Letters to the editor
In "Tour of Duty" (December Atlantic), Douglas Brinkley refers to Vietnam's past "invaders," and includes among them the people that William Lederer and Eugene Burdick called "Ugly Americans" in their 1958 book. The clear implication is that "the ugly American" is the "bad guy," representing U.S. ethnocentrism and inappropriate interference in the internal affairs of Vietnam. Indeed, the epithet is often used in a negative way, and the reference is always to this book by Lederer and Burdick.
The phrase is not, however, used this way in the book. The Ugly American is indeed about U.S. interference in the fictional Southeast Asian country of Sarkhan (read Vietnam), and most of the Americans are seen as a bunch of arrogant and ethnocentric bureaucrats who deal with top officials and recommend inappropriate development projects that do not meet the needs of average Sarkhanians. These Americans and their Sarkhanian counterparts are portrayed as the "suits"—prettified officials who never take the trouble to talk to the peasants.
Chapter 17 introduces another sort of American—an economic-assistance engineer named Homer Atkins, who lives among the common people and gets to know their lifestyle and needs. Rather than "building dams and military roads," as proposed by the American government, Atkins finds that what is most needed is a simple water pump that can be powered by bicycles. He sets out to build this in the countryside, and takes on a Sarkhanese as his partner. So Atkins is the hero, not the villain, of Lederer and Burdick's book. He is called "the ugly American" because he is physically ugly; his partner is "the ugly Sarkhanese" for the same reason. Despite their physical ugliness, these two are morally beautiful, because they work for the people, helping to develop a needed product and to build an indigenous industry at an appropriate level of technology. In contrast, the "suits" in the capital city are physically attractive but, presumably, morally ugly.
Merion Station, Pa.
I was struck by the ending of Douglas Brinkley's piece on John Kerry's Vietnam combat experience, a passage that was apparently taken from Kerry's war diary. Having jumped into a ditch with the mutilated body of a comrade, and with AK-47 bullets whizzing over his head, Kerry recorded the following dissociative episode:
I just lay in the ditch, not firing because I wanted to save ammo and because I couldn't see what I was firing at and I thought about what was happening in New York at that very moment and if people really felt that I was doing something worthwhile while they went down to Schrafft's and had another ice cream sundae or while some fat little old man who made another million in the past months off defense contracts was charging another $100 call girl to his expense account. And then, when the shooting stopped, I came back to where I was.
To anyone who grew up reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald, the style and sense of the passage is familiar, especially the references to Schrafft's ice-cream sundaes and fat little old defense contractors with their expense-account "call girls"—images that sound about right for 1920 or 1935, but to my ears are very dated if ostensibly reflecting the thoughts of a young American under fire circa 1969.
Which is not to say the account is not perfectly true. I've heard a story about an intoxicated reporter who got thrown in jail and, feeling that some dramatic response was called for, removed one shoe and pounded it against the bars of his cell, only later realizing that he had borrowed the scene wholesale from a gangster movie.
However, there is no apparent irony in Kerry's story, and since Hemingway himself was big on bullshit detection, I can't help wondering if an American soldier in 1969 in a Vietnamese ditch under AK-47 fire would truly ponder New Yorkers eating Schrafft's ice-cream sundaes and fat little old defense contractors charging their expense accounts for call girls. Having never been in combat, I have no basis for judging, but it would be most edifying to learn if the passage rings true according to the bullshit detectors of other combat veterans.
Thomas Martin Pflaum
According to an excerpt from John Kerry's war diary, when pinned down by enemy fire, Kerry wondered about fat-cat war profiteers who charge call girls' fees to the cost of war materiel. Ordinary combat officers, when pinned down by enemy fire, tighten their sphincters and wonder 1) How the hell am I going to get out of this? and 2) What's the best thing I can do now for my men and my mission?
One wonders what Lieutenant Kerry's men wondered while he wondered about higher matters.
Joseph R. Owen
First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
I have just finished reading Douglas Brinkley's article "Tour of Duty." I must say I was profoundly moved by Senator John Kerry's sharing of his experiences in Vietnam. Such sharing invites a question: Should Senator Kerry be fortunate enough to win the Democratic nomination, and as a consequence rise to the presidency of the United States, could he in good conscience commit U.S. soldiers to a conflict like the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq? Could he as President, having experienced as a combatant the deception involved in sending troops to Vietnam, involve soldiers in the same way that Presidents who have zealously avoided any military service have done?
Arthur E. Ammeter
Despite his revulsion for the carnage and his disillusionment with the leadership, John Kerry apparently performed his duties in the Mekong Delta extraordinarily well. Douglas Brinkley clearly makes this point in the excerpts from Kerry's writings that appear in "Tour of Duty." I'm not politically aligned with John Kerry, but he deserves my respect and great credit for fulfilling the responsibility for which he volunteered in the face of such personal anguish and doubt. The natural consequence for Kerry was that the experience propelled him into antiwar activism and possibly energized his political career. The Vietnam War engendered similar personal conflict for many of its participants, including me, and each had its own unique outcome. But Kerry's story is especially important for what it reveals about him as a candidate for President and what he might do about our ongoing war in Iraq.
