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Chaplinesque Rapscallion New Leader of Germany's National Socialist Party
      --The Onion

"I have nothing to say about Hitler." With this line Karl Kraus, turn-of-the-century Vienna's most famous journalist, began his 300-page anti-Hitler invective, The Third Walpurgis Night. Kraus's fate has been shared widely. Hitler tickles and tortures the authorial imagination like no other twentieth-century figure. At first as a hero, for the most part, then as a villain, also for the most part, Hitler has been a fantastically popular subject among all kinds of writers since his postputsch courtroom antics transformed him into something much larger than a right-wing rabblerouser. Indeed, between 1923 and 1995, more than 120,000 essays and monographs on Hitler were published. Attenuation seems unlikely. For if it has changed at all, our fascination with Hitler appears to have grown even stronger in the past five years.

And so we should not be surprised by the fact that a lot of books about Hitler have been published recently. Yet there is a twist here; it has to do with quality rather than quantity. We expected more books about Hitler. What we did not expect is that the most prominent of them would be so good. This remark is less cynical than it sounds. Over the years able scholars have produced a very substantial body of excellent research on Hitler. Of course, it would be absurd to regard as unexpected everything that adds to it.

Furthermore, we had reason to hope for significant new contributions. Ideology does not play quite the same role in Hitler studies that it did fifteen years ago. Historians in East Germany tended to treat Hitler as an effect of capitalism, while historians in the West often viewed him in narrowly personal terms, as a deranged, gigantic individual crushing a fragile democratic experiment. But scholars in the West, and especially in West Germany, were not exactly of one opinion with regard both to Hitler's causes and his effects. In the mid-1980s, a new revisionist conservatism led to a new contentiousness. At issue was a series of incendiary questions--even the question of whether it was appropriate to ask them: Was Hitler a revolutionary? Which of his policies were rational? Ernst Nolte, who had been drifting steadily away from the trenchant analysis of Nazism he advanced in the early 1960s, went so far as to call Hitler's worldview an understandable reaction to a perceived Bolshevik threat. Just a few months ago, Nolte received one of Germany's most prestigious awards for cultural achievement, which simply confirms what we already knew: Hitler remains an intensely politicized field of inquiry. However, in general, the intellectual atmosphere in this area has improved. It is more open, as are archives in Moscow. And material discovered there--for example, Hitler's skull and a complete copy of Goebbels's diary--has helped to answer old questions.

But discovering new sources will only get you so far. It certainly will not explain a phenomenon as complex as Hitler. Nor will sheer intellectual openness. The great majority of the thousands of open-minded books about Hitler have little interpretive value. In fact, until recently there were only two truly formidable biographies of him: Alan Bullock's Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1952, revised 1962) and Joachim Fest's Hitler: A Biography (1973). We now have a third major biography of Hitler, Ian Kershaw's two-volume masterpiece Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris (1998) and Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis (2000). It is the best of the three, by far.

Improvements in biographical research do not always imply a general shift in the significance of the subject. Yet that is likely to be the case here. For, again, the publication of Kershaw's biography was accompanied by a procession of incisive and well-researched books: The Hitler of History (1997), John Lukacs's useful survey of, and critical engagement with, historical scholarship on Hitler; Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet (1999), Fritz Redlich's illuminating "psychography" of Hitler (this should not be confused with "psychohistory": Redlich, who is a psychiatrist, works carefully with relevant sources and examines Hitler's mental condition at every stage of his life, minutely charting the changes, and he does not seek to "solve" the enigma of Hitler's psychopathic behavior by focusing on childhood trauma or a particular psychic disturbance); Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil (1998), Ron Rosenbaum's extensive collection of interviews with scholars, intellectuals and artists who, in some form or other, have tried to "explain Hitler"; and Hitler's Vienna: A Dictator's Apprenticeship (1999, German original 1996), Brigitte Hamann's scrupulously researched and intelligently argued account of Hitler's early years in Vienna (1906-13) and of their influence on his later development.

