‘BAFFLED’ BY POLLITT

Princeton, NJ

A war on Iraq may be a bad idea on balance, but I am baffled by Katha Pollitt’s main argument against it [“Subject to Debate,” Oct. 14]. Pollitt concedes that Saddam Hussein is a murderous dictator. She then goes on to note that he is not the only murderous dictator in the world, and that some of our so-called allies are almost as bad. Somehow this is supposed to show that we should leave Saddam alone. But to borrow a phrase from an old philosopher, surely this is a non sequitur of numbing grossness. What is Pollitt’s principle? If you can’t fix everything, fix nothing? If you can’t do everything, do nothing? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone? This is a recipe for a familiar brand of liberal purist isolationism. Cleave to the Pollitt doctrine and at least your foreign policy won’t be “inconsistent”–as if consistency were the summum bonum. God, will we miss Hitchens.

GIDEON ROSEN


POLLITT REPLIES

New York City

The main point of my column was that the Bush Administration formally claims the right to attack unilaterally and pre-emptively any country it chooses if that country presents a military threat, challenges US global dominance or is not a capitalist democracy. I find this view frightening, a recipe for endless war that will earn the United States much hatred and bring about many terrible unintended consequences. I didn’t say, and don’t believe, that support for murderous dictators disqualifies the government from acting against a particular one; but the Administration’s friendliness with some dictatorships, like Saudi Arabia, and its indifference to the appalling record of others, like Sudan, do raise the question of whether the language of human rights is being disingenuously deployed in the case of Iraq.

KATHA POLLITT


ANTIWAR MOVEMENT BLUES

Oakland, Calif.

Katha Pollitt is right on the money to note the pitfalls today’s peace movement faces [“Subject to Debate,” Oct. 28]. I’m afraid the current movement is fatally compromised. And it is compromised in the worst possible way, even given that, as Pollitt notes, ad hoc situations make for strange bedfellows. In a nutshell, the antiwar set made the United States and Dubya the only issue, leading it to employ an “eww, cooties!” argument to anything that smacked of defending capitalism. To paraphrase Nation apostate Christopher Hitchens, the left went wrong because it is an article of faith that getting in Dubya’s corner is tantamount to betraying the Cherokees.

However belated, it comforts to see at least a few of this set’s usual proxies among the chattering classes recognizing, not cause to recant–that is unnecessary–but rather that global justice doesn’t involve one taking violent attacks on the chin if one doesn’t have to and might involve doling out measured violence when necessary. While I doubt a million 9/11 or Bali victims would ever matter more than one Afghani or Iraqi either to many prominent in the antiwar movement or to those folks whom Pollitt notes “work like Trojans,” at least some progressives showed themselves able to distinguish what is truly important in these tense times. I for one am very interested in how ANSWER and NOIN, along with Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Susan Sontag, propose we reach egalitarian socialism if wackos in turbans succeed in imposing feudalism on us.

DOUGLAS PRESLER


LEOPARDS CAN CHANGE THEIR SPOTS

Harrisburg, Pa.

John Nichols points out that otherwise progressive Democrats with antichoice records find themselves in a difficult position [“Five Ways to Help Win the House,” Nov. 4]. When I lobbied for Planned Parenthood, I learned that many legislators adopted antichoice positions early in their careers for various reasons. Catholics were often persuaded to oppose abortion rights by the church teachings, unaware that many other religions support a woman’s right to choose or of the quiet but widespread disregard of anticontraception and -abortion teachings among women of their own faith. Others figured they couldn’t afford to oppose the well-organized antichoice groups. Some voted antichoice believing that Roe v. Wade would protect women. Some were influenced by harassment, including their children in Catholic schools receiving failing grades in retaliation for a pro-choice vote, an elderly mother verbally attacked while grocery shopping and phone calls to children saying, “Your daddy murders babies.”

But these legislators are not prisoners of their antichoice voting records. Even elected officials live and learn. Many antichoice legislators now know that their votes did not “save babies’ lives” but instead restricted the choices and limited healthcare for working women; that the result of every antichoice law has been to punish those women who have the fewest resources, while wealthier women can get the services they need; that the national hostility to contraception and abortion have had terrible consequences for young and low-income women and their families as well as for public health; that women have the intelligence and moral discernment to decide about abortion and contraception.

To any antichoice Democrat who would lead the progressive opposition to the warmongering, worker-hating, immoral Bush Administration, I say, “Don’t let the mistakes of the past prevent you from doing the right thing today. Recognize that you were misled, ill-informed or perhaps afraid and take a new stand based on what you now know and the courage that present circumstances demand. It’s never too late to be pro-choice.”

