Letters to the editor
Re Jonathan Rauch's "Firebombs Over Tokyo" (The Agenda, July/August Atlantic): On a convoluted path toward his goal of elevating the March 1945 U.S. firebomb raid on Tokyo to the historical prominence he feels it deserves, Rauch briefly and incompletely addresses the debate over whether the American use of atomic weapons was justified by projected U.S. casualties in an invasion of Japan's home islands, and concludes that it was not. Without question, the oft quoted projection of half a million or more casualties is inaccurate, but Rauch largely misses a crucial point. By early 1945 the American public's willingness to support operations that might produce any significant casualties was increasingly strained by the grinding, costly nature of the Pacific offensive and by the end of the war in Europe. By summer of that year additional significant losses in a war that Japan clearly could not win, but insisted on continuing, undoubtedly seemed insupportable to many Americans. The Truman Administration's decision to use the atomic bomb must be considered in this context.
While conceding that the bombing of Hiroshima hastened Japan's surrender, "and thus saved many American lives," Rauch maintains that American policymakers nonetheless "rushed" to bomb Nagasaki without a compelling reason to do so. These assertions are all debatable. To cite only one of several sources refuting the suggestion that U.S. policymakers authorized the bombing of Nagasaki with unseemly haste, I would direct readers to Richard B. Frank's Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (1999). Despite the destruction of Hiroshima, Frank finds, Japanese military authorities asserted that the United States had no additional atomic weapons and urged that the war be continued. Emperor Hirohito may well have quietly voiced skepticism about continuing the struggle, but his government delayed acting for a fatal forty-eight hours after the Hiroshima bombing.
Rauch's contention that U.S. efforts to avert civilian casualties in more recent air-war campaigns might be attributable to guilt over the Tokyo raid will be embraced by only the most credulous. Success in preventing civilian deaths in bombing campaigns is more likely the consequence of war in the television age (in which mass civilian casualties are, at the very least, a public-relations problem), and of the availability of "smart" bombs, than of any lingering guilt about an "obscure" event in 1945. I have to wonder how much national guilt could have been generated by an event that, as Rauch complains, has gone largely unremarked since its occurrence.
Blaine T. Browne
Lighthouse Point, Fla.
Concern that Curtis LeMay's Army Air Corps committed war crimes in the firebombing of Tokyo has to be balanced by awareness of the despicable activities of the Imperial Japanese Army in China: the biological warfare waged by Unit 731; the enslavement of "comfort women" from all areas conquered by the Japanese during the war; and, finally, the "Rape of Nanking," when 350,000 defenseless men, women, and children were raped, tortured, and murdered from December of 1937 to February of 1938.
Japan has never accepted responsibility for the barbaric actions of its soldiers during the Sino-Japanese War. I'll be happy to contribute to the erection of the museum envisaged by Jonathan Rauch once the Japanese government accepts responsibility and apologizes—sixty years after the fact—for the behavior of its military forces.
Michael J. Franzblau
San Rafael, Calif.
Jonathan Rauch incorrectly states that Hiroshima had only modest military value. It was a major port of embarkation and had shipyards; it was the headquarters of Japan's Second General Army; and 40,000 soldiers were stationed there.
The United States hoped that Japan would surrender after seeing the devastation caused by a single atomic bomb. If not, a second bomb was to be dropped three days later, on Kokura. (Nagasaki was the alternate target if Kokura was cloud-covered.)
An interim committee of eight men, including the presidents of Harvard and MIT, recommended that the bomb be used against Japan as soon as possible; that it be used against war plants surrounded by workers' homes, to make an impression on as many persons as possible; and that it be dropped without warning. President Truman agreed with the committee's recommendations because Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, when asked, had informed him that an invasion of Kyushu, Japan, would cost about 29,000 American lives and perhaps 100,000 wounded. Truman believed that dropping the bombs would shorten the war and save lives.
