Letters to the editor

More
Bush's Lost Year

I was shocked by "Bush's Lost Year" (October Atlantic). James Fallows fails to credit the Bush administration with a single positive step in the war on terror; he discusses only the negatives.

Fallows paints the war in Afghanistan as a failure; it failed, he alleges, because we diverted resources to Iraq. But Afghanistan is now led by a strong and respected leader instead of the evil Taliban. Ten million Afghans have registered to vote, and the turnout for elections in Afghanistan may have been higher, in percentage terms, than the turnout for U.S. elections. Girls are attending school, which was forbidden under the Taliban. Women now may choose not to wear the burka and may even work outside the home. Afghans who want to be part of the modern world can listen to music and the radio and watch television. Afghanistan is still a dangerous place, and democracy won't take hold there for some time. But only a fool would expect it to be a model of perfection after its long history of bloodshed.

Fallows ignores all the successes we have achieved against al-Qaeda terrorists over the past three years. Most of the top leadership of al-Qaeda has been killed or captured. Al-Qaeda operatives are being rounded up all over the globe by our allies. Terrorists have been captured and brought to justice in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Germany, Spain, Italy, Yemen, and Turkey. The complex web of funding for jihadi terror groups is unraveling, and bank accounts are being frozen here and everywhere. Pakistan is now an ally, doing our dirty work by killing and arresting al-Qaeda members. The Khan nuclear-export business has been shut down. Libya is no longer a terror supporter bent on acquiring a nuclear weapon. Democracy is now being discussed in the Arab world as it has never been before.

Josh Baker
San Francisco, Calif.

James Fallows's thesis is fundamentally flawed. He fails to properly describe the aims of our enemy, and that failure leads him to present illusory choices for America in pursuit of that enemy. He says President Bush was simplistic in stating that Islamic terrorists hate America for its freedoms. He points to policy choices America has made—in the Middle East, in the Balkans, in Russia—as the real reasons for the hatred. The implication is that if we changed those policies that enrage our enemy, we would be less susceptible to attack.

This is appeasement, pure and simple. It won't work, because to our enemies the regional conflicts and issues Fallows describes are mere steppingstones on the way to their true objective, which is the establishment of Islam throughout the world. Fallows, like many others, refuses to take Osama bin Laden at his word, and that is dangerous indeed. To quote the historian Bernard Lewis in What Went Wrong?:

For Osama bin Laden and those who share in his views—and they are many—the object of the struggle is the elimination of intrusive Western power and corrupting Western influence from all the lands of Islam, and the restoration of Islamic authenticity and authority in these lands. When this has been accomplished, the stage will be set for the final struggle to bring God's message to all mankind in all the world. [emphasis added]

The unpleasant reality is that no change in our policies in the face of Islamic terror would change the level of danger and terror we face. Only when our enemies understand that attacking us will result in the destruction of their entire civilization and its ideals will we have secured our right to live freely and safely.

David Beidler
Woodstock, N.Y.

James Fallows says the United States left the job of closing the Afghan-Pakistani border to the Pakistanis, a decision that allowed unknown numbers of al-Qaeda and Taliban members to escape.

An aspect of the story I've never seen covered was revealed to me at Fort Benning one month before the invasion of Iraq, during interviews I conducted for a documentary that was later distributed by Public Radio International. According to an infantry captain who fought in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan (and who does not want his name used), our forces were deliberately deployed in a way that allowed the enemy an escape route. An anaconda, he explained, encircles its prey, and there was enough troop strength at or near the site to accomplish this. To his bafflement and dismay, however, troops (including his company) were deployed on only three sides of the operation, leaving an opening in the mountainous terrain leading directly to the Pakistani border. A fourth company was never sent into battle. This man had witnessed much carnage and put his own and his men's lives on the line to make the operation succeed. When I spoke with him, he was still demoralized by what he had observed. When I asked why he thought his superiors had, as it were, defeated their own battle plan, he said he believed it was to minimize American casualties; they assumed that al-Qaeda and the Taliban would fight to the death if totally surrounded, and that the resulting loss of life on our side might have compromised public support for the war.

