Jonathan Schell, The Nation's peace and disarmament correspondent for nearly two decades, was an extraordinary colleague, reporter, writer and thinker. It is difficult to imagine The Nation without his thoughtful, humane and powerful voice. I will miss him.
The power and persuasiveness of so much of Jonathan's work came not only from his elegant style, clarity of analysis and powerful logic but also in the enduring belief that there is no idea so powerful as a moral one. In a special 1998 Nation issue making the case for nuclear abolition, he compelled us to confront the nuclear peril in which we all find ourselves, and he brilliantly laid out the argument that there exists a viable and desirable alternative to continued reliance on war and nuclear weapons. On the nuclear crisis, no voice was as clear, no writing as perceptive as Jonathan’s, going back to his acclaimed 1982 book The Fate of the Earth and his articles in The Nation and in other publications.
In the days after September 11, and in the weeks running up to the disastrous invasion of Iraq, Jonathan was one of the most thoughtful, reflective and independently critical voices to emerge in a media landscape filled with calls for war and vengeance. His column, "Letter from Ground Zero," launched just days after 9/11, was a remarkable chronicle of those charged times. Never losing his bearings, as so many others did, Jonathan used the column to unwaveringly advance the case for sensible and moral non-military actions.
In his February 2003 essay, “The Case Against The War,” Jonathan mounted an impassioned and historically informed argument against a war that is now almost universally understood to have been a disaster. And in an unsigned "Open Letter to Congress" (which Jonathan wrote) published on the cover of The Nation in October 2002, just as the fog of war and national security fully enveloped the Congress and media, Jonathan invoked Martin Luther King, Jr.: “A time has come when silence is betrayal…The case against the war is simple, clear and strong.” And in themes that came with his years of reporting on war and violence and military debacle—Vietnam was a journalistic crucible for him—Jonathan sounded the alarm: “As disrespectful of the Constitution as it is of the UN Charter, the Administration has turned away from law in all its manifestations, and placed its reliance on overwhelming force to achieve its ends. In pursuit of empire, it endangers the Republic at home….Members of Congress! Be faithful to your oaths of office and to the traditions of your branch of government. Think of the country, not of your reelection. Defend the Constitution. Affirm the Republic. Preserve the Peace. Vote against the war in Iraq.”
They did not heed his counsel.
Yet Jonathan's outlook was never bitter, cynical or angry about the state of our country or the world. He was more the citizen-philosopher who believed his readers would find their way if they had all the information necessary to deduce the answer.