MINOR REBUKES ON NUKES
Mark Hertsgaard’s 1,480-word “Climate and the G-8” [July 18/25] was more useful than Elizabeth Kolbert’s twenty times longer, 29,400-word New Yorker article on climate change. Could that have anything to do with two of The New Yorker‘s biggest advertisers being ExxonMobil and General Motors, and one of The Nation‘s being a maker of efficient home lighting?
One quibble: Hertsgaard makes nukes sound too good. He suggests they don’t contribute to climate change. But mining nuclear fuel and transporting nuclear fuel and waste are contributors; he says the nuke industry leaves out the billions spent on plant construction from its “cheap power” claims. But he fails to mention the more significant costs the industry leaves out: storing and guarding waste for the next 250,000 years and taxpayer funding of liability insurance.
An accident or act of sabotage (easier to pull off than 9/11, says the Union of Concerned Scientists) at the Indian Point nuke, twenty miles from New York City, would kill millions and leave Manhattan uninhabitable for hundreds of years. No private insurance company will underwrite that risk. So who does plant owner Entergy rely on for insurance? Uncle Sam, of course. The minute Congress pulls the plug on the Price Anderson (nuke insurance) Act, every nuke in the nation will close. But these are minor complaints. The Nation should promote Hertsgaard to weekly columnist.
INDICTING OUR WAR CRIMINALS
In “Torture and Accountability” [July 18/25], Elizabeth Holtzman simultaneously makes and misses her point. She does well to remind us that the torture guidelines George W. Bush and Attorney General Gonzales seem to have approved are violations of the 1996 Federal War Crimes Act and that, accordingly, the US judicial system or another judicial body should exact punishment. However, she does not go far enough. The Geneva Conventions also forbid “launching an indiscriminate attack affecting the civilian population or civilian objects in the knowledge that such attack will cause excessive loss of life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects,” and define such as a “grave breach.” This would seem an easy enough set of criteria to satisfy. Moreover, the indictment would be able to be far more wide-reaching in its scope, given the array of Administration officials who doubtless authorized the war plan, particularly the assault on Falluja.
But even that misses the point. These laws will not be enforced, and their violators punished, until power structures realign to permit such enforcement. Holtzman reminds us that “it is never easy to hold powerful officials accountable for their misdeeds, but it is still important to try to do so”; how much more important, then, to hold them accountable for the atrocities they commit in our name!
I am very appreciative of Elizabeth Holtzman’s piece on the need to hold Administration officials accountable for war crimes. My one disagreement is that I would not have any confidence that a commission like the 9/11 commission would do an adequate job. I believe the 9/11 commission did a miserably incomplete job of finding out all the information the public needs to know. I invite Holtzman to join the movement to create a new and truly independent commission to continue the investigation into the events of that day.
New York City
As a former prosecutor who served under Elizabeth Holtzman more than twenty years ago, I was proud and happy to hear that more respected voices are willing to proclaim that the emperor is not wearing any clothes. Not everyone is as eloquent or knowledgeable as Holtzman, yet I daresay most of our politicians are aware, as is most everyone outside our country, of the abominations and crimes perpetrated by our government in the name of national security. As a New Yorker, I am quite concerned about WMD. Nevertheless, I am more troubled about the direction of our country. Let right-minded citizens, in blue and red states, express our outrage and join others sharing humane and moral positions.
An Arab acquaintance told me as we shared a taxi between Jordan and Jerusalem that Saddam Hussein ordered some horrible things to be done in Abu Ghraib: beating, sleep deprivation, even murder. But, he added, nothing like this sexual abuse and humiliation ever happened there until the United States took over. “The Arabs used to love the Americans and their ways,” he stated. “Now we are disgusted by them.” George W. Bush must be held accountable. Whether he specifically ordered or endorsed brutal and inhuman treatment of detainees, he is responsible for setting the tone of dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims. He is the cowboy President who vowed to “smoke them out,” the Commander in Chief against the “axis of evil,” the architect of the “war on terror,” the man in charge. The buck stops there.
MINDING ‘THE ARAB MIND’
Amherst, Mass.; Tucson, Ariz.
