Appraisal — September 24, 2013, 7:55 am

“Knight, Poet, Anarchist”

A new introduction to The Green Child, by Herbert Read

The Green ChildThe introduction to The Green Child, a novel by Herbert Read, first published in 1948 and released in a new edition on September 23 by New Directions. 

In Yorkshire, where Herbert Read was born in 1893 on a remote farm at the western end of the Vale of Pickering, south of the moors and north of the wolds, young girls would pin ivy leaves together and throw them into wishing wells, and supernatural hares could only be killed with pellets of pure silver. Two sisters, nuns in the convent of Beverley, vanished into the moonlight on Christmas Eve and were found asleep at the convent door in May. A white horse would appear, hovering over the river, on the day someone would drown, and at night the bargest, the spectral hound, dragged its large and clanking chain. The images of two veiled women in white and a small child would flit from window to window in the Trinity Church, and the bells en route to St Hilda’s abbey, lost in a shipwreck, could still be heard from under the waters. There, the hapless cowherd Caedmon was instructed in a dream how to sing the origin of things and the dying William the Hermit performed his own burial; seven witches, in the shape of black cats and crows, possessed the daughters of Edward Fairfax, the translator of Tasso. It was said that a village — no one remembered its name — suddenly sank under a lake because it had refused hospitality to a poor beggar. The rivers were inhabited by kelpies, who claimed one human victim every year, and fairies played in Craven Dales among the Druid rocks of Almas Cliffe and the ancient burial mounds of Willy Houe.

At the age of ten, following the accidental death of his father, Read was torn from his enchanted pastorale and sent to the city of Halifax and the regimented hell of the Crossley & Porter Orphan Home & School, its walls black from the smoke of the surrounding factories. From the orphanage he moved into the vaster industrial desolation of Leeds to attend the university, and from there into the trenches of the First World War, where he was a decorated hero who carried a copy of Walden in his rucksack. Innocence and experience became lifelong themes in his work.

Masked by reticence and cloaked in tweeds, Read was the unexpectedly ardent and frighteningly prolific champion of nearly everything that was radical in the first half of the twentieth century: Imagism, Surrealism, abstraction, the Bauhaus, Marxism, anarchism, Freud and Jung, progressive education, Gandhian nonviolent resistance. Though now somewhat dimly remembered, he was, for decades, the Victoria Station of the arts, England’s primary explainer of the modern.

The Meaning of Art, Art Now, Art and Industry, Art and Society, The Philosophy of Modern Art, Art and the Evolution of Man, A Concise History of Modern Painting, A Concise History of Modern Sculpture, to name only a few. . . . A curator of ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum, author of monographs on stained glass and Staffordshire pottery, he became in the 1930s the leading exponent of the new British artists (Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Paul Nash, Naum Gabo), most of them his neighbors in a colony in Hampstead, and ultimately wrote books on each of them. His predilection was for the new abstraction, but he was equally enthusiastic for abstraction’s sworn enemy and mischievous twin: Surrealism. He organized, with Roland Penrose, the famous Surrealist exhibition of 1936, where Dalí lectured wearing a diving helmet, Dylan Thomas served boiled string in a teacup, the press went wild over Madame Breton’s green fingernails, and T. S. Eliot obsessed over Meret Oppenheim’s Fur Covered Cup as the “super-objective correlative of the female sex.” Read opened the proceedings with the words, “Do not judge this movement kindly. It is defiant — the desperate act of men too profoundly convinced of the rottenness of our civilization to want to save a shred of respectability.” But it was said that he was mortified at a party when the fabulous Lee Miller danced naked around him.

Inspired by the Bauhaus and the first years of the Soviet Union, he believed that a new society required a revolution in industrial design. He founded the Design Research Unit, a kind of informal academy of design, whose most unlikely project was a Jowett car designed by Gabo. His own minimalist flat in Hampstead was furnished with pieces by Alvar Aalto and Mies van der Rohe, and the 1933 Art Now was among the first books printed entirely in sans-serif type. The following year, Art and Industry, designed by Herbert Bayer of the Bauhaus with photos selected by Moholy-Nagy, was itself both a description and an icon of the new design.

