Understanding Afghanistan

Holts Summit, Mo.

Three cheers to William R. Polk for his “Open Letter to President Obama” [Oct. 19]. I now know more to back up the intuitive hunch I had that a military conflict is not the answer. Articles such as these keep my subscription to The Nation current.

JOSEPH P. BACHANT


Graton, Calif.

Bravo to William R. Polk for his brilliant perspective on Afghanistan and its many hopeful invaders. And also praise for the clarity of the writing–not the usual academic, Talmudic mumbo jumbo that keeps The Nation from achieving the greater circulation it so richly deserves.

ERIC W. KRITZ


Ardmore, Okla.

The letter to the president was brilliant–superbly written, with common-sense suggestions for solving the problems our country faces in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Here’s hoping the president will adopt them. By doing so, he will avoid becoming another LBJ, who famously refused to consider any course but escalation of military involvement in Southeast Asia and thus ended his presidency.

JAMES CLARK


Chicago

I read with great interest and respect the letter to President Obama–informed and knowledgeable, seasoned with experience and wise reflection. I hope you sent the letter to the White House.

WILLIAM A. BURZYNSKI



Dick’s Flip to the Dark Side

Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada

Sebastian Jones surely sank whatever was left of Gephardt’s reputation as a progressive in “Dick Gephardt’s Spectacular Sellout” [Oct. 19]. One more example: he is a highly paid genocide-denier for the Turkish government, which is more shameful since as a Congressman, Gephardt co-sponsored a resolution placing the Armenian genocide in the company of the Holocaust, Cambodia and Rwanda.

GERALD CAPLAN


Boise, Idaho

The best moment in Sebastian Jones’s piece is when a Gephardt supporter calls him “a man of incredible credibility”–a line worthy of W. himself.

R.K. SANDERSON



NAACP: Social Service & Social Justice

San Francisco

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Trials of Benjamin Jealous” [July 20/27], on our NAACP president and CEO, had several inaccuracies and a flawed conclusion. First, Coates claims that Myrlie Evers Williams followed Ben Chavis as president of the organization, which is not true. We are extremely proud of Evers’s stellar tenure as the first woman chair of the national board, but she was never president. Second, the claim that Jealous had no direct ties to the civil rights movement was a strange and erroneous statement, considering that his entire family was steeped in the civil rights movement, from sit-ins to segregation protests to voter registration drives. Jealous, in fact, is a fifth-generation NAACP member.

Coates quotes me from an article printed during the campaign for the NAACP presidency, when I supported another candidate. By running only that old quote, Coates gave a false impression of steep division over Jealous’s leadership. Had Coates had the decency to call me, I would have given our president a ringing endorsement: Jealous has attracted new membership–up by more than 30 percent–grown our staff by more than 50 percent and brought the NAACP into the black two years in a row. Under his leadership, we are launching aggressive new campaigns on criminal justice, economic injustice, health, democracy, climate change and more.

Coates also misrepresents our philosophy in an attempt to parse social service and social justice. It is a false dichotomy. We strongly advocate holding government accountable by exercising our democratic rights: protesting, voting and direct action. In addition, on a daily basis our branches provide assistance to the communities within which they live, whether by fighting police brutality, school closings, predatory lending or for prisoners’ rights. We applaud organizations that provide direct service through AIDS clinics, food banks etc., but the tragic reality is that helping one person secure healthcare is not as powerful as securing healthcare reform for the entire country; helping one person out of debt is not as effective as changing usury laws; even saving the life of one man on death row–as we are fighting for in several cases–is not as transformative as ending capital punishment.

Coates completely misses the grassroots character of the NAACP and the community-based efforts practiced regularly in church and local neighborhoods on parenting, personal responsibility and advocacy for policy change and social responsibility. He ignores the fact that with the Jena Six, the NAACP was an integral part of the community on the ground fighting to organize before, during and after the big demonstrations. The NAACP is organically connected to local communities because it is made up of the everyday folks who live there. Our close to 700,000 members are all community volunteers.

Coates implies that we should focus on direct social service while government, an entity that collects billions of dollars of our communities’ taxes, should be left alone to do with our tax dollars as it sees fit. Without democratic action from the people, government will certainly be free to serve the very wealthy and corporate entities whose interests are antithetical to democracy. We are the umpire on peace, human rights, equality and justice–all that makes a democracy real. We fight for an America where the dream can be realized by all. We make no apologies for that noble goal.

THE REV. DR. AMOS BROWN
President, San Francisco branch, NAACP
Member, NAACP national board



Coates Replies

New York City

It was wrong, and inaccurate, to imply that Myrlie Evers Williams had been president of the NAACP. I apologize to her and the NAACP. I think that much of the rest of Amos Brown’s charges are matters of interpretation, and I leave it to the reader to weigh them. I don’t agree that he was owed a phone call, as the section he refers to is, quite clearly, about Jealous’s election–not about how membership regards him now.

As for the charge that I “attempt to parse social service and social justice,” I can only offer the words of the NAACP’s chair, from my article: “‘I think people generally like social service,’ says [Julian] Bond. ‘White, black, liberal, conservative, they all like social service–Habitat for Humanity, for instance. It can be done quickly, whereas social justice can take years. There’s nothing wrong with social service. But we are one of the few organizations focusing on social justice.'”

TA-NEHISI COATES