Ran across this book during my morning reading, and I think it needs to go on the “Books I’d like to read” page.  The author, Gabriel Schoenfeld, posted today over at Power Line.  An excerpt:

I am a New Yorker who was in Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. Like millions of others here, I saw the destruction wrought by al Qaeda firsthand, saw the dust-covered survivors trudging northward, breathed the smoke from the smoldering rubble and felt it sting my eyes. That afternoon, after the trek home to my family in Brooklyn, seven miles from ground zero, I found a layer of ash on my car. What was in the ash? Along with pulverized concrete, glass, and steel, did it contain the remains of firefighters and office workers turned to dust? That was just one of the many questions coursing through my brain on the evening of the day that war came to my city. I was again in Manhattan on March 11, 2004, the day that Islamic terrorists bombed the Madrid transit system, killing 191 people and maiming more than 1,700. And I was in Manhattan once again on July 7, 2005, when suicide bombers struck the London transit system, killing 52 and wounding hundreds. Like millions of others, I ride the New York City subways daily. So do two of my three daughters.

It was in light of this history and these circumstances, a personal history and personal circumstances in no way unique to me, that I was incensed by the publication in the New York Times of a series of stories in 2005 and 2006 compromising some of the secret counterterrorism programs that the U.S. government had initiated to avert a repetition of such terrible catastrophes. But along with outrage, I was intensely curious about the legal regime that permitted, or appeared to permit, this kind of tell-all-and-damn-the-consequences journalism. This book is an outgrowth of my impassioned curiosity.

I recall those stories, and I remember being outraged by them as well.  Necessary Secrets is officially on the “to read” list.

Just added: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.  Looks interesting; my knowledge of Bonhoeffer is, sadly, limited.  Read a review of this bio in the Wall Street Journal at lunch; here’s a portion:

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

Martyr

Since the 1960s, some of Bonhoeffer’s admirers have seized upon a phrase from one of his letters—”religionless Christianity”—to argue that he favored social action over theology. In fact, Bonhoeffer used the phrase to suggest the kind of ritualistic and over-intellectualized faith that had failed to prevent the rise of Hitler. It was precisely religionless Christianity that he worried about. After a 1939 visit to New York’s Riverside Church, a citadel of social-gospel liberalism, he wrote that he was stunned by the “self-indulgent” and “idolatrous religion” that he saw there. “I have no doubt at all that one day the storm will blow with full force on this religious hand-out,” he wrote, “if God himself is still anywhere on the scene.”

As the storms of hatred raged in Germany, Bonhoeffer moved beyond “confession”—that is, preaching and writing—and into rebellion. By the summer of 1940, he was recruited by Adm. Wilhelm Canaris and others as a double agent for their conspiracy against Hitler, an effort that operated out of the Abwehr (Nazi military intelligence). Henceforth he would pretend allegiance to the regime and pass along to the conspirators—whose goal was Hitler’s assassination—whatever intelligence he could gather. He depended on deception for his survival.

It was a bizarre role for a religious man, and a hitherto loyal German citizen, to play. As Mr. Metaxas notes: “For a pastor to be involved in a plot whose linchpin was the assassination of the head of state during a time of war, when brothers and sons and fathers were giving their lives for their country, was unthinkable.” And yet it became thinkable for Bonhoeffer precisely because his understanding of faith required more than adhering to tidy legalisms about truth-telling and nonviolence.

Tagged with:  

Unwinnable?

On November 20, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, War, by marc

Peter Braestrup’s Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington has been an interesting read so far.  The first chapter is a detailed description of exactly how many people were staffing press offices in Vietnam prior to 1968, and what their resources were.  In chapter two, we go from facts and figures into the story of Tet itself, and Braestrup makes this preliminary observation about reactions to the crisis:

Big Story by Peter Breastrup

Big Story by Peter Breastrup

…as it turned out, very few of the claims bade by “optimists” or “pessimists” concerning “progress” in Vietnam had much immediate relevance to the radically changed situation that followed the January 30-31 Tet attacks.  Perhaps out of shock, the Johnson Administration was to respond with caution and relative candor to the new situation; however, the press and TV, especially in commentary at home, were to hark back immediately to Johnson’s autumn progress campaign and cry, in effect, “Tet proved that you were all wrong and, thus, that the critics were right.”

This reaction lacked discernment.  The onset of the Tet offensive, per se, did not show that the war was winnable or unwinnable, worthwhile or not, moral or immoral.  By February 1968, one did not need Tet to make a judgement on these issues.  Tet showed that the enemy had scored a major surprise, and its ultimate effect was initially obscure.  It did not prove that either optimists or pessimists were right or wrong on the much-debated 1967 “facts,” except on two points.  First, Westmoreland was wrong in publicly underestimating (in November) the enemy.  Second, the media pessimists were wrong to write off South Vietnamese ability to fight and “muddle through with U.S. help.”  Americans did not know enough about Vietnam, North or South.

In a more fundamental, even ethical, sense, of course, the President was wrong both to launch the rose-colored progress campaign and to persist in it without warning the U.S. public of what he knew; that possible heavy fighting lay ahead… Journalists’ memories skipped back to Westmoreland’s star role in the progress campaign, to his promise that “success” was discernible on the horizon.

Tagged with: