Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Reading Around

I'm one of those old-fashioned types who subscribes to magazines -- you know, ink on cheap paper that they mail to your house every month. You have to read essays consisting of literally thousands of words, but with a little practice, you'll find it's possible. It can give you a whole different picture of the world than you get from TV, or even the newspaper. For example, the front page of the Boston Globe this morning had as its headline a story about Pope Benedict coming to the U.S. (which hasn't even happened yet). Other front pagers were bits about parents telling their kids to stop sending so many text messages, and falling housing prices making it possible for people of moderate means to once again move to the suburbs. Turning the page, we find that Barack Obama said people in the rust belt are bitter, which according to Hillary Clinton proves that he is an arrogant out of touch elitist who hates America. This is evidently the key issue confronting the voters.

The May 1 New York Review of Books contains some rather different concerns. For example, Tony Judt fears that we -- and by we he seems mostly to mean the Americans -- have failed to learn from the painful history of the 20th Century. "In the U.S., at least, we have forgotten the meaning of war." The great wars of the 20th century happened elsewhere, of course. Judt recounts the contrast between U.S. combat deaths in WWII of 420,000, compared with 2.1 million for Japan, 5.5 million for Germany, and 10.7 million for the Soviet Union. The U.S. suffered virtually no civilian casualties, whereas of course Europe lost tens of millions of civilian dead. And:

War was not just a catastrophe in its own right: it brought other horrors in its wake. World War I led to an unprecedented militarization of society, the worship of violence, and a cult of death that long outlasted the war itself and prepared the ground for the political disasters that followed. States and societies seized during and after World War II by Hitler or Stalin ... experienced not just occupation and exploitation but degradation and corrosion of the laws and norms of civil society. . . .War, in short, prompted behavior that would have been unthinkable as well as dysfunctional in peacetime. It is war, not racism or ethnic antagonism or religious fervor, that leads to atrocity.

Because the U.S. was insulated from the realities of war, writes Judt, "As a consequence, the United States today is the only advanced democracy where public figures glorify and exalt the military. . . . Politicians in the United States surround themselves with the symbols and trappings of armed prowess; even in 2008 American commentators excoriate allies that hesitate to engage in armed conflict."

Indeed, though Judt doesn't say so, it is considered offensive in the United States to criticize military leaders or to question their judgment. And Sen. Biden was forced to apologize for suggesting, in the case of John McCain, that dropping bombs out of airplanes did not constitute a qualification to be president.

Elsewhere in the same issue, Anthony Lewis discusses the official policy of the United States to torture prisoners. "I grew up believing that Americans did not torture prisoners, as Hitler's and Stalin's agents did," writes Lewis wistfully. "The corrupting effects of the adoption of torture as an American practice have been widespread. First of all, on the law. . . . The whole idea of secret official opinions defining the law should be anathema in a free republic. . . .Torture has had corrupting effects on our politics as well. Most Republicans in congress have defended President [sic] Bush's claim of the right to use such methods, apparently as a matter of political solidarity. . . . Language has been corrupted too."

Then I open up my March Harper's (just getting around to it) to read Scott Horton's piece on how the Justice Department maliciously prosecuted Democratic politicians, let corrupt Republicans slide, and converted the Office of Civil Rights into a project to disenfranchise black voters, all in an effort to create a one party state.

So Hillary, let me tell you something. I am bitter. I am particularly bitter that you and your fellow Senators have failed to stand up and defend the freedom of your fellow citizens, and the honor of the United States, against the criminal regime which you continue to enable and exonerate while you bicker inanely over trivia. I am bitter about the millionaire professional yammerers on television who provide an endless echo chamber for such idiocy. I am bitter because we have squandered the promise of our nation, and we have such cowardly leaders.

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