I appreciated the thoughtful examination of a horrific event in "Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura?" by James Fallows (June Atlantic), but I detect a discrepancy between the diagram indicating the positions of the al-Dura son and father (a primary example of the exculpatory evidence for the Israel Defense Forces cited here) and the photos on the succeeding page.
I have not seen the video from which these stills are taken, nor have I been exposed to the breadth of material made available to Fallows in his investigation. Nevertheless, I'm a photographer as well as a journalist, and like anyone who works with cameras, I tend to look at photos with some care. The two frames reproduced in your pages appear to have been shot with approximately a 400mm telephoto lens from an angle not perpendicular to the wall but roughly 30 degrees behind the subjects (Talal Abu-Rahma, the cameraman, could perhaps confirm or refute this impression).
What first struck me about the photos is that, even allowing for the skewing effect of the camera angle and the flattening effect of the long lens, both son and father appear far more vulnerable to gunfire from the position attributed to the IDF than is indicated in the diagram, in which they seem completely shielded by the concrete cylinder. In the top photo, for example, the shadow between the cylinder and the father's legs suggests that his knees and lower legs would have been exposed to at least some fire from that direction, which means that the boy crouching behind him—whose legs are outside of his father's—would have been in similar if not greater peril.
The second frame reinforces this impression. After he is hit, the father's knees clearly fall outside of the barrel, which would have been impossible were he positioned as in the diagram. In the same way, the boy's prone position on the father's feet—again, outside the knees that are outside the barrel—suggests that the barrel could not have completely shielded him from gunfire coming from the IDF's position. The disturbing conclusion is that the diagram (even accepting its rosy assumption of neatly parallel and contained lines of fire from the Israelis) is inaccurate. It seems bizarre to discuss an emotional event in such clinical terms, but in such a context careful interpretation of visual evidence is essential. If this diagram resulted from the investigations and re-enactments Fallows cites, they are of dubious value, and the reluctance of the Israeli authorities to make much of them acquires additional meaning.
Junction City, Calif.
James Fallows has raised some extraordinary claims with the flimsiest of evidence. Without interviewing a single person present at the scene—not the victim's father, not the Israeli soldiers, not the Palestinian security forces, not even the cameraman who shot the film—he has all but concluded that the al-Dura shooting was an elaborate hoax concocted by the Palestinians. He relies on a woefully misleading diagram suggesting that a concrete barrel was so large as to block the Israelis' line of fire, but the photograph on the following page clearly shows that the barrel was not big enough to provide cover for Mohammed and his father. Amazingly, he advances this theory despite its rejection by the party that would have the most to gain from its acceptance: the Israeli army.
James Fallows writes, "The footage of the shooting ... illustrates the way in which television transforms reality" and, notably, "France 2 or its cameraman may have footage that it or he has chosen not to release." We do not transform reality. But since some parts of the scene are unbearable, France 2 cut a few seconds from the scene, in accordance with our ethical charter.
Bureau Chief, France 2
I am referred to in James Fallows's "Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura?" but, unfortunately, the author never spoke to me. I am referring to the following quotes:
"Amnon Lord, writing for the magazine Makor Rishon, referred to a German documentary directed by Esther Schapira that was 'based on Shahaf's own decisive conclusion' and that determined 'that Muhammad Al-Dura was not killed by IDF gunfire at Netzarim junction.'"
"Schapira had collaborated with him for the German documentary and then produced a film advancing the 'minimum' version of his case, showing that the shots did not, could not have, come from the IDF outpost. She disappointed him by not embracing the maximum version—the all-encompassing hoax—and counseled him not to talk about a staged event unless he could produce a living boy or a cooperative eyewitness. Shahaf said that he still thought well of her, and that he was not discouraged."
Please note that my film is not based on Shahaf's "decisive conclusion" and that I did not collaborate with him for the documentary.
I did talk to Nahum Shahaf, the same way I talked to everybody involved in the story. He presented his findings to me as well as his conclusion that the whole thing was a setup and the boy was still alive. Until this day I have seen no proof for that conclusion, and I believe I am familiar with the video footage you mention as well as with the rest of the material. In the end I decided to leave Shahaf out of my film completely.
In my documentary you will find a number of serious questions and interesting details that I have asked and presented for the first time, including the contradiction between Charles Enderlin and his cameraman, Talal Abu-Rahma, concerning the length of the filmed material: Enderlin claims he has published everything he has—fifty-two seconds; his cameraman says he filmed six minutes of the scene.
My film does not conclude that I know the answer to the question "Who shot Mohammed al-Dura?" I've always said that I see more significant hints (but no proof) that he was shot by Palestinians. The film doesn't present a final conclusion. It presents the findings of my own research and no speculations.
Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Iwant to thank James Fallows for confirming what my eyeballs told me from about the third time I saw the tape. I don't believe anyone ever panned over to the Israeli position. It was just described as being some number of yards to the right. I am not a terribly experienced combat hand, but enough of one to know that bullets don't go around corners. My instincts and experience informed me that the fire had to be coming from within a very few degrees of the location of the camera. I wonder what would happen if some combat vets watched the tape several times and were then asked where the shots came from. It also seems to me that the cameraman is a liar if he denies knowing that the fire came from near his location. The azimuth was limited both by the barrel and by the position of the father's body. The range was limited by "the Pita." I took a lot of ribbing from my friends over this, and now I have some authoritative arguments to muster on my side.
