Letters to the editor

Red and Blue America

I agree with David Brooks's conclusion in "One Nation, Slightly Divisible" (December Atlantic): "There may be cracks, but there is no chasm. Rather, there is a common love for this nation—one nation in the end." But I am simply astonished that he can use a county only sixty-five miles from eastern coastal cities to compare Red America with Blue America. Franklin County has little or no resemblance to Colorado's San Miguel County, in the Rockies, or Custer County, in South Dakota's Black Hills, or wheat-producing counties in Iowa and Minnesota, or even Dickinson County, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, not to mention the counties in Utah and Nevada desert country, or the counties in Washington and Oregon timber country.

People in the West share many of the ideas and thoughts of those anywhere else in America, but many of them have strong feelings of opposition to the encroachment of the federal government on private ownership and the increasing environmental restrictions on natural-resource production activities (mining, logging, and cattle raising) that have been their livelihood. To easterners—and make no mistake, the people in Franklin County are easterners—these are nonexistent concerns, but they are very real to people in western Red America. They are not concerns that will keep the people from loving America, but they are concerns that must eventually be resolved.

Doris V. Geist
Cleveland, Ohio

David Brooks observes that most Americans don't criticize or try to change other people's religious and moral beliefs. From this he concludes that there is no "culture war" in America.

Americans, however, let their ballots do the talking, and in the 2000 election they voted as if there was indeed such a war. A Pew Foundation-funded survey vividly illustrates the religious divide: observant white Christians (those who regularly attend church services) made up 60 percent of Bush's popular vote. Gore, on the other hand, attracted a large proportion of secular voters and less observant Christians.

Margaret Slotnick
Prospect, Ky.

Speaking as one raised and firmly ensconced in Red country, I think David Brooks did a credible job of presenting us in all our diversity. I also find his Ego Curtain a very helpful heuristic tool. I do have one small quibble, however, and that is his claiming of NPR as a Blue possession. From my solidly central-Illinois home I receive at least four different NPR stations (three FM, one AM), with varying talk, blues/jazz, and classical-music formats, but all carrying the major national morning and evening news programs. All those stations are well supported in local fund drives, often ending their drives early because funding goals have been met ahead of schedule. At least three of the most popular NPR shows with national syndication—A Prairie Home Companion, Whad'Ya Know?, and This American Life—not only originate in the Midwest but also do a very respectable job, I think, of answering Brooks's challenge to find interpretations of Red America as seen through Red eyes.

Daniel Liechty
Normal, Ill.

I suggest an emendation to David Brooks's comment "Because the information age rewards education with money, it's not surprising that Montgomery County is much richer than Franklin County." That causation is not established. A reverse causation is possible: affluence in Montgomery County may allow larger purchases of education. Also, college-educated parents working in Montgomery County may be more insistent that their children obtain college educations—which reminds me of an approximate quotation from Winston Churchill: "Education is the process by which people learn to live comfortably with those who are similarly educated." The annual Forbes survey of CEO compensation often shows high school graduates earning more than college graduates. Tuition-paying parents should not dismay; some causation exists, but there are a lot of exceptions to the rule. Also, kids from Franklin County should know that they, too, have tremendous educational opportunity in this country.

Steve Hample
Bozeman, Mont.

David Brooks asserts in his report on Red and Blue America that "where [the Reds] live, they can afford just about anything that is for sale," and that this contributes to their lack of class consciousness.

Health care is at least one exception. It can cost $10,000 a year to insure a family of five, and $3,000 for an individual policy, if one is not covered through an employer's plan. How many in Red America, not able to afford such policies, are among our 43 million uninsured?

Beginning in 2002 nine states, largely in Bush's Red America, will not have Medicare HMO choices: Alaska, Arkansas, Maine, Montana, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming. Four more—Delaware, Kentucky, Nebraska, and West Virginia—will have no plans that offer drug coverage. These Red states don't have big enough markets to keep profit-driven health-care providers interested.

Judy M. Jensvold
Ithaca, N.Y.

