Privilege and Sacrifice

September 15, 2021 at 7:09 pm (By Amba) (, )

Much of my time in Chicago has been spent rereading the journal and letters of my uncle,* Alan Gottlieb, who died in a Naval Air Force training accident in Vero Beach, Florida, in 1943, two months to the day before his 23rd birthday. (I had read them decades ago, but remembered only highlights.) My mom wants to include his voice in an appendix to her memoir, the very purpose of which is to gather the lost—including two suicides, whose names were never spoken again per Jewish tradition—back into the ongoing family.

Alan’s death has been handed down as a tragic accident and a noble, if wasteful, sacrifice. To my surprise, as I read his thoughts and his voice danced to life in me, I came to see it, instead, as both a totally routine budget item of war and a kind of heroic, quixotic suicide. I wrote in my journal about his.

I went through Alan’s journals almost word for word, inhabiting his lively voice and immersing myself in his living presence to the extent that I began to struggle in protest as I was pulled toward the inexorable falls of his fate, No! No! Don’t extinguish this light! but it already happened almost 80 years ago! Mom grieving it again as if it was something I accompanied and comforted her in rather than something I instigated (at her behest, to get Alan’s voice into the memoir). I typed out passages into the new computer, and there were things missing that I remembered: a kinesthetic description of standing on the pedals of a dive bomber during a run; a paradox about the “constructively destructive” use of his new skills in war. I rummaged in the disorganized files (so like mine) and found both, one among letters a girl friend (not girlfriend) had given his mother, the other on file cards typed out by Dad, perhaps the best saved of faded or damaged letters. (How did he do it?)

Two things became clear. One was that if Alan hadn’t died as and when he did, there’s a high chance he would’ve died as a dive bomber pilot working off a carrier, the role he was training for. Those guys were the next thing to kamikazes. Even dying in training as he did was commonplace; he’d lost several friends in crashes before his. I told David it was as if they (the masters of war) were just throwing handfuls of flesh into a spinning fan blade. . . . The second is that Alan chose this self-sacrificial role. If his death was in part the Navy’s fault, it was also his own. He was being groomed for leadership and could have saved himself for that role. Should he have? He would have been a liberal leading light, a Jewish Kennedy, surely a senator, maybe even the first Jewish president—he was WASPy-looking enough. 😜And, in the supremest of ironies, he might well have been assassinated. His loss was anyway an early falling spark in that arc that led us to this dark place.

It’s easy to fall into fantasies of “the best and the brightest,” to flatter oneself that the loss of a sensibility so gently reared, so cultivated and self-cultivated, was a bigger loss than the closing of any anonymous consciousness that never was incubated in the Ivy League or singled out by the spotlight of Eleanor Roosevelt’s attention. But that was exactly what Alan felt obliged to escape. He had an early sense of the injustice and also of the emasculation of “privilege.” He felt he had to put himself at physical risk both to purge himself of that and to stretch himself, to break out of that coddling and self-congratulatory confinement.

I can relate.

The biggest paradox of all for me is that *he could only be my uncle dead. If he had lived for however much longer, the world would have been shifted the millimeter or more it took for a different sperm to meet a different egg at a different time and place, and someone else would exist in my place—in all our places.

It might have been better that way. But this is what we’ve got.

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Berlinski Burrows into Iran

January 14, 2020 at 7:40 pm (By Amba) (, , , )

in its full complexity, which is less about us than we would like (and, insofar as it is about us, in ways we don’t like).

if the Iranian regime falls, it will not be because of Trump. It will be because it is a regime that’s capable of shooting a civilian airliner out of the sky and then trying to bulldoze the evidence. It will be because that regime is rotten to the core. 

If the regime survives, it will not be because of Trump, either. It will be because it is a regime capable of killing as many of its own citizens as it needs to quell these protests. 

As I write this, the news that the Iranian regime has opened fire on the protesters has come across the transom. That is not Trump’s fault—but this point does seem very hard for some to grasp. . . .

Unless we invade and occupy Iran, the future of that regime is in Iranian hands, not ours. 