James Fallows's statements that "the Israeli policy of promoting settlements in occupied territory, and the Palestinian policy of terror, are deeper obstacles" and that "there would never have been a showdown at the Netzarim crossroads, or any images of Mohammed al-Dura's shooting to be parsed in different ways, if there were no settlement nearby for IDF soldiers to protect ..." need to go down to a deeper layer. If the Palestinians had accepted the deal offered in 2000 at Camp David, there wouldn't have been any need for protection of the settlement, because the war of terrorism that Yasir Arafat is now waging wouldn't have started at all.
James Fallows is to be commended for taking up the loaded subject of Mohammed al-Dura's alleged murder by Israeli troops and coming to the courageous conclusion on the basis of in-depth analysis that the boy could not possibly have been killed by Israeli gunfire.
When journalism has become increasingly tainted by the pressures for political correctness, and when journalists have even been intimidated by threats against their person for daring to speak the truth, James Fallows's willingness to revisit a politically charged subject and The Atlantic's willingness to print the story are refreshing departures from today's sorry record on Middle East coverage.
James Fallows includes a puzzling statement: "What is known about the rest of the day is fragmentary and additionally confusing. A report from a nearby hospital says that a dead boy was admitted on September 30, with two gun wounds to the left side of his torso." But the photo of the father and son crouching behind a concrete barrel against a wall suggests that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians could possibly have shot the boy in the left side—that was the side against the wall. So the boy admitted to the hospital with two bullet wounds in his left side couldn't have been Mohammed al-Dura. Eliminating that red herring doesn't tell us what happened, but it may help to untangle the terrible events of that day.
James Fallows replies:
To Cary Groner and others concerned about the dimensions of the barrel, I say that the diagram was indeed schematic rather than exact. We included it for explanatory purposes, to show the possible directions of fire, rather than as evidence in itself. What changed my mind about the incident was watching footage of the shooting replayed dozens of times. It seemed evident from the footage that at the crucial moments, the father and son had sheltered themselves behind the barrel, relative to the IDF position, and that the boy was further sheltered by the father. They were entirely unsheltered from gunfire coming from other directions, including the known location of Palestinian policemen. Since this judgment depends on actually seeing the footage, I recognize that my description of it may not persuade others. I believe that open-minded observers would come to the same conclusion I did.
To Steven Freedman I point out that I did not say that the event was a hoax, and I did not rely on the diagram, but I did explain why the Israeli military wants to drop the entire subject.
My saying that Esther Schapira "collaborated" with Nahum Shahaf may have produced connotations I didn't intend. Her impressive documentary raises numerous doubts about the conventional view that Israeli soldiers shot the boy.
The general point I tried to convey in this article was how confused, contested, and finally unknowable is the "truth" of the al-Dura case—and how deep are the differences of world view in the Middle East. Read together, the letters printed here, like many others I have received, underscore that point.
In "The Logic of Suicide Terrorism" (June Atlantic), Bruce Hoffman says that in Israel the terrorists' strategy has "changed daily behavior patterns—the first step toward crushing morale and breaking the will to resist," and that "terrorists hope to compel the enemy society's acquiescence, if not outright surrender, to their demands." If—as in the IDF chief of staff's paraphrase—terrorists think that "Israel is a spider-web society: it looks strong from the outside, but touch it and it will fall apart," and that "al Qaeda ... has made a similar assessment of America's vulnerability," they are overlooking some very large mistakes in logic.
Israel was formed out of the ashes of the Holocaust. No Israeli will "fall apart" when threatened, any more than any American air traveler will give up a plane when faced with a terrorist's box cutter. Israelis know that Hamas will not stop until there is no longer an Israel. Like the passengers of Flight 93, who crashed into the field on 9/11, Israelis will not give up their lives in fear and military weakness, as did millions of Jews in concentration camps.
As for America, al Qaeda should remember that Americans most emphatically did not acquiesce when struck by Japan at Pearl Harbor. Afterward Yamamoto felt that Tokyo had "awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."
There is no historical basis for or logic in assuming that either Israel or America will be made to fall apart by attack after fearful attack. Terrorist organizations convince their followers and supporters with these thoughts, but never their enemies. They can only hope to gain local power and notoriety—but there is no future, and therefore no logic, in it.
Dix Hills, N.Y.
Bruce Hoffman missed two obvious actions that the United States can take to reduce the risks of this kind of terrorism on our soil. First, border security and an immigration policy developed from a national-security perspective would surely reduce our exposure to terrorism of all kinds. Second, Hoffman urges that we learn from the Israeli experience, but he overlooks a key reason for Israel's ability to stop suicide bombers before they reach their targets: armed Israeli citizens. Numerous cases have been documented in which an armed citizen, not a police officer or a soldier, has stopped a terrorist moments before an act of terrorism. Much of the United States still has laws that criminalize the citizen who bears arms—the very person who can help provide us with some real security. Those states that currently allow citizens to carry concealed firearms have lower crime rates than do states that restrict this activity; concealed-carry laws could significantly augment our society's ability to cope with suicide bombers and other terrorists.
