As former Peace Corps teachers in Herat during the late ’60s, Afghanistan’s golden years, my wife and I always read anything about that country with great interest. Robert D. Kaplan’s “Man Versus Afghanistan” (April Atlantic) lays bare the eternal dilemma of maintaining peace with war. In a fragmented society where each valley has its own government, killing off the weeds of violent religious extremism while giving the seedlings of moderation a chance to grow is a tremendously complicated task for our military. As much as war is a horror, this is the right place to make a stand. The trick will be to get the Afghan tribes to own the fight for regional stability. If the struggle against extremism is seen as a foreign affair, it will fail. The Afghans by nature are not an extremist lot and, I believe, will respond if they see their lives improving.
Ford City, Pa.
Robert D. Kaplan states as a matter of fact that liberal internationalists opposed intervention in Iraq “correctly, as it turned out.” American, British, and European soldiers lost their lives in the cause of that intervention, which overthrew a dictator, undid a brutal police state, and introduced an experiment in freedom and democracy in the heart of Arab Islam. That experiment may well bear fruit for the Middle East and the world for generations to come. Kaplan is entitled to his opinion, of course, but some modesty and respect in stating it about the Iraq War would be fitting.
Roger T. Baker
New Orleans, La.
Robert D. Kaplan replies:
I desperately hope Roger Baker is proved right about Iraq. I supported the war early on—as I alluded to in the piece—and have suffered remorse as a result. If Iraqi democracy proves durable, and Iran, too, evolves politically, partly as a consequence, Baker’s letter may hold up.
I’m glad to see Michael Kinsley (“My Inflation Nightmare,” April Atlantic) raising the issue of the unavoidable connection between budget deficits and inflation. Another connection is also rarely dealt with by economists or the press: the connection between budget deficits, inflation, and massive military spending. It cannot be just coincidence that hyperinflationary pressures so regularly follow, about a decade later, periods of massive military spending, whether the wars be hot or cold. This pattern is seen across nations and across centuries.
Jonathan Rauch’s article about caring for an elderly parent (“Letting Go of My Father,” April Atlantic) was both important and painfully familiar. My husband (an only child) has faced some of the same challenges, while caring for his late father and now for his 85-year-old mother, who must leave her assisted-living facility because we can no longer afford it. Although Mr. Rauch faced a heart-wrenching situation, it sounds like he also had some significant advantages that our family and many others do not: a parent who had a well-paying profession, and thus the wherewithal to pay for support services; a spare bedroom; siblings to help with decisions and perhaps share costs; and no children to raise, educate, and care for. With the demand for subsidized elderly housing and support services far outstripping the supply, we find ourselves consumed by worry, financial pressures, and the knowledge that no matter what we choose to do, the outcome will not be a good one for any of us.
Jonathan Rauch gave me a completely different perspective on the years I managed my father’s care. There is not one episode, experience, or feeling that Rauch described that I did not encounter. The feelings of inadequacy, despair, and resentment drove me to an almost-breakdown. It was not until a friend saw my suffering and said “You can handle this” that I found the courage and willpower to forge ahead. I took away my father’s driver’s license, put him in assisted living, and found a loving caregiver. He was angry with me to the end because his dementia would not let him understand. Since he passed, three years ago, I always felt I had not done a perfect enough job—otherwise he would have been grateful. After reading this article, I now feel I am a survivor of an almost impossible situation and that I in fact did a very good job, given what I had to work with.
San Francisco, Calif.
My wife and I moved into a continuing-care retirement community in 2007, when we were 72 and 71 and living a full and active life. CCRCs can provide the spectrum of living arrangements, from independent living through hospice, all on the same campus. Now we can enjoy our children and grandchildren in the full knowledge that we will never burden them emotionally or financially.
The middle-aged audience of Jonathan Rauch’s message should take steps now to relieve the burden on their families and friends. Plan now to ensure not only your own comfort, but that of your children and family, when you approach the inevitable end of your life.
While I applaud Jonathan Rauch for bringing the issue of children as caregivers to light, I’m dismayed by the comparison he draws in his final paragraph: “In the years after Betty Friedan named their problem, women who work in the home … demanded and got society’s recognition that they were providing an indispensable public good. As a result, they are not isolated or silent anymore.” It’s nothing short of insulting to portray what continues to be a freighted struggle for equality of the sexes as something that disappeared overnight.
I might not have taken such umbrage at Rauch’s flippant comparison, were it not for a line in Benjamin Schwarz’s review of David Kynaston’s Family Britain (“Intimate History,” April Atlantic) just pages later. Schwarz writes, “Anyone attuned to the interplay of public and domestic life should read these books (this includes many women, devoted readers of, say, Alice Munro and Marilynne Robinson, who tend to leave the history and public-affairs tomes to the men).”
Is it really possible, in 2010, that a book reviewer might not only condescend to brilliant writers like Munro and Robinson by suggesting they do not subject history and public affairs to thorough examination, but also go so far as to state that female readers in general simply don’t care for such subjects? Mr. Schwarz’s review contains a double insult, and I have to admit that I laughed out loud at the sheer audacity of its being printed. There is nothing funny, however, about the fact that TheAtlantic published its own double insult: two male authors so wantonly out of touch with the reality of being female in today’s world.
New York, N.Y.
Benjamin Schwarz replies:
I think this is the first time I’ve been accused of being “wantonly out of touch with the reality of being female in today’s world.” I know many readers of Alice Munro and Marilynne Robinson; nearly all are women. Surveys show that literary fiction is primarily read by women, and that history and public-affairs books are primarily read by men. I think those facts speak worse of men than of women. As for the charge that I condescend to Munro and Robinson, I suggest that Aria Sloss review the treatment both writers have received in this magazine’s Books pages, which I oversee.
This is just a note to say how moved I am by your Editor’s Note (“A Long Story,” April Atlantic), about the magazine’s plans to publish digital fiction on the Amazon Kindle and continue to offer your annual fiction issue. The piece brilliantly defends the power of fiction to entertain us, move us, and “communicate big ideas.”
Carole Spearin McCauley
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