Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Rob Stothard / Getty

On August 21, the Great American Eclipse will sweep the country from coast to coast, covering the land below in darkness for more than two minutes. About 12 million people live within the path of totality, and according to Martin Knopp, an administrator at the Federal Highway Administration, some 2 to 7 million who live within a day’s drive are expected to travel to that narrow zone this coming Monday.

Will you be watching? Whether you’re planning to be in the path of totality, or just tuning in from your home state, we want to see how you’re viewing the eclipse that day. In addition to the special coverage of the eclipse on our site, we’ll be sharing readers’ best photos from eclipse celebrations and viewing parties across the U.S. in our Instagram story. To submit yours, email the photos to atlanticeclipse@gmail.com or send them to @theatlantic via Instagram Direct Message. Please provide the location, the story behind the photo, and the largest file size you have. (Terms and Conditions here.)

Vertical photos that show not only the eclipse, but also where you’re viewing it from and who’s watching with you, are ideal. Have fun with it! And don’t forget to follow us here and tap our icon in the Instagram app on Monday, August 21, to view the story.

Victor Fraile / Reuters

It’s August again, and here in D.C., where we’ve had a cool and cloudy week, it’s already starting to feel a bit like fall.

It’s a time of year that Helen Hunt Jackson (under the diminutive pen name “H. H.”), captured in our pages almost a century and a half ago. In “August,” from our August 1876 issue, she describes the loveliness, and ephemerality, of a summer nearing its end:

Silence again. The glorious symphony
Hath need of pause and interval of peace.
Some subtle signal bids all sweet sounds cease,
Save hum of insects’ aimless industry.
Pathetic, summer seeks by blazonry
Of color to conceal her swift decrease.

You can read the full poem here.  

All notes on "Atlantic Poems" >

Following this item on Donald Trump’s (ill-advised) criticism of Richard Blumenthal’s military record, and this exchange of reader mail, several more responses. I’m not planning an open-ended forum of everyone’s Vietnam-era memories, but I think these offer a valuable range of perspectives. More ahead.

From a recent veteran:

It is fascinating for me—a Millennial veteran, whose service was like that of Al Gore’s—to see the feedback you received from boomers on the Vietnam-era decisions that were made.

As a brief extra bit of background I can draw a straight line from 9/11 to my decision to serve. But I also made my decision as a response to the “Support Our Troops” marches in March 2003 regarding a theater I was morally ambiguous about (but did not oppose at the time). I can also draw a straight line from my service to my cynicism with the U.S. military and neo-con policy.

Your readers’ inputs show how much has changed in the era of the all-volunteer military. The Vietnam War is something still hotly debated, whereas I don’t know how many folks will talk seriously about Iraq—it’s so esoteric to most Americans. On the flip side, having played sports at an overseas base myself, the experience of the baseball player blows my mind a bit. It’s nice to know the military has changed for the better in some ways.

There were two other points from your first reader that I find interesting. The first is this:

“By the mid- to late-sixties, it was clear that Vietnam was a crime, a mistake, and an accidental catastrophe. Was this position morally ambiguous?”

Yes, I still think the Vietnam War was and is a morally ambiguous moment in American history. Better thinkers than I have written to defend America's involvement, so I won’t re-hash their arguments. However, I also have the utmost respect for those who opposed the war. MLK and Muhammad Ali displayed a courage that just did not need to exist in the era of Iraq with an all volunteer military.

But that brings up the other fascinating thing to me—the quote of yours about being unable to affect national policy. The crazy thing is, y’all did affect national policy! The Vietnam War ended. That’s how democracy should work—an anti-war movement shook up a major political party and pulled us out of a fight we weren’t losing because our involvement was not in line with what they believed our country should stand for.

Again—that hasn’t happened in today’s wars. They are endless, nobody has enough skin in the game to put on large-scale protests, and the DOD has largely insulated the average civilian from exposure to the wars rather than openly debate whether this is how American power should be used. They are talking of an Afghan viceroy in the White House!?