Jonathan Rauch repeats estimates that American casualties from an invasion of Japan, had one been necessary, would have been in the range of 20,000 to 50,000. American casualties in Okinawa exceeded 40,000; it should be obvious that casualties in the Japanese main islands would have vastly exceeded that number. U.S. commanders rightly believed that maximum military pressure needed to be applied to Japan to end the war as quickly as possible. The Tokyo raids were part of that effort.
A. Tappen Soper
If the United States owed any debt to the dead of Tokyo, it was long since repaid through the reconstruction of Japan in the postwar years.
In "Uncle Sam Buys an Airplane" (June Atlantic), James Fallows relates a fascinating story (full disclosure: my brother-in-law works for Boeing), but leaves largely unanswered still nagging questions concerning the Joint Strike Fighter: Why does the United States need a new $200 billion airplane? For what critical tactical missions will the JSF be indispensable? What will be the nature of future conflicts, and against which states (who may have been clever enough to equip themselves with JSFs in advance)?
If Martin van Creveld (The Transformation of War) is correct, future wars will continue to be low-intensity conflicts, like that in Afghanistan, but with air power admittedly the wild card. But we already have at least five wild cards in our hand—the F-15, the F-16, the F-18, the Harrier, and the F-22, not to mention the Tomcat and the F-117 stealth fighter—and lots of aces up our sleeves (B-52s, B-1s, and B-2s, along with future unmanned combat and reconnaissance aircraft). If our air fleet is aging, could we not simply build more, and better, models, like the Super Hornet? And what future conflicts will render all these planes obsolete? Thunderbolts, Mustangs, and Typhoons could have provided some ground support in Afghanistan. The F-22 should be sufficient for air superiority over future low-intensity battlefields. If not, why not?
Don M. Garland
James Fallows states that "the modern history of joint aircraft for the U.S. military is dominated by one outright disaster—the notorious TFX project of the early 1960s, which led to ... the F-4 Phantom." Actually, the TFX project led to the development of the F-111; the F-4 hit the drawing boards in 1953 and entered Navy service in 1961. Following a directive from Robert McNamara, then the Secretary of Defense, the F-111 was intended to fulfill requirements of both the Navy and the Air Force (just as the JSF is today), and was to be the follow-on fighter replacing the F-4. Although the Navy version was an abject failure, the Air Force version, with many modifications, went on to serve well as a precision tactical bomber (for example, in Tripoli in 1986), strategic bomber, and electronic-warfare aircraft.
Fallows also implies that the F-4 Phantom development was an "outright disaster" and that the F-4 was a failure. Not so: although the F-4 was indeed a Navy-developed aircraft that was "impressed" upon the Air Force (also by McNamara), both the Navy and the Air Force effectively employed the F-4 in a wide variety of roles until its ultimate retirement, in 1996. The F-4 is legitimately considered to be one of the most successful warplanes in history, and is still in service with several foreign air forces.
Robert G. Kingsley
West Chester, Pa.
Much as I enjoyed James Fallows's article, I feel I must point out one inaccuracy.
Fallows says, "The Harrier works on the 'direct lift' principle: when it wants to go up ... some of the exhaust from its jet engines [plural, sic] is diverted from the tail to little downward-pointing nozzles under the wings and the nose." In fact the Harrier's single Rolls-Royce Pegasus engine works on the principle of "vectored thrust." As anyone who has been near a Harrier will testify, it's damn loud, and the jet exhaust exits from four nozzles, two on each side of the fuselage, each of which can be rotated downward through 90 degrees. (Indeed, they can swivel through more than 90 degrees; besides pirouetting like a ballerina, this aircraft can fly backwards!) I understand that the "tiny nozzles" referred to by Fallows are there purely to help this delicate balancing act.
James Fallows replies:
Naturally, I agree with Don Garland that "Why?" needs to be asked about any new weapon—especially when the U.S. military already outspends the next two dozen countries' combined militaries, and when the nature of combat seems to be changing. The main case for the JSF, as I tried to explain in my article, was that if it met its cost targets, it would be the least expensive, most adaptable way to replace airplanes now nearing the end of their service life. For instance, buying more of the latest "Block 60" F-16s would cost roughly as much per airplane. But the F-16, successful and effective as it has been, was designed thirty years ago, before the advent of stealth technology or modern "lean manufacturing" techniques. The modern weapon most vulnerable to "Why?" should be the F-22, which will cost at least three times as much as the JSF and which was designed for superiority over a Soviet air force that no longer exists.
