Letters to the editor

Environmentalists and the Supreme Court

Benjamin Wittes, looking at the possible effects on environmental conservation of President Bush's upcoming Supreme Court nominations ("The Hapless Toad," May Atlantic), drives into a vast sand trap. Given that the fundraising brochures of every major environmental group assure the public that the only possible way to "preserve," "conserve," or "save" almost every element of our natural surroundings is government ownership, one might reasonably expect a wealth of research comparing the outcomes of public and private ownership on various species and habitats. I have found nothing with any scholarly heft. In stating that the Court, in deferring to private property rights, will be trashing the environment, Wittes is merely repeating one of the urban legends of the statist left, without a shred of evidence. It is time for America's intelligentsia to drop their automatic hostility to private property and work with rural landowners and others to learn how environmental protection and property rights reinforce each other.

Bruce P. Shields
Wolcott, Vt.

Benjamin Wittes states that the interstate-commerce clause is the backbone of civil-rights legislation. It was the backbone of this legislation only because Congress made the clause the raison d'être for civil rights. This was done not because integrating restaurants necessarily affected interstate commerce but because the Senate Judiciary Committee, the place where civil-rights legislation should have started, was run by the segregationist Senator John Stennis, of Mississippi. President Johnson knew that if civil-rights legislation went into this committee, it would never come out. Perhaps environmentalists should be creative in using sections of the Constitution other than the interstate-commerce clause to advance their cause.

Lawrence R. Dworkin
Wallingford, Pa.

Getting Out Right

James Fallows is correct that the military must change its tactics if we are to win hearts and minds in Iraq ("Getting Out Right," April Atlantic). Nevertheless, that objective is inherently political, and judging from my own experience in both Vietnam and Iraq, relying primarily on new military thinking is unlikely to do the trick. The military carries weapons in places like Iraq for a reason: its primary mission is to apply lethal force. If left to its own devices, the military will always sacrifice the prolonged, vague, and distant achievement of political objectives to the immediate and more limited objectives of the battlefield. Therefore, the primary role of well-qualified civilians must be substantially enhanced, which in turn means that their protection must not be outsourced to private security firms.

Civilian professionals need sufficient authority to ensure that military and political operations are integrated in mutually supportive ways. That will require a counterinsurgency doctrine broader than any yet written or recommended by the military. They also need to be engaged directly on the ground in active insurgency environments. In Vietnam civilian USAID officers were stationed in exposed field positions, relied on the military for territorial security, and assumed the risks associated with the attempt to win hearts and minds (however unsuccessful those efforts ultimately were). That contrasts with the fundamentally counterproductive current practice of assigning responsibility for the security of civilian officers and contractors to private firms.

To avoid casualties, civilians in the most contested areas of Iraq are seldom permitted to leave their heavily defended compounds; Iraqis are often humiliated at barriers or security checkpoints; and death, injury, or property damage occurs as convoys traveling at high speeds and close intervals do not stop or slow down for traffic or pedestrians. By restricting movement or insisting on large armed escorts, security personnel unwittingly determine the overall scope and pace of the strategic effort to win hearts and minds. This must stop if there is to be even the slightest hope of political success. Unfortunately, that is also likely to increase the number of civilian casualties among American and allied personnel. Would the slim probability that changing our approach would succeed at this late date be worth that cost?

Jerry Silverman
Armstrong Atlantic State University
Savannah, Ga.

It's difficult to imagine that General Charles Krulak's concept of a "Strategic Corporal," which James Fallows mentions in his article, can be implemented by putting cunning privates and corporals on both sides against one another. Our side—without the language, without the cultural knowledge, facing an urban insurgency that has the support of a segment of the population—will find it difficult to move about. General Krulak's concept suggests that insurgencies can be defeated by the cunning of a few young guerrillas. But the opposition, which has different rules of engagement, does not stand still, and is no less cunning.

Winning hearts and minds is essential when facing insurgency, and it cannot be done quickly. The Department of Defense has suggested that on average it takes nine years to defeat an insurgency. Nation building, of course, takes much longer.

Mario Salzmann
Chula Vista, Calif.

