If we leave Iraq, do we lose for good?

Readers weigh in: Bush loyalists, gun lovers, Bach and Bowie fans, soldiers and a poignant letter from the widow of an American lost in Iraq.

Topics: Blackwater,

Each third column will be devoted to my replies to reader letters, collected at this mailbox. This month’s selection of letters follows.

Dear Camille,

To those of you against the war in Iraq, here is what you do not understand: Iraq is but one battle in the 60-plus-year ideological struggle we call “the war on terror.” Do you really want to leave Iraq and wait for the enemy and ideology that dropped the World Trade Center to grow into a much stronger, deadlier and efficient killing force? Did you not understand or believe President Bush in his address to the nation on Sept. 20, 2001, when he said:

“Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but does not end there … This war will not be like other wars. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen … Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime … But the only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it, and destroy it where it grows … I ask for your … patience in what will be a long struggle.”

I consider myself an independent conservative who still thinks Bush & Cheney are much better than the last administration, if for no other reason than they are not adulterers and liars, and I believe character counts. Bush in my opinion is very honest, loyal, wise and walks with much integrity. He confounds his critics by doing what he says and saying what he does without wavering.

Bush did not steal the 2000 election! He won every time the votes were counted. History will show that the opposition tried to steal that election but failed. He did not lie about WMD in Iraq! His administration inherited an intelligence organization that made him believe WMD were being stockpiled in Iraq, along with a stated policy of regime change.

Bush is mature, acts responsibly and governs by doing what is right, living by the creed “the buck stops here.” The previous administration governed by polls and acted like “the buck never got here.” After 9/11, and with current knowledge of the day, had Bush not invaded Iraq, I believe he would have been acting as irresponsibly as the previous president.



I do not believe foreign policy under Bush has created more terrorists. On the contrary, it has revealed them.

I also think that a quick retreat from the Middle East would be the same as circling our wagons while waiting for 9/11-inspired attacks to continue here with greater and greater lethality by an enemy who will use WMD as soon as possible. Just try to imagine 9/11 with nukes.

If we choose defeat by giving up and retreating now, even if we are able to avoid attacks at home, we will be back in the Middle East within 10 years facing a much stronger and emboldened enemy with WMD at a cost to the United States in lives and resources hundreds of times higher than at present levels. Victory in the Middle East will be much less costly in a slow deliberate struggle over a long run and should be treated with the same patience that has kept us in Japan, Germany and Korea for more than 40 years.

James Randall

You make a very powerful statement about the crisis of terrorism facing Western culture. Too many of my fellow Democrats seem to underestimate the dangers and difficulties looming over the next century. Western values of individualism and free expression would be obliterated under the fundamentalist regime sought by militant jihadists.

When you say that we are in a “60-plus-year ideological struggle,” I assume you are thinking of the start of the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union, allies against Hitler, became bitter rivals for world influence in a nuclear arms race that cast a terrifying shadow on anyone who grew up (as I did) in the 1950s.

The Soviet Union, a mammoth entity, would eventually disintegrate because of its economic inefficiencies as well as its restless constellation of striving regions and ethnicities. I must confess I don’t see the logic in your conflating the ponderous bureaucratic labyrinth that was the Soviet Union with the small, agile, anarchic cells of terrorists who bedevil us now — and who in fact humiliatingly drove the Soviet Union out of mountainous Afghanistan.

Similarly, I don’t share your admiration of President Bush’s post-9/11 speech about terrorism. His warning to the world — “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” — may please the ear with its syntactical symmetries, but it reveals a shockingly simplistic reading of geopolitics and indeed of life itself.

Since when did any nation — even America, which I love — become the dictatorial arbiter of morality? On what authority did President Bush, imperfectly advised by incompetent or mendacious underlings, divide the human race into those with us or against us? Who are we to demand or enforce such exclusivity and privilege? Why should our own self-interest take priority over that of all others? This is hubris, the excessive pride that both the Hebrew Bible and Greek tragedy warned against.

I agree with you that the Republicans did not “steal” the 2000 presidential election from Al Gore, and that history will indeed show that the Florida controversy was preplanned and fomented by a cadre of Democratic partisans, above all that braying ass, Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida. It has always baffled me why Republicans failed to take a more aggressive stance toward rampant voting irregularities in big-city Democratic wards from coast to coast. That stuff has been par for the course for ages: We all know that John F. Kennedy (whom I campaigned for as an adolescent) won the White House by a slim margin thanks to Mayor Richard J. Daley’s hanky-panky in Chicago.

As for WMD, yes, there were certainly chemical weapons stockpiled after Iraq’s long war with Iran in the 1980s. But anyone could have predicted that those weapons would have seriously degraded over the following decade and that they could not have posed a threat to the continental United States. Condoleezza Rice’s sensational pre-invasion speculation about a “mushroom cloud” over an American city was putting the cart way, way before the horse. There was little evidence that Saddam Hussein, with his disintegrating infrastructure, was anywhere near being able to produce, much less deliver, nuclear weapons to targets outside his own dusty garden.

Yes, President Bush is unwavering in his policy. He proclaims it and sticks to it. You may be right that this is a noble proof of character, deep and resolute. On the other hand, it could also be a sign of rigidity and limitation. Strategy in war or football should be adaptive, constantly adjusting to changing circumstances. In my view, the president has shown terrible judgment in choosing advisors (from the vice president on down), who have not served him well. My lack of confidence in the president’s managerial ability is based on his weird reluctance to fire anyone, no matter how mediocre. This is not the trait of a strong, capable leader who claims to serve a higher cause.

