Bin Laden killed: For a day or two, we’ll feel like the United States of America again

It’s always satisfying when hoary old national stereotypes suddenly prove to be true. On Friday, the British were brought together as a nation by a royal wedding. On Sunday morning, Poland was brought together as a nation by the beatification of the former Pope. On Sunday night – and well into Monday morning – my fellow Americans were brought together as a nation by their delight in the execution of Osama bin Laden. You sing God Save the Queen, they say a “hail Mary”, we chant “USA, USA”. And all of us wave our national flags. Continue reading “Bin Laden killed: For a day or two, we’ll feel like the United States of America again”

Is Dmitry Medvedev ready to stand up to Vladimir Putin’?

Vladimir Putin’s ruthless control of the Kremlin looks set to be tested, writes Anne Applebaum.

This week, Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, said he might stand for re-election in 2012. A day later, Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, said he might oppose him. In any other European country, this would be run-of-the-mill political news. In Russia, where politics remain opaque and democracy is manipulated, it’s a sensation: open competition between two national leaders would be unprecedented. Continue reading “Is Dmitry Medvedev ready to stand up to Vladimir Putin’?”

The New Alliance

Freedom fries,’ served instead of French fries back in 2003, are no longer on the menu in Washington DC. French wine, out of fashion after Jacques Chirac refused to join our ‘coalition of the willing’ in Iraq, is no longer shunned. Au contraire. Continue reading “The New Alliance”

Libya: Gaddafi is about to force Barack Obama’s hand

Libya: Gaddafi is about to force Barack Obama’s hand
Barack Obama is about to learn a lesson – the US president can’t be neutral, writes Anne Applebaum.

Is it cowardice? Is it indecisiveness? Or is it clever diplomacy? Depending on who you ask in Washington, you’ll get a different explanation for President Barack Obama’s silence, to date, on the subject of Libya. Since the uprising began, he has made only one extended comment on the Libyan rebellion, and it was thoroughly anodyne. Continue reading “Libya: Gaddafi is about to force Barack Obama’s hand”

A Far-Fetched War

  • Crimea: The Last Crusade
    by Orlando Figes
    Allen Lane, 575pp, £30

First, a disclaimer: this review will not touch upon some recent, odd behaviour of this book’s author, Orlando Figes, because I can’t see that it’s relevant. The history of the Crimean war is far removed in time and in space from contemporary literary politics, and I think we should keep it that way. Continue reading “A Far-Fetched War”

The Worst of the Madness

  • Bloodlands
    by Timothy Snyder Basic Books, 524pp, $29.95
  • Stalin's Genocides
    by Norman M. Naimark Princeton University Press, 163 pp, $26.95

Once, in an attempt to explain the history of his country to outsiders, the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz described the impact of war, occupation, and the Holocaust on ordinary morality. Mass violence, he explained, could shatter a man’s sense of natural justice. In normal times,

had he stumbled upon a corpse on the street, he would have called the police. A crowd would have gathered, and much talk and comment would have ensued. Now he knows he must avoid the dark body lying in the gutter, and refrain from asking unnecessary questions….

Murder became ordinary during wartime, wrote Miłosz, and was even regarded as legitimate if it was carried out on behalf of the resistance. In the name of patriotism, young boys from law-abiding, middle-class families became hardened criminals, thugs for whom “the killing of a man presents no great moral problem.” Theft became ordinary too, as did falsehood and fabrication. People learned to sleep through sounds that would once have roused the whole neighborhood: the rattle of machine-gun fire, the cries of men in agony, the cursing of the policeman dragging the neighbors away. Continue reading “The Worst of the Madness”

Why Islam is now America’s burning issue

In lower Manhattan last weekend, an internet evangelist named Bill Keller held a meeting in a makeshift church, not far from what used to be the World Trade Center. He called upon the gathered faithful to help him in his great task: The construction of a “9/11 Christian Centre at Ground Zero”, a counterweight to the Islamic cultural centre which is being planned in the same part of town, and which has been the central topic of an angry and unfocused national conversation all summer.

Continue reading “Why Islam is now America’s burning issue”

Proscribed reading

  • Politics and the Novel During the Cold War
    by David Caute
    Transaction, 403pp, £42.50

In 1948, Poland’s new communist government was badly in need of legitimacy and desperate for international recognition. So they did what any self-respecting left-wing government would do, back in those days, in order to win a bit of respect; they held a cultural Congress. Continue reading “Proscribed reading”