Chief Justice Rehnquist

Jeffrey Rosen ("Rehnquist the Great?," April Atlantic) praises William Rehnquist for his administrative skills and pragmatic efficiency in maintaining a smoothly running Supreme Court. But do punctuality and management skills make a great chief justice?

By glossing over the most disturbing elements of Rehnquist's career, Rosen paints too moderate a picture of the justice. Rehnquist's devotion to tradition and to majority rule may explain many of his positions, especially those pertaining to segregation in the South. But such positions are alarming. Rehnquist's avid defense of mass arrests of Vietnam protesters, and remarks such as "It's about time the Court faced the fact that white people in the South don't like the colored people," suggest a man much more concerned with institutions and traditions than with basic human rights. Bush v. Gore, which had perhaps the most far-reaching consequences of all decisions handed down by the Rehnquist Court, remains inexplicable.

I agree that Justice Rehnquist unifies and moderates the Court better than Scalia or Thomas probably would, but history may not judge him too kindly.

Stuart Pierce
Davis, Calif.

Jeffrey Rosen replies:
I agree that Bush v. Gore is hard to reconcile with Chief Justice Rehnquist's stated preference for deciding political questions in legislatures rather than the courts, and I said so. But as I also noted, the grandiose idea that only the Court can save the country in times of crisis is consistent, for better or worse, with Rehnquist's pragmatism.

Gas Pains

Robert Bryce's article on the U.S. military's gas consumption in Iraq ("Gas Pains," May Atlantic) is factually inaccurate, tactically misguided, and a classic case of a red herring. Bryce mistakenly asserts that fuel is the American center of gravity in Iraq. He overlooks a crucial point: Kuwait has been giving the United States nearly all the gas it has required ever since the invasion of Iraq, in 2003 (it began charging the United States only this past March). Although the American military could certainly stand to be more fuel-efficient, fuel is hardly an Achilles' heel.

Bryce's timing couldn't be worse. After the unexpected success of the January elections, insurgent attacks on U.S. convoys and supply depots dropped dramatically, a development that took significant pressure off U.S. supply lines. More important, his essay betrays the same type of tactical-conceptual error that has plagued U.S. military thinking ever since World War II: the idea that if the right resources and personnel are put in the right place at the right time, then victory is assured. Bryce's ham-handed comparison of the modern U.S. military to General Patton's Third Army displays his gross lack of military understanding. In truth, America's troubles in Iraq center on a misguided counterinsurgency strategy, not a bad energy policy.

Captain David J. Morris
U.S. Marine Corps (ret.)
San Diego, Calif.

The Pentagon's attention to the heavy cost in lives and dollars associated with fuel logistics has been diverted ever since the 2001 report by Admiral Richard Truly's Defense Science Board panel, on which I served, was largely accepted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff just sixteen days before 9/11. But the kinds of issues Robert Bryce describes are now refocusing that attention. A gradual but promising solution is emerging: highly energy-efficient military vehicles.

Last September my team's independent study "Winning the Oil Endgame" (free at www.oilendgame.com), co-sponsored by the Department of Defense, extended the DSB analysis. We found that over a few decades, while sustaining or improving performance, the Pentagon's land, sea, and air platforms could cost-effectively save two thirds of their fuel directly, plus more fuel to deliver platforms and fuel. Such fuel efficiency would save many lives, billions of dollars a year in fuel cost, and perhaps ten times that in logistics cost, while making war-fighting more capable—and ultimately less necessary.

That's because the key to agile, fuel-frugal forces is ultralight but ultrastrong materials. As Pentagon R&D helps to commercialize advanced materials and manufacturing processes, it could transform the civilian economy as profoundly as the Defense Department did when it created the Internet, GPS, and microchips. Over the next few decades Defense could thereby enable business to eliminate U.S. oil use at a profit. That would enhance both national security and economic strength far more than just leaner fuel logistics.

Amory B. Lovins
Rocky Mountain Institute
Old Snowmass, Colo.

Robert Bryce replies:
I cannot dispute David Morris's credentials, but he does not have his facts right. According to the Defense Energy Support Center, from March of 2003 to January of 2005 the United States spent more than $1.3 billion on fuel for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Yes, the Kuwaitis have been supplying significant amounts of fuel to the United States at no cost, but that satisfies only part of the military's total fuel needs. Further, Morris seems to suggest that logistics issues are not important on the battlefield—and yet he faults me for my "gross lack of military understanding." I stand by every word I wrote.