You speak of my party wanting to “choose defeat,” while yours wants “victory.” Is that stark opposition truly our only choice? Or has your party painted itself into a rhetorical corner with its polarized talk of victory and defeat? Isn’t it possible that you have created a nightmare of words from which we cannot wake up? I don’t regard the prudent preservation of American lives and treasure as a “defeat” but rather as a sensible acknowledgment of the reality principle. Not all of our desires, hopes, and ideals can come to pass. That is the human condition.

You say that if we don’t stay and win in Iraq, we’ll be back there in 10 years. I think you might well be correct. The Iraq chaos, which we instrumentally helped foment, will probably spread and destabilize the entire Middle East — a momentum that has already begun. By removing that despicable autocrat, Saddam Hussein, we conveniently did Iran’s work. There’s no stopping the jockeying of power now — Iran eyeing Iraq’s Shiite territories; Turkey ready to smash the independence movement among Kurds (who have been playing the United States for a fool).

But next time around, we will hopefully have the support of other powers in the region, such as Saudi Arabia (a corruption-riddled regime with strong Bush ties), which can’t afford the implosion of Iraq. Meanwhile, the massacre of our hapless soldiers, along with the waste of billions of our tax dollars, must stop. There is no clear way to define “victory” in this folly — which tried to jump-start Western democracy in a country with none of our long traditions of civil law or free speech.

We need to rest our military and return our overextended National Guardsmen to their families. We must conserve our resources and rethink our global strategy against terrorism. Homeland security must be radically strengthened, above all at our ports. Emergency evacuation and relief plans for major cities such as New York are still pathetically rudimentary. We should take care of our own business before trying to run everyone else’s.

I feel very sorry for the Iraqis, who have been brutalized by decades of tyranny and strife. But quite frankly, as an opponent of the war, I feel no responsibility for them. They must resolve their own thousand-year history of sectarian violence. It’s their civil war: Let them fight it.

American troops out of Iraq now!

You wrote: “But do conservatives really see war as the ultimate solution? There are over a billion Muslims in the world. If the West is to win, it must be by art, culture and persuasion and not by the sword.”

We don’t see war as the ultimate solution, but you must admit that sometimes the sword is the only answer. My penchant for Klimt, taste for Miles Davis, and towering logic would not likely impress the type of man who hacked off Nick Berg’s head. But I think my M240 machine gun may help me deal with him and others of the sort.

I agree with your sober assessment of the Iraq invasion as the wrong move at the wrong time. I thought it was a good idea four years ago because I expected better, more flexible leadership from the Bush administration. Knowing what I know now, I see that it was folly. But the major part of their failure was in not accounting for the second- and third-order effects of the invasion. I feel those that call for a near-term withdrawal from Iraq make the same mistake. Yes, the war has fed anti-U.S. sentiment, and it has likely created many thousands of possible terrorists. But just because we walk away from Iraq doesn’t mean they’ll stop hating us. For better or worse, we must stay until that country is stable, peaceful and functioning under some sort of representative government.

It will likely take a few years for us to achieve some success against the insurgency and at least a few more for us to finally stabilize Iraq. Our presence may be required for another decade. It will be costly in lives and resources. But we can’t afford the alternative. If Afghanistan and Somalia became breeding grounds for terrorism after we ended our involvement, how much more virulent an enemy will be bred in a nation as vast, populous and accessible as Iraq? And what of the Iraqis themselves? Can we afford to leave 50 million people to their own devices after we shattered their society? Would you blame them if they all hated us forever after?

The war has been bungled by the Pentagon and the White House. But part of the bungling comes from their desire to avoid a prolonged conflict, understanding as they do the American need for a quick and easy solution to every problem. Inspiring leadership could address that need, but again, we obviously lack it at the moment. I think the Army now recognizes that this is a classic insurgency and we have to put more troops on the ground to defeat it. If we just stick around, if we refuse to blink (as one of your other respondents put it), we can and probably will win. For Iraqis, for the region and for the West, failure will be much more costly than another decade in Mesopotamia.

I enjoy your column immensely because you force me to answer tough questions about my ideas and you always offer sober-minded answers to your critics. Plus you’re usually damn entertaining!

Ryan A. Edwards
USMA Class of 1996
Iraq, Feb 2005-Apr 2006
Columbus, Ohio

Thank you very much for your thoughtful letter, and thank you above all for your service in Iraq. Whatever our diverse opinions on the wisdom of the Iraq incursion, all Americans owe a profound debt to the men and women who have volunteered to defend our liberty.

I certainly agree that force is absolutely necessary for dealing with bona fide terrorists. As a supporter of the death penalty, I would applaud the execution, in the field or after trial, of any and all committers of atrocities.

However, in calling for the persuasion of art and culture, I was speaking of the larger task before us: How do we convince the rising and future generations of young Muslims that the West is not the Great Satan that must be destroyed by any means necessary? There is no finite group of “bad guys” (the Bush administration’s juvenile term) who can be identified and obliterated. Many Muslims are cautious or wavering in their sympathies; let us beware of pushing ambivalence into open hostility. I could care less who does or does not hate us. The real issue is when hatred takes the next step into active terrorism.

I am less sanguine than you about the possibility of Iraq’s becoming, even over the next decade, “stable, peaceful and functioning under some sort of representative government.” There are too many genies out of the box. Aside from its shocking and insupportable costs, long-term American occupation of a Muslim nation is a grievous affront to billions around the world. Our presence there has ceased to have any rationale except to stave off a series of “what ifs” and to avoid the appearance of retreat. Hypotheticals and appearances: Are they worth the death of even one more American soldier?

