He Doth Bestride the Narrow World…
Santa Cruz, Calif.
Reading E.L. Doctorow’s “Reading John Leonard” [Feb. 27], his lovely introduction to the collection of Leonard’s essays reminded me of the tag line of one of John’s first film reviews for the college paper, an appreciation of the 1953 Joseph Mankiewicz version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. After appraising the performances of James Mason, Marlon Brando and John Gielgud, Leonard ended thus: “And of course, it’s a competent script.”
Wow. The February 27 issue is the best! Readers protest in the Ron Paul “Letters” rebuttals; Todd Gitlin lays out how city governments suppress free speech; Trita Parsi shows us lurching down a dangerous path to war in Iran; Gary Younge outlines the scandalous attempt to rewrite history in Arizona; and Carne Ross wraps up with “A New Politics for a Disorderly World.” Well done, writers and editors!
The Death of Anti-Semitism?
Eric Alterman assuredly had his tongue in one of his cheeks writing about the end of anti-Semitism [“The Liberal Media,” Feb. 27] as evinced by the dearth of bigotry in reaction to Sheldon Adelson’s $10 million gift to the Gingrich Super PAC. Alterman notes that the media focus was on big campaign money, not on Adelson’s “ugly Jew” qualities. But if George Soros provided outsize funding for a candidate of the left, we know how he’d be portrayed—first by Fox and Limbaugh, then by all the others who report about Fox. Bigotry is not equal across the spectrum. It bends to the reactionary right much more often than to the progressive left. We can celebrate that, a little.
Drones: Murder by Video Game
I appreciated John Sifton’s timely and illuminating cover story “Drones: A Troubling History” [Feb. 27].The reason I find drones—and those who authorize their use, including President Obama—revolting is that the devices have not reduced civilian casualties. Despite Obama’s statement that drones make “precision strikes” that “have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that they have caused some 400–800 civilian deaths in Pakistan alone, 175 of them children.
John Sifton worries that drone killing may become automated—HAL with an AK-47. No, there will always be personnel to pull the trigger. In 1996 I saw two young boys playing a video game. They had somehow rigged the software so the bad guys couldn’t shoot back; it became a carefree massacre. It was so disturbing, I wanted to tell their parents. Those boys from the ’90s have grown up and, as we saw in the videotape of the Reuters press-crew slaughter, are firing without compunction.
Before the flash, the doomed men and women shout Pashto words that in English mean “my child,” “my wife,” “my mother,” “my God.”
The technician watching the screen in the darkened room shouts words that do not translate well into Pashto.
In the next room, slightly lighter, a press release is issued announcing the triumph.
At six, the technician clocks out, calls his wife, fills up his car and buys the milk she asked him to pick up on the way home.
Each transaction is recorded in a database for use if someone calls another technician in another darkened room with a new order.
It will not matter that the two technicians perfectly understand each other.
They won’t be within shouting distance before that flash either.
KENT H. ROBERTS
The parallel between the “operational stress” reported by John Sifton in military drone operators who kill military/political targets and the psychological stress reported by Timothy Pachirat in slaughterhouse knockers killing cattle suggests another parallel. Pachirat believes that those who eat the meat of slaughtered animals—“who benefited at a distance, delegating this terrible work to others while disclaiming responsibility for it”—bear more moral responsibility than those who did the killing. Similarly, in benefiting at a distance from actions that maintain the perquisites of empire, aren’t we more morally responsible than the drone operator who pushes the button? Directing Pachirat’s question (“What might it mean…for all who benefit from dirty work not only to assume some share of responsibility for it but also to experience it?”) to the issue of murder by drone might be the first step toward aborting the dark future of brutality detached from humanity that Sifton foretells.
As a longtime appreciator of Ted Con- over’s reporting and someone loosely familiar with Timothy Pachirat’s research, I was eager to read Conover’s review of Every Twelve Seconds [“The Flesh Underneath,” Feb. 27]. I feel compelled to defend Pachirat’s decision to maintain the anonymity of the slaughterhouse where he carried out his research. Pachirat was presumably bound by the strictures of his university’s review board. His funding was likely contingent on a pledge to protect his subjects. Not only could he have exposed co-workers to discipline; he might have damaged his prospects in academia. And risk-adverse boards might be even more conservative in granting research approval for a future Pachirat, exemplary at both social theory and deep reporting, to carry out critical investigations.
He Occupied Iraq & Occupied Wall Street
Bluff Point, N.Y.
I loved “The Occupied and the Occupier,” by Derek McGee! [Feb. 13] Maybe it’s because I too am a marine, and marines will always stand together. But I’m a disabled Vietnam veteran with a physical and PTSD rating of 100 percent. I wish I were able to join the Occupy movement, but my disability leaves me demo-phobic.
Also, I don’t have that young marine discipline anymore. I will not stand by with a sign saying, I Forgive the Police while they’re spraying CS gas in the faces of peaceful young people exercising free speech. I would shove that gas canister where it belongs. And in Oakland, where police found it necessary to shoot an Iraq veteran in the head with rubber bullets, my reaction would be to return fire. One problem: I don’t own rubber bullets. So to Derek and all the other brave protesters, all I can add is moral and some financial support. Semper fidelis, Derek! I am adding you to my list of Marine Corps heroes next to the likes of Chesty Puller, Carlton Rouh, John Basilone and Daniel Ellsberg.
MARK S. SMYTH