Letters to the editor

The Accuser

After the success of the Iraqi elections, I'm afraid that William Langewiesche's tendentious piece "The Accuser" (March Atlantic) reads rather badly. The reporting on Hania Mufti and her tireless work in documenting the horrors of Saddam Hussein's regime is very interesting, and the revelation of the double standard of the "human-rights" agency is extraordinary: Yes, document the atrocities, but no, don't accept that invading Iraq will actually stop them, when nothing else can; and yes, insist on trying Saddam, but in that oh-so-efficient court of The Hague (which has had such notable success in nailing Milosevic, after all) and not, heaven forbid, in an Iraqi national court, when everyone knows the Iraqis are stupid and vengeful, like all Arabs! But the whole carping tone of Langewiesche's piece—with, for example, scare quotes around the word "liberated"—made me see red. Either you are with the much maligned, much oppressed, much patronized Iraqi people or you aren't. They were liberated indeed, from the regime of a monster. Saddam's reign of terror is ended forever, and his sons will never be able to take over. Whatever one may think of the mistakes of the Bush administration in Iraq, that simple fact will never change.

What's more, the Iraqis are showing, with extraordinary dignity and fortitude, just what they are capable of. I think the trials will continue to show that. Or does Langewiesche, like so many well-meaning people, think only Westerners are capable of a true sense of justice?

Sophie Masson
Invergowrie, Australia

In "The Accuser," William Langewiesche quotes a report on Iraqi prisoners who were deliberately bled to death: "The amount of haemoglobin remains very low (2—4 ml per 100 mm)." This is an obvious error in translation, on a level with referring to a number of eggs in units of watts per inch. Earlier in the same article herefers to thallium as a lethal powder. Thallium is a metal, and cannot be made available in powdered form because of its reactivity with air. Powdered compounds of thallium have been used as poisons. But they areas distinct from thallium as sodium metal (also reactive with air and thus not available in powder form) is from common table salt.

Marshall E. Deutsch
Sudbury, Mass.


I am the subject of April's twenty-three-page cover story, "Host," by David Foster Wallace.

Ifelt it was both very interesting and, for the most part, quite truthful. But the reporting included several minor inaccuracies, and a few important misimpressions were created in the telling of the story.

My biggest complaint, however, is that despite my pleas that it do so, The Atlantic chose not to update readers on what happened in the eight months after Wallace stopped shadowing my radio show: the ratings skyrocketed in the spring and fall of 2004, and thanks to this success my showwas moved up to the 7:00 P.M. time slot, replacing the local legend Phil Hendrie.I have also completed a book called The Death of Free Speech, which will be in bookstores in July of this year.

Choosing not to update the reader on what occurred in the extremely long period between research and publication (especially in an age when day-old news is considered ancient) was much like telling the story of World War II and stopping after Pearl Harbor.

But as disappointed as I was that Atlantic readers would not know how the story is currently turning out, I was even more disappointed by Wallace's decision to decline an invitation to appear on my show. After being given a month's worth of free access to my show and my life, I thought Wallace would have the decency to answer a few simple questions about his writing. He apparently lacks the courage to do so.

John Ziegler
KFI Radio Los Angeles
Burbank, Calif.

I found the format of the article "Host" too cute by half and extremely annoying. Perhaps it was an experiment worth conducting; I commend you for your willingness to innovate. But please never repeat it!

David Cade
Montgomery, Ala.

I was delighted to read "Host." Not only was the content wonderfully tragicomic and well written, but the colored highlights offered a nice creative and practical effect.

Stephen Cloughley
Yardley, Pa.

Editors' Note:
A passage in "Host" incorrectly implied that the daily installments of Dr. Laura Schlessinger's radio program airing on KFI in Los Angeles are pre-recorded rather than broadcast live. Although a taped version of the daily broadcast airs in some markets, The Dr. Laura Program is carried live by KFI.

The whole aim of David Foster Wallace's article was to provide a deep description of life at a radio station in a narrow moment in time. Wallace therefore did not describe subsequent events affecting any of the people presented in this cross section.

Wallace has turned down a dozen requests to do radio interviews. He works in print.

Wilson and Bush

David M. Kennedy ("What 'W' Owes to 'WW,'" March Atlantic) is right on target in pointing out the intellectual debt President Bush owes to President Woodrow Wilson. Unfortunately, he did not pursue the differences between the two.

Wilson sought to accomplish global organization through other than military means. The proposed League of Nations, whatever its subsequent inadequacies, was built on the idea that U.S. power had to meet that of other nations in an international political concert. The Bush administration's "my way or the highway" approach violates the principles that Wilson was promulgating.

The differences between Wilson and Bush are startling. Rather than undertake the difficult and tedious work of building coalitions, Bush has demonstrated, ever since the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, a new form of unilateralism and isolationism that has led the United States into an impasse in international political life.

William H. Friedland
Isebill V. Gruhn
Professors Emeritus
University of California at Santa Cruz

David Kennedy omits reference to Woodrow Wilson's involvement in the American military interventions in Nicaragua (1912, initiated by Wilson's predecessor, William Howard Taft), Haiti (1915), and the Dominican Republic (1916), which combined elements of realpolitik and what FDR's Latin America expert, Sumner Welles, described as "the role of the evangel … to reform … the conditions of life and government of the … sovereign republics of the American hemisphere."

Kennedy effectively traces the ideological continuity instilled in American foreign policy by the idea that "these values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society." But the dubiousness of that credo is underscored by the aftermath of those three Caribbean interventions, in which Wilson played such a prominent role:

  • In 1936, three years after the Marines departed from Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza García took control of the country, initiating a dictatorial dynasty that would last forty-three years. Its collapse, in 1979, led to another U.S. military intervention, through aid to the contras in the 1980s.
  • The Marines left Haiti in 1934. Haitian politics soon returned to the authoritarianism, exploitation, and corruption that had characterized most Haitian governments since the country won its independence, in 1804. That continuity was symbolized by the Duvalier dynasty, which abused the country from 1957 to 1986. The American military returned in 1994, to reinstall President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and again in 2004, to escort Aristide out and help try to make order out of chaos.
  • The democratic institutions installed by the United States in the Dominican Republic started to unravel soon after the Marines left, in 1924. In 1930 Rafael Leonidas Trujillo assumed dictatorial powers; he ruled until another U.S. military intervention, in 1965.
  • These three cases demonstrate how good intentions, reinforced by money and the military, can be frustrated by cultures that are not congenial to democratic institutions. The idea that "these values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society" ignores not only the three cases cited but also the more general problems of democratization in the Islamic world, Africa, and Latin America. The credo also ignores the wisdom of Alexis de Tocqueville: "I am convinced that the luckiest of geographic circumstances and the best of laws cannot maintain a constitution in despite of mores, whereas the latter can turn even the most unfavorable circumstances and the worst laws to advantage. The importance of mores is a universal trust to which study and experience continually bring us back."

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

    CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

    How a workout becomes a social identity

    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


    CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

    How a workout becomes a social identity


    Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

    The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.


    A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

    A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?


    In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

    The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.


    What Is a Sandwich?

    We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.


    Let's Talk About Not Smoking

    Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.


    More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

    Just In