LIZ HRENDA


THANK YOU, MAD PROFESSOR

Chicago

Patricia Williams’s October 21 “Diary of a Mad Law Professor” struck many chords for me. It is heartbreaking and scary that we live in a world in which, despite all my years fighting for social justice, I had to be reminded that it is really dangerous for black boys to return lost wallets to the police. Yes, and as a survivor of domestic violence, I know that feeling of panic that comes from not knowing when the next blow will come and “controlling” the outcome by provoking violence from my abuser. After reading Williams’s column, I was able to cry for the first time since those awful days and weeks after 9/11. My tears won’t stop this war, but they will perhaps make me calmer and clearer in what I can do to organize resistance. Thank you, Patricia Williams, for your profoundly woman’s approach to our fear.

LAURA HILL


PDS DISAPPEARS; FEW NOTICE

Los Angeles

In “A Greener Germany” [Oct. 14], Paul Hockenos analyzes the outcome of the parliamentary elections without mentioning its most astonishing aspect: the virtual disappearance of the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism), successor to the former ruling party of East Germany, from Parliament. Because the PDS fell below 5 percent of the “indirect” vote, and because it also failed to gain at least three “direct” mandates, it was slashed from more than thirty members of Parliament to just the two who won a plurality in their districts. Particularly interesting is the behavior of those who had voted for the PDS: Whereas for all other parties, the largest voter migration was to another party, for the PDS it was to not voting at all. That’s precisely what I did: Fed up with the transformation of the PDS from a socialist alternative to yet another social-democratic outfit, I, for the first time in my life, stayed home. But perhaps there is a ray of light: There is an audience for truly leftist politics that will not follow each and every rightward turn. The Nation should pay close attention to what’s going on left of the bankrupt Social Democrats and their faithful realpolitischen greenish allies.

BERNHARD ROHRBACHER


ANOTHER REASON TO VISIT CUBA

Philadelphia

No media stories about US businesses finding an “Opening to Cuba” [Peter Kornbluh, Oct. 21] have reported whether the agricultural product shipments contain genetically engineered crops. After many years of being “deprived” of pesticides, Cuba has become one of the world’s organic food leaders. Cuba could never compete in quantity with the large agricultural producers, but in quality–with organic sugar, tobacco, tropical fruits and even organic rum–it could do quite well if the illegal embargo is lifted. It could stand out from the rest, and “advertise” its goods, by becoming an organic tourist destination. One can already see the protest signs: Organic Cuban Food, ¡Sí! Yanqui Frankenfood, ¡No!

JOHN JONIK


A LIGHTER SHADE OF…BASEBALL

New York City

Author Howard Bryant and reviewer Louis Masur, in their excellent historical review of baseball racism [“Raceball in Boston,” Oct. 28], perpetuate the myth that Jackie Robinson was the first African-American in the majors. Definitely not, and, as Casey said, you can look it up. The first was Bobby Estalella, who was born in Cardenas, Cuba, in 1911 and played in the Bigs for the Philadelphia A’s and Washington Senators from 1935 to 1949. In contrast to his parents, he was light-skinned, and his racial background was ignored then and since. There is a bronze plaque for Estalella in Cardenas.

It seems that, like the one proposed for marking Roger Maris’s breaking of the Ruth home run record back in 1961 with an asterisk to denote the 162-game season, the record books should also record all statistics before and after 1947. Before, obviously, many of the best players were denied the game, so the Babe Ruths never had to face the Satchel Paiges or the Walter Johnsons throw to the Josh Gibsons.

DON SLOAN

Nation intern Eric Ditzian reports: Bobby (Roberto) “Tarzan” Estalella, a mulatto Afro-Cuban, was the first baseball player to cross major league baseball’s color line. But when Estalella came to the Washington Senators in 1935, the team assured everyone that he was not black but Cuban. As Baseball Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey says, “If you were a Latino player and your skin was light enough, you could play in the major leagues before 1947. Bobby Estalella…is an example of that.” Estalella’s grandson, also named Bobby Estalella, currently plays catcher for the Colorado Rockies.
   –The Editors


NOVAK THE DOVE?

Takoma Park, Md.

While not wishing to defend the Post editorial page, I must point out that Robert Novak, identified by Michael Massing as another hawkish voice on Iraq [“Hawks at the Washington Post, Nov. 11], has not only consistently backed Powell’s and the military’s skepticism about war on Iraq but has also repeatedly attacked the neocon rush to war.

JIM LOBE