Robert Kingsley is right: the TFX program led to the F-111. I think he has misread, and I know he has misquoted, what my article said about the TFX. The passage in question actually said: "The modern history of joint aircraft for the U.S. military is dominated by one outright disaster—the notorious TFX project of the early 1960s, which led to an expensive fighter that neither the Navy nor the Air Force wanted to use—and one unsatisfying success. This was the F-4 Phantom, used extensively in Vietnam." That is, it referred to two airplanes—one a disaster (the TFX/ F-111) and one an "unsatisfying success" (the F-4). If I were writing the passage again, I would try to make the "two airplanes" point more clearly.
I agree with Chuck Saunders about the noise of the Harrier and the details of its operation. In calling its system "direct lift," I meant to distinguish it from the "augmented thrust" approach of the winning Lockheed Martin model. The Harrier, like Boeing's JSF candidate and other direct-lift airplanes, supports itself in vertical flight by directing the thrust of its engine downward. The Lockheed Martin approach relies partly on main-engine thrust, but its revolutionary (and risky) feature was the fan that pushed cool air downward to support the plane.
What a fabulous behind-the-scenes look William Langewiesche gave us at the World Trade Center cleanup ("American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center," July/August Atlantic). His writing was absolutely engrossing from beginning to end. But just one question: Why all the distracting references to "firemen" in the piece? I thought that that unnecessary and, by now, inaccurate gender-referencing term went out of use years ago. It did out west, anyhow. Is that not the case back in New York City? Aren't there any female firefighters on the job there? Please don't tell me that the WTC site—that "American Ground"—was ringed by signs saying MEN WORKING!
I have one quibble with William Langewiesche's terrific account of the World Trade Center collapse. He says, "The energy of an impact goes up exponentially by the square of the increase in an airplane's speed." But increasing exponentially and increasing by the square of something are two entirely different things. He should have said, "The energy of an impact varies with the square of an airplane's speed." I am sure you will hear about this from hordes of engineers—as Langewiesche writes, we are a little strange, and sticklers about such things.
Incidentally, you might have mentioned that William Langewiesche is the son of Wolfgang Langewiesche, the author of Stick and Rudder, a classic aviation book that was the bible and inspiration for at least my entire generation of pilots.
Ronald Steel ("Fatal Attraction," July/August Atlantic) thinks that Robert Caro's Master of the Senate (the third volume of his LBJ biography) misses the mark badly. Steel says Caro fails to capture Johnson's complexity, that Caro wants the reader to "love to hate" Johnson, who is reduced to a "political calculating machine."
Actually, Caro makes Johnson (and the world and time he inhabited) so interesting that I was sorry when I came to the end of the 1,040 pages of text. Caro's intent is not to make us hate Johnson. If it had been, I never would have wanted to read the second volume, much less the third. Johnson is shown to have incredible energy, uncanny political acumen, acute insight into people, and a heart for the disadvantaged.
Steel claims that without footnotes, Caro's sources are hard to identify. Actually, Caro's identification of sources is meticulous. He often identifies the source in the text, and otherwise puts it in the endnotes.
Steel says that for Caro, "the very existence of power is the abuse of power." This is simply not correct. In The Power Broker and in the LBJ series Caro can be appalled by the Machiavellian accumulation and exercise of power, but he also recognizes that doing good often requires power and he gives examples, including the civil-rights law that Johnson managed to pass in 1957.
Finally, Steel says Caro offers no evidence in this volume or the previous one that Johnson stole the 1948 Senate election. Actually, the second volume is devoted to that election, and could not have shown more clearly that the election was stolen.