I spent May of 1968 through May of 1969 in the Mekong Delta as a member of the 9th Infantry Division and the Mobile Riverine Force (MRF). I arrived there as a well-trained, career-minded Infantry Airborne Ranger first lieutenant. My service began with a stint as an infantry platoon leader, and I next served as a liaison officer in the MRF's tactical-operations center aboard the flotilla's flagship, the Benewah.
I had experiences very similar to those described by Kerry. His description of being helplessly mired in the hip-deep mud of one of those delta canal banks, with people shooting at him, made me shudder once again from the memory of the absolute vulnerability of the situation. And I empathize with his dismay over the leadership.
In the end, "Vietnamization" was the doomed-from-conception charade created to extract us from a politically untenable situation. It certainly made me change my tactics. I gave the welfare of my men paramount consideration, over missions that held no value given our stated abandonment of military victory as a goal.
Unlike Kerry, most people with similar experience moved on to careers not directly inspired by war. But I think we have all drawn from the lessons of that war in the conduct of our daily lives, and will continue to do so.
Irving M. Cohen
Del Mar, Calif.
The provocatively titled "The Forgotten Millions," by Jonathan Rauch (December Atlantic), raises and unfortunately mishandles a significant historical issue. Rauch is correct in drawing our attention to the intolerable silence surrounding the butchery perpetrated under the banner of the Soviet Union, but he errs in narrowly condemning communism.
Communism is a system of economic and social organization—nothing more, nothing less. What is really at issue is the political structure on which Soviet communism was erected: totalitarian dictatorship, which legitimized arbitrary brutality and flouted the rule of law.
It is important not to confuse communism, capitalism, or any other ism with the political system in which it is embedded. Following Rauch's model, we may equally denigrate corporatist capitalism for the deeds of the Third Reich, or liberal capitalism for the millions killed by the murderous dictatorships propped up by the United States throughout the Cold War.
Rauch, quoting Anne Applebaum, dourly notes that "in December of 2001 ... 'thirteen of the fifteen former Soviet republics were run by former communists.'" Many of these leaders undoubtedly committed grave crimes against citizens of the Soviet Union. But a historical account that focused on their specific deeds, and on the nature of the political machine that enabled their crimes to take place, would have a rather more salutary effect than an unthinking broadside against a now defunct ideology.
Ben A. Oppenheim
Sherman Oaks, Calif.
In "The Forgotten Millions," Jonathan Rauch ushers us back to the McCarthy era. He conflates anti-war demonstrators with sponsors of the march, and consequently finds the marchers guilty by association of all the horrors of communism. This is a monstrous libel, for which Rauch should be deeply ashamed.
The marchers demonstrated not in favor of communism but against a war they considered unnecessary and evil. We all know now that no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and that Iraq was not an immediate threat to the United States. In fact, this disastrous misadventure has seriously endangered both the United States and the rest of the world.
Millions of people suffered and died under communism, but millions of people also suffered and died under Christianity. I doubt that Rauch would condemn all those who go to mass on Sundays as being responsible for all the sins committed in the name of Christianity.
Rauch says that the marchers and the writers who supported them should be ashamed. They have no reason to feel shame. They should be thanked for the courage, honor, and integrity with which they opposed the war in the face of a warmongering President and the congressional cowards who supported his actions. Jonathan Rauch, however, has fallen into an intellectual darkness that he shares with Joseph McCarthy. To atone for his shameful accusations he should apologize to the marchers and the writers who supported them.
San Francisco, Calif.
Jonathan Rauch's support of efforts to commemorate the atrocities of communism makes sense, but his criticism of those who marched in demonstrations sponsored by International ANSWER is premised on a bad analogy. He asserts that showing up at these rallies was analogous to attending one sponsored by the KKK or the American Nazi Party: those present lent tacit support to ANSWER. The problem with this half-baked analogy is twofold. First, whereas everyone is familiar with the ideology of the KKK and the Nazis, most people don't have a clue as to who ANSWER is. The anti-war movement was clearly much bigger than ANSWER, and it was to protest the war that people marched. Second, there is no necessary connection between opposition to the war and communism. By Rauch's logic, showing up at a fundraiser for eradicating AIDS in Africa would be wrong if it were sponsored by ANSWER. No "self-respecting American intellectual" would call it a worthy event.
No matter how perniciously the Communists implemented their vision of the world, communist ideology—unlike racism—is intensely humanistic and premised on helping those oppressed by society.
Jonathan Rauch summarizes the twisted paradox of the West's attitudes to left- and right-wing totalitarianism well. Our intellectual and media elites do indeed have a soft spot for the tyrants of the left, for which I would like to venture what may be at least a partial explanation.
