Letters to the editor

I strongly protest the caption accompanying your Photo Op (“Go West, Young Han,” September Atlantic). The new Tibet railroad is indeed an “engineering marvel,” but at the same time a moral disaster. I have seen this railroad during its construction phase, but I have also seen the plight of the Tibetan people, who suffer under the yoke of the Chinese oppressors and who are largely denied the opportunity to benefit from this engineering marvel.

China brutally invaded Tibet and subjugated the Tibetans. The Chinese ransacked monasteries and destroyed untold volumes of Buddhist literature, sacred scriptures, and religious objects—all under the guise of “liberating” the Tibetans, but with the real intent of destroying the ancient Tibetan culture and religion. Having failed at this, they now plan to overwhelm the native society with Han immigrants, effectively perpetuating the servile status of the Tibetans. The new railroad will facilitate this strategy, and it will also allow the Chinese to mine the region’s rich material deposits and transport them to the east, again without benefiting the Tibetans.

Paul W. Rosenberger
Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Camelot Revisited

Whatever his changes of view on other matters, concerning moderately left-of-center politicians in Britain and the United States Christopher Hitchens has been consistent. To him, they are all contemptible. For example, Neil Kinnock, Michael Foot, Bill Clinton, and John F. Kennedy have all gotten the back of his hand—in Kennedy’s case (“Feckless Youth,” September Atlantic), several times. Toward conservative politicians—Dwight Eisenhower for one, Hitchens is frequently more indulgent, giving them credit for what he considers their morally correct actions and setting aside any actions that don’t conform with the picture of conservative wisdom he is trying to paint.

Readers of Hitchens’s article who were not alive and sentient in the United States in the early ’60s would not have the faintest inkling that John Kennedy was, in the context of his times, a liberal president. He supported breaking the House Rules Committee’s power to block legislation. He supported federal aid to education, Medicare, and a tax cut (then supported by Keynesian liberals). He was late to civil rights, but his Justice Department, staffed with young liberals, did integrate the University of Mississippi, and he also came to support and publicly endorse civil-rights legislation far more extensive than anything Ike would have endorsed, and it was enacted after his death. He and his activist brother, Robert, came to be hated by many white southerners for these words and actions, and some southerners cheered his death. He pushed through the Test Ban Treaty. He started the Peace Corps and through his eloquence and undoubted charisma inspired a generation to enter public service (Hitchens might talk to people like Gary Hart, Chris Dodd, or John Kerry, or any one of the thousands of living Peace Corps alumni, about this quality). Perhaps they were all deluded. If so, the delusion had positive results. His views changed and matured. He was a better president in 1963 than in 1961. The jury is still out on what he would have done in Vietnam and about other matters. However, the liberal evolution of his brothers Robert and Edward after his death may give some indication of where he was headed.

Kennedy deserves the criticism he has received since his death about his sexual recklessness, his Cuba policy, his inflexible attitude toward the Cold War (though that too was arguably changing in 1963), and much else, which stern historians and freelance moralists now delight in cataloging. But any reasoned assessment of him should also take into account the actions and qualities that plunged most of the nation and the world into sincere mourning after his death in November 1963.

Peter Connolly
Washington, D.C.

It’s Getting Hot in Here …

I’m glad Gregg Easterbrook has finally joined the fight against global warming (“Some Convenient Truths,” September Atlantic). But his message would have more credibility if he admitted to his long-standing role in worsening the problem he now decries.

“The only reason runaway global warming seems unstoppable is that we have not yet tried to stop it,” he writes. But a big part of why the United States has waited so long to take action against global warming is that many of its citizens, government officials, and business leaders were convinced over the past fifteen years, by Easterbrook and others, that the scientific case for global warming was at best uncertain and at worst a fantasy promoted by environmentalist Chicken Littles.

It’s nice that Easterbrook has finally seen the light, and I hope he’s right that we can reduce global warming faster and more economically than commonly expected. But our task is much, much harder because we waited these additional fifteen years to get started. If Easterbrook wants to be heard now, he should own up to how he helped get us into this mess. Otherwise, he risks looking less like an optimist than an opportunist.

Mark Hertsgaard
San Francisco, Calif.

No one can seriously argue that the Earth is not warming. Yet Gregg Easterbrook joins the growing number of “catastrophards” who choose to forget what is known from history. According to a chart published by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, the Earth was warmer than it is now for a period of 300 years during medieval times. At the time of the Magna Carta, 1215, the growing season in England was three weeks longer than it is today, and there was viticulture as far north as Ely. At the same time on southern and southwestern Greenland, crops were grown in sufficient quantity to support a population of about 2,000. Greenland was called “green” because that is what it was.

What caused this warm period? It certainly was not human activity. The catastrophards owe us an explanation as to why today’s picture is different from the Medieval Warm Period, and why it is other than a normal fluctuation of climate, the kind of fluctuation that has previously occurred.

Eugene J. Meyung
Charlottesville, Va.

Gregg Easterbrook ignores the basic science in his assurances that global-warming problems are easily solved. Carbon dioxide—the main greenhouse gas—is fundamentally different from the sulfur and nitrogen pollutants causing smog and acid rain. For smog and acid rain, promising directions in which to look for fixes were obvious, whereas for carbon dioxide, no such promising direction is known. Carbon-based fuels can only produce energy by creating carbon dioxide. No carbon dioxide, no energy!

John C. Miller
Professor Emeritus, Mathematics
CUNY City College
New York, N.Y.

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