The pivotal event in The Aeneid, the settling of Rome by Trojan exiles, requires the removal of a population that already lives there. Nearly every ethnic group in today's world has gained its territory through violent theft, with tactics including varying degrees of extermination, expulsion, and absorption, though conquered peoples sometimes serve as an underclass for cheap labor. Virgil glorified this sordid tale as a divinely sanctioned precursor of Manifest Destiny, and modern school textbooks perform similar feats of historical sanitization.
Israel's expropriation of the West Bank and Gaza differs only in that it is happening now (a map depicting Israeli "settlements" looks like a terminal case of measles), although no one could tell that from reading Bruce Hoffman's "The Logic of Suicide Terrorism." Hoffman addresses the strategic aims of suicide bombers and the effect on their victims, but never the circumstances that drive Palestinians to such suicidal despair. To do so would point to official Israeli policies: thirty-five years of military occupation, tens of thousands of fruit-bearing trees destroyed, thousands of homes bulldozed, businesses wrecked, land confiscated and "settled" by hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens. Hoffman won't go there.
He is no more dishonest than the rest of us, if that is a comfort.
San Rafael, Calif.
As a diagnostic radiologist, I would like to point out that the picture on the cover of the June Atlantic (a survivor of a nail-bomb suicide attack) is not an x-ray. The image was created by x-rays: electromagnetic radiation beams whose soft-tissue attenuation is recorded on film or a monitor. The image itself is termed a radiograph.
E. B. Schmidt, M.D.
Grosse Point Farms, Mich.
The extract from Robert Dallek's An Unfinished Life—"JFK's Second Term" (June Atlantic)—was both surprising and disappointing. Dallek appropriately depicts President John F. Kennedy's distrust of the advice provided to him by the military and the CIA, especially in light of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and implies that Kennedy would have pulled us completely out of Vietnam during a second administration. So far, so good. But the situation was vastly more serious and consequential than Dallek recognizes, leaving his historical record a pale imitation of a grim historical reality.
The CIA, for example, had grievously misled JFK about the prospects for success in Cuba, suggesting that a general uprising would occur when the invasion forces landed, and that if for any reason the invasion was not a success, these forces would disappear into the mountains to conduct guerrilla warfare. But there was no serious prospect of a general uprising against a popular leader, and the soldiers were not trained to conduct guerrilla warfare. They were even put ashore in a swamp, where Cuban forces quickly prevailed.
More important, Dallek also neglects to observe that the CIA had learned that the Soviets knew the date of the invasion—information that the Agency did not provide to the Commander in Chief. This was an act of treason, if any acts are treasonous—something Dallek should have known, since it was revealed by the CIA and even reported in The Washington Post (April 29, 2000).
Furthermore, those familiar with James Bamford's Body of Secrets understand that the Joint Chiefs had been asked by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to fabricate reasons for attacking Cuba if they could not find real ones. Lyman Lemnitzer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had taken this to heart and, in collaboration with Edward Lansdale, among others, was advancing a variety of fantastic schemes intended to implicate Castro in acts of sabotage and carnage that were American in origin but designed to inflame American opinion against Cuba.
As Bamford explains, the Joint Chiefs became increasingly frustrated with JFK's unwillingness to embrace these harebrained schemes, which included bombings, false arrests, and even hijackings. One scheme was to load a civilian airliner with college students and have it fly over Cuba in order to shoot it down and then blame Castro. This was supposed to be an elaborate deception, in which the students would secretly be off-loaded before the plane was downed, but it would have been embarrassing for any of them to have turned up alive.
The Joint Chiefs tended to regard JFK as the major obstacle in the fight against international communism, for at least three reasons: he had not invaded Cuba when they unanimously recommended that he do so; he had signed an aboveground-test-ban treaty with the Soviet Union, against their unanimous opposition; and he was initiating the withdrawal of U.S. advisers from Vietnam, where the Joint Chiefs believed a stand had to be taken.
James H. Fetzer
University of Minnesota
Robert Dallek contends that President Kennedy would have pulled out of Vietnam after the 1964 election. In arriving at this conclusion he accepts at face value the testimony of leading figures in Kennedy's Administration who recalled JFK's opposition to the war only in 1968. Such testimony is suspect, since these advisers kept silent while the crucial decisions were being made. One need not accuse them of deliberately lying. Most likely they, too, were guilty of wishful thinking and, as the war turned sour, gave greater credence to passing remarks than such remarks deserve.
Practical considerations also weigh against such testimony. To suggest that JFK would mislead the public and allow U.S. servicemen to sacrifice their lives to ease his re-election is to attribute a monstrousness to his character that even most of his critics don't ascribe to him. If Kennedy had doubts about Vietnam, he would have confided in his brother—yet Bobby tried to get appointed ambassador to South Vietnam in 1964, which would have lashed the Kennedy name to the fate of Saigon. Dallek also has to ignore a substantial body of evidence that the Kennedy Administration sponsored the coup against Ngo Dinh Diem, not because the Ngo family was harassing Buddhists but because it went behind the back of the United States to seek peace with Ho Chi Minh. If JFK was planning to abandon South Vietnam in a year, it is highly unlikely that Diem's initiative to seek a separate peace with the North would have inspired the Americans to support a coup. It would have been the easiest way out.
