Letters to the Editor

(January 12, 2009)


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Intellectual Volée de Bois Vert: Gilles d'Aymery's Julien Benda, The Failure of Imagination and Thought

Your credibility slips quite a bit in your Swans' dismissal (March 31, 2003) of NATO's 1999 belated response to Serbian atrocities in Kosovo and Srebrinica. How do you account for your apparent support of the "ethnic cleansing" conducted by those righteous Serbs under leaders who have subsequently been brought to trial in world courts of justice, not just in our outraged minds?

What does your alleged intellectualism consist of, anyway? We don't have to be intellectuals to realize that Bush's grand adventure in Iraq was wrong. We don't have to be from Europe, or even from France.

Moreover, you water down the value of the term intellectual by your childish finger-pointing at Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, confusing his support of NATO's invasion into Serbia, which was primarily in defense of peoples threatened by Serbian delusions, not an attempt to eradicate ethnic Serbians, with the support given a few years later to Bush's mindless blundering into Iraq by other American commentators, especially from the patriotic, muscle-bound Fox news teams.

Many of us wonder, as a result of your desperate search for a target worthy of a "pure" intellectual, what your response might have been to the 1944 Normandy invasion -- who else would have been offended besides you?

But your well-intentioned endeavors raise the question of thinking itself, and its relation to politics. Your spiritual colleague Julien Benda nicely avoids a key issue that has plagued humankind ever since Plato put Socrates into text and memory. How can intellectuals deal with evil without engaging in politics? Besides finger-pointing and chastising ad nauseam such patented aggressors as the aforementioned Nazis, and imperial Romans and Japanese and Americans and French and English and Spanish, what do you stand for that does not compromise you, and us, in sanctimonious passivity or potentially mistaken aggression?

In your bio at the Swans site, you have thoughtfully added to your credentials your allegiance to Herman Hesse's prescription, "Only the ideas that we really live have any value." Does that allegiance encourage participation not only in wars of liberation, à la Frantz Fanon, but in the subsequent elimination of any class reminiscent of the old order, Croats and Muslims vis-à-vis Serbian nationalists, capitalists and middle-class families vis-à-vis socialist regimes from post-Czarist Russia to Cuba, Vietnam and today Venezuela, and anybody in Zimbabwe vis-à-vis its present murderous regime?

Is there, within Hesse's noble creed, any wriggle room and tolerance for those who discover they are only human such as you, with your sad take on Serbia? Is the final role of so-called intellectuals only to scold everyone who fails to express themselves exactly as you think they should? That is a tragic failure of both mind and imagination.

Steven Greenia
Río Piedras, San Juan, Puerto Rico - January 5, 2009
Gilles d'Aymery responds:

Serbs did not commit any genocide, whatever the story goes. Milosevic was no Hitler and I am not Faurisson.

Intellectuals make poor politicians (cf. Havel, for example), but should not shy from being engaged politically, at least as companions de route.

I do not consider myself an "intellectual" according to your undefined "definition" and have engaged in political activism (cf. my support for Ralph Nader) within the limits that my legal status allows in the USA.

Fanon is a must-read for all concerned with liberation movements. Benda, if I am permitted an intellectual opinion, ought to be emulated and revered as much as a Spinoza.

Thank you for your comments.


A Nonpareil has left us: Charles Marowitz's Harold Pinter: 1930 - 2008

To the Editor:

I read Charles Marowitz on Harold Pinter with interest. Nothing beats the insights that personal contact with a great writer brings. The British media were benevolent in their obituary comments. They agreed that Pinter was the best UK playwright of the century. But they devoted most of their space to his political remarks, which permitted the spicy shortcuts that journalists love. After all it takes time and thought to go through the plays.

Marowitz points out that Pinter's politics were deep in the plays from the beginning. Pinter's surface political views changed abruptly during his career. He'd voted for Margaret Thatcher and then Tony Blair, but lately told George Galloway, the Respect leader, "I'm right behind you."

Pinter's anti-Americanism was fundamental. It went down well in the U.K. today where most shades of opinion find the Bush administration repugnant. But for Pinter I think it went deeper than the last twenty years. He seems to have shared the prevalent popular feeling in the U.K. that dates from WWII: "The Yanks are taking everything over." It was an ex-imperialist lament against an imperialism that didn't spare cultural products.