Helen Borten
New York, N.Y.

James Fallows replies:
My point about Afghanistan was that its reconstruction would have been faster, cheaper, and far more successful if the United States had not prematurely diverted money, manpower, and intense governmental attention to Iraq. This argument was based on the views of, among others, James Dobbins—the Bush administration's special envoy to Afghanistan—and Larry Goodson, of the Army War College, who has been an adviser to CENTCOM. The recent election in Afghanistan was a significant step forward. The many challenges that still imperil the country, notably the upsurge in its opium industry, would have been easier to contain two years ago.

Josh Baker's views regarding al-Qaeda reflect those conveyed by the "Wanted" poster and the deck of cards featuring Iraqi regime leaders—views that President Bush and other administration officials have often expressed. That is: with each known terrorist leader the United States captures, America comes that much closer to safety from terrorist attacks.

It is true that al-Qaeda's operations
have been hampered by the loss of its sanctuaries and training camps in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda is now a different organization—more widely dispersed, less centrally controlled, and by all available measures more successful in attracting new members than it was before the war in Iraq. It is not necessarily a less dangerous organization than before. As for the spread of democracy in the Middle East, we'll see how events unfold.

David Beidler very clearly expresses a view of terrorism similar to the one that has guided the administration. The purpose of my article, again, was to explain why many people at the professional level of the military and intelligence agencies flatly disagree with this logic. The latest illustration (mentioned in this issue in "Success Without Victory") is the position of the Pentagon's own Defense Science Board, which says that America's anti-terror effort has only increased sources of future terrorist attacks.

The hypothesis Helen Borten reports is one of several explanations for why the al-Qaeda leadership escaped during Operation Anaconda. It is still too early to know which explanation is correct.

A Soldier's Perspective

I share James Fallows's gratitude for Stan Coerr's letter to the editor (November Atlantic), and honor his service. Like Major Coerr, I am frustrated by the spectacle of presumably responsible adults going to great lengths to obfuscate the relatively straightforward issue of why we went to war in Iraq.

We (the United Nations and, by extension, the United States) went to war in 1991 because Baathist Iraq had capped decades of spectacular misrule and abuse of sovereignty by invading and annexing a recognized and independent state, Kuwait.

That war, though passing through various levels of cease-fire, continued until the fall of Baghdad. Long before the invasion it had cost an enormous amount of money and more than a few American lives, and had brought intolerable suffering to the Iraqi people while strengthening the dictator's hand and enriching his collaborators. During this period Saddam Hussein's government was in material breach of many UN Security Council resolutions and terms of the cease-fire, as noted by everyone who has looked at the subject—from Kofi Annan and Hans Blix to Lord Goldsmith and every member of the Security Council. Gallup polling done twice a year since 1991 has always shown a majority of Americans favoring "the removal of Saddam Hussein, by force if necessary." This majority has at times approached three to one, and has averaged just under two to one. Currently, after Americans have been told for two years that the reasons we went to war were in fact WMD stockpiles and links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and that we were lied to, opinion is closer to fifty-fifty.

This question of "why the liberation?" should not be confused with the ones concerning the grievous errors that have put the victory hard won by heroes like Major Coerr in jeopardy. Fallows deserves great credit for his excellent and timely analysis of both the potential problems ("The Fifty-first State?," November 2002 Atlantic) and the process by which many of them were realized ("Blind Into Baghdad," January/February 2004 Atlantic). Additional insight has been provided brilliantly in these pages by Robert Kaplan and William Lange-wiesche, keeping alive the legacies of Ernie Pyle and Michael Kelly, whose fates I pray they avoid. "Bush's Lost Year," however, is confused about the nature of the decision to liberate Iraq.