In the 1940s, he founded the Institute of Contemporary Art, Britain’s first museum space for the modern, while devoting much of his time to the idea that education could be transformed by emphasizing the creative arts. Education Through Art in 1943 was his best-selling book, and possibly most influential on the society at large: a manifesto that led to reimagined curricula in the traditional schools and the founding of experimental schools both for children and artists. Curator, juror, gallerist, publicist, columnist: when a new generation of art critics rose in revolt in the 1950s, Read was their primary target. As Lawrence Alloway explained, “There was nobody much else to attack. . . . Herbert was really all there was.”

Phases of English Poetry, Form in Modern Poetry, In Defense of Shelley, Wordsworth, The True Voice of Feeling, Poetry and Experience, to name a few. . . . Read’s campaign as a literary and art critic was a reconciliation of — or at least an equal enthusiasm for — warring camps, which he declared both essential to the modern. On the one side, the “geometric”: the ahistorical beauty of abstract art and the literary classicism promoted by his lifelong friend T. S. Eliot, I. A. Richards, and the New Critics. On the other, the “organic”: the personal, “vital” art represented by the English Romantics (who were dismissed by Pound and Eliot) and the new Surrealism. A Freudian, and later an even more committed Jungian, he was the first English critic to apply both versions of psychoanalytic theory to literature and the arts, was the general editor of Jung’s collected writings in the great Bollingen edition and a regular at the Eranos conferences. As an editor at Routledge, he introduced Samuel Beckett’s Murphy (which had been rejected by forty-two publishers), Simone Weil, and Martin Buber, among many others, and was responsible for the Bollingen editions of Coleridge and Valéry.

The Philosophy of Anarchism; The Education of Free Men; Anarchy and Order; To Hell With Culture; Freedom: Is It a Crime?; The Politics of the Unpolitical; Existentialism, Marxism and Anarchism, to name a few. . . . Read converted from Marxism to anarchism during the Spanish Civil War, worked closely with Emma Goldman during her London years, edited an anthology of Kropotkin’s writings, and was a leading light in the various anarchist groups, from the Freedom Press to the Committee of 100. He loathed Churchill, and dreamed that the ruins of the Blitz would lead to the building of an entirely new, socially just, community-based society. As the years went by, Gandhi remained the only political leader he admired and his pacifism hardened into an absolute, leading him to condemn even groups whose aims he otherwise supported, such as the Hungarian resistance and the anti-nuclear bomb demonstrators. His letters and writings on the corruption of capitalism, the oppression of communism, and the ugliness, soullessness, and environmental degradation of modern life were increasingly strident. Spending most of his time in cities, he detested cities.

In 1953, his surprising decision to accept a knighthood led to ridicule and ostracism from the anarchist and leftist ranks, but no wavering in his beliefs. Visiting communes in China in 1959, Sir Herbert mistook them for Kropotkin’s complete decentralization of industry; visiting an American supermarket, he thought it would be the model of Kropotkin’s anarchist distribution of goods, if only the cash registers were removed. Of Americans he observed:

One of the most curious characteristics of this people is their complete misunderstanding of democracy. They do not believe in equality, but in “equality of opportunity.” They confess that again & again, with pride, without realizing that “equality of opportunity” is merely the law of the jungle, that they are not egalitarians, but opportunists . . .

In 1949, he moved back to Yorkshire, a few miles from his childhood home. He wrote: “In spite of my intellectual pretensions, I am by birth and tradition a peasant. I remain essentially a peasant. . . . The only class in the community for which I feel any real sympathy is the agricultural class . . .” Yet he was in London as often as he could, and his seemingly far-fetched peasantness was quite real in the English caste system: Edith Sitwell, who plagiarized him, found him a “crashing bore.” Virginia Woolf thought he looked like a “shop assistant.” Entering Read’s house for the first time, she asked loudly, “Is this a stable?” At a dinner for Read and his wife’s relatives, Eliot, though he admired Read’s mind, fed them chocolates made of soap.

He died from cancer in 1968; his gravestone reads KNIGHT, POET, ANARCHIST, two of which seem like odd choices from the possible list of accomplishments. He did indeed write poetry throughout his life, but most of the poems tend toward vagueness and imitation; they had few enthusiasts. Richard Aldington told him that he was writing too much criticism to be a poet; T. E. Lawrence told him to stop complaining that he was writing too much criticism. Stephen Spender, in a review, was nastier: “There is a romantic side of Mr. Read’s nature which seems to believe that, given slightly different circumstances, entirely different and much better poems and books would have emerged from his study, like rabbits from a hat.” Eliot only recognized him as a critic. Pound liked him personally, but found his poetry “bloody dull.”

