In his interview with Jacob Needleman [“Searching for the Soul of America,” December 2002], D. Patrick Miller characterizes the terrorist attacks of September 11 as “attacks on our freedom to have a lot of stuff that the rest of the world doesn’t.” This strikes me as incredibly naive. Can Miller really believe that our government’s imperialist foreign policy had nothing to do with it? That our support for Israel played no role? That our military presence in the Middle East was not a factor?
Once again, the issues are ignored in favor of excuses that make it easy to pound the drums of war without any serious inquiry or questioning of our treatment of people in other countries. Unfortunately, Needleman’s response — that material wealth can be both good and bad for us — is no better than the question. He seems to lack a clear understanding of the corruption embedded in our system and the motives of those in power.
D. Patrick Miller responds:
The phrase of mine that Steve Hester quotes was not intended to be a full diagnosis of America’s international problems. Rather, I was taking a satiric view of our government’s tendency to ennoble itself by characterizing all hostility against us as “attacks on freedom.” I was suggesting that we’re actually just as concerned about attacks on our wealth, which is partly ill-gotten through such means as Hester suggests. As Needleman states elsewhere in the interview, he is well aware of corruption in our political system, and I am sure he would urge us to confront it — as a recurrent expression of the human condition as well as the American way of government.
After several pages of political discussion that said little of relevance to our current crisis, Jacob Needleman tells us that the U.S. showed “remarkable restraint” in its destruction of Afghanistan.
By what yardsticks are such things measured? Despite the pleas of humanitarian organizations, the U.S. put up to a million Afghans at risk of death from bombs, starvation, cold, and disease. Despite pleas to not use cluster bombs — which scatter and act as landmines — the U.S. dropped them liberally. Thanks to our “remarkable restraint,” the U.S. managed to kill “only” three thousand innocent people — roughly equal to the number of innocents who died on September 11.
George W. Bush, I suppose, is showing remarkable restraint in going through the UN before making an unprovoked attack on Iraq. Throughout the short, frightening history of nuclear weapons, at least no country has threatened a nuclear first strike. Rather they have pledged to use those weapons only to defend against a nuclear attack. The Bush administration has said they’ll consider using them in a first strike, and they might use them in response to Saddam Hussein’s using poison gas — which would be his response to our invasion of his country.
Restraint? Compared to what?
Can we please stop perpetuating the myth that the Founding Fathers were a bunch of enlightened men with some noble vision of what humanity could be? The truth is that the majority of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were not only owners of property stolen from Native Americans, but also prosperous slave owners. The same men who fought for their own independence built this nation on the backs of people they saw as no better than farm animals. To suggest that what Thomas Jefferson “believed in, fought for, and accomplished transcends his personal sins and weakness” exemplifies the very attitude that allowed slavery to remain a legal and honorable practice in this country for more than a hundred years.
The United States of America was founded on genocide and slavery, by a group of privileged, powerful, self-serving men. America can never be a “great country” until we collectively admit the truth of our history. Needleman should be ashamed of granting Jefferson some sort of historical pardon for his collaboration in starting a violent and oppressive government of the privileged, by the privileged, and for the privileged.
The Sun’s political hand-wringing has grown tiresome of late. The December 2002 issue was particularly tedious.
D. Patrick Miller: “In the last presidential election, we saw the judicial system politically manipulated in a way that allowed the will of the people, as expressed in the popular vote, to be defeated.” Has Miller ever read the Bush v. Gore decision? He may find it liberating to know that Florida statute and the U.S. Constitution solidly support Bush’s victory.
Sparrow to George W. Bush [“The NEA and Me”]: “I despise you, your policies, and your dictatorial coup of our government.” Am I the only person who understood the role of the Electoral College prior to the 2000 election?
Sy Safransky: “Bush evidently believes blowing up Baghdad is a lesser sin than getting a blow job in the Oval Office.” Safransky evidently believes the felonious action of a former President (he didn’t merely get a blow job; he lied about it under oath) is a lesser offense than adopting the necessary military posture required to disarm one of the most oppressive and hegemonic dictators on the planet. I, too, am a God-fearing man, but pragmatism in world affairs is hardly a sin.
Since the election of George W. Bush, the level of political commentary within your pages seems to have deteriorated to “I hate George W. Bush!” Instead of participating in an honest, thoughtful debate on the foreign policy of the current administration, The Sun’s contributors have resorted to the spiteful screechings of children in a tantrum. I’m sure there must be some intelligent, sensible arguments for opposing a war with Iraq, but the tone of your criticism isn’t opening any minds.
I consider myself a political and social moderate. But in my girlfriend’s eyes, as an avid reader of the Economist and an unrepentant SUV owner, I am a right-wing conservative and an undue threat to the environment. Jeanne has tried to enlighten me by, among other things, sending me the interviews from The Sun.
I initially found them of little practical value and believed them largely pedantic, idealistic, and reactionary. I loved the passion of Jeanne’s arguments, appreciated her perspectives, and valued the time we spent debating, but I never wavered in my position.
It has since occurred to me, though, that perhaps, ever so slowly, Jeanne is accomplishing her objective. When I visit her home, I find myself secretly searching for back issues of The Sun so that I might steal one before she carts them to the recycling center. Today, while she is away on a trip, I actually purchased my own copy.
Though I still argue with your guests, I appreciate their passion and perspective. Most of all, I appreciate that a forum such as The Sun exists. Each time I read it, I find some valuable nugget that not only gives me joy, but, I hope, has a lasting influence on my life.
And I have decided that I cannot let Jeanne get away.
Since the mid-1980s I have been involved in a program that sends prison inmates food, clothing, and books. Over the years, I have befriended most of the prisoners I have had the pleasure of knowing, and I have come to distrust just about everyone who works in prison administration. That being said, I must register my displeasure at reading the excerpt from Jimmy Baca’s A Place to Stand [December 2002].
Earning respect from fellow prisoners doesn’t necessitate viciously beating another inmate. And taking a stand doesn’t require the sort of self-destructive non-cooperation with staff that Baca writes about. From the introduction, I expected a tale of principled struggle against arbitrary regulations meant to break the human spirit. What I read was a self-serving denial of wrongdoing, and Baca’s outrage at the staff’s decision to deny him a privilege he thought he deserved.
For his ability to rise above the brutality of prison life to become a gifted writer, Baca deserves respect and perhaps even admiration. But after reading the excerpt and the poems that followed, I see that he retains the bitterness of his experiences and continues to blame others for his own poor judgment.
In response to Tyler Currie’s complaint [Correspondence, December 2002] that there are “too many dead-people stories” in The Sun: if The Sun did nothing more than provide people a place to tell their stories of grief and loss, it would be a noble service to the world.
In our society, people have to reinvent the wheel every time someone dies. Grieving the loss of a loved one, I have suffered feelings of guilt because I could not stop feeling sad. I have beat myself up because I could not make myself just move on. I have been afraid to tell anyone what I was going through. As a nurse, I have watched other people go through these same struggles, and I can only thank The Sun for providing a place for people to share their stories.
Grief is not a linear process. It comes in cycles. We health-care professionals tell you what stage of grief you are in, because it helps us feel in control. But it can also make people feel crazy for not following the prescribed steps. The Sun lets people know that this insane landscape they are in is normal and as beautiful as weddings and babies and sex and flowers and all those things that we feel OK about acknowledging as beautiful. I say, print a hundred stories of grief, and when those writers are ready to write about something else, they will.
In “Sy Safransky’s Notebook” [December 2002], the editor writes, “Will the war on terrorism include all the terrorists in this country, too? All the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists? Will we raid their hideouts, too?”
This was a rhetorical question I realize, but the aforementioned groups should be afforded the same rights as Communists and anarchists. If the Left can’t temper its rhetoric, further losses are inevitable. I say this with love. I want there to be a strong opposition to the party in power.
James M. Duval’s photograph was published on page 45 of our February 2003 issue, but his name did not appear on the Contributors page. For the past nine years, Duval has been primarily photographing Block Island, Rhode Island, and Wickham Park in Manchester, Connecticut. He lives in East Hartford, Connecticut, where he and his wife Mindy enjoy biking, going to hockey games, and walking their dog Niko.