James Fallows

James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, is the author of China Airborne. His book National Defense won the American Book Award for nonfiction.

Recent Articles

Goodbye, Petraeus

The general’s gone, but a new book on his big idea is essential for the coming defense debates.

AP Photo/Christopher Berkey
AP Photo/Christopher Berkey Fred Kaplan’s book is newsworthy, but not in the way you might assume. Kaplan’s years of research and writing for The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War had evidently come to their end shortly before November 9 of last year. On that date, Kaplan’s title character, the retired four-star general and national hero who had been renowned for his advocacy and management of the 2007 troop surge in Iraq and dreamed of by many Republicans as an eventual presidential candidate, resigned as CIA director after the revelation of his affair with a much younger former Army officer, Paula Broadwell. Kaplan alludes to the sudden, shocking collapse of the omni-competent, hyper-disciplined “mystique that had shrouded David Petraeus for nearly a decade” only in a page-long postscript to the book. In it he half-convincingly argues that although the affair took the military and political worlds by surprise, it should be seen as just one...

Technology We Hate

Technology is driving the big changes in society faster now than at any time since the decade after World War II. Back then, a raft of discoveries--atomic power, jet transportation and rocketry, television, mass immunization, and early steps toward reliable birth control--had enormous political, cultural, and demographic impact around the world. Now, there are two main drivers: information technology in all its aspects, from chip design to the Internet, and rapid discoveries about cell function and genetic structure, which a decade from now may well make the computer revolution look tame by comparison. Because such changes, like their counterparts in other ages (steam power, movable type), really do affect life on the large scale, it is natural to discuss them in sweeping world-historic terms. But technology also matters on an immediate, personal level, depending on how well it suits the patterns of an enjoyable, productive life. ...

Can the Net Govern Itself?

I t is easy to make fun of the Internet's current culture of free-lunch libertarianism. Its leaders don't want to be taxed, regulated, or trammeled in any way--meanwhile taking for granted that they can run to the sheriff when threatened by copyright pirates or local toughs like Microsoft. But the question of Net regulation has become more genuinely interesting than many people would have foreseen. In its pose of resistance to the State, the Net has evolved informal solutions to problems that, unsolved, might have invited regulation. Elsewhere in this issue, Paul Starr talks about the economically "inexplicable" behavior of people who spend time and money putting information online [see "The Electronic Commons," page 30], ultimately for no reason other than the hope that someone else will look at it. In Hyde Park this desire to be heard just becomes a nuisance, but the limitless capacity of the Net has allowed the creation of a new sphere of public discussion we would never have...

But Is It Journalism?

The Internet has changed commerce more than it has changed anything else, but it is having its effects on journalism too. At first the predictions of its likely impact on the news business were either mindlessly rosy-limitless information on all subjects for all people at all times-or cumulatively grim. This would be yet another attack on the economic base of newspapers and magazines. It would be another step toward a balkanized, niche-information environment, in which every little group chooses its own custom-tailored news supply. It would accelerate the convergence of the news, enter tainment, gossip, and pornography industries, making it easier for any random nut to inject founded or unfounded accusations into public discourse. It would be another sign, along with the rise of Jerry Springer and Rush Limbaugh, that "news" was whatever someone thought might draw a crowd. Clearly there are some aspects of the Net news age worth worrying about. For at least three years, print magazines...

Up Against the Wall Street Journal

O n March 11, 1993, the Wall Street Journal published a long editorial-page article called "The Industrial Policy Hoax." It was by Karl Zinsmeister, a scholar associated with the American Enterprise Institute who in the past had written mainly about U.S. social policy. The article, which was a summary version of a much longer essay published in the Heritage Foundation's Policy Review , argued that Japanese industrial policy had utterly failed. Americans constantly fretted about Japan's industrial success and thought it could be traced to business-government interactions, Zinsmeister said. But a closer look at Japan's record would, in his view, tell quite a different story. Where the Japanese government had tried hardest to "guide" business, its guidance had mainly backfired and produced a series of costly failures. Where Japanese business had most spectacularly succeeded--with cars, electronic products, various high-tech goods--it had done so in spite of government interference, not...

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