The Nation

February 10, 1962: Roy Lichtenstein Exhibits ‘Look, Mickey!’

Roy Lichtenstein was a prominent figure in the Pop Art movement of the early 1960s, appropriating themes and forms from comic strips and other ostensibly low-brow media. Max Kozloff, who wrote the following consideration of Lichtenstein (November 2, 1963), was The Nation’s art critic from 1961 to 1968.

Lichtenstein has already become notorious for his pedantic explorations of the world of “funnies” and the mail-order catalogue. In them, like a Marxist theorist, he demonstrated a logic of approach that has brought many of his less “advanced” colleagues into an almost party-line consciousness of their direction…. By making the most thoroughgoing of his borrowings, Lichtenstein has arrived at the “purest” distillation of his thought. One has no other choice but to read his finished product, not as performance, for there is none, but as intention, idea…. The tendency of Pop Art, unfortunately, is to grab the spectator by the collar whenever he tries to obey his natural instincts by looking at art as one human being confronting the work of another, and to stuff him back into an airless envelope of contexts. Worse still, all that really counts any more are the contexts and intentions, not the execution and the results. I find it hard to get excited by Lichtenstein’s appeal to my special knowledge; still less can I summon up interest for his insult to my general intelligence.

February 10, 1962

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

January 26, 1998: President Bill Clinton Denies Having ‘Sexual Relations With That Woman, Miss Lewinsky’

Yes, The Almanac already covered the Clinton impeachment saga for our entry of January 7, the date in 1999 that the Senate trial began. But on this day, the seventeenth anniversary (didn‘t you know?) of the day the president denied having an affair with “that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” we are compelled by the laws of The Almanac to revisit the ordeal once again. In an editorial after the story broke, in our issue of February 16, 1998, The Nation connected Clinton’s “reckless private behavior” with his unprincipled political calculations:

Clinton’s crisis does provoke troubling reflection on the connection between the personal and the political. Regardless of the truth of Lewinsky’s claim, there’s no doubt that this President, so cautious in his public choices, is prone to reckless private behavior. If there’s a connection, it’s in Clinton’s telling remark to Jim Lehrer that some matters can simply be “put in a box.” For Clinton, that applies not just to rumors of his sexual conduct but to political loyalties and principles. Clinton vows fidelity to a program of social investment but instead cuts deficits; promises to protect the environment but then commits to a weak stand on global warming; pledges to build bridges to the future but then retains a cold war military budget. Everything can be put in a box except his own hubris.

January 26, 1998

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

January 23, 1973: Nixon Announces a Peace Agreement to End the Vietnam War

On this date in 1973, President Richard Nixon announced a peace agreement to end the Vietnam War. Significantly or not, that was just one day after the Supreme Court recognized that women have a constitutional right to make their own decisions about reproduction, the subject of yesterday’s Almanac entry. It is difficult to say which defeat has been more scarring for the conservative cause.

In the February 12, 1973, issue of The Nation, O. Edmund Clubb published an article titled “The Cease-Fire.” Clubb was one of the State Department’s vaunted “China Hands” in the 1940s, blamed in an anti-communist uproar after Mao’s revolution for “losing China.” As the last American Foreign Service Officer in China after the Communist takeover of 1949, Clubb himself took down the American flag at the consulate in Beijing. After returning to the United States, Clubb was suspended from the State Department and labeled a “security risk.” He was perhaps uniquely suited to reflect on the scale of the losses from the failed American crusade in Vietnam.

So, for 46,000 American battle dead, the expenditure of $136 billion, the distortion of the American economy, and the sad tarnishing of the American world image and consequent loss of political influence, we get—this—and we officially call it “peace with honor.” If it be deemed honorable, the United States supported a series of reactionary Saigon governments well beyond the call of any imagined duty; and it was not defeated on the field of battle—but it never stood in danger of that. The final outcome did however make quite manifest something that could readily have been learned from 20th century history, namely that B-52s are ineffective for fighting revolutionary ideas in the age of nationalism. Washington failed lamentably to appreciate Asian post-colonial aspirations, to understand the nature of the modern Asian revolution. By the evidence, the policy makers in Washington never really understood, from beginning to end, what the Indochinese revolution was all about—that it was inherently a political, not a military, struggle. Blinded by this error, the United States tried to dominate and suppress the Indochinese revolutionaries—and failed ingloriously. Whether it can repair its position in Asia will depend on whether it has learned the lesson of its eleven-year Indochinese war: Asia is not to be molded after American patterns.

