"Dirty War" and "Time's Up"

By Laura Miller and Suzy Hansen

By Letters to the Editor
Published February 8, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Read "Dirty War."

Laura Miller follows in the trend of New York literary critics who somehow think they have been suddenly, magically endowed with a thorough knowledge of military history and are therefore just as qualified to review books on that subject as they are to chatter about bad women's fiction. Her review of my "The Lessons of Terror" is riddled not only with references to statements made in the book that she can't PROVE wrong, but simply FEELS MUST be wrong, as if she is reviewing something as subjective as Lady Bushnell's latest tripe, but also with arrogant misstatements of actual facts: Japan, for example, was not reduced to surrender by either the bombing of its civilians or, finally, the atomic bombs; it had been reduced to fatal weakness by something that I'm sure Ms. Miller is utterly unaware of, one of the most underappreciated military campaigns in history: that of American submarines against Japanese naval and merchant shipping. But let's not let facts or a shaky grounding in history keep us from being a bitchy wise-ass -- THAT would get you thrown out of the club that meets at Michiko's to watch "Sex in the City" and spout a lot of nonsense about things they don't know.

Read the New York Observer review: At least it displays SOME knowledge of the SUBJECT, rather than just ATTITUDE.


-- Caleb Carr

I am very interested in reading "The Lessons of Terror," by Caleb Carr, but I have to admit I had problems with Laura Miller's review of it. Carr argues that the mass killings of civilians, in and out of warfare, is a bad thing. As a civilian, and as the mother, wife and daughter of civilians, I wholeheartedly agree with him. But Ms. Miller isn't sure. She states that "Islamist terrorists confront Americans with a choice between living under the constant threat of sudden violence and such alternatives as pulling U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia or ending aid to the secular government of Egypt, foreign policy commitments most Americans were probably unaware of to begin with."

Does Ms. Miller believe that if we gave into those demands that Islamist terrorists would say, "Gee, thanks, and sorry about the mess at the World Trade Center. We won't bother you anymore." Is that her interpretation of al-Qaida and their objectives? I guess she missed that "kill all Americans" comment bin Laden made or the way he has responded to weak responses by escalating the damage of his attacks. Oh, and that strong horse/weak horse comment. If Ms. Miller's grasp of the goals of Islamist terrorists is that weak, I'm not surprised that she has trouble understanding Mr. Carr's book. The question is not whether terrorism has "worked" in the past. The question is, what can we do to be sure that it doesn't "work" in the future? Fighting back is just one of many effective tactics. Appeasement and weak responses have been proven to be ineffective.

By the way, many Americans, including myself, were aware of our foreign policy commitments to Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Ms. Miller may find this hard to believe, but we are aware of what's going on in the world around us.

-- Mary Madigan

Read "Time's Up."

While I agree that the welfare system is designed to provide maximum humiliation with a minimum of benefits and understand that education is always a benefit, I have a conflict with allowing people on welfare to get a four-year degree.

I am a single parent with two children in college. I make $35,000 a year and have a net worth of about $100,000 due to an inheritance. That money is invested for my retirement so the kids won't have to take care of me in my old age. Both my children are full-time students who work 20-30 hours a week and will end up $20,000-$30,000 in debt after four years of college. As I understand it, this is a pretty average debt load for college graduates these days.

If students who work and go to school, and who have parents who can't afford to pay much toward their education, end up in debt, why should welfare recipients get a free education? Even with scholarships and jobs and grants, the packages that schools offer are not very good for people in the low-middle income range.

Maybe folks on welfare should get loans to finish school, too, or be placed with companies that will help them pay for school or train them on the job for better positions. Surely there must be a way for everyone to benefit. But while thousands of people like my children, who have worked since the age of 12 and always had full and/or part-time jobs from the age of 15, have to go into debt to get an education, I cannot sanction a free college education as a welfare benefit.

-- Kathleen Schultz

LynNell Hancock's view on welfare is horrible. She complained that it's hard to raise kids on small welfare checks. Excuse me, but who told those people to have children when they're not able to afford raising them! And when will Hancock address the fact that many poor people in America are that way because instead of studying while in high school, they cut class, caused trouble for the teachers and picked on students who did study? Hancock's views do nothing but encourage excuses for self-destructive behavior!

-- Fiz Parsons

I am a welfare recipient in Washington state and I would like to tell you that what LynNell Hancock writes about is bunk -- but I would be telling you a lie. She gave some statistics about welfare costing the government one percent of the budget, but she did not also say that the average stay on welfare was (before "welfare reform" at any rate) about two years. She is right to emphasize that poverty is something that needs to be addressed, not welfare, and though she did not say it outright, she implicates what most of us who are in need experience every day: that the poor are the most hated and discriminated people in this country.

