Kill This Idea

To The Editors:

The article "Kill This Idea" by Jason Vest [TAP, May 7, 2001] is well intentioned but ill informed. To take the errors in order of appearance: The article states as an accepted fact that if the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had not assassinated Admiral Jean François Darlan in 1942, "the Allies never would have gotten a foothold in North Africa." In fact, the Allies were already well-established in North Africa when Darlan was killed, and most historians ascribe the assassination to French royalist followers of the Comte de Paris. OSS is not accused--or even mentioned--in Operation "Torch," the most recent French discussion of Darlan's assassination, by Michael Junot.

Vest writes that the CIA did not go in for assassination until John F. Kennedy, "obsessed with eliminating Castro," came to the White House. But there are indications that CIA operatives plotted to kill Chou En-lai in 1955 (see Brian Urquhart's Hammarskjold, page 121). In August 1960 (not, as Mr. Vest has it, in 1962), the CIA top leadership decided to kill Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, though Lumumba's actual murder in January 1961 was the work of his fellow countrymen, some of whom may have had CIA connections.

This murderous activity, including the project to assassinate Castro, predated the Kennedy administration. It was the Eisenhower administration that originated the anti-Castro plots and brought in gangsters to do the dirty deed. As the Church Committee reported in 1975, "In August 1960 the CIA took steps to enlist members of the criminal underworld with gambling syndicate contacts to aid in assassinating Castro" (page 74). In the same month, the CIA began work on Mr. Vest's "toxin-spiked cigars" (page 73). In October 1960, the CIA installed the assassin-designates, Sam Giancana and John Rosselli, in a Miami hotel and paid their bills (pages 76 and 85). All this took place months before Kennedy became president.

And if Kennedy was so "obsessed with eliminating Castro," why did he not seize on the Soviet installation of nuclear missiles as a heaven-sent pretext--one that would have been accepted around the world--to smash Castro forever? Instead he rejected the military action urged on him by most of his advisers. And why, if he was so obsessed, was he exploring a year later the possibility of normalizing relations with Castro's Cuba? Some obsession.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
New York, NY

Jason Vest Responds:

I did not state as accepted fact that the Allies would never have achieved a foothold in North Africa if the OSS hadn't assassinated Admiral Darlan. I said a convincing case could be made, and if Professor Schlesinger thinks the political situation in North Africa circa December 1942 lent itself to the Allies being well established, I'd beg to differ. While I defer to Professor Schlesinger's knowledge of the latest French offering on Darlan--which, he says, makes no mention of the OSS--I do think it bears noting that in mid-December 1942, OSS officers in Algiers were informed of a plot by the Comte de Paris's agents to assassinate Darlan and that the assassin belonged to an OSS-run commando unit whose chief was hastily transferred on the heels of the hit. (All of this is detailed in R. Harris Smith's OSS: The Secret History of America's First Central Intelligence Agency, a book that was characterized on its back cover as "a fascinating historical reconstruction of the OSS story." The endorsement is attributed to one Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.)

As for Lumumba, I can see how the reader could make an incorrect inference, and I should have noted that the murder occurred in 1961. I did not, however, say that the CIA plotted the hit in 1962, but reported Paul Sakwa's 1962 encounter with a CIA officer who reminisced about the plotting. As for Chou En-lai: There's a difference between overzealous agents having the brakes put on their operation by superiors (Lucian Truscott and Allen Dulles) and the fostering of an institutional mind-set by superiors (John and Robert Kennedy) that includes assassination--something Evan Thomas ably documents in The Very Best Men. As a result of pressure from both Kennedys, the CIA set up a compartmented unit devoted to Casto's neutralization; a month before JFK was assassinated, CIA officer Desmond FitzGerald--because of Bobby's browbeating--began plotting a new hit plan with Major Rolando Cubela (code name: "AMLASH"), who, ironically, received his weapon the day JFK was assassinated. Some obsession, indeed.

Doc Hollywood

To The Editors:s

As a nurse, I was excited to read "Doc Hollywood" by Suzanne Gordon and Bernice Buresh [May 21, 2001]. We all know there is a lot of inequality portrayed in medical shows these days, as well as a lot of inaccuracy. (Try finding a sink on ER--these people never wash their hands!) I want to praise the article for its positive and proactive stance on nurses. The authors may help us come into our own at a time when nursing is approaching a state of crisis. I just couldn't help but notice the irony of the only picture accompanying the piece--that of an actor playing a doctor!

Becki Kamm
Merritt Island, FL

The Working Caste

To The Editors:

In "The Working Caste" [May 7, 2001], Leah Platt makes a rather familiar statement: The demographic situation of industrialized countries is so dire that very large amounts of immigration from the less-developed world will be necessary in the near future to relieve the strain on social-insurance programs resulting from an aging and declining population.

I think this overlooks a few points. First, increased productivity should partly offset the declining ratio of working people to the elderly. Second, there will be a smaller number of children to support and educate. Third, we can adapt to the new demographic situation by concentrating work efforts on the satisfaction of human needs--which might result in less effort devoted to marketing, fashion, and speculation.

We may indeed need to learn new ways of behaving in a no-growth population and a no-growth economy. A first step for the United States might be to finance Social Security programs via taxation on income and wealth rather than just on wages and salaries.

