NATO—Not A True Obligation

Ottawa, Ontario

Re “Why NATO?” [May 28]: Why indeed? It was never about containing the Soviet menace. Stalin had too much on his plate after the devastation from the Nazi invasion to contemplate expansion into Western Europe. The Red Army was demobilized to supply workers for the reconstruction, and Stalin futilely tried to negotiate a united unarmed Germany in 1949.

So why NATO? The Western Allies could not put up with a neutral, unarmed Germany. NATO was needed in order to arm West Germany without upsetting the French and others. And the arming of West Germany had more to do with the care and feeding of the military-industrial complex than with countering a threat from the East. Once NATO was established, as an extension of US military power, it could hardly be retired. Old bureaucracies never die. They just soldier away!



Java Nation

Corrales, N.M.

John Nichols’s May 28 “Time to Revive the Postal Service” suggested three ways to revitalize the USPS: facilitating broadband wireless communication, becoming help centers for an array of public services and re-establishing a postal banking system. Those ideas are fine, but I think mine’s better: open a coffee shop in each post office across the country. Location, location, location.

In thousands of small towns like mine, the local post office is one of the few places people run into one another and catch up on family or local news, debate issues or just commune. And I’m sure they’d like to do that over a cup of coffee. Not sure how to make a pitch to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. But the coffee shops should not be Starbucks franchises. How about the Post Office Coffee Shop? or the Ben Franklin Cafe?



This Will Not Be Televised

Washington, D.C.

I enjoyed Franklin Bruno’s review of Gil Scott-Heron’s posthumous The Last Holiday: A Memoir [“Pieces of a Man,” May 28]. It did a major service by revealing details of Scott-Heron’s early life in Jackson, Tennessee, and Chicago.

I have just one geographic nit to pick. Bruno mentions that the young Scott-Heron, his mother and most of the black South Jackson community were uprooted “by the extension of Interstate 70 from the north.” In fact, the interstate highway that displaced this black community (and runs through South Jackson) is Interstate 40.

I-40 runs through Jackson from east to west, connecting Memphis with Nashville, the state capital. Being born and raised in Nashville at roughly the same time that Scott-Heron was growing up in Jackson, I know this firsthand. I traveled I-40 numerous times with my parents and sister to visit relatives in Memphis. I-70 doesn’t come near Tennessee, running instead through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

Bruno’s note about the displacement of a Southern urban black community in Jackson echoes the similar displacement of urban black communities by interstate highways in Nashville and Memphis (I-40, in this case). Again, his review was very good and brought back memories for me.


Wrong preposition. On checking the book, we found that the highway in question was “an extension to [not of] Interstate 70.”—Ed.


Franklin Township, N.J.

I was chair of the sociology/anthropology department at Lincoln University in the spring of 1970 and encountered Gil Scott-Heron from time to time. He was a charismatic student leader. But my recollection does not entirely match Franklin Bruno’s description of the story. Scott-Heron’s charge that “Lincoln’s state relationship included ‘COIN-TEL-PRO’ ” is likely overstated. It was, however, well-known that students from Africa were courted by some members of the political science department as potential CIA assets.

Further, Scott-Heron was not the instigator of a campus “shutdown” on the occasion of the Kent State and Jackson State killings. In fact, the protest was against cafeteria food, and resulted in students hurling trays of food at the steps of the administration building. A march to Oxford, Pennsylvania, was indeed planned to protest the shootings, but it was cooled off and halted by Scott-Heron on the logical ground that the marchers would be mobbed by local Klansmen. Lincoln is about five miles north of the Mason-Dixon line, and at the time the Klan was quite active in Maryland.



Cut Off by NPR

Holly, Mich.

Gary Younge, in his April 30 “Beneath the Radar” column, wrote, “The persistence of the fantasies among liberals is more surprising. It seems that any attempt to discuss Obama’s record must first be tempered by some speculation about what he would have done (were it not for political obstacles) or could not do (because the office would not permit it). As Aileen, a caller in an NPR discussion about civil liberties, said, ‘Sometimes on the left we can be very naïve because after he stopped being a campaigner and became the president and was privy to information that we do not see, he changed his mind on a number of issues, because his primary responsibility is to protect us.’ ”

Well… I am the “Aileen” (actually Eileen) whose comment Younge quoted, and I am compelled to point out that he missed my point, and the overall point of the politically pragmatic liberals whose views he disparages. I was about to add a second sentence to my argument that day against Jonathan Turley’s on-air diatribe about Obama’s policies on terrorism and detainees’ rights but was cut off by NPR. I was going to state that I share concerns about the erosion of civil liberties, and that I can list several areas in which I disagree with how President Obama has exercised his leadership. But that said, it is very easy to be an armchair quarterback when you are not the person who has to protect Americans from another 9/11-type attack. And it is indeed naïve not to acknowledge that once a candidate becomes president and gains access to high-level security information, his views may change about what must be done to protect our nation. But this issue is part of a larger concern I had unsuccessfully tried to articulate on NPR that day, and which I make to Younge and his ilk now:

No president is perfect (not even FDR, whose flaws are often ignored by liberals); voters did indeed project onto Obama qualities of radicalism that he never exhibited; and given all he has had to contend with, he has done a very commendable job. So if the whiners and perfectionists among the left keep carrying on as they have, they will hand the election to the GOP. Watch what happens then…



To Calvin Trillin, Deadline Poet

Andover, Mass.

Your poems, sir, are every one a pisser:
I bow before the Greater Artificer.