Lt. Col. Lee A. Archer died last week at the age of 90. Although his name is hardly a household word, he was notable as a Tuskeegee Airman and the the only black fighter pilot ace (an "ace" being a pilot who shoots down at least five enemy aircraft) to come out of World War II. In his later life, he became a vice president of General Foods and a venture capitalist.
For anyone not familiar with who the Tuskeegee Airmen were: at the beginning of WWII, the military was segregated and blacks were not allowed to be pilots. Indeed, a War Department study in 1925 concluded that "Negroes" didn't have the intelligence, character, or leadership to be in combat units, including pilot roles. The Tuskeegee Airmen were formed to test (and some hoped, to prove) that theory. Their name came from the fact that they were trained in and around Tuskeegee, Alabama.
To the surprise of many, the Tuskeegee Airmen, especially the "Red Tail" P-51 Mustang pilots who escorted bombers in North Africa and Europe, performed exceedingly well. For many years, it was believed that not a single bomber was ever lost on their patrol--an achievement not unrelated to the fact that only one of the Tuskeegee Airmen ever became a combat ace.
Apparently, as numerous Tuskeegee Airmen have related to me, their commanders instilled in them a strict focus on their primary mission. They were to bring the bomber crews home alive. And that meant staying with the bombers, not going chasing after dogfights and combat glory. The group's perfect record has recently been questioned, but nobody argues that very few bombers were lost when escorted by the "Red Tails"--a feat especially notable given that bomber squadrons sometimes lost as many as half their number on missions.
Bomber pilots who objected to integrating the service began to rethink their objections when it became clear that their chances of getting home went up when they saw red-tailed Mustangs pulling up in formation. Skin color becomes secondary when the person in question is keeping you alive in a combat situation. The performance of the Tuskeegee Airmen was also a factor in Harry Truman's decision to desegregate the military in 1948.
Interestingly enough, the same dynamic seems to be playing out now, as President Obama sets his sights on overturning the notorious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy about gays serving in the military. In a New York Timesarticle on Monday discussing some of factors leading to President Obama's State of the Union declaration to overturn the law this year, an interesting statistic emerged. A 2006 Zogby International poll of military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan found that "three quarters were comfortable serving around gay service members." But a 2008 Military Times poll of "largely older" subscribers showed that 58 percent objected to lifting the ban.
There are undoubtedly numerous factors at play. Personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan are necessarily younger, and may be more comfortable with gay colleagues in general. And they've already experienced the incorporation of women into combat units without seeing effectiveness destroyed. But they are also seeing comrades they suspect (or know) are gay performing with distinction next to them in battle situations. In foxholes, there are not only no atheists, there are apparently a lot fewer bigots.
(For a really good primer on the history of Don't Ask, Don't Tell: an analysis of the arguments, pro and con, of overturning it, the difficulty of overturning it--the policy now requires an act of Congress, thanks to Congressional objection to Clinton's attempt to end the ban on gays by executive order in 1993--and the real costs of continuing the policy, check out this article by Colonel Om Prakash in the fall issue of the Joint Force Quarterly. An award-winning essay.)
The question of how people's minds and attitudes change is a complex one. Intellectual argument itself is clearly not sufficient. But the history of the Tuskeegee Airmen, and the changing attitudes among military personnel currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan about gay service personnel, certainly seems to argue for the power of example. Once the members of a group we view as incapable of performing a particular job well, or without negative consequences, show us otherwise by example rather than argument, our biases and objections begin to dissipate. Especially in the high-stakes world of combat, where the consequence for choosing bias over competence can be your life.
But if that's true--if some of the strongest forces of persuasion and change are familiarity, example and experience--then it also presents something of a conundrum. If a group is excluded or hampered--overtly or subtly--from serving in the military or any other profession, how can they ever provide the example and experience that, in the end, is perhaps necessary to change minds enough to allow them in? It's a strong argument for affirmative action--a policy that, while imperfect, provides a means by which minority groups can gain enough numbers in resistant populations to show, by example, that resistance isn't necessary.
That the Tuskeegee Airmen and other black soldiers who served in WWII convinced Truman to integrate the armed services, but still returned home to a country that discriminated against them as much as ever, argues, perhaps, for the power of the foxhole. If every citizen in America had had the experience of the bomber pilots brought home alive by Tuskeegee Airmen, civil rights legislation would probably have passed much sooner.