In financial straits for most of his life, he wrote, every week, book reviews, film reviews, art reviews, and reviews of mystery novels, and was on a never-ending loop of lecture tours, committee meetings, and social functions. Graham Greene was the godfather of his daughter. J. R. Ackerley stored scandalous letters from E. M. Forster in his safe. Eliot, with whom he lunched fortnightly, sang “Frankie and Johnny” at a party in his Hampstead house. The teenaged Denise Levertov used to invent excuses to come over to stare at his paintings and books. Just before the Second World War, George Orwell wanted the two of them to buy a printing press in order to publish anti- government pamphlets under the inevitable censorship. Stravinsky was a friend, and Picasso, and Man Ray, and Dag Hammarskjöld, and nearly everyone else on the peaks of Western civilization. His unlikely friendship with the maniacally bitter Edward Dahlberg — who said that Ford Madox Ford and Read were the only “men of letters” who defended him — led to an odd book of epistolary exchanges on modern writers, Truth Is More Sacred, with Dahlberg, at his most hyperbolic, doing most of the writing. In Havana, at a Cultural Congress a few months before he died, weak from radiation therapy, Read was met with silence when he declared: “I shall say only one sentence. The revolutionary ideal of the nineteenth century was internationalist; in the twentieth century it became enclosed in nationalism and the only internationalists left are the artists.”

Ford Madox Ford had told Read, in 1920, to get out of cultural journalism and become a novelist: “You may not like novel writing but it would be a good thing to stick to it as to avoid turning your soul into a squirrel in a revolving cage.” Though he had often imagined himself as a novelist in the manner of Henry James or his friend Edith Wharton, it was not until the summer of 1934 that he spent six weeks in a tiny, six-by- four-foot wooden hut he had built in his garden, writing his one, short novel.

It was queer how the book wrote itself; I had nothing much to invent — only the local color. The details of the myth were waiting in my mind. And it was only afterwards that I began to see their significance.

It was originally called Inland Far, from Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality” (“Though inland far we be, / Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea / Which brought us hither.”) Luckily this was quickly changed to The Green Child. (The abstraction Read favored in the visual arts often had a way of undermining his own writing, particularly in the poetry.) The surviving manuscript has a mysterious and completely misleading epigraph from Kierkegaard: “Reminiscence” — “Self” is crossed out, then “The power of reflection” is crossed out — “is the condition of all productivity.”

Faber and Faber rejected the book; the editor Frank Morley writing Read — it’s hard to believe this is Eliot’s Faber — that it needed some “some belly . . . some drink somewhere, some honest fucking.” Heinemann published it the next year at Richard Aldington’s urging. New Directions brought out the American edition in 1948 and has kept it in print since — proving, perhaps, that it is the one book of Read’s that will continue to be read. Graham Greene loved it and wrote an introduction to a later edition, though Read complained that it was too Catholic; Jung said that he couldn’t sleep after reading it; Spender charged that Read was a mediocre writer because he had “no sense of evil” (a strange charge, as one of the characters, Kneeshaw, would seem to embody what later would be called the “banality of evil”). In the daily New York Times, Orville Prescott called it “ridiculous as well as vexatious”; a few days later, in the Sunday Book Review, Robert Gorham Davis (father of Lydia) found it “chilling,” “beautifully imagined and beautifully written,” but thought that it seemed “an emotional and symbolic reaction against everything that Read stands for intellectually.”

It is a novel best read in complete ignorance of its contents. Even to know that it is full of surprises leads to the expectation of surprise. Many readers will be hooked in the first paragraph, the rest, most probably, on the thirteenth page. Scholars have found bits inspired by, or lifted from, Thomas Keightley’s The Fairy Mythology (1833), W. H. Hudson’s Green Mansions (Rima the bird girl) and his utopian novel The Crystal Age, John and William Robertson’s Letters on Paraguay (1838–1839), H. Rider Haggard’s Montezuma’s Daughter, and Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Phaedo (1893). Perhaps he had also read O. Henry’s one novel, Cabbages and Kings, which, though utterly different, opens with a similar plot device. In certain ways, just beyond the grasp of analysis, The Green Child belongs alongside two later short novels, set in villages, somewhat surrealist, inexplicably allegorical, and continually haunting: Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo and Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North.