As for Amory Lovins, I agree with virtually all his points; I just wish more people would listen to him. That said, we disagree on the 2001 letter from the Joint Chiefs of Staff regarding the DSB fuel-efficiency study. The Joint Chiefs agreed with the DSB study only on the most general issues. When it came to making fuel efficiency a "mandatory performance parameter" for new weapons systems, they refused to go along, saying that it "should not adversely impact" the ultimate purchase of a system.

Hitler Shrine

Timothy Ryback ("The Hitler Shrine," April Atlantic) says that by the early 1950s the Berghof ruins were attracting a steady stream of tourists and Hitlerpilger. He goes on to say, "Fearing that the site was becoming a shrine, the Germans had it dynamited and the resulting debris hauled away." The article is not clear about when that happened.

My family and I, on R&R from Navy duty in Iceland, visited Berchtesgaden in July of 1965. One afternoon we took a guided tour of what my diary says was "Kehlstein House, Hitler's tea house called the Eagle's Nest by Americans." This involved a long bus ride up the mountain to a parking area and then a ride in a very ornate elevator inside the mountain up to the house. The implication of the article is that no such structure was there in 1965, so I'm wondering what it was we saw. Can Mr. Ryback tell me?

Harley D. Wilbur
Kensington, Md.

Timothy Ryback writes that "the Obersalzberg was placed under U.S. administration" from 1945 to 1995. That is only part of the story. The Nazi Party guesthouse, which suffered little damage in the April 1945 bombardment, was rehabilitated as the Armed Forces Recreation Center Berchtesgaden. Generations of U.S. military personnel and their families enjoyed low-cost alpine vacations at that facility. As a U.S. Army physician, I attended military medical conferences there from 1987 to 1994. It was quite eerie to gaze around the old-fashioned dining room at mealtimes, imagining Nazi bigwigs feeding there fifty years before, possibly using the same clunky wooden furniture.

A short walk down the road, a small shop sold postcards depicting the buildings of the Obersalzberg complex as they appeared before and after the bombardment and demolitions, and a book detailing the history of the complex. Using the maps in this book, it was easy to locate not only Hitler's Berghof but the ruins of the villas belonging to Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann, and others.

Among the services offered by the AFRC Berchtesgaden staff was a memorable guided tour of the complex of underground bunkers and tunnels linking the various structures on the Obersalzberg. These seemed to go on forever, but the guides informed us that the greater part of the underground maze was off limits, including the still furnished private shelters of the prominent Nazi officials.

William Peterson
Hanau, Germany

Timothy Ryback replies:
In his diary entry Harley Wilbur quite correctly notes that the "Kehlstein House" was known as the "tea house" by the Nazis, and later as the "Eagle's Nest" by the Americans. This stone structure perched on a knife-edged cliff, known as the Kehlstein, was indeed accessed by a breath-stopping drive along a series of hairpin curves, followed by a ride up an elevator shaft hewn through solid rock.

Wilbur is mistaken, however, in assuming that the Kehlstein House was the same structure as the Berghof. The house was a "present" given to Hitler by the Nazi Party in 1939, on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday. Hitler was not especially fond of it, and visited it only a dozen or so times. In contrast, the Berghof—Hitler's private residence, which sat on a grassy slope a thousand feet below—was one of the places where, as I noted, he spent some of his most pleasant times and conceived his "great ideas." In 1965, when Wilbur visited the Obersalzberg, the Berghof was little more than a heap of rubble, obscured in a stand of trees—as it still is today, with no sign or marker to indicate its historic significance.

Many of the structures that William Peterson saw during his visits to the Obersalzberg have been obliterated, including the ruins of Göring's and Bormann's houses and the hotel in which he stayed. Most of the underground structures that he toured are still intact but have been closed to the public. However, I strongly doubt that the "private shelters" of prominent Nazis were still furnished at that time, as he suggests.

