give tax breaks to two working adults who claim to be homosexual lovers?" To the best of my knowledge, a significant portion of tax benefits for married couples apply only if they have children. Now that more and more gay couples are becoming parents, is it fair to deny them these benefits, given that they have taken on the task of raising future taxpaying citizens?
The "statistics" provided in the June Agenda purporting to show the amount of time Americans spend commuting in various large cities ("Seven Days in Traffic") certainly fell into the "damned lies" category. The graph indicates, for example, that New Yorkers spend 6.7 days each year commuting. According to the U.S. Census Bureau data this figure is based on, the average time commuting to work in New York City is 38.4 minutes. Times two (this is clearly a one-way number, and most people want to get home, too) that equals one hour and seventeen minutes a day. With 250 workdays a year (your assumption), this means New Yorkers spend 320 hours a year commuting. Using the standard work-week definition of forty hours, this means Americans spend an additional eight work weeks, or nearly two full months, just commuting to their jobs. Sure sounds a lot longer than your 6.7 days! No wonder America is the Land of the Obese—who has time to exercise when they spend all that time on the road?
Jean Gianfranceschi is correct in observing that the Census data cited consider the morning commute only, and that the total amount of time a New Yorker loses to commuting annually is therefore 13.4 days, not 6.7. The subsequent estimate that the average New Yorker loses "two full months" to commuting does indeed sound "a lot longer" than the Census figure. However, Gianfranceschi obtains the two-month number by counting an eight-hour workday as a "day," whereas the Census estimate is based on the full twenty-four-hour day.
In my letter to the editor published in the July/August issue of your magazine, I wrote, "The state of Oklahoma has a divorce rate greater than 50 percent." The line should have read, "The state of Oklahoma's divorce rate is 50 percent higher than the national average." My apologies.