Today, we’ll share a few quick reflections on our conversations with you throughout the week. I’ll bring you an insight that came up on our call with Uri Friedman: Russian hacking, surprisingly, hasn’t been an issue for the Germans. We’ll talk about the niche beats The Atlantic has covered over the years. And I’ll share some of your responses to the history of the Korean War.
But first, some of you have written in about our conference-call system. We heard you! We’re moving to a new system for our next call. Part of what that requires is that you register in advance. Fortunately, we’ve got a hot topic that a lot of you have asked about: Russia. On Monday, September 25, at 1 p.m. EDT, we’ll be talking to Julia Ioffe, an Atlantic staff writer who has been covering Russia for years. Here are your to-dos.
- Go to this link to register for the call and get dial-in details.
- Send us your burning questions about Russia. Reply to this email and let me know.
WHY RUSSIA HASN’T (SO FAR) INFLUENCED THE GERMAN ELECTION
After what happened in the U.S. last year, political leaders across the world braced for Russia to intervene in the German election. Germany’s domestic intelligence chief sounded the alarm bell in May. “We expect further attacks, and we are keeping a very close watch on the threats,” said Hans-Georg Maassen.
But so far, Uri Friedman explained on our Monday conference call, cyberattacks have been “the dog that didn't bark.” Angela Merkel is cruising for re-election on Sunday without any major signs that Vladimir Putin has tried to disrupt the vote. Since German parliamentarians were hacked back in 2015, the nation has been raising its defenses. It probably also helps that Germany has been vocal in calling out Russian interference, and, as Uri pointed out, Merkel and Vladimir Putin have a well-established relationship. “Overall, they have been able to get each other on a different kind of level than a lot of other leaders have with Putin,” he said. But the Germans won’t sleep easy until the vote is done. Asked why Putin didn’t intervene, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told the AP yesterday he doesn’t know. “Maybe they didn’t try. Maybe it’s still coming.”
- If you missed the call with Uri Friedman, here’s the transcript and the audio recording.
A HISTORY OF WHIMSY
Over on our Masthead Facebook group—let me know if you need an invitation—Seffi asked about areas of coverage that have been a particular focus for The Atlantic. There are a lot—from the U.S. Civil War to the robotics wars—and we’ll be synthesizing some of that coverage in future issues, just as we did last week with our coverage of the Trump administration. But we wanted to take a look at a few more unexpected beats, and put our resident Atlantic archivist, Annika Neklason, on the case.
- The pursuit of extended, or even limitless, lifespans: In January 1862, writing in praise of the serenity and wisdom that came with old age, Ralph Waldo Emerson noted: “I have heard, that, whenever the name of man is spoken, the doctrine of immortality is announced; it cleaves to his constitution.” But, Cary T. Grayson warned 60 years later, a longer life would be worth little if “the ability to think, to grieve, or to hope” was lost, and Cullen Murphy asserted in 1993 that eternal life, even with those abilities intact, would be painfully lonely. And just seven months ago Olga Khazan continued the decades-long discussion with an examination of contemporary efforts to prolong life. (She did not find much appealing in the idea of “an eternity spent on Venus among youthful billionaires.”)
- Intelligence in animals: In the July 1871 issue T. M. Brewer asked, “Can a Bird Reason?” He contended that birds’ adaptation to life in human spaces meant that they could. Four decades later, William Charles Scully wrote about African ostriches and the intelligence they seemed to display, describing one’s use of a stone as a tool. That piece prompted a probing response from none other than naturalist ex-President Theodore Roosevelt later the same year, who did not find Scully’s claims that ostriches were polygamous convincing. More recently, writers such as Olivia Judson and Ed Yong have written about the ways that modern experts attempt to measure non-human intellect. Dogs, Ed was told, have “a rudimentary theory of mind.”
- The possibility of life on Mars: In 1895, astronomer Percival Lowell made the case for the planet’s habitability in a series of four articles. His theory of its habitation hinged on the observation of what appeared to be a system of canals on the planet’s surface—the existence of which, he asserted, suggested that not just life but intelligent life could be found on Mars. Eighty years later, David Chandler wrote that “Lowell was wrong. The canals never existed ... But even though his evidence was mistaken, Lowell's conclusion may yet be vindicated.” Chandler went on to describe new biochemical data retrieved by space probes on Mars which seemed to indicate the presence of living matter. In the decades since, even as further exploration of the planet by various landers has failed to produce definitive evidence of past or present Martians, writers have continued to ponder life on the Red Planet—if not now, then in the future. Its potential to support life and the spark that possibility presents to the human imagination, after all, are among the reasons why Rebecca Boyle argued that it’s the best planet.
YOUR REACTIONS TO THE HISTORY OF THE KOREAN WAR
Yesterday’s note on the history of the Korean War struck a nerve with a lot of you. I was especially interested to hear from members who were veterans or had lived through the period I was writing about. Here are two of your notes, lightly edited, that stuck with me.
“I was born in 1957, so crossed another big one this year. I recall watching the CBS Evening News and seeing the death counts for the Vietnam War. But the Korean War had, of course ‘ended’ prior to my birth. The fact that someone my age did not live through the Korean conflict as it happened means that there are many individuals who have only the knowledge gained from history classes in school. A full awareness of the conflict and the political and dynamic world factors leading to the conflict was likely barely touched. It may be revealing to say that I learned more about the Korean conflict from watching and rewatching MASH. A sense of the futility of the U.S. involvement in the conflict and the impact of improvements in war-making led to a message that war was a false endeavor with no justifiable solution. The fact of the matter is that most Americans likely do not appreciate the stance of the North Korean leaders and the belief that they must do what they have to do to survive. That is their bias, legitimate or not.”
“This is a great refresher on a war most Americans are too young to remember. The real problem is that those who represent American interest in the Korean Peninsula seem ignorant of this history as well. I remember receiving letters from my best friend while he was in Korea and I was in Vietnam. While I was dodging mortars and rockets, he was under fire nearly daily on the 38th parallel. The Korean conflict was not over then—and it still is not over. Now, instead of trading bullets, we are trading insults between our heads of state. Given the history between our nations, the last thing we need is bombastic provocation. Otherwise, real bombs will replace the war of words.”
TODAY’S WRAP UP
- Question of the day: What do you want to know about Russia?
- Your feedback: We love hearing what you think about The Masthead, and it’s even more fun when you share your stories with us. Take our survey, and keep ‘em coming.
- What’s coming: Tomorrow, a special treat for you: Kurt Vonnegut’s previously unpublished story, “The City.”
- What we’re thinking about: Next week’s Washington Ideas Forum. Caroline and I will be attending and reporting back for you.
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