Whatever flexibility JFK had was lost on October 31, 1963, with the murder of the Ngos. The collapse of South Vietnam into gross instability began in 1964, with the political vacuum caused by the coup. It was no secret that the United States was behind the coup. It slanders President Kennedy to suggest that he would have been so irresponsible and politically naive as to destabilize an ally and then walk away from it. To do so would have created a new McCarthyism domestically and new alliances with Moscow throughout the Third World. America and the Kennedy Administration would have lost all credibility. We had no alternative to the course we took after the coup. Sponsoring the coup was a gamble that failed. Fifty-eight thousand Americans died for the sins of the Kennedy Administration, and no amount of wishful thinking can change that.
JFK's tactics were consistent in all his Cold War crises. He did not shy away from confrontation, nor did he authorize the most aggressive response. He always chose a middle way. Sometimes this approach failed, as in the Bay of Pigs (authorizing the invasion but withholding air cover). Sometimes it succeeded, as in the Cuban Missile Crisis (rejecting bombing but ordering a blockade). Sometimes it just bought time, as with Laos (allowing Laos to be neutralized, but beefing up the commitment to South Vietnam). Sometimes it was merely pointless, as in the construction of the Berlin Wall (ordering battle-ready troops lined up to observe the construction of the wall without taking any action). Vietnam would have been no different. Kennedy would have rejected the military's demands for a call-up of the reserves, the invasion of North Vietnam, and unrestricted bombing. He would have pursued a limited bombing campaign in the North and a limited buildup of troops in South Vietnam—say, a few battalions of Marines to guard the airfields at first, and later, as conditions deteriorated, 75,000 men, then 125,000, and so on. In other words, President Kennedy's instincts would have led him along the same route that Lyndon Johnson took.
But that doesn't mean that the outcome would have been the same. Instead of trying to pound the square peg of withdrawal into the round hole of Kennedy's Vietnam legacy, JFK's apologists should consider the real man, not the idealized one. There is a much more likely and successful course the war might have taken had JFK survived. From his experiences in World War II, he had come to admire the Marine Corps, which even then was in the process of becoming the most tactically innovative of the armed services. JFK, who pushed the development of the Green Berets, was also enamored of special operations. One of the most successful approaches to the war was the embedding of small units of Marines into villages, where they prevented the Vietcong from terrorizing the villagers. This tactic was sadly neglected and eventually abandoned. It might not have been ignored by JFK, who had a keener interest in military affairs than LBJ ever did. Another policy change that might have worked was the Vietnamization of the war. General Creighton Abrams worked wonders with the South Vietnamese army, but by 1969 it was too late. President Kennedy might have begun the process earlier. He always insisted that the war was South Vietnam's to win, and he, for one, rarely engaged in wishful thinking.
Thomas F. Berner
I agree that JFK would have made bold policy changes during his second term; but they would have been in the Middle East region. In 1961-1962 Kennedy was working diligently and quietly to defuse the explosive situation in the region by putting forth a plan to allow free Palestinian emigration to Jerusalem and the Arab countries. However, the plan was not favored by the Israelis. Kennedy had little to gain by ratcheting up the pressure on Jerusalem before 1964. He had so much on his plate at that time, he probably decided to wait until after his re-election.
What Kennedy thought could not wait, however, was preventing Israel from obtaining nuclear weapons. U.S. intelligence analysis had concluded that an Israeli bomb would seriously damage the U.S. position in the Arab world. Israel began constructing a nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert in the late 1950s. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion claimed that the Dimona plant was a peaceful textile factory but said, "It is not impossible for scientists in Israel to do for their own people what Einstein and Oppenheimer had done for the U.S."
In 1962 Ben-Gurion assured Kennedy that there were no nuclear weapons in Israel, and that the Israelis would never be the first to introduce them in the region. He then asked Kennedy to provide Israel with the latest Hawk anti-aircraft missiles as a response to Soviet SAM missiles in Egypt. Kennedy agreed to provide the missiles in exchange for a promise to grant America the right to regular inspections of the Dimona plant to make sure it was used for peaceful means. In October of 1963 he was furious with Israel after the CIA reported to him that the Israelis were failing to live up to their part of the bargain by not allowing enough inspections.
Kennedy may not have known at this time that in 1960 the Israelis had somehow procured more than 300 pounds of enriched bomb-grade uranium from the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation, in Apollo, Pennsylvania. (Apparently the CIA knew of this and covered it up.) This would mean that Israel was at least close to having nuclear weapons in 1963. By the end of 1969 the Nixon Administration had estimated that Israel then had from twelve to sixteen nuclear weapons. When Henry Kissinger was told of this, his response was "So what?"
James E. Doyle
The excerpt from Robert Dallek's recent work on John F. Kennedy contains one statement that warrants correction: that the Green Berets were created in 1961. In fact the Green Berets—or, more precisely, the Special Forces—were created ten years earlier.
The passage of the Lodge Act, in early 1951, underlined the need for a more formalized unconventional-warfare resource, and responsibility for developing this resource was assigned to the Special Operations Division of the Office of the Chief of Psychological Warfare. The action officer was Colonel Aaron Bank, and I, a recently activated reserve officer, acted as his assistant. We were both veterans of operations with the Office of Strategic Services during World War II—he in Europe and I in the Far East.
We completed the staff study to create the Special Forces, as they would come to be known, and it was formally approved by then Army Chief of Staff General J. Lawton Collins in late April or early May. The first concrete step was participation by a small number of Special Forces officers in a multi-divisional exercise at Fort Bragg in midsummer of that year.
