The Atlantic Monthly, October 2008

This issue‘s cover features a controversial picture of Senator Crazy John McCain. 

Hail the Leader!

Hail the Leader!

 The controversy mainly has to do with the photographer’s other images of McCain.  The Atlantic defended the image above. 

The legend, “Why War is His Answer,” seemed eerily apt- the magazine arrived in the same mail as a gift from a friend (thanks, cymast!) a Quaker “War is Not the Answer” bumper sticker. 

Interesting points after the jump.

In “The Petraeus Doctrine,” Andrew J. Bacevich discusses a “Great Debate” currently roiling the US army officer corps.  On one side he finds “Crusaders,” among them Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl and General David Petraeus, who accept the Bush administration’s idea of a “Long War” to eliminate terrorism as the military’s future; on the other, the “Conservatives,” including Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile, who regard the idea of the “Long War” as at best a case of preparing to fight the last war and at worst a rationalization for a deeply corrupt policy.  These Iraq War veterans often make their cases in the form of debates over the Vietnam War, which the Crusaders believe the USA could have won and was in fact winning after General Creighton Abrams replaced William Westmoreland in 1968,  while the Conservatives argue that the Vietnam War was utterly pointless from the beginning.  Elsewhere in this same issue, in fact in the McCain piece that triggered the cover, Bacevich himself is quoted on this controversy.  “We lost in Vietnam because we got beat.  I served during the period when Abrams was supposedly winning the war, and what I saw there [in the Central Highlands of Vietnam] makes it impossible for me to believe that we were winning.”  Indeed, that piece (“The Wars of John McCain,” by neocon Jeffrey Goldberg) makes it clear that McCain is firmly in the camp of the Crusaders.  From page 46:

But could the Vietnam War have been won? 

“I think it was winnable,” he [McCain] said. 

Then goes on to compare former Iraq commander (current US Army chief of staff) George Casey to General Westmoreland, the arch-villain of the Crusaders, and to blame him for the course of the Iraq War up to 2007.  Paraphrasing McCain, Goldberg refers to Petraeus’ approach as “a more Creighton Abrams-like strategy.” 

A couple of noteworthy psychological studies are mentioned.  A study finds that subjects who write little essays about their favorite movie stars feel better about themselves afterward; apparently this is an example of a “parasocial” relationship.  Another study finds that subjects who have spent a few moments thinking about situations in which they felt powerless were more likely to want to buy expensive things afterward than were subjects who had spent the same time thinking about situations in which they felt empowered.  I wondered if that effect explains why increased job insecurity in recent years has seemed to correlate with a rise in consumer indebtedness.

Thomas Johnson and M. Chris Mason join the chorus arguing that US strategy in Afghanistan has erred gravely in investing heavily in the success of the central government and operating from provincial capitals.  Like other observers, they point out that Afghan society is radically decentralized, with each tribe or clan priding itself on its independence and its connection to the place it calls its own.  Unlike many of these observers who argue that the time has come to wind down a fatally misconceived mission, Johnson and Mason conclude that the US must continue its efforts, only from the woleswali, “the districts within each province that are typically home to a single clan or tribe.”  They sketch a rather Creighton Abrams-like strategy for Afghanistan…

Benjamin Schwarz reviews the Stuff White People Like book.  Schwarz appears to be one of those who find the site irresistible. 

Corby Kummer is supposed to write a piece about craft breads, but can’t quite get away from the topics of denouncing blogs that publish recipes.  To which I say, fight the power!  We will continue to publish them!  With attribution, if possible.


  1. cymast

     /  October 7, 2008

    3 McCain ?s:

    Is the photo, according the the Atlantic editors, “respectable” or “manipulated and dishonest”?

    Is the photo an outtake or is it digitally altered?

    Is McCain storing nuts for the winter?


    What great mail timing (you’re welcome, acilius)!


    I’ve always thought of war as the ultimate proof of the failure of humanity. No winners. Wars aren’t won- they’re ended. If people really can’t think of a way to coexist, and instead find themselves committing genocide against innocent civilians and children- for whatever “reason”- I say that’s the definition of epic failure.


    Is there a STUFF BLACK PEOPLE LIKE book?

  2. acilius

     /  October 7, 2008

    The editors seem to think that the photo they published was respectful, but that the ones they didn’t publish were “manipulated and dishonest.”

    “I’ve always thought of war as the ultimate proof of the failure of humanity. No winners.” Hear, hear.

    “Is there a STUFF BLACK PEOPLE LIKE book?”- there is a website called “stuff black people like,” and others with similar titles, but they’re not as popular- the point of “stuff white people like” is to make fun of a particular kind of white person. there doesn’t seem to be as much demand for ridicule of particular kinds of black people.

  3. cymast

     /  October 7, 2008

    Seems like the Atlantic editors are a bit confused.


    Uh-oh. The creator of the StuffBlackPeopleLikeAlso blog is a white person.

  4. acilius

     /  October 7, 2008

    I don’t think they’re so confused. They say that the picture they used is good, but that other pictures, which they never used, are bad. Their critics keep harping on the other pictures. For my part, I think that the picture they did use is hideous. It looks like something you’d see on a banner hanging above a rally where a dictator is announcing his plans for world domination.

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