Web Letters | The Nation


On Academic Freedom and the BDS Movement

These various organizations that seek to punish Israel and it’s academics because of its alleged denial of Palistinian rights need to extend their focus to all nations suppressing the rights of their minorities. But, if they did that in support of their principles, they would be boycotting most of the world’s nations. Is there a single Arab nation that supports academic freedom or the civil rights of its people or its minorities? What about a boycott of Russia and China, of most African nations? As a retired academic, I support academic freedom and civil rights, but I apply my values universally, not to one nation. Why make Israel the prime target? Is there a tendency toward myopia in this case? All other repressive nations get a pass. Let’s target the Jews instead. They’re used to it.

Richard Damashek


Jan 4 2014 - 10:04am

A Guerrillero-Gentleman: On Joaquim Câmara Ferreira

The Portuguese word for a guerrilla fighter is guerrilheiro, not guerrillero (which is Spanish). It's very annoying to find a Spanish word used repeatedly and incorrectly in an article on Brazil, whose national language is Portuguese.

Linda Rabben

Takoma Park, MD

Jan 3 2014 - 6:00pm

Who Didn’t Kill JFK?

Beverly Gage’s summary of the JFK literature is itself recognizable as another entry in a genre, it takes the familiar line “we will never know for sure” which is always popular with journalists seeking to appear serious and even-handed and above-the-fray.

This line ignores the fact that we can and do know some things, and here Beverly Gage has done a better job than most in at least mentioning the congressional investigation by the House Special Committee on Assassinations, which didn’t just “conclude that the single-bullet theory was hopelessly flawed” but that there was definitely a conspiracy of some sort.

Further any examination of the details excludes the possibility that seizing on the story that “Oswald acted alone” was simply an honest mistake (consider that the autopsy photos included in the Warren Report don’t match the testimony of first-line medical responders).

So: the Warren Report was indeed a cover-up of some sort, and a cover-up at a very high level. You’re left with the conclusion that either (1) the assassins had government connections or (2) the Warren Commission voluntarily concealed the actions of an enemy (e.g. fearing an outbreak of war).

Simply the fact that it’s plausible that a faction of a government agency like the CIA was involved with assassinating a US president remains a serious problem. This strikes me as the real story: a free society should not have secret police.

And myself, I don’t see why there should be any mystery about the glow associated with “Camelot” after-the-fact: assassins always risk creating martyrs, and they succeeded in bestowing sainthood on JFK.

Joseph Brenner

Oakland, CA

Jan 3 2014 - 3:06pm

Who Didn’t Kill JFK?

Take the time find and read Ultimate Sacrifice by Lamar Waldron (2006). This book provides a well-researched and detailed analysis of the assassination. I would consider this book the last word on what actually happened and why.

M. Walsh

Sayre, PA

Jan 2 2014 - 10:27pm

Solving The Nation’s Cryptic Crosswords

Regarding 1 across, the chador is not worn in Iraq. It is worn in Iran—chador is a Persian word. Furthermore it is not a head covering, it is a full body covering. Other than that, the clue is perfect.

Bart Laws

Scotland, CT

Dec 30 2013 - 5:37pm

Who Didn’t Kill JFK?

Beverly Gage has done us a service by giving us an overview of the recent Kennedy books. Still, I think she is too casual in dismissing conspiracy theories. She is not alone in this rejection: as she says, they learn it in journalism school.

At a time when NSA has been caught red-handed in a vast conspiracy to spy on Americans, this flip attitude toward conspiracy theorists seems unwarranted. Other documented conspiracies at high levels of government include the Iran/Contra affair, Watergate, Kissinger and the CIA orchestration of the 1973 coup and murder of democratically elected President Salvadore Allende in Chile, and the 1953 CIA coup against the democratically elected Mossadegh in Iran. Less well documented but attested by reputable people is the October Surprise, where, during the Carter administration, George Bush Senior apparently secretly promised arms to Iranian officials if they would not release American hostages until after the election (thus making Carter look incompetent). President Reagan announced the freeing of the hostages at his inaugural address.

I have been watching this idea that “conspiracy theorists are wackos” for years. It is so systematic, I am led to ask, Who benefits from this meme? I say it is those most likely to be engaged in conspiracies: the spy agencies and others in government. Branding any doubters of official pronouncements as conspiracy theorists and wingnuts gives those in power much more control of public discussion.