At that maneuver some wanted a special identification for the Special Forces personnel, and someone fished out an old green beret that he had worn when operating with British commandos in World War II. It was immediately, and totally informally, adopted.
The green beret became a symbol and was widely used until 1953, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had always detested anything that smacked of elite units and special uniforms, abolished the wearing of the green beret. Of course it continued to be worn here and there, but always surreptitiously.
After Kennedy became President, he was taken to visit the Special Forces headquarters at Fort Bragg and was, of course, immersed in the legend of the green beret. Immediately grasping its morale-building power, he ordered the beret approved as the standard head-gear for the Special Forces.
So he became, to a great extent, a sort of spiritual father of the Special Forces, and they, in turn, became informally "the Green Berets." But he did not create them.
Byron S. Martin
Robert Dallek replies:
James Fetzer and Thomas Berner complain that I did not discuss a number of significant points about Cuba and Vietnam in my 4,000-word article. Most of these are addressed in my book, including the question of whether Kennedy would have allowed American troops to die in Vietnam for personal political gain. James Doyle's assumption that Kennedy would have taken bold initiatives in the Middle East in a second term may be correct, but Cuba, U.S.-Soviet relations, limits on nuclear proliferation, and Vietnam would have come first. As for the comments of Byron Martin on the Green Berets, he accurately describes their origins, but it was Kennedy who made them into a publicly recognizable force in the battle against communist insurgencies.
I thoroughly enjoyed "Hitler's Forgotten Library," by Timothy W. Ryback (May Atlantic). It answered several questions I'd had about Hitler's thinking, particularly about his interest in mysticism and the occult. Ryback shows clearly that when looking at the larger questions, a historical scholar or biographer ought to take into account what may at first glance appear to be insignificant. A jot here, a scribble there, tells a lot about Hitler, his anti-Semitism, his hatred of Christianity, and his delusions about ruling the world. Plainly, from the evidence Ryback cites, the seeds of Hitler's disdain for human life were planted prior to his political rise, developing later into a raging inhumanity and culminating in a loathing for the very nation and people he claimed to love. Hitler willingly harbored his prejudices, fueling them with his malice. They became, in the end, larger than the man and less selective. Ryback's article is a sobering reminder of what happens when we change the words of God to fit our own designs and selfish ambitions. They have never been "body, mind, and soul," as Maximilian Riedel argued, but always "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." A fine article, equal to Elias Canetti's essay "Hitler According to Speer."
Timothy Ryback, perusing Hitler's copy of Worte Christi (Words of Christ), notes a "brief penciled line" in the margin, "the only mark in the entire book," next to the passage "You should love God, your Lord, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your spirit: this is the foremost and greatest commandment. Another is equally important: Love your neighbor as you would love yourself." Ryback remarks, "Given Hitler's legendary disdain for organized religion in general and Christianity in particular, I didn't expect him to have devoted much time to the teachings of Christ, let alone to have marked this quintessential Christian virtue."
Ryback has here fallen victim to an all too common misperception among Christians, and in so doing has missed an even greater irony in Hitler's singling out of this passage. These words, attributed to Jesus in Matthew 22:37-39 (and, similarly, in Mark 12:30-31 and Luke 10:27), do not in fact originate with Jesus; he is merely quoting, to his Jewish listeners, two familiar verses of the Torah. Asked by a questioner to name the greatest of the Torah's 613 mitzvot (commandments), Jesus replies first by citing Deuteronomy 6:5—a passage instantly recognizable to observant Jews as the Ve-Ahavta (Hebrew for "you shall love"), which is recited in every Jewish prayer service immediately after the Sh'ma, the central profession of monotheistic faith ("Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one"). (Indeed, in Luke's version, Jesus quotes the Sh'ma itself in the preceding verse, 10:26.) He then goes on to cite Leviticus 19:18, "Ve-ahavta le-rei'akha kamokha" ("You shall love your neighbor as yourself"). It is Jesus' instant and encyclopedic familiarity with the text of the Torah that allows him to draw together these two separate verses, linked by the common word ve-ahavta, to make the point that they represent the same teaching: that love of God is inseparable from love of one's fellow human beings.
Christian readers who focus exclusively on the New Testament are often unaware of the earlier, Jewish origins of many of Jesus' sayings. (Another familiar example is "Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God," ascribed to Jesus in Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4, but quoted there from Deuteronomy 8:3.) That Hitler should have singled out this quintessentially Jewish passage for special emphasis is a delicious irony indeed.
Timothy Ryback is so committed to the false stereotype of Hitler as an atheist that he does not know how to respond to the evidence he found in Hitler's library of a spiritual quest. Born a Roman Catholic, Hitler was never excommunicated, his Mein Kampf never placed on the Vatican's Index of forbidden works. Wehrmacht soldiers wore "Gott mit uns" ("God with us") on their belt buckles. In Mein Kampf and in a 1938 Reichstag speech, Hitler declared, "I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off Jews, I am doing the Lord's work." The historian John Toland amplified the same point, writing, "Still a member in good standing of the Church of Rome despite the detestation of its hierarchy, [Hitler] carried within him its teaching that the Jews were the killers of God."
In 1941 Hitler told General Gerhart Engel, "I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so." Granted, Hitler's Catholicism can be questioned, given the Reich's clumsy efforts to replace Christian worship with a sort of Wagnerian volk cult. But that is evidence of paganism, not of atheism.
No matter how convenient it may be to situate Hitler on the historical shelf next to Stalin, it is false and misleading to brand him an atheist. Neither Hitler nor his Reich can be fully understood apart from the influence of centuries of anti-Semitism based on the charge of deicide, then a central part of both Catholic and Lutheran dogma. Far from exemplifying the fruits of atheism, Hitler shows us the horror of which mid-twentieth-century European Christian doctrine was capable when driven beyond its limits.
Timothy Ryback did not fully capture the religious nature of Adolf Hitler's world view, and its Christian connections. Although Catholicism and Protestantism considered all peoples savable by Jesus Christ's grace, they were virulently anti-Semitic—Luther wrote the predecessor for Mein Kampf, the execrable "On the Jews and Their Lies." Raised in a Catholic household, and an admirer of the aura and authority of the clergy, Hitler in his teens and twenties evolved into an Aryan volk Christian. This creed views Jesus as a militant Aryan sent to earth to wage war against the Jews he assaulted in the Temple. Only Aryans are the divine spiritual descendants of Adam and Eve; others are soulless entities, either developed from apes and best suited for slavery or the spawn of Satan and to be eliminated. Christian Identity and similar modern sects hold similar views, blacks being labeled "mud people." The youthful Hitler was strongly influenced by the volkish pre-World War I Christian Social Party. He publicly proclaimed, "My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter," and boasted, "We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations, we have stamped it out."
By no means a churchgoer, Hitler made many references to God and Providence in his speeches, writings, and private conversations, and he was fond of paraphrasing the Bible. He preferred that his Luftwaffe aircraft sport crosses on the wings and fuselage, swastikas being limited to the tail. His architect Albert Speer recounted that Hitler insisted on the presence of churches in the future Berlin. Hitler thought that only a higher power could explain his survival in World War I and his amazing successes, and as events turned against him, he felt that God would save him and his Reich if German soldiers continued to have faith in the divine cause. Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's last attempt to reverse his fortunes, know the first code name he gave to the grand offensive: Christrose.
The Nazis both supported and harassed what they considered Judaism-contaminated Christian churches, which also challenged Hitler's ultimate authority and his dream of unifying all German Aryans. A favorite tactic was to accuse priests of pedophilia. Hitler eliminated most members of the Polish Catholic clergy—after all, they were not Aryans. He planned to eliminate the competition and make all Germans into Aryan volk Christians after his final victory. Whether this would have worked is doubtful.
Yet members of the Protestant and Catholic clergy and laity cooperated to make Hitler a dictator who long enjoyed majority support. Democracy was despised by many Christians, but Hitler also bought them off by decreeing that almost 10 percent of income taxes go to the churches—about $2 billion to the evangelicals and $1 billion to the Vatican. In exchange the Catholic Church agreed to support the notorious Enabling Act and require German bishops to swear loyalty to the new Reich. So Pius XII—even after his Polish clergy had been liquidated—condemned attempts to kill Hitler, and yearly directed that birthday greetings be sent stating, "Warmest congratulations to the Führer in the name of the bishops and the dioceses in Germany with fervent prayers which the Catholics of Germany are sending to heaven on their altars." The Pope would occasionally protest and even plot against Hitler, but never turned down his money. Nor would Protestant powers.
That many historians continue to downplay the connection between Hitler and religion reflects the continuing desire of a theologically correct culture to suppress knowledge of faith's involvement in the largest bribery and corruption scandal in history, and its corresponding failure to abort the greatest tragedy of all time.
I cannot see one good reason why Hitler's library should be in the United States, either at the Library of Congress or at Brown University. It is an absolute scandal. This unique collection should be returned, with an apology for looting, to the German government as soon as possible.
Timothy W. Ryback replies:
In regard to my labeling Jesus' words in Matthew 22:37-39 as articulating a distinctly Christian virtue, I am grateful to Stephen Chernicoff for the correction, and should have known better, not only from my reading of the Bible but also from my reading of Bolshevism: From Moses to Lenin. In this bizarre anti-Semitic screed, which allegedly presents a "conversation" between Hitler and his mentor Dietrich Eckart, Hitler addresses Luther's translation of this very passage: "Luther translated a certain word, for example, as 'racial kinsman,' but then the rabbi came in and said that the word means 'neighbor.' And so we have the translation: 'Love thy neighbor as thyself,' rather than, as it should be, 'Love thy racial kinsman as thyself.' A small piece of cunning, but—it served its purpose of giving the Jews the aspect of real humanitarians." Even if Hitler did not actually say this (and there is no concrete evidence that he did other than Eckart's account; most scholars doubt that he did), I certainly read Eckart and should have remembered.
I did not intend to cast Hitler as an atheist, as Thomas Flynn suggests, nor did I wish to obfuscate Hitler's personal links to the Christian faith. As mentioned in the article, Hitler was an apostate, not an atheist, and disdained organized religion in general. For all his public posturing in regard to the Catholic Church (so compellingly illustrated by Gregory Paul), in his "table talk" conversations Hitler frequently expressed his contempt for Christianity, and on one occasion, in July of 1941, he spoke of his intention to eventually place the Christian churches on the path to extinction.