You’ve written about how the Iraq War was far less defensible than Vietnam, but our run-up to war was an unstoppable year-long process. There was no Gulf of Tonkin incident, just a highly covered invasion and then 14 years of mission creep around the world because people are scared of terrorism.

I don’t want to sound nostalgic for Vietnam-era civil-military relations, nor do I intend to frame Vietnam as a positive counterpoint to our current situation. More Americans died then, returning service members had a far less positive experience than I did, and your baseball contributor highlights the waste that came in a large army of draftees. But I do think there is much we can and should learn from Vietnam and the past 16 years as we wrestle with how best to apply American power in the current and future, and how best to check American power with American democracy.

***

All notes on "Chickenhawk Nation" >
Demonstrators protest the Vietnam War during a speech by Vice President Hubert Humphrey in Chicago on March 15, 1966. Larry Stoddard / AP

Late last night I did an item arguing that Donald Trump represented a classic “chickenhawk” figure from the Vietnam era—someone who didn’t complain about the war, as long as it didn’t inconvenience him personally. With that background behind him, I claimed, it was all the more unseemly for Trump to criticize what anyone else had done in that era, from the long-time prisoner of war John McCain to the one-time Marine Corps reserve member Richard Blumenthal.

Responses have come in on all sides of this debate. I’ll revive this thread, started after my “Chickenhawk Nation” article two years ago, because the arguments are in fact connected to those earlier discussions. (By the way, where did the contemporary term “chickenhawk” come from, to denote people who are all in favor of wars that someone else will fight? The first use I’m aware of was by my friend Michael Kinsley, then in his role as TRB columnist for The New Republic, in the mid-1980s.)

Here are two dispatches from different perspectives. First, from someone who runs a tech company on the East coast, and who thinks I was too dismissive of the “Consistent Non-Warriors,” like Bill Clinton:

You describe those who opposed the Vietnam War, and who refused to participate in it, dismissively: “At least they’re consistent.” Part of the Great Chickenhawk Consensus, which you have so ably documented, holds that we must all atone for the sin of being right, that we ought to pretend that the War in Vietnam was just or that its end was clearly ordained.

[Quoting me:]The brutal fact that it was easier, for opponents of the war, to keep themselves from being involved than to change the whole nation’s policy left this group with its moral ambiguity.

I admire the modesty that underlies your description of those with principled opposition to participating in the War in Vietnam here, but I think it’s questionable both on the historical politics and in its contemporary echoes.

By the mid- to late-sixties, it was clear that Vietnam was a crime, a mistake, and an accidental catastrophe. Was this position morally ambiguous? I thought then, and to a considerable extent still believe, that the morally treacherous position was the one held by those who knew the war was wrong, but chose to aid it anyway. Those were the returning veterans we scorned, and (though most people today pretend otherwise) they deserved scorn: They went off to kill, they knew better, and in choosing to aid the war they made it harder for their compatriots to end it.

The moral position of the “Warriors” is scarcely better. Some, of course, were ignorant. Some were misled. Thoughtful professionals knew, or should have known, that the war was a crime and a criminal waste; those who allowed themselves to be used to extend and prolong the war deserve scant commendation.

After the Civil War, the US allowed itself to believe things it knew to be untrue for the sake of restoring the union. We always knew there was no Noble Cause, but we pretended otherwise. We knew that Lee and his fellows had committed treason, but it seemed a time to be magnanimous. A nation was patched together, though at great cost—a cost we continue to pay in remission of every last drop of blood drawn with the lash.

We’ve tried the same trick with the memory of Vietnam, hoping to find unity by ceding a merely rhetorical victory to the losers. That unity was always elusive, and after Trump it may well be forever broken.

For what it’s worth, my use of “at least they’re consistent” was meant to be wry shorthand, rather than dismissive. After all, this is the group in which I classified myself. As for the moral ambiguities, they centered on reluctance to face who was being drafted and sent off to fight, as the better-educated, better-connected young men were deferred, but at this point that is thoroughly plowed terrain.