Communism, like Nazism, offers a utopian millennial creed that appeals to a certain type of individual found in any segment of society—the sort Eric Hoffer dubbed the "true believer." Nazi dogma, however, is more limited in its potential appeal, being focused on those of a particular ethnic caste. Thus it is not nearly as effective a sucker magnet as communism, which has always had a larger retinue of useful idiots.
Jonathan Rauch excoriates those on the left as communism's apologists. He equates communism with other ideologies that are denounced by the left and thereby tries to highlight what he perceives as an inconsistency.
Unlike Nazism, the communist ideal had nothing whatsoever to do with the suppression or extermination of individuals based on their differences from the "believers." Communism is a perfect system for perfectly equal individuals, whereas other isms are perfect systems for perfectly unequal individuals. True, the prosecution of the communist ideal led to incredible suppression of individuals; but the evils of communism were in the prosecution, not in the ideal.
Those "apologists" recognize the difference between an evil ideology and unavoidable human evils. We do not generally relegate capitalism to the shelf of unspeakable evils whenever human trafficking or sweatshops are unearthed. We instinctively make a distinction between the shortcomings of human beings and those of ideologies. Perhaps we can condemn communism as completely incompatible with human nature, but we cannot condemn it to the same category as Nazism.
Jonathan Rauch is correct to point out that Nazism was not the only deadly ideology manifested in the twentieth century, but he finds specious fault in communism. Stalin's regime did cause millions of tragic, unjustifiable deaths, but the ism Rauch ought to blame is totalitarianism. Stalin never practiced anything that could seriously be called communism; nor did anyone else in Russia from 1917 to 1989.
Whether it claims the mantle of the right or of the left, any system of governance that allows absolute power to fall into the hands of one corrupt person or party will have disastrous results.
San Francisco, Calif.
The attempt to put Communists on the same moral level as Nazis simply doesn't fly. Whereas there was only one Nazi Party and one top Nazi, Adolf Hitler, we have encountered many kinds of communism, and many top Communists. In the good and the evil that they did, and in how history judges them, they vary. Joseph Stalin was not the same as Mao, and Mao was not the same as Ho Chi Minh. Fidel Castro is not the same as Kim Jong Il. For that matter, Lee Kwan Yew, the authoritarian leader emeritus of Singapore, is not necessarily morally better than Tran Duc Luong, the current President of Vietnam. Whether one categorizes them as rightists or leftists, capitalists or communists, there are many kinds of authoritarian leaders and governments, and morally they range from one end of the spectrum to the other.
New York, N.Y.
Jonathan Rauch accuses Americans of condemning the crimes of the Nazis, with their "six million" victims, but accepting with hardly a murmur the "scores and scores of millions" of victims of communism. He ignores fundamental facts about the past century, however, and thus distorts reality.
1. In their twelve years in power, including six years of World War II, German fascists were responsible for the deaths of at least 40 million people, beginning with Communists and other Germans who were deemed unworthy of living. During the war years alone the Nazis' victims included some six million Poles, three million non-Polish Jews, two million southern Slavs, and 25 million Soviet subjects, along with four million Germans. Most of the wartime dead were civilian noncombatants.
2. Whatever communism's murderousness (and in Koba the Dread, Martin Amis suggests that 20 million were killed by the Soviet regime), the primary reason the fascists did not win World War II was the effectiveness of Stalin's Red Army as an ally of the United States and Britain.
3. Like it or not, therefore, our post- World War II freedom and prosperity in the West are in part a result of the successes of communism. This is not to excuse the wrongs of communism, or to wish for its return, but we must remember our debt to this failed experiment.
Boise State University
George Soros, in "The Bubble of American Supremacy" (December Atlantic), makes some good points, but presents a false choice of two options—ruling out the middle way. The Bush Administration was entirely correct in declaring war on terrorism, specifically on al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The effort to unseat the Taliban government in Afghanistan was entirely legitimate and supported by specific UN resolutions and by the world community at large, including Islamic nations. The mistake the U.S. government made lies in its decision to move on to Iraq before the job of rebuilding Afghanistan was off the ground and gaining momentum. By ignoring the justified war in Afghanistan and the lack of follow-up there, and by harping on the current situation in Iraq, Soros falls into the same trap that the media find themselves in—undercutting his own arguments. There could have been no better showcase for winning the hearts and minds of the world's people, especially in Islamic countries, than Afghanistan. There the Bush Administration missed a great opportunity to solidify American supremacy in the world, more so than it did by invading Iraq.
George Soros disapproves of the pre-emptive military policy of President Bush. He thinks that the terrorist attacks on the United States should have been treated like a crime and taken care of by the police. He feels that the United States should "lead a cooperative effort to improve the world by engaging in preventive actions of a constructive character." Soros is as wrong as he can be. He ignores the fact that the Islamic terror is led by a multibillionaire, and that all the 9/11 suicide bombers belonged to the middle class or higher. No "constructive" actions to improve conditions in the world would have made any difference. Al-Qaeda is fighting against all unbelievers and especially against the secular state, of which the United States is a prime example.
