Editor's Note — September 18, 2017, 1:04 pm

Inside the October Issue

Marilynne Robinson, Andrew Cockburn, Ben Mauk, Elisabeth Zerofsky, Eileen Myles, and more…

Whatever his faults (and they are far too numerous to list here), Donald Trump certainly has a gift for monopolizing the national news—for putting it in an egregious, fact-free headlock. Add to that the disappearance of regional papers across the country, and we can easily forget that vital events are still unfolding in our backyards. In “All Over This Land,” we have tried to put local politics back at center stage. The forum features a distinguished roster of contributors, including Edwidge Danticat (on immigration protests in Miami), Paul Theroux (on the Hawaiian microcosm), Jesmyn Ward (on health care in Mississippi), Marilynne Robinson (on Iowa’s lurch to the right), Lydia Davis (on dipping her toe into small-town government), Lisa Elmaleh (on eminent domain in West Virginia), and Steve Mumford (on fishermen in Maine). The tone is alternately indignant, wry, hopeful, despairing. Yet all of the pieces remind us that much of what goes on inside the Beltway is political theater—a kind of Kabuki for cable-news junkies—while real life transpires elsewhere, anywhere.

In “States of Decay,” Ben Mauk and photographer Balazs Gardi venture into America’s nuclear heartland, where the crumbling remains of our once thriving uranium industry have yet to be bulldozed out of existence. The old mines and waste sites are what we might generously call picturesque ruins. Yet even these Ozymandian eyesores are still capable of emitting toxic levels of radiation, and some may even reopen for business, should the industry emerge from its decades-long swoon. Elisabeth Zerofsky ventures further afield in “Everyman’s War,” to Lithuania and Estonia—where paramilitaries are preparing to fight off the Russian hordes. And in “Crime and Punishment,” Andrew Cockburn explores the possibility that the Saudis, whose connivance in the 9/11 attacks has been suspected for years, will finally face their accusers in court.

By now it may appear that Harper’s Magazine is your one-stop-shop for long-form dystopia. Not true! We revel in the lighter side as well—just take a look at Tom Bissell’s essay on the resurgence of Saturday Night Live. Technically speaking, of course, this resurgence is owed to the election of Donald Trump, so there is a whiff of dystopia after all. But Bissell is typically astute about the show’s long evolution, and about its fated intersection with our pernicious POTUS. In the end, he argues that Trump’s “brand of comedy—cruel and joyless and denuded of laughter—has become his cultural revenge.” 

In Readings, we have a chronicle of canine coitus by Eileen Myles, a skinny poem by Dawn Lundy Martin, some dirty realism by Samanta Schweblin, and a frank confession by the Louisville Courier-Journal that the paper had incorrectly referred to a hot dog as a “sandwich” on multiple occasions between 1887 and 1966. (Take that, fake news!) Michelle Dean delves into the nightmare logic of the rebooted Twin Peaks, and David Means delivers some fictional fisticuffs in “Fistfight, Sacramento, August 1950.” Last but not least, there is another superb Easy Chair essay from Walter Kirn, in which he suggests that in this fight-or-flight moment for American civilization, “an affinity for or awe of certain creatures might be more motivating than fear for ourselves.”     

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In February 1947, Harper’s Magazine published Henry L. Stimson’s “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” As secretary of war, Stimson had served as the chief military adviser to President Truman, and recommended the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The terms of his unrepentant apologia, an excerpt of which appears on page 35, are now familiar to us: the risk of a dud made a demonstration too risky; the human cost of a land invasion would be too high; nothing short of the bomb’s awesome lethality would compel Japan to surrender. The bomb was the only option. Seventy years later, we find his reasoning unconvincing. Entirely aside from the destruction of the blasts themselves, the decision thrust the world irrevocably into a high-stakes arms race — in which, as Stimson took care to warn, the technology would proliferate, evolve, and quite possibly lead to the end of modern civilization. The first half of that forecast has long since come to pass, and the second feels as plausible as ever. Increasingly, the atmosphere seems to reflect the anxious days of the Cold War, albeit with more juvenile insults and more colorful threats. Terms once consigned to the history books — “madman theory,” “brinkmanship” — have returned to the news cycle with frightening regularity. In the pages that follow, seven writers and experts survey the current nuclear landscape. Our hope is to call attention to the bomb’s ever-present menace and point our way toward a world in which it finally ceases to exist.

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The Ambassador Bridge arcs over the Detroit River, connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, the southernmost city in Canada. Driving in from the Canadian side, where I grew up, is like viewing a panorama of the Motor City’s rise and fall, visible on either side of the bridge’s turquoise steel stanchions. On the right are the tubular glass towers of the Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors, and Michigan Central Station, the rail terminal that closed in 1988. On the left is a rusted industrial corridor — fuel tanks, docks, abandoned warehouses. I have taken this route all my life, but one morning this spring, I crossed for the first time in a truck.

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But the exercise of labor is the worker’s own life-activity, the manifestation of his own life. . . . He works in order to live. He does not even reckon labor as part of his life, it is rather a sacrifice of his life.

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To look at him, Sweet Macho was a beautiful horse, lean and strong with muscles that twitched beneath his shining black coat. A former racehorse, he carried himself with ceremony, prancing the field behind our house as though it were the winner’s circle. When he approached us that day at the edge of the yard, his eyes shone with what might’ve looked like intelligence but was actually a form of insanity. Not that there was any telling our mother’s boyfriend this — he fancied himself a cowboy.

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What We Think About When We Think About Soccer, by Simon Critchley. Penguin Books. 224 pages. $20.

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"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

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