Every one of these books represents an attempt at sustained, comprehensive critical reckoning with Hitler. In the past, the most compelling works on him were often of a very different character. (Consider Eberhard Jäckel's and Sebastian Haffner's shorter, much more synthetic books on Hitler's Weltanschauung, which were published in 1969 and 1978.) But if there has been a structural change, what has caused it? Kershaw himself offers an insightful answer. "Reflecting" on Hitler's historical significance in the preface to Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris, he writes: "Hitler's dictatorship has the quality of a paradigm for the twentieth century." Kershaw also claims that "Hitler's mark on the century" has been "deeper" than anyone's. The implication is clear. Taking leave of the twentieth century means trying to settle our accounts with Hitler, its paradigmatic problem, which, in turn, means engaging in sustained, comprehensive critical analysis. Certainly something close to this seems to be at stake in Rosenbaum's work, and in Hamann's. She suggestively tracks the full extent of Hitler's debt to "twentieth-century culture" by examining his encounter with one of its paradigms: fin de siècle Vienna. Kershaw has given us a twenty-first-century biography of Hitler that could have been written only at the end of the twentieth century.

Kershaw's biography is a true "social biography," to use a phrase the great film theorist Siegfried Kracauer coined, in exile, as he wrote about the culture that Hitler's Germany had begun to annihilate. Without a trace of moralism, and without losing himself in quotidian minutiae and psychological speculation, Kershaw nonetheless shadows Hitler the way a conscience might have. He examines Hitler's daily life, as well as his emotional and political development, in vivid detail. At the same time, he situates Hitler's personal narrative within its social context, charting their reciprocal influence and pointing out how Hitler's experiences and attitudes were emblematic of large social trends. And he does so with impressive erudition. The result is a kind of interpretive balance, which is very difficult to bring off in Hitler's case. With him, moving back and forth between the microlevel of personal narrative and the macrolevel of social context entails entering into not so much a hermeneutic circle as a dizzying spiral. For, at a certain point, Hitler's narrative begins to reshape--as few, if any, personal narratives have--the social context that shaped it, only, of course, to be shaped again itself by the context it reshaped.

Neither Bullock nor Fest came close to producing a real social biography, as both of their books focus on the personal narrative. They offer well-informed, penetrating answers to one crucial question: Why did Hitler commit the terrible crimes for which he will be remembered? But neither one makes a serious attempt to shed light on Hitler's path to the chancellorship or to understand how he remained in power for twelve years while executing policies of mass destruction and mass self-destruction. They do not tell us how Hitler became Hitler.

Kershaw's book works so well as social biography because his approach proceeds from a transitional concept: charisma. Elaborating on the argument he developed in The "Hitler Myth" (1987), Kershaw invokes charisma as a sociological category. Here charisma is a modern, postliberal structure of authority, one that became possible in Weimar Germany for a number of impersonal reasons. These include the "ignominy of Versailles," the concomitant collective longing for national redemption and the inability of the democratic government to appeal to a strong democratic tradition in Germany.

Charisma is also a psychological category. It can therefore function as a way to mediate between the levels of biographical analysis. And, indeed, Kershaw makes his overriding concern the fateful match between Hitler's personal charisma and Germany's impersonal readiness for charismatic rule. Summing it all up, Kershaw writes, "The Germany which had produced Adolf Hitler had seen its future in his vision, had so readily served him, and had shared in his hubris, had also to share in his nemesis." Germany followed the charismatic leader it "produced" because he envisioned, in just the right way, at just the right time, the Germany it wanted to see.