Steel has done to Caro what he accuses Caro of doing to Johnson—describing him simplistically and inaccurately, and in the process making him seem unattractive.
Ronald Steel's review of Robert Caro's efforts as biographer angered me beyond emotion. In thirty years of work in government and as a lobbyist, I've found no author who has captured the essence of government and the ability to use government for positive and negative ends as has Caro. Whether his writing accomplishes all that the reader seeks is something to be considered, but Steel's review does disservice not only to Master of the Senate but also to Caro's other work.
Oklahoma City, Okla.
Ronald Steel reports Robert Caro's claim that LBJ "stole" the 1948 Texas Democratic primary from Coke Stevenson, and says that no proof was offered. Steel should have known that on July 31, 1977, every major U.S. daily front-paged the revelation from Luis Salas, the election judge in Jim Wells County, that the election had indeed been stolen. Fearful of dying of cancer, and pressed by an Associated Press reporter (me) to clear up the matter for history, Salas confessed, "I know exactly how it was done." He said that he and a colleague, on the orders of the political boss George Parr, added 202 votes to Johnson's total from Box 13, giving LBJ a statewide winning margin of 87. They listed the fraudulent names in green ink and in alphabetical order, a dead giveaway if the ensuing investigation into the election had ever been concluded. It was halted by Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, thus giving LBJ the victory.
San Antonio, Texas
Ronald Steel replies:
If Andy Saylor feels that Robert Caro has adequately identified his sources, he is most generous. In fact it is extremely difficult to wade through the minefield of Caro's abbreviated and confusing references to determine who is saying what. The effort is not made easier by the fact that Caro cites the names of scores of sources in many cases without indicating who these sources are or why their accounts should be credited.
Saylor also writes that I state that Caro offers "no evidence" in this or the preceding volume that Johnson stole the 1948 Texas Democratic primary election. James Mangan makes the same charge in slightly different words, saying that I claim that "no proof was offered" by Caro. Both these gentlemen misquote me.
In truth what I said was that Caro "offers no more proof than he did the last time around" of Johnson's purported theft. In this book he simply states as fact what he proposed in the previous volume. Caro's accusations rely heavily on the testimony of Luis Salas. But the reliability of that source was disputed by many, as evidenced in some of the reviews of Means of Ascent.
What Caro offered as revelation remains supposition. As I explained, "Charges of ballot-box manipulation by both sides ... were so widespread that it is impossible to be sure who won the election." Messrs. Saylor and Mangan can believe whomever they please, but they should not misquote me.
Kenneth Brower ("Ansel Adams at 100," July/August Atlantic) admits that he disliked the Adams exhibition before seeing it. The reason for this was his intuition that it had been directed by the wrong person: someone who has spent virtually his whole life east of the Missouri (and, in fact, half of it east of the Hudson), and who, to make things worse, was an early champion of Diane Arbus. That is, me.
The exhibition confirmed Brower's worst fears, perhaps primarily because it contained too many small pictures. I would like to say that I hold no brief for small prints. Or for large ones either. It is surely true, as Brower reports, that one should stand closer to a small picture than to a large one. Brower may or may not know that a majority of the pictures included in the exhibition do not exist anywhere as large prints. Others are, in my view, more fully realized—more beautiful—as contact prints or relatively modest enlargements.
For a variety of reasons, including professional advantage, Adams was determined to achieve in very large prints a standard of photographic quality equal to that of his contact prints. He sometimes came so close to achieving this goal that an Adams print forty inches high and viewed from six feet is almost as good as an Adams print ten inches high and viewed from eighteen inches. Almost as good—and for most everyday purposes the difference can be ignored as inconsequential. In an exhibition that hopes to show a serious artist at his best, the difference is important.
Brower regrets that the exhibition does not include more of the later (more dramatic, more hortatory) reprints of the earlier pictures, and he may be correct in thinking that most people, at first viewing, will prefer those simpler, larger, later prints. I believe that the longer they look, the more interested they will become in the more complex, richer, earlier prints. One could, of course, easily make a show dominated by the big, late reprints; in fact, a great many such Adams shows have been made. The show I made was designed not to be as undemanding as possible, or to move the crowd as quickly as possible through the museum, but to propose a body of work that would provide the best evidence for Adams's candidacy as an important twentieth-century artist, which I believe him to be.