Full of unprovable assertions about the effect of the liberation on will-o'-the-wisps such as "world opinion" and terrorist "recruiting," it compounds the common error of misstating our goal in Afghanistan. We went there for one reason: to remove the platform of a nation-state from al-Qaeda, killing or capturing as many of those terrorists and their sponsors as we could in the process. This goal was swiftly and skillfully achieved. Bringing one of the poorest nations on earth up to the standards of a European state was never part of the deal, although the recent elections offer an inspiring vision of what may eventually be achievable there. Suggestions that we would have done better to replicate the Soviet strategy of sending armored columns banging around the Hindu Kush are risible; although such action would almost certainly not have resulted in the capture of Osama bin Laden, it might well have replicated the Soviet disaster in some regards, notably casualties. In contrast, Saddam's Iraq was one of the few places where the units designed to fight the Red Army in Europe could be usefully deployed against an enemy force. God forbid someone decides to take seriously the implication that perhaps they should have been used to invade Iran or North Korea.

Most Americans have long subscribed to the ideas that if dragged into war by an aggressive, genocidal dictatorship, we should try to win; that when we enter into a legally binding agreement with an enemy nation, we should insist that failure to adhere to the terms carry serious consequences; and that states that violate the international norms of conduct in such a way as to pose grave risks to our vital strategic and economic interests, and those of our allies, should be dealt with in a serious and effective way. On the facts, Baathist Iraq represented the world's clearest case of a rogue state that used its privileges of statehood to advance its dictator's interests in ways that defied and endangered the international state system. Shoring up that state system, the erosion of which is the principal issue in the ongoing war on terror, required an effective response; no rule works without enforcement. Avoiding this responsibility may be okay in an environment in which the UN is only a place to make charitable contributions and have endless meetings, but failed and failing states are the front in this new war. The UN and its principal sponsors, including the United States and Britain, have worked to proliferate states promiscuously since its founding. Now we must behave like responsible adults and guide the system toward maturity. It really is our generation's rendezvous with destiny.

Bob Powell
Gdynia, Poland

Stan Coerr's letter is poignant and compelling, and it is correct and accurate, but not fully correct or accurate. As a Marine rifleman with at least as much hands-on experience as Coerr, I'd like to say that all his sincerity and sacrifices do not alter the essence of what's going on in Iraq, any more than the sincerity and sacrifices of those of us who fought in Vietnam alter what that war was all about (Indochinese natural resources).

What we on the ground fight and fought for is and was indeed noble, but what our government was doing in 'Nam and is doing in Iraq is far from noble. In 'Nam we knew we were fighting a ruthless, totalitarian invading regime. What we did not realize until much later is that we were also propping up a corrupt regime our leaders had installed. We pulled out in 1973, and the corrupt South fell in 1975. In Iraq we toppled (quite a while ago, incidentally) an insane dictator our government had installed or propped up, but then we stayed and are still staying to install yet another bozo.

We in 'Nam fought, bled, and died for noble reasons, but the reasons we were sent there weren't noble at all. The bitterness of that pill is one Coerr has yet to sense.

Tex Wood
Stuart, Va.

I appreciated Major Coerr's letter, but a soldier's or even a field officer's point of view in a war, while painfully human, may have absolutely nothing to do with the reality of the bigger picture. His overused analogy about the abusive husband would be valid if the neighbors (the other Middle Eastern countries) took it upon themselves to do the necessary vigilantism. However, the American household, the Bush estate, was way on the other side of town, and if it was truly disturbed by what was going on in a less savory neighborhood, it should have taken the matter up with the local police (the United Nations). If the cops declined to intervene, perhaps they had good reason.

Clement Salvadori
Atascadero, Calif.

Editors' note:
We've received a number of letters reacting to Major Coerr's commentary, some questioning his identity, and still others noting that his remarks have been circulating on the Internet since the early months of 2003. Had we known the history of Major Coerr's letter we would not have published it. But Major Coerr is a real person, and his views are worthy of attention.

The Green Zone

I read the excellent cover story by William Langewiesche ("Welcome to the Green Zone," November Atlantic) with a sense of growing dread, the type of emotion that comes from having your worst suspicions confirmed. For many of us in international development, the administration's reconstruction policy in Iraq has been at best opaque. This has been particularly troubling for those of us who contributed resources to the State Department's postwar planning process. We did so despite our concerns about the administration's prior attacks on "nation-building," and at least in the beginning many of us were doggedly optimistic, hoping that an appreciation for the complexity of winning the peace had finally arrived. Gradually we saw signs that our nation's years of development experience were being not simply discounted but systematically excluded altogether. The foolish march away from expertise is perhaps most poignantly symbolized by the ultimate marginalization of the State Department in the whole process.