In Hubris, Kershaw explains how Hitler's idiosyncratic "vision" for a "better" future and Germany's receptiveness to it took shape. In Nemesis, he tracks the bloody business of implementation. We might expect the second volume of a two-volume Hitler biography to begin in 1933. But Kershaw divides Hitler's life into pre- and post-1936 stages, because 1936 marks "the culminating point of the first phase of the dictatorship." Kershaw wants Nemesis to begin with the beginning of the end, with the onset of the "ceaseless radicalization" that persisted until 1945. Both volumes are well written and come equipped with helpful maps and eerie photographs. And because Kershaw keeps his debates with other scholars, as well as his extensive remarks about primary sources, neatly contained in his footnotes, Hubris and Nemesis read smoothly, remarkably so, given their factual girth and cognitive intricacy. Some chapters are structured as accounts of Hitler's life stages, such as his "dropout" years in Vienna, while others are organized around seminal events, for example, Germany's strategic "miscalculation" during the 1939 Poland crisis. Kershaw puts personal narrative into the foreground when it seems to be of decisive importance. And he does the same with social context. Tellingly, all the chapter headings in Nemesis refer to large historical developments, starting, again, with the Nazis' "ceaseless radicalization."

In 1936, according to Kershaw, Hitler was at once more delusional than ever and cannily realistic. His early diplomatic and economic successes had fed his surging megalomania. Both Hitler and the nation that, at the time, overwhelmingly supported him believed that he could achieve whatever he wanted to. Yet Hitler also astutely recognized that his authority could not rest on a foundation of rationally organized domestic prosperity. It would last only as long as he was associated with a "project of national salvation." The pressure to expand, "to radicalize" unremittingly, came from outside as well as from inside his circle.

Kershaw's most original, most provocative claims have to do with the place of Nazi Party leaders in this constellation of causal forces. He insists that even as they used the most cynical images and slogans to manufacture Hitler's charisma, men like Alfred Rosenberg, Heinrich Himmler and especially Joseph Goebbels remained fanatically in Hitler's thrall. As Kershaw puts it, they "combined pure belief and impure propaganda." Working closely with Goebbels's complete diary, which proves to be a key new source (Hitler's bond with Goebbels was the closest thing he had to a friendship), Kershaw draws out the full, chilling extent of this belief. He also shows that well into the war, and until the very end, defeat did nothing to shake it. For in taking huge risks and losing, Hitler remained true to the principles that had won him such loyal disciples.

Perhaps even more chilling is Kershaw's account of how these same party leaders influenced the Final Solution. Here again Goebbels's diary is crucially important. More lucidly than other sources, it reveals that Hitler had to be prodded into instituting not only the policy of mass deportations but even the compulsory-identification measure (the yellow Star of David) for Jews living in Germany. Party leaders had urged Hitler to take this latter step in the wake of Kristallnacht (November 1938). He resisted it until August 1941, when Goebbels finally "convinced" him to act. And in the summer of 1941, he repeatedly "rejected" Reinhard Heydrich's proposals to make the destruction of Eastern Jewry more systematic. Why? Certainly moral compunction cannot be the answer. According to Kershaw, Goebbels expressed a certain dismay at the inconsistency between Hitler's behavior and his stated principles on the "Jewish Question," yet he never suggested that Hitler had softened his attitude toward the Jews. During this time Hitler continued to cite his own prewar "prophecy," according to which the Jews would be destroyed if they started another world war, and to provide various justifications for large-scale murder. Kershaw speculates that Hitler may have been acting, or not acting, out of denial. For to devise a "Final Solution" before winning the war in the East was to acknowledge that the war could not be won anytime soon. As long as the fiction of imminent victory could be sustained, it made more "sense" to wait for the acquisition of vast new territories. After all, the Nazis were trying to figure out how to dispose of millions of people and had not yet begun to think seriously about gas and ovens.