Be glad our servicemen are willing to fight for your right to opine whatever you like.

People like you do not want the U.S. to win.

You probably love Karl Marx.

You are a left-winger.

Walter Dixon
Fairhope, Alabama

Yes, free speech is one of the great gifts of American culture. But I find it startling, given how much I have written about politics over the past 17 years, to be lumped into the vague, accusatory category of “people like you.”

Do you honestly see the world split down the middle, like a barbecued chicken, between those who want the United States to win and those who do not? Are there no historical examples of grievous political or military errors that you have pondered and weighed against current events?

Your assumption that those who oppose the Iraq war must be Marxists or radical leftists does grave disservice to American political dialogue. It is clearly based, in my case, on a doubtlessly blissful ignorance of my actual views. Though I voted for Ralph Nader in the 2000 election, I am a libertarian Democrat who has been regularly vilified by other Democrats because I think for myself and refuse to mouth the rote platitudes of the party line. Far from being a Marxist, I have praised capitalism for having produced the modern emancipated woman, among other things. Marx was an important political theorist, but the application of his ideas to living societies has been generally disastrous.

The automatic political stereotyping displayed in your letter has been rampant among both Republicans and Democrats for a decade. It inflames the process and produces paralysis in Congress. This strident partisanship has made many cable TV talk shows virtually unwatchable.

Some Democrats want to blame talk radio for this sorry development. But as a long-time fan of that medium, I beg to disagree. The major talk show hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, are dynamic personalities who balance attack and scorn with humor and creative improvisation. The mutterings among Democrat senators about a restoration of the Fairness Doctrine (to engineer political balance in broadcasting) should appall every defender of free speech. Talk radio is an art form like any other entertainment genre: Liberals must study and master it and build an audience from the bottom up.

My husband, Donald Neil, was killed on March 8 at an ammunition supply point outside Najaf. He was a private contractor who was over there destroying the tons of ammunition that Saddam bought with his oil revenues. This, apparently, was how Saddam bought respect in the outside world. My husband was one of the contractors being paid absurd amounts of money from the government treasury under the aegis of Halliburton.

My first comment on your column was simply, “How could any of these politicians have learned anything from the consequences of the Vietnam War?” Most every one of these political hacks was dodging the draft legally in order to (as it was so delicately phrased) “preserve their political viability.”

This was not colossal ineptitude but a deliberate, calculated move to enrich cronies. I don’t believe that it was Mr. Bush’s intent. I think he believed all that high-minded crap. It is pretty clear that thinking in tonalities and grappling with complex concepts is not one of Bush’s strong suits. The only one who was inept in this was the president.

Did you know that there are over 100,000 contractors in Iraq? While my husband was doing something that I honestly believe was good for world security, most of the contractors over there are either truck drivers or security personnel. Some of the truckers have started talking about how they were ordered to drive empty trucks across the desert in dangerous areas so that Halliburton could bill by the trip.

Blackwater Security (an octopus firm with deep roots in Republican Washington, which pretty much fields Bush’s mercenary army) is suing the survivors of the four contractors slaughtered and then dragged through the streets, to try to keep them from accessing the real story about what happened to their loved ones. I have not been told what really happened to my husband (we have two children).

But the fact is this was ALL about enriching the war profiteers, and I am sure (as it sounds like you are) that it was Dick Cheney who came up with the plan. And sold it to our dimwitted commander in chief as a holy crusade.

And the REAL reason that we cannot bring the troops home? Because they are the cheap labor protecting Halliburton’s gravy train. Think about it, and check Halliburton’s profits for the last five years. And the unholy grotesque disgrace in all of this? The fact that Halliburton has now moved its corporate headquarters offshore to avoid paying taxes on its obscene profits — a fair percentage of which will probably end up in Cheney’s blind trust. My question: Where is the “liberal media,” which ought to be all over this story? They could bring the troops home, win a Pulitzer Prize, and bring down the administration if someone would just put the pieces together like I have. This isn’t rocket science — it’s corruption so “in your face” it is sickening. Where is Woodward? Where is anybody?

Cynthia Neil

May I extend my condolences for the death of your husband. You and your family are certainly owed a full explanation of the circumstances surrounding that tragic event.

According to investigative journalist T. Christian Miller, who was interviewed last week on NPR, the number of private contractors in Iraq (180,000) has now exceeded that of American troops. He is the author of a devastating exposé, “Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq.” Though future historians will not paint a pretty picture of Halliburton, we should remember that the Clinton administration was hand in glove with it too.

I agree with you that President Bush was essentially well-motivated but staggeringly ill-advised in approving the invasion of Iraq. I think of Vice President Cheney (whom I loathe) as more of a rigid ideologue than a greedy tycoon, because he shows no signs whatever of sybaritic materialism. But your hard-hitting letter has made me reevaluate my position: Accumulation of wealth for its own sake may be Cheney’s strange perversion, one that Dante would have devised a special little torture for in his Inferno.

I sit in an undisclosed location in Nature’s furnace (the Middle East) and have noticed an utter lack of interest on the part of soldiers in learning the culture and language of the people here. Having learned Hebrew, Spanish and Greek to differing levels of fluency, it strikes me as odd that one of the world’s most diverse nation-states has some of the most linguistically ignorant citizens. Is my arrow off the mark, or have you noticed this as well?