America's middle class does not consist entirely of nincompoops, unable to sense their socio-economic interests, as it might seem from the interviews described by David Brooks. He does not mention that voters with family incomes under $30,000 went overwhelmingly for Gore. A slight majority of voters with family incomes under $50,000 went for Gore also. And so did the majority of all women, by 11 percent.

Brooks describes Montgomery County—in the Blue zone (where Gore prevailed)—as populated by high-income lawyers, doctors, and stockholders. This conjures up the caricature of limousine liberals. The reality is that people with family incomes over $50,000 voted for Bush by a wide margin.

Boris Danik
North Caldwell, N.J.

Samuel Huntington

I read with great delight Robert D. Kaplan's insightful article on Samuel Huntington ("Looking the World in the Eye," December Atlantic). As a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard in 1996-1997, I had a chance to discuss with Huntington his views on political order and democracy and on "the clash of civilizations." As an Arab and a practicing Muslim, I found myself in agreement with Huntington's celebrated, controversial, and often misunderstood argument that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will be not primarily ideological or economic but cultural. Indeed, lost in the widespread dismissal of this thesis as a policy blueprint for State Department hawks is the theory's merit in attempting to acknowledge real and basic civilizational differences and the international effect of their political application. The Clash of Civilization's strength (and usefulness, as a frame of analysis in the post-September 11 world) is its honesty. Its premises are straightforward and (romantic, make-believe world views aside) undeniable: the world is not Westernizing; Asia and Islam are expanding; and culture consciousness is getting stronger.

Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou
International Council on Human Rights
Versoix, Switzerland

Samuel Huntington is quoted as saying that economic sanctions, shortages, and hardships never lead to the downfall of revolutionary regimes, because sacrifice is proof of commitment in a revolutionary situation: "Revolutionary governments may be undermined by affluence; but they are never overthrown by poverty."

But a "revolutionary situation" is always temporary, because ideological fervor can't be sustained indefinitely, even under sanctions. Revolutions eventually have to deliver in material terms; if they can't, they become vulnerable to food shortages as well as to luxury hotels. One defense is some form of totalitarian control, which is what revolutionary regimes finally turn to, with numbing predictability. Coercive control, not revolutionary commitment, is the reason that material shortages do not lead to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein or Fidel Castro.

Compared with revolutionary fervor, the kind of self-interest characteristic of capitalist systems has the great advantage of being an extremely reliable motivator in the longer run; it doesn't wear off. But maybe the lesson of recent events is that there is a third way—namely, motivation that derives from fundamentalist religious beliefs. A divine extension of self-interest, with martyrs motivated by promised payoffs in the afterlife, for example. Is it possible that such motivation not only won't subside with time but also is immune to the effects of both poverty and affluence? If so, we are in for a very hard and very long fight.

Byron Matthews
Sandia Park, N. Mex.

Samuel Huntington writes that "large numbers of people resent our wealth, power, and culture, and vigorously oppose our efforts to persuade or coerce them to accept our values of human rights, democracy, and capitalism." Of course, hidden in the phrase "human rights, democracy, and capitalism" is a constellation of possible world views and ways of living that accord individuals the freedoms inherent in the liberal ideal. Societies need not adopt the American model of liberal, democratic capitalism to make significant and substantive improvements in the conditions that allow freedom to flourish. In reality, the resentment of which Huntington writes is much less that of people in, for example, Islamic or Asian nations, and more that created and shaped by elites and states that cannot afford to loosen restrictions on individual freedoms, for fear of losing their grip on power. As for the citizens in these states—how many who express resentment of the United States would jump at the chance to enjoy the freedoms we have?

David Narum
Arcata, Calif.

Response to Terrorism

Christopher Hitchens ably demonstrates that in the debate about the appropriate response to September 11, plenty of irrational arguments come from the left ("Stranger in a Strange Land," December Atlantic). But he makes the same fundamental mistake as President Bush in implying that our only choices are to be in favor of bombing Afghanistan or in favor of (or at least not sufficiently against) the Taliban.