The problem, for Kershaw, is that Hitler had given up this illusion by the fall of 1941, and yet he remained reluctant to authorize mass deportations and overtly genocidal policies. Hitler did not enumerate his reservations, at least not on records available to us. And so we are left wondering. What is clear is that the solicitations of Heydrich, Himmler and Goebbels had the desired effect--Hitler eventually did license extermination. Yet, as Kershaw stresses, he did so only in the most general terms. Pushing his claim, Kershaw goes so far as to contend, "Whatever the reasons, [Hitler] could never have delivered the sort of speech which, notoriously, Himmler would give in Posen two years later [1943] when he described what it was like to see 1,000 corpses lying side by side and spoke openly of the 'extermination' (Ausrottung) of the Jewish people as a 'glorious page in our history....' Even in his inner circle Hitler could never bring himself to speak with outright frankness about the killing of the Jews." Hitler "could not bring himself" to discuss the Holocaust directly, apparently not even with Goebbels. This is an unsettling idea. Indeed, David Irving, the British historian and notorious Hitler apologist, rushes from Hitler's silence to the conclusion that he did not know about the death camps. What Kershaw does is very different. With unrivaled precision and without polemicism, he circumscribes Hitler's unwillingness to speak about the Holocaust, ultimately treating it as a question. Far from exculpating Hitler, Kershaw's move invites further inquiry. Nemesis does more than inform exhaustively and explain brilliantly: It points to what remains to be said about Hitler.

After retiring from the Senate in 1993, Alan Cranston, who died on New Year's Eve of the new millennium in the home of his son Kim, began a new career that was as important as the one he left behind as a four-term senator from California and majority whip. He embarked on a campaign to seize the opportunity afforded by the end of the cold war to abolish nuclear weapons. His opposition to nuclear weapons was longstanding. He first adopted the cause as president of the United World Federalists in the late 1940s. As a senator, he worked to advance the control and reduction of nuclear arms. In 1984 in a brief run at the presidency, he made the issue the centerpiece of his campaign. After leaving the Senate he worked on the issue first as chairman of the Gorbachev Foundation and then as the president of the Global Security Institute, which he founded. The most important of its accomplishments was to put together, as part of a new coalition of groups called Project Abolition, the Appeal for Responsible Security, Appeal for Responsible Security, which calls for abolition and steps toward that end, and was signed, at Cranston's urging, by such notable people as Paul Nitze, Gen. Charles Horner and President Jimmy Carter. The appeal will be circulated by Project Abolition as the foundation of a wider nuclear abolition campaign in the United States in the months to come.

It was in this work to eliminate nuclear weapons that I got to know him and came to be, I believe I can say, his friend. He possessed a modesty that would have been notable in any human being but was astonishing in an elected politician. On his answering machine he was "Alan," as he was to most who knew him. The human being not only had survived the official, it had come through without any detectable distortion whatever. Self-reference--not to speak of bluster or bragging--was at the zero level, as were all other forms of showmanship. Equally, there was zero variation in his manner toward the small and the great, the scruffy and the expensively suited.

Sometimes I wondered how a four-term senator could have managed this, and in the course of many days of travel and meetings together, I believe I came to understand at least one reason. It wasn't that he underrated himself or failed to appreciate the importance of his position. He had, for instance, a nation-spanning Rolodex and entree at every level of American life, and used these to the hilt in the cause. It was that his concentration, which was intense, was entirely on the work at hand. At every single meeting I attended with him, he made something happen. He passed along news, received news, asked for a further meeting, arranged one for someone else, won support for a project or set a new project in motion--a job for someone, a research organization, an appeal, a television program, a film. He moved as swiftly as he moved quietly. The work was hard, intellectually as well as practically, and there was just no time for wasted motion, blather or nonsense. At meetings he was silent most of the time. He kept so imperturbably still--a gaunt Buddha--that sometimes I thought, "Well, a man of his eminence doesn't have to attend to every last word of every inconsequential meeting"--only to hear him speak up quietly at the end, summing up what had been said, making sense of it and offering suggestions, which usually formed the basis for what was done. Not for nothing had he seven times been elected Senate Democratic whip.

What was true of his manner was true of his mind: It was, even in his 80s, fresh, resilient, receptive, reasonable, sensible, constructive, unburdened by conventional wisdom, unencrusted by habit and crowned with what can only be called wisdom.

