Letters to the editor


Editors' Note:
An article in the May 2005 issue of The Atlantic"The Coming Death Shortage," by Charles Mann—made reference to a case involving E. Pierce Marshall and the estate of his father, J. Howard Marshall II. The references to the case were intended to make an illustrative point for the remainder of the article, and not intended to cast Mr. Marshall in an unflattering light. The article was written before the legal process referenced in the article was complete, and it cited the decision and commentary of one judge in one aspect of the case. Because it did not take note of subsequent developments, which occurred prior to publication, and because it did not take note of the legal history leading up to the judge's comments, the article left a wrong impression of the outcome and of Mr. Marshall, and we apologize for the omissions.

By way of background for interested readers, here is a fuller account of the case. In March of 2001, after six months of trial and testimony from forty witnesses, a jury in the Texas Probate Court found that there was no evidence to support the existence of any oral promise by J. Howard Marshall II to provide Anna Nicole Smith with any money from his estate after his death. With the exception of Ms. Smith (who was threatened with perjury charges for lying under oath), no witness has come forward in any court to support her claim. The jury also found that there was no wrongdoing of any kind on the part of E. Pierce Marshall or any other person connected with the Marshall estate with respect to that estate or to Anna Nicole Smith. It dismissed accusations of "attempting to seize control of assets," of "undue influence," and of "document destruction." It should be noted that J. Howard Marshall II had made no reference to Ms. Smith of any kind in any of his wills, trusts, or other estate-planning documents. These documents have been upheld as valid and binding on all parties by both the Texas Probate jury and the United States courts. The Harris County Probate Court is the only court ever to conduct a trial on the issues. The decision and commentary by the judge cited in Mr. Mann's article, which followed the Texas jury verdict by a year, were made by that judge not in the context of a jury trial but on a rehearing from a decision issued by a bankruptcy court in California. That judge's ruling and the bankruptcy-court decision were made moot when they were stayed and then overturned by the U.S. Appellate Court for the Ninth Circuit in December of 2004.

Needless to say, neither Mr. Mann nor The Atlantic Monthly has any personal knowledge of, nor have they seen any evidence that, E. Pierce Marshall was "infuriated" by his father's gifts to an (alleged) "mistress, an exotic dancer, who then died in a bizarre face-lift accident." J. Howard Marshall II (not E. Pierce Marshall) filed suit for the return of some items and prevailed in the matter. There is no evidence that E. Pierce Marshall ever regarded his father's "money … as rightfully his" during J. Howard Marshall II's life. Those wanting to know more about this case can find the jury's verdict in the Texas Probate Court trial and also the opinion of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals at http://www.warejackson.com/, in the News section of that Web site.


Robert D. Kaplan's cover story "How We Would Fight China" (June Atlantic) expends thousands of words detailing the importance of naval bases and submarines, but fails to note the obvious—that both the United States and China maintain formidable nuclear arsenals. Perhaps Kaplan is confident that a war between the two countries would never escalate into nuclear war. But he should have provided some reasoning to back up this implicit claim. Otherwise it is difficult to take seriously the sea skirmishes anticipated by the article.

Paul Wachter
New York, N.Y.

Robert Kaplan makes some strong assumptions about Chinese foreign-policy goals, arguing that a "rising China" will increasingly be a "challenge" and a "threat." It's true that the Chinese armed forces, reformed and re-equipped, will be increasingly capable of blue-water naval operations in the decades ahead. But what does this mean at the strategic level? What are the Chinese after, and what implications does that have for any future competition with the United States? Is Kaplan correct to assume that PACOM, the U.S. Pacific Command, "will soon be a household name"?

China's expansionist agenda is almost certainly limited to reunification with Taiwan and, perhaps, possession of the Spratly Islands. As its military power grows, so does its leverage in these policy areas. This certainly presents the potential for military conflict with the United States, but the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait is unlikely to shift decisively in the PRC's favor anytime soon. Does this make for a "new Cold War," as Kaplan posits? Or does it simply continue a delicate political duet that has been going on for more than half a century?

