Letters — From the October 2019 issue

Letters

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In Memoriam

We at Harper’s Magazine are deeply saddened by the untimely death of our former contributing editor Edwin Dobb. He wrote many essays for the magazine, including “Pennies from Hell” (October 1996), about the results of copper mining in his hometown of Butte, Montana, and, most recently, a personal essay, “Nothing but Gifts,” which appeared in the October 2018 issue. He will be missed.

Heroes and Villains

Marc de Miramon’s critical reconsideration of Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s legacy [“Brutal from the Beginning,” Revision, August] brought to mind something I learned from the great Africanist and human-­rights advocate Alison Des Forges. Having stood idle in 1994 while hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered, President Clinton and other Western leaders assuaged their guilt in part by providing substantial financial support to Kagame, whose army of Uganda-based Tutsis toppled the genocidal Hutu Power regime. And so, in the early years of Kagame’s rule, a series of beautiful new homes were constructed for the Ugandan newcomers in Kigali. Locals, Des Forges told me, referred to these as “Thank You, Genocide” homes.

De Miramon offers credible evidence that Kagame may have deliberately helped spark the genocide to enable his own conquest of Rwanda. He notes that Kagame seems to have “sacrific[ed] his own [Tutsi] community to gain power.” What he fails to mention is that many of Kagame’s men, who had grown up in English-speaking Uganda as children of Tutsi refugees, viewed the French-speaking Tutsis in Rwanda as inferior and weak, having allowed themselves to be persecuted and subjugated for decades.

It’s little wonder that, as de Miramon points out, the then president of France, Francois Mitterand, considered Kagame’s attack on the Hutu-­dominated regime to be “a foreign aggression backed by Anglo-American interests.”

Steve France
Cabin John, Md.

On the Beaten Path

As a resident of the San Luis Valley, which Ted Conover describes [“The Last Frontier,” Folio, August], I wanted to pose a question regarding coverage of this sort. Truly isolated places like my home are becoming rare. This is a particularly pertinent issue in Colorado. From the perspective of the communities that have been here for generations, the ski-rich region is, if anything, at risk of being loved to death. I cast no aspersions on the content or tone of Conover’s piece, but this influx of tourism is occurring in no small part because of articles like this.

I know that publications such as Harper’s are not going to stop writing about such places, but I would submit that there is room for a more nuanced form of coverage that acknowledges the potentially destructive consequences of highlighting regions like ours.

Our ancestral homes, our communities, and our ability to live in a truly rural environment unbothered by tourism are at great risk. The irony is that we lack the power to protect ourselves from these supposed economic boons precisely because of the frugality and simplicity of our lives here.

Conventional wisdom dictates that any coverage, any boost to tourism, can be only a positive for the less advantaged and marginalized in a given community. Often, however, it is this very “boost” that compounds their marginalization.

David Hodge
Mosca, Colo.

Lost Empire

Jacob Mikanowski accurately and vividly describes the Turanist revival among Hungary’s ruling party [“The Call of the Drums,” Letter from Hungary, August]. Readers unfamiliar with the particulars of the country’s history, however, may not fully grasp the context in which this nationalist resurgence is taking place.

At the conclusion of World War I, Hungary lost two thirds of its empire; millions of its citizens were stranded on the wrong side of new borders pressed upon them by the Allies. Today, large numbers of Hungarians continue to live in those neighboring countries, and their inclusion in the European Union has done little to lessen the resulting inter­ethnic tensions.

The teenager whom Mikanowski depicts waving an ancient Hungarian flag at the border city of Esztergom may well live across the border in Slovakia, where lawmakers recently proposed that the Hungarian national anthem be banned at soccer games. Nationalism is alive and well in many parts of the world, and we do not need to resort to ancient history to account for its persistence.

Kyle Orban
Coral Gables, Fla.

Hidden Gems

I was surprised to encounter an article by Gertrude Alice Zerr, originally published by Harper’s in 1923 [“All the Nothing,” From the Archive], in your August issue. Few remember Zerr or her remarkable background. A compelling writer and a courageous, vibrant person, she came to Montana as an adult to see and write about Big Sky country. She became a teacher to support her craft, and moved around the region writing stories that documented the land and its people.

Zerr was one of seventeen Montanan women who enlisted in the U.S. Navy as yeomen at the start of World War I—the fabled “yeoman­ettes” of that war. She served honorably, and for her efforts the Navy promoted her to chief petty officer, making her one of two Montana women to reach what was then the highest rank available for the Navy’s enlisted women.

Zerr returned to Montana after the war, where she continued teaching and writing. She died there in 1946, never having married nor had children. If you visit her grave, you’ll see a military headstone identifying her as a “chief yeoman, u.s. navy reserve [female].”

Those of us in Montana familiar with her writing know how fortunate we were to have had her.

Ed Saunders
Laurel, Mont.

Corrections

Because of an editing error, “The Last Frontier” incorrectly stated that the San Luis Valley spans approximately eight thousand acres. It comprises roughly eight thousand square miles.

The article also incorrectly stated that the Gruber family’s cockatoo is named George. The cockatoo is named Sugar; George is its alter ego. We regret the errors.

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