With a few exceptions, such as Fern Holland, a strong conservative bent characterized the recruiting of those charged with reconstructing civil institutions. Relatively few of the seasoned veterans from the Balkans, East Timor, or Sierra Leone were consulted or even approached. Instead the administration focused on those who conformed to its political designs. Bright, well-educated conservatives signed up in surprising numbers for exactly the mission they had so recently reviled: nation-building.

Last spring at a conference at the University of Georgia one seasoned veteran, General Shinseki, calmly reaffirmed his position on the relationship between security and winning the peace, and he did so without a hint of vindictiveness. If anything, his speech conveyed to those of us there a sense of underlying sorrow for the worsening plight of his fellow men and women in uniform. As a veteran of more-successful post-conflict efforts, he knows very well the difference between lessons identified and lessons learned, and this distinction could not be more important for the successful reconstruction of a troubled and war-torn place like Iraq.

Scott Carlson
Washington, D.C.

"Welcome to the Green Zone" brought back great memories of my six months working in the Republican Palace in Baghdad. Although I can attest to much of what William Langewiesche reports, his characterization of the CPA and its people occasionally misses the mark. The CPA Office of General Counsel did indeed do yeoman's work nipping illegal, unethical, or just unwise policy in the bud. Also, as he says, the lack of internal news was frustrating (What were those four loud explosions yesterday?). On the other hand, Langewiesche will be happy to learn that after Fern Holland's murder, when some folks curtailed trips outside the Green Zone, many advisers continued their trips, though in a more underground fashion—risking not only injury but official sanction. And he understates the coalition nature of the CPA: several of our coalition partners sent their "first team" players.

In the end the CPA was a fascinating cross section of population: teenage soldiers, fresh-scrubbed twentysomethings just out of college, mid-career people in our thirties and forties, and quite a few folks working toward their third retirement (read sixties and seventies).

Langewiesche has the start of a very good book, which I hope he writes.

Tedd Ogren
Burke, Va.

I was very impressed with the depth and detail of "Welcome to the Green Zone," especially William Langewiesche's stories of the citizens, political players, and soldiers who make up the population of this "bubble" in central Baghdad. I was interested to read, too, about the U.S. Coast Guard officer who arrived in Iraq to help set up transportation infrastructure, and I wanted to answer Langewiesche's query in the last paragraph about the U.S. Coast Guard's official song.

According to the eighth edition of The Coast Guardsman's Manual, "Semper Paratus" (meaning "always ready") was written and composed by Captain Francis Van Boskerck over a five-year period (1922—1927), with the help of two U.S. Public Health officers, Alf Nannestad and Joseph Fournier. Captain Van Boskerck was an officer in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, a precursor to the modern Coast Guard, and Semper paratus had become the Coast Guard's motto circa 1910, when it first appeared on the Coast Guard flag. Today the song continues to be performed at many Coast Guard functions, and "semper p" is frequently used to denote someone in the Guard who is enthusiastic, responsible, and energetic.

Matthew Solak
U.S. Coast Guard Reserve
New London, Conn.

More Homework

Jonathan Rauch ("Now, for Tonight's Assignment … ," November Atlantic) is right to suggest that one small solution to the education crisis is to assign students more homework. When any school system makes a serious homework commitment to its students, it is saying that it cares enough about learning and skill acquisition to set the bar high both in and outside the classroom; that it believes students benefit from rigorous, independent work outside the classroom; and that it has the resources to provide teachers with a manageable student load and time during the day to grade homework.

However, this homework solution works only in school systems and communities that have the resources to help students complete their homework successfully. For example, in a heterogeneous high school class where half the students have non-English-speaking parents, many students will probably not be able to turn to an adult at home when they are stumped on a literary essay or a calculus problem. The homework assignment in these cases can become a roadblock to further success rather than a road to higher achievement.

