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Dear Editor,
In his review of Lewis Lapham's collection of essays, Theatre of War (BiC, March 2003), Brian Fawcett criticizes Lapham for having "excessive confidence in his own judgment," as though this trait is to be avoided in a writer of persuasive essays. He is willing to dismiss some of the most incisive, subtly satirical and courageous homegrown attacks on the current American administration because none of the questions posed "have easy answers." Rereading the review, I can't help concluding that Fawcett is striking out at Lapham's style as a backhanded way of attacking the substance of his complex argument without having to express an opinion himself. Early on we get Fawcett's sad 'admission' of liberal sympathies, but this is little more than the handshake before the sucker punch.
Fawcett himself describes the American constitution as being "under permanent siege from zealots and believers driven mad by its rational humanism," and then in the very next sentence slams Lapham for depicting his own intellectual enemies as "a circus of fools and cynical opportunists." It's as though Fawcett is stubbornly determined to disagree, even as he agrees.
Lapham's wit, historical scope, irony and skill with rhetoric are all set as liabilities, reminding me of Al Gore's persistent problem in the 2000 election campaign¨the dilemma of being too smart in comparison to his opponent's dopey folksiness. Since when should a man with the talent to write intelligently hide that talent for the sake of making it seem he's not smarter than those who disagree with him?
I read all of the essays in Theater of War as they appeared in successive issues of Harper's since September 2001. What Fawcett reads as "rhetorical overkill," I enjoy as a wise and quite funny retort to "axis of evil", "operation enduring freedom", and the other "grand metaphors" of the Cheney/Bush presidency. For examples of the kind of thinking Lapham is up against, witness a recent editorial by William Kristol in the republican organ The Weekly Standard, breakfast-time reading in the pre-war White House: "It turns out it really is better to be respected and feared than to be thought to share, with exquisite sensitivity, other people's pain. History and reality are about to weigh in, and we are inclined simply to let them render their verdicts." (March 17, 2003) The same issue of TWS calls for the dissolution of the United Nations, and consideration for an invasion ofÓ Venezuela. History and reality indeed.
Lapham has co-opted the administration's extravagant gravitas and introduced some real intellectual force in an attempt to get through to a population whose capacity for subtlety is so diminished, apparently, they can't even recognize when their highest office has been pilfered away from them. He seems to have succeeded in getting through to someone. Recent audited figures for Harper's show a 28.1% spike in their readership since Lapham's editorial campaign began in the issue following the September 2001 terrorist attacks (The New York Times, March 3).
The early revving of Fawcett's argument, if overstated, is a fair enough expression of literary taste (he's no fan of the long introduction, in other writers), but the review suffers an ugly breakdown when Fawcett presumes to think for Lapham, leaping to conclusions where no leap is warranted. Where Lapham tries to convince Main Street America that it lives in an illusory bubble of safety within an unsafe larger world (if war prowls Baghdad and Sarajevo, why not New York or Washington?), Fawcett purposefully misreads a moral syllogism involving deserved suffering.
Finally, he accuses Lapham of lazy journalism before tacking onto his book review an embarrassing, kiss-ass review of the television program Band of Brothers. I also enjoyed Band of Brothers, but so what? Lapham was not attempting to review the show based on the press release, he was reviewing the press release. It was a first shot at his latest target, the media and entertainment industrial complex of the US and its complicity in acting as conduit to the unexamined messages of government. It's a subtle point. I would have expected Brian Fawcett to get it. He's Brian Fawcett, right?
John Degen,

Dear Editor,
Mr. Degen's rebuttal of my review of Lewis Lapham's Theatre of War, is a little too interested in scoring brownie points on me to warrant point-by-point response, but several of the issues he raises need to be answered.
My review criticized Lapham's excessive use of rhetorical questions throughout the book. I don't like rhetorical questions because they invariably signal preaching to a devotional constituency, and because I'm convinced that we now live in a world where rhetorical questions have ceased to exist. This was clear in the review, but it apparently needs repeating. Excuse me if I'm not comforted by snarky irony in the face of right wing lunatics who operate without any detectable sense of irony. Perhaps instead of accusing Lapham of "excessive confidence in his own judgment," I should have accused him of "oblivious confidence in his own judgment." My excuse is that a few adjectives must be reserved for David Frum.
I was quite naturally humiliated and devastated by Mr. Degen's mention of the 28.1% sales spike in Harper's readership, but wonder if Mr. Degen could remove his head from his navel long enough to translate that 28.1% spike into a percentage of the overall American population¨and let us know if the recent spike in attendance at American fundamentalist churches proves the existence of God.
As for Lapham's arrogant appropriation of Band of Brothers as a piece of Bush propaganda without having watched any of it, I'll stand behind what I said. Lapham wasn't merely reviewing the press release. He was substituting what goes on in the New York media cocktail circuit for basic research. If this was a subtle "first shot at his latest target, the media and entertainment industrial complex of the US and its complicity in acting as a conduit to the unexamined messages of government," it's no wonder George W. Bush and his Cold War spooks have been able to ruin the American economy, set civil rights back forty years and start an unnecessary war virtually unopposed. The reality is that Lapham put his foot in a big one, and was too busy smirking in the direction of his half-full pews to notice.
Brian Fawcett