Erwin W. Fellows
Zephyrhills, FL

Chiang Kai-shek Is Dead

To The Editors:

In reference to John B. Judis's "Chiang Kai-shek Is Dead" [April 23, 2001], I wish to refresh your historical memory about the fact that for 3,000 years Taiwan (Formosa) has been a part of China. It is really being separated from the People's Republic of China (PRC) by American national and political policy.

Where is our respect for historical justice? How would we feel if the Japanese had been successful in separating the Hawaiian Islands from us? The United States has a population of under 300 million, yet it dictates to the PRC, which has a population of more than one billion. What nonsense! The longer we prevent Taiwan from rejoining the mainland, the less peaceful the reunification will be.

Walter A. Tuchick
Montague, NJ

Oops, She Did It Again

To The Editors:

Thank you for Harvey Blume's thoughtful piece on Camille Paglia's bashing of the Brooklyn Museum of Art ["Oops, She Did It Again," April 23, 2001]. Despite her self-definition as an educator and media specialist, and despite the fact that most of her writing concerns political figures and is politically oriented, it's revealing that Paglia's work appears in Salon's People section.

One wonders: Is this because her screeching is so lacking in reasoned analysis that it's not fitting for Salon's Politics section, or is it simply because--as Mr. Blume suggests--Paglia is currently so wedded to her imagined status as the "people's person" herself?

Tony Paschall Via e-mail

When Baby Boomers Grow Old:

To The Editors:

Elizabeth Benedict's call to baby boomers to recognize the challenges they face as they grow older was commendable ["When Baby Boomers Grow Old," May 21, 2000]. However, she inadvertently misquoted me, in that far from regarding America growing older as a "gerontocracy," I see it as a major human achievement. After all, 80 percent of Americans will still be under 65. This is hardly a gerontocracy.

Robert N. Butler, M.C.
International Longevity Center

Elizabeth Benedict Responds:

Thank you for calling this error to my attention, and I apologize for my misunderstanding. After revisiting my notes, I realize I accidentally expressed the idea of a coming gerontocracy as your own unvarnished comment, rather than the misguided fear of others.

How the DLC Does It

To The Editors:

Thank you for a very well writen article that has opened my eyes to how futile it is to expect the Democratic Party to ever desert its' fat cat sponsorship instead of delivering political justice to tens of millions of voters who support the Party with their votes, labor and monetary contributions. We do not need two Republican Parties! I will think twice before I again give my money or vote to any candidate who is merely on the democratic ballot.

William A. Fortsch,
Bourbonnais, IL

Letters Policy

We welcome correspondence from our readers. Please send letters to The American Prospect, 5 Broad Street, Boston, MA 02109-2901; letters Letters without a postal return address will not be considered for publication.

To The Editors:

Your issue of April 23, 2001, was typical: illuminating, interesting, and diverse. An example of your commitment to diversity was the article by Robert Dreyfuss of the Democratic Leadership Council, which has been progressive only in moving the party progressively away from democracy (and Democracy, come to think of it). In his analysis of why Gore lost, he correctly blames the candidate and his campaign, but his cavalier dismissal of the vice-president's appeal to old-fashioned liberal values cannot overcome one key point. After his acceptance speech at the convention, Gore enjoyed probably his greatest popularity during the campaign. That was due not to his well-publicized buss of Tipper, but to the themes and message of his speech. Only when he began trimming his sails to appeal to Mr. Marshall and his ilk did Mr. Gore's numbers drop again, driving too many liberals to believe that he was too much like his bush-league opponent to justify their voting for him instead of Ralph Nader. If you want Democrats to remain loyal to and interested in a candidate, that candidate needs to stand for what the party is supposed to believe. Perhaps Mr. Marshall needs to read that biography of Tip O'Neill.

Michael Green
Professor of History
Community College of Southern Nevada
North Las Vegas, Nevada

To The Editors:

Peter Stone's May 7, 2001, review of three books on gun violence and the gun-control controversy ["Lethal Weapons"] applauds William J. Vizzard's assertion in Shots in theDark that opponents to the gun lobby must "repudiate prohibition as an objective, avoid rhetoric that demonizes gun owners, and avoid support for control objectives that do not further their avowed goals." Stone urges gun-control advocates to heed these "wise words" if they want a decent chance to get comprehensive gun controls. I agree, having adhered to such a standard during my 40 years of unrelenting advocacy of strict but equitable gun restrictions--including the 21 years I served as executive director of the National Council for a Responsible Firearms Policy, the organization that pioneered the national gun-control movement in 1967 but regrettably had to be dissolved in 1989.

Yet, the reviewer suprisingly sees "a strong case" in the contrary contention of Josh Sugarmann's book, Every Handgun Is Aimed at You, that gun-control advocates must set their sights on getting rid of handguns. No less dedicated to strict gun control (including handgun control per se), I strongly oppose such an objective. Besides being unrealistic, aiming for this objective has counterproductive implications for gun-control advocacy across the board--nurturing widely held suspicions among gun owners that additional controls are only incremental steps toward an ultimate, total ban. Gun-control advocates should pursue reasonable, realistic ways to address the manmade plague of gun violence, openly revealing all that they hope to achieve, and showing respect for the skills and other laudable credentials of law-abiding, responsible gun owners (handgun owners included).

David J. Steinberg
Alexandria, VA