Late in his life, Read wrote:

That I can combine anarchism with order, a philosophy of strife with pacifism, an orderly life with romanticism and revolt in art and literature — all this is inevitably scandalous to the conventional philosopher. This principle of flux, the Keatsian notion of “negative capability,” justifies everything I have written, every attack and defense. I hate all monolithic systems, all logical categories, all pretenses to truth and inevitability. The sun is new every day.

At the end, he was still in the trenches, and still carrying a copy of Thoreau.

Single Page
is the author of several books including, most recently, Wildlife, a collection of essays on animals published by Giramondo in Australia, and, with Lydia Davis, Two American Scenes, published by New Directions. His “Oranges and Peanuts For Sale” appeared in the June 2009 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

More from Eliot Weinberger:

From the May 2007 issue


Get access to 168 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada



August 2018

Combustion Engines

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

There Will Always Be Fires

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The End of Eden

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

How to Start a Nuclear War

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


Combustion Engines·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On any given day last summer, the smoke-choked skies over Missoula, Montana, swarmed with an average of twenty-eight helicopters and eighteen fixed-wing craft, a blitz waged against Lolo Peak, Rice Ridge, and ninety-six other wildfires in the Lolo National Forest. On the ground, forty or fifty twenty-person handcrews were deployed, alongside hundreds of fire engines and bulldozers. In the battle against Rice Ridge alone, the Air Force, handcrews, loggers, dozers, parachutists, flacks, forecasters, and cooks amounted to some nine hundred people.

Rice Ridge was what is known as a mega-fire, a recently coined term for blazes that cover more than 100,000 acres. The West has always known forest fires, of course, but for much of the past century, they rarely got any bigger than 10,000 acres. No more. In 1988, a 250,000-acre anomaly, Canyon Creek, burned for months, roaring across a forty-mile stretch of Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness in a single night. A few decades on, that anomaly is becoming the norm. Rice Ridge, for its part, swept through 160,000 acres.

At this scale, the firefighting operation is run by an incident management team, a group of about thirty specialists drawn from a mix of state and federal agencies and trained in fields ranging from aviation to weather forecasting and accounting to public information. The management teams are ranked according to experience and ability, from type 3 (the least skilled) to type 1 (the most). The fiercest fires are assigned to type 1s. Teams take the name of their incident commander, the field general, and some of those names become recognizable, even illustrious, in the wildfire-fighting community. One such name is that of Greg Poncin, who is to fire commanders what Wyatt Earp was to federal marshals.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak fire (detail) © Laura Verhaeghe
There Will Always Be Fires·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The pinhal interior, a wooded region of hills and narrow hollows in rural central Portugal, used to be farmland. Well into the latter half of the past century, the fields were worked by peasants from the old stone villages. Portugal was poor and isolated, and the pinhal interior particularly so; when they could, the peasants left. There is electricity and running water now, but most of the people have gone. The fields have been taken over by trees. Each year the forest encroaches farther, and each year the villages grow more lonely. There are remnants of the earlier life, though, and amid the trees the holdouts of the older generations still work a few small fields. The pinhal interior cannot yet be called wilderness, then, and that, in large part, is why it burns.

Thousands of fires burn in the region each summer, almost all of them started not by lightning or some other natural spark but by the remaining Portuguese. (The great majority of the blazes are started unintentionally, though not all.) The pinhal interior—the name means “interior pine forest,” though today there is at least as much eucalyptus as pine—stretches along a sort of climate border between the semiarid Iberian interior and the wet influence of the Atlantic; vegetation grows exceptionally well there, and in the summers fire conditions are ideal. Still, most of the burns are quickly contained, and although they have grown larger in recent years, residents have learned to pay them little mind. The creeping fire that began in the dry duff and twigs of an oak grove on June 17 of last year, in the district of Pe­drógão Grande, therefore occasioned no panic.

A local woman, Dora da Silva Co­sta, drove past the blaze in the midafternoon, by which time it had entered a stand of pines. Firefighters were on hand. “There were no people in the streets,” Costa told me. “It was just another fire.” She continued on her way. It was a Saturday, and she had brought her two young sons to visit their older cousin in Vila Facaia, the village of small farms in which she’d been raised.