S. E. Greenwood
Chicago, Ill.

I suggest that Jonathan Rauch's idea for students to spend more time doing homework could be accomplished nicely through the simple addition of reading at home. Reading becomes habitual, and the habit of reading correlates better with lifelong learning than does even the most academic of pursuits, and without the baggage of being "homework."

Scott Conyers
Aurora, Ore.

Jonathan Rauch is correct that laziness is the reason American students are not going to be given more homework. The lazy ones, however, are the parents, not the students. More homework would put more of a burden on parents to devote time to, to oversee, and perhaps even to participate in their children's education.

James L. Stroud
Tucson, Ariz.

Jonathan Rauch writes, "You may … not be shocked to learn that, for the most part, American students don't do much homework." The other side of the coin is that in some cases teachers don't assign much homework. All teachers know that in order to teach effectively they have to assign homework, and collect and grade it. This is a lot of work. Teachers quickly discover that they get paid the same whether they do this extra work or not. Furthermore, students are happier, parents are relieved, and the school administration is appreciative if little or no homework is assigned. Teachers get awards and promotions based on popularity contests called teaching evaluations. Students choose courses based on which teacher has a reputation for not making students work very hard. Many students consider it a "win" if they can get a degree without having to learn very much, and teachers "win" by getting promotions and tenure while doing the minimum. Society loses.

William Haloupek
Mount Laurel, N.J.

Jonathan Rauch believes that if schools simply add more homework to the educational program of all but the youngest students, those students will learn more. But the author himself notes that a significant majority of U.S. secondary school students are doing the bare minimum to get by, so the challenge is not assigning students more work but actually getting them to do it. The less intrinsically motivated the students, the greater the external effort required to make sure that they actually spend their time on task in meaningful activities that increase their learning.

The notion that more homework, especially with this unmotivated population, is a virtually costless fix to the student-achievement problem is remarkably naive. A teacher's assigning work is certainly no guarantee that students will actually complete it. In order to assure that the work is done, teachers must thoughtfully review and evaluate it. This, Rauch would have us forget, takes time, and that comes at a cost. Given that most teachers are paid salaries based primarily on actual classroom hours, and that the few paid hours beyond instruction time are already crowded with preparation, administrative tasks, and grading, they have little reason to implement a practice that will force them to give up more leisure hours at a wage of $0. Ask any first-year teacher what happens when one assigns homework but doesn't evaluate it; it takes little time for students to respond to subsequent assignments with indifference. And the more demanding and "cheat-proof" the assignments, the greater the time required to evaluate the work.

Elisabeth Hensley
Berkeley, Calif.

Jonathan Rauch admirably cuts through much cant to identify student laziness as an impediment to improving education. When I switched careers to become a high school teacher, five years ago, one of the many surprises was that students routinely blew off homework assignments. On average, 50 to 60 percent simply didn't do the work, and this remained consistent regardless of my efforts to encourage or cajole them. I agree with Rauch that public acknowledgment of this phenomenon is necessary to remedy the situation. In addition, other steps might help:

1) Reduce class size. In my district, Prince George's County, Maryland, many high school teachers have 170 to 200 students each. Carefully grading that much homework (particularly written assignments) is onerous, and downright impossible without putting in long hours of unpaid overtime.

2) Eliminate staggered schedules, in which students take certain subjects in eighty- or ninety-minute classes every second day. Engaging teenagers for these time blocks is extremely difficult, and teachers are strongly tempted to have students do homework (or what amounts to homework) in class. This pattern begins in middle school, so by high school students are accustomed to having little if any homework. The staggered schedule has no demonstrated pedagogic value; it is simply a way to cram in more students per teacher.

3) Restrict part-time employment. Students who are lazy about doing homework can be remarkably energetic at part-time jobs, where they earn the spending money so vital to acquiring the latest sneakers or CD player. Exhausted kids do little homework.