Prison Scenes

As commissioner of correction for the City of New York, I was delighted to be able to facilitate Bernard-Henri Lévy's visit to Rikers Island ("In the Footsteps of Tocqueville," May Atlantic). Unfortunately, upon reading his article I was appalled by its condescension, racism, and outright lies.

Mark Cranston, a member of my staff, accompanied Lévy every step of his visit. He writes to me that the scene described by Lévy of a Hispanic man, hand on his ear, streaming blood, never occurred. Lévy may have been told by staff about the ritual of the "Rikers cut," but his claim to have seen it is absolutely false. Also false is his claim to have seen a "bearded, naked giant" masturbating in front of a female guard. That is a lie. It simply did not occur while he was there.

We do not segregate prisoners by race, or any other way except by security level. That Lévy saw two inmates of the same race together in a holding cell during a visit of less than three hours is insufficient basis for his innuendo. He never asked if we had such a policy, and we don't.

Lévy compares Rikers Island to a "war zone." That is not borne out by the facts. Stabbings and slashings of inmates may once have been frequent, but last year, with more than 60,000 individuals passing through our jails, only forty such incidents occurred. New York City's jails are among the safest in the world.

Finally, I must comment on Lévy's seeming obsession with describing the race of my staff. What is his point? Does it reflect his own discomfort? New York is the most diverse city in the world, and we are proud of it. Our staff reflects that diversity.

Martin F. Horn
Department of Correction
New York, N.Y.

Bernard-Henri Lévy replies:
The visitor shouldn't hold it against his guides that they were assigned the duty of providing a flattering impression of Rikers Island. They did what they could, but their zeal could do nothing to alter certain realities. It could do nothing to alter the fact that the majority not of guards but of detainees are black; it could do nothing to attenuate the atmosphere of dull violence that I subsequently found in a number of other American prisons and that, at any rate, dominated this one. As for the details of my account, I stand by what I wrote. And I would note, by the way, that Mr. Cranston was not always present during my visit (and that is an understatement). Finally, regarding the masturbation scene, which I am well aware was not part of the planned visit—pas de chance!—I caught a sequence of it, as I did of other aspects of prison life, on my little pocket video camera.

On Publishing Fiction

How sad that The Atlantic, historic nurturer of fiction, is abandoning it. William Dean Howells and his successors are fuming in their graves. Writers like Sue Miller and Louise Erdrich, who saw their early stories published in the magazine, are no doubt saddened. Subscribers like me, who'll have to go to a newsstand to buy your scrap from the fiction table, the "extra" August issue, are outraged. In a journal stuffed with fact-based pieces, is there really no room for a single work of fiction?

Dan Cryer
New York, N.Y.

Fiction (like any art form) works in conjunction with the culture that produces it—the culture that responds to it and shapes it. Positioning a select work of fiction in the midst of the other kinds of reportage and human-interest features helps create a cultural context in a way that omitting that material does not. I hope you reconsider.

Patricia Kozma
Fairfield, Conn.

The short stories in the magazine were half the reason for my subscription, and I doubt I will renew now that they will no longer appear. Your magazine already offers in-depth reporting. Without the short stories, the beautiful balance that they provided between the world of hard fact and the world of imagination is gone.

Susan Ballinger
Montreal, Quebec

A Matter of Degree

I was enjoying B. R. Myers's "A Bag of Tired Tricks" (May Atlantic) until I reached his critique of a passage from Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close that Myers finds especially annoying: "Young boys are too sensible to write in such a fashion; that sort of thing comes with age, and an M.F.A." Talk about a used-up convention. Invoking the master of fine arts degree as a synonym for, or cause of, all things precious, pretentious, or even tidy in contemporary fiction has become a book-reviewing cliché, an anti-establishment tic empty of any real meaning. Books are good or bad or in-between no matter whether their writers went to school, where they went, or what degree they earned. There is no evidence in any easily obtainable biographical note that Foer even has an M.F.A., making Myers's slap all the more gratuitous.

Josh Russell
Newnan, Ga.