Clearly, a more affluent China aspires to greater commercial influence in Asia—but what's wrong with that? Is Kaplan positing a showdown over limited global resources, not least oil and steel? If so, he doesn't say so explicitly, and this would be a very Malthusian interpretation of globalization in any case. Perhaps the only solution for the United States in that scenario would be to forcibly reduce Chinese consumption through blockade. More realistically, America's economic prosperity depends on the ability to participate in China's rapidly expanding economy, and to compete in East Asian markets for a share of the expanding commercial pie.

Kaplan's analogy between PACOM and NATO is strained. He argues that NATO was able to neutralize the Soviet Union by drawing it into the alliance system—an interesting reading of the end of the Cold War. Were the Soviets spent into submission by President Ronald Reagan's determination to rejuvenate the American military, or did they collapse under the weight of a central planning system ill equipped to cope with trends in Western capitalism?

The fundamental driver of Chinese foreign policy is not rapacious expansionism or Bismarckian realpolitik. Securing commercial access is undoubtedly important, but it is likely to remain in the sphere of soft power for the foreseeable future. Instead China's foreign policy can best be seen as an extension of its domestic politics, specifically in the ambition of the Communist Party to retain its pre-eminence despite the ongoing and wholesale transformation of Chinese society.

Kenneth Payne
London, England

I could not agree more with Robert Kaplan's point regarding China's acquisition of naval power and technology, especially submarine technology. However, I must take issue with the old saw that submarines are "the wave of the future," replacing the aircraft carrier. The submarine is the most stealthy vehicle ever created, conferring the nearest thing to perfect invisibility. But this stealth is very expensive; submarines, especially nuclear submarines, are extremely difficult to build and operate safely. Surface ships can do anything better and cheaper than nuclear submarines—except kill ships, including other submarines. Thus in naval warfare today submarines play the role of "fighter planes," attacking and defeating the enemy submarine force and clearing the way for the carriers—which act as the "bombers," projecting power against the enemy's land forces and installations.

One sign of how important carriers continue to be is that China has acquired four incomplete or worn-out carriers—the Russian Varyag, Kiev, and Minsk, and the Australian Melbourne—apparently just for study. None seems to have any remaining operational capacity, although the Chinese have tried flying operations off the stationary Melbourne. But building and operating carriers is as demanding and complex as building nuclear submarines; plainly, the Chinese realize their vital importance and want them badly.

Robert P. Largess
Boston, Mass.

Robert Kaplan's article on China represents the very best in journalism on strategic planning and management. The Atlantic deserves all credit for publishing it.

Jacques Richardson
Authon la Plaine, France

R obert Kaplan says that the U.S. Navy has twenty-four aircraft carriers. That's a dozen more than we actually have.

Kaplan minimizes the military contributions of allies who, he alleges, have "done little more than patrol and move into areas already pacified by U.S. soldiers and Marines." Even accepting the statement at face value, this is not an insignificant contribution. We could use a lot more such help policing Iraq.

Kaplan refers to the "successful forcing down of a U.S. Navy EP-3E" as a demonstration of Chinese power. Actually, it's not hard to force down an unarmed plane.

Kaplan suggests that the Chinese may be "expert in manipulating the psychology of a democratic electorate." Does he have examples of successful manipulation? (They were supremely unsuccessful in influencing the 1996 elections by firing a missile over Taiwan. That boosted the pro-independence candidate. They were also abysmally ineffective in manipulating U.S. opinion over the EP-3E incident.)

Kaplan asserts that if the Chinese chose to use their ships to bump our ships during Freedom of Navigation exercises, the world would side with them. Where's the evidence of this? The world did not side with the Soviets when they did it.