Most of us would agree that the Taliban are brutal rulers and that the people of Afghanistan would be better off under a different government. Most of us would come to the same conclusion about Iraq, Libya, and Zaire. It does not follow that using military force to attempt to remove one government and install another will advance our long-term goals. Publications as disparate as The New York Review of Books and The Wall Street Journal are reporting growing hatred of the United States in Muslim countries as a result of the bombing. This is where new terrorists come from. Does Hitchens feel safer now than he did on October 6? I don't.

Malcolm Pittman
Cambridge, Mass.

Christopher Hitchens has it precisely correct—many on the left would sooner shack up in an Afghan cave for the winter than share a foreign-policy position with a capitalist federal government. Many on the far left, still mired in Vietnam, smell jingoism on anyone "ignorant" enough to support overseas military action by any President since FDR. Worse still in their eyes are those of us who might condemn aggression against America in the form of, say, driving airplanes into buildings. Since the second week in September the far left has gone reactionary, counterattacking the flag wavers with its own dogma—"stateless jingoism" or, more accurately, "anti-state jingoism." (Tolerance for free thought and free speech extends only so far here. The dogma might go something like this: one should celebrate diversity as long as it's nothing so "diverse" as outrage at those directly responsible for the destruction of September 11.)

This line of thinking, underdeveloped as it is, is damaging for the rest of us on the left—and for the country. It lends fuel to the Bush Administration's creeping "watch what you say, watch what you do" mentality. The notion of a politically guaranteed right to free speech is largely American, and it's generally invigorating to see that right exercised, however foolishly. But the more the "capitalists" who worked in the World Trade Center or at the Pentagon are blamed for their own early deaths, the more interested the present Administration will become in revamping—à la George Orwell—the current understanding of free speech.

Jeffrey David Peckham
Cranston, R.I.

Civil Liberties

In his "Security Versus Civil Liberties" (December Atlantic), Richard A. Posner, writing about the concerns of civil libertarians after September 11, makes a strong case for the proposition that civil liberties "should be curtailed, to the extent that the benefits in greater security outweigh the costs in reduced liberty," saying, "All that can reasonably be" expected is that officials "weigh the costs as carefully as the benefits." As his references to World War II and the Civil War make clear, his implicit assumption is that the war on terrorism is like those wars and not like the war on drugs. But the war on terrorism bears a closer resemblance to the latter, because both are metaphoric wars, and that is why the pursuit of drug dealers—with, for example, random searches and profiling of subjects on the basis of racial and ethnic identity—"impair[s] civil liberties." The problem is not that civil libertarians are "prioritizing ... liberty" but that civil libertarians don't recognize the dangers of metaphoric language.

In customary usage wars are armed conflicts between nations or internal conflicts like our Civil War, and they end when one side surrenders and sues for peace. A metaphor, as the philosopher Max Black pointed out, brings "two separate domains into cognitive and emotional relation by using the language appropriate to one as a lens for seeing the other." The advantages of seeing the defense against terrorism through the lens of war are obvious: wars arouse feelings of patriotism that reinforce the willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to prosecute the war successfully. One disadvantage is perhaps less apparent: metaphoric wars can never be brought to a successful conclusion. Whereas terrorist networks or drug cartels are groups of criminals who can be apprehended and tried, as with all forms of crime, there will always be other criminals taking their place. That is one reason why the war on drugs is "a big flop"; in a metaphoric war there is no one who can surrender and sue for peace.

Murray Hausknecht
Long Island City, N.Y.

Richard Posner's argument that civil liberties must and should be sacrificed to ensure security is little more than an ill-disguised version of the Vietnam-era non sequitur "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." Posner argues that "we are a nation under law, but first we are a nation," and hence "even legality must sometimes be sacrificed for other values." This is an absurdity: the primary purpose of a nation (or, at least, this nation) is to preserve the liberties of its inhabitants. Indeed, as we hear repeated admonitions to make sacrifices for our nation in time of war, we should pause to remember why we assume that this nation is worth making sacrifices for. If not because it provides its citizens with liberty, then what reason could there be? And if that liberty is taken away in the name of "security," then what, pray tell, will be left that is worth fighting for?

