Why We Fight
War with Iran, writes Kevin Baker, would “make our war in Vietnam look like a walk in the park” [“The Deep State of Dementia,” Easy Chair, September]. But the grave scenario of such a conflict is increasingly probable, and it should be condemned at every opportunity. The media’s ongoing failure to interrogate the Trump Administration’s claims of Iranian aggression—to say nothing of their failure to situate these claims in the context of the administration’s own aggression toward Iran—only brings us closer to the brink.
Baker offers the Gulf of Tonkin as the most obvious precedent for our recent confrontations with Iran. It’s true that Kennedy, McNamara, and their “flexible response” strategy created an ideal environment for that administration and its allies to play a more direct role in instigating a war, even one that draftees never liked and that the media did not cover with its typical patriotic fervor.
But a potential war with Iran is better understood in the context of our “forever war” with Iraq. The Bush Administration wanted that war and was willing to employ a heady combination of diplomatic pressure and outright lies to achieve it. Media coverage of the run-up to the invasion was largely enthusiastic. That the administration sold it based on lies did not meaningfully enter the public discourse until roughly the 2004 presidential election.
The current administration has closely followed the Bush template, substituting Iran for Iraq in a script that is all too familiar. Trump appears to understand war, or the threat thereof, primarily as a political instrument. He might very well decide that a new campaign of shock and awe would secure a victory in 2020. The absurdity of such a choice, and the destruction it could bring, in no way diminishes its likelihood.
Blowing Our Minds
In his account of the annual N.F.L. Scouting Combine [“The Wood Chipper,” Report, September], Rich Cohen provides a first-hand look at the league’s talent-evaluation process, and in doing so describes some of the many ways the organization treats prospective players as mere automatons. Among other things, the combine appears to be a relatively joyless enterprise.
Perhaps the most interesting takeaway, however, is that everyone involved in the combine—scouts, coaches, executives, reporters, and fans—seems largely to ignore the elephant in the room: mounting medical evidence demonstrating that football is extremely dangerous for the human brain. It’s as if the evidence doesn’t exist, as if Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (C.T.E.) Center hadn’t discovered the progressive degenerative disease in the brains of 110 out of 111 former N.F.L. players they examined. (A cross-section of players, it should be noted, representing every position on the team, even punters and place-kickers.)
Cohen mentions a kiosk at this year’s combine at which salesmen promoted new, high-tech football helmets, proffering the illusion that the sport may be rendered perfectly safe. The reality is that it cannot, so long as players’ brains continue to collide against their skulls upon contact. Helmets can protect against fractures, but not concussions, no matter how high-tech the helmet in question.
Cohen’s most powerful sentence might be his last: “With all we know about the condition of retired players and the long-term effects of concussions, maybe the real winners are those who didn’t get picked at all.”
This gives the reader something to consider: Should human beings, especially youth and high school players, who haven’t yet reached maturity, continue to play the game?
Rachel Poser details the ways in which Israel’s archaeological excavations in East Jerusalem have been motivated by ideology—how the field has long been a “handmaiden of nationalism” [“Common Ground,” Letter from Silwan, September]. But in an essay otherwise so attuned to the nuances of political context, I was surprised to find a claim that failed to meet the high standard she herself had set. Summarizing the history of Jewish immigration to Israel, Poser writes that in the years following Israel’s founding, many Jews were expelled from North Africa and the Middle East, where they had been “surrounded by hostility.”
Jewish life in these regions varied widely. Certainly some communities felt insecure among their neighbors, though one shouldn’t overlook the long-standing positive relationships between Jews and Muslims in, for instance, Morocco, which in the 1940s was home to more than 250,000 Jews. For that matter, one can’t fully account for the exodus of those years without acknowledging the concerted actions by Israeli agents who worked to exacerbate the tensions precipitating their departure—arming Zionist groups, for example, and distributing propaganda. When they arrived in Israel, many North African and Middle Eastern Jews faced further hostility in the form of racism and policies that left them marginalized in the realms of employment, housing, and education.
Just as archaeology has been a handmaiden of nationalism, Israeli historiography has worked to subjugate the experiences of Mizrahi Jews to the preferred narratives of Ashkenazi Zionism. Israel has encouraged the notion of a universal Arab hostility toward its native Jews in order to seed fear and division, and to extract loyalty from these Jews by portraying their countries of origin as fundamentally antagonistic. Foreign observers should be wary of this sort of historical distortion as well.