I've no illusions that Rauch's reasonable recommendations will be implemented, much less my own. In each instance reform would require acknowledgment of unpleasant realities—not only that many kids are lazy but that their parents and representatives are as well.

Jonathan F. Keiler
Bowie, Md.

Embedded Reporter

Robert D. Kaplan's "The Media and the Military" (November Atlantic) illuminates the increasing gap between "cosmopolitan" American elites and the military by saying that "the blue-collar element that once kept print journalism honest has been gone for some time," and cites the embedding of reporters in military units as a way to reconnect.

Whereas American elites once contributed mightily to military service, if only for brief stints during times of need, their absence today is glaring. Evidence that the military is evolving into an increasingly homogeneous socio-economic class is widely known, but more important than who is serving in today's military may be who is not. The sons of Prescott Bush and Joseph Kennedy fought bravely in combat; it is almost impossible to imagine the grandsons of that old American class doing the same.

One in every twenty artillery officers at the end of World War I was a Yale graduate, but only twelve Yale graduates entered service from 1986 to 2002. In 1939, 350 Princeton students enrolled in ROTC, but only seven enrolled in 2001. Granted, a world war was looming in 1939, but in 2001 classes were larger and women were also eligible. American elites seem to have gone from running battlefields as soldiers to covering them as reporters.

The change came during the 1960s and Vietnam. As David Halberstam (a Harvard graduate who won a Pulitzer for his Vietnam coverage) points out, "almost as many people from Harvard won Pulitzer prizes in Vietnam as died there." As David Brooks writes in Bobos in Paradise, on the New York Times weddings page—the modern barometer of elite status—mentions of military academies have declined considerably since the 1950s.

However, elites shouldn't take all the blame; military recruiters seek those recruits who are likely to serve full careers and reject those who aren't, as the 9/11 Commission head John Lehman and the military sociologist and Northwestern professor Charles Moskos have asserted. Because this strategy means recruiting men and women with ostensibly fewer job prospects, it has led to Kaplan's "working-class" military. (The service is also homogeneous in many other ways, including politically; it increasingly identifies itself with the Republican Party, as Kaplan often mentions.) Although the Air Force is attempting to correct this problem with shorter enlistment times, to attract those elites who wish to serve but understandably don't want to make the military a career, the military as a whole still has a way to go.

Reid Mitenbuler
Washington, D.C.

Although Robert Kaplan's essay is well written, and some of his notions are accurate, he is wrong that the media have a problem understanding, appreciating, and writing about the military's noncommissioned-officer corps because of class differences.

Kaplan makes a number of valid points about the class-and-values divide between many in the military and those outside it, including politicians and journalists. But he lacks a fundamental understanding of the attitudes and beliefs of most journalists who cover the military full-time.

For the past decade I have covered the U.S. military in the South and in Washington, D.C. During that time the two most enjoyable experiences I've had on the beat were the long periods I spent with Staff Sergeant Julio Soto, an Army recruiter, and with a group of drill sergeants at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

The Army drill sergeants, who work as many as a hundred hours a week in an extraordinarily difficult job, opened a new window onto the sacrifices and dedication of those who serve in our military today. I would not trade those two assignments for all the interviews I've since conducted with top Pentagon generals and others who Kaplan might think represent higher social strata than the enlisted military.

Many of my friends and colleagues who cover the beat for The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications feel the same way. Any opportunity to be with the troops, to talk to them and write about who they are and what they do, is valued highly. Many of the best stories produced during recent fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq were written, with great humanity, about the enlisted soldiers and noncommissioned officers from whom Kaplan believes the media are estranged.

Dave Moniz
USA Today
Alexandria, Va.

Robert D. Kaplan replies:
Dave Moniz is correct. As I noted in the article, military correspondents for the major media are in a class by themselves.

Wodehouse and the Fascists

Christopher Hitchens writes, "It's quite impossible that the man who had invented Sir Roderick Spode in 1938 was prey to any covert sympathy for fascism" ("The Honorable Schoolboy," November Atlantic). Yet Michael Straight wrote in his autobiography, After Long Silence,

We rented an elegant house in Mayfair [in 1932] from the writer P. G. Wodehouse. As a parting gesture, he gave a dinner in our honor to which he invited his glamorous friends. He raised his glass to toast us, and when the ladies had departed, voiced his conviction that Hitler and Mussolini were strong leaders who deserved our wholehearted support.