Gordon Danning
Berkeley, Calif.

Richard A. Posner replies:

Murray Hausknecht makes a good point—that because a "war" against terrorism, like the "war" against drugs, has no natural terminus, severe measures taken in it may become permanent, rather than being temporary, and may habituate us to a permanent loss of civil liberties. He may be too pessimistic; but supposing he is not, I still would not change my view that the events of September 11 justify some curtailment of civil liberties. The "war" we are now and may for a long time be waging against international terrorism is not metaphoric in the same sense as the war on drugs. The latter is an effort to stamp out a victimless crime no worse than a vice; the proper analogy is Prohibition. The war against al Qaeda is a war against an international private army that has shown itself capable of killing thousands of Americans in a matter of minutes and that could and doubtless would kill millions if it could get its hands on biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons—which it may yet do.

Gordon Danning's argument is an overstatement. Constitutional principles are important, but preserving them is not our "primary purpose"; preserving our lives and our sense of security, preserving our property, and preserving our happiness—all deeply threatened by international terrorism—are important too.

They are important enough to justify reconsideration of some of the civil liberties that we embraced when we thought we were safe.

Objectless Verbs

I am interested in Cullen Murphy's objection to transitive verbs without direct objects, as in "The movie fails to excite" ("Out of the Ordinary," October Atlantic). My own editors sometimes object if I write a sentence like "This explanation does not satisfy." (One wonders if Robert Browning's editors objected when he wrote, in "Caliban Upon Setebos," that the "time to vex is now.") Murphy, and I assume my editors, think they are objecting because of a lack of clarity: Murphy asks, "Does the potential activity embodied in [such] verbs ... exist as an independent force, swirling atmospherically, regardless of whether actual people or things are affected?"

The difficulty is that the objection is not really one about clarity. I will bet Murphy would be satisfied with "The movie is not exciting," just as my editor was with "This explanation is not satisfactory," even though neither substitute sentence is any clearer about what or who is being excited or satisfied. One could, of course, not dilute the verb, and add a say-nothing direct object, as in "The movie does not excite the viewer, us, etc.," with no greater gain in clarity. Does not "us" also swirl in the great atmosphere of non-significance?

I suspect the objections here really have to do with a distinction between mental events (excitement, satisfaction, vexation) and physical events. I will bet (again) that Murphy would not object to a sentence like "The lion is stalking," even though we do not know if it is stalking zebra, springbok, or whatever.

William Crisman
Associate Professor of English
Pennsylvania State University
Altoona, Pa.

Cullen Murphy replies:

Professor Crisman's assessment intrigues.

Madame Solario

In reading Brooke Allen's survey of the works of Sybille Bedford ("An Observer of Catastrophe," October Atlantic) I did not find any mention of a book also rumored to have been written by her: Madame Solario, published anonymously in 1956. I have just reread it in a Penguin reprint, and it indeed seems Bedfordian. Set early in the past century, it has a strong whiff of scandal and family debacle. Can you enlighten me?

Joan Leaf
San Francisco, Calif.

Brooke Allen replies:

I had never heard of Madame Solario, but was able to reach Sybille Bedford through her agent in London. According to her, Madame Solario was written by Gladys Theodora Parrish Huntington, who usually wrote under her maiden name, Gladys Parrish. Madame Solario was published the same year as A Legacy, and because their subject matter was vaguely similar—"Anything about the upper classes, they always assume it's me," Bedford comments—the two novels were often reviewed together; eventually Huntington and Bedford met, and they remained friends for the rest of Huntington's life.

Advice & Consent

Bruce Moomaw (Letters, February Atlantic) accuses me of writing that the nuns murdered in El Salvador "deserved it." That is totally untrue. My article in The American Spectator (February 1981) described "radical nuns" in general. There was no mention of anyone's being murdered, or of anyone's "deserving" anything.

Tom Bethell
Washington, D.C.