What angers me is that corporate welfare is by far more than one percent. Would I be bold as to say it is more like 50 percent or more of our government's budget? Corporate welfare recipients do not have to account for every penny they receive. They are fawned over by the government and the press. Their CEOs are often handed the highest-paying jobs in the nation. Again and again, these same highly rewarded entities take the money and run to foreign countries, taking the jobs and industry with them after pocketing all the tax dollars and breaks they can get and often ruining the communities they leave behind. Didn't we support our elected officials who give these benefits to corporations because we thought (silly people!) that these same companies would employ our people and augment our communities? What have we seen again and again?

Welfare parents are told they will not be allowed an education or a break and they must work at the lowest paid jobs. These parents account for every penny that they receive from the government and it is required every month -- while holding down a job, trying to fix dinner and perhaps chasing a toddler (or a belligerent teenager) at the same time! The Enron- type CEOs of the world do not have to account for a quarter of what they have gotten. Would they want to muss up their Armani suits changing a diaper while doing the books? Would they want to be punished severely should they miss an appointment, leave a line blank or forget (much less shred) their documents? No, they don't, and cannot, do it. Unlike the welfare recipient, they have professional accountants who make more in a day than a welfare recipient makes in a year.

My suggestion for welfare reform is to subject corporate welfare recipients to the same treatment as the welfare recipient, or get corporations off the dole. (Do the math: a 50 percent cut in what our government doles out to them would make quite a dent in our budget.) Some examples of how they could be treated the same: Require that corporations account for every penny they receive just as welfare parents do. What else are they paying those high priced lawyers and accountants to do anyway besides cook the books? Also, whoever receives this corporate welfare, whether by tax reduction, grant or profit, then should be obligated to use that profit to provide so many jobs for Americans in American communities proportionate to the money received. Just like the welfare recipient, they should be penalized for whatever profit they gain by reducing the amount of benefits. Foremost, they should have to stand in line just like everyone else and face the same red-faced, angry, tenured government worker who does not feel that they are required to give caring, concerned service.

While few and far between, there are some concerned people in the welfare system who really understand and care about their clients. Quite sadly, they are often driven from this profession. Perhaps they cannot bear to see the damage it does to themselves, much less the clients they try so hard to serve. The ones who stay are often discredited and penalized for "not doing their jobs" well enough.

-- Catherine Sullivan

It's funny how liberals are trying to change the rules because they lost on welfare. They're expecting people to go from welfare to well-paying jobs. Nobody goes from high school to a well-paying job. It takes people five or six years of work to get to the point where they are making decent money. You are either going to spend that five years in college or on the job.

They want to change welfare to end poverty -- some unachievable goal to undo the reforms. Welfare reform isn't about ending poverty. It's about making everybody carry their own weight. It's about making people be responsible for their own actions. It's about fairness. If I don't make bad choices and I work my way up, I don't get any help. But if some women have a couple of children out of wedlock, you give them a free apartment, free food, free health care, the works. Also, liberals need to understand that welfare is a national system. Being on welfare in New York might really suck, but being on welfare in Blairs, Va., might be the same as being the average working person there. That's what pissed people off. If you don't work you should be struggling. You should be impoverished because you need to get your ass out and work like every other struggling person.

In this interview Hancock said we don't spend that much on welfare compare to other countries. That's why we have a higher standard of living than most countries: because we are not sitting around giving away a lot of free stuff to people. We allow 1 million immigrants to come here a year; those countries hardly let any immigrants come to their countries. People learn when they come to America, What you get is what you earn. It creates our culture's work ethic.

So, I will give some advice to Democrats. If you try to undo welfare reform, it will cost you in this year's elections. You will lose like you did in 1994. Clinton signed welfare reform because he wanted to get re-elected. It is a powerful issue because nothing pisses working class people off more than having to go to work everyday to make ends meet and have some person who sits on his ass all day and lives next door in Section 8 housing wave at them. In other words, they're living off others' hard-earned tax dollars. That feeling cuts across color lines -- black, white, Hispanic, any working person. That shit burns them up.

The Earned Income Tax Credit is starting to piss people off, too. Why does the government give people $4,000 refund checks on top of all of their tax dollars back? I see that pissed-off look on those bank tellers' faces during tax season. Some person who made $12,000 thinks they deserve a $5,000 refund check when they paid a max of $1,200 in taxes, if that much. My mother got the Earned Income Tax Credit when I was a kid, but I think the maximum was about $1,500. I can deal with $1,500 ... but $4,000? And liberals have the gall to say they want to repeal the tax cut.

The other reason for welfare reform is to make the children of those people realize that making the choices their parents did is not the way to go. They might study harder in school and not do drugs or get pregnant at a young age because the system will not be there to catch them.

My grandparents work on a farm. My parents didn't want to work on the farm, so they got jobs in factories. I didn't want to work in factories, so I went to college and became a computer programmer. My child might become a stockbroker because he might think that there's no money in computer programming, just like my parents felt there wasn't any money in farm work.

So some kid whose mother was on welfare and now is working a crappy job will say to himself, "I don't want to work that crappy job, so I better not make the same mistakes my mother made in her life."

-- Slover

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