In that sense, gays in the military have an advantage over the blacks who served in WWII. The majority of Americans are now aligned with the combat troops when it comes to the acceptability of gay service members. Now it's just the law that's out of step.
Some spoiler-y speculation on the final three episodes
With only three episodes left to go, Game of Thrones looks as though it once again has a lot of ground to cover before wrapping up a season. And so, for the curious and impatient among you, I’ll do my best to offer some quasi-informed speculation about what we might reasonably expect in these final weeks.
Note: I haven’t seen any of the remaining episodes, but I have read the books. The first five items below are spoiler-y, but the predictions in them do not derive from the George R. R. Martin novels. Rather, they’re guesswork based on what’s already happened on the show and on tidbits scattered across the web: a behind-the-scenes photo here, a close-read of a trailer there. (They could all, of course, turn out to be completely wrong.) The last four items, however, are based at least in part on events that take place in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, so non-book-readers may want to skip them. And obviously anyone, book-reader or not, who’d prefer to go into these final episodes without preconceptions—who doesn’t want to know at least some of what will (probably) happen—should stop reading now.
People look to Amy Schumer and her fellow jokers not just to make fun of the world, but to make sense of it. And maybe even to help fix it.
This week, in a much-anticipated sketch on her Comedy Central show, Amy Schumer staged a trial of Bill Cosby in “the court of public opinion.” Schumer—her character, at any rate—played the role of the defense. “Let’s remind ourselves what’s at stake here,” she argued to the jury. “If convicted, the next time you put on a rerun of The Cosby Show you may wince a little. Might feel a little pang. And none of us deserve that. We don’t deserve to feel that pang.”
Her conclusion? “We deserve to dance like no one’s watching, and watch like no one’s raping.”
Ooof. This is the kind of thing that gets Inside Amy Schumer referred to as “the most feminist show on television,” and her act in general called, in a phrase that reveals as much about her craft as about Schumer herself, “comedy with a message.” But while Schumer’s work is operating at the vanguard of popular comedy, it’s also in line with the work being done by her fellow performers: jokes that tend to treat humor not just as an end in itself, but as a vehicle for making a point. Watch like no one’s raping.
We're all going to die and we all know it. This can be both a burden and a blessing.
In the heart of every parent lives the tightly coiled nightmare that his child will die. It might spring at logical times—when a toddler runs into the street, say—or it might sneak up in quieter moments. The fear is a helpful evolutionary motivation for parents to protect their children, but it's haunting nonetheless.
The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised parents to indulge that fear. “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?”he wrote in his Discourses.
Some might say Epictetus was an asshole. William Irvine thinks he was on to something.
“The Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be,” he says. “You’re supposed to allow yourself to have a flickering thought that someday you’re going to die, and someday the people you love are going to die. I’ve tried it, and it’s incredibly powerful. Well, I am a 21st-century practicing Stoic.”
A challenge based on four words of the law amounts to little more than politics dressed up as a legal argument.
The Supreme Court is about to decide another blockbuster case arising under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The specific issue is whether federal-tax subsidies are available to people who purchase health insurance from exchanges operated by the federal government or instead whether such subsidies are available only from exchanges established by the states. A decision in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell would most likely cripple the ACA in over thirty states and deprive millions of people of health insurance.
That the Supreme Court even agreed to hear the case is the result of an improbable conjunction of events. Two committed opponents of the ACA seized upon four words of the law out of almost 1000 pages, and through their persistent and energetic work, created a powerful soundbite that appealed to die-hard opponents of the ACA. They then took that sound bite and dressed it up in highly technical arguments about statutory interpretation that might well change how healthcare is paid for in the United States. But the soundbite is inaccurate, and the technical window dressing shouldn’t obscure the fact that the argument is based on a faulty reading of the text of the entire law as well as a misleading account of how and why the law was passed. At bottom, King v. Burwell is a political challenge to the ACA dressed up in legal garb.
The former speaker of the House is charged with lying to federal agents and evading financial reporting requirements in what appears to be a case of blackmail.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been indicted on charges of lying to FBI agents and evading federal financial-reporting requirements.