Dear Editor,
I just finished the March, 2003 issue. Fortunately the letter from the gentleman in Waterloo reminded me that I have thought, more than once, to send a note saying how much I (also) appreciate the reviews and essays on poetry in Books In Canada. One of the pleasures in reading those essays is how engaging and well written they are. Often I disagree with the opinions therein¨usually Mr. Starnino's¨which is great, as constructive and critical disagreement is sometimes more of a delight than plain old agreement. (It requires more synaptic action, anyway.) So, belatedly: keep up the good work.
Aislinn Hunter

Dear Editor,
Margaret Atwood wants to know what happened to the fun in American life (A letter to America, Globe and Mail, March 28, 2003). This puzzles me for a number of reasons. Are we speaking of the same America, the nation that embroiled itself in the Vietnam war she unaccountably fails to mention, that shot its own students at Kent State, that sent thousands of its brightest and best fleeing into Canada? I certainly never had "a ton of fun" south of the border and I can well understand why my son left a lucrative job in Tennessee to accept a relatively poorly paid position here.
At the same time, when more than 3,000 of your citizens are obliterated in a terrorist attack, and chemical weapons and dirty bombs hover in the future, the answer to Atwood's question "when did you get so scared?" should be obvious. I for one would be "easily frightened" if such disasters had happened here, but then I've never been as enamoured of intellectual evasions and literary bromides as many of our peaceable and privileged scribes appear to be. Walt Whitman, whom Atwood quotes as an exemplar of American conscience favourable to her argument, would likely stand by his country in so difficult an hour. "I'm with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence" (Crossing Brooklyn Ferry). And, in support of the Union side in the civil war, "blow! bugles! blow!...mind not the timid¨mind not the weeper or the prayer" (Beat! Drums! Beat!)
It makes perfect sense why America should be less fun now than it was once upon a time to certain frivolous travellers. It's called 9/11 and has to do with a country that feels itself under imminent threat of a horrendous sequel. Under such circumstances, the very notion of "fun" betokens a rather shallow perspective on reality.
The notion of "peace" is somewhat more complex. Like Atwood and many others, I, too, am the peacable sort, but that is precisely why I support the American-led invasion of Iraq. I sense that if something isn't done about Saddam¨the same applies to the North Korean garden gnome¨we have maybe three years at most before our cities start erupting (even less for Israeli cities). Saddam funds the suicide bombers in Israel, continues to purchase his death-technology from Russia, France and Germany, and spreads his chemical/biological weapons around the terrorist network¨a large cache is presently hidden across the border in Syria, as the Jerusalem Post, a newspaper famed for its accuracy, reported not so long ago.
My point is that sometimes you can't have peace unless you first have war, a fact of life which, for example, Chamberlain and the majority of the English public in 1939 catastrophically forgot. The choice in human affairs at certain critical moments doesn't come down to war/peace but larger war/smaller war if peace is to be safeguarded in the long run. This is reality, not ideology or wish-fulfillment. As for the Iraqi regime, it knows that its greatest allies are the war dissenters and peace marchers in Western cities¨these are its real human shields. As for us, we have become like the citizens of Augustine's city of Hippo at the beginning of the fifth century when it was attacked by the Vandals. The good peace-loving people of Hippo were too busy debating public policy and amusing themselves in the local Colosseum to rush to the walls in order to defend themselves, trusting in the strength of their fortifications. The Vandals sacked the city and put almost everyone to the sword. Wake up, folks!
David Solway

Dear Editor,
Chris Jenning, in his review of a recent selection of Irving Layton's love poetry (BiC, March 2003) reference is made at the start of the piece to "the love poem's failing health." And by the end of the piece, reference is made to the "genre's demise." Also, a reader of the review would be forgiven for thinking that no anthology of Canadian love poetry appeared after 1983, since that is the most recent volume referred to.
I thought I would bring to your attention that B.C.'s Harbour Publishing in 2001 brought out a turn-of-the-millennium anthology of contemporary Canadian love poetry, The Dominion of Love, which I edited. The anthology, which consists of 50 love poems by 50 Canadian poets, from Atwood to Zonailo, appeared on the B.C. bestseller list for February 2002, so there are clearly readers of poetry who do not share your reviewer's belief in the death of good love poems.
Tom Wayman,
British Columbia

Dear Editor,
Congratulations for having the courage to publish David Solway's piece, "The Book of Canadian Poetry", in your March, 2003 issue. Amen, brother!