January 23, 1973

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

January 22, 1973: In ‘Roe v. Wade,’ the Supreme Court Legalizes Abortion in All Fifty States

The Nation‘s editorial on the Roe v. Wade decision (February 5, 1973) seems curiously averse to discussion of the actual debate about abortion, busying itself with trivialities surrounding the tactics the pro-choice side used in winning its appeal to the Supreme Court. Previous articles in our pages, like “The Abortion Racket: Product of Laggard Law,” by Edwin M. Schur (March 5, 1955), had long argued for legalization of abortion, but largely on the grounds that women would seek more dangerous, illicit abortions anyway, and not necessarily on the grounds of a constitutional right to privacy, or empowerment or liberation for women. It is impossible not to cringe when reading the editors’ suggestion that progress comes only when “time, acting through men, has done its work.” Nonetheless, the thrust of the editorial—the importance of racial and class-based undertones in the abortion debate—remains pertinent today, as initiatives in the states seek to roll back the rights secured in Roe v. Wade.

Before the courts can change, the mores must change. A new consciousness must emerge. It may take decades, generations. It may never appear at all; on the other hand, it can come with amazing speed when time, acting through men, has done its work. Some aspects of this process are mysterious, others can be discerned without much difficulty—for instance, exchange of experience from one generation to the next. Judges have sons and daughters, nephews and nieces, and are often informed of developments of which they do not formally take “judicial knowledge.” In the abortion controversy, it became clear, also, that gross discrimination was involved: the rich had no problem, the poor did, and more particularly the black poor on welfare. Even more than health care generally, the right to abortion depended on the economic status of those who desired it.

January 22, 1973

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

January 18, 1919: The Peace Conference Convenes at Paris

On this date in 1919, the peace conference after World War I convened in Paris. One year earlier, Oswald Garrison Villard, the longtime owner of The Nation and the New York Evening-Post, took editorial control of the magazine to provide a platform for his vigorously pacifistic politics. In this, “Secrecy at Versailles” (January 25, 1919), his first dispatch from the peace conference, Villard predicted the meeting would come to no good.

So the most important conference in the world’s history opened at last this afternoon with a rather commonplace but fitting speech by Poincaré and tributes by Sonnino, Wilson, and George to Clemenceau. Mr. Wilson spoke gracefully as always but with unusual earnestness and restraint. The terrible responsibility resting upon the conference seemed to make itself felt and the gravity of this historic meeting, attended by all the correspondents, was emphasized by the absence of any applause, the only ripple of laughter being due to the error of an interpreter in translating a compliment paid by George to Clemenceau...So, with the fairest of words, was adjourned the first session of a body to which the eyes of all the world are turned, which contains more prominent dictators of governmental policies than any ever assembled before, but which numbers among its members no woman, scarcely a labor man, and no representative of the despised foe or the Russian democracy.

January 18, 1919


To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

150 Years of ‘The Nation’ in the World

The first of many events marking The Nation’s 150th anniversary in 2015 occurred last Friday, at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in midtown Manhattan. At a panel moderated by our editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, four historians discussed The Nation’s coverage of their respective areas of expertise. In his preliminary remarks, longtime Nation Deadline Poet Calvin Trillin recalled fond moments aboard the magazine’s annual cruise (“lefties at sea,” as he dubbed it) and the intense negotiations in which he persuaded former Nation editor Victor Navasky to raise his pay per poem from something in “the high two figures” to a clean $100, making him, if reports were true, the highest-paid poet in America when measured by dollars per line.

In her introductory remarks, vanden Heuvel toasted the magazine’s traditions of “truth-telling, rooting out corruption and, yes, publishing heretical, often unpopular, ideas, challenging the limits of the debate.”

The first historian to speak was Sara Alpern, author of Freda Kirchwey: A Woman of the Nation, which no reader interested in the history of this magazine can afford to go without. Alpern recounted the story of Kirchwey’s career at the magazine and the intensity of her engagment with international affaris in its pages and beyond, not least in battles over the Spanish Civil War, American entry to World War II and the establishment of the state of Israel.