Now, it is possible that Straight was deviously maligning Wodehouse. But it is also possible that Wodehouse did for a time own an admiration for Hitler and Mussolini that faded as he saw their true colors, just as the enthusiasm for communism among many fellow travelers faded in the 1930s with the advent of Stalin's purges and the Nazi-Soviet pact.

Tony Percy
Southport, N.C.

Christopher Hitchens replies:
I had the uncertain honor of interviewing Michael Straight on the publication of
After Long Silence, and now of course wish that I had asked him about Wodehouse. At the time, though, I had to chop my way through such a thicket of self-serving deceptions and evasions, on what seemed to be weightier matters, that I missed the opportunity.

Since Hitler was not "a leader" in 1932, and was not widely expected to become one, I find I can't believe in a Wodehouse who advocated the replacement of Bruning or Hindenburg, or who would have known how to do so. A lot of tripe, however, was talked about the charm and effectiveness of Mussolini in those days. Tough guys like Churchill fell for him, as did humanist saps like George Bernard Shaw. It's not impossible that Wodehouse made some fatuous remark about the trains' running on time: if so, he seems to have profited from the fatuity by 1938, the year he lampooned Spode and the Black Shorts.

Advice & Consent

As a member of Harold See's kitchen cabinet in his 1996 campaign for a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court, I worked with Karl Rove. Joshua Green ("Karl Rove in a Corner," November Atlantic) says Rove secretly produced and distributed flyers attacking See and his family in order to create a backlash against See's opponent. Until Green's article appeared I had never heard of any such flyers. I have spoken with others involved in the leadership of the campaign, and they hadn't either. The campaign was widely covered, and books have been written about Rove, but no mention of these alleged flyers has ever previously appeared in print.

See's opponent ran television attack ads that were so ugly they gained national media attention. A political-science professor at Auburn University was reported to have said that the campaign against See was "the most disgusting campaign run by anyone seeking statewide judicial office in the state's history." That campaign is what created a backlash. The Montgomery Advertiser said, "See's victory in that race was one of the most satisfying repudiations of intentionally misleading advertising in history." Ironically, when faced with this assault Rove repeatedly counseled the See campaign to stick to legitimate issues.

Larry Childs
Birmingham, Ala.

Joshua Green replies:
I have no reason to doubt Larry Childs's recollections, nor would I dispute his assessment of the campaign against Harold See as extraordinarily negative; it was. In regard to his comment that he and others were not aware of all that went on in the See campaign, I trust they're now better informed.

I strongly take issue with a college admissions officer's categorization of me as a "saleswoman" who provides a frivolous service ("unnecessary orthodontia") to students applying to college ("Independent Counsel," by Nicholas Confessore, October Atlantic). Getting into college is a competitive process, and an independent counselor helps high school students choose courses and activities, improve their relationships with their teachers and peers, maintain a positive attitude even in the face of failure or setbacks, create ways to make an impact in their high school community, find the joy in scholarship, plan for standardized testing, research the best college matches, plan college visits, brainstorm and edit college essays, and prepare for college interviews. As Nicholas Confessore points out, "soft" measures are the most important criteria in differentiating an applicant and making the final grade before admissions directors. And they are precisely the parts of the application on which college consultants can have the most influence.

Katherine Cohen
Founder, IvyWise
New York, N.Y.

Editors' note:
Tapes aired by the 9/11 Commission show that Betty Ong, an attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, spoke calmly to a ground supervisor, not in the terrified tones reported in the initial newspaper account and repeated in William Langewiesche's "The Rush to Recover" (September 2002 Atlantic), based on the only public information available at the time.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Where the Wildest Things Are

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where the Wild Things Go

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Adults Need Playtime Too

When was the last time you played your favorite childhood game?

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In