The only way to fight these terrorists is by military means. If President Clinton, after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa, had invaded Afghanistan, removed the Taliban dictatorship, and destroyed the al-Qaeda training camps, 9/11 might very well have been prevented.
Santa Fe, N.M.
George Soros says that "freedom, democracy, and free enterprise" is not the only sustainable model for national success. Yet the other models that come to mind (for example, totalitarianism, socialism, and communism) have not succeeded. He says that America's success with the "freedom, democracy, and free enterprise" model depends on its dominant position at the center of the global capital system, and this position is not available to others. Yet the peoples of China, Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, Taiwan, and Korea (to name a few) have all used the free-enterprise system to better their lives.
Soros says that by invading Iraq, the United States ignored the first principle of an open society: the right to self-determination. Yet the people of Iraq under Saddam Hussein were obviously not enjoying self-determination. He says that U.S. action is making terrorism worse. Yet it's not clear that more-passive alternatives (allowing religious radicals to take control of governments, for example) would be better. He says that the United States is imposing its values and interests on the world. Yet that is precisely what it did during and after World War II.
David P. Hariton
New York, N.Y.
George Soros objects to America's flexing its muscle in Iraq and the world, as the Bush Administration is bent on doing. A foreign policy based on the notion that power trumps law, he points out, is no better than "a crude form of social Darwinism": "It ignores the role of cooperation in the survival of the fittest, and puts all the emphasis on competition." That's bad, I agree. Down the road it could well lead to an abrupt reversal of fortune for us, so I, too, support "replacing the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive military action with preventive action of a constructive and affirmative nature."
But what Soros does not tell us is exactly how international "collective action," led by a newly humble United States, could answer his key questions: "How to deal with failed states and oppressive, corrupt, and inept regimes? How to get rid of the likes of Saddam?" If war is not the way to get rid of the genocidal totalitarians of this world, Mr. Soros, then what is? I have a hard time believing that warm-and-fuzzy initiatives such as "increased foreign aid or better and fairer trade rules," though nice, would suffice.
George Soros expresses my views toward American foreign policy and its consequences with a forcefulness and clarity rarely seen in the American press today. The events of September 11, 2001, provided a singular opportunity for this country to begin a new era of global leadership emphasizing multilateral, cooperative solutions to disparities and violence in the world. This would have involved listening to the leaders of other nations, both the powerful and wealthy and the poor and disenfranchised—because solutions cannot be achieved without the help and cooperation of the former and an understanding of the needs and minds of the latter.
Instead, under the leadership of our present Administration, this nation has taken a course of imposing its will with military action and condemning opposing voices at home and in other countries. By declaring "war on terrorism" and invading and occupying Iraq, we have only increased the intensity of the terrorism we were seeking to reduce.
William F. Hoffmann
George Soros replies:
I entirely agree with Naras Eechambadi that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was justified and that our failure to follow up is a missed opportunity. To Jacob Amir and David Hariton, I say that although constructive action would not rid the world of terrorists, it would deprive them of popular support. To wage military action you need to know where your target lives. Attacking the wrong targets generates resentment, as we have found in Iraq. The majority of people in Iraq now favor a more open society; and the majority in Iraq resent the United States as an occupying power. We are promoting the values of open society the wrong way. To Eric Stewart, I would like to point out that I address in detail what a constructive vision would entail in the second part of the book from which the essay was excerpted.
Your first annual "College Admissions Survey" (November Atlantic) is a complete success. Thank you.
I have two comments, however, about Jay Mathews's contribution, "The Bias Question." Mathews writes that the College Board has now eliminated questions on "subjects beyond the experience of a typical inner-city student, such as yachting or debutante balls." Now, really, were there ever such questions? Can Mathews cite a year in which students were asked about these matters? I understand what he is getting at, but "such as" implies that these two examples are paradigm cases of the kind of unfairness that is in question. I'm skeptical.
The thrust of Roy Freedle's argument, on which Mathews relies heavily, is that if the College Board would only add Freedle's R-SAT to its own SAT, a result would be achieved that more honestly reflected the abilities of minority students. Perhaps. And the point of that? According to Mathews and Freedle, it would allow minority students to get into much more selective colleges. Is that good? The essence of Nicholas Confessore's and Don Peck's articles is that selectivity is an illusion. Peck points out that according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the choice of college makes little difference to students of similar background and aptitude in terms of their later earnings. Confessore emphasizes that "a school's selectivity does not necessarily reflect the quality of education it offers." Why, then, the fuss? Let us also keep in mind that the most selective schools will probably not alter the education they provide to accommodate the newfangled R-SAT scores. As we know, the sociologist Thomas Sowell has made a career out of fighting against affirmative action, and one of his points is that enticing students to go to schools over their heads is demoralizing and, finally, counterproductive.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Roy Freedle's analysis of racial differences in scores on "easy" and "hard" SAT questions calls to mind a story about Ring Lardner and his You Know Me, Al, a collection of letters home from a fictional baseball player. Critics complained that the letters were unrealistic, in that the ballplayer made frequent (and humorous) errors of spelling and grammar, yet always managed to spell the "big" words correctly. Lardner explained that his uneducated writer would be overconfident about ordinary words, and often get them wrong, yet would know enough to look up the hard words in a dictionary.