In the summer of 2001, while researching my article for The Atlantic, I interviewed Traudl Junge, Hitler's private secretary, who worked with him on an almost daily basis during the last two years of the war. She lunched with Hitler and Eva Braun on the afternoon of their suicide. When I asked Junge if she thought, based on her sustained contact with Hitler, that he believed in God, she chastised me: How can any of us know what another person really believes or does not believe? Like Junge, I do think that Hitler believed in some form of "higher power." Like her, I would not claim to know this definitively.
Gregory Lauder-Frost is not alone in wanting the Hitler books back in Germany. In the mid-1950s the Bavarian state asked the German federal government to seek restitution of the Hitler Library, claiming it as "an important source for the understanding of Hitler's personality." Heinz Krekeler, the German ambassador in Washington at that time, informally inquired at the State Department, and ultimately recommended against a restitution request. "In connection with the resulting difficulties we can expect from the Congress," Krekeler warned Bonn in February of 1957, "it is certain that the American press will learn of this matter and will take this up in a way that will be unpleasant for us." Scandalous as it may seem to Mr. Lauder-Frost that the Library of Congress still has Hitler's books, I suspect that a German ambassador advising his government today would write virtually the identical sentence.
Matthew Miller's proposal to fix failing schools ("A New Deal for Teachers," July/August Atlantic) reads like a page out of a business-school textbook. It's extraordinarily seductive in principle but fatally flawed in practice. If teachers are to be evaluated on the basis of the improvement they've made in their students, whether in the form of test scores, attendance records, or graduation rates, they'll resist working in the tough schools with hard-to-teach students. They may be new to the profession, but they're not naive. They know that too many students in the inner-city schools that Miller aims to revitalize go to class with huge deficits in motivation, socialization, and intellectual development. Before teachers can begin to teach subject matter, they have to address these other, nonacademic matters. It's educational triage, and it's practiced on a daily basis in schools serving disproportionate numbers of poor and minority students.
The fact is that to a large extent the success of teachers is determined by the students who walk through the classroom door. If teachers happen to inherit a class of Talmudic scholars, they're going to shine. Conversely, if they happen to get a class with future felons, they're likely to stumble. In either case, teacher effectiveness will be mismeasured. Unfortunately, the business model that undergirds Miller's plan will do little to reach those students most in need.
Los Angeles, Calif.
As tantalizing as the pay increases mentioned in Matthew Miller's article are, and as much as I, a K-12 music specialist with the Saint Paul Public Schools, could use the money, such pay increases seem unlikely. For one thing, they would induce private school teachers to quit their jobs in droves to join the public schools. Private school teachers already earn less than public school teachers, in exchange for more respect and easier jobs. The higher salaries that would become necessary to compete would make many private schools go belly-up. Since many private schools exist for a particular agenda (religious or social, for example), those who support such agendas would not be likely to let this happen. Miller is also suggesting that classroom teachers should earn more money than college professors or even their own principals. Thus the "grunts" would earn more than their leaders. Since American public school teachers have traditionally never been in charge of their profession, this seems unlikely too. Furthermore, it does not seem to follow that a chemistry teacher must automatically earn more money than a gym teacher, especially if "better-performing teachers should make more." It seems just as likely that a gym teacher gave up a semi-pro career to teach. This raises the question of how one compares a gym teacher or an arts teacher with a science teacher or a kindergarten teacher. What about reading teachers, special-education teachers, or gifted-and-talented teachers? Perhaps a better way to help the public schools is simply to give bonus "danger" pay to all those willing to teach in troubled schools.
Saint Paul, Minn.
Matthew Miller's plan to infuse the urban public school ranks with better teaching talent can do only good, and for that reason alone ought to be implemented. Nonetheless, its prospects for broad and enduring success are limited by a factor that Miller does not address.
The real reason that top-flight talent is so scarce in urban K-12 classrooms is not primarily a question of compensation. Instead it is this: few of those with the right stuff, intellectual and spiritual, want to spend a career in rooms filled with captive audiences of children, many from educationally indifferent homes. And fewer still want to do so while laboring beneath a stultifying and often unimaginative bureaucracy. Sharp-witted, ambitious adults generally prefer to spend their working hours with people of a similar ilk, not with other people's children.
Urban K-12 teaching may be challenging, difficult, and exhausting, but "intellectually stimulating" it is not. I can't imagine that many bright-eyed college seniors contemplating medicine, law, engineering, finance, academia, or, for that matter, journalism would bypass those professions in favor of the urban public schools, even if salaries were made equivalent and a merit system were put in place.
New York, N.Y.
Matthew Miller replies:
I address the concerns raised here in the much fuller discussion of the teacher proposal that appears in my new book, The Two Percent Solution: Fixing America's Problems in Ways Liberals and Conservatives Can Love. Walt Gardner seems to think that disadvantaged students don't have the same ability to improve over time that students from wealthier and more supportive families do—a point of view rejected by good teachers and superintendents I've spoken with. These students may, however, begin at lower levels of achievement, which helps explain why I call for a blended assessment of teachers that—in addition to test-based measures of the improvement made by students over a year—includes peer evaluations of teachers' classroom practice. Such blended assessments, which are being piloted in promising models across the country, would alleviate concerns about creating incentives for teachers to work with the toughest schools and children. These models (among them the Teacher Advancement Program, developed by the Milken Family Foundation) are being crafted in close collaboration with teachers themselves, to assure their support, in stark contrast to Mr. Gardner's charge that I am offering only a "seductive" "business-school textbook" approach.
