This year August marked the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the end of the American war in the Pacific. Had I not been involved with Global Zero, an organization that works to eliminate nuclear weapons, I would likely have spent August 6th and 9th working at my summer job, socializing with friends on the patio of a brewery, or relaxing on the beach. Through my volunteer work with Global Zero, however, I had the opportunity to spend the beginning of August in Japan with a diverse group of students and scholars studying nuclear history and security. While millions of Americans were going about their daily lives, I walked streets that were incinerated seven decades ago and talked to people whose lives were forever altered by the tragedy of the bombings. Since returning from...
Eliminating Distance, Engaging with History
A Modest Proposal
Vice President, Marketing
410 Terry Avenue North
Seattle, Washington 98109
August 25, 2015
Dear Mr. Lindsay:
After reading the August 16th New York Times article about Amazon, I believe I have a lot of what your company desperately needs in an employee. I'm not just a talented and conscientious worker, I also have a soul. And a heart. And I empathize with people.
Which is why I am sending you my resume.
You see, I don't believe the workplace needs to be a test of the survival of the cruelest. I also don't think that just because we live in a competitive capitalist society this means...
Which Way the Wind Blows
On The Stanford Prison Experiment (Part Two)
(Back to Part One)
A cooper, traditionally, made barrels. Also casks, buckets, tubs, butter churns, hogsheads, firkins, tierces, rundlets, puncheons, pipes, tuns, butts, pins, and breakers. Yet cooperage doesn’t end there.
As the psychologist himself understands it, the central thesis of the 1971 Zimbardo study is precisely that the old saw about “bad apples” just doesn’t cut it. For Zimbardo, a former president of the American Psychological Association, evil is a product of “bad...
You Don't Need a Weatherman
On The Stanford Prison Experiment (Part One)
The trailer for the film dramatization of The Stanford Prison Experiment concludes with words from the actor Billy Crudup, who plays the psychologist Philip Zimbardo. We first see Zimbardo hang down his head, then the film’s title appears, and then there is a shot of a desk in a darkened room where the team of psychologists sat observing their experiment; a small video monitor sits on the desk, its screen filled with a group of five or more students, assigned to the role of either prisoner or guard. A voice-over entones: “I had no idea it would turn out this way.”
So how did it turn out? Any college student who took an introductory psychology course in the last forty-four years should be able to tell...
A Jewel with Vision
The frontispiece of Visions and Jewels, an autobiography published by Henry Holt in 1926, is a photograph of a bust of the author, Moysheh Oyved (1885-1958), created by his friend Jacob Epstein, the great twentieth-century sculptor. Oyved, unlike Epstein, has been almost completely forgotten, but his story and his works deserve to be lifted out of the darkness.
In late March 2014, in the discarded books section of the Recycling Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, my rescuer’s eye was caught by the spine of “Visions and Jewels”. Oyved was an author whose name I hadn’t encountered before, let alone read....
The Chief Occupation in War
Last June my wife and I spent a few days in Hony, a quaint Belgian town by the Ourthe River. A very good friend of mine recently moved there, and, knowing that we were at Maria’s mother in Bonn, he invited us to visit him. The trip from Bonn to Hony, which lasted two hours by train, was happily uneventful, except for my sense of Unheimlichkeit the moment we crossed the border between Germany and Belgium: in the fall term of 2014 I taught a course on Great War literature and cinema, and now I could not help thinking of the fateful German invasion of Belgium in August 1914. After a vision of the invading German troops, I pictured von Mannstein’s Panzer divisions smashing through the Ardennes in the spring of 1940.
Once in Hony, my friend and his Argentinian wife showed us around. They took us to Esneux, Liège, Leuven, and Bastogne. While we deliberately...
Small World Literature
Domenico Remps, "Cabinet of Curiosities" (1690s)
This is a small story about world literature.
In high school I was a bookish kid in a town with no bookstore. When I went to college the library immediately became the center of my life; I spent most of my undergraduate years reading my way through the social sciences. It was only in my final, empty semester that I began to flip through literary magazines, though I did not at that time foster any literary ambitions. I was working as a library assistant, and the periodicals room was one of the few places where I could divert myself with something that looked like honest work. Of the magazines on the racks, I was particularly impressed by Chicago Review, which published a mix of translations and dense, confident-sounding criticism. The people...
All cities, it seems safe to say, have their history written on—and by—their walls. In some places, though, the past is more present than elsewhere. Paris, for instance. Earlier this week, I spent a night in the 12th arrondissement, near Porte Dorée, an area of the city I don’t know well. It’s not far from the Gare du Lyon, where I had arrived late that evening, and from where you only need to switch trains once, on a single platform, to get to the airport. Since I was flying home the following morning, with (as usual) more than my share of baggage, it made sense to stay nearby.
Just across from my hotel, the square sports a fountain topped by a golden statue of Athena. Originally created for the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition, its allegorical title was once “France bringing peace and prosperity to...
Because my father was a career Marine, I lived on military bases in Southern California, where during the war years between 1967 until sometime in 1970, I watched troops of new recruits assemble for embarkation to Vietnam. They were mustered at the LTA (‘Lighter-Than-Air’) Station in Tustin, CA, on which were two immense hangars full of helicopters—except on those occasions when the new troops were to be shipped out. At that particular time the helicopters were moved outside onto the landing strips, allowing room to bivouac the soldiers inside the empty hangers, where they were held under armed guard by the Marine Military Police to prevent them from deserting. The base was pretty tense, what with Marines holding guns on other Marines to force them into their overseas duty. Not the image of resolve one expects from our armed forces.
Editor's Note. On May 20, 2015, Erri De Luca appeared in a courtroom in Turin, as a witness in his own defense, to counter the charges brought against him by the Italian state for "instigating violence." De Luca's alleged offense was simply expressing his opinion during a 2013 phone interview with the Italian site of The Huffington Post. The writer has long supported the No TAV movement, an Italian resistance group opposing the construction of a high-speed train line between Turin and Lyon, a project that they see as unnecessary and as an ecological disaster. When queried by HuffPo about the then-recent arrest of two No TAV activists (who were allegedly carrying shears and other implements in their vehicle), Erri commented that "the TAV should be sabotaged. This is where shears have been useful: they’re good for cutting...