Paul C. Wessel
Jay Mathews replies:
Paul Wessel makes an excellent point, as does Sidney Gendin. My reference to debutantes and yachts was exaggerated for effect, and went too far. It is also true, as the entire group of articles makes clear, that we put too much value on college selectivity; but Freedle's analysis goes further than that. Educators in inner-city and rural schools report that students with academic potential, including many minority students, often fail even to apply to college, in part because they have been led to believe that they don't belong there. A supplemental SAT score that revealed hidden strengths might persuade them to give it a try.
Your special section on college admissions offered excellent insights into the business of education in America. The issues are complex and often subjective. Yet as the president of one of the smallest colleges in America (one that provides all its enrolled students with full tuition scholarships for one of the nation's finest engineering educations), I often feel like Rodney Dangerfield: "We just can't get no respect!" On page 121 you stated that Princeton has the highest alumni-giving rate of any college in the country, at 64 percent. Please note that the Webb Institute, which has been operating since 1889, had 68 percent participation last year. (The U.S. News data bank will confirm this.) I am proud of our alumni support, which enables Webb to offer these scholarships. I hope you will give our alumni the recognition they so richly deserve for their superb generosity. They epitomize the spirit of philanthropy we should all strive for!
Ronald K. Kiss
President, Webb Institute
Glen Cove, N.Y.
I was happy to learn about the National Survey of Student Engagement ("What Makes a College Good?" November Atlantic), but disappointed that its results are not made accessible to the public. I could have used student opinion when I applied to New York University, in 1997. It would have been useful to know specific information about my programs and resources.
Although NYU has good rankings in most college guides, my experience suggests that the quality of education doesn't always match those rankings. For example, when I took a video-art class for art majors, the media lab was located not in the art department but in the music department, and our teacher was not allowed to come into the lab to teach the students. Instead we were helped by undertrained student aides, who sometimes erased entire projects by mistake.
One of the best classes I've taken was a journalism class in which the students were tested daily on their knowledge of The New York Times. This was taught by a first-time adjunct professor. One of the worst classes I've taken was also in the journalism department: the professor—full-time—periodically showed up a half hour late to class, leaving his teaching assistant to entertain us.
Finally, despite a six percent tuition increase for the 2003-2004 academic year, computer labs have drastically cut down on their hours of operation, and are usually understaffed.
All these are concrete examples of Nicholas Confessore's point about college rankings. Universities, particularly at competitive levels, tend to rely on external features like SAT scores and endowment funds for their reputations rather than on the internal reality of overall education quality.
We need more firsthand accounts to be available—to high school seniors at the beginning of the application process, and to college students looking for good professors for their next term. High school students must rely on name-brand recognition and impersonal data, and college students must rely on word-of-mouth accounts of professors. Sometimes even those are not available. My journalism class with the tardy professor was a waste of thousands of dollars that could have been spent on a class with a competent teacher.
Favoring data over student opinion can also lead applicants to overlook a school's good qualities. A potential applicant to NYU would have trouble getting study-abroad information from The Princeton Review, yet the program is one of the stellar features of the university. A student considering a studio-art major would do well to know that the art advisers are on a first-name basis with all the students, and that they are easily accessible.
Confessore suggests that the best way for potential applicants to find out these quality-of-education details is to visit schools and ask questions of tour guides and admissions officers. I think this is unrealistic, however, because not all applicants visit campuses, and those who do have little one-on-one time with admissions officers. Instead I would like to see a growing market of books and Web sites that use student opinion and anecdotes as their material. And perhaps one day the NSSE will have authority over SAT scores and endowment funds.
Carol L. Maskus
New York, N.Y.
Regarding Samantha Power's article "How to Kill a Country" (December Atlantic): The claim that Ian Smith, the former Prime Minister of white Rhodesia, "shared Rhodes's belief that black majority rule would occur 'never in a thousand years'" implies that it was Rhodes who made this foolish prediction. It was, of course, Smith.
Smith never "ran an election campaign promising 'a whiter, brighter Rhodesia,'" and I defy Power to provide evidence to the contrary.
Power calls Zimbabwe "as broken as any country on the planet" and says that today it is "the continent's basket case." How, I wonder, would she describe the Congo, or Sudan, or Somalia?
Zimbabwe was never "the breadbasket of Africa"; the UN World Food Programme never "relied on Zimbabwean agriculture to help keep the rest of Africa fed," and I challenge Power to provide the statistics to back her claim. And by the way, how does she square it with her assertion that "the West's farm subsidies are ravaging African agriculture"? Both cannot be true.
The falloff in Zimbabwe's agricultural production is indeed "staggering"—but part of the reason is a severe regional drought that Power fails to mention.