Philip Fried is right that my new deal for teachers would alter the dynamics in local labor markets for teachers—but not, I think, in the way he stresses. The highly elite private schools have such attractive working environments and amenities that they would continue to attract high-quality teachers. The larger number of religious schools that account for most private schooling have a spiritual component that explains why they attract quality teachers despite the prevailing lower salaries. The real impact might be felt in suburban public schools, which might have to raise salaries to compete with the urban and rural salaries that would exist under my plan. Since suburbs typically enjoy higher per-pupil spending than poorer urban neighborhoods, they would be making this choice from a position of financial advantage.
Finally, Stanley Neustadter and I may simply disagree about the likelihood that many more top-caliber college graduates would choose teaching as a career if the salaries, especially for excellent performers, were higher. Some surveys support my view. Why shouldn't America get serious with a plan like mine and find out?
Ricardo Bayon replies in the May Letters to the Editor to readers commenting on his article "The Fuel Subsidy We Need" (January/February Atlantic), wherein he supported a move to a hydrogen economy in the United States. The readers noted that if wind, solar, and other energy sources were economic alternatives, we would be seeing their development, and that a policy debate on energy merits a sound and complete analysis. In response, Bayon persists in offering only hopes and unsupported assertions. He states, "Wind and solar technologies are growing at breakneck speed. And wind energy in some places is already cost-competitive with natural gas." What are the significant improvements in these technologies? I have not seen any such improvements in twenty-five years. Although some modest cost reductions have been realized, these are not sufficient to yield any significant investments.
We will not "save" our way out of oil imports, and it is fantasy to presume that we can economically derive the equivalent of millions of barrels of oil from solar and wind sources. We will need more nuclear power and more domestic oil development as well. Development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may be the only significant and currently economical step to cut into our oil-import bill. Such development will have an impact on about three or four square miles.
Ricardo Bayon, and the letter writers Hugo Madden and Lawrence Schoen, never quite get to the point. Hydrogen fuel cells can't solve any energy problems, because they use too much energy. The production, distribution, and storage of hydrogen as a transportation fuel does not make sense in terms of either energy or economics. The fuel-cell bandwagon owes more to politics, speculation, and corporate spin than to any technological breakthrough. The "hydrogen economy" wears no clothes.
A fuel-cell car running on hydrogen converted from natural gas would use the same amount of energy per mile as an efficient combustion-engine vehicle burning the natural gas directly. The emissions would be about the same, and the fuel-cell vehicle would have less range and higher fuel costs. The fuel-cell car would use 60 percent more energy per mile than a battery-electric vehicle using electricity generated from natural gas.
If, instead, the fuel-cell car ran on hydrogen separated from water by electricity, the fuel-cell car would use four times as much energy per mile as a battery-electric car charged with the same electricity. Or, to put it another way, a renewable energy resource capable of supporting 10,000 fuel-cell cars could instead support 10,000 battery-electric cars and have 75 percent of its clean energy output still available to displace fossil-fuel-based electricity generation.
Critics suggest that battery-electric cars don't have enough range, take too long to charge, and cost too much. But for local use battery-electrics already have more than enough range, and they are typically recharged at home overnight. Their costs are dropping as battery technology advances dramatically. By comparison, some fuel-cell cars may have more range but not enough to take long trips, so they, too, are limited to local use. They can't be refueled conveniently, because the hydrogen refueling infrastructure has not even been planned, let alone funded or built. Fuel-cell cars, at $1 million each today, are, based on price alone, decades away from commercialization.
We do critically need to substitute electricity for oil as a transportation fuel, but not with hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars. Battery-electric cars are a better choice. They can be commercialized immediately using existing energy infrastructure, and they are much more efficient than fuel-cell cars. The fuel subsidy we need is one that builds a market for battery-electric cars.
Bqack to Grass," Corby Kummer's valuable essay in the May Atlantic, contains an ironic error. He deplores the force-feeding of geese with corn to produce foie gras but states, "At least geese are designed to eat corn." In fact grass is the natural diet of geese. The goose—alone among domestic poultry—has a gut structured to extract a living from grass; it is herbivorous.
Joann S. Grohman
In an otherwise delightful article touting the culinary potential of organically grown grass-fed beef, Corby Kummer makes a conspicuous statement in describing consumers who have decided to go organic, "a choice always to be applauded, for the benefits that chemical-free farming brings to the environment."
Of course this sweeping generalization is debatable. Responsible chemical use in modern agricultural production substantially increases per-acre production; as a result, fewer acres of land are needed to generate an increasing amount of food. Using fewer acres to provide an adequate food supply is an environmental benefit.
This benefit may or may not outweigh the costs of chemical use. Consumers who elect to buy organic products can always be applauded for paying higher prices for their food, but not necessarily for bringing substantial and meaningful benefits to the environment.
Keith A. Good
Cullen Murphy's droll column "Moving On, and On" (June Atlantic) reminded me of an early-1950s cartoon depicting Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden. Adam is saying, "We are just going through a period of transition." After that, the deluge.
J. D. Crumlish
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