Amitav Ghosh, in “The Theater of Cruelty: Reflections on the Anniversary of Abu Ghraib” [July 18/25], refers to the “notorious” book The Arab Mind, by the late Raphael Patai, who “wrote at length about Arab conceptions of sexuality, honor and masculinity.” As Patai’s daughters, we find “notorious” only the fact that Ghosh would casually repeat a slanderous pseudo-connection between The Arab Mind and the torture at Abu Ghraib. This originated with an anonymous source claiming, according to Seymour Hersh, that the book was “the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.” We would certainly hope that neocons, the left, the military, the press and others actually turn to scholarship in attempting to formulate their views of cultures other than their own.
In Patai’s case, he began studying Arabic as a young man and devoted many of his books to Arab culture. It seems quite a stretch to blame his work for the tactics of humiliation and torture of Arab prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Responsible journalists would presumably actually look into this supposed connection and seek to ascertain if and/or how the book influenced soldiers or officers. They might also seek to interview US soldiers in the Middle East to learn whether the book has helped them in their positive interactions with Arabs. But, instead of any such inquiry, we get tedious repetitions of the initial slur, with its simple-minded equation of having some understanding of a foreign culture and knowing how to torment members of that culture. Or might it be that Patai’s work is suspect because he is a Jew, a European? What, then, do you suppose Muslims would say about Jewish or Western scholars who ignored Islam? We somehow doubt that this would be a more acceptable attitude.
Furthermore, did it really take Patai’s book to “teach” the US military that Arabs have a strong sense of honor, and hence a desire to avoid humiliation? Has no one noticed that Saddam’s horrific brutalization of his own countrymen and others evidently did not in any way depend upon non-Arab scholarship? And are we suddenly to believe that there exist traditional cultures in which sexuality is not a potential cause of shame? The sad fact is that there are far more important lessons to be learned from Raphael Patai’s extensive work on the Middle East. What strikes many readers as of particular significance today is the attempt made in The Arab Mind to understand the importance and intensity of antimodernization and anti-Western attitudes among Arab Muslims decades before the entire world had to confront them on an almost daily basis!
JENNIFER PATAI SCHNEIDER
LOST IN TRANSLATION?
In his review of Novalis’s The Novices of Sais [“Mother Nature’s Son,” July 18/25], Ross Benjamin mentions the original German title, Die Lehrlinge zu Sais, but fails to mention that he is reviewing a work in translation, much less name the translator. Benjamin claims that the author, an early German Romantic, uses language that “seduces in the same way that the numerous cloaks and guises of nature captivate the knowledge seekers of the novel.” Is Benjamin talking about the prose of the original author or of the translator? Both? Shouldn’t Nation reviewers be more sophisticated than those who claim they want to read the Bible only in the original English?
MARK HERMAN, translator
‘THE NATION’ IN PRISON
I recently bought a Nation gift subscription for my poor brother in state prison in North Carolina. The first issue came, and the assistant superintendent refused to let my brother have it because of the image of the KKK on the cover illustrating Gary Younge’s “Racism Rebooted” [July 11]. My brother was very upset. He told the superintendent it was not a neo-Nazi magazine and offered to remove the cover. The superintendent said he knew The Nation was not a racist magazine but claimed it was a security threat and would cause other inmates to think my brother was part of Aryan Nation or some such group, and he still wouldn’t let him have it. I think the real reason my brother can’t have his Nation is they don’t want inmates reading a lefty magazine.
BLUE ISLANDS IN A RED, RED SEA
Kansas City, Kan.
Being from Kansas City, I find John Nichols’s portrayal of Lawrence as the lone progressive city in a sea of conservatism a little inaccurate [“Urban Archipelago,” June 20]. Our city and county are Democratic strongholds, have a population that is more than 50 percent ethnic minority and all our representatives in the State House and Senate are Democrats. Our county voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry, even more than in Douglas County, where Lawrence is located. Lawrence does not stand alone here in Kansas.
As a citizen of the state that gave us, ahem, George W. Bush and Tom DeLay, I must beg that John Nichols give at least an honorable mention to my city, the capital of Texas: Austin. Austin is the one calm blue dot of progressivism among the angry hive of wasp-red conservatism that has infested a onetime Democratic stronghold. I will not and cannot brag on any city politicians, but Austin is the home base for Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower and Willie Nelson. That’s got to count for something.
MY BLUE HAVEN
In endless oceans
Of mindless insanity,
You are my
Island of reason.
I know your words
Ring truly true
Accuse you of treason.