East Chatham, N.Y.
An enthusiastic "Amen" to Kenneth Brower's review of the Ansel Adams exhibit at MOMA. Certain artistic expressions are independent of scale. A Cartier-Bresson or a Dorothea Lange photograph, for example, has the same impact whether you're looking at an 8" x 10" or a 40" x 50" print (if, indeed, the negatives of either of these photographers could support such enlargement). Adams's photographs, and those of other epic landscape photographers, usually work better as big prints. This is in part owing to their subject matter. But it is also the glory of a large-format photograph that it can be printed at such a size, revealing subtleties of texture and tone that little prints cannot. No small part of the view-camera photographer's art and craft goes into making that possible. To show such images in miniature is to betray them. Certain curators perhaps regard big landscapes as garish. If that's the origin of this exhibit's predilection for the miniature, it says something about the curator's lack of appreciation for the land Adams celebrated and also for the notion that the medium must fit the message. Urban miniaturists have their place, but it's not in Yosemite, Zion, or any of the other haunts of Adams and his spiritual children.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Your biographical note for Kenneth Brower refers to a "John Burrows Association Award" for natural-history writing. Surely this award was named for John Burroughs.
Kenneth Brower replies:
John Szarkowski writes that he holds no brief for small prints, or for large ones. But Ansel Adams made a compelling case for size, both in conversation—he had a carefully considered critical theory on the matter—and in the darkroom. In his books, in his exhibits, on the walls of his house, the prints were big. Whose brief should a centennial retrospective carry, the curator's or the artist's? Is it the curator's job to redefine the photographer, or to let the photographer define himself? Szarkowski suggests an equivalency between looking at a tiny print close up and a large print from far away. Anyone who has visited an Imax theater or viewed a Jackson Pollock knows better. I was aware, indeed, that many of the images in Szarkowski's exhibit do not exist as large prints, and in my article I should have expressed gratitude for the chance to see Adams pictures new to me. But I think such work belongs in a small show, called "The Undiscovered Ansel Adams," or "Ansel Adams: The Minor Works." It should not dominate a retrospective called "Ansel Adams at 100." And my problems with Szarkowski's exhibit are not just with the size of prints; they have to do also with his selection and his catalogue text. I don't think Szarkowski is a good judge of landscape photographs. I suspect that his deficiency is in a lack of feeling for the subject matter, which is the land. In his text Szarkowski emphasizes Adams's self-doubts, his infertile periods, his creative drying up. He captures none of the photographer's force-of-nature joie de vivre. In Szarkowski's exhibit I recognize neither the artist I knew nor the man.
Michael Benson ("A Space in Time," July/August Atlantic) writes that Ankara, Turkey, "has some of the worst air pollution on Earth." I travel to Ankara periodically and can report that the air is much improved. Beginning in the early 1980s the government began distributing low-sulfur liquid fuel to diminish the near total reliance on high-sulfur coal as a heating source. For those remaining coal-dependent, in 1986 the Ankara Municipality, together with the City Health Committee, began to import low-sulfur, good-quality coal and to ban the use of unapproved hard coal and lignite within the city. But the biggest impact has without a doubt come from the Ankara Natural Gas Conversion Project, which has resulted in conversion to this fuel source by nearly three fourths of the city.
Owing to the vastness of space, one views celestial objects not as they are but as they were. I hope that people see Ankara as it is, not as it was. Indeed, although Ankara's population today is more than double what it was in the 1970s, the air is significantly cleaner, thanks to more than $1 billion in investment and unique public-private partnerships.
Michael Benson replies:
The passage in question was written in the present tense but set overtly in the mid-1970s—as is made clear only two sentences before. I haven't been to Ankara since 1978, but I have fond memories of that sometimes neglected city and its people (neglected, of course, in favor of the stunning Istanbul). I'm delighted that they seem to have solved their winter smog problem.