The work, which absorbed all his professional life, was reducing nuclear weapons until they were gone. There was never a more practical and effective man than Alan Cranston, and none with a keener or more accurate sense of what was possible in the political world and what was not, yet his opposition to nuclear weapons was above all moral. At an event launching the Appeal for Responsible Security, he said of nuclear deterrence, "This may have been necessary during the cold war; it is not necessary forever. It is not acceptable forever. I say it is unworthy of our nation, unworthy of any nation; it is unworthy of civilization." Rarely in recent American political life have common sense, effectiveness, persistence and vision been combined in one person as they were in him. Nothing can replace him as a friend. As for the work--the force of his example, if we have the strength to follow it, must make good our loss.

Just how bad an Attorney General would John Ashcroft be? And is his nomination worth fighting? To answer the first question, talk to those who have experienced Ashcroft up close and personal. Like Harriet Woods, Missouri's lieutenant governor during the first of Ashcroft's two terms as that state's chief executive: She calls him "a disaster for minorities and for women." Or like retired Missouri Supreme Court Judge Charles Blackmar. Blackmar--a Republican appointee--accused Senator Ashcroft of "tampering with the judiciary" by blocking the federal court nomination of the amply qualified Missouri judge Ronnie White. Ashcroft opposed Judge White, an African-American, on the ostensible grounds that he voted against too many death sentences, leading Blackmar to this pungent assessment of the philosophy guiding Bush's chief law officer in the the crucial job of appointing federal judges: "The senator seems to take the attitude that any deviation is suspect, liberal, activist."

Ashcroft's sense of what constitutes "deviation" is broad even by the standards of the right, and his hard-line opposition to abortion isn't the half of it. The list of things Ashcroft is on record opposing is a catalogue of American social progress: contraception, school desegregation, solar energy, government assistance for woman- and minority-owned businesses, fuel efficiency standards for cars, workplace-discrimination protection for homosexuals, campaign finance reform and the nuclear test ban treaty. As governor, he even prohibited over-the-candy-counter sale of bonbons with liqueur centers.

It is African-Americans who will first take it on the chin from an Ashcroft Justice Department. As Missouri attorney general in the 1970s, Ashcroft initially honored the moderate, integrationist legacy of his mentor and predecessor, John Danforth. But he soon learned the value of playing hard-line race politics, fighting tooth and nail against desegregation of the massively unequal schools in Kansas City and St. Louis all the way to the US Supreme Court and spurning every attempt at an out-of-court settlement. Ashcroft won a tough GOP primary for governor in 1984 with attack ads accusing his opponent of being soft on desegregation. In the words of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page, he has "built a career out of opposing school desegregation...and opposing African-Americans for public office."

Reports have it that Bush's first favorite for AG was the more moderate Governor Marc Racicot of Montana--who, the story goes, was shot down by the far right. That creative spin control allows the administration-elect to play to both its flanks--deferring to the right with the nomination while assuaging moderates with the fiction that this nomination doesn't reflect Bush's deepest convictions. In fact, Ashcroft's nomination embodies one of the fundamental lessons of the first George Bush Administration: that the justice system is the arena that counts for right-wing patronage. The permanent elite of Republican technocrats like Donald Rumsfeld can have the run of the store as long as Justice turns out a steady stream of antiabortion briefs and far-right judge nominees.

Watch for a confirmation strategy that echoes fellow Danforth protégé Clarence Thomas in 1991, beginning with Ashcroft lobbying individual senators, followed by a confirmation narrative emphasizing Ashcroft's childhood--how his minister father befriended black missionaries--over the substance of Ashcroft's record as segregationist and antichoice absolutist. Once again, leading the Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats will be Joe Biden, whose vanity and strategic incompetence contributed mightily to Thomas's narrow confirmation. Biden, reprising his fatal 1991 indecision, has declared he is "inclined" to support Ashcroft.

So is this a nomination worth fighting? Other Bush Cabinet nominees also pose direct threats to specific constituencies, but there is real urgency to laying down a marker on Ashcroft. The threat his nomination poses cuts across constituencies and issues, and the stakes are every bit as high as in the Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork Supreme Court nomination fights. The Justice Department has expanded its authority as has no other agency in recent years. Through appointments to the federal bench, Supreme Court arguments and priorities, the appointment of US Attorneys and the enforcement of civil rights and antitrust law, any Attorney General can change the country in profound ways. All the more so with Ashcroft: not just because of his regressive constitutional views but because Bush appears likely to vest more power in his advisers than any President in memory.

And this is a fight that is winnable, despite Biden's early bumbling and the irrelevant conventional wisdom that the Senate will defer to one of its own. (Remember John Tower, whose Senate record could not rescue his nomination as Bush Senior's Defense Secretary?) The Clinton impeachment hearings and trial showed repeatedly that most Americans have little patience with moral extremists like Ashcroft, and it shouldn't take much to convince a broad segment of the public that he is out of touch. Civil liberties and corporate regulation have a currency and a constituency they lacked when public-interest groups beat Bork in 1986. With public support for the death penalty falling, with even GOP governors questioning the wisdom of the drug war, with Republican Supreme Court Justices reaffirming Roe v. Wade and a Republican Congress softening the Cuba embargo, Ashcroft looks like a dinosaur, the anachronistic spawn of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms.

Besides, whatever the outcome, a fight against Ashcroft will generate rather than expend political capital for civil rights and civil liberties advocates. Democrats gained from the Bork and Thomas confirmation fights as the public became educated about the real agenda of conservatives and as Beltway-bound liberal lobbies reconnected to grassroots constituencies. There is every reason to think Ashcroft could be defeated--and even if he is not, fighting his confirmation could lay the foundation for a new coalition, a shadow Justice Department that will dog the Bush Administration's every judicial nomination and every reversal of civil rights. This is no time to roll over.

                  
                  I

Now Ashcroft will decide who's on the bench.
The civil rights division will retrench--
Unless it finds that civil rights entails
Some breaks at last for pure white Christian males.
The jobs and housing efforts that depend
On Justice will on Ashcroft's watch all end.
And solemn friend-of-court briefs will be filed:
"Abortion simply means to kill a child."
One comfort lasts, as dreams of justice shatter:
Ralph Nader said it really wouldn't matter.

                                    II

Gale Norton thinks there's no place you can spoil
If what you do to it produces oil.
She'd like to see no regulations left;
She thinks controls on property is theft.
Emissions? Who should monitor their flow?
To her it's clear: the firm's own CEO.
So drillers drill. Here's what Interior's got:
A protégée of James (The Crackpot) Watt.
Don't tear your hair and curse those who begat her:
Remember: Nader said it wouldn't matter.


FEMINIST GENERATION GAP?

New York City

It certainly is flattering to have a five-page comprehensive review of our book, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future ["Riding the Third Wave," Dec. 11], but Michelle Jensen repeats the same pattern we critique: If it doesn't look like it did thirty years ago, it must not be feminism. The sad part of Jensen's second wave-lensed review of Manifesta is that she overlooked our subtitle altogether and rendered invisible the hundreds of examples of young women--their lives and activism--that are the purpose of the book. Women like Farai Chideya, Tali Edut and Sabrina Alcantara-Tan and the work of the Third Wave Foundation, Bust and WILD: For Human Rights--institutions founded and run by young women.

We don't mind the contentious review. We've had many (they have wildly different opinions about what we did right and wrong), and they prove that feminism is as various as women are. But the contrast between the exasperated academic reviewer and the dozen or so huge, totally enthusiastic crowds of young feminists that have greeted us at college campuses over the past few months makes us think that we were on the right track with Manifesta--even without the socialist feminist theory Jensen so craved.

AMY RICHARDS
JENNIFER BAUMGARDNER


JENSEN REPLIES

Chicago

I suppose it's easier for Richards and Baumgardner to paint me as an unreconstructed second waver than to engage with the political substance of my critique. What they can't quite grip, and this is where feminist "wave theory" reveals its simple-mindedness, is that I am their cultural contemporary. I like my platform shoes, my Dawson's Creek, my Hitachi Magic Wand, my Butchies and my campus popularity as much as the next girl: I just don't call it politics. I don't care one whit about what feminism "looks like" (which is why their superficial inclusion of a few token women of color fails to convince me); I care deeply, however, about my generation's ability to advance a historically conscious movement to liberate all women, no matter where they may be located in structures of class, race, sexuality, nation or generation. The manifesto to consult, for a truly liberatory blueprint, is the Redstockings': "We identify with all women. We define our best interest as that of the poorest, most brutally exploited woman. We repudiate all economic, racial, educational, or status privileges that divide us from other women."

