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Sullivan Provides Inspiration, not Context
From: RAY ECKHART, Nov. 22
Re: Sullivan’s ‘Lack of a Historical Perspective’
Have you ever had the experience of listening to a sermon about a biblical passage, on the same day, by two different kinds of pastors: a Teacher, and a Preacher? Both offer something to their congregants. We learn about context, and what it was like in bce 30, from the teacher - it adds some nuance. These "teachers" tend to be newer to the profession, recently out of seminary, and eager to share (prove?) their knowledge and context with their audience. It's nice. I learn something. It doesn't inspire. It does very little for my Faith Journey. If Mr. Sullivan has any ambition to teach history, or deconstruct Jefferson, it's absent from his c.v. He aspires to reach a wider audience. To inspire. And, on the eve of Thanksgiving, to remind us and his British audience of what we have to be thankful for, and where some of the roots of our American Tree were planted.
If one is inclined to stay solely within secular terms, think of an artist, with words as the medium, or a composer, with words, again, instead of notes. I don't know how useful it is to analyze the brushstrokes, or parse the composition, in order to appreciate the beauty or the harmony. The goal, still, is to inspire others, and bask in the wonderment, of how we got here, to this moment.
I, in addition to Matt, Ken Layne, and Daniel Jacobson, think he succeeded admirably.
11/26/2001 03:32:19 PM
Predictions After Victory
From: DEAN CHENG, Nov. 22
Re: Where the Left Goes From Here
I am only a recent reader of your site, but have found it most stimulating and interesting. This is also my first venture into the world of emailing columnists, so I hope you (and your readers if you should choose to publish this) will bear with me.
Having spent more time than I care to remember in academic halls and elsewhere, I would predict that, in the wake of victory, there will in fact be several lines of dismissal, mostly from the American Left:
1. US victory was assured, so this is as much a victory as running over a puppy with a Mack truck. The inevitable line here will be that "of course" a major power with lots of weapons could defeat the Taliban. Indeed, it was nothing more than a mindless slaughter to begin with. Never mind, of course, that many of the folks making this line of argument were the same ones arguing that this would be Vietnam in 2001, it would all be a quagmire, yaddayaddayadda. If there are especially photogenic scenes, e.g., along the roads out of Mazar-i-Sharif or Kunduz, expect videoshots of burnt-out vehicles to elicit comparisons with the so-called "highway of death" between Kuwait City and Basra, and sniffing commentary about how US airpower had "slaughtered" retreating Taliban/al-Qaeda forces. Expect that, eventually, this will be raised (I'd guess a year or two) as another example of US inhumanity, not fighting fair, ignoring the laws of war, etc., etc.
2. We hit the wrong guys. This line will argue that we never "proved" that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda had anything to do with the Taliban. Some (especially among the Muslim communities here and abroad) will question whether we've ever proved that bin Laden and al-Qaeda had anything to do with 9-11. Of course, barring a smoking videotape, it is highly unlikely anything will persuade folks of the latter persuasion (and even then....), but they will, in turn, be cited by our own doubters and cynics. Thus, they will say, "And it is heard in the Arab/Muslim 'street' that the US has never provided evidence of bin Laden's involvement, increasing further the specter of anti-Americanism among the general population, here in blahblahblah." In any case, the suffering of the people of Afghanistan will be prominent, which will be the basis for:
3. The consequences "prove" that it was not worth it. Since we won so handily, we'll never "know" whether sanctions, the Hague, the UN, international tribunals, or my fairy godmother could or could not have resolved the issue more peaceably. But we will "know" that hundreds, thousands, nay billions of Afghans are/were starving, and it will all be our fault. Shoot, even now, there are arguments that the suffering of civilians in Kandahar and Kunduz raises questions about the viability and legitimacy of our war. Geov Parrish of "WorkingforChange.com" has written that 7.5 million Afghans are likely to starve. (That's pretty impressive, considering Afghanistan, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies has a population of only 24 million. So one-third are going to starve? Wow, shades of Pol Pot.) One could be churlish, and mention that there was a drought before the war began, that there were consequently population movements before the war began, that the Taliban had been confiscating food and aid even before the war began, and that all of these factors were almost certainly exacerbated by Taliban intransigence. Or one could just dismiss these carpers and ostriches for what they are, folks who would NEVER believe that anything other than American culpability was involved.