Following Alpern was the celebrated NYU historian Greg Grandin, author of the critically acclaimed The Empire of Necessity, published last year. Grandin, whose blog post at TheNation.com on the dissolution of The New Republic was widely read and cited last month, discussed the differences between The Nation’s coverage of political turmoil in Latin America in the last century and The New Republic’s. He particularly focused on the work of Ernest Gruening, Nation managing editor in the 1920s and later one of only two senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution escalating the Vietnam War, and the great William Appleman Williams, about whom Grandin wrote a brilliant, must-read tribute in our pages a few years ago.

Next up was the University of Michigan historian of the Middle East and South Asia, Juan Cole, whose delivered a characteristically detailed examination of The Nation’s coverage of Jawaharlal Nehru of India and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt in the 1950s. Generally, Cole argued, The Nation’s coverage of the countries holds up well more than fifty years later, but he also noted the not-infrequent instances of Orientalism and political bias in what we published at the time.

Closing the session with a timely dose of oomph was Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian history at NYU, who looked back over his more than three decades of questioning conventional wisdom about US-Russian relations in the pages of The Nation. Cohen surveyed with disapproval the lamentable state of press coverage on the issue in the mainstream media and called out some of the most prominent American journalistic institutions for their lapdog coverage of our government’s sins of omission and commission in Eastern Europe and across the world.

The Nation will be hosting many more events, in New York and all across the country, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Western Hemisphere’s oldest weekly magazine. Stay tuned to our events page for details. Many thanks to the indispensable History News Network for the above videos and for their coverage of the entire conference.

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Curious about how we covered something? E-mail me at rkreitner@thenation.com. Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.

Détente With Cuba: Just About Freaking Time

Much is legitimately contested in this crazy, crazy world, but there is only one honest response to the news that the Obama administration will open talks with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations, suspended since early 1961: it is just about freaking time.

Immediately after the Revolution of January 1, 1959—which overthrow the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista—The Nation warned of the deleterious consequences for Cuba and for the US should the government of the latter deal with the former only on the basis of antagonism and hostility. The great foreign correspondent Carleton Beals—who made international headlines in the late 1920s after traveling into the jungles of Nicaragua to interview the elusive guerrilla leader Augusto César Sandino—wrote in “Revolution Without Generals,” in the Nation of January 17, 1959: “Much of the course of events in the near future will depend upon the official American attitude toward Castro. Will our government be as lavishly helpful with him as it was with Batista?”

It wasn’t to be. By the summer of 1960, Beals was writing in a special “Report from Havana”:

We have missed the boat badly. If the Eisenhower Government succeeds in overthrowing Castro (it would cost much bloodshed), in destroying the agrarian reform and the free spirit of the Cuban people and in imposing another puppet dictator labeled as “democratic,” the action will win no prestige for the United States. If Castro survives our dollar diplomacy and our fear diplomacy, our loss in prestige will be equally great.

By that point, Eisenhower had already directed the CIA to come up with plans for an invasion of Cuba, which were eventually passed off—with disastrous consequences, predicted by Beals—to his successor, John F. Kennedy. Just after the election that November, Beals wrote in “Cuba’s Invasion Jitters” (November 12, 1960) that Cubans were extremely nervous at the prospect that the US would launch an invasion to overthrow Castro, probably using a false-flag attack on the naval base at Guantanamo as a “pretext.” Though that’s not how things eventually played out—the United States never even bothered to cite a proximate cause for the Bay of Pigs invasion—Beals’s warnings now read as disturbingly, tragically prophetic:

Even if an attack occurred, the Cubans may be wrong in believing that immediate armed intervention would follow. A state of quasi-belligerency between the two countries would permit the Untied States to blockade the island and starve the Cuban people into submission. There are indications that a clique in Washington, chiefly military, wishes to set up such a blockade and seize all shipments from iron curtain countries. Such a course could bring about armed clashes with the Soviets, who might attempt to protect their shipping with warships and submarines.

Besides threatening world conflict, our Cuban policy has broken the New World front. Each hour that our punitive blows hit Cuba, we lose support from the people of Latin America…. If we really believe in land reform for Latin America, and intend to help pick up the tab for it, then why not pick up the tab for Cuba and guarantee her agrarian bonds? This gesture would cost us little more than what we should have paid for the use of the Guantanamo Naval Base all these six decades. It would certainly be cheaper and more sensible than bringing a possible world war close to our shores, breaking the hearts of the Cuban people, and perhaps fomenting a dozen Cuban revolutions elsewhere in Latin America. The whole deal would cost us less than the development of one of our new-fangled moon-rockets.

But it was in the following week’s issue that The Nation really staked its claim to fame on the story of Cuban-American relations. In an editorial titled “Are We Training Cuban Guerillas?”—ironically, we can see now, published the page after a lead editorial on “Mr. Kennedy’s Opportunity”—The Nation cited intelligence gleaned from Dr. Ronald Hilton of Stanford University, who on a trip to Guatemala learned that the US was training counter-revolutionary Cuban guerillas in a secret base in that country:

If Washington is ignorant of the existence of the base, or, knowing that it exists, is nevertheless innocent of any involvement in it, then surely the appropriate authorities will want to scotch all invidious rumors and issue a full statement of the real facts. On the other hand, if the reports heard by Dr. Hilton are true, then public pressure should be brought to bear upon the Administration to abandon this dangerous and hair-brained project.

Again, it was not to be. The Nation’s warning was ignored, and a more deeply reported account of the the invasion preparations, to be published in The New Republic, was suppressed at the request of that magazine’s Reader-in-Chief. The Nation tried again in January with an editorial titled “Nothing to Fear?”

The notion that this country is planning an actual armed invasion of Cuba is, by common assumption, “preposterous.” Why, then, does Castro insist that an invasion is imminent? Why does he keep the Cubans on a round-the-clock alert?… Why, given all these signs and omens, is Castro so nervous? Doesn’t this silly man know that the sugar-cane harvest needs attention? Aren’t there some psychiatrists in Havana who might calm his volatile militia men and militia ladies? Who are they afraid of, “spooks” or what?

When the invasion finally materialized in April of 1961, it wasn’t, of course, only The Nation who recognzied it for the disaster it was—not just a tactical or even a strategic disaster, but a disaster, as Beals had written the previous summer, for what remained of American prestige. Most of the media concentrated on Kennedy’s unwillingness to militarily intervene to support the invasion, but even before that decision had been made, editor Carey McWilliams asked Ronald Hilton, who had initially provided the information about the invasion preparations the previous fall, to reflect on the implications of the conspiracy itself (“The Cuba Trap,” April 29, 1961):

A few general considerations may be derived.… The first is that the United States will almost certainly emerge from the current situation with a tarnished reputation. Our equivocations have unquestionably reduced our prestige throughout the world. For this we must thank the power elite in New York and Washington which really runs the affairs of this country.

That power elite is responsible for the embargo on Cuba, in effect to various degrees since October of 1960. The Nation has repeatedly called for its end—most recently this past October, in a feature article by William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh. This magazine’s archives are endlessly fascinating, for their historical interest, and for their enabling of “we-told-you-so” posts like this one. But they have another purpose as well. When the time comes to reconsider the position of the power elite in this country, it might be wise to look back at an article that ran in the Nation of November 30, 1957. It was titled “What Cuba’s Rebels Want,” and the author was Fidel Castro:

The future of the country and the solution of its problems cannot continue to depend on the selfish desires of a dozen financiers, on the cold profit-and-loss calculations of a few magnates in air-conditioned offices. The country cannot continue to beg, on bended knee, for miracles from a few “golden calves.” Cuba’s problems will only be solved if we Cubans dedicate ourselves to fight for their solution with the same energy, integrity and patriotism our liberators invested in the country’s foundation. They will not be solved by politicians who jabber unceasingly of “absolute freedom of enterprise,” the sacred “law of supply and demand” and “guarantees of investment capital”….

We have sufficient stones and more than enough hands to create a decent residence for every family in Cuba. But if we continue to wait for miracles from the golden calves, a thousand years will pass and nothing will change.

A lot of progress has not happened in Cuba since Castro wrote those words. A lot of progress has not happened in the United States, too. But for the first time in over a half-century, tomorrow really is a new day.

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Curious about how we covered something? E-mail me at rkreitner@thenation.com. Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.

Some Truths Are Not Self-Evident (PDF)

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