***

Next, from a reader who was playing professional baseball, in the minor leagues, as the war ramped up:

I was playing ball in the ’60s and, through the team, got onto a “special” National Guard unit.  I did have to go to Basic Training, but did not have to attend meetings.  Until, of course, the whole matter became political and the Guard became sensitive …  

My [baseball] career was going nowhere because of injuries, was moving every few months to different parts of the country, and I had zero interest in “participating” in the hopelessly juvenile antics of the guard. A knee surgery accorded me the opportunity to exit that organization gracefully.

All notes on "Chickenhawk Nation" >
Emily Jan / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

After almost 160 years, we’re running our first-ever Instagram contest. The September 2017 issue will be in mailboxes and on newsstands within the next week, and we want to see where you’re reading your Atlantic magazine.

It’s easy to enter: Snap a picture of you (and your friends! Family! Pets! Get as creative as you’d like with it) reading your copy of the September issue, and share it on Instagram throughout the month of August, using this hashtag: #ReadingMyAtlantic. We’ll select a winner in early September—the prize includes a one-year digital subscription, a limited-edition Woolly-Mammoth tote bag, and a limited-edition poster of the “My President Was Black” cover, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The winner’s post will also be shared from our account, so be sure to give us a follow.

We can’t wait to see where you’re taking your copy of The Atlantic—and the places The Atlantic might be taking you.

Emily Jan / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

Full official contest rules below:

Emily Jan / The Atlantic

This November marks 160 years since The Atlantic’s first issue went to press. We hope you’ll celebrate with us—and in turn, we want to celebrate you, the readers who have stuck with us through the decades. Did you follow our coverage of the space race, the civil rights movement, the Watergate scandal? Did you read James Fallows’s essay on living with a computer in print, before you began to use a computer yourself? Did you get your book recommendations from Edward Weeks, the Peripatetic Reviewer, or submit a short story to the Atlantic Firsts contest for emerging writers? Can you remember when each issue came with the table of contents on the cover, or picture some of the first illustrations ever featured in our pages back in the ’40s?

If so, we want to hear from you: For a special mention in our 160th-anniversary issue, we’re searching for the person who’s been subscribing to The Atlantic for the greatest number of years. If you think that’s you or someone you know, please fill out this form to tell us how long you’ve been subscribing, and a little bit about your Atlantic story.

Paul Spella / The Atlantic

Jon Emont reported from Indonesia this week on one prophet’s stymied attempts to kickstart a new religion called Millah Abraham. The story is interesting not only for the specific challenges it details—the prophet is imprisoned and his followers face government persecution—but also as a test case for a much broader question: What does it take to successfully create, sustain, and grow a religion?

As Emont notes, our world today is dominated by Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam—the same four faiths that dominated the globe a millennium ago. New religions crop up all the time, but the followings they gain are vanishingly small compared to the followings of the “big four.” Why is that?

Is it because we find it harder to believe in miracles if we’re told they happened 20 years ago as opposed to 2,000 years ago—because, as one expert put it, “the mist of time lends its authenticity”? Or is it because in 2017 fewer governments see it as their job to push a particular religion, resulting in a lack of state sponsorship? Or maybe it’s because people in the market for a religious belief system now have access to a huge array of options, and such a glut makes it harder for any one religion to distinguish itself from its competitors?

One thing’s certain, as Emont writes: “Any new religion, to be successful, would have to present millions of believers with an offer they couldn’t refuse.”

We want to know what that offer looks like for you.

Have you participated in a new religious movement or group? What about it was most powerful for you? What did it allow you to experience that doesn’t get enough credit or attention among more established religious groups?

Let us know in this form. And in case you’re wondering what counts as “new”: Experts are divided on that, but we’re interested in hearing about experiences with movements that have sprung up in the past 100 years. Whether you’re part of a group that’s strikingly distinct from existing religions (like readers of The Urantia Book) or a group that remixes an existing religion in fresh ways (like the Neo Hasids who attend Chulent parties in New York), we want to hear about your alternative religious communities—particularly if they’re ones we may never have encountered before.

Pantea A. Tofangchi / Passager Books

Editor’s note: Henry Morgenthau III is a 100-year-old poet. He published his first collection in 2016 at the age of 99. Before that, he was a writer and a documentary filmmaker at WGBH in Boston, working with subjects from James Baldwin to Eleanor Roosevelt. He’s also a memoirist, and the son of the former U.S. treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr., but his family connections don’t define his poems—as he told us, “One of the reasons I started writing poetry was to free myself from all that.”

For Morgenthau, freedom comes with humor and insight, in his own distinctive voice. And in his poem “A Sunday in Purgatory,” he finds this freedom even within the would-be confines of his age. It’s the title poem of his book, and we’re delighted to share it below.

—Jeffrey Goldberg

A voluntary inmate immured
in a last resort for seniors,
there are constant reminders,
the reaper is lurking around that corner.
I am at home, very much at home,
here at Ingleside at Rock Creek.
Distant three miles from my caring daughter.

At Ingleside, a faith-based community
for vintage Presbyterians, I am an old Jew.
But that’s another story.
I’m not complaining with so much I want to do,
doing it at my pace, slowly.
Anticipation of death is like looking for a new job.

Then suddenly on a Sunday,
talking recklessly while eating brunch,
a gristly piece of meat lodges in my throat.
I struggle for breath, too annoyed to be scared.
Someone pounds my back to no avail.
Out of nowhere, an alert pint-sized waiter
performs the Heimlich maneuver.
I don’t believe it will work.
It does! Uncorked, I am freed.

Looking up I see the concerned visage and
reversed collar of a retired Navy chaplain,
pinch hitting as God’s messenger for the day.
Had he come to perform the last rites,
to ease my passage from this world to the hereafter?
Don’t jump to dark conclusions.
In World War II on active duty,
he learned the Heimlich as well as the himmlisch.
Knowing it is best administered
to a standing victim,
he rushed to intervene.
On this day I am twice blessed
with the kindness of strangers.

You can listen to a reading by Morgenthau here; read more about his poetry collection from Passager Books here; and contact him here.

All notes on "Atlantic Poems" >
Sony Pictures Animation

In my forthcoming book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, I look closely at America’s modern invention of and unequalled immersion in show business, from the make-believe concoctions of P.T. Barnum and Buffalo Bill to those of Walt Disney and the WWE character/reality show star/insult comic now in the Oval Office.

I don’t blame The Emoji Movie, and its success since opening last week, on President Trump. But both are quintessentially 21st-century entertainment phenomena, both are jaw-dropping symptoms of American decline—and they share a fundamental marketing strategy.

The Emoji Movie was about as negatively reviewed by professional critics as a movie can be. Its percentage of positive notices, according to the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, is 7 percent. The other big bad movies this summer, such as Baywatch and Transformers: The Last Knight, completely tanked, some people think, because Rotten Tomatoes now enables everyone to know an extremely negative consensus with precision before movies open.

So why did The Emoji Movie have a successful opening weekend, unlike those bombs? As The Hollywood Reporter explained on Wednesday, it’s in part because Sony forbade reviews from being published until hours before the movie opened. Sony’s president of marketing was proud of the trick he pulled off, winning with a product the elite despised: “What other wide release with a [Rotten Tomatoes] score under 8 percent has opened north of $20 million? I don’t think there is one.”

Does that not sound a lot like Trump or a spokesperson of his gloating about how the mainstream haters thought he could never win the nomination or the presidency? And was the studio’s press strategy not akin to the Trump administration’s move of excluding cameras from press briefings?

Rotten Tomatoes also measures audience reaction. Only 7 percent of critics liked The Emoji Movie, but it has an “audience score” of 44 percent—strikingly similar to Trump’s approval ratings among the professionals and civilians, respectively. We'll find out if The Emoji Movie develops a sufficiently devoted fan base to make its sequels profitable. Trump, like a show-business impresario, is playing exclusively to his most devoted fans, ignoring the haters and everyone else, hoping that he can somehow stay afloat with only a passionate plurality of supporters. We’ll see if that works, too.

All notes on "Postcards From Fantasyland" >

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