This Is What Heroism Looks Like
Re Ady Barkan’s article “My Word Count” [Nov. 5, 2018]: Whatever the word count, and no matter the ravages of ALS, Ady Barkan packed sufficient power into his comment to move me to tears, and action. Heroic.
Lost in Translation
Halfway through his lengthy review of Andrea Komlosy’s Work: The Last 1,000 Years [“What We Do,” Nov. 5, 2018], Gabriel Winant notes almost in passing that “in its original German, Komlosy’s book is not titled Werk…but rather, Arbeit.” Yet nowhere in the piece is there specific mention of the book’s pair of translators, Loren Balhorn and Jacob K. Watson. A most unfortunate irony, then: In a review of a wide-ranging historical account of “work,” the actual labor of the translators who have made the volume available for English-language readers gets lost in the shuffle. Now what would a Marxist analyst say about this casual lapse?
Gene H. Bell-Villada
In reviewing my biography, Hubert Humphrey: The Conscience of the Country [“The Dual Defeat,” Nov. 12, 2018], Michael Kazin questions the subtitle, which was taken from a quotation by Vice President Walter Mondale, in which he called Humphrey “the country’s conscience.” Professor Kazin remains unforgiving of Humphrey’s strong support for the Vietnam War as vice president. Like Kazin, I too vigorously opposed that war, and actively backed Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential candidacy.
In 1964 and early 1965, Humphrey warned President Lyndon Johnson that the Vietnam conflict was unwinnable militarily and would splinter the Great Society political coalition. But Johnson’s public humiliation of Humphrey led Humphrey to become an administration spokesman for the war until his September 30, 1968, presidential-campaign speech, during which he proffered the idea of halting the bombing of Vietnam as an acceptable risk for peace. It was, however, too late to bring electoral victory.
Humphrey later admitted that bowing to Johnson’s demands about Vietnam was a tragic error. Upon his return to the Senate in 1970, he voted for measures to cut off war funding and for the 1973 War Powers Act limiting the president’s ability to wage war without congressional approval.
I admire Humphrey for advancing civil-rights legislation and defining civil rights to include “health care for all,” a safe neighborhood, good housing, a good education, and a job at a fair wage; and for his leadership in promoting aid to poorer nations, international control of atomic weapons, détente with the Soviet Union, and “containment without isolation” of the People’s Republic of China.
Humphrey was the most successful legislator of the 20th century, as over 1,000 former legislative aides and reporters voted days before he died in January 1978. And as conservative Republican Senator Robert Dole of Kansas said, he may have “overshot the nation’s highest office, and become instead one of the great world leaders—one of the major moral forces of our time or of any time.”
Despite his flawed behavior as vice president, Humphrey deserves to be called the “conscience of the country” based on his remarkable legislative achievements.