Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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Thanks for publishing C.J. Gall’s painfully funny, moving, and poetic “Leaving Shenandoah” [February 2013]. The ending is superb. It’s essays like this that make The Sun well worth the price of a subscription.
In The Elements of Style William Strunk and E.B. White warn against the use of unnecessary words. This struck me as I read Robert McGee’s essay “And Now, Our Son on His Violin” [February 2013] and came to the second-to-last paragraph, in which he uses the vacuous “of course” twice. Alert editing catches such slips in style. Coupled with the more serious copy-editing mistake for which editor Sy Safransky apologizes in the same issue, it makes me wonder if The Sun’s brightness is dimming.
That said, I still love the magazine, and I must acknowledge that McGee’s essay resonated with me, if sorely, because it reminded me of the times I proffered my unwilling son to play the piano for family and visitors. I drove him to lessons once a week from when he was seven till he graduated from high school. After he left home for college, he gave up playing.
Thank you for publishing Leslee Goodman’s interview with David Krieger on the threat of nuclear weapons [“Indefensible,” January 2013]. In the early 1960s I was a B-47 bombardier. We carried nuclear bombs, and my target was Vladivostok, Russia. My job was to kill every man, woman, and child in Vladivostok if so ordered.
Can you imagine that? I would have done it too. Worse, there are Americans today who have the same job, and they will do it if they’re commanded to do so.
The shame I feel now as an old man leads me to agree with Krieger that these weapons must be abolished.
As David Krieger points out, the U.S. has West Point, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy. In colleges we have the ROTC and military-recruitment offices. The government has the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the Pentagon. In the legislature there are armed-services committees and committees on veterans’ affairs.
But there is no Peace Academy. There is no Peace Department. There is no Peace Affairs Committee.
We hope for peace. We wish for peace. We pray for peace. But we seem incapable of pursuing it, except at the end of a rifle barrel.
Back in the 1960s, as an ex-Marine and Vietnam vet, I, too, was concerned about the prospect of nuclear war. The choice, as I saw it, was either to prance about carrying a sign that read “Ban the Bomb” or to find a way of containing the spread of communism without resorting to nuclear weapons.
The Cuban Missile Crisis had taught me that the worst thing we could have done would have been to back down from the Soviets and allow their nuclear arsenal to spread westward. What we needed was time. We needed a diversion while we sorted through the weapons and ideologies that had so suddenly been tossed onto the lap of humankind. Finally, in 1973, cooler heads did prevail, and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks began in earnest.
I admit there are some drawbacks to having nuclear weapons. For one thing, disagreements too often end in a stalemate. Had the British and the American colonists both had nuclear weapons back in 1776, we might still be a part of the Commonwealth.
On the other hand, the Cold War would probably have ended much more tragically were it not for nuclear weapons. There were about 60 million casualties during World War II. An all-out, conventionally fought World War III would likely have tripled those numbers. Moreover there’s a good chance we would have lost.
Krieger says, “We cannot indefinitely maintain a world of nuclear haves and have-nots.” Actually we can. Refusing to allow an arms inspection should be like refusing to take a breathalyzer test. There need to be serious consequences.
At some point in history, it would be nice if nuclear weapons were no longer necessary, but I suspect all other weapon systems would have to be reduced to near zero first.
Did it really make sense in the 1960s to risk destroying our world in order to contain communism? President John F. Kennedy didn’t think so. He feared a nuclear war. He secretly agreed to pull U.S. nuclear weapons out of Turkey in exchange for the Soviets pulling their weapons out of Cuba. Before that agreement was reached, the two sides came dangerously close to stumbling into a nuclear war, the casualties of which would have dwarfed the number of deaths in World War II. The truth is, though, that it didn’t matter if Soviet nuclear force spread westward. The Soviets could have done more than enough damage to us with long-range nuclear-armed missiles, just as we could have done damage to them without being at close range.