Firefighters near Pedrógão Grande (detail) © Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
The End of Eden·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On a blistering morning in July 2017, Ghazi Luaibi rose before dawn and set out in a worn black sedan from his home in Zubair, a town of concrete low-rises in southern Iraq. He drove for a while along sandy roads strewn with plastic bags. On the horizon, he could see gas flares from the oil refineries, pillars of amber flame rising into the sky. As he approached Basra, the largest city in the province, desert scrub gave way to empty apartment blocks and rows of withered palms. Though the sun had barely risen, the temperature was already nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The previous year, Basra had registered one of the highest temperatures ever reliably recorded on earth: about 129 degrees, hot enough to cause birds to drop from the sky.

Ghazi, a sixty-two-year-old with stooped shoulders, an ash-gray beard, and lively brown eyes, would have preferred to stay home and wait out the heat. But he hadn’t had much of a choice. He was the president of the local council of Mandaeans, members of a gnostic religion that appeared in Mesopotamia in the early centuries ad. Today marked the beginning of their new year, and Ghazi, who was born into the Mandaean priestly class, was responsible for making sure everything went smoothly: he needed to find a tent to shield worshippers from the sun and, most importantly, a location near flowing water where they could carry out the ceremony.

Mandaean holidays are celebrated with a mass baptism, a ritual that is deeply rooted in their scripture and theology. Mandaeans follow the teachings of Yahia Yuhana, known to Christians as John the Baptist. Water is central to their religion. They believe that all life originates in the World of Light, a spiritual realm that is the starting point for a great river known as Yardana, or Jordan. Outside the World of Light lie the lifeless, stagnant waters of the World of Darkness. According to one version of the Mandaean creation myth, a demiurge named Ptahil set out to shape a new world from the World of Darkness, which became the material world we inhabit today. Once the world was complete, Ptahil sculpted Adam, the first man, from the same dark waters as the earth, but his soul came from the World of Light. In Mandaean scripture, rivers are manifestations of the World of Light, coursing from the heavenly Jordan to the earth to purify it. To be baptized is to be immersed in this divine realm.

Basra General Hospital (detail) July 2017 © Alex Potter
How to Start a Nuclear War·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Serving as a US Air Force launch control officer for intercontinental missiles in the early Seventies, First Lieutenant Bruce Blair figured out how to start a nuclear war and kill a few hundred million people. His unit, stationed in the vast missile fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, in Montana, oversaw one of four squadrons of Minuteman II ­ICBMs, each missile topped by a W56 thermonuclear warhead with an explosive force of 1.2 megatons—eighty times that of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. In theory, the missiles could be fired only by order of the president of the United States, and required mutual cooperation by the two men on duty in each of the launch control centers, of which there were five for each squadron.

In fact, as Blair recounted to me recently, the system could be bypassed with remarkable ease. Safeguards made it difficult, though not impossible, for a two-man crew (of either captains or lieutenants, some straight out of college) in a single launch control center to fire a missile. But, said Blair, “it took only a small conspiracy”—of two people in two separate control centers—to launch the entire squadron of fifty missiles, “sixty megatons targeted at the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea.” (The scheme would first necessitate the “disabling” of the conspirators’ silo crewmates, unless, of course, they, too, were complicit in the operation.) Working in conjunction, the plotters could “jury-rig the system” to send a “vote” by turning keys in their separate launch centers. The three other launch centers might see what was happening, but they would not be able to override the two votes, and the missiles would begin their firing sequence. Even more alarmingly, Blair discovered that if one of the plotters was posted at the particular launch control center in overall command of the squadron, they could together format and transmit a “valid and authentic launch order” for general nuclear war that would immediately launch the entire US strategic nuclear missile force, including a thousand Minuteman and fifty-four Titan missiles, without the possibility of recall. As he put it, “that would get everyone’s attention, for sure.” A more pacifically inclined conspiracy, on the other hand, could effectively disarm the strategic force by formatting and transmitting messages invalidating the presidential launch codes.

When he quit the Air Force in 1974, Blair was haunted by the power that had been within his grasp, andhe resolved to do something about it. But when he started lobbying his former superiors, he was met with indifference and even active hostility. “I got in a fair scrap with the Air Force over it,” he recalled. As Blair well knew, there was supposed to be a system already in place to prevent that type of unilateral launch. The civilian leadership in the Pentagon took comfort in this, not knowing that the Strategic Air Command, which then controlled the Air Force’s nuclear weapons, had quietly neutralized it.

This reluctance to implement an obviously desirable precaution might seem extraordinary, but it is explicable in light of the dominant theme in the military’s nuclear weapons culture: the strategy known as “launch under attack.” Theoretically, the president has the option of waiting through an attack before deciding how to respond. But in practice, the system of command and control has been organized so as to leave a president facing reports of incoming missiles with little option but to launch. In the words of Lee Butler, who commanded all US nuclear forces at the end of the Cold War, the system the military designed was “structured to drive the president invariably toward a decision to launch under attack” if he or she believes there is “incontrovertible proof that warheads actually are on the way.” Ensuring that all missiles and bombers would be en route before any enemy missiles actually landed meant that most of the targets in the strategic nuclear war plan would be destroyed—thereby justifying the purchase and deployment of the massive force required to execute such a strike.

Among students of nuclear command and control, this practice of precluding all options but the desired one is known as “jamming” the president. Blair’s irksome protests threatened to slow this process. When his pleas drew rejection from inside the system, he turned to Congress. Eventually the Air Force agreed to begin using “unlock codes”—codes transmitted at the time of the launch order by higher authority without which the crews could not fire—on the weapons in 1977. (Even then, the Navy held off safeguarding its submarine-launched nuclear missiles in this way for another twenty years.)

Following this small victory, Blair continued to probe the baroque architecture of nuclear command and control, and its extreme vulnerability to lethal mishap. In the early Eighties, while working with a top-secret clearance for the Office of Technology Assessment, he prepared a detailed report on such shortcomings. The Pentagon promptly classified it as SIOP-ESI—a level higher than top secret. (SIOP stands for Single Integrated Operational Plan, the US plan for conducting a nuclear war. ESI stands for Extremely Sensitive Information.) Hidden away in the Pentagon, the report was withheld from both relevant senior civilian officials and the very congressional committees that had commissioned it in the first place.

From positions in Washington’s national security think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, Blair used his expertise and scholarly approach to gain access to knowledgeable insiders at the highest ranks, even in Moscow. On visits to the Russian capital during the halcyon years between the Cold War’s end and the renewal of tensions in the twenty-first century, he learned that the Soviet Union had actually developed a “dead hand” in ultimate control of their strategic nuclear arsenal. If sensors detected signs of an enemy nuclear attack, the USSR’s entire missile force would immediately launch with a minimum of human intervention—in effect, the doomsday weapon that ends the world in Dr. Strangelove.

Needless to say, this was a tightly held arrangement, known only to a select few in Moscow. Similarly chilling secrets, Blair continued to learn, lurked in the bowels of the US system, often unknown to the civilian leadership that supposedly directed it. In 1998, for example, on a visit to the headquarters of Strategic Command (­STRATCOM), the force controlling all US strategic nuclear weapons, at Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska, he discovered that the ­­­STRATCOM targeting staff had unilaterally chosen to interpret a presidential order on nuclear targeting in such a way as to reinsert China into the ­SIOP, from which it had been removed in 1982, thereby provisionally consigning a billion Chinese to nuclear immolation. Shortly thereafter, he informed a senior White House official, whose reaction Blair recalled as “surprised” and “befuddled.”

In 2006, Blair founded Global Zero, an organization dedicated to ridding the world of nuclear weapons, with an immediate goal of ending the policy of launch under attack. By that time, the Cold War that had generated the ­SIOP and all those nuclear weapons had long since come to an end. As a result, part of the nuclear war machine had been dismantled—warhead numbers were reduced, bombers taken off alert, weapons withdrawn from Europe. But at its heart, the system continued unchanged, officially ever alert and smooth running, poised to dispatch hundreds of precisely targeted weapons, but only on receipt of an order from the commander in chief.

Bombhead, by Bruce Conner (detail) © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco, and ARS, New York City. Courtesy Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles

Amount of aid Connecticut agreed in May to provide Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund:


A survey of national narcissism found that Russians see themselves as responsible for 61 percent of world history, whereas the Swiss put themselves at 11 percent

Marvel Entertainment's CEO exerts influence over the VA; Mike Pence lays out plans for The Space Force; Paul Manafort's trial reveals his tax evasion (and much more)

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


Happiness Is a Worn Gun


Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today