White farmers do indeed say that "land reform was both necessary and inevitable." What the writer fails to explain is why it took them so long to recognize this fact.
Power writes, "The Nazis gave us the Final Solution, the Serbs gave us 'ethnic cleansing'; the Zimbabweans have given us 'wiping away.'" Killing 15,000 or 25,000 people is unforgivable (by the way, the Ndebele make up a bit less than a fifth of Zimbabwe's population, not "about a fourth"), even when put in the context—something Power fails to do—of a campaign by anti-government dissidents in which more than twenty commercial farmers were killed. But to call this outrage "genocide" devalues the word.
Africa editor, Financial Times
Samantha Power's otherwise excellent essay attempts to paint both Ian Smith and Robert Mugabe with the same brush of totalitarianism. But no one starved in Rhodesia when Smith was in office there. Government-policy-induced starvation began and continues on Mugabe's watch.
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Samantha Power replies:
It was Ian Smith who infamously proclaimed "never in a thousand years," but Cecil Rhodes would certainly have shared the belief. Rhodes argued that it was the duty of the white race, "the finest race," to occupy Africa, and to impose a system of "despotism" on the "barbarians." "The more of the world we inhabit," Rhodes said, "the better it is for the human race."
According to newspaper reports of the time, Ian Smith did indeed make reference to a "whiter, brighter Rhodesia" during the campaign for the 1965 parliamentary elections, while appealing to voters at a meeting in Melfort, about twenty-five miles east of Harare.
Southern Africa has indeed suffered a regional drought, but Zimbabwe's neighbors, which did not launch land-seizure programs, have not endured a comparable dropoff in agricultural production and living conditions. Michael Holman must certainly agree that farms are far less likely to be able to withstand adverse weather conditions when their new occupants stop planting seeds and harvesting crops, and when they sell irrigation equipment and sprinkler systems for hard cash. With the demise of so much large-scale farming, even a normal rainy season would have yielded a staggering dropoff. It is World Food Programme officials in Harare (who ought to know) who describe their function as shifting almost overnight in February of 2002 from procurement to widespread in-country distribution. I agree with Mr. Holman that the white farmers' after-the-fact consensus about the necessity of land reform did not yield meaningful concessions while they were still in possession of their land.
Certainly Zimbabwe is "broken" in a fashion different from that of the Congo, Sudan, and Somalia. But it is an extraordinary indictment of Mugabe's leadership that a country untouched by war at home is suffering under conditions that rival those of its war-ravaged neighbors. In slaughtering the Ndebele (whose population numbers vary by source and will be unknowable absent a reliable census), Mugabe did not set out to exterminate every last member of the minority. But his massacres did meet the UN's legal definition of "genocide": a systematic attempt to "destroy in whole, or in part," a national, ethnic, or religious group as such. While leader of Rhodesia, Ian Smith may not have starved his people, but in denying the black majority dignity, freedom, and the equal right to own land, he violated human rights, stunted the country's development, and contributed indirectly to Mugabe's rise.
Thank you for Philip Jenkins's clear account of the origins of Nigerian Archbishop Akinola's tough anti-gay stance ("Defender of the Faith," November Atlantic). As Jenkins reports, the Anglican Church of Nigeria finds itself in competition with Islam and believes that in order to win converts, it must denounce homosexuality as vehemently as its rivals do.
Akinola has thus entered the Anglican Church of Nigeria in a dangerous contest: the prize—the greatest number of converts—goes to the group that demonizes gay women and men with the most vigor and fury. Tragically, such evangelism will perpetuate violence against gay people and those perceived as gay. It will produce a generation of gay Christians full of internalized self-loathing and a generation of gay skeptics resistant to a faith that they find irrational and hateful.
Christian religious leaders like Akinola, who denounce their gay brothers and sisters, will perhaps comfort themselves that they have stood against those whom they label "decadent and Western." But will they recognize that they have perverted the Good News into a message of victimization, fear, violence, and hatred?
Philip Jenkins accepts uncritically Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola's way of framing the issues concerning homosexuality and the Anglican Communion. To Akinola and, apparently, Jenkins, at issue is a conflict between traditionalists who base their opposition to the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson on a strict New Testament faith and those who want to amend the faith with modern, secular values.
For me, the problem is quite the opposite. The essential scriptural message at every level—literal, metaphorical, narrative—is to welcome those whom society calls outcasts, to welcome them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus of the Gospels repeatedly expresses scorn for those who preen themselves on compulsively adhering to scriptural minutiae. His stories keep insisting that those scorned by the religious establishment are often the bearers of the deepest (though not always the most comfortable) truths. And history warns again and again that disastrous consequences can follow from misusing biblical authority to legitimize social prejudices—against the sick, the poor, or women; against racial, ethnic, and religious groups; and in support of slavery and oppression.
In short, the archbishop asks me to disobey the Gospels' central messages of love and inclusion on the basis of two clearly peripheral New Testament verses out of thousands, neither of them spoken by Jesus.