Walter Bruno,
Dear Editor,
Re Carmine Starnino's review of Christopher Dewdney's "The Natural History" (BiC, January/February, 2003)¨Excellent! Excellent! Excellent ! Thank you for saying what needs to be said.
Micheline Maylor

Dear Editor,
I read Jack Illingworth's review of Roy Miki's Surrender (January/February 2003) with eager curiosity because I wanted to understand why Miki's book about the Japanese Canadian wartime experience had won the 2002 Governor General's Award for poetry in English.
Would his critique help me to make sense of verses like:

vainglorious summits beckon abysmal
rounds of canticles colchis diffused hounds
in autumnal glaciers bark new of the demise
of freight trains colonial notes unleash torrents.

Or would it confirm my suspicion that reading Miki's poems and essays with a straight face is a kind of penance expected of Canadian readers for the injustice suffered by the Japanese Canadians during WWII¨over and beyond the $21,000 they paid to each one of us, even to such as Roy Miki who from birth to age seven apparently suffered the grievous pain of not having the right to vote, or to travel to the B.C. coast?
I did my best to follow Mr. Illingworth's scholarly diagnosis of Miki's "abstract synthesis" and "ideological anti-hierarchical text" etc., but it all sounded like politically-correct humbug to me, and I concluded that he didn't really understand Miki's poems either. I would love to have him translate the "interior poem" excerpt from above! I'll even give him the benefit of what I was able to figure out by myself. The poem is called "interior poem" because apparently the poet is driving to New Denver which is where one of the larger relocation camps was located and New Denver is in the interior of B.C. and the poem is kind of an interior thing too because it certainly doesn't reveal much.
Interestingly, the one sentence in the entire book whose meaning and intention I understood at once is also the one which seems to have struck Mr. Illingworth with the force Miki intended:

Your family has been selected for the beet sugar scheme.

Mr. Illingworth was impressed by the way Miki's "vaguely expansive poetic language" was "unleashed against the bland imperative of governmental English." I, however, was repelled by its deceit. Families, you see, were never "selected" for the sugar beet farms. It was one of the options available to families who did not want to be relocated to the camps in the B.C. interior where the majority of the families were sent. Some brave and adventurous ones chose to "go east" to start new lives in Ontario and Quebec, some who had the financial means opted to go to "self-supporting" centres¨derisively referred to as "kane mochi mura" (rich people's village) by other Japanese Canadians, others chose the sugar beet farms in Alberta and Manitoba where Miki was born in 1942 "under a sugar beet leaf. 'be leaf me'."
From what I have heard, life in the self-supporting towns and on the sugar beet farms was harsher than in the "ghost towns" in the B.C. interior. I spent my teen-aged years from 14 to 18 in Slocan, in the breathtakingly beautiful Kootenay valley with its mountains and lakes and rivers and four glorious seasons. Despite the injustice of being labeled "enemy aliens" our days were not spent in grim stoicism. On the contrary they were remarkably carefree and happy. There was never a lack of things to do¨swimming, skating, hiking, gardening, attending school, socializing at dances and concerts, visiting friends at other relocation camps miles away, by bus, rail, and boat, and I have dozens of pictures to prove it. For many Issei, still suffering from the effects of the Depression, the camps afforded a 4-year respite from financial worry. If all this sounds a bit unreal, it is probably because our life in the relocation camps was indeed far removed from the real world. By being placed in these camps we were inadvertently shielded from the overt anti-Japanese racism of the day and our parents were spared the agony of seeing their sons go off to war, perhaps even to fight their Japanese cousins, or be maimed or killed. Yes, we would have much preferred to be treated as the real Canadians we were, but we were not, and so perhaps ironically, we sat out the war in relative comfort.
I do not mean to minimize the injustice of the internment. Because I was young, the most painful moment for me was the ignominy of having to retrieve my supplies from the classroom a month before the school year was up. I avoided looking at my classmates, who were embarrassed for me. I realize that those who were older suffered much more.
For my father, who had fought in the trenches with the Canadian infantry at Vimy Ridge in WWI, the most devastating moment of the WWII was the news that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbour. He was unbelieving and visibly shaken, but I was too young and callow to offer him comforting words or to ask him what he was thinking or feeling.
In his anti-racist posturings in poem or essay about the JC internment, Roy Miki never addresses the heinous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour which killed over 2000 innocent victims. Or the over 50 million people who were killed world-wide. No one died in the internment. Since 1949 we have enjoyed all the rights and privileges of being Canadian. The injustice has been acknowledged. The Canadian Government has apologized and given every internee financial redress. We accepted the apology and the money. It is long past the time when Canadians should feel guilty about the internment. Roy Miki's poems should be judged on the basis of their excellence or lack of it. Roy Miki has milked the Internment Cow long enough and¨with an undeserved Governