Letters to the editor


I am thoroughly enjoying Bernard-Henri Lévy's articles on the States. As a Pacific Northwesterner, I blushed with pleasure at the loving description of Washington State and Seattle in particular (where I live and work as a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington). However, I am also a farm boy from eastern Washington, where we all know that it is pronounced sort of like "Wanatchee" but spelled definitely like "Wenatchee."

I'm reminded of Mark Twain's comment that "foreigners pronounce better than they spell."

John D. Sahr
Seattle, Wash.

I suppose that after I read and reread Bernard-Henri Lévy's lovely words on the dying cities of the Rust Belt—particularly his depiction of Detroit as a magnificently desolate urban hellhole—karma demanded that my home town next fall under his microscope.

Yet the Fort Worth depicted in the July/August Atlantic bears little resemblance to the city in which I lived for nearly twenty years, until quite recently. Lévy's characterization of the city as "empty" seems particularly curious, as well as inaccurate, and his association of Fort Worth with fascist imagery and ideals strikes me as simply bizarre. It seems to me that his primary objection is to the culture of traveling gun shows, a disease that indeed afflicts Fort Worth and, unfortunately, many other cities besides.

Certainly I don't doubt that Lévy accurately conveyed his impressions of Fort Worth, and I will read subsequent installments with interest and enjoyment. But I can't help thinking that Lévy sees through an especially idiosyncratic lens, lacking Tocqueville's remarkable grasp on the spirit of American culture and the objective truths underpinning (or perhaps arising from) his subjective account.

Jay B. Blackman
New York, N.Y.

Nelson Algren did indeed live on Evergreen Street in Chicago, but only from 1959 to 1975. He did not, however, share his apartment there with Simone de Beauvoir. That was at 1523 W. Wabansia Avenue—which is mentioned frequently by De Beauvoir herself in the letters collected in Transatlantic Love Affair.

James Reidel
Cincinnati, Ohio

Bernard-Henri Lévy refers to "the neighborhood of the insane, released en masse from asylums during the Reagan years." The fact is, patients of mental institutions were released en masse in the middle to late 1960s. This exodus was initiated during the era of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, when the Democrats controlled Congress. The ACLU, hardly a conservative organization, started suing during the early 1960s to have the mental institutions of the United States emptied in the name of individual freedom. This action was aided by the Warren Court and opposed by most mental-health workers. President Reagan and the conservatives did not cause the problem; they inherited it.

Dirk C. Prather
Sun City West, Ariz.

Bernard-Henri Lévy lapses into amusing errors reminiscent of Voltaire and other old French philosophes. To Lévy, the principle of equality is behind the behavior of slow drivers in America who drive in the fast lane. In this profundity he has fondly reached for dramatic truths from a few impressions, without advantage of survey or poll. Actually, those slow drivers perceive road-rage speeders to be exactly what the law contends: dangerous. They want merely to prevent unfortunate episodes in areas where law enforcement is sporadic. When cars respectful of speed limits occupy all lanes, it's plainly safer. Furthermore, the fast lane is not reserved for the more affluent, and the ability of an American vehicle to accelerate quickly does not reflect the driver's economic status. Cheap used cars, for instance, can be just as fast—and, anyway, consumption-addicted Americans eagerly borrow to pay for fast vehicles if they want them, whether or not they can afford them. Drivers think drivers who speed are enraged, not enriched.

David F. Weinstein
Hicksville, N.Y.

Israel's Survival

Benjamin Schwarz ("Will Israel Live to 100?," May Atlantic) says that Jewish Israel will inevitably, and perhaps quite quickly, be demographically swamped by the rapidly multiplying Palestinians. Fine. But wasn't it just one issue previous, in a small piece called "Overestimating the Palestinians" (Primary Sources, April Atlantic), that an American-Israeli study was said to completely contradict Schwarz's thesis? Whom are we to believe? Or should this be chalked up as a fine illustration that a highly regarded, believable, totally opposite opinion is always available?

David Steiner
Toronto, Ont.

In outlining the effects of demographic change on political realities over the next century, Benjamin Schwarz skips quickly over something that will ultimately have a far greater impact on future residents of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean: the effects of population growth on an overstressed environment.

This water-poor area is smaller than the state of Maryland, and now supports nearly 10 million residents—more than seven times its 1948 population. As Schwarz points out, this figure continues to grow rapidly. The Population Reference Bureau projects a combined population of 22.5 million for Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2050. At some point the population will outstrip the carrying capacity of the land. Even if we assume that the high birth rate of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs will eventually overwhelm the Jewish state, a successor could face political and economic chaos induced by environmental overload—a prospect that could make the current situation look serene by comparison.

Both sides in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict may have the greatest chance of long-term success with a strategy that both now rule out: a unified, democratic, pluralistic state. Jewish Israelis' best opportunity to sustain cultural vitality in the region is to become a vibrant minority. The Palestinians' best route to prosperity is to join rather than replace Israel's stable system of government and robust economy. Most important, a unified state would be in a much stronger position to enact farsighted policies on population, water conservation, and land development—the ultimate keys to survival.

Unimaginable as it seems now, a single-state solution may in time be attainable through peaceful means. After all, in 1942 few would have predicted a common currency and an open border between France and Germany 600 years in the future, much less sixty. As with Europe, the urgency of symbiosis in Israel-Palestine will become clearer with each passing decade. Although Schwarz's pessimism is justified in the short term, too many unpredictable events have happened in the past century for us to pre-judge the course of the next one.

Scott Schaffer
Port Angeles, Wash.

Benjamin Schwarz makes several misstatements in his less than sanguine discussion about the long-term survival of the state of Israel. First, if Israel had actually followed a policy of forced expulsion of Arabs after the 1967 war, when Arab nations attempted to destroy Israel, there would now be no question about Jews' being the majority in the land west of the Jordan River.

Second, the right of return has never been claimed by a defeated aggressor in the modern era. With most of the Palestinian Arabs leaving of their own accord, expecting to return in triumph to seize Jewish lands and massacre the inhabitants, they forfeited the right of return not only for that generation but also for its now numerous descendants.

Third, Ariel Sharon was acquitted of any participation or conniving in the Sabra and Shatilla massacres of Palestinian Arabs in Lebanon by that nation's Christians. This intranational tragedy was the fault both of a Palestinian leadership that trampled the rights of the Lebanese Christians and of the Lebanese Christians themselves, who chose to impose this revenge.

Finally, Schwarz appears unaware of the religious and historical relationship of the Jewish people to the land of Israel when he cites alternative regions for a Jewish homeland. For Jews there is no other possibility than returning to their biblical roots and the country that has been in their daily prayers for two millennia.

Nelson Marans
Silver Spring, Md.

History does not support the argument that demographics is decisive in the relationship between conquered and conqueror. Small nation-states and small populations have frequently conquered and ruled populations many times the size of theirs, beginning with Rome and continuing through Pizarro's conquest of Peru, Cortez's conquest of Mexico, Great Britain's empire, and the initial conquest by the Europeans of the Western Hemisphere.

Roberta Kalechofsky
Marblehead, Mass.

Benjamin Schwarz writes, "In few places in the world do conditions more demand that two peoples develop a symbiotic relationship; in no other place are the chances of building such a relationship more remote." Yet the same would have been said only one generation before the end of apartheid in South Africa. The author, like the current Israeli and Palestinian leadership, overlooks an obvious possibility: that a one-state solution may be the only solution. A separate Palestinian state would most likely remain unviable and impoverished, whereas a "Jewish" state with a rising non-Jewish minority will increasingly be at odds with the principles of democracy and equality. A single democratic secular state representing all its citizens would not be a perfect solution either, and would require compromise from both sides. However, this is surely preferable to the demographic time bomb that awaits Israel in its present form. Given the long established relationship between rising prosperity and lower birth rates, it seems in Israel's interest to end the occupation that systematically keeps Palestinians poor, and to start negotiating the conditions for this state.

Troy HarperPaget,

I want to express my pleased astonishment at the honest and fair-minded appraisal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by Benjamin Schwarz in "Will Israel Live to 100?" In my experience one rarely reads anything on this subject that presents the legitimate grievances and concerns of both sides; in the United States the mainstream press usually whitewashes Israel's sins, past and present, while some on the far left seem too willing to believe that a just solution would automatically end the threat of terrorism from extremists.

I wonder if the situation would be quite so dire if honest talk about the roots of the conflict had been the norm in the United States for the past few decades, when this country was subsidizing the settlement policy. Given his pessimism, one can only hope that Schwarz is as inaccurate about the future as he is accurate about the past.

Donald Johnson
Yonkers, N.Y.

Benjamin Schwarz replies:
The study to which David Steiner refers was cited in a section of the magazine that summarizes topical and often provocative reports. That section simply notes the contents of a study; it neither vets the study nor vouches for its reliability. The report in question wasn't written by professional demographers and was compiled by a group that's regarded as politically motivated; some of its members are closely tied to the settler movement. It has been roundly criticized by demographers and academic experts. In contrast, the figures I used were drawn from the most thorough and widely cited scholarly studies (which happen to have been conducted by Israeli academics)—those the scholarly, journalistic, and national-security communities consider the most reliable.

As for Scott Schaffer's comments, in fact I did emphasize the gloomy environmental prospects that await the people living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. His suggestion that the Jews in that area resign themselves to being a "vibrant minority" in a non-Jewish state seems Pollyanna-ish; more to the point, the overwhelming number of them won't accept that fate.

Contrary to Nelson Marans's implication, I never argued that Israel pursued a policy of forced expulsion after the 1967 war; and it's self-evident that had Israel done so, Israeli Jews would command an unassailable majority on the West Bank. I didn't assert the Palestinians' "right" of return; the problem (from Marans's point of view) is that the Palestinians do. He's wrong to imply that in 1947—1948 most Palestinian refugees left "of their own accord." Meticulous and honest historical accounts suggest that most Palestinians took flight owing to the exigencies of war. And although many did leave at the behest of Arab leaders, more were driven out by the Israelis. All those who left, for whatever reason, were barred by Israel from returning after the conflict. "In this sense," the Israeli historian Benny Morris has concluded, "it may fairly be said that all 700,000 [Palestinians] or so who ended up as refugees were compulsorily displaced or 'expelled.'"

I'm not unaware of the Jews' connection to the land of Israel. I wrote that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "is a story of two peoples, each with reasonable claims to the same piece of earth." As for Prime Minister Sharon's actions in connection with the massacre conducted by the Phalangists, the Israeli government's Kahan Commission found that Sharon shared indirect responsibility for the atrocities, stating that "it is impossible to justify the Minister of Defense's disregard of the danger of the massacre." The commission elaborated: "If in fact the Defense Minister, when he decided that the Phalangists would enter the camps without the I.D.F. taking part in the operation, did not think that that decision could bring about the very disaster that in fact occurred, the only possible explanation for this is that he disregarded any apprehensions about what was to be expected because the advantages … to be gained from the Phalangists' entry into the camps distracted him from the proper consideration in this instance." The commission concluded, "It was the duty of the Defense Minister to take into account all the reasonable considerations for and against having the Phalangists enter the camps, and not to disregard entirely the serious consideration mitigating against such an action, namely that the Phalangists were liable to commit atrocities and that it was necessary to forestall this possibility as a humanitarian obligation and also to prevent the political damage it would entail."

Roberta Kalechofsky believes that Israel can rule over a subject majority population indefinitely. That's not for me to decide. But Israel's political and military leadership and the majority of its citizens have concluded that it can't. Spanish rule in the New World, of course, entailed massacre, mass conversion, and a thorough ethnic intermixing—"solutions" that appeal neither to Jews nor to Arabs. And doesn't Kalechofsky remember that Rome fell? In any event, a country that explicitly followed the examples of the Spanish conquistadors and the Roman emperors would probably find it difficult to garner support from an American government dedicated to the spread of democratic values.

As for Troy Harper's solution: again, it's not up to me to advocate a course of action for Israel to follow. But whether or not his proposal is just, it isn't one to which Israeli Jews will agree; to them it would be tantamount to national suicide.

Advice & Consent

In his estimation of T. S. Eliot ("A Breath of Dust," July/August Atlantic), Christopher Hitchens rightly avers that "the allegation of plagiarism is often tiresome … since poetry almost invariably involves synthesis." Notably, he overlooks one such synthesis within his own examples: while Evelyn Waugh ostensibly borrowed his title A Handful of Dust from The Waste Land, Eliot himself lifted the line from John Donne (on whom Eliot wrote critically): "What's become of man's great extent and proportion, when himselfe shrinkes himselfe, and consumes himselfe to a handfull of dust?" ("Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions," Meditation IV). And Donne, perhaps, adapted the line from any number of passages in Genesis.

Neil Giordano
Hopkinton, Mass.

Are you aware that the story on which you report in April (Primary Sources) under the headline about smart women staying single was done on women who are now in their eighties? They were of marriageable age in the 1930s, when social mores were a lot different from today's. Such a study has no bearing on today's bright women. In fact, new research shows that men now choose to marry women who have finished their educations. Missing the most important detail about the sample completely skews the report.

Caryl Rivers
Professor of Journalism
Boston University
Boston, Mass.

Editors' Note:
The study in question combined data from a Scottish IQ test given to eleven-year-olds in 1932 with data on lifetime marriage patterns collected in the 1970s, when the participants in the initial study were middle-aged. As Professor Rivers notes, these data should have been reported with the caveat that mores and marriage patterns have changed considerably over the past half century, and we regret the oversight.

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