Military Blunders

"Objective Opinions" [Colleagues, Summer 2014] discusses interesting interactions between Bruce Riedel, SAIS professor and former CIA official, and Yaniv Barzilai, his former student who has written about the early days of the war in Afghanistan.

The first issue raised is Tora Bora, a mountain area between Afghanistan and Pakistan where Osama bin Laden and several hundred of his key followers were holed up from November through December of 2001. U.S. commanders on the ground asked for 1,000 additional soldiers to surround bin Laden but were denied their request by Gen. Tommy Franks, on orders from President George W. Bush. As a result, bin Laden and his men were allowed to escape into Pakistan unharmed.

After the incident, investigative journalist Peter Bergen said, "I am convinced that Tora Bora constitutes one of the greatest military blunders in recent U.S. history." The primary reason why Bush lost interest in Afghanistan was because he was manipulated into turning his attention toward Iraq by a cabal of neoconservatives in his administration, all of whom were closely aligned with Israel's right­wing Likud Party.

Unfortunately, these same neoconservatives have been trying to drag the U.S. into another disastrous war in Iran—not to benefit America but to remove another regime that is unfriendly to Israel. A U.S. war in Iran would skyrocket oil prices and destroy our economy. We cannot allow this to happen.

Ray Gordon, A&S '66
Bel Air, Maryland

Climate Change Questions

In Catherine Pierre's Editor's Note [Summer], she writes, "While a disingenuous debate plays out in the mainstream about whether global climate change is actually happening, scientists who know better would be focused on fixing the problem." The issue is not whether climate change is happening, it is that politicians state categorically that change is man­made and can be corrected by raising our taxes. Incredible!

Approximately 1,000 years ago, grapes were growing in Greenland ("Vineland"). Today it is mostly covered in ice.

I recently visited a natural history museum in Tampa, Florida, and learned that there are no dinosaur fossils in what is today southern Florida because it was completely covered by water millions of years ago. I guess that was caused by humans—no wait, it must have been caused by those pesky dinosaurs emitting all that methane.

Our climate is constantly changing, as geography and oceanography courses at Hopkins must hopefully still teach. Ice ages come and go. I doubt that any significant change in our climate can be measured in the lifetime of a human. Where do the politicians want our climate to be fixed and never change anymore: the way it was in 1492? 200,000 years ago? 5 million years ago?

Air pollution is a serious issue that can and should be addressed, as is water quality and availability. But trying to prevent the world's climate from changing and saying that all change is due to man's activities is unscientific. Even worse is limiting the debate on the causes of climate change by labeling such debate "disingenuous."

Raoul Benveniste, A&S '96, HS '80
Trappe, Maryland

Dear Teacher

Oh, dear, I didn't want to get into this, but after the exchange in the last two issues over Daniel Menaker's comments on Charles Anderson and Earl Wasserman ["Straight from the Source," Dialogue, Summer], I feel I ought to comment.

My perspective will be a bit different from Menaker's because I was a veteran and transfer student, attending Hopkins 1954–56, 10 years before Menaker did. Apparently, there was no Anderson anthology at that time because I never heard him recommend it. Or there was, but he didn't recommend it.

And I had a very different experience with Earl Wasserman. From my perspective, he was the best teacher in the department. He was also my adviser. Yes, when I applied to enter, I had a meeting with him, and he was not encouraging about my becoming an English major. But after the first course I had with him, I guess I proved myself, and he couldn't have been more cordial and always willing to listen to me in his office. I would add that he took the time to conduct a noncredit course for me and another student because we wanted to read Wordsworth, whom he didn't teach. It was a wonderful experience, the three of us in his office, talking together as if we were three scholars. Maybe 10 years later he was a little cranky, like many of us at the end of our teaching careers.

Al Rose, A&S '56
Towson, Maryland

Offering Enlightenment

I read with interest the article in the spring issue titled "Deliberate Alienation" [Forefront, Spring] about Omid Mehrgan's intersession course. The question that Mr. Mehrgan asks students—Why did the West prosper while Iran got left behind?—is one that I and others have asked about the former Ottoman areas of Asia Minor and the Arabian Peninsula.

Presumably, he is already familiar with two categories of insights. The first is the obvious—the economic boost that the West derived from colonialism. The second category consists of the thoughts of others who have previously asked that question (or some version of it); examples can be found in the writings of post–World War I Turks, who bemoaned the Ottoman Empire's having put itself at a disadvantage by failing to reap the economic benefits that the labor of women contributes to the workforce.

Please allow me to suggest a third category: the relevant benefits of the West's so­called Age of Enlightenment. This was the era during which civil society split apart from, and eventually became dominant over, religion. It was when the notion of individual rights and liberties achieved traction. It led to the establishment of free, compulsory education. Enlightenment thinking reoriented the focus of society in the West. This, in turn, opened the door for meaningful changes in how the economy functioned. Neither the Persians nor the Turks nor the Arabs have undergone a comparable unleashing of the abilities of their people.

Pat Gerber, A&S '79 (MLA)
San Francisco, California

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