In Gage’s article, the subtext of her dismissal of conspiracy theories seems to be that since there are so many people and groups put forward as conspirators, then they must all lack credibility. That is not warranted. Instead of lumping them all together as conspiracy theories, it would be more useful to rank them according to evidence and credibility. And my conspiracy theorist mentality leads me to ask, How better to degrade the credibility of any particular theory than to muddy the water by circulating fifty less credible ones? We know from General McCrystal that the Army engages in psy ops all the time. Of course the CIA and other spy agencies do too. “Psy ops” is another name for conspiracy.

Also, just because no particular alternative, that is, “conspiracy” theory has enough evidence does not mean that the Warren Report was correct. Almost everyone agrees that there were serious problems of procedure and content with the Warren report.

And just because an alternative theory isn’t backed by enough evidence doesn’t mean it is wacko. In a courtroom, when a jury finds a person not guilty it doesn’t mean the prosecutor was necessarily wacko: it just means there wasn’t enough evidence. So it should be with alternative, I mean conspiracy theories.

Gage ended her article by quoting Reason magazine, “[Conspiracy theory] says something true about the anxieties and experiences of the people who believe and repeat it, even if it says nothing true about the objects of the theory itself.” This quote turns the focus away from the specific truth or not of particular facts claimed by government officials and diverts it to the supposedly questionable rationality of those questioning government officials. With all the documented conspiracies we know about, conspiracy theorists and the 77 percent of Americans who question the Warren version of the Kennedy assassination deserve better than that. 

Jane McCloskey

Deer Isle, ME

Dec 22 2013 - 3:04pm

Without Respite

“By February 1944, nearly every one of these twentysomethings was in Auschwitz.” The clash between the inane journalistic usage (still!) of the title format of an outdated sitcom and Auschwitz, for God’s sake: I cannot believe this sentence was published.

Jeff Norman

Milwaukee, WI

Dec 20 2013 - 12:01am

On Academic Freedom and the BDS Movement

The same left-wing extremists who want to boycott Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, and a country where every single day Israeli television, radio and internet sites blast their government and call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have no problem at all with countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Sudan and many, many more that deny women their civil rights, and their citizens the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and the freedom to criticize their government without being imprisoned or murdered. Israeli academics and their institutions of higher learning are the first people and places where the policies of the Israeli government are questioned on a daily basis.

To single out Israel is clearly an act with anti-Semitic overtones. The leftists who love to condemn Israel sadly remain silent when the dictators in China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Egypt, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Sudan and Zimbabwe silence anyone who disagrees with them. Israel is not without fault, and the occupation of Palestinian land is not benign and it must end with two states living side by side in peace, but boycotting the very people who condemn the treatment of Palestinians is stupid. It’s one thing to boycott the purchase of any goods that come from the occupied territories, but by boycotting Israelis who want an end to the occupation is shortsighted and reeks of anti-Semitism.

Mark Jeffery Koch

Cherry Hill, NJ

Dec 17 2013 - 11:38am


The Activist Witch Hunt raises a point it does not pursue. Isn't the primary point here that no one but the rich can pay for our vaunted legal system? What good is our Constitution and Bill of Rights if no one can afford them? Has anyone compared the incarceration rates of lower-class white cannabis users with the much-quoted incarceration rate of black marijuana users of the same class? A publication as devoted to criticism of public institutions as The Nation should devote some time to this. The only other time I recall this subject coming up was an column by Alexander Cockburn on March 22, 2010.

Gary Anderson

Olympia, WA

Dec 16 2013 - 11:26pm

Israel’s New Racism: The Persecution of African Migrants in the Holy Land

We Non-Zionist moral Jews can tell you without fear that Israel is not a democracy. In a democracy, you do not divide up neighborhoods by religion, nor do you need permission to marry from a group of rabbis. In a democracy, there are no Warsaw Ghetto–type walls separating people by race and religion. In a democracy, you do not allow groups of men to physically and verbally attack women because of religious bigotry and misogyny. In a democracy, you do not build concentration camps to starve the children of your enemies, nor do you demonize them. Israel is as far from a democracy as any fascist state.

Lilly Munster


Dec 13 2013 - 9:56pm