Most befuddled,
T. Asher
Neutered Combat Soldier
Kuwait

I was most intrigued to receive your e-mail from the kuwait.swa.army.mil domain. It is dismaying but unsurprising to hear of the lack of cultural preparation or training of our troops in the Middle East. Ignorance and lack of curiosity do trickle down from the top in the Bush administration. While many of our soldiers have made great strides in winning the confidence of the population in relatively tranquil areas of Iraq, there has been less interest in dialogue elsewhere, because of the imminent risks. But that excuse won’t wash for those stationed in Kuwait.

You are quite right to lament the lack of language skills among the general American population. Europeans grow up hearing many languages because of geography: It’s a survival skill on a continent where nations are sometimes the size of one of our smaller states. Americans in border states generally acquire a facility with basic Spanish. Aside from that, English is king here (and perhaps properly so). As the current international lingua franca, English is automatically expected by surly American tourists abroad. Language instruction, as a discipline as well as a genuinely scholarly vehicle of multiculturalism, clearly needs to be expanded in American primary schools.

Daniel Helming, in his letter to you, claims that President Bush was “in an upwardly mobile Texas suburb only since high school.” George W. was born and raised in Midland, Texas (where I also grew up); he attended San Jacinto Junior High (which I also attended approximately 10 years later) and then moved to Houston and I believe a Houston prep school. His family has deep roots in Midland since George H.W. settled there and made his millions. George W.’s accent, attitudes and values are 100 percent authentically Midlander. It is a right-wing city and voted Republican when the rest of the state was staunchly Democratic. To me George W. exemplifies the men kicking back at the Midland Petroleum Club saying, “We gotta get rid of high taxes” and “Too many welfare queens” and “We gotta get the government off our backs.” He was a stealth candidate for these values, fooling many Americans into thinking he must be an East Coast patrician “moderate” like his dad. I know his type very well — the joking Texas frat rat with a mean streak who matures into a small-town country-club Republican with a mean streak. Except this one became president — and Washingtonians like David Broder still like him!

Tom Moody

I am most appreciative of your sharply observed survey of Midland sensibility and manner. As a native of pugnaciously independent upstate New York (a cosmos away from Manhattan), I am always fascinated by the intricate subtleties of American regionalism.

Subject: Media blackout on impeachment?

I would love to hear your thoughts about presidential and vice presidential impeachment. In spite of the multitude of impeachable offenses, including breaking actual laws like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the War Crimes Act of 1996, the U.N. Convention on Torture and the Geneva Conventions (treaties are “the law of the land” according to the Constitution), and constitutional abuses such as violating the presentment clause of the Constitution through signing statements, this impotent Congress remains terrified of the I-word. Meanwhile, the administration remains “disinclined” to comply with subpoenas.

Currently 79 towns and cities have passed impeachment resolutions, and 11 state Legislatures have considered such measures. A bill in Congress to impeach Cheney now has seven co-sponsors. And yet the mainstream media will not touch this subject. It’s as if they are taking Nancy Pelosi’s declaration that impeachment should be “off the table” for Congress to include them as well.

Lisa Moscatiello

While I would love to have Congress nail Dick Cheney to the wall (like one of his flea-bitten hunting trophies), I just don’t see convincing evidence of an impeachable offense by either him or George Bush. There’s an accumulation of gross improprieties, yes, but none of them thus far in my view would necessarily lead to conviction and ousting from office. Whether Democrats like it or not, Bush is a duly elected president and has considerable latitude (including pardons) in that role.

Beyond that, I think the impeachment scenario is a distracting fantasy that could end up losing the Democrats the next election. The public will not look favorably on Congress (already rock bottom in the polls) tying itself up in knots with endless investigations and show trials. Democrats should be focusing their energies on devising a winning campaign strategy for 2008. Obsessing on the past, particularly via the maddeningly quibbling trivialities that an army of lawyers would bring to this project, is a dead end.

I just read your article that included a slam against Newt Gingrich. I have been reading his ideas for about two years and don’t find anything erratic about him or his ideas. He is on a steady track to produce solutions for American problems. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t qualify as “seedy.” He returned legal money that was a book advance. Have there been any legal scandals connected to him? The only problem has been his girlfriend/wife situation. I don’t know the details, but it does go in the direction of tacky.

He is a very brilliant man who has a great way of looking at the problems in the USA. Please get over your liberal viewpoint and watch his June 8 speech on the American Enterprise Institute Web site.

Donald Salisbury

After he engineered the dazzling success of the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, Newt Gingrich began to drift. It was his fellow Republicans, not Democrats, who found his stewardship erratic. Gingrich talks a good line. In fact, that’s basically all he does — talk. Gingrich could not consolidate the Republican gains, and he was eventually demoted as a party leader. His lack of managerial skills and consistency would make him a poor choice as a presidential candidate.

Yes, there have been unsavory reports about Gingrich’s callous behavior toward his ex-wives, but that’s not why I called him seedy (a physical description of his damp look and shifty-eyed manner). After squirmingly watching and listening to him for years, I find him to be overall a depthless thinker, spewing out an endless stream of bright but disconnected “ideas” whose main function is to advertise his own putative brilliance. He’s showy and narcissistic, with a smirky adolescent precocity. I love eloquence but despise glibness — in politicians or professors.

However, if you find stimulation and value in Gingrich’s books and speeches, then nothing I say should dissuade you!

I was reading your article on Al Gore and thought you might enjoy a pic I Photoshopped a little while ago. It is on my Web site here.

Paul Atroshenko
Sydney, Australia

This is wonderful! I burst out laughing at the self-divinizing apotheosis of that egregiously pulpit-pounding, wannabe preacher, the Rev. Al Gore.