Letter writers to The Guardian of December 30 raised important points. One asked why the media only cited Pinter's criticism of US policies. He had been just as severe on Israel. The anti-Semitism he had experienced as an East-End Jew hadn't made him a Zionist but a consistent supporter of human rights everywhere. He was a vehement defender of the Palestinians. He was president of the campaign for Mordechai Vanunu, who was kidnapped for photographing Israel's nuclear facility at Dimona.

Commentators agreed that we wouldn't see another Harold Pinter. Actors don't work years in provincial repertory any more as he did. Nor do they much combine serious writing with acting and directing. A nonpareil has left us.

Peter Byrne
London, England - January 1, 2009


Corruption is a Way of Life in America

To the Editor:

Who is to blame?

As long as humans have been inhabiting the earth and up through modern times, those in power often engage in corrupt activities to acquire more power, influence and wealth.

Currently Illinois is in the news regarding the questionable actions and activities of its governor, which also has uncovered the fact of corruptive influences throughout the state legislature and others holding high positions.

Back in the 13 colonies corruption was prevalent in many forms. When the colonists were free of English rule they needed revenue to pay bills and provide public services. Lotteries became a method to generate government income. At one time all 13 original colonies established lotteries, usually more than one, to raise revenue. Playing the lottery became a civic responsibility. Proceeds from the lotteries helped establish some of the nation's earliest and most prestigious universities -- Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Princeton, and William and Mary. Lottery funds were also used to build churches and libraries. Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and George Washington were all prominent sponsors of specific lotteries for public works projects. While the lotteries were beneficial to state governments, they were not without corruptive influences.

During the 1930s in New York, Governor Thomas E. Dewey is said to have engaged in questionable, illegal, and corrupt activities with some of the known criminals of the time, e.g., Mafia leader "Lucky" Luciano and "Bumpy" Johnson who ran numbers in Harlem. In fact many believe that Dewey secretly worked with Luciano to eliminate public enemy "Dutch" Schultz. After Schultz was assassinated by a Mafia hit-man, Dewey then went after and convicted Luciano, developed a campaign against organized crime, and became known as the "Gangbuster." Dewey had become a Federal prosecutor and achieved many good things to make America freer of crime syndicates.

During the past decade, the George W. Bush administration and a misguided Congress have been involved in questionable actions and corruptive activities, which include providing various corporations, e.g., Halliburton with lucrative contracts in Iraq without implementing any fair bidding criteria. Greed catapulted the management of our nation as well as the activities and intent of the financial sector (banks, loan companies and Wall Street) who provided easy credit to Americans while US lawmakers looked the other way as "deregulation" became the latest "battle cry" for opportunistic entrepreneurs out to make endless profits at a huge cost to hard-working Americans. Corporations and our Congress took the meaning of government lassaiz-faire to a new level of corruption.

Several months ago (September, 2008) the downfall of American markets and capitalism reached its tragic plateau when Wall Street plummeted, financial companies considered bankruptcy, home foreclosures reached record highs, and the American auto industry "screeched to a halt" and all looked to the government for a socialist bailout as a fix for their financial woes.

American businesses showed taxpayers that they wanted a hands-off capitalistic approach from government when things were going well, yet with the same aggressive spirit demanded government "bailouts" when times became hard.

Hard-working taxpayers became hardly-working Americans, who were left on their own by a government who preferred and desired to provide billions of tax dollars to the greedy corporate and industrial profiteers who had already reaped huge profits during the good times.

Currently, the US Congress still considers a top-down approach to boost the American economy, when in fact, it is a bottom-up relief approach that is needed to catalyze the American economy. Fortunately, president-elect Obama publicly has called for the latter approach in an effort to provide new jobs via a public works proposal to rebuild our infrastructures, along with providing some relief to the financial sector and auto industry.

A case may be made that corruptive influences are at the root of our financial dilemma and governing problems and that on many levels those same forces still manage the direction of our nation. Unfortunately, one thing is certain. Corruption has been and will remain a way of life in America.

Peter Stern
Driftwood, Texas, USA - December 29, 2008


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Published January 12, 2009
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