I’m pleased that James A. Herbert can “admit there are some drawbacks to having nuclear weapons.” It’s disappointing, though, that he doesn’t mention the capacity to destroy cities, countries, civilization, and the human species as among these. He mentions that if the British and the American colonists had possessed nuclear weapons in 1776, the U.S. might still be part of the Commonwealth. Another possibility is that both sides might have destroyed each other. It provides a false sense of confidence to believe that nuclear weapons prevent wars and violence. They hang over us with the constant threat of annihilation, a threat we ignore at our peril.
It is pure speculation that “the Cold War would probably have ended much more tragically were it not for nuclear weapons.” My position is that we have been incredibly fortunate nuclear weapons have not been used since World War II. That this good fortune will continue cannot be guaranteed or assumed. Humans are fallible, and nuclear deterrence is not foolproof. Although the number of nuclear weapons has come down from Cold War highs of seventy thousand, there are still some eighteen thousand in the world. The use of even a few hundred thermonuclear weapons could trigger an ice age on Earth, such as humans haven’t experienced for many millennia. No country, or small group of countries, has the right to put the future of complex life on the planet in danger. Each generation has a minimum responsibility to pass the world on intact to new generations. In the Nuclear Age, this means abolishing nuclear weapons before they abolish us.
Upon reading the title of “Why I Moved to the Country,” by Ruth L. Schwartz [January 2013], I thought the essay would be a simple description of the peace and quiet of rural life. And it is that. What I didn’t anticipate was how much pure feeling Schwartz would pack into a few pages. She describes perfectly her world in the city and her escape in the country, so that we understand why she loves both places.
I can relate to Ruth L. Schwartz’s sense of belonging to two worlds. My family and I uprooted ourselves from urban Seattle to move to rural Oregon, where we find the knowledge we gained in the city largely irrelevant to our surroundings. We no longer feel educated, since we have yet to become country people and acquire the skills that go with that.
It was not without fear that we took this leap. We are closer to animal predators here. Extreme weather takes away our modern amenities with some regularity. And we are baffled by the silence. But we love it.
I’ve never been very fond of infants, nor have I ever aspired to motherhood, but Heather Kirn Lanier’s essay about both, “Twelve Reasons to Cry” [January 2013], made me cry.
My first wife loved The Sun for its honesty. My second wife hated it because so many of the stories were depressing. After twenty years and the unraveling of both marriages, I continue to read it. This evening I read the January 2013 issue at a local cafe while recovering from an overdose of Christmas cheer. I can only hope the other patrons attributed my episodes of tearful sniffling to the cold weather.
Weeping — for joy or sorrow or both — seems to be my most frequent response to things that matter to me. What touches me is the consistent compassion in your magazine. It’s no accident that so many of your contributors are nurses, social workers, and counselors — people who have cared for the dying, fed the hungry, clothed the poor, and sheltered the abandoned — as well as those who have suffered life’s storms and learned humility.
I had only gotten to page three of my January 2013 issue of The Sun when I wanted to throw the magazine across the room. The editors squandered precious column inches in Correspondence on Joel Salatin’s response to readers’ letters. In a sometimes boorish tone he managed to sidestep all the important questions raised about his statements in the October 2012 issue [“Sowing Dissent,” interview by Tracy Frisch].
Animals are thinking, feeling beings, and Americans slaughter 10 billion of them every year — a practice that is nutritionally unnecessary and exacts a heavy toll on our planet. It deserves our deep moral consideration. I have yet to see The Sun pay an appropriate level of respect to this issue, but I hope I soon will.
Joel Salatin’s response to Adele Marshall and Joanne Ehret was disappointing. Antiquity diets may have “revolved around seafood, meat, and milk,” as Salatin says, but our planet is supporting many more people now. Much of the “soil-destroying and energy-consumptive tillage” of today is caused by the need to produce food for unnatural numbers of farm animals, who also require huge tracts of cleared land and release methane into our damaged atmosphere. All that grain grown to feed animals would be more wisely used to feed people.