Subject: Al Gore Warm and Fuzzy
I am a nuclear engineer with 25 years’ experience in nuclear operations, design and calculations. I am very versed in atmospheric computer modeling (radio-nuclide release constituent decay and dispersal is one of my bailiwicks). Based on similar parameters found on Mars, I fully believe that the Earth is in a solar-induced warming trend.

I too felt that the rumbling for “run, Al, run” from the Democrats’ primary wonks is a reflection of the suspicion that their sanctified candidates have little chance of winning against the “I can nuke Iran in three notes” Republicans. I have seen the enticements for Big Al to run in everything from bar bathroom graffiti to the exalted Nobel Prize committee.

Now on to Al (financially convenient lies) Gore and his hijacking of an unresolved scientific problem for his own political purposes. I firmly believe that his folly (along with the U.N. stating that the science is settled) will, in the very near future, wipe the slate clean of left-wing candidates off of our dear departed mother Earth — most of them flattened by embarrassment and ridicule for perpetrating a hoax and attempting to gain further control of industry and hard-earned capital via CO2 penalties. Except of course in Kookville, where the bigger and more obvious the lie, the greater the glory. It’s very sad to see one of the parties in this two-party system making a fast exodus to that vicinity.

Let me now introduce you to the skewers that will likely slay the CO2 piglet running amok:

First up, there’s logic: 95 percent of the Earth’s greenhouse gases is that ethereal substance known as H2O. Peek out your window — you might be able to see a little bit of it. Without it, the Earth would be a balmy zero degrees F (ice skating galore). Of the remaining 5 percent greenhouse gases, 4.5 percent is attributed to CO2. Of this 4.5 percent, only 0.3 percent is caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels, mowing Al Gore’s lawn, belching, etc. The remaining 4.2 percent of CO2 emanates from the Earth itself. If 0.3 percent sounds insignificant, it’s because it is.

Faults in the convenient references: Al Gore (and the U.N.) exclusively use Antarctic ice-core data of ancient air bubbles supposedly trapping the precise amount of CO2 that existed then versus now. This data set has recently been shown to be flawed by experiments proving that those ancient air bubbles did not encapsulate the CO2 but allowed some of it to escape, thus making the data look as if modern CO2 readings are significantly higher (20 percent) than in the past. More reliable proxy indicators for CO2 such as ocean sediment do not show a significant increase due to human activities.

The onset of global cooling: As the word cycle suggests, there will be a downside to the Earth’s warming cycle. Most analysis indicates that in five years’ time the warming peak will be over and any left-wing environmentalists left standing will have to find a new donkey to ride into the wallets of industry.

Let me finish by saying that the prior and coming relegation of the Democrats to a kook fringe is in no one’s best interest. Although a conservative on defense and economics, I tend to be socially liberal and have an innate fear of a one-party state, even if that party is the one I usually vote for (I amaze my friends by telling them how I voted for Ed Rendell here in Pennsylvania).

Innocenzo Iannuzzi
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Bravo for your invigorating deconstruction of current propaganda! I too am very concerned about the potential damage to Democrat credibility coming from the grab-bag Gore crusade, with its wild exaggerations and hypocritical sanctimony. It does make liberals look like ditzes — the last thing the party needs in a presidential campaign where no-crap national security issues will be paramount. Environmentalism is of vital importance to our future, but it cannot be based on lies.

A quote from you in the London Sunday Times Online stunned me and rattled me to my core:

“The problem is not hunting guns but these semi-automatic weapons. He [the shooter at Virginia Tech] could not have cut down that many people so quickly or with such brutal efficiency without them. They have no use except for commandos, swat teams and paramilitary organizations.”

Dr. Paglia, semiautomatic weapons have been in use for over 100 years in self-defense, military and hunting arms (notice the order) in this country.

I counter that these weapons have as much legitimate use by the lawful citizen as they do by any authority figure. I will not challenge you on that. Theoretically, the narcissistic, petulant madman of Virginia Tech may have been less effective with a single-shot pistol in his carnage. You might be correct.

Would any of the victims of the attention-starved fool at Virginia Tech have been better served by total disarmament, good psychotherapy skills, a single-shot pistol or a Colt .45 with seven rounds in the gun and 14 more in spare magazines?

But I will counter. Will my wife, or my sister, or my daughter be viewed as more noble in your mind when six predators have decided to make her their quarry because she uses a single-shot, muzzle-loading pistol of the finest 18th-century technology to defend herself? Will her rape and annihilation by psychopaths make it OK, since she didn’t have the primitive audacity to defend herself with a Beretta M9 with a 16-round capacity?

She is not a commando, or a SWAT team member or paramilitary. Therefore her options for self-defense shall be limited to what was hip at the time of the hand-powered printing press, the messenger on horse, and sail ship?

As a rigid defender of ALL rights enumerated in the Constitution of the United States and Bill of Rights, I firmly disagree with your assessment. First, a law-abiding citizen should never have to be forced into a “fair fight” with a criminal. Those who choose to do violence on their brothers and sisters to make a quick buck or to satisfy a primal itch should be rewarded with the title of “most hazardous job” in the country. Should they be resisted by citizens armed with Glocks, SIGS, AR15s, SPAS 12s and HK 94s, [that] would show me a population preoccupied with the defense of its life and liberty.

Second, saying that effective self-defense is the purview of government is an abomination in the face of liberty. If commandos, SWAT and paramilitary organizations are to be the only carriers of modern arms, then suck in the fumes of child-flesh and CS gas from the inferno at Waco. That is the smell of a government with a monopoly of force and the belief that it can exercise it on any whim that strikes its fancy.

The idiot at Virginia Tech is an aberration. While he did his violence, 60 million to 120 million (depending on whose propaganda you buy) gun owners did NOTHING CRIMINAL that day, and I guarantee you that their collections of guns would make you blush. They tend to never do anything criminal at all. In fact, they have been known to use their arms, semiautomatics and all, to defend themselves and others from the will of the predators over 2 million times a year.

Dr. Paglia, I am a citizen of this country, first and foremost. I will always see it that I have a duty to provide for the protection of my family and myself, and that it is the government’s job to provide collective security. I will use every tool available to me to defend my life and liberty to their fullest extent. Be that a snub-nose .357, a two-by-four, a tire iron, or a crew-served 7.62x51mm machine gun — that is my choice.

If you think that private citizens bearing modern arms is an anachronism, look up the timeline of Reinhard Heydrich’s life. You tell me whether the commandos, SWAT and paramilitary of that day should have had the monopoly of effective force in Czechoslovakia.

What happened at Virginia Tech was despicable and outrageous. To think that to prevent it or anything like it means that moral women and men should give up their ability to resist these horrible acts, in some false hope that the lack of materiel changes the evil in some men’s hearts, is equally despicable and outrageous.

P.S. Re-read “Federalist 46.” James Madison — a lover of big government if there was one back then — lays it all out.

Scott Pacer
Waxhaw, N.C.

What an extraordinary manifesto! As so often over my years with Salon, I am deeply impressed yet again with the mental energy and power of argumentation possessed by gun-owning defenders of the Second Amendment.

I am very grateful for your learned input on this issue. I was certainly aware of the long history of automatic weapons, but it was my understanding (please correct me if I am wrong) that pre-modern versions were relatively unwieldy and of cannon or rifle dimensions. It is semiautomatic weapons of the hand-held pistol size that are plaguing our drug-infested inner cities and ending up in the clutches of lunatics like the Virginia Tech shooter.

Surely you don’t suggest, in reviewing the Virginia victims’ options, that all college students should be armed? For every rare instance where an assassin was foiled, there would be a thousand accidents or hothead duels, from the jostling cafeteria line to brawling keg parties. Ideally, college campuses should be gun-free zones, but as a non-gun-owning supporter of the Second Amendment, I also see the injustice in denying students their basic rights as citizens.

I’m a bit uneasy about the drama you postulate of your wife, sister, or daughter menaced by six psychopathic predators yet helpless without a high-tech automatic weapon. Is this a likely scenario in contemporary America? And would a person of either sex, trained or untrained, realistically be able to stop six determined attackers?

I heartily agree that Americans are constitutionally guaranteed the right to bear arms. And I also agree that the ever-present potential for tyranny was shown by the arbitrary intrusiveness of government power at Waco. But do we really want a nation wedded to suspicion and paranoia and armed to the teeth, with citizen at war with citizen? The American fixation on guns is an archaic vestige of the long-vanished Wild West. Surely it’s time for our patriotic symbolism to evolve.

You stated: “A recent caller to Sean Hannity’s radio show, hosted that day by WABC’s always lively Mark Simone, shockingly denied that Mormons are Christians. The implication was that evangelical Protestantism is absolute truth — which would also put Roman Catholicism beyond the pale.”

I don’t know what the caller said, but the assertion that excluding Mormons from Christianity would favor evangelical Protestantism and would put Roman Catholicism outside of Christianity as well would very much surprise the Vatican. You see, it was in fact the Vatican that told the rest of Christianity that Mormons are not Christian, and having had this brought to their attention, all the Protestant denominations that have considered the question have agreed.

It started out when the Vatican was asked whether the Mormon baptism rite was valid. If you are Protestant and convert to Catholicism, you are not re-baptized; your baptism is considered valid and you are considered a Christian. It’s just that you are (according to them) misled about some of the proper Christian doctrine and the nature and level of authority granted to the Roman Catholic Church. But Mormon baptism is considered invalid, and its adherents are not considered Christian.

The actual (and quite brief) ruling by Pope John Paul II in August 2001 is here, and a lengthy explanation of it is here.

The LDS [the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints] is officially considered a non-Christian “cult” by the Roman Catholic Church. Since then, several other denominations have taken up the question and have agreed with the RCC. In fact, I have not found any denomination that does consider Mormons to be Christian. You need to do your homework here.

Ronald Fox
Willow Springs, Ill.

Many thanks to you and to the other Salon readers who sent detailed, indignant letters about Mormonism. It is true that I am perhaps excessively hypersensitive (given that I’m a professed atheist) to the arrogation to themselves by evangelical Protestants of the term “Christian.”

Whatever the official ruling of the Vatican, however, it is in my view absurd to deny that Mormonism, despite the mythic claims of its founder, is a historical branch of Christianity. Assertions that belief in the divinity of Christ is a priori definitional of Christianity simply replay the theological disputes of the Middle Ages, when losers in the heresy wars were burned at the stake.

In the map of world religions, Mormonism is indisputably a subset of Christianity. It is perhaps futile to appeal to believers to overlook doctrinal differences, so I’m scarcely optimistic about convincing anyone. But my passionate interest in and commitment to religious study (which I have long argued should be integrated into primary and secondary education) is on the record. One example is my essay, “Religion and the Arts in America” (a lecture I gave at Colorado College in February), which has just been published by Arion and should be posted on its Web site by next week.

