Eastbound and Down
The world is far more complicated than Andrew Cockburn would lead us to believe. In “Game On” [Letter from Washington, January], Cockburn tells us about NATO’s irresponsible expansion eastward without mentioning Russia’s own foreign-policy priorities and pursuits at the time. Indeed, the only mention of some of the decade’s most illuminating events is a dismissive reference to “Kosovo separatists.”
What Cockburn means, I think, is the entirely reasonable response of a small, largely Muslim population to a historic pattern. Since the nineteenth century, the Russian state has conducted genocidal wars against many Muslim peoples, eliminating some — including the Ubykh — while deporting or otherwise nearly destroying others. The most recent Winter Olympics took place in what was once Circassian territory.
Maybe the United States should have pursued other policies, instead of expanding NATO all the way to Russia’s borders. But that expansion does not explain, let alone excuse, Russian behavior. During the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, radical Serbian nationalists pursued a war of expansion and purification across Croatia and Bosnia, then, later, in the territory of Kosovo. Russia protected Slobodan Miloševic so that he could continue to slaughter.
Part of the reason for NATO’s expansion in Europe was a response, however belated and imperfect, to ethnic cleansing and genocide. Cockburn writes dismissively of Georgia’s desire for NATO cover, forgetting that Georgia abuts Chechnya, where Russia answered what began as a nonviolent push for independence with horrific violence: a population that had been halved as a result of Russian policy fifty years ago was now being carpet bombed and otherwise brutalized.
I would not blame Kosovars for wanting to separate, nor would I blame Ukrainians who put their hope in NATO. They, too, have agency, experience history, and desire security. For most of them, the United States has been a far more benevolent force than Russia.
Fellow, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
Andrew Cockburn replies:
Relating the facts about who has been on the offensive in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War does not constitute an apologia for sufferings inflicted on Muslims, whether in Chechnya, the former Yugoslavia, or Circassian lands on the Black Sea coast. (What about the Salt Lake City Olympics, held on land from which the Shoshone Indians were expelled in the nineteenth century?) As I argued in my article, NATO double-crossed the Russians and pushed east at the urging of the neocons and their arms-industry partners with undeniably unpleasant consequences in the Caucasus and Ukraine. I should add that, had NATO not been so eager to bomb Serbia, the United States and its allies might have settled before the war for terms proposed by Miloševic. These were the same terms on which the war eventually ended — with the help of Russian mediation. Russian policy toward Muslims no more excuses opportunistic NATO expansion than the serial miseries inflicted on Muslims by the United States and its allies would excuse an aggressive revival of the Warsaw Pact.
Vivian Maier lived in my home for three years in the 1980s, when she was in her late fifties. Her day’s routine began with a cold shower, followed by a quick combing of her hair and a thorough application of her facial cream of choice: Vaseline. She came downstairs, glistening, in her regular uniform: a clean, pressed skirt and blouse that she had tailored and sewn herself, opaque stockings held up by garters (or, sometimes, knee-high nylons), and men’s oxfords in black. Her preferred breakfast was canned peas, eaten directly from the can with a serving spoon while standing at the kitchen window.
She was not lanky or cranelike but big-boned, man-size, buxom. Her regulation skirt and blouse were camouflage, not for her sexuality — indeed, she seemed to have none — but for her bone-deep singularity, maybe for her genius. In trench coat and wide-brimmed hat, camera around her neck, children in tow, she disappeared into a character role: a British-like nanny in an American setting. As Terry Castle recognizes [New Art, Reviews, February], it was perfect. She could go anywhere, photograph anything, stare anyone down. Of course we knew she was a photographer. But she would not show her photos: she said people would just steal them from her. Well, was she right?
For All Intents and Purposes
As someone who often finds herself in need of “assistance” from taller citizens (I have what modern medicine calls achondroplasia, more commonly known as dwarfism), I enjoyed John Crowley’s “Universal Use” [Easy Chair, January]. Audiobooks were initially created for the blind, but they are now purchased by everyone. Likewise, my workplace has provided me with step stools and an adjustable chair — but colleagues use these step stools for out-of-reach items, and they say my chair is the most comfortable they have ever sat in. I agree with Crowley that making the world universally accessible has universal benefits.
Simi Valley, Calif.
Christopher Ketcham’s “The Great Republican Land Heist” [Letter from Nevada, February] incorrectly states the size to which the U.S. Constitution limits Washington, D.C. It is one hundred square miles, not ten.
Christine Smallwood’s New Books column [January] incorrectly refers to Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) as publishing companies. The column also incorrectly suggests that ASCAP was the only publishing company in New York until 1939. BMI and ASCAP do represent publishing companies, several of which existed in 1939, but they themselves are performance-rights organizations.
We regret the errors.