I’ll see your destruction and raise you some death

“It is the nature of escalation that each move passes the option to the other side, while at the same time the party which seems to be losing will be tempted to keep raising the ante. To the extent that the response to a move can be controlled, that move is probably ineffective. If the move is effective it may not be possible to control or accurately anticipate the response. Once on the tiger’s back we cannot be sure of picking the place to dismount.” – U.S. Under Secretary of State George W. Ball, October 1964 (quoted by David Halberstam in The Best and the Brightest)

To the victor go the spoils

“When you win big, you can have anything you want for a time. You come home with that big landslide and there isn’t a one of them who’ll stand in your way. No, they’ll be glad to be aboard and to have their photograph taken with you and be part of all that victory. They’ll come along and they’ll give you almost everything you want for a while and then they’ll turn on you. They always do. They’ll lay in waiting, waiting for you to make a slip and you will. They’ll give you almost everything and then they’ll make you pay for it. They’ll get tired of all those columnists writing about how smart you are and how weak they are and then the pendulum will swing back.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson (quoted by David Halberstam in The Best and the Brightest)

You can’t get there from here

“To make it in America, to rise, there has to be some sort of propellant; sheer talent helps, but except in very rare instances, talent is not enough. Money helps, family ties and connections; for someone without these the way to the power elite can seem too far, too hopeless the challenge.” – David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest

In God’s country

“The land was hard and unfertile and taught its own lessons, stern lessons. The virtues were the old ones and the sins were the old ones, and the Bible still lived. No one ever expected life to be easy, and forgiveness was not the dominating trait. It was not a land which produced indulgence of any sort, and people who grew up there did not talk about life styles. They talked about God, about serving, about doing what He wanted. It was much admired to make use of what God had given you and to obey authority. If you didn’t, dark prophecies were offered and you were considered, at the least, wayward.” – David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest

Snowballs

“The capacity to control a policy involving the military is greatest before the policy is initiated, but once started, no matter how small the initial step, a policy has a life and a thrust of its own, it is an organic thing. More, its thrust and its drive may not be in any way akin to the desires of the President who initiated it. There is always the drive for more, more force, more tactics, wider latitudes for force. Starting in mid-1962, this had begun to be true on Vietnam, and there was soon a split between the American military and the Administration.” – David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest

The sting of the WASP

“McCarthyism went deeper in the American grain than most people wanted to admit: it was an odd amalgam of the traditional isolationism of the Midwest; McCarthy’s own personal recklessness and cruelty; the anxiety of a nation living in a period of new and edgy atomic tensions and no longer protected from adversaries by the buffer of its two adjoining oceans; and the fact that the Republican party had been out of power fo so long—twenty years, until Dwight Eisenhower, a kind of hired Republican, was finally elected. The Republicans’ long, arid period out of office, accentuated by Truman’s 1948 defeat of Dewey, had permitted the out-party in its desperation to accuse the leaders of the governing party of treason. . . . Long after McCarthy himself was gone, the fear of being accused of being soft on Communism lingered among the Democratic leaders. . . . The fear generated in those days lasted a long time.” – David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest

The desire of Khan

“Mexico is my mother; the United States the best friend I will ever have. And so I dream of the day when my mother will say, ‘Ricardo, you have chosen a wonderful friend.’ And the day when the friend will say, ‘Ricardo, you have a sensational mother.’ That is why it is very important to bring us together. Brothers and sisters, love thy neighbor as thyself.” – Ricardo Montalbán

You can’t buy that

“When Jefferson opposed the spread of manufacturing, Jackson opposed a centralized financial system, Lincoln criticized wage labor, the Progressives criticized the trusts, and numerous states tried to halt the spread of chain stores, they did so not only for reasons of distributive justice, but even more from a desire to preserve the material conditions of self-rule and civic virtue. To many generations of American democrats, economic growth—our panacea—was morally suspect. Their political economy was meant to produce staunch, self-reliant citizens with deep local roots and commitments, not satisfied consumers or even highly-paid workers. This sets republicans apart from both conservatives and liberals. It was mass production, the factory system, and the concentration of capital and credit—in a word, big business—that vanquished the political economy of citizenship. Big government was a flawed effort to mitigate the worst effects of that triumph. Both forms of bigness confront the individual with impersonal, uncontrollable forces. Both generate large inequalities of wealth and power. Both subordinate the traditional virtues to newer skills of corporate gamesmanship and bureaucratic maneuvering. Both make it difficult, perhaps impossible, to realize the republican ideal. For better or worse, bigness is apparently here to stay. Can the republican ideal be adapted?” – George Scialabba, “Democracy’s Discontent”

In theory

“As a political theory, liberalism is systematically ambivalent. In its historically dominant version, it holds that maximum individual autonomy is the highest political good; that value preferences are purely subjective and arbitrary, hence none is more worthy of encouragement through social policy than any other, and that individual behavior is largely intentional rather than deterministic, so that people may justifiably be rewarded or punished for their actions, rather than seen as products of their upbringing and social environment. But each of these elements has a dialectical counterpart: that embeddedness in a supportive community is the highest good; that some desires are healthier or higher-order or more natural than others; and that heredity and environmental influence frequently, if not invariably, determine behavior. This philosophical ambivalence is reflected in a systematic tension within the law: i.e., between rules and standards, the two main forms of legislation. Rules are precise and allow for a minimum of interpretation (e.g., ‘motorists must always observe posted speeds and stop at red traffic lights’). Standards are flexible and allow for maximum interpretation (‘motorists must exercise reasonable caution at all times’). Both forms have disadvantages: shouldn’t it be permissible to go through a red light on a deserted street at 3 AM? And what if a judge or jury takes a dislike to a defendant—isn’t the open-endedness of ‘reasonable caution’ practically a license to indulge their prejudices? . . . [T]he law is so full of quirks, inconsistencies, and ad hoc solutions because it must try to incorporate, while concealing, the secondary, non-individualistic strain of liberalism. The legal system must incorporate this version of liberalism, because the primary, individualistic version is too rigid, too brittle, to accommodate all of reality. But it must conceal this incorporation, because atomistic individualism is the moral and psychological underpinning of competitive capitalism, and the legal system must pretend to enshrine it. . . . [E]ven the good faith of the privileged is bad faith: they are self-deceived, however innocently, to their own advantage; the rest of us are deceived to our disadvantage.” – George Scialabba, “A Guide to Critical Legal Studies”

A failure to grasp the situation

“On June 4 [1967], one Lieutenant Hamid, a newly graduated Egyptian second lieutenant, assigned to a transportation company near Suez, was ordered to take a convoy of antitank ammunition to Kuntilla, near the Egypt-Israel frontier. He left that afternoon, bivouacked with his convoy east of Nakhl that night, and early the following morning reported to the commander at Kuntilla. The older officer looked at him in surprise. ‘We don’t need any ammunition. There isn’t going to be a war. Take it back.’ The lieutenant saluted, turned his trucks around, and started back toward the [Suez] Canal. A half hour later his convoy was being strafed by Israeli aircraft.” – Trevor N. Dupuy, Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947-1974

Can’t have cake and eat it, too

“The Egyptians and their Arab allies make much of the fact that the [1956] war was begun with a surprise Israeli attack, which they therefore characterize as ‘aggression,’ or ‘unprovoked aggression.’ However, this places them in the position of basing their case upon two inconsistent arguments. Either they were not at war with Israel—in which case their blockade of the Suez Canal, and even more of the Strait of Tiran, was an illegal violation of international law, and a clear casus belli—or they were at war with Israel (thus justifying their positions on the closure of the waterways), in which case the Israeli attack was merely a normal incident in such hostilities. Whatever one may think of the collusion between Israel, Britain, and France, there is no justification for accusing Israel of aggression. Egypt wanted the rights of belligerency without the consequences.” – Trevor N. Dupuy, Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947-1974

It’s complicated

“It is simplistic and misleading to suggest that the Zionist Jews used the pretext of religion and ancient historical tradition to eject the legal occupants of Palestine from their homes by force and terror, and then illegally expropriated their land. It is equally simplistic to suggest that the sole Israeli answer to such accusations is that they made better use of the land than did the Arab former occupants. These interpretations ignore the facts that the original Zionists came legally to Palestine in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, that they legally bought the farmlands which they caused to bloom so spectacularly, and that until the late 1930’s their immigration into Palestine was a legal way for them to escape from the anti-Semitic environments of their former homes to a land where they were at first welcomed, and later at least tolerated, by governmental authorities as well as by a majority of their new neighbors. These arguments conveniently forget also that the war [for Israeli independence] was precipitated by Arabs who had as their avowed aim the extermination or expulsion of these peaceful Zionist settlers from their lawful property, and forget also that, during this war started by the Arabs, those who lost their property to Israelis fled the country voluntarily, while those that remained were allowed to keep the houses and land they owned and occupied before the war. Unfortunately, however, these answers to accusations of critics of Israel (and the Zionism on which it is founded) are also simplistic. Because, in fact, a majority of Israelis do believe that the possession of much of modern Israel by their ancestors thousands of years ago is a major and valid basis for them to reclaim their ancient homeland from the modern occupants, and that their appropriation of the property of the displaced Arabs is not only legitimized by right of conquest, but excused by the Nazi Holocaust, and further that their right to the land is affirmed by their ability to get more out of it. These answers also overlook the fact that the Arabs who fled their homes did so as civilians endeavoring to escape from the dangers and horrors of open warfare.” – Trevor N. Dupuy, Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947-1974 (emphasis in original)

The house always wins

“The romantic, reckless, very lucky Colonel John Charles Fremont stumbled down into northern Nevada from Oregon in 1843. Against all advice, he decided to cross the Sierras in winter. It was a mild winter, so he discovered Lake Tahoe and returned East in glory to write a best-selling account of the expedition. Three years later the Donner Party set out from virtually the same spot but encountered a less clement winter and famously perished. This, one might say, was how gambling began in Nevada.” – George Scialabba, “In Nevada”

Priorities

“What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I’ll spell it our for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusory—property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life—don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes see, and if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart—and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it might be your last act.” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney)

Eyes shut tight

“Submission to fate, the total abdication of your own will in the shaping of your life, the recognition that it was impossible to guess the best and the worst ahead of time but that it was easy to take a step you would reproach yourself for—all this freed the prisoner from any bondage, made him calmer, and even ennobled him.” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney)

Drones for what?

“I think foreign policy should definitely be taken out of men’s hands. Men should continue making machines, but women ought to decide which machines ought to be made. Women have far better sense. They would never have introduced the internal combustion engine or any of the evil machines. Most kitchen machines, for example, are good; they don’t obliterate other skills. Or other people.” – W. H. Auden (interviewed by Michael Newman in The Paris Review)

Nuts and bolts

“Poetry is not self-expression. Each of us, of course, has a unique perspective which we hope to communicate. We hope that someone reading it will say, ‘Of course, I knew that all the time but never realized it before.’ On the whole I agree here with Chesterton, who said, ‘The artistic temperament is a disease that affects amateurs.’ ” – W. H. Auden (interviewed by Michael Newman in The Paris Review)

Watch the parking meters

“Writers seldom make good leaders. . . . It’s very easy for a writer to be unrealistic. . . . in cases of social or political injustice, only two things are effective: political action and straight journalistic reportage of the facts. The arts can do nothing. The social and political history of Europe would be what it has been if Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Mozart, et al., had never lived. A poet, qua poet, has only one political duty, namely, in his own writing to set an example of the correct use of his mother tongue which is always being corrupted. When words lose their meaning, physical force takes over.” – W. H. Auden (interviewed by Michael Newman in The Paris Review)

Form and substance

“If I had to ‘teach poetry,’ which, thank God, I don’t, I would concentrate on prosody, rhetoric, philology, and learning poems by heart. I may be quite wrong, but I don’t see what can be learned except purely technical things—what a sonnet is, something about prosody. If you did have a poetic academy, the subjects should be quite different—natural history, history, theology, all kinds of other things.” – W. H. Auden (interviewed by Michael Newman in The Paris Review)

How that all turned out

“In 1900 there were grounds for optimism about the coming century. Apart from bloody but brief contests between Prussia and Austria and Prussia and France, Europe had been at peace since Napoleon. The first great age of industrialization had vastly increased national wealth and standards of living throughout Western Europe and North America. A moderate and humane liberalism, leavened by social-democratic stirrings, seemed the common political destiny. The arts, sciences, and crafts were flourishing; the graces and amenities of bourgeois civilization were gradually spreading. Among the educated, satisfaction prevailed and continued progress was the universal expectation.

“The actual history of the 20th century was, as we know, hideous beyond imagining. A world war begun by accident, unexpectedly and unprecedentedly destructive, dragged on for no adequate strategic or political reason, embittering an entire generation. The peace settlement was vindictive, creating lasting resentment among the losers. Statist parties took power in several countries with weak democratic traditions – notably Russia, Germany, and Italy – and ruled by indoctrination and terror, culminating in mass murder. Another world war, twice as destructive as the first, ended with the use of a new class of weapon, capable of obliterating cities in a few minutes. All this in the first half of the century. The second half was a little quieter, but still wracked by war, political murder and torture, and the novel threat of instantaneous global nuclear annihilation.

“We have a lot of reflecting to do.”

– George Scialabba, “Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century”

Going ungentle into that bad night

“For many years the Black Marias were steel-gray and had, so to speak, prison written all over them. But in the biggest cities after the war they had second thoughts and decided to paint them bright colors and to write on the outside, ‘Bread’ (the prisoners were the bread of construction), or ‘Meat’ (it would have been more accurate to write ‘bones’), or even, simply, ‘Drink Soviet Champagne!’ Inside, the Black Marias might consist of a simple armored body or shell, an empty enclosure. Or perhaps there were benches against the walls all the way around. This was in no sense a convenience, but the reverse: they would push in just as many prisoners as could be inserted standing up, but in this case they would be piled on top of each other like baggage, one bale on another. The Black Maria might also have a box in the rear—a narrow steel closet for one prisoner. Or it might be boxed throughout: single closets that locked like cells along the right- and left-hand walls, with a corridor in the middle for the turnkey. One was hardly likely to imagine that interior like a honeycomb when looking at that laughing maiden on the outside: ‘Drink Soviet Champagne!’ ” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney) (emphases in original)

Traveling light

“Own nothing! Possess nothing! Buddha and Christ taught us this, and the Stoics and the Cynics. Greedy though we are, why can’t we seem to grasp that simple teaching? Can’t we understand that with property we destroy our soul? . . . Own only what you can carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney)

Open wide

“Artificial feeding has much in common with rape. And that’s what it really is: four big men hurl themselves on one weak being and deprive it of its one interdiction—they only need to do it once and what happens to it next time is not important. The element of rape inheres in the violation of the victim’s will: ‘It’s not going to be the way you want it, but the way I want it; lie down and submit.’ They pry open the mouth with a flat disc, then broaden the crack between the jaws and insert a tube: ‘Swallow it.’ And if you don’t swallow it, they shove it father down anyway and then pour liquified food right down the esophagus. And then they massage the stomach to prevent the prisoner from resorting to vomiting. The sensation is one of being morally defiled, of sweetness in the mouth, and a jubilant stomach gratified to the point of delight.” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney)