In his article "Inside Al-Qaeda's Hard Drive" (September Atlantic), Alan Cullison writes, "They had fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and they fondly remembered that war as a galvanizing experience, an event that roused the indifferent of the Arab world to fight and win against a technologically superior Western infidel."
The Soviet Union was a Western infidel? I can see how one might be able to make the claim that today's Russia is "Westernized," but when the Soviet invasion began, in 1979, I doubt that anyone in the world (Afghan resistance and foreign Arab fighters included) viewed the Soviet empire as a "Western" power.
Pompano Beach, Fla.
Alan Cullison is right to compare al-Qaeda's strategy of tempting the United States into hasty revenge to the methods of nineteenth-century anarchists. In The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad's classic tale of the revolutionary underground of European émigrés in London, the sinister anarchist bomb-maker, known only as "the professor," makes the rationale of his struggle clear.
To break up the superstition and worship of legality should be our aim. Nothing would please me more than to see Inspector Heat [the detective assigned to the investigation of foreign anarchists] and his likes take to shooting us down in broad daylight with the approval of the public.
The point is that al-Qaeda does not gain succor just from what Cullison calls "Arab resentment against the United States"; it also profits from the West's agonizing over the legally—not to say morally—dubious methods used to combat international terrorism, some of which clearly have a certain popular appeal, particularly in the United States. Obviously, this tension exists whenever liberal democracies are confronted by existential enemies. But the threat of terrorism—unlike, say, that of extremist political parties—cannot be assessed according to the normal rules of democratic politics. Hence the problem of terrorism is one of information (or, rather, the lack of it) and political responsibility, because the state is privy to what little information there is. It is obvious to all now that politicians like Bush and Blair are gambling with very high stakes—lives and liberty—but with little knowledge of the odds. Conrad's anarchist would recognize this dispiriting conclusion as proof that the terrorists have already succeeded in destabilizing our societies.
Alan Cullison replies:
Michael Alaly is certainly correct that by our own Cold War definitions the Soviet Union would not have been considered a "Western" power in 1979. But the differences between the United States and the Soviet Union take on another hue when you consider them from the perspective of the U.S.-armed fanatics in Afghanistan during that period. Most of them were illiterate, and not well versed in the ideological differences between capitalism and communism. Rather, they fought the Soviets primarily because they regarded them as infidels with decidedly Western values: the Soviets preached secular education, Western clothes, and greater rights for women. Today the United States is largely pressing the same values in its own occupation of Afghanistan. And its former allies, mujahideen like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Osama bin Laden, are now its most stalwart enemies.
In "The Hollywood Campaign" (September Atlantic), Eric Alterman described the Center for Public Integrity as an "advocacy" organization that receives funds from the Streisand Foundation.
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that conducts investigative research and reporting on public-policy issues. We do not take positions on public-policy issues, we do not lobby, and we are not an advocacy group. We are a journalistic enterprise. The center's reports have won the George Polk Award, Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, and Sigma Delta Chi Awards, among others. This year the center was awarded the PEN USA First Amendment Award for its body of work.
The center does not take money from governments, political parties, corporations, or labor unions. We disclose all our funders on our Web site, including the Streisand Foundation, which provided a small sum for general support in 2003. No one from that foundation—or any other—has influence over the content of the center's reports.
Center for Public Integrity
Eric Alterman's political star map missed a painful, long-enduring irony. Since 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the motion-picture community has given $40.4 million to the Democrats in federal races, while the tobacco industry has delivered $39.4 million to the Republicans. In other words, all the liberal largesse Alterman describes has been canceled out, almost dollar for dollar, by some of America's most detested and dangerous companies.
But is that any way for Big Tobacco to thank its most valuable marketing partner? Not only are Hollywood's PG-13 and R-rated movies blowing more tobacco smoke than films have at any other time since 1950, but smoking scenes are responsible for recruiting half of all new adolescent smokers in the United States each year—390,000 kids, worth $3.2 billion in lifetime revenue to the tobacco companies. Solid scientific evidence of catastrophic harm has attracted the keen attention of more than half of America's state attorneys general and compelled America's major health associations to call for an R rating on movies with tobacco imagery.
Hollywood's high-powered donors should do more than write checks. They should make sure that the motion pictures they produce and distribute don't pump up a notorious industry that is targeting their favorite candidates for defeat.
Regime change, as they say, begins at home.
It seems to me that Eric Alterman took advantage of my hospitality to inaccurately report on my home, vehicles, activities, and energy use, all in order to label me a hypocrite. (Two Priuses, a ten-year-old BMW, and my daughter's friend's pickup truck hardly make for a driveway lined with "SUVs and assorted luxury vehicles.") Guess he's looking to pump up his populist image, which took a major body blow this year when he plunked down a fat wad on a home in East Hampton.
In observing Mr. Alterman's behavior those weeks he was out here, nosing around my home, gobbling Lynda Resnick's food, or ogling celebrities, I could ascertain that the shining gleam in his eye was not so much disgust as lust. I especially remember his weird stammering when I asked him about his own charitable activities: "M-m-my children go to public school!" Hmmm. I went to public school.
Perhaps for his next article Eric can expose the hypocrisy of his wealthy new neighbors. East Hampton has a thriving liberal philanthropic community and ought to be good for more open-bar events and free lunches at the expense of those whose ranks he aspires to join.
Enjoy your glass house in the Hamptons, Mr. Alterman. And remember, hypocrisy begins at home.
Santa Monica, Calif.
W ith all due respect to Michael Barone ("The Stakes in 2004," September Atlantic), his thesis about the importance of the coming election is unsupported by facts, and undermined by some of the facts he cites. At least since World War II the United States has had an essentially bipartisan approach to all its major policies. Civil rights, containment of communism, support for mechanisms of globalization like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, rapprochement with China (and the Democratic versions of "Nixon to China," such as welfare reform and the "end of the era of big government"), Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, big defense budgets, the interstate highway system, the invasion of Iraq—every single item on a list of significant federal policies has been dependent on widespread bipartisan support no matter which party initiated it, and the parties have taken turns leading the trend toward centralization and expansion of government since at least the Civil War.
Kerry may be able to pursue the current consensus policy in Iraq more effectively than Bush, because he will give the appearance of a "clean slate," but his voting record and his intentional vagueness on the subject indicate that he doesn't really disagree with its major features. No amount of nice talk will create the deployable divisions that our "allies" don't currently have, even if they were inclined to send their soldiers into harm's way—and apart from the British and the Poles, who are already in Iraq, they're not. In domestic policy Barone himself points out the significance of Republican congressional control; and the crash-and-burn results of the Clinton health-care reform (when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House) demonstrate that it doesn't seem to matter much on the big issues. The Supreme Court justices will no doubt continue to function more as slow-motion validators of social change than as social activists—as they usually do no matter who appoints them.
I found a couple of points Michael Barone made illuminating as to the state of the so-called "libertarian" wing of the Republican Party. Barone writes that domestic spending in a Kerry Administration "might be increased more than Bush would allow." But the Bush team increased nondiscretionary nondefense spending by 15 percent a year during the first three years of his presidency, on top of giant tax cuts and huge increases in defense spending. Fiscal discipline is clearly not this Administration's strong suit. The only time the Bush team showed even a modicum of restraint was in an election year. A second-term Bush presidency would not have to show such restraint again. Remember, the Vice President famously declared that "deficits don't matter."
I agree with Barone that the 2004 presidential election is the most im-portant election of my lifetime, but he seems to be grasping at straws for a reason to support the President. The fact is that fiscal conservatives have made a deal with the devil, and they've gotten badly singed. The President's priorities have been war and values initiatives, leaving sound management and smaller government to his successors. If President Bush were to lose the election, Barone asks, "could a candidate like Rudolph Giuliani take the Republicans in a new, more libertarian direction?" Sounds like wishful thinking to me. I'm afraid the Republicans have found their election formula for the next twenty years: waving the flag, decrying signs of values slippage such as gay marriage, and passing out pork, like the horrific trade bill the House engineered earlier this year. There seems to be very little room left for anything remotely "libertarian."
Los Angeles, Calif.
Michael Barone asks if "a candidate like Rudolph Giuliani" could "take the Republicans in a new, more libertarian direction." Giuliani has been accurately flattered, insulted, and otherwise characterized in many ways, but I don't believe "libertarian" is one of them!
W hy has our standing in the world declined? Maybe people abroad resent the patronizing attitude exemplified by Colin Powell in his interview with P. J. O'Rourke ("Adult-Male-Elephant Diplomacy," September Atlantic). In it Powell compares the United States to an adult, and other countries to teenagers who will appreciate what we're doing in the world when they grow up. Exactly what aspect of our experience in Iraq will cause other countries to see the light? Aren't we the ones acting immaturely, by always demanding to do things our way?
San Francisco, Calif.
Did anyone note the irony of Colin Powell's assuming "the white man's burden" in explaining America's role in the world in the twenty-first century? Virtually embracing the concept of an American empire, he is not shy about proclaiming America's mission as the world's disciplinarian. Yet he would still like the rest of the world to love us. This is what all parents want from their children, and setting strict rules and enforcing them provides the kind of ordered and structured environment many child psychologists feel is necessary for the healthy growth of a child. It even works in the military, in many corporate cultures, and in the world of sports—except, perhaps, when the professional stars make ten times as much as the coach. Powell chides Europe for not being willing to invest more resources in military materiel and, instead, leaving the heavy lifting to America. It's as if the Europeans are playing and having a good time while we root out criminals and rid the world of evil. How childish of Europe. Maturity equals bigger guns in this conception. Besides, we need to find more markets for our biggest export—military arms.
What the good Secretary doesn't mention, of course, is that Europe's foreign aid as a percentage of GDP exceeds America's; that Europe generally takes care of its citizens through progressive social programs; and that European countries show far more concern for the environment in their public policies than America does. By and large they also have a saner approach to work. We have, it seems to me, the kind of inferiority complex that makes it necessary to constantly bully the world until everyone loves us. The problem is, the rest of the world's countries are not children, and treating them as such is insulting and ignorant.
Secretary Powell uses the treatment of women as a measure of America's enlightenment. But how advanced are we, with such a low percentage of women in Congress and the glass ceiling firmly in place in corporate America? Sexual-harassment and discrimination actions are at an all-time high, and liability insurance for this has emerged as a new specialty. Perhaps the Secretary's metaphors betray him and his hierarchical, male-dominant approach to life. O'Rourke may find this cute and endearing; women of sensitivity may find it rather Neanderthal. I was in the military just long enough to determine that it survives as a master-servant culture by holding out the prospect of becoming a master and returning to some innocent rookie the abuse one previously endured. A West Point graduate, if he stays in, will one day be able to abuse the greatest number of mortals of lesser rank. It is an alpha-male system that may work for wolves, but not necessarily for human beings.
Many of the Founding Fathers were wary of a standing army in peacetime, but now the concept is not even seriously questioned. As we move further toward martial law, it isn't even the kind of world that requires military control that is scary—it is the mindset that the military model engenders. Why do we have no Department of Peace in America while the Defense Department gobbles up half the national budget? What General Powell will never be able to examine is how much of the Third World's economic weakness and unrepresentative governance is the result of earlier colonial periods and the policies of exploitation and repression practiced by the Western powers. Would Colin Powell even understand the need for affirmative action and reparations in his own country? It's lonely at the top of the pyramid, and at every step up more is lost than is gained.
J. Russell Tyldesley
P. J. O'Rourke's conversation with Secretary Powell piqued my interest, because I have long admired both of these wise and sincere gentlemen. I have learned during my travels in other countries that people there are indeed not mad at us; on the contrary, they are quite friendly to us, their disagreements with our policies notwithstanding. So I tend to agree with our Secretary of State on that. Yet I cannot endorse his belief that the public is worrying too much about terrorism. I just don't see it, save some questionable security checks at airports. Public attitudes are nothing like those I recall during the Cold War days of backyard bomb shelters. I do see head-in-the-sand complacency or a naive desire to be loved by all the world, or both. The silly disdain of our policy of pre-emption by some clearly shows a perilous failure to appreciate that our country is at war with an enemy bent on destroying us just because of who we are. I do agree with the Secretary's comments about the global value of free markets and democracy. Yet the here-and-now challenge for America is securing public safety. The unhelpful five days of hypocritical chest-thumping and flag-saluting during the Democratic National Convention do not belie the true pacifist, socialist leanings of that crowd. The kids coming out of the madrassas don't have a clue about the differences between Democrats and Republicans. They are charged by their leaders with destroying us because we are Westerners and do not believe as they do. This reality cannot be wished away. It must be eliminated. Then the democracies can grow and a global economy can flourish.
