What Is It Good For?
The earnest ruminations of military experts, convened at West Point by Harper’s Magazine, about our “endless war” never once addressed how to actually bring about its end [“Combat High,” Forum, June]. Instead, they only confirmed opinions that many of us have held for decades: a self-selecting military inspires consensus and obedience, and civilians, freed from the worst of war’s consequences, remain ignorant or uninterested. These factors skew the political calculus for our leaders toward prolonging conflicts.
The British and French withdrew from their empires, and many earlier empires perished because of military overreach. If this discussion represents the best that military experts can come up with, then I’m convinced that the “forever war” will indeed last forever, or until the United States itself reaches that point of collapse.
Alan M. Perlman
The Forum turned out to be a roundtable of military people talking about war the way military people do: discussing tactics and strategy, winning and losing. This is the kind of entrenched imperial thinking that I would have expected Harper’s to rebuff.
There is no mention in the Forum of the political pressure to continue current wars, and even support more war, from those making billions off sales of matériel to the Department of Defense. It seems as though these domestic special interests, as much as any other factor, are responsible for perpetuating our wars abroad.
The Same Boat
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is the fulcrum for Rabih Alameddine’s thesis that popular acceptance of literature depends on its “propping up” the dominant culture [“Comforting Myths,” Criticism, June]. Conrad may have shared the racial assumptions of white Europeans of his time, but this reading of Heart of Darkness fails to acknowledge its critique of murderous imperialism.
Conrad spent his early years in Russia-controlled Ukraine, his own parents having in effect been killed by tsarist imperialism, so he was himself a victim-connoisseur of empire. Heart of Darkness’s universally discomfiting impact makes nonsense of Alameddine’s contrived idea that Marlow and the frame narrator provide a “comfortable” shelter from the deadly truth of colonialism.
G. W. Stephen Brodsky
Sidney, British Columbia
What fascinated Conrad, as a man of the sea, was how men behaved in the absence of society’s confining expectations and strictures. Life on a ship is more rigidly controlled than life on the street of any village, town, or city, because beyond the ship’s bulwarks and its rules there stands nothing but blank ocean to hold one to one’s commitments of comity and cooperation. Conrad saw in the Congo a form of corruption so deep and horrifying it led him to a nervous breakdown; and in fictionalizing the affair he attributes this horror not for one second to the land or the natives but to the company and its employees, their practices and their own moral collapse.
There is not a moment in Heart of Darkness (or Conrad’s earlier, similarly situated and themed “An Outpost of Progress”) in which the European enterprise in Africa is not presented as unconscionable, murderous robbery. “Progress,” and the European fantasy of its benefits, is what is being skewered.
New Rochelle, N.Y.
Expand Your Mind
It’s disappointing that Nick Richardson’s review of two books about psychedelic drugs based its negative perspective on the experience of a friend who, he says, was permanently committed to a psychiatric hospital after taking LSD [“Revolution in the Head,” Reviews, June]. Though some correlation may exist between the use of psychedelics and mental illness, instances of permanent psychosis are vanishingly rare in the medical literature, and those few are almost always confounded by some preexisting genetic susceptibility.
Any given intoxicant needs to be evaluated on a continuum of potential harmfulness. Arguments based on anecdotal horror stories like the one Richardson recounts drive the failed war on drugs.
Though I take T. M. Luhrmann’s point that some people who hear voices are otherwise unimpaired and high-functioning, from my own experience in psychiatric facilities I know these people to be the minority [“The Sound of Madness,” Report, June]. Had a psychiatrist encouraged me to befriend and converse with the voices I heard, I would surely have never found my way out of the labyrinthine madness.
Helping patients determine who in their past or present inspires such voices, which are almost always negative and disparaging, goes a long way toward handling them therapeutically, even when medication is necessary. Deceiving the patient by legitimizing the voice to achieve the same effect is—well, crazy.
North Hollywood, Calif.