I feel compelled to write in response to the Salon reader who disparaged the Metropolitan Museum of Art in your April 10 column, questioning whether the museum has been sanitized due to the lack of visible, Viagra-like erections in the Greek and Roman galleries. Your reader, as well as anyone visiting New York, would do well to visit the recently reopened Greek and Roman galleries. There are plenty of butts, penises and breasts on display and, yes, even a few erections on the Greek vases in the upstairs gallery.

The renovation of the galleries has been an ongoing affair that was begun in 1990, and the results are well worth the wait. The space is truly a great addition to the museum and to the arts and culture of New York City. It is really more of a reinstallation, rather than a renovation, as the galleries were originally located in the space but were broken up and moved to make way for the museum’s restaurant and some offices in the 1950s. Many of the pieces on display have been in storage since the 1950s, when classical art was not in vogue and not seen as a priority. Plus there was some sort of a backlash against promoting the art of the Roman empire, as it mirrored too closely the recent wartime events. Art and politics — but classicism always makes a comeback.

As a native New Yorker, I regularly attend the Met, and the admission fee is suggested — which means you may pay what you wish. This is truly unique among New York institutions, as it makes the museum accessible to anyone regardless of their income. Don’t feel bullied into paying the full suggested amount — the Met is a very rich institution; let the tourists be suckered into it. So I am happy to report that the Met is alive and well, and not censoring itself for the sake of middle American tourists.

As a bit of a culture vulture, on the same day that I visited the Met, I had also visited some contemporary art galleries down in Chelsea. While there definitely are contemporary artists who are making engaging and interesting work, so much of what is on display in the Chelsea scene seems very sophomoric and immature.

I just have this feeling that not much of what is being produced today, or being promoted by galleries in the inflated art market, has very much staying power, in contrast to the classical art at the Met. But then again, Warhol — one of my heroes as well — was not exactly embraced with open arms when he first appeared on the scene, and is now viewed as one of the greatest American artists. I guess time will tell with regard to today’s contemporary art.

The one thing that I can say, though, is that what seems to be the major problem in contemporary art is that a lot of the work is too intellectual. It is too elitist. Anyone can walk through those classical galleries and be moved by the sculptures on view — they speak not just to beauty but to the human condition, which hasn’t changed much since Greek and Roman times. Warhol is the same — even if you don’t think about his work intellectually, it still grabs you with its garish colors, or its banal pop imagery. I think too many artists today spend too much time thinking and not enough time just letting the work speak for itself, on some instinctual level. I am curious to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Thomas P. Fernez
New York

Thank you for this most reassuring report about the sexual candor of the Met’s new Greco-Roman galleries. I haven’t been able to get to New York to see them but hope to soon.

I empathize with your dispirited reaction to the tired gestures of so much contemporary art, which is enervated by its own self-consciousness. The chic Manhattan art world, riven with status anxiety, is certainly cut off from general human experience. Andy Warhol never lost his Pittsburgh working-class roots. Hence the sense of wonder and pleasure that infused his incandescent icons of movie stars.

For contemporary art to revive, it must shed its residual, shallow postmodernist ironies and re-embrace emotion and spirituality. I recommend that aspiring artists contemplate nature, study religious art, read poetry, and listen to grand opera, folk music, and classic rhythm and blues. Now kick out the jams!

Thanks for helping my regain some sanity. I just read your response on the death of Baudrillard, and I feel some liberation. I was once a student (both undergrad and grad) at the USC Film School focusing on media theory and criticism. I was on track to get a Ph.D. and pursue a career as a professor.

The problem was theory, which was steeped in poststructuralism. I felt like I was eating a giant marshmallow that never got any smaller. But most frustrating was the reverence for the marshmallow. Don’t question the marshmallow — revel in its bountiful love and grace. There is only one marshmallow, and its prophets are the French thinkers.

For the love of …

I took a master’s and left academia. I pursued writing and photography and eventually started making greeting cards. Now, the greeting card industry as a whole takes a lot of ribbing, mostly deserved. But anytime I’ve begun to denigrate my own position in culture, I comfort myself by thinking, “At least I’m not preaching that crap.”

I reject the marshmallow and all that goes with it.

Michael Caulder
Nuk-u-lur Greeting Cards

I can’t tell you how many confessional letters I’ve received like yours since I arrived on the scene with my first book in 1990. The teaching profession in the humanities has lost an entire generation of smart, imaginative young people who were driven away from graduate school because of its infestation by pointless, pretentious, Continental “theory.” What a disaster for American intellectual life!

Not much will change until the oppressors (my baby boom generation of trend-chasing p.c. faculty) retire over the next 10 to 15 years. Then perhaps young people can begin to breathe free and reclaim their own originality. Meanwhile, congratulations on finding your niche. As a veteran purchaser of greeting cards, I’m very happy that you’re there!

Was interested to see the Bach references in your last Salon column. Those antiquated (and now extremely unfashionable) recordings had a big influence on me as a teenager too.

One of the great things about being a Johann Sebastian Bach fan is that it seems possible, anytime, anywhere, to stumble on new masterpieces. For me, last year, it was BWV 50 & BWV 664. The first, with a St. Michael’s Day text from the book of Revelation, is music suitable for the capture of bin Laden, or a dragon-slaying.

The second, dating from around 1716, has an unearthly modernist feel to it, with an ending right out of the Two-Part Inventions. This sort of writing displays Bach in full genius mode, completely unlike any of his contemporaries.

2007 has been a banner year. For the first time, I have really been digging deep into the cantatas. The real gems in that selection were the opening choruses of BWV 34 and BVW 110. You will never find these pieces in a “greatest hits” Bach compilation, yet they are just as good as anything else in his repertoire.