B. R. Myers replies:
My point was that Oskar sounds like an adult with an M.F.A. This was no "slap" at Foer, a philosophy major, but rather a criticism of the text itself. If Oskar spoke legalese, I would have complained that he sounded like a lawyer—and would no doubt have been taken to task for denigrating lawyers. The similarity in prose and background of some prominent writers has indeed led many people, including me, to associate M.F.A. graduates with a certain style. Josh Russell is welcome to set us straight, but he'll have to do better than argue that a point made often is ipso facto an empty one.

John Brown's Motives

Christopher Hitchens's review of David S. Reynolds's biography of John Brown ("The Man Who Ended Slavery," May Atlantic) contained a significant inaccuracy. Hitchens wrote, "After the murder of the abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy, and especially after the famous assault on Senator Charles Sumner by Representative Preston Brooks, Brown decided on a reprisal raid and slew several leading pro-slavery Kansans in the dead of the night." In fact Lovejoy was killed on November 7, 1837, in Illinois, so his death could not have been the immediate cause of Brown's Pottawatomie Creek Massacre, which took place in Kansas on May 24, 1856, almost nineteen years later.

Also, the caning of Senator Sumner by Brooks took place on May 22, 1856. Given the state of communications at the time, it is highly unlikely that Brown knew of that assault when he killed five men two days later. Historians agree that to the extent that the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre had any rational motive, it was to avenge the "Sack of Lawrence," on May 21, 1856, near Brown's home. A pro-slavery force had looted the town of Lawrence but had not killed anyone.

It is a stretch to describe the five victims of the massacre as "leading pro-slavery Kansans." They appear to have been selected more or less at random, and Brown's principal target was not even there that night. Two of the victims, William and Drury Doyle, were young men who were not leaders of anything.

Kevin Sweeney
Mt. Vernon, Ill.

Christopher Hitchens replies:
I trusted the reader in my compression of the long train of oppressions and usurpations that stretched from Lovejoy to Lawrence, Kansas. As for the Brooks-Sumner affair, two of John Brown's sons, Jason and Salmon, separately recalled their father's receiving the tidings as his wagon began to roll away from his camp. A messenger, identified by Salmon as a man named Gardner, galloped up with the news from Washington—which, Salmon continued, made his father furious: "It seemed to be the finishing, decisive touch." Reynolds joins two earlier biographers, Villard and Oates, in regarding this story as plausible if not certain. Brown had certainly decided on reprisals in any case, but of the influence of the news concerning the assault on Sumner we may say at the very least, "Indeed, my lord, it followed hard upon."

Advice & Consent

Christopher Hitchens ("On Becoming American," May Atlantic) mentions his pride that his offspring are Americans just by virtue of being born in the United States, and says that no other country is or ever has been this generous in awarding citizenship. This is not so. Canada awards citizenship automatically to any child born in the country, and a quick search on the Internet suggests that France, Ireland, and Panama do the same.

Wayne McNulty
Wellington, Ont.

Cullen Murphy's piece about frauds, fakes, and forgeries ("Knock It Off," December 2004 Atlantic) brings to mind the Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley's youthful (and bungled) knockoff of Edgar Allan Poe.

According to American Authors, 1600—1900, Riley, who was then a fledgling journalist on the Democrat of Anderson, Indiana, "perpetrated his famous 'Leonainie' hoax in an attempt to prove that a poem could cause a sensation if it purported to be the newly-discovered work of 'a genius known to fame.'" Some critics were fooled, and attributed the poem to Poe, but when experts demanded to see the original manuscript, Riley's little game dissolved. His employer was not amused, and Riley was sacked.

He was eventually hired by the Indianapolis Journal, where his down-home country poems, including "When the Frost is on the Punkin" and "The Old Swimmin' Hole," earned him fame and the public's love and admiration.

Thomas W. Kemp
Boca Raton, Fla.

Editor's Note
A sentence in Lawrence E. Harrison's letter to the editor (June Atlantic) was inadvertently rendered incorrect in the editing process. His original sentence read, "The democratic institutions installed by the United States soon started to unravel after the Marines left the Dominican Republic in 1924, and Rafael Leonidas Trujillo assumed dictatorial powers in 1930 that would last for more than three decades, leading to another U.S. military intervention in 1965." In addition, a typographical error caused the word "trust" to be substituted for "truth" in Mr. Harrison's quotation from Tocqueville.

We regret the errors.