I enjoyed Ian Frazier's article on the Mall of America (July/August Atlantic), but he erred in his baseball nostalgia: Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente played their entire careers in Pittsburgh, for the National League Pirates. Since Pittsburgh never played Minnesota in a World Series and there was no interleague play during their careers, they could not have vied over the grounds of Metropolitan Stadium.
Paul D. Tanner
Ian Frazier replies:
Baseball facts are easy to check, and I checked mine. Metropolitan Stadium was the site of the 1965 All-Star Game, in which both Stargell and Clemente played for the National League.
Hogs were still slaughtered in Chicago as late as the early 1950s, when I visited the Chicago stockyards, and the process—but for one detail—was still as described by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle and quoted by Christopher Hitchens ("A Capitalist Primer," July/August Atlantic):
[Men] had chains which they fastened about the leg of the nearest hog, and the other end of the chain they hooked into one of the rings upon the wheel. So, as the wheel turned, a hog was suddenly jerked off his feet and borne aloft. At the same instant the ear was assailed by a most terrifying shriek ... And meantime another [hog] was swung up, and then another, and another, until there was a double line of them, each dangling by a foot and kicking in frenzy—and squealing ... one by one they hooked up the hogs, and one by one with a swift stroke they slit their throats.
The detail that, in my memory, had changed in the intervening five decades was the very last in this quoted passage. The butchers did not slit the hogs' throats. Instead they plunged a kind of stiletto into each throat, severing the jugular vein. As the stiletto was withdrawn, blood spurted out two feet or more; and as the dangling hogs continued their wild thrashing, blood was flung in all directions. The long aprons that the men wore streamed with blood. Blood flowed copiously across the floor. A few drops of blood ran down the glass screen through which we viewed the scene.
We were Boy Scouts, and a visit to the stockyards was regarded in those days as similar to a visit to the Chicago Tribune—part of a boy's introduction to major institutions of his home city. After the slaughtering, of steers as well as pigs, we were walked through the rest of the process: the flaying, the rendering, and so forth.
For days afterward a stench seemed to cling to my body. Was I remembering the stench or smelling it still on myself? I couldn't say. I ate more or less normally, somewhat to my amazement. From time to time, in school and at play, I would be hit by a wave of nausea. (I am nauseated as I write this letter.) Yet although I was revolted, I did not object; and this seems to me to be the deepest lesson.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Why don't you bring back James K. Glassman and Kevin A. Hassett for another article explaining why the Dow average will soon approach 36,000? Since their article appeared, in September of 1999, the Dow has dropped by at least 50 percent.
Cullen Murphy, in his essay on the categorical imperative ("From Soup to Nuts," July/August Atlantic), seems to have slipped into a linguistic lapse. He cites a spreadsheet from Notre Dame and says it defines "poenitentia" as "sorrow for one's moral sins." One suspects that he misread "mortal," but the way things are in South Bend these days, one cannot be altogether sure. Unthinkable as a "moral sin" may be, one would not be astonished to learn that members of the university's theology department endorse the oxymoron.
It may be some comfort to Murphy to know that a brother inkslinger, one in the employ of Newsweek, wrote recently of "venal" sin. Such errors are, admittedly, venial. But with the very concept of sin threatened with extinction (except, of course, when one of the extinguishers feels sinned against), it seems more necessary than ever to get the classifications right. There is, literally, a hell of a difference.
East Lyme, Conn.
As a born nitpicker, I had to object to a small bit of misinformation in Jon Cohen's article on biological weapons ("Designer Bugs," July/August Atlantic). Cohen states that in Canberra, Australia's capital city, "large white cockatiels perch in the canopies." Not true. He saw sulfur-crested cockatoos, called "white cockies" in Australia. Wild cockatiels are predominantly gray (a lighter hybridization, called a Lutino, appears only in pet shops) and prefer the drier plains of Australia's interior.
San Pedro, Calif.