Hastert, an Illinois Republican, was speaker from 1999 to 2007. BuzzFeed’s John Stanton, who first reported on the indictment, notes that there were several high-profile congressional scandals in those years. Illinois is also a notorious hotbed for political corruption, as Roland Burris, Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, and Jesse Jackson Jr. can attest.
But reading between the lines of the indictment against Hastert suggests a darker story than political corruption. In or about 2010, according to the indictment, Hastert—a former high-school teacher and coach—met with an unnamed individual from Yorkville, Hastert’s hometown. They “discussed past misconduct by defendant against Individual A that had occurred years earlier.” In effect, Hastert fell victim to blackmail, the indictment alleges: He “agreed to provide Individual A $3.5 million in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against Individual A.” (Since leaving the House, Hastert has become a highly paid lobbyist.)
To be far from home in a major, diverse metropolis such as New York or Los Angeles is one thing. But those who have landed in small cities across the Midwest face a whole other sort of isolation.
CINCINNATI—When they were deciding where to settle down and raise a family, Lorena Mora-Mowry, a lawyer from Venezuela, and her husband Paul, a mechanical engineer from California, performed extensive research. Based on reports they read in magazines and brochures, they decided that Cincinnati, with its low cost of living, access to arts and the outdoors, and strong schools, would be a good place to live. They moved here in 1995.
It was a difficult transition from (relatively) open-minded, Latino-heavy Southern California to Cincinnati, where just about everybody was either white or black, and where immigrants were a rarity. Mora-Mowry tried to speak to people in stores, but they could never understand her accent, and she hated the long, cold winters.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life. We've grown more adept at shaping these underground shelters and passages over the millennia, and today we dig for hundreds of reasons. We excavate to find both literal and cultural treasures, digging mines and unearthing archaeological discoveries. We use caverns for stable storage, for entertainment, and for an effective shelter from natural and man-made disasters. And as the planet's surface becomes ever more crowded, and national borders are closed, tunnels provide pathways for our vehicles and for smugglers of every kind. Collected below are more recent subterranean scenes from around the world.
Can a political system be democratically legitimate without being democratic?
The flaws in China’s political system are obvious. The government doesn’t even make a pretense of holding national elections and punishes those who openly call for multiparty rule. The press is heavily censored and the Internet is blocked. Top leaders are unconstrained by the rule of law. Even more worrisome, repression has been ramped up since Xi Jinping took power in 2012, suggesting that the regime is increasingly worried about its legitimacy.
Some China experts—most recently David Shambaugh of George Washington University—interpret these ominous signs as evidence that the Chinese political system is on the verge of collapse. But such an outcome is highly unlikely in the near future. The Communist Party is firmly in power, its top leader is popular, and no political alternative currently claims widespread support. And what would happen if the Party’s power did indeed crumble? The most likely result, in my view, would be rule by a populist strongman backed by elements of the country’s security and military forces. The new ruler might seek to buttress his legitimacy by launching military adventures abroad. President Xi would look tame by comparison.
Our roundtable on "Mhysa," the 10th episode in the HBO show's third season.
Every week for the third season of HBO's fantasy series Game of Thrones, our roundtable of Ross Douthat (columnist, The New York Times), Spencer Kornhaber (entertainment editor, TheAtlantic.com), and Christopher Orr (senior editor and film critic, The Atlantic) will discuss the latest happenings in Westeros.
Orr: It seems only fair. After Arya's brutally aborted reunion with her family last week, tonight we were offered a few literal and metaphorical homecomings. In descending order of satisfaction: Sam and Jon find each other once again at Castle Black; Daenerys adopts a city's worth of new dependents; Davos is accepted back into Stannis's embrace about five minutes after the latter sentenced him to death; Jaime (or most of him) reunites with a less-than-entirely-ecstatic Cersei; and Theon (or at least his self-described "best part") is delivered to his dad in a box. Oh, and Tywin Lannister is restored to his rightful place as the man in Westeros on whose bad side you least want to be, king or no king. (Paying attention, Joffrey?)
We've been here before, of course, in both Seasons One and Two: The penultimate episode overturns the Game of Thrones playing board—Ned loses his head, the Lannisters turn the tide on the Blackwater—and the season finale picks up the remaining pieces.