Responding to Juleyka’s callout for stories of family members living under authoritarian rule, reader Colleen touches upon the experience of her Dutch stepmother:
She spent four years in a Japanese POW camp in Indonesia—from age 12 to 16, and her brother from age 9 to 13. When they were liberated they went back to Holland as displaced persons.
The experience was NEVER talked about. No counseling. Nothing.
When she reached 18 she joined the Dutch Royal Navy, immigrated to Canada in her mid 20s, then to the U.S about age 28. She met my father and, for some unknown reason, married him. They had two daughters, who are now 53 and 52 (I’m 73).
My step-mom was a lovely, funny, gracious, manipulative control freak. Her mother taught me how to cook. Oma [“grandmother” in German] did not speak English, and I did not speak Dutch or German, but we flowed through the kitchen with smiles, laughter, and words that neither understood. Needless to say my step-mom had a wonderful effect on my life.
The period was one of the most critical in Indonesian history. Under German occupation, the Netherlands had little ability to defend its colony against the Japanese army, and less than three months after the first attacks on Borneo, the Japanese navy and army overran Dutch and allied forces.
Initially, most Indonesians joyfully welcomed the Japanese, as liberators from their Dutch colonial masters. The sentiment changed, as Indonesians were expected to endure more hardship for the war effort. In 1944–1945, Allied troops largely bypassed Indonesia and did not fight their way into the most populous parts such as Java and Sumatra. As such, most of Indonesia was still under Japanese occupation at the time of their surrender, in August 1945.
The Dominican Republic, where I’m from, is among the countries in the Americas that had authoritarian rulers for multiple decades. Almost all of my uncles and aunts, and both my parents, were born during Rafael Trujillo’s reign of terror, which began in 1930 and ended with his assassination in 1961. His influence on the country, and on my own life, is still felt today.
When I was growing up, adults in my family talked politics all the time, almost as much as they talked baseball. But in our family, politics was personal because my father’s father briefly worked for Trujillo, as an assistant of some sort. At our weekend family gatherings, some aunt or uncle could be found surrounded by nieces and nephews like me, breathing in a fresh retelling of a hand-me-down story from my grandfather’s past—in hushed whispers, of course. My grandfather himself never uttered a single word about his work with the dictator, and he took that part of his life to his grave a few years ago.
In some versions of my relatives’ stories, my grandfather was the official food taster, to whom his boss’s meals would be presented for inspection and sampling. (To this singular culinary task my family attributed his strict adherence to mealtimes and table manners.) Other renditions described him as a personal secretary of sorts, handwriting dictated letters to society families whose daughters were “invited” to lavish balls thrown at the executive palace, where many young ladies were summarily deflowered by the head of state in well appointed bedrooms.
(Having studied Dominican history, I am highly suspicious of the circumstances that may have led to my grandfather working for such a man. The autocrat was known for conscripting people into his service or else.)
I am partially a product of the codes and mores established by my grandparents, who raised most of their children during the Trujillato. I was raised to accept and respect strict hierarchies in my own family and in organizations in general. I was expected to prefer and defer to men for decisions, control, and public leadership—all things I slowly unlearned and relinquished as an immigrant in 1980s New York City, where the only valid code was hard work.
Dominican author Junot Díaz has said that all Dominicans are Trujillo’s children. I interviewed him in 2007 just before his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was published. Much of the plot takes place during the Trujillato, which the novel presents as a cosmic curse that befalls the island nation. This is what Díaz told me about Trujillo’s place in his own life:
The evil of the father lasts. The consequences of those kinds of patriarchal traumas last to the point where the person no longer has contact with the origins of that evil. I had no concept that I was Trujillo’s son. I had no concept until I was reading, got older, went traveling, and I was like, OK, my dad was a total copy of Trujillo. I mean he grew up in the military, during the Trujillato. He thought Trujillo was a great f* man, and we had in my family—and this is very common in many Third-World families—a dictatorship in the house. La dictadura de la casa. And everyone has different dictaduras, but the one that I lived under was a dictadura that would’ve made Trujillo very, very comfortable, because he helped design it.
The idea of having a genetic link to Trujillo—an evil force so pure that it warped an entire country—has stayed with me ever since. His legacy sometimes cautions me when I encounter limited thinking, when I consider untapped reasons for choices I’ve made, and as I raise two sons whose worldview I hope to make more capacious and expansive than mine.
Did you grow up under an authoritarian regime? Did your parents or other close family members? Please share your stories with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and describe how you think the dictator’s legacy shaped you.
A classic meme about being radicalized is now so absurd that it means almost nothing at all.
Have you fallen for a famous great ape, the most lovable star of something called the “MonsterVerse”? You’re Kong-pilled. Have you been convinced by a local restaurateur that an imported Italian oil is actually worth the expense? You’re truffle-pilled. Have you inadvertently become entranced by Marxist perspectives on mass media and popular culture? You’re Horkheimer and Adorno–pilled.
All over the internet, people are claiming to be “pilled” by anything you can imagine. Like lots of memes, this one comes from pop culture. In the 1999 movie The Matrix, the protagonist is presented with a choice: Take a red pill or a blue pill. The red pill will wake you up to all the horrors of reality, and the blue pill will let you stay clueless and happy in a simulated dreamworld. But unlike lots of memes, this one didn’t start as a neutral joke about a famous movie. About eight years ago, boys who were spending too much time on the internet—usually on 4chan or Reddit—began to use taking the red pill as code for “choosing to realize that feminism is destroying society and my life.” The phrase was adopted by other far-right political subcultures and slowly came to mean that a person had been radicalized in some way.
The CDC has finally said what scientists have been screaming for months: The coronavirus is overwhelmingly spread through the air, not via surfaces.
Last week, the CDC acknowledged what many of us have been saying for almost nine months about cleaning surfaces to prevent transmission by touch of the coronavirus: It’s pure hygiene theater.
“Based on available epidemiological data and studies of environmental transmission factors,” the CDC concluded, “surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the risk is considered to be low.” In other words: You can put away the bleach, cancel your recurring Amazon subscription for disinfectant wipes, and stop punishing every square inch of classroom floor, restaurant table, and train seat with high-tech antimicrobial blasts. COVID-19 is airborne: It spreads through tiny aerosolized droplets that linger in the air in unventilated spaces. Touching stuff just doesn’t carry much risk, and more people should say so, very loudly.
Misperceptions and rage are blinding Republicans—and their voter-suppression measures may backfire.
It’s not only Georgia.
In every state where Republicans control a chamber of the legislature, bills to restrict voting are advancing fast. Arizona and Texas Republicans have acted especially aggressively to choke off unwanted voters in time for 2022.
Arizona Republicans propose to reduce the number of days for early voting. They want to purge voter rolls of people who missed the previous election. They want to cut off mail-in balloting five days before Election Day. And they want to require that affidavits of identity accompany any ballot that is mailed in.
Texas Republicans are pushing a bill to limit early voting, prohibit drive-through voting, limit the number of ballot drop-off locations, and restrict local officials’ ability to publicize voting by mail.
The recent wave of anti-trans legislation follows a decades-long pattern of the GOP targeting those they think lack the numbers or votes to properly fight back.
Ken Mehlman wanted to apologize. Speaking with The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder in 2010, the former Republican National Committee chair came out as gay, and acknowledged that, despite being a party leader, he had not worked against the GOP’s strategy of setting up anti-marriage-equality referendums in key states prior to the 2004 election.
“Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus,” Ambinder wrote. He added that Mehlman “often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called ‘the greatest anti-gay force in the world right now.’”
The interview represented a shift in conservative politics, as the Republican Party moved from demonizing one group of Americans to another. The time for blaming the nation’s problems on gay people was over; now was the time to come together as a country and blame our problems on Muslims. For the past 30 years, the GOP has pursued a consistent strategy: Find a misunderstood or marginalized group, convince voters that the members of that group pose an existential threat to society, and then ride to victory on the promise of using state power to crush them.
A pause is just that—a pause—in which health officials can reevaluate the data at hand.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has entered regulatory purgatory. This morning, the CDC and FDA jointly recommended, “out of an abundance of caution,” a nationwide halt to the single shot’s rollout. The two agencies are investigating a rare blood-clotting disorder: In the six cases reported so far, all in the United States, women ages 18 to 48 developed an unusual type of blood clot within about two weeks of receiving the company’s inoculation.
Experts haven’t yet conclusively determined whether J&J’s vaccine is directly causing these strange clots, or how frequently the condition might be occurring, because they’re relying largely on people reporting their health conditions to federal agencies. Roughly 7 million doses of the vaccine have been administered so far in the United States; among them were about 1 million women under the age of 50. “I think it’s reasonable to say it is a rare event, but I don’t think we should go into false precision in this kind of situation,” Saad Omer, a vaccine expert at Yale, told me. “Our numerators and denominators are still emerging.”
Canada has universal health care and millions of doses on order. So why are so few of its citizens vaccinated?
By the time you read this, at least a quarter of Americans will have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s a stunning turnaround for a country where a bungled early response, inadequate financial support to keep people home, and a mishmash of mask requirements have led to more than 30 million infections and more than 554,000 deaths.
Just north of the border, Canadians—usually so smug about our universal health care—are looking on with jealousy. “Here, vaccine envy has turned into a national psychosis, another reason to beat ourselves up for some fatal national flaw,” wrote Alan Freeman, a journalist turned public servant and academic on iPolitics, a Canadian news website. In The Globe and Mail, the columnist Ian Brown retells an encounter with a vaccinated person: “I immediately wanted revenge. Nothing serious: steal his car, maybe, or his wallet.”
The singer’s rerecording of her second album makes a statement about her past—and delivers a blow to her rivals.
At 18, Taylor Swift had some regrets. Across her smash second album, Fearless, Swift sang about moments she wanted to relive and, in some cases, rewrite. “Wish you could go back / And tell yourself what you know now,” she said on “15,” a reminiscence about her freshman year of high school. On “White Horse,” she chided, “Stupid girl, I should’ve known,” as she thought back to a breakup. The album captured the act of painting over naïveté with experience—a common process in adolescence, when a couple of months of aging can feel like a lifetime of education.
The Taylor Swift who’s now 31 does not sound like she wants to change her past. Her new rerecording of Fearless, titled Fearless (Taylor’s Version), simply affirms who she was in 2008. Her voice has deepened, she sometimes emphasizes fresh syllables, and her team has tweaked some instrumentation and sonic mixing, but the compositions are fundamentally the same. If notes, lyrics, or tempos have shifted, you can isolate how only with careful use of the pause button. “You Belong With Me” remains one of the best songs in pop history, and the pre-chorus simile in “Breathe” is still kind of clunky. Swift’s faithfulness to her teenage vision is unexpectedly moving. Think back to something you expended a lot of effort on 13 years ago. Does it make you cringe? She’s telling you to go easier on your past self.
In 1975, he failed to see what America owed the Vietnamese who had bet their lives on American promises.
If the purpose of the Afghan War was to prevent terrorists from using Afghanistan to stage attacks on the United States, America could have declared victory and gone home years ago. But if the purpose was also to help build a durable state—to prevent the Taliban from taking power again, destroying the hard-won progress made by millions of Afghan citizens, and perhaps allowing radical Islamists to regain a base on Afghan soil—then the longest war in U.S. history is ending in defeat. President Joe Biden’s announcement that all American forces will be withdrawn by September 11—a neat two decades after the attacks that propelled the U.S. into Afghanistan—simply gives a date after which the clock on the demise of the Afghan government will begin to tick.
People who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine will have higher health-care costs. The rest of us will foot the bill.
Imagine it’s 2026. A man shows up in an emergency room, wheezing. He’s got pneumonia, and it’s hitting him hard. He tells one of the doctors that he had COVID-19 a few years earlier, in late 2021. He had refused to get vaccinated, and ended up contracting the coronavirus months after most people got their shots. Why did he refuse? Something about politics, or pushing back on government control, or a post he saw on Facebook. He doesn’t really remember. His lungs do, though: By the end of the day, he’s on a ventilator.
You’ll pay for that man’s decisions. So will I. We all will—in insurance premiums, if he has a plan with your provider, or in tax dollars, if the emergency room he goes to is in a public hospital. The vaccine refusers could cost us billions. Maybe more, over the next few decades, with all the complications they could develop. And we can’t do anything about it except hope that more people get their shots than those who say they will right now.
In this crowded field of wrongness, one voice stands out. The voice of Alex Berenson: the former New York Times reporter, Yale-educated novelist, avid tweeter, online essayist, and all-around pandemic gadfly. Berenson has been serving up COVID-19 hot takes for the past year, blithely predicting that the United States would not reach 500,000 deaths (we’ve surpassed 550,000) and arguing that cloth and surgical masks can’t protect against the coronavirus (yes, theycan).