MICHELLE JENSEN



VIETNAM IN FACT & FICTION

San Luis Obispo, Calif.

H. Bruce Franklin in "Antiwar and Proud of It" [Dec.11] tells of the aircraft carrier Constellation's crew petitioning for Jane Fonda's antiwar road show to be allowed to perform aboard. In 1971-72 I was a Marine lieutenant out of the Air Force Academy stationed in Okinawa when Hanoi Jane's show performed in the city of Koza. It was exuberantly attended by thousands in uniform, many just back from Vietnam, as Nixon pulled the troops out. I returned to the States in '72 to resign my commission out of a sense of the evil of the man (this was pre-Watergate break-in) and increasing discordance between principle and reality, but a vehicular accident broke my back before my request cleared. Support for the antiwar movement was feverish even among the uniformed, many of whom attended the show so that they could have their pictures taken by intelligence personnel and go on record.

GREGORY C. O'KELLY


Davis, Ill.

I beg to differ with H. Bruce Franklin on the 1945 transport of the French military and Legionnaires to Saigon. I was on Army transport ships then. We were civilian merchant marines, not enlisted men. I doubt that the Navy would protest--that would be considered mutiny. But whoever did it, I deeply wish that Misters Truman and Nixon had listened. "They're not listening still. Perhaps they never will."

CLARENCE "BUD" OHSE


Baltimore

If Jerry Lembcke found "not a shred of evidence" that Vietnam vets were spat upon, it doesn't mean there was none. I am acquainted with a man who was on active duty stateside in the mid-sixties and was walking down the street of a western Massachusetts city when someone came up and spat in his face. He didn't run looking for sociologists to tell his story to, but it happened. It is good to recall and affirm the strengths of the antiwar movement. It is not good to create new distortions in the attempt to offset old ones.

KATHARINE W. RYLAARSDAM


FRANKLIN REPLIES

Newark, N.J.

The crews of the US ships being used to transport an invasion army to Vietnam in 1945 were indeed all in the merchant marine; it was the enlisted crewmen (i.e., nonofficers) who unanimously protested this complicity with colonialism.

While there may possibly have been isolated cases of servicepeople being spat upon, there is no contemporaneous evidence of such incidents. More important, although such behavior was never part of the antiwar movement, it is an image of antiwar protesters rampant in American culture today. Both these topics are explored with thorough documentation in my book, Vietnam and Other American Fantasies.

BRUCE H. FRANKLIN



BEWARE: PROGRESSIVE = DRUGGIE!

Johnson City, N.Y.

Jane Spencer's "Caught in the WAVE" [Dec. 4] reminded me of a recent work purporting to link high school students' interest in progressive causes to drug abuse. In How Parents Can Help Children Live Marijuana Free, written by University of Utah criminologist Gerald Smith and others and published by Walt Plum, "excessive preoccupation with social causes, race relations, environmental issues, etc." are listed as some of the "social signs of regular [drug] users." The sixty-plus-page booklet, distributed to parents of students in the Salt Lake City School District with the blessing of the district, prompted parents of two students to pull their children off the debate team. Students may now be targeted not only for acting or appearing different, but also for reading The Nation!

ALLEN LUTINS



THEY WERE PRINCIPLED IDEALISTS

Walnut Creek, Calif.

It may seem unappreciative for a former Communist to be critical of the relatively reasoned article on "The Right's Cold War Revision," by Ellen Schrecker and Maurice Isserman [July 24/31, "Letters," Oct. 9]. The very rules of engagement in this discussion seem to begin with the docile acceptance as received word of the outpourings of double and triple agents from Moscow's murky Venona files. Schrecker and Isserman are no exception, stating: "As Venona and the Moscow sources reveal, the [US] party recruited dozens, perhaps hundreds, of its members to spy for the Soviet Union."

Who were all these spies, and how come they were never named and prosecuted? Hoover's FBI says it had the party thoroughly infiltrated (hardly the difficult feat that melodramatic movies made it). What these FBI agents would most want to present to the Boss was proof of espionage. Never happened.

Schrecker and Isserman do American Communists the dubious favor of writing, "Acknowledging that some American Communists spied on behalf of the Soviet Union does not reduce the entire history of their movement to a criminal conspiracy." Thanks a lot. How much of its history does it reduce to a criminal conspiracy? Half? Three-quarters?

Are there any historians out there to say straight out that American Communists, despite their sins, were patriots who advocated something more human than corporate capitalism for this land of ours and fought hard and effectively for social justice in the meanwhile?

Yes, they were starry-eyed over the emergence of the world's first nation to proclaim itself socialist and place people above profits, and yes, they were lamentably slow to accept the reality that Stalinism had butchered the socialist dream. But when "liberal anticommunists" were doing diddly about the shame of raw racial discrimination, it was the Communists who exposed the Scottsboro rape frameup, who put their bodies where their mouths were, going South to work for black voting rights, who with the black newspapers launched the campaign that ended the apartheid ban in our national pastime, who did the indispensable on-the-ground organizing in the creation of industrial unionism.

If the Communist movement was the malign spy apparatus Radosh, Klehr, Haynes and Weisberg say it was, how would they explain its attraction to so many of the world's most leading creative men and women?

On a personal note, I worked for the Communist Daily Worker for twenty years and found my colleagues to be principled idealists, the salt of the American earth.

Will history, dictated by "liberal (?) anti-communists," harden by default into the "spy" falsehood for this significant part of the American radical left?

LESTER RODNEY


MY SECRET LOVE'S NO SECRET ANYMORE

Frisco, Colo.

I've been a subscriber to The Nation for more than twenty years, and I'm finally getting off my butt and writing. I have a confession. I'm in love with Katha Pollitt's column. Whenever I'm not sure how to express my feelings, I wait for Pollitt's column, and there they are--my feelings articulated perfectly.

I live in a rural community without residential mail service, so I have to drive to the post office. I empty my box every couple of days, and when I get my Nation, the first thing I do is open it to Katha's column and savor her comments paragraph by paragraph. Then I sit back in my minivan smiling as I hug my Nation. And that warm, fuzzy feeling lasts all day, because Katha's column makes me realize that I have a choice. I can either become depressed, or I can laugh, or I can do a bit of both.

Am I alone? I can't be the only reader whose idea of a good time is settling back into my minivan high-back seat in front of the post office in a one-stoplight town in the mountains of Colorado reading Katha's column. So why doesn't it appear weekly?

IRA WERTENTEIL

We do need government regulation—not to build socialism but to save capitalism.

If the absence of soldiers seizing cable networks is the ultimate standard of meaningful democratic empowerment, we're not doing half bad.

Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell needs to explain his participation in several sordid episodes of the United States' past.

Capital punishment will be one of the defining issues of the coming year.

Bill Clinton is moving to install Terry McAuliffe as the head of the DNC, a cynical move in this day of pay-to-play politics.

Christians are drifting away in their support of the death penalty.

Bush v. Gore may have superficially resolved a short-run political crisis, but it has triggered a deep intellectual crisis.

A review of The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors, by Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel.

The governor issued a moratorium on executions in Illinois a year ago, after investigative-reporting students and their professor saved an innocent man from the death chamber.

We shall see very little of the charmingly simian George W. Bush—the military—Cheney, Powell et al.--will be calling the tune, and the whole nation will be on constant alert.

A review of Cherry, by Mary Karr; On Writing, by Stephen King; and Ghost Light, by Frank Rich.

A review of The Hill Bachelors, by William Trevor.