Kaplan says that the U.S. Navy's mission during the Cold War was simple—be prepared to fight the Soviet Union—but that the Navy now needs to be prepared to fight "a conventional war against North Korea or an unconventional counterinsurgency battle against a Chinese-backed rogue island-state." That actually sounds to me a lot like what the Navy was doing during the Cold War.

Paul Sherbo
Lakewood, Colo.

In his treatment of China's rise, Robert Kaplan makes some important errors. The central one is his assumption that balance-of-power means are appropriate for achieving the end of continuing American hegemony. He is wrong. Great wars do not start because "power relationships are [not] correctly calibrated"; rather, they start when a previously dominant power strikes out in fear of losing its edge. The United States cannot contain China the way we did the USSR, because China, unlike the Soviet Union, is likely to continue to grow in economic and military power.

Even more irresponsible is the idea that effecting regime change in Beijing might be a sensible—indeed, necessary—goal. China is a nuclear power with a population more than fifty times the size of Iraq's, and its Communist Party came to power after a twenty-year-long guerrilla struggle. Installing a new government there by force is simply beyond American power. Kaplan's casual dismissal of the implications of a nuclear exchange with China, and his casual acceptance of the idea that regime change would be a feasible way to end a war, would be laughable if such attitudes did not reflect a frightening mindset among American military thinkers.

On one point Kaplan is right: the United States must "accommodate China's inevitable re-emergence as a great power." But "accommodate" means to make room, and accommodation requires ceding hegemony and building a cooperative relationship based on equality. Kaplan's mistaking PACOM—a piece of the U.S. military—for a multilateral alliance illustrates just how off-kilter his understanding of equal cooperation is.

Stuart J. Kaufman
Professor of Political Science and International Relations
University of Delaware
Newark, Del.

Robert D. Kaplan replies:
Yes, nukes are important, and in a longer article I would have gone into that. Still, I am less concerned with nuclear war than with smaller incidents that could have the effect of raising tensions. I decided to concentrate on the parts of the China story to which the media have paid little attention. Thus I gave an overview of the world according to the Pacific Command while saying little about Taiwan and Korea—because the media do an excellent job on those issues.

I believe that China's intentions are much more defensive than offensive. But the U.S. military must plan according to the capabilities of rising powers with which we do not have alliances—because intentions and motives can shift overnight. Although China's intentions may be good, PACOM would not be doing its job for the taxpayers unless it planned for that to change.

Subs are expensive, sure. Still, you can refuel a nuclear reactor for, say, $200 million, and get an extra thirteen years out of a sub that, brand-new, costs well over $1 billion. Also, the need for subs certainly did not go away with the Cold War. A significant percentage of the missiles fired in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq came from subs. Subs also provide listening platforms that are sometimes better than satellites, not to mention their future use as platforms for launching commando units ashore. Of course, diplomacy will provide the ultimate solution in the Pacific, but in order to avoid tragedy the military must think tragically. And getting that right will increase the credibility of our diplomacy.

I don't agree that nothing has changed for the Navy: we do less work now under the Arctic ice pack and in the North Atlantic, and more work in the tropical littorals.

My comment about regime change was misunderstood. The analyst who mentioned it—who has an impressive record of accurate predictions, especially in Afghanistan—was trying to say that if a war of some kind were to start, it might conclude only with some shift, major or minor, in the Chinese leadership. Therefore, war with China is a terrible idea. Our mission in the Pacific must be to constrain China in a way so subtle that we enable it to make the right military choices, thus allowing globalization to continue without a cataclysm of some sort. I cannot stress too strongly that the military men and women I interviewed around the Pacific—both enlisted and commissioned—all had the same view, which dovetails with that of the business community: we must avoid any conflict with China. But that can be achieved only by recognizing the inevitability of China's military rise, and adjusting to the challenge it poses.

As for the number of aircraft carriers: we have twelve catapult-launch carriers and twelve non-catapult ones used for helicopters and vertical-takeoff planes.

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