Perhaps the archbishop is right about what God wants. If he is, however, it is despite rather than because of biblical faith.
Silver Spring, Md.
It saddens but doesn't surprise me that the Anglican Primate of Nigeria is intensely Bible-centered. Like many Christians, he values the rest of the Bible above what the Gospels tell us of Jesus. If one reads the Gospels, it should be obvious that Jesus was not concerned about homosexuality—or about any kind of sexuality. He hardly mentions anything sexual. Paul's remarks can be interpreted as opposing man-to-man sex, though some linguists have raised doubts even about that.
As for homosexuality among animals, Archbishop Akinola should be given a copy of Bruce Bagemihl's Biological Exuberance, which cites thousands of animal species in which homosexual behavior has been observed.
Laurence G. Wolf
If Philip Jenkins is correct in his analysis of Peter Akinola's fury at the ordination of gay bishops—that the archbishop is in a battle with Islam over which faith community is the least welcoming to gay and lesbian persons—then Akinola's motives are revealed to be political rather than theological, and anything he has to say regarding God's desires for this world and human relationships is to be dismissed as self-serving manipulation for the preservation of his own political power.
I am an American, an Episcopal priest, and I repudiate everything Peter Akinola has to say regarding who is and who is not fit to be ordained in our Church. I would rather have a Christian church in Africa with only one member, if that member welcomed all God's children equally, than an entire continent covered with Christians who decided who was welcome based on sexual orientation. If that's to be the case, then let Islam have the whole thing.
The Rev. Dr. Alan C. Miller
Philip Jenkins's article on the homosexuality issue in the Anglican Communion was helpful. As Archbishop Akinola asserts, the real issue is the authority of Holy Scripture. Homosexual behavior is mentioned seven times in the Christian Bible, and always unconditionally condemned.
One does not need to be a conservative to feel concerned about the erosion of the authority of Scripture. If the Church is unwilling to take seriously biblical teachings on human sexuality, how can we expect others to listen to its teachings on peace, justice, and nonviolence? Either the Bible is a relevant guide for modern living or it is an antiquated writing, hardly worthy of consideration.
The homosexuality issue in the Church is not about inclusivity, as many hold. Persons of homosexual orientation (however that is defined) are welcome in the leadership of most churches—but only if they live celibate lives. People cannot help how they are born or conditioned, but we are all nevertheless responsible for our behavior.
Philip Jenkins replies:
I don't wish to defend Archbishop Akinola's views. My goal was to explain his beliefs and assumptions, and to suggest that they were based on far more than mindless anti-gay prejudice. Having said this, I would take issue with a couple of points in these letters. Whether the churches should ordain openly gay clergy is debatable, but supporters of such a policy should not deny that it constitutes a radical departure from the oldest Christian traditions.
Richard Johnson argues that the core New Testament message demands a welcome for "those whom society calls outcasts" as "brothers and sisters in Christ." He can certainly claim excellent scriptural authority for his views. However, as I read those same passages, Jesus expected that following their welcome, the various outcasts (adulterers, publicans) would give up the sinful practices that made them outcasts in the first place. That is the central issue dividing liberal and conservative Christians on these matters: liberals do not believe that homosexual actions are sinful, conservatives do.
Laurence Wolf observes that Jesus says very little about sexual matters, which might conceivably mean that he regarded rules of sexual conduct as trivial or insignificant. Much more likely, though, is that Jesus simply shared the sexual values of Judaism in his time, and felt no need to reassert doctrines and beliefs that were so self-evident. Supporting this latter view, stringent moral and sexual orthodoxy—indeed, puritanism—pervades the earliest Christian documents, including the New Testament Epistles, the Apostolic Fathers, and the Didache. Even if one dislikes the conservative sexual codes of the New Testament, it would take a wild stretch of imagination to claim that these ideas betrayed the intentions of a sexually radical Jesus. And the words used so damningly in Paul's epistles (arsenokoitai, malakoi) unquestionably do refer to "man-to-man sex."
Being safely situated in Florida, Dr. Miller can afford to hold fast to his agenda, to the extent of dismissing the perils of massacre and forced conversion facing the Christians of Nigeria and other lands. And Dr. Miller denounces the archbishop for following motives that are "political rather than theological"?
In the September 2002 Atlantic, Len Winner stated in a letter to the editor, "James Fallows portrays the Washington bureaucrat Darleen Druyun as a clever, almost heroic defender of the taxpayers' money. I think the reverse is true." Fallows responded, "As for Len Winner's complaint, I tried to stress in the article that many things could still go wrong with the JSF. But if Darleen Druyun and her colleagues are judged by results, particularly in cost control, so far they've done surprisingly well." Maybe Fallows could provide an update, in light of Boeing's having fired Druyun and the chief financial officer, Michael Sears, for unethical conduct, and the Defense Department's investigation into whether Druyun improperly shared with Boeing pricing data from Airbus. Indeed, it could be an informative story, since Sears and Druyun "served" on boards of organizations, and Sears received two honorary doctoral degrees. Will these organizations and universities follow Boeing's lead, or will they continue to honor those accused of unethical conduct?
