PEOPLE'S HISTORY: NO TO WAR
As a longtime fan of Jonathan Schell's writing, let me take exception to one point in an otherwise valuable column ["Truth and Politics," May 10]. Schell talks of "the political reality that no antiwar candidate of modern times has ever made it into the White House." This is a mantra of the Democratic Leadership Council, and an argument for having only pro-war candidates, on pragmatic grounds. But even on those grounds it is wrong.
§ Woodrow Wilson was elected in 1916, while the war was raging in Europe, on an antiwar platform.
§ FDR was re-elected in 1940, pledging, with another war in Europe, to keep us out of it.
§ In 1964 Barry Goldwater, the hawk on Vietnam, was roundly defeated by Lyndon Johnson, who promised we would not go to war.
When McGovern was defeated in 1972 (a favorite gloat of prowar advocates), it's true he was an antiwar candidate. But by this time, Nixon was withdrawing troops from Vietnam, portraying himself as someone who would end the war, and the peace negotiations were close to completion in Paris. In 1992, Bush I, who had taken us to war in Iraq, was defeated by Clinton, who had been portrayed as an opponent of the war in Vietnam.
And look at the polls. Support for the war has gone down steadily to below 50 percent and will continue to go down as the disaster in Iraq becomes more and more clear. So "political reality" does not require a prowar candidate. Both morality and reality converge on this issue, and we should have a national campaign to push Kerry into recognizing this or to call for a grassroots rebellion at the Democratic National Convention to nominate a "national security through peace" candidate.
New York City
As a longtime fan of Howard Zinn's writing, let me agree with the points he has made. But I take them as an addendum to my column rather than as an exception to it. Zinn widens the lens. I had in mind candidates who tried to stop a war in progress, as McGovern did. His examples are of Presidents who promised to head off wars. He's right that they, too, can be considered antiwar candidates. One difference between the two groups is political. It is much easier politically to make a promise about the future than to take responsibility for a present reality. The promise to stay out of war may contain all kinds of hidden conditions (I will stay out of war unless X, Y or Z happens), or be a mere piece of rhetoric, hiding an actual intent to go to war (maybe Roosevelt's case), or at least a knowledge that he might be "forced" into it (Johnson?). And in fact all the Presidents Zinn mentions did either go to war or expand one. Still, the reminder that there is something deep in American opinion that wants peace is a positive fact that helps give me hope in the present. As for political reality, let's change it, just as he suggests. I'm on board.
WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?
New York City
Robert Borosage says in "Kerry: Fill in the Blanks" [May 17] that it's vital for John Kerry to lay out the big ideas: education, healthcare, jobs, energy and the environment. What's missing in his analysis is the "biggest idea" that war on Iraq is no good for America's working families. Not only is it illegal, immoral and irrational, resulting in thousands of dead and wounded on both sides, but it also guarantees that no money will be available for pressing domestic needs. Kerry must lay out a plan for getting our troops home safely. I suggest that's a big and winning idea.
DON SHAFFER, founding member
NY Working Families Party
DRESSED TO KILL?
Abraham Brumberg, reviewing Richard Evans's latest book ["The Descent Into Barbarism," May 10], says Evans exposed me "as a foul, mendacious apologist for and admirer of Adolf Hitler." We can judge Evans's objectivity from the previous book he wrote, on the January-March 2000 Lipstadt trial. Describing me, he refers to my shoddy suit and badly scuffed shoes. In fact, the pinstriped suit, purchased for the trial just a week before it began, cost £2,700 at Gieves & Hawkes, while the black shoes (£410 from Church's) were even newer. So much for Evans's powers of observation.
As for his views on me, let me quote--without a trace of humility--from Justice Gray's judgment in the Lipstadt trial: "As a military historian, Irving has much to commend him. For his works of military history Irving has undertaken thorough and painstaking research into the archives. He has discovered and disclosed to historians and others many documents which, but for his efforts, might have remained unnoticed for years. It was plain from the way in which he conducted his case and dealt with a sustained and penetrating cross-examination that his knowledge of World War II is unparalleled. His mastery of the detail of the historical documents is remarkable. He is beyond question able and intelligent. He was invariably quick to spot the significance of documents which he had not previously seen. Moreover he writes his military history in a clear and vivid style. I accept the favorable assessment by Professor Watt and Sir John Keegan of the calibre of Irving's military history and reject as too sweeping the negative assessment of Evans."
