Originally published 08/08/2013
John Lancaster is a British journalist.There are years whose impact on human history is apparent to everyone at the time—1776, say, or 1945, or 2001—and then there are years whose significance seems to grow in retrospect, as it becomes clear that the consequences of certain events are still being felt decades later. Everyone who was an adult in 1989 knew straight away that the fall of the Berlin Wall was a momentous event. What, though, if those events were contingent on things that had happened in another, even more momentous year? Christian Caryl’s book “Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century” (Basic) asks the question, What if the really important year in recent history was 1979?
Originally published 07/31/2013
Paul Kramer is an associate professor of history at Vanderbilt University and the author of “The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States and the Philippines” (University of North Carolina Press, 2006). He also wrote the article “The Water Cure,” which ran in the February 28, 2008, issue of the magazine.It was 1935, and the Guantánamo naval base had to go. So declared an American commission stocked with foreign-policy experts: the United States was pursuing less antagonistic relations with its southern neighbors, and an American base on Cuban soil, anchored by a lease without an end date, looked increasingly like an “anomaly.” Weren’t there enough defensible harbors on the United States’ own Gulf Coast, or on Puerto Rico? The commission wrote that the U.S. government should “seriously consider whether the retention of Guantánamo will not cost more in political misunderstanding than it is worth in military strategy.”
Originally published 06/15/2013
Jim Cullen: Review of George Packer's "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013)
Coming in at over 400 hefty pages, The Unwinding offers a granular, empirical confirmation, at the level of lived experience, of what many of us experience as the defining perception of our time. And that is that we are moving backward, that the hard-won gains of the welfare state -- a story whose lineaments Richard Hofstadter sketched in The Age of Reform (1955) and whose trajectory extended into the Great Society -- are unraveling at an accelerating rate.
Originally published 05/21/2013
George Packer, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is the author, most recently, of “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.”THE Roaring ’20s was the decade when modern celebrity was invented in America. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” is full of magazine spreads of tennis players and socialites, popular song lyrics, movie stars, paparazzi, gangsters and sports scandals — machine-made by technology, advertising and public relations. Gatsby, a mysterious bootlegger who makes a meteoric ascent from Midwestern obscurity to the palatial splendor of West Egg, exemplifies one part of the celebrity code: it’s inherently illicit. Fitzgerald intuited that, with the old restraining deities of the 19th century dead and his generation’s faith in man shaken by World War I, celebrities were the new household gods.
Originally published 04/23/2013
Alexander Nazaryan is on the editorial board of the New York Daily News, where he edits the Page Views book blog.At the beginning of “The Cossacks,” Leo Tolstoy’s early novel about imperial Russia’s military campaign in the Caucasus, the protagonist Olenin muses about the battles to come: “All his dreams about the future were connected with… Circassian maids, mountains, precipices, fearsome torrents and dangers.” He imagines, with predictable vigor, “killing and subduing a countless number of mountaineers.” Much less predictably, he identifies himself with the Central Asian people he is being sent to subjugate: “He was himself one of the mountaineers, helping them to defend their independence against the Russians.”That subjugation of the Caucasus would continue for another two centuries, culminating in the two successive wars waged by Yeltsin and Putin. From somewhere within that region—it is not clear where, exactly—emerged the Tsarnaev family, immigrating (apparently) to the Boston area about a decade ago. On Monday, the two Tsarnaev brothers—Dzhokhar and Tamerlan—allegedly committed the first act of terror on American soil since 9/11.
Originally published 03/28/2013
Jill Lepore, a staff writer, has been contributing to The New Yorker since 2005.On November 13, 2001, George W. Bush, acting as President and Commander-in-Chief, signed a military order concerning the “Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism.” Under its provisions, suspected terrorists who are not citizens of the United States were to be “detained at an appropriate location designated by the Secretary of Defense.” If brought to trial, they were to be tried and sentenced by a military commission. No member of the commission need be a lawyer. The ordinary rules of military law would not apply. Nor would the laws of war. Nor, in any conventional sense, would the laws of the United States. In the language of the order, “It is not practicable to apply in military commissions under this order the principles of law and the rules of evidence generally recognized in the trial of criminal cases in the United States district courts.”
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