4. [British press special addition]. This war, with its display of American bellicosity and untrammeled power, shows (in no particular order, and in addition to the above):
A. The UK needs to follow its own path (which inevitably means joining the EU to help constrain American power).
B. The Americans are more heinous, bomb-happy, cowboy like than ever.
C. The United States is too dangerous to remain a monopolar power, there must be a counterbalance.
11/26/2001 03:17:42 PM
Why Scholars Need To Be ‘Objective’
From: WILLIAM F. MAGALETTA, Nov. 20
I wonder how far all this will go - if we will regress again to black-lists, and patriotism hearings on Capitol Hill. I know, I'm a pessimist, you're an optimist...did you see the psychological study that came out a couple of years ago, comparing pessimists and optimists? No great shakes - a less than startling finding that optimists were much happier and felt that they were accomplishing more in their lives. But the interesting result to me was that the pessimists were much better at correctly perceiving the true state of affairs than the optimists.
Still, I'll hope that I'm going to be proved wrong in my Eeyore outlook...
11/26/2001 02:30:52 PM
On Oil, the Soviet Union, and the Laissez-Faire Balance Sheet
From: PETER ZELCHENKO, Nov. 21
Re: America: Home of the Brutal?
I appreciate what little I have been able to read of your work. You have a very interesting objectivist stance and style which sometimes confuse and usually refresh one after dealing with purists (myself sometimes included) over these recent affairs.
However, I do disagree with your contention that the balance has been more good than bad over the last century and beyond. Barring a highly detailed balance sheet, we cannot know for sure -- or at least we have not found the best way to measure such a thing. My stoic side argues that many more people live more urgently contrasting lives, suffer greater disease, lose a greater share of basic rights, and die more brutal deaths, at the hands of laissez-faire conflict in the context of progressive development than in its relative absence. To be an apologist for Iran-Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Iran-Contra, Afghanistan, Hiroshima, arms to questionable emerging "republics," and other effects of our longtime progressive stance, simply because freedom has appeared to reign as a result when viewed from a distance, would be to make a major accounting assumption and possibly a grievous error.
In addition, to isolate such countries as the Soviet Union from the rest of the world in questions of democracy and dictatorship is problematic, because the Soviet Union was never in a vacuum. If it were on an island, cut off from world opinion and media (as it attempted but failed), and were not hounded by the Western powers (who were justifiably terrified at the prospect of being absorbed), things might have been different. One could argue that the Soviet Union's greatest error was its expansionist policies in preference to one of strict isolationism. No country exists in a vacuum. It is perpetually exposed to outside influences. Therefore, its policies are hardly the only ideas shaping its future. In fact, the contrast between its policies and those of its neighbors seems to be what causes much of the dialectical strife.
To the main point, if we don't have a balance sheet on hand, I contend it would be better to err on the side of caution and conservatism in terms of the overall laissez-faire argument, particularly as it applies to trade in this case.
I highly recommend a book which you may already have read, and which I am finishing now in context with Saudi Arabia and the current Middle East problems: Pierre Terzian, L'Etonnant Histoire de l'OPEP (OPEC: The Inside Story). It is from the mid-1980s, but it is an excellent book and much of it is topical today, as it explains many of our East-West conflicts in terms of the petroleum resource. It documented, perhaps for the first time in the open, certain strategic stances and methods of trickery practiced by the U.S. to control oil markets.
My thesis, which I litmus-tested on a gang of unusually impolite Texas-style bunker libertarians last week, has been that the princely Wahabite sons of Saudi Arabia and their confidants have been perhaps the world's greatest per-capita beneficiaries of our insatiable thirst for oil these past 30 to 40 years. It is with this thesis in mind that I am reading Terzian's book and coming to the prospect that -- setting the ecological problem aside for the moment -- our excessive consumption habits may have fueled the largest terrorist network since, say, Genghis Khan's Golden Horde, while the relative benefit may have been less than we are willing to acknowledge. I refer you to another article, “Economic fate again in Saudi hands,” by Chris Byron, which you may have read.
If, hypothetically speaking, we and our parents had been more frugal and settled for approximately half the gasoline consumption in our lifetimes, we might have been able to keep consumption within the bounds of "splendid isolation" rather than have to deal with the Middle East and suffer consequences of this modernist version of the Monroe Doctrine. Not that I believe we could have foreseen such a calamity, nor that nothing good has come out of this. But this is to say that extravagant consumption, given such an interdependent world picture, can result in our resources motivating things far beyond our control. Again, whether the sum total is good or bad is the great problem being debated, but I say that if we do not know for sure -- if one life in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Israel, China or anywhere else hangs in the balance -- we should proceed with utter caution as if that life were our own. I'm not speaking in terms of caution in foreign policy, but in terms of individual consumption, which is the only real thing we individually can control with precision.
11/26/2001 02:17:44 PM
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