So who is foul and mendacious now? It is hard to recognize Brumberg's Irving as being the same person.
Chevy Chase, Md.
I do not intend to answer Mr. Irving. I think he spends too much money on clothing.
NO 'WAR' = NO 'ENEMY ALIENS'
In "Guantánamo, Revisited" [May 3], David Cole departs from his usual excellent legal coverage in his analysis of the pending Supreme Court cases on the rights of "enemy aliens." First, the United States is not at war with terrorism, as one cannot bring military force to bear on a concept or idea. Nor can this nation be at war with Al Qaeda, a criminal entity that commits mayhem, similar to the Ku Klux Klan. While it is entirely appropriate to bring adequate force to arrest such conspirators, such police action can only metaphorically be called "war"--the Bush Administration's linguistic prestidigitation to justify its militarized foreign and repressive domestic policies. We should not unconsciously allow this sleight of hand.
Second, the concept of "enemy alien" as a category for those held by the state should be given no legitimacy. There are of course criminal defendants, and there is a category for prisoners of war, both having well-recognized rights. But it is because these rights are so well recognized that the Administration is so bitterly opposed to treating the Hamdis, the Padillas or the Guantánamo detainees as such--or, with regard to categorizing them as POWs, maybe because there isn't a real war, they refuse the category.
Third, the Al Qaeda suicide bomber with nuclear weapons need not be detained as an "enemy combatant." Like the Klan member on the way to firebombing a home, such a person can be fairly and lawfully arrested within our borders; held without bail on the reasonable supposition that s/he would flee; indicted and tried for weapons possession, conspiracy, criminal terrorism, RICO violations and attempted murder; and then sentenced to a penal term; that is, if there is real evidence, beyond the President's or an anonymous informant's say-so. Other countries, like Spain, that have been victimized by Al Qaeda bombings are able to use their criminal law against other "sleeper cells"; there is no reason to resort to the techniques of a dictatorship.
Finally, the Administration's claims that our nation is at war; that there are enemy aliens subject to indefinite detention on the President's unilateral determination; and that we need extraordinary arrests and detentions are all political, not legal, claims. Because they implicate so deeply the question of how democratic our society will be, we must not allow this Supreme Court to have the controlling word on these most basic issues.
The claim that prompted David Tykulsker's (and other readers') objections was that the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was wrong in holding that the President lacks any authority to detain as a military matter an admitted Al Qaeda member who comes here to attack us. In my view (a view shared by the UN, NATO, almost everyone in Congress and most other nations), the attack Al Qaeda perpetrated on September 11, 2001, authorized a military response. Whether one views it as good policy or not, the notion that one can respond militarily to an attack of that magnitude is not controversial.
Inherent in a military response, and reflected in the Geneva Conventions, is the authority to detain those fighting for the other side, for the duration of the conflict. In World War II, we were not reduced to having to charge and try everyone we captured fighting for Nazi Germany or Japan, nor should we be so constrained when it comes to those fighting for Al Qaeda.
The real problem with the President's assertion of "enemy combatant" authority, then, is procedural, not substantive--it is the refusal to provide any hearing whatsoever to distinguish between those actually fighting for Al Qaeda against us and those who are not, and the adamant opposition to any meaningful oversight or review by the courts.
ONWARD, CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS?
Beverly Hills, Calif.
Only a True Believer could send a Christian Army of 150,000 into the midst of tens of millions of Muslims expecting to change their politics, their economy, their culture and their way of life [William Greider, "Iraq as Vietnam," May 3]. And all this by June 30. Throughout the centuries it has been tried many times; the Peasants' Crusade, the Hermits' Crusade, the Children's Crusade. They all failed. History, I believe, will refer to this one as the Idiot's Crusade.