Harold B. Wilber
High Springs, Fla.
P.J. O'Rourke's conversation with Secretary of State Colin Powell is one of the best articles I have read this year. I felt as if I were in the room with them, enjoying the give-and-take of the conversation, and I thank The Atlantic Monthly for making it available. Bravo, sir. Well done.
J. B. Corrigan
I am sure that Paul Elie's article "In Search of a Pope" (September Atlantic) will not be the last to appear as we await the death of the current Pontiff. We will be fed ad nauseam all sorts of trivia about papal practices, papal history, and papal prospects, but out of political correctness one or two things will not be said. One is that only the Italians could have invented such a preposterous institution as the papacy, the last remnant of the Roman Empire; as emperors, pharaohs, shahs, and sultans have all disappeared, the Roman Pope continues the ancient tradition of showing the earthly face of God. Second, we will not hear that there is a venerable tradition of Catholic anti-clericalism that does not need Protestant rebellion to be suspicious of the reverend clergy. Before 1870, or at least before the French Revolution made the Popes martyrs and heroes, Catholics paid little mind to the Bishop of Rome, and Catholic rulers ignored him most of the time. You don't have to be a Protestant or an atheist to find the papacy an affront to both faith and common sense.
Having read Paul Elie's recent book The Life You Save May Be Your Own, I was nonplussed by his assessment of John Paul II. Elie's deft book traces the lives and work of four great Roman Catholic writers of the mid-twentieth century: Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O'Connor. His palette is grand, and the work is hopeful and farsighted.
In his Atlantic article he paints a picture of John Paul that some of us hardly recognize: a living saint, a traveler, and a savior of the Church. Some of us see quite a different Pope: one who raised the founder of Opus Dei to sainthood, has refused to recognize the homosexual community, has denied the right of contraception, has given Cardinal Law a position in Rome, and has appointed far too many cardinals with the same static conservative ideas as himself. It is time for him to retire, using the directive he issued for elderly cardinals.
John Paul seems to fear a return of the spiritual growth briefly enjoyed in the years of John XXIII's Second Vatican Council. But his attempt to stifle spiritual growth simply will not work. Whoever said that belief cannot develop and must remain always the same? Thomas Merton, one of Elie's chosen writers, is a sound example of the growth of a soul. His development, as seen from his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and through his journals, shows a somewhat narrow-minded young Trappist who grew into a world-embracing spiritual leader.
In a personal letter from 1967 Merton wrote, "I think … that the renewal is ok, and in any case the old was no longer viable." I think that were he living in these times, Merton, too, would cringe at Elie's assessment of John Paul.
Randall De Trinis
Paul Elie replies:
It doesn't please me that my article disappointed an admiring reader of my book, but it seems to me that the article and the book take essentially the same approach. With the book I sought to tell the story of American Catholicism in the middle of the twentieth century by telling the stories of four American Catholic writers, looking for the substance of the faith in extraordinary lives rather than in generalizations about history or disputes over doctrine. In the article I put forward the view that a Pope is best understood in terms of his character, not through the scrutiny of a few public actions or positions on controversial issues. Seen this way, John Paul is something other than the rigid throwback he is made out to be. His travels, his delight in mass communication, his openings to Judaism and Orthodoxy, his acknowledgment of the errors in the Church's past, and now his open physical frailty: these represent steps forward for the Church (imperfect as they are) and genuine developments of the reforms John XXIII set in motion by calling the Second Vatican Council. These developments make what I described as John Paul's "doctrinal fixity" and "blunt rhetorical force" in other areas—such as his "abrupt declarations that matters of ordination and sexuality, which had only just begun to receive informed attention from the world's Catholics, were closed to further discussion"— more disheartening than they might be otherwise.
John Paul's character has obscured the character of the men he has made archbishops. In my experience most of us know little about these men other than that they are doctrinally conservative—an observation that doesn't tell us very much. That is why I called for greater attention to the character and personal traits of the men considered papabile in the time before the next conclave.
"Rumsfeld's Rules Revisited," by Ross Douthat (September Atlantic), lists seven principles of management that are very sound in business or in government. But Rumsfeld ignores all of them, showing once more that power corrupts.
It is more important to look at character than at beliefs or knowledge when choosing people for high office. The person's behavior in the past must be the main criterion. The task of those with the power to appoint is to choose those who, because of their public or nonpublic personality, are less likely to become seriously corrupt than the average applicant. Has the applicant weaseled out of the blame for past disasters by blaming others? Has the applicant often abused things or people? What have former co-workers said about the applicant? Does ambition rule his or her life?
On these measures the Bush Administration seems to deserve, at best, a D-minus.
It's always morbidly amusing to see the writings of a younger and apparently wiser Donald Rumsfeld being recycled for public consumption. However, I was disappointed to note the absence of my personal favorite from Ross Douthat's list. In light of current and recent events, I think the following can legitimately be considered the mother of all Rumsfeld's Rules:
"Arguments of convenience lack integrity and inevitably trip you up."
"Nader Republicans," by Nathan Littlefield (September Atlantic), says there is "little the Democrats can do" about Ralph Nader's dangerous candidacy and the Republicans eager to help him pull votes away from Kerry. Not so. What they could do, and what they could have done four years ago, is what the major parties have historically been smart enough to do when faced with third-party challenges: namely, absorb the causes of the challenger into their platform.
Nader has broadly signaled that this would suit him fine and he would bow out if it happened. The Democratic National Committee prefers—again—to rage and wail against Nader and those sneaky Republicans, fighting to keep his name off state ballots rather than daring to take up the cause of the progressives in any respect. That might keep corporate donors happy, but it doesn't seem to be doing much to energize the Democratic base.
Los Osos, Calif.
Nathan Littlefield replies:
Andrew Christie's argument is a familiar one. I've heard it before from progressives who wish the Democrats would move in their direction, but the facts don't bear it out. Ralph Nader has "broadly signaled" that he would leave the race? He pressured John Kerry to choose John Edwards as his running mate. Then Kerry chose Edwards, and Nader redoubled his efforts to get himself on the ballot in swing states. Nader and Kerry have a well-publicized "reconciliation meeting"—and nothing changes. The entire Democratic establishment believes, and says, that Nader will take votes away from Kerry. The entire Republican establishment seems to believe, but does not say, the same thing—which explains the support Nader has received from big Republican donors. (And Kerry is a corporate candidate?) Perhaps the Democrats are missing the boat, all those Republican activists are wasting their time and money, and Mr. Christie is right. Yet he offers no evidence. In fact, the 2.74 percent of the national popular vote that Nader won in 2000 does not augur well for a progressive groundswell if the Democrats move to the left, especially compared with the 19 percent Ross Perot netted as a right-leaning populist in 1992. Furthermore, voter turnout was up in the previous presidential election, but there was no significant correlation between turnout and voting for Nader—meaning that in most states he simply split the liberal vote with Gore. Which is exactly why Republicans are helping Nader's candidacy this year.
Christopher Hitchens calls Edwin Williamson's biography of Jorge Luis Borges (September Atlantic) "altogether first-rate." I would agree, though I question Williamson's apparent reliance on María Kodama for information about Borges's last years. As executor of Borges's literary estate she has exhibited unparalleled power—power enough to delete an entire decade (1969—1979) from the story of his life.
In this decade the publisher E. P. Dutton published ten books by or about Borges, among them The Aleph and Other Stories 1933—1969. I served throughout this decade as Borges's editor.
You will find these books, if you find them at all, in secondhand bookshops. Kodama has repeatedly refused to allow reprints of any of them, for the single reason that Norman Thomas di Giovanni had a hand in translating or editing the text. Their feud has its origin in the contract Dutton signed with Di Giovanni in 1969 for his translation of the first book, The Book of Imaginary Beings, and his work as translator for all the books to come. The contract, inexplicably, gave the author a smaller share of the royalties than the translator. Kodama now regards Di Giovanni as a thief who stole thousands of dollars from her estate. No reconciliation is in sight. Meanwhile, any biographical information she gave to Williamson must be regarded as unreliable.
Christopher Hitchens's characterization of Martín Fierro—"unscrupulous, untied by any social obligation, and thirsty for murder and spoils"—is not only incorrect but also indicative of a poor knowledge of José Hernández's book and the abuses suffered by the Argentine gauchos at the hands of first Spanish and later British terratenientes. Even Jorge Luis Borges said, in 1953, "I can not condemn Martín Fierro because I know that certain acts committed by men under difficult circumstances calumniate them. Someone can steal and not be a thief. Someone can kill and not be a murderer."
No Argentine believes that Martín Fierro should be considered a model citizen. He was never given a chance to be one. He was the victim of the excesses and quasi-slavery exercised by the "estancieros criollos," undercover Spaniards who disguised themselves as Argentines and continued to subject the new nation to the old methods of Spanish corruption and abuses.
Jose Maria Lavalle Santoruvo
Boca Raton, Fla.
As a fan of both Jorge Luis Borges and Christopher Hitchens, I was predictably excited to read Hitchens's review of Edwin Williamson's new biography of the late, great Argentine writer. I thought I had attained Nirvana, moreover, when Hitchens deftly incorporated a reference to the work of one of Canada's literary icons, Robertson Davies, into his review.
I was dismayed, however, by Hitchens's reference to "the narrator of Robertson Davies's Deptford Trilogy," because each of the three books in that series is narrated by a different character. The instance Hitchens is recalling—in which the narrator is "nauseated by the same paternal notion of what constitutes un rite de passage" after his father orchestrates a night for him with a Montreal prostitute—is depicted in the second book of the trilogy, The Manticore, narrated by one David Staunton, Q.C.
Nitpicking? Well, yes. But it is also the kind of precision that is in keeping with Borges's notorious bibliophilia, and with Davies's and Hitchens's own writings.
The sheer viciousness of B. R. Myers's personal attack on Bruce Cumings ("Mother of All Mothers," September Atlantic) moves The Atlantic ever closer to the standards of fascist journalism. Cumings is easily the most distinguished historian working on modern Korean affairs in the United States today. To suggest differences of political approach to North Korea between Cumings and Selig Harrison is simply embarrassing, since both authors come to the same conclusions. Myers's condemnation of any attempt to understand North Korea puts him in a class with Undersecretary of State John Bolton and other know-nothings who have been in charge of American foreign policy since 2001. Even though George W. Bush told Bob Woodward that he loathes Kim Jong Il, it was Cumings who first noted what Bush and Kim have in common: neither would have amounted to anything without their daddies.
Japan Policy Research Institute
B. R. Myers's review of the books about Kim Jong Il reminds me of a view from the other side—a book called The Korean Revolution Review, Volume II, which I obtained during a two-week stay in Pyongyang in 1979. It is ostensibly a history of the Korean War.
Remarkably, when the book is opened at any page, the reader finds a photograph of, an article about, and a quotation from the man we soon began to refer to by his initials, GBLCKIS—Great Beloved Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung, spoken almost as one word. He's "President Kim Il Sung" in the book, which is, in effect, an account of his apotheosis. Also remarkable in this history of the war is that the word "China" appears nowhere.
As far as the management of people is concerned, Hitler was a beginner compared with Kim.
J. Rufford Harrison
I wish B. R Myers could have ended his article about Korea without joking about rape. There is nothing funny about rape, from which few victims ever fully recover.
B. R. Myers replies:
Not being stark raving mad, I have never joked about rape. In my article I referred to rumors that Kim Jong Il scouts high schools for his harem. We know from Mao's biography that his own teenage concubines were thrilled to be chosen, and in view of Kim's even more exalted status I cannot share Kathleen Waugh's apparent assumption that North Korean girls would feel differently. In any case, the book I reviewed does not accuse Kim of forcing anyone into sex. I might add that the girls in question are seniors, and therefore seventeen; this would put them above the age of consent even in Ms. Waugh's home state.
And speaking of "sheer viciousness" and fascism: Chalmers Johnson and Bruce Cumings demand more understanding for a regime that starves its proletariat to feed an elite class and a goose-stepping army, a regime that incarcerates entire families in the name of ethnic integrity, a regime that excoriates Americans as a depraved race controlled by Jewish capital. I am no fan of our nation's foreign policy either, but I prefer to oppose it from a left-wing standpoint, thank you very much.
Wait! Before you get your passport revalidated, examine the fallacy of the study cited in "The Immigrant Lifestyle Bonus" (Primary Sources, September Atlantic). The report is comparing the life expectancy of healthy adults (immigrants to the United States) with the life expectancy at birth of all U.S. nationals. If the report compared the life expectancy of a group of twenty-five-year-old immigrants with the life expectancy of a similar group of twenty-five-year-old native-born Americans, I doubt there would be a statistically valid difference.
Although James Miller makes an intriguing point about the impact of infant mortality on overall life expectancy, it should be noted that infant health, too, is considerably better in the immigrant community than it is among native-born Americans. From 1998 to 2000, according to the study in question, immigrants' infants were 18 percent less likely than other American babies to suffer from low birth weight, and the infant-mortality rate for the children of immigrants was a remarkable 27 percent lower than the rate for the U.S. population as a whole.
As Peter F. Drucker has said, "There are no creeds in mathematics." With that in mind, I submit that your recent feature on the "religion gap" ("The God Vote," by Ross Douthat, September Atlantic) misrepresented the Pacific Northwest, particularly Oregon, on several counts.
First, and most important, the data reported by the Glenmary Research Center are incomplete, as its Web site admits, and may be methodologically unsound. Because the U.S. Census Bureau is legally barred from asking mandatory questions about religion, the Glenmary report, Religious Congregations and Membership in the United States: 2000, represents the best data available. Unfortunately, however, the report seems to conflate city and county population figures, as in the case of Medford, Oregon, which you baldly label "America's most godless locale."
The problem is this: Any Oregonian knows that Medford is neither "godless" nor a "metropolitan area"; a relatively small city with long-standing ties to the timber industry, Medford is, in fact, fairly conservative—at least when compared with the northwestern regions of the state. The error apparently stems from the report's double-dipping—it uses the figure 181,269 for the population of both Jackson County and one of its constituent parts, the Medford-Ashland "metropolitan area." In fact, the total population of Medford and Ashland is 80,000, not 180,000. (If one includes the smaller neighboring communities, the figure for the "metropolitan area" is closer to 100,000.) Hence the rate of religious affiliation in the Medford-Ashland area is likely to be closer to 40 percent than the 22.2 percent reported by the Glenmary Center. (Similarly, the rate in Corvallis, Oregon, is more likely 30 percent than 22.6 percent.) This analysis calls into question your broader assertion that the Northwest is home to five of the fifteen most secular metropolitan areas in the United States (Corvallis, for the record, is hardly a "metropolitan area" either).
For further disproof, consider that the "godless" claim is not borne out by election results. Unlike its neighbor to the north, Oregon will be quite competitive in the 2004 presidential election. In 2000 Gore won Oregon only narrowly, and although the state voted for Dukakis once and Clinton twice, it also chose Nixon over Kennedy, Ford over Carter, and Reagan over both Carter and Mondale. In fact, with the exception of 1964, Oregon chose the Republican candidate in every presidential contest from 1948 to 1984. And, to return to the previous example, it seems unlikely that Jackson County could be as fervently secular as you assert and yet support George W. Bush by a substantial margin (46,052 to 33,153). Insofar as one grants that Republicanism is now a reasonably good proxy for religious adherence, one must admit that the depiction of Medford (and perhaps all of Oregon) as the "most godless" is suspect, at least.
Colin H. Hunter
I can't help taking offense at your labeling of the American Northwest as "godless." I would count myself and my family as typical of many in this region who have an allegiance to God that is not wholly based on doctrine or institutional membership. Fully respecting that an article like "The God Vote" (along with its statistical source) can probably be derived only from a numerical assessment of the religious membership in a given population, it is a bit abrasive—don't you think?—to pigeonhole a population as "godless" simply because it doesn't exhibit high enrollment in churches. May I suggest that there are many people (albeit hard to count) in this area whose godliness is exemplary, not so much in their Sunday-morning attendance but in their everyday social presence, philanthropic attitude, and treatment of their surroundings? To characterize such a population as godless is insulting, to say the least. It insinuates to your readers a pervasive, brutal backwardness that plainly isn't evident.
Grants Pass, Ore.
Ross Douthat replies:
Both Colin Hunter and Bernard Conrad are correct that the Glenmary data, which show church membership rather than attendance or religious intensity, are an imperfect proxy for religiosity—so Jackson County, and by extension the entire Pacific Northwest, may be less "godless" than "unchurched." (Or, alternatively, many of the region's religious inhabitants may belong to denominations that declined to participate in the study.) However, Mr. Hunter's insistence that Republican strength in his home state necessarily reflects Oregonian religiosity illustrates the difficulties with using the "religion gap" as a sweeping explanation for voting behavior. Although it's true that, overall, church attendance and Bush voting tend to be correlated, there are countless exceptions to the rule, from deeply religious Catholic and black Protestant communities that lean Democratic to apparently less pious areas that vote Republican—of which Medford, Oregon, may be an example.
George Orwell said the only rule in power politics is that there are no rules. Mark Bowden ("Lessons of Abu Ghraib," July/August Atlantic) says, "In certain rare cases keeping a prisoner cold, uncomfortable, frightened, and disoriented is morally justified and necessary." Under what rules, civil or military, is such treatment of prisoners legal? If there really is no legal justification, then Orwell's view of power politics prevails.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Iwas outraged and ashamed at the revelation of the abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners. And then I went to sleep with a clear conscience. Our democratic society, in critical moments like these, is mature, introspective, and fair enough to bring the perpetrators to justice. Starkly contrasting qualities can be seen in the sanctimonious reaction reverberating globally over the scandal, especially in the Arab world. The overblown media attention is just another excuse for Arab societies in particular—but for Western apologists, too—to manifest their already deep-seated and inculcated anti-Americanism, carefully nurtured for decades. Never mind that the incidents are aberrant. Mark Bowden's article, although well intentioned, misses the big picture.
Where is Arab outrage at the systematic murder, torture, and repression exercised by most of the Arab world's corrupt and tyrannical governments—at the hundreds of thousands who died under Saddam Hussein? Where is the outrage and shame in the Muslim street over the gruesome televised decapitation of an innocent journalist just because he was Jewish? Where is the outrage and shame at the inexcusable slaughter by Arabs of Americans on 9/11? Where is the outrage and shame in the Arab world at its lack of freedom, accountability, and justice? Where is the Arab world's outrage and shame at using its own children as expendable weapons to elicit global sympathy? Where is the Arab outrage and shame at being indoctrinated by self-serving governments and religious leaders intent on keeping the masses uneducated and focused on a largely fictitious version of the Israeli-Arab conflict in order to divert attention from their control and systematic rape of their own people and resources? The silent indifference and complicity of the majority of Arabs is damning, as is their lack of introspection, their failure to take responsibility for their own fate and actions, and their perversion of the true tenets of Islam. Blaming others for one's own iniquities and fueling the myth of Arab infallibility is easy.
And although the coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal by the media is of great importance, it should be placed in context and perspective. It is always easy to hold America and Israel to a higher standard than the rest of the world, but the premise is inherently biased and plays wonderfully into the hands of the Arab propaganda machine, which has no understanding whatsoever of democracy.
Mark Bowden writes that "when a prison, an army, or a government tacitly approves coercive measures as a matter of course, widespread and indefensible human-rights abuses become inevitable."
Such tacit approval can be found in 42 U.S.C §1997e(e), enacted in 1996 by the Republican Congress and signed by Bill Clinton: "No federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury."
So, as a matter of course, guards at federal and state prisons are free to inflict hooding, threats, and humiliation identical to that found at Abu Ghraib.
In the famous 1803 decision Marbury v. Madison the Supreme Court declared that where there is a right, there is a remedy. America has removed the remedy for such human-rights abuses, signaling that the rights have been removed as well.
Mark Bowden's article amplifies everything that is wrong with the media's coverage of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq. Bowden has allowed his common sense to become a casualty of war.
In his article he suggests that the soldiers in Abu Ghraib acted on their own initiative, and that several people up the chain of command knew but did nothing. He writes, "It seems doubtful that the photos were meant to be used later to intimidate other prisoners, as has been suggested … These photographs have the appearance of grotesque souvenirs." There are more than a thousand pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Do you really believe that a few people stood with a camera day in and day out, snapping photo after photo just for fun?
Common sense suggests that taking so many pictures is a lot of work. Obviously, this whole process was designed by the CIA and the Defense Department's psychological-warfare people specifically to target the Arab mind. Let us not forget that the CIA literally wrote the book on physical torture and interrogation techniques—a book that was given to our allies in Central America in the 1970s and 1980s. You can see the effects of this handiwork in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. The testimony is buried in old Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearings.
Would it be wrong to assume that the CIA's interrogation "contractors" in Iraq used a manual similar to the one that the Agency has sent out into the field in the past? Bowden would have us believe that after 9/11 the CIA's contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan decided to throw out the old-school techniques of information extraction in favor of a new and improved warm-and-fuzzy approach. But I bet that nowhere in the new manual does the CIA worry about discerning whether a prisoner is an "insurgent," a "combatant," or an innocent civilian (which most were) who was picked up in a security sweep. Once again, apply some common sense. How many prisoners died under "suspicious circumstances" in Abu Ghraib alone?
The Bush Administration is covering up the facts. An investigation consists of talking to the accused soldiers, the contractors, the abused (those who aren't dead), and the rest who were detained during the period when the photographs were taken. We are talking about fewer than 500 people—if you believe Donald Rumsfeld that this was an isolated incident involving a few bad apples. The investigation should take only a month. Three at the most. But instead here we are, almost two years after Rumsfeld knew, and yet nothing legitimate has been learned.
Thank God this "abuse" isn't systematic and is just an isolated incident at only one prison. It's kind of like the "isolated incident" of the Navy's Tailhook sex scandal. Who ever heard of the Pentagon's trying to protect the brass at the top? By God, George Bush will have his people get to the bottom of this. Just like he did with Enron.
Mark Bowden quotes Karl Rove as predicting that "it will take a generation to repair the damage to America's image in the Middle East." Rove is wrong on two counts. First, America's image has not been damaged in the Middle East—the photos from Abu Ghraib did not tell people there anything they did not already know. Our image has been damaged only here at home, where we are beginning to question what our leaders are doing in our name. Second, it will not take a generation to repair the damage. Our memories are short, and "Abu Ghraib" is hard to pronounce.
San Francisco, Calif.
Ihad been living in Egypt for about a year when the Abu Ghraib prison photos began to emerge. And when I spoke to a junior diplomat from the U.S. embassy recently, he made predictions similar to those of Karl Rove. When I asked a number of educated Egyptians what they thought of the photos, however, I was surprised by their response: "It's not that bad" was the prevailing attitude. They told me that this type of prisoner treatment occurs regularly over there, though they expected better from the Americans.
I do not wish to downplay the unacceptability of the behavior documented in those photos, or their lasting effects. I'm just telling you what I heard.
Mark Bowden replies:
Despite the tone of Neil Kitson's letter, I don't think we disagree. I did not argue that coercive treatment of prisoners should ever be legal; indeed, just the opposite. It should always be illegal. Coercion is, however, moral in certain rare instances, such as the case cited in my story "The Dark Art of Interrogation" (October 2003 Atlantic) of a kidnapper who refused to tell the police where he had buried alive his child victim. It is possible for a moral act to be illegal. The interrogator who chooses to break the rules for moral reasons can and should be brought up on charges, but he can raise moral necessity in defense, just as self-defense is raised as a defense for murder. I don't think Orwell would disagree.
Regarding "Blind Into Baghdad," by James Fallows (January/February Atlantic): George Bush gathered American support behind invading Iraq, I am told, using two arguments. Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and the capability to deliver them; and Iraq was a supporter of al-Qaeda terrorism, and may have been involved in the attacks of 9/11. These points are now the subject of vicious words and gratuitous finger-pointing, as people insist that "we" were misled into what started as a dynamic liberation and has become a bloody counterinsurgency. Watching politicians declaim and hearing televised experts expound on why we went to war and on their opinions of those running the White House and the Defense Department, I have one question: When is someone going to ask the guys who were there?
What about the opinions of those whose lives were on the line, massed on the Iraq-Kuwait border beginning in February of last year? I don't know how President Bush got the country behind him, because at the time I was living in a hole in the dirt in northern Kuwait. Why have I not heard a word from anyone who actually carried a rifle or flew a plane into bad-guy country last year, and who has since had to deal with the ugly aftermath of a violent liberation? What about the guys who had the most to lose—what do they think about all this?
I was there. I am one of those guys who fought the war and helped keep the peace. I am a major in the Marine Reserves, and during the war I was the senior American attached to the 1 Royal Irish Battlegroup, a rifle battalion of the British army. I was commander of five U.S. Marine air/naval gunfire liaison teams, and also the liaison officer between U.S. Marines and British army forces. I was activated on January 14, 2003, and seventeen days later I and my Marines were standing in Kuwait with all of our gear, ready to go to war.
I majored in political science at Duke, and I graduated with a master's degree in government from the Kennedy School at Harvard. I understand realpolitik, geopolitical jujitsu, economics, and the reality of the Arab world. I know the tension between the White House, the UN, Langley, and Foggy Bottom. One of my grandfathers was a two-star Navy admiral; my other grandfather was an ambassador. I am not a pushover, blindly following whoever is in charge, and I don't kid myself that I live in a perfect world. But the war made sense then, and the occupation makes sense now.
As dawn broke on March 22, 2003, I became part of one of the largest and fastest land movements in the history of war. I went across the border alongside my brothers in the Royal Irish, following the 5th Marine Regiment from Camp Pendleton as they swept through the Ramaylah oil fields. I was one of those guys you saw on TV every night—filthy, hot, exhausted. I think the NRA and its right-to-bear-arms mantra is a joke, but by God I was carrying a loaded rifle, a loaded pistol, and a knife on my body at all times. My boots rested on sandbags placed on the floor of my Humvee to protect me from the blast of a land mine or an IED.
I killed many Iraqi soldiers, as they tried to kill me and my Marines. I did it with a radio, directing air strikes and artillery in concert with my British artillery-officer counterpart, in combat along the Hamar Canal, in southern Iraq. I saw, up close, everything the rest of you see in the newspapers: dead bodies, parts of dead bodies, helmets with bullet holes through them, handcuffed POWs sitting in the sand, oil-well fires with flames reaching a hundred feet into the air and a roar you could hear from over a mile away.
I stood on the bloody sand where Marine Second Lieutenant Therrel Childers was the first American killed on the ground. I pointed a loaded weapon at another man for the first time in my life. I did what I had spent fourteen years training to do, and my Marines—your Marines—performed so well it still brings tears to my eyes to think about it. I was proud of what we did then, and I am proud of it now.
Along with the violence, I saw many things that lifted my heart. I saw thousands of Iraqis in cities like Qurnah and Medinah—men, women, children, grandparents carrying babies—running into the streets at the sight of us, the first Western army to arrive. I saw them screaming, crying, waving, cheering. They ran from their homes at the sound of our Humvee tires roaring in from the south; they brought us bread and tea and cigarettes and photos of their children. They chattered at us in Arabic, and we spoke to them in English, and neither understood the other. The entire time I was in Iraq, I had one impression from the civilians I met: Thank God someone has finally arrived with bigger men and bigger guns to be, at last, on our side.
Let there be no mistake, those of you who don't believe in this war: the Baath rulers were the Nazis of the second half of the twentieth century. I saw what the murderous, brutal regime of Saddam Hussein wrought on that country through his party and their fedayeen henchmen. They raped, murdered, tortured, extorted, and terrorized for thirty-five years. There are mass graves throughout Iraq only now being discovered. The 1st Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment liberated a prison in Iraq populated entirely by children. The Baathists brutalized the weakest among them, and killed the strongest.
I saw in the eyes of the people how a generation of fear reflects in the human soul.
The Baath rulers, like the Nazis before them, kept power by spreading out, placing their officials in every city and every village to keep the people under their boot. Everywhere we went we found rifles, ammunition, RPG rounds, mortar shells, rocket launchers, and artillery. When we took over the southern city of Ramaylah, our battalion commander tore down the Baath signs and commandeered the former regime headquarters in town (which, by the way, was twenty feet from the local school). My commander himself took over the office of the local Baath leader, and in opening the desk of that thug found a set of brass knuckles and a gun. These are the people who are now in prison, and that is where they deserve to be.
The analogy is simple. For years you have watched the same large, violent man come home every night, and you have listened to his yelling and the crying and the screams of children and the noise of breaking glass, and you have always known that he was beating his wife and his kids. Everyone on the block has known it. You ask, cajole, threaten, and beg him to stop, on behalf of the rest of the neighborhood. Nothing works. After listening to it for thirteen years, you finally gather up the biggest, meanest guys you can find, you go over to his house, and you kick the door down. You punch him in the face and drag him away. The house is a mess, the family poor and abused—but now there is hope. You did the right thing.
I can speak with authority on the opinions of both British and American infantry in that place and at that time. Let me make this clear: at no time did anyone say or imply to any of us that we were invading Iraq to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction, nor were we there to avenge 9/11. We knew we were there for one reason: to rid the world of a tyrant, and to give Iraq back to Iraqis.
None of us had even heard those arguments for going to war until we returned, and we still don't understand the confusion. To us, it was simple. The world needed to be rid of a man who committed mass murder against an entire people, and our country was the only one that could project that much power that far and with that kind of precision. We don't make policy decisions; we carry them out. And none of us had the slightest doubt about how right and good our actions were.
The war was the right thing to do then, and in hindsight it was still the right thing to do. We can't overthrow every murderous tyrant in the world, but when we can overthrow one, we should. Take it from someone who was there, and who stood to lose everything. We must, and will, stay the course. We owe it to the Iraqis, and to the world.
San Diego, Calif.
James Fallows replies:
I am grateful for Stan Coerr's eloquent letter, and for his defense of the war from a soldier's perspective. I would say three things in response.
First, it is not quite true that no combatants have previously expressed their views. News accounts routinely quote both officers and enlisted soldiers. In this magazine Robert Kaplan and several other authors have quoted men and women in uniform in Iraq. I have interviewed many soldiers after their return. Some agree with Major Coerr about the overall necessity and justice of the war. Some do not.
Second, what soldiers are told before going into battle is important, as Major Coerr says. It explains the cause for which they will kill and risk being killed. But what the civilian public and its elected representatives are told is also important. It provides the rationale for democratic assent to war. What the soldiers in Iraq were told—that they were removing a tyrant—has turned out to be true. What the public was told—that there was an intolerable threat from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction—has turned out to be false. This is significant because the false claim was the basis for public and political support of the war. (It is worth remembering that in his 2003 State of the Union speech, just before the war began, President Bush devoted more than 2,000 words to the need for regime change in Iraq. Only about a hundred words touched on the human-rights questions that Major Coerr mentions. The rest of the passage was about the WMD threat. For instance: "Imagine those nineteen hijackers with other weapons and other plans—this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes.")
Third, the article to which Major Coerr is responding, "Blind Into Baghdad," said nothing about the case for waging war. Instead it concerned the Administration's almost inexplicable failure to apply any of the careful plans for the postwar occupation of Iraq that had been developed throughout the U.S. government.
In his response to my letter (September Atlantic) concerning his article on Wayne Shorter ("A Real Gone Guy," June Atlantic), Francis Davis writes, "Exactly when Shorter quit Weather Report has always been ambiguous." He didn't exactly quit; the band dissolved after its 1984 tour. No public performances occurred after that. Weather Report had a contractual obligation to provide Columbia with one more recording, so in 1985 the group went into the studio to record This Is This. Later in 1985 Shorter went on tour with what was then his working band (which in fact was a working band, even if not "permanent") to support Atlantis, a tour that lasted through 1986. I hate to nitpick on such seemingly trivial issues, but all these things are a matter of public record.
Francis Davis replies:
Why is it that whenever someone says he hates to nitpick, that's precisely what he intends? The difference between "working" and "permanent" bands is a matter of semantics, and the other points Michael McLaughlin raises are minutiae, of interest only to him and other diehard Weather Report fans.
The excerpt from Christopher Buckley's novel Florence of Arabia (September Atlantic) is most entertaining. Did Buckley take his title from Nöel Coward's witticism about Peter O'Toole, or is the title a coincidence? Two versions of Coward's witticism are extant: "If they put any more blue shadow under [O'Toole's] eyes, he'll be Florence of Arabia" and "If he'd been any prettier, they'd have to call it Florence of Arabia."
Christopher Buckley replies:
Coward's remark—version No. 2—is the epigraph of the novel. But I wish I'd used version No. 1.
Shades of William Randolph Hearst and the Spanish-American War! What century does Robert Kaplan ("Five Days in Fallujah," July/August Atlantic) live in? Denigrate the enemy! Glorify our brave, outgunned lads! Matter-of-fact readiness to die! Look at the filth Iraqis live in! Look how they hide among women and children and taunt us! See our courtly commanders' compassion for civilians! Look how we have wads of cash for compensation! The Lord blesses us and not them, in their radical hell! I know a good Muslim from a bad, and these are bad! You could tell we were going to be attacked by the way they wouldn't open their shops as we stormed their city with fixed bayonets! Imperial obligations! The noble lad died talking on the phone to his dad! O the pathos of empire!
Political debates are almost useless, because, as James Fallows writes ("When George Meets John," July/August Atlantic), "'They are about emotional identification'—projecting a personality, a bearing, and a world view that voters find appealing." The reality is that political candidates manipulate their image and obscure ideas on television.
It's not surprising that President Bush's energy is in campaigning and refining his demonstration of resolve and strength. He is the consummate image maker: non-intellectual guy, rancher, wartime President in flight gear. Given the Bush circle's ability to control the debate process, it would be naive for Americans to think they could get more than a feeling. In our inertia we do not demand more.
In this realm of perception, how distinguishable is John Kerry from George Bush? Senator Kerry voted for the war in Iraq. His explanation of his vote sounds equivocal in sound bites. He was misled, but he's not wrong. It seems that he would fix his predecessor's mistakes.
Neither man appears willing to substantively alter U.S. policy regarding Israel. This is not insignificant, considering that America's enemies have implied and stated that Israel is a crucial factor in the genesis of the terrorism crisis.
Asymmetric warfare? We have here two individuals who are first cousins in terms of class. We assign legitimacy to them because their wealth, sex, and race fit our perception of what an American President is. The clash of personalities will be interesting to pundits and academics and to the mainstream media that accept the manufactured context of a televised political debate as a real forum. This enables the viewing public to focus on personal appeal rather than policy. We have all been co-opted.
Who is Benjamin Healy, and why have you kept him under wraps until now? The index on your back page is one of the most consistently funny things I've read in years. The gags buried in that fine print rank right up there with those quickly flashed signs and billboards that writers for The Simpsons love to toss off, but Healy deserves much more credit, because he does it alone and packs dozens of gags into a single page.
Little Neck, N.Y.
I suspect that in telling her father that Nationalist Chinese protesters were chanting "Down with Mayo" ("More Nixon Tapes," by James Warren, September Atlantic), Tricia Nixon was accurately reporting how the Nationalist Chinese chose to pronounce Mao's name. It's a clever insult. Although we may think of the abbreviation for mayonnaise, any Chinese speaker would immediately have a different image: mayo is how one says "no" in Mandarin Chinese in response to questions beginning "Does s/he have …" or "Do we/you have …" Thus the Nationalists were making a jab at Mao—one that was subtle to us, the host country, but very pointed to the PRC Chinese. Imagine calling our President "President Doesn't-Have-Any."
In last month's Letters to the Editor, Paul Maslin's reply to Nan Doyle was edited in a way that inadvertently changed his meaning. The sentence in question should have read: "Nearly nine in ten Iowans caucused for a candidate who opposed President Bush's request for additional funding for Iraq—as Dean did rhetorically, and Kerry and Edwards did with their Senate votes."
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