The Unwisdom of Crowds
September 06, 2010
Toward the end of Defying Hitler, his extraordinary memoir of the rise of Nazism in Germany, Sebastian Haffner describes how the Nazis had “made all Germans everywhere into comrades.” This, he argued, had been a moral catastrophe. This emphatically was not because comradeship was never a good thing. To the contrary, as Haffner was at pains to insist, it was a great and necessary comfort and help for people who had to live under unbearable, inhuman conditions, above all in war.
How Do Long Wars Become So Long?
September 01, 2010
This is the summer we began calling Afghanistan “America’s longest war.” The new label has produced a dissent or two, since it assumes that the Vietnam war didn’t even start until Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 (at which point American soldiers had been dying in Vietnam for at least three years). But the “longest war” designation isn’t intended to resolve nitpicky historical arguments. Its real point is to get both wars—Afghanistan and Vietnam alike—firmly categorized in our minds as long, hard, unwinnable slogs.
How NGOs Became Pawns in the War on Terrorism
August 03, 2010
Independent humanitarian action, commonly if not entirely accurately thought to have begun with the so-called ‘French Doctors’ in Biafra in the late-'60s, was never as independent as either relief groups like Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, or the International Rescue Committee, themselves liked to claim or as the general public assumed them to be. U.S. organizations in particular, despite their efforts to develop an individual donor base, were always and remain too dependent on American government funding for the claim to stand up to scrutiny.
I'm in Spain and my copy of the Daniel Ellsberg edition of the Pentagon Papers is in Cambridge. So I do not have access to what I recall as the five volume edition he gave us. He had inscribed in the first volume his "personal thanks for your help in ending the Vietnam War." Unlike Ellsberg, I never was for the Vietnam war. I was against it from the beginning...and worked (not so modestly) to end it. Still, I recognize the importance of Ellsberg's turning. After all, he had been in the small Washington entourage of Robert McNamara and later in the Vietnam circle of Edwin Landsdale.
July 26, 2010
Yesterday, in Cambodia, a perpetrator of one of the twentieth century’s great crimes was sentenced. Kang Kek Lew, also known as Comrade Deuch, was the head of the infamous Tuol Sleng prison during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, and was at least partly responsible for the murder of more than 12,000 people.
July 26, 2010
No soldier wants to be the last one to die in a war, goes the old saw. In Afghanistan, make that: No coalition member wants to be the last one to quit. And so, competitive withdrawal has practically begun. According to President Obama, the United States will start drawing down next year. Canada is preparing to exit in 2011. Poland is talking complete withdrawal by 2012. Britain wants to end it all by 2015. This is no way to win. It’s like a trainer announcing in round three that he will throw in the towel in round six.
Populist Mama as Media Maven
July 13, 2010
Michelle Cottle’s piece on Sarah Palin’s media strategy (“Media Maven,” July 22) is a fine dissection of p.r. craftswomanship, one any magazine or website would be proud to run. But like too much reporting about the media, it scants the message that attracts so many people to a particular messenger. Palin is the most dangerous politician in America today. Her stated views are on the wildest fringe of conservative thinking. She opposes even the mildest forms of corporate regulation, thinks the New Deal made the Depression worse, believes the U.S.
Confessions of an Epistemological Skeptic
July 01, 2010
I’m struck by how quickly some of my fellow Entanglers have brought up the mother of all epistemological quandaries: How can we, the not very well informed, know what is the case in a far-off land of which we know, well, not very much? The difficulty in knowing what is true on the ground in Afghanistan, for example, is massive. And the reason is not that “the liberal media” blight the national climate with pessimism because they’re of a wimpish or Qaeda-loving disposition.
The PICTURE: Unrealities
June 23, 2010
In recent months, a friend and I have found that nearly all our conversations about the goings-on in the cultural universe, whether the art world or the publishing world, conclude with one of us muttering, “You just can’t make this stuff up.” That is the first thing to be said about “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” the new show on Bravo which fits the art-world rat race into the reality-TV format, complete with judges, contestants, challenges, petty bickering, and public mortification. You just can’t make this stuff up. But of course this is reality TV, so nobody has made anything up.
All Silent on the Lefty Front
June 11, 2010
Earlier this month, the Pentagon released a 151-page report outlining the increasingly grim situation in Afghanistan. The paper highlighted the Afghan government (and its security services) lack of capability; the enduring challenge of endemic corruption and poor governance; and the Taliban insurgency’s ability to maintain influence—often via intimidation—across broad swaths of the country. These challenges have already undermined U.S. military operations in Marjah, and could threaten the upcoming summer offensive planned for Kandahar, the heart of the Taliban insurgency. The entire U.S.