Read to the end if you have some notion of how to apportion the “blame” for Iran’s enlargement of power between Obama and Trump. Clue: Berlinski says “If you deplore one but not the other, partisanship has taken over your frontal lobe.” But what has ultimately empowered Iran is the wars in Iraq and Syria.

The bottom line:

The issue is not Obama versus Trump, Democrats versus Republicans. It is that we wish for things that cannot both be true. We don’t want to be at war, but we don’t want the world to be overrun by hostile and despotic regimes. We don’t want to go to war to prevent Iran from acquiring the Bomb, but we don’t want Iran to acquire the Bomb. We want to scare Iran. But we don’t want to be scared.

We busily project half of our incompatible desires onto the other political party, rather than acknowledging that our own desires are in conflict. Meanwhile, no one mentions that we have no recognizable strategy for anything and haven’t had one since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Iran: This Isn’t Over.

January 8, 2020 at 6:16 pm (By Amba) (, , )

“President Trump said in a White House address Iranian strikes resulted in no casualties and Iran now ‘appears to be standing down.'” ~ Axios

Just a guess:

Iran, unlike Trump, is focused on results, not optics. And they can wait. They announced that they would take the high road and retaliate proportionately and lawfully on an appropriate, military target. They then immediately launched a strike that proved ineffectual.

That was way too easy. It looked phony, diversionary, like a decoy.

Looking humbled now is good cover if you’re dealing with a fool like Trump plus a whole lot of Americans indulging in wishful thinking about American invincibility. It isn’t even that wily.

Watch them strike hard just pre-election and cut him off at the legs. (Despite the tingle of Schadenfreude, this is not something to look forward to or exult in. Many people will die. So I hope I’m wrong.)

And with that: off to the laundromat. Life goes on, until it doesn’t.

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Doggie Wag

January 3, 2020 at 10:03 pm (By Amba) (, )

In regard to the conversation Tom Strong and I were having in the comments of an earlier post, Peter Nicholas wrote in The Atlantic:

Typically, when the U.S. is threatened—as the Trump administration says it was with an “imminent” Soleimani-planned attack—voters have tended to stand behind the president. George W. Bush’s approval rating jumped about 40 points, reaching 90 percent, in the days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, according to Gallup. (The good feeling didn’t last: As Bush’s Iraq War soured, so did his approval rating, though he won a second term.) His father, George H. W. Bush, enjoyed 74 percent approval in 1990 after he sent troops to the Middle East following the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. (Two years later, Bush lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton.)

Trump, though, is a unique case. His approval rating has never cracked 50 percent in Gallup surveys, and experts on the presidency have rated him the most polarizing chief executive in history. Trump’s handling of the crisis will test the reflexive loyalty Americans show in such fraught times. It’s not at all clear that, outside of Trump’s base, people will trust his motivations, especially when he’s under serious political pressure. He is up for reelection in November, and he’s facing a potential impeachment trial in the Senate. Tweets he sent out years ago show that he’s well aware a president’s popularity spikes in wartime: In 2011, a year before Obama won reelection, Trump claimed, “In order to get elected, Obama will start a war with Iran.”

Trump’s critics suspect that he’s inflaming tensions with Iran to suit his own needs, deliberate preparation be damned. They see a “wag the dog” scenario—the term for presidents who manufacture overseas crises to divert attention from embarrassments at home.

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Love in the valley of the shadow

January 3, 2020 at 7:57 pm (By Amba) (, , )

Prisoners in Auschwitz who both survived by obtaining privileged positions (which she, at least, used to covertly help others), they were lovers in the camp. (The ordinary camp inmate was far beyond caring. Even in the less uniformly fatal Gulag, Jacques told me, the Russians said, “Zhit’ buditsh, no debat’ nye zakhochesh. You’ll live, but you won’t want to fuck.”) He was 17, she was 25; she taught him everything. They promised to meet when it was over if they made it. Shrewd survivors to the end, they both escaped Nazi death marches in the last throes of the war. He stood her up in Warsaw; years later, both of them married to others, she stood him up in New York. She was 98, bedridden, hearing- and sight-impaired, when they were at last reunited. And got to tell each other . . . well, read the story

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