A Seat at the Table
Theodore Postol suggests that a swarm of defensive drones hovering over the Sea of Japan might force Kim Jong-un to the bargaining table [“Destroyer of Worlds,” Forum, December]. But it could also be viewed as a way of increasing the United States’ ability to launch a first strike with impunity. The likely result would be an acceleration of North Korea’s nuclear program, not a cessation.
There is no technological solution to the threat of a nuclear conflict. The only viable course is to pursue negotiations that curb and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons, such as the Clinton Administration’s successful efforts in the Nineties to end Pyongyang’s plutonium production — a graduated, verifiable inspections process tied to the lifting of economic sanctions (and coupled with a pledge not to attack). As a prelude to such an effort, Donald Trump’s threats of “fire and fury” make the challenge of embarking on a constructive diplomatic path that much more difficult.
William D. Hartung
Director, Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy
New York City
Rachel Bronson underlines the urgency of reawakening the American public to the terrifying reality of nuclear weapons. With that reawakening, however, there is also hope. Last summer, the United Nations adopted the first treaty imposing a total ban on nuclear weapons; more than 120 nations were in support. Inspired by past efforts that led to bans on land mines and cluster bombs, the treaty — negotiated without the nine nuclear-armed countries — provides a vision for a world free of nuclear weapons and reframes the debate around global health.
In December, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which mobilized citizens across a hundred countries to pressure governments to support the treaty, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for these efforts. We hope the prize will not only draw global attention to the growing nuclear peril but also shine a spotlight on our best chance for a solution.
Security Program Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Written by the Victors
The current crisis with North Korea can be traced directly back to the lies of Henry L. Stimson, the secretary of war under Roosevelt and Truman, which were printed in Harper’s Magazine in 1947 [“Terms of Surrender,” Archive, December]. The real reason why the bombs were dropped on Japan was simply to show Stalin that the United States possessed the world’s most destructive weapon.
More than any other nation, the United States is responsible for the apocalyptic thread by which we have been hanging for the past seventy-three years. The first step to preventing a nuclear holocaust is for America to take responsibility for creating this endgame.
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
Japan had considered surrendering for months before the United States bombed targets that were already irrelevant: Nagasaki was a naval base, but by the time of the bombing the Japanese navy was mostly sunk; Hiroshima was an army center, but without a navy the troops were stranded overseas. The only Japanese forces at home — the supposed targets of the bombs — were old men and young boys.
Newbury Park, Calif.
Out of Office
There are moments in William Vollmann’s account of migrant labor in the United Arab Emirates [“I Am Here Only for Working,” Report, December] when labor stops being labor, when labor becomes human. Through his observations of pride, grief, agency, and loneliness in the men he interviews, Vollmann offers clues for how to write about labor in the Gulf, especially as a foreigner.
I did wonder, however, about the photographs the men kept in their rooms and on their phones, and about how the men looked when they thought of home or when they played badminton or soccer or cricket — not because I wanted to see happier faces but because Vollmann’s accompanying photographs felt forced. I wanted to know how these men occupied themselves when their shifts ended, when their names mattered more than their professions.
Lecturer, NYU Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates
Walter Kirn insists quite rightly that current notions of Middle America obscure more than they reveal [“On the Corner of Myth and Main,” Easy Chair, December]. He is correct that Robert and Helen Lynd’s Middletown (1929), a sociological study of Muncie, Indiana, promoted the idea that the heartland was the redoubt of the unenlightened. It is worth noting, though, that the Lynds were Midwesterners who retained an affection for small-town life and viewed the residents’ reactions to industrialization and its consequences sympathetically, if critically. It was the response of others — commentators such as H. L. Mencken, who labeled Muncie “a city in Moronia” — that cemented the view of “Middletown” as a provincial backwater.
Middletown in Transition (1937) offered a harsher critique. The Lynds were genuinely alarmed by the unwillingness of locals to adjust their thinking despite the Depression. But their perspective had changed as well. Both were now New York City professors; both had read Marx. The same experiences with elite institutions that shaped Kirn’s outlook had also altered the Lynds’. If we insist on talking about a “thing” called Middle America, perhaps we are best served by letting those who choose to live there tell its stories.
James J. Connolly
Director, Center for Middletown Studies
Because of an editing error, the credit for the photograph of a caged bear by Marilyn Silverstone [Reviews, January] failed to cite Magnum Photos. We regret the oversight.