In the last few weeks, I have enjoyed for the first time (ah, the joy of discovery!) the opening choruses of BWV 79 and BWV 127. The first takes the “Christian soldier” idea to the highest possible level. It has several Mozartean flourishes near the beginning, and the three-part fugato, which is pure operatic hustle and bustle, bears more than a passing resemblance to the overture of Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” a fact which I noticed while watching an episode of “Inspector Morse” last Saturday evening. “Things that make you go hmm.”

The opening of BWV 127 comes from an entirely different world. CPE Bach said his father had a strong predilection for the “serious, elaborate, and profound.” We have this here in spades. Beethoven never heard this piece, but I am sure he would have loved it. Indeed, the first instrumental section after the initial entry of the chorus sounds exactly like part of a “development section” of a Beethoven symphony, especially in this old-fashioned recording by Karl Richter. One of Beethoven’s struggles was a successful attempt to “get serious” after the sometimes excessive frivolity of the classical era. Bach never had to get serious.

The opening of BWV 127 is also important for other reasons. It is a chorale fantasia, where the chorale egg comes before the chicken, on a par with the two great fantasias from the St. Matthew Passion, and the dozen or so other Bach masterpieces in this genre.

These display Bach as Houdini, weighed down by the chains of a well-known — to the point of boredom — centuries-old melody. Around these melodies, which he cannot alter for the sake of mere convenience, Bach constructs the most elaborate and profound structure possible. Though he was a believer, innovation was a compelling artistic necessity. What will I find next?

Eric Fern

I am thrilled to be able to share your Bach discoveries with Salon readers through the magic of the Web. What a glorious river of sound!

My constant message to everyone is: Don’t passively wait for instruction from our flawed educational system. Take charge of your own cultivation and enlightenment. The world of great art waits out there for your exploration.

Unhappily, even my use of the term “great” is currently polemical. Greatness was thrown out the window when identity politics and poststructuralism invaded the university. Bach is one of the Dead White European Males who were demoted by campus theorists, whose approach to art is little more than sneering vandalism.

Like you, I fervently believe in “genius” (another discarded term). Of course, I’m Italian, and we’ve had so many of them!

How ’bout a shout out to David Bowie for inspiring what you called Madonna’s “brilliant facility for changing styles and personae”?

[Video link.]

[from this article:]

DAVID BOWIE AND BRIAN ENO (1995)

By Dominic Wells

David Bowie: Could I just ask you first, do you mind terribly if we also tape this? Just for our own usage.

Dominic Wells: So you can sample me and stick me on your next album?

DB: Actually, it is likely. I nearly sampled Camille Paglia on this album, but she never returned my calls! She kept sending messages through her assistant saying, ‘Is this really David Bowie, and if it is, is it important?’ (laughs), and I just gave up! So I replaced her line with me.

Brian Eno: Sounds pretty much like her.

Michael Erlinger

What a fabulous retrospective video of David Bowie’s peak period! My hair literally stood on end as I watched it, so eerily electrifying do I still find Bowie’s androgynous theatricality.

Bowie had an incalculable impact on me in the 1970s as I was writing “Sexual Personae,” which began as my doctoral dissertation at Yale. His “Aladdin Sane” album (1973) was the key motif of my madly hectic years as an annoyingly prankish, loud-mouthed Amazon feminist at Bennington College, my first teaching job. “Lady Grinning Soul,” a spooky song on that album, is a Romantic masterpiece in the dark artistic line of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I am skeptical about any influence of Bowie on Madonna, however. As a native of metropolitan Detroit, she was a product of the disco era of funk-flavored dance music. Her performance work has been a singular blend of Martha Graham modern and Bob Fosse jazz dancing. She definitely could have used some of Bowie’s avant-garde and futuristic flair. Also, Bowie is a cosmopolitan connoisseur, whereas Madonna’s studies of the arts, encouraged by her brother Christopher, have been erratic. She’s too hyperkinetic and impatient to focus on anything beyond extreme yoga.

I appreciate your flagging that cringe-making excerpt from the 1995 conversation between Bowie and Brian Eno. It alludes to one of the bigger screw-ups of my career as a public figure. Here are the facts.

One day in Philadelphia, I was contacted by my New York publisher: a call had been received claiming that David Bowie wanted my telephone number. I burst out laughing. “Oh, sure, David Bowie wants my phone number — that takes the cake!”

The mere idea seemed absolutely preposterous. In that period, when I was appearing on TV a lot (there were far more substantive shows than now — “Crossfire,” “CNN & Company,” etc.), I was constantly besieged with weird fan letters and calls as well as unwanted gifts. (I hate gifts!)

We tried to authenticate the call, but the replies seemed oddly ambiguous. What was abnormal was the wary-making request for my phone number. Surely it would have been more persuasive and professional for Bowie’s people to leave me his number. So nothing happened.

Long afterward, I learned that Bowie had wanted permission to use an excerpt from “Sexual Personae” on his new album. Of course I would have thrown myself on the floor and offered the obeisance of a fervent acolyte to him. If he was drawn to “Sexual Personae,” it is because he was rightly detecting his own massive influence on my thinking.

Bowie is a true genius of modern art.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Camille Paglia’s column appears on the second Wednesday of each month. Every third column is devoted to reader letters. Please send questions for her next letters column to this mailbox. Your name and town will be published unless you request anonymity.

Camille Paglia is the University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her most recent book is "Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World's Best Poems." You can write her at this address.

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