James Fallows replies:
First, background on the Darleen Druyun story. Through 2001 and 2002, while Druyun was a senior acquisition official for the Air Force, she negotiated and enthusiastically supported a controversial deal whereby the Air Force would spend $20 billion or more to lease 100 Boeing 767s for use as military tankers. Opponents of the deal said it would be cheaper simply to buy new airplanes, and that in any case Airbus would offer planes for less. During the negotiations Druyun was also in secret contact with Boeing about taking a job there when she retired from the government. She left the government late in 2002, began work as a Boeing executive in January of 2003, and was fired by Boeing (along with Michael Sears, the man who hired her) last November, when news of the secret talks leaked out. Full details are available from the Web site of the Project on Government Oversight, pogo.org, which took an active role in exposing the problem.
Druyun's actions are a mystery in the literal sense: she has refused to give interviews or make public statements, so any explanation she may have is unknown. Her downfall is more deeply mysterious in the novelistic sense. Through the previous thirty years of her career she was known for an almost ostentatious sense of propriety. She made enemies mainly by scolding others for not living up to her announced standards. Although almost none of the newspaper stories about her firing reminded readers of this fact, in the fall of 2001 Druyun had played a major role in a much more important decision involving Boeing. This was the competition between Boeing and Lockheed Martin to build the new Joint Strike Fighter, the contract for which seemed certain to be the most lucrative defense contract in history, potentially worth $200 billion. (See "Uncle Sam Buys an Airplane," June 2002 Atlantic.) Two years after playing a leading part in the choice of Lockheed Martin rather than Boeing for that contract, Druyun was disgraced for apparently accepting favors from Boeing. If and when what happened in those two years is revealed, the story will be fascinating.
I find the map accompanying Terrence Henry's "Nuclear Iran" (The World in Numbers, December Atlantic) to be specifically misleading with respect to Israel. It does not show Israel as having weapons production, weapons technology, and delivery systems. Yet for years the global press has reported—to Israeli silence, and based on insider leaks (Mordechai Vanunu)—that Israel has all these components. Today the BBC and NPR report that the International Atomic Energy Agency has asked Israel to bring its atomic-weapons programs into the international order.
Terrence Henry replies:
The map for "Nuclear Iran" details which countries have exported items to Iran for use in its nuclear program, not the nuclear capabilities of individual countries. The map is titled "Iran's Import Path to Nuclear Autonomy, 1979-Present," and its purpose is explained quite clearly in the second paragraph of the text.
Although we are grateful for Christopher Hitchens's review of Victor Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary ("Pictures From an Inquisition," December Atlantic), we are obliged to point out a certain number of errors and misconceptions in Hitchens's otherwise exemplary piece.
Hitchens states that Serge's "novels and poems and memoirs, most of them directed at the exposure of Stalinism, were mainly composed in jail or on the run"—as for example, "in the Orenburg camp, deep in the Ural Mountain section of the Gulag Archipelago." Orenburg is not a Gulag camp in the Ural Mountains but, rather, a small city on the Ural River, on the border of Central Asia. Serge described this place in a long chapter of Memoirs of a Revolutionary—one of the two books ostensibly being reviewed.
More bothersome is Hitchens's overdramatized heroic image of a Serge writing "in jail or on the run." It would have offended Serge's probity and modesty to exaggerate his sufferings. He would also have been offended by the misconception of his aims as a literary artist in the line of the Russian novelists. Alas, Hitchens perpetuates the old myth of Serge the militant turned writer by default.
Equally serious is an error of omission. Serge lived and died a socialist—as fiercely opposed to capitalism as he was to totalitarian communism. His reputation was "ground to powder" not "between the upper and nether millstones of Hitler and Stalin" but between the millstones of capitalism and communism. For this reason Serge remains unpalatable in the era of neo-liberalism and U.S. military hegemony. His Memoirs are very uncomfortable reading (or re-reading) for anyone who has the least indulgence for such anti-human and anti-socialist abominations as nationalism, patriotism, militarism, and imperialism.
Victor Serge's literary executor
Victor Serge's son
The short story "The Red Carpet," by Lavanya Sankaran (December Atlantic), is absolutely wonderful. Simple, unmelodramatic, and most untypical in its depiction of the fault lines within a traditionally conservative society. Thanks for this excellent eye-view across the ocean.
Corby Kummer ("Pride of Place," December Atlantic) calls it "genius" for John Paul to put an iconic engraving of Che Guevara on the label of his vin gris, and "whimsy" for Jimi Brooks to put Trotsky on Runaway Red. I hope you will provide Cameron and Brooks with complimentary copies of the December issue: then they—and Kummer, too—can read Christopher Hitchens on Victor Serge, Mark Steyn on Elia Kazan (who lined up against "apologists for thugs and tyrants"), and Jonathan Rauch on "The Forgotten Millions" of communism's victims.