‘RIGHT’ TO DO?
I was disheartened to see the subject line “Leaving Afghanistan is the right thing to do” (“An Unwinnable War,” September). It felt like clickbait designed to raise my blood pressure. But I generally trust Commonweal to have a thoughtful take, so I clicked.
I’m still disappointed. Focusing on whether the United States is “right” in leaving Afghanistan ignores the terrible suffering that is happening there now. Plenty of people are trying to “leave Afghanistan” and they can’t because of our own failures. I think most people agree that the United States should leave Afghanistan; the question that divides us is how we should have left, and what we do now. Making pronouncements on what is “right” and “wrong” is childish scorekeeping and absolves us from the sins that are still being committed.
I am sure that there are some Afghans who do not care which regime is in power, but I can think of certain demographics who are less likely to feel this way. I do not want to ignore them. I think we should not assume that Taliban rule will mean that people will live without fear of violence, as you seem to be suggesting. I am not speaking as someone who is trying to justify a war, but as someone who was disturbed by the editors’ attempt to put a tidy bow on an already remarkably bloodless essay.
THAT SPECIAL NOTHING
Thank you so much for Jeff Reimer’s exceptional article on Walker Percy and acedia (“Giving the Sickness a Name,” September). Citing Mary Gordon’s comment that acedia is Walker Percy’s great theme beautifully captured his lifetime of great, meaningful writing.
I first became aware of Percy when I was in the Peace Corps in the late 1960s. I was stationed alone in a “parish” (county) without a town in the West Indies. It was a lonely experience, but I was able to enjoy Percy’s first three novels while there and everything else after returning to the United States. I believe that The Moviegoer may be one of the finest “contemplations” I have ever read.
What impressed me most about Percy’s protagonists was their searching quality, consistent with Reimer’s references to signs of hope and contemplation. My suspicion is that many liberally educated males from my era relate positively to Percy’s endearing persona—a deep-thinking, curious, kindly wiseacre! As Percy said in one of his essays, in order to be a good writer, you had to have that “special nothing.” He certainly had it. Obviously, I still miss his wit and wisdom.
Charles G. Blewitt
BACKWARD RAN THE SENTENCES
Luke Timothy Johnson writes in his review of Sarah Ruden’s translation of the Gospels (“Too Original,” October), “I have not been able to locate a genuinely negative review of her earlier efforts, which gives me pause, because I have so many problems with this translation.” One place Johnson didn’t check was Commonweal itself, where in my review of Ruden’s book specifically about the challenges of Bible translation (“Shop Talk,” July 7, 2017), I illustrated my problems with that book by doing just as Johnson does and quoting representative examples, such as Ruden’s translation of the Lord’s Prayer:
Father, our father in heaven above,
Spoken in holiness must be your name.
Into the world must come your kingdom,
And into being whatever you have willed,
In heaven the same way as here on earth.
Of this I wrote, “All I could think of, reading these lines, was Wolcott Gibbs’s famous parody of Henry Luce’s ‘Timestyle’: ‘Backward ran the sentences until reeled the mind.... Where it all will end, knows God.’”
Perhaps not “genuinely negative” by Johnson’s standards but by Ruden’s, I should think, rather less than positive.
Santa Ana, Calif.
BETTER DEAD THAN RED
Thanks to Michael Peppard for the enlightening analogy between COVID-19 vaccinations and traffic signals (“Persuading Anti-vaxxers,” October). May I also pose: suppose there is a small but vocal minority of citizens who believe that the stopping color “red” was chosen for political reasons, and violates their constitutional right to commandeer this color as a signal to action (go!). These individuals are largely clandestine, but ubiquitous on social media, and are occasionally encouraged or praised by prominent civic leaders as “patriots.” How do we reconcile their beliefs and actions with those of the majority? What is the impact on our stature among other urbanized countries, where many of us wish to drive?
TAKE ME TO YOUR READER
Santiago Ramos provides a fascinating discussion of earthlings’ notions of aliens, and their possible impressions of us (“First Contact,” October). His description of our current Zoom culture of virtual interaction was strangely predicted in E. M. Forster’s 1910 “The Machine Stops,” which seems to have inspired Pixar’s film WALL-E. Ramos’s description of Voltaire’s Micromegas makes me want to read it. However, though Voltaire’s tale may “have been called the first true example of science fiction,” it isn’t. Francis Bacon’s 1626 The New Atlantis doesn’t include extraterrestrials, but its characters have invented phones, televisions, and planes.
Western Michigan University,
WHAT WE HAVE GIVEN AWAY
I can’t tell you how much I appreciated Gordon Marino’s article (“The Why & the How,” September). As I enter my eighty-third year, Marino’s words resonate deeply within me. Our society is so fearful of dying and we try so hard to sugarcoat the inevitable. If that “why” in life is rooted in goods and achievements, how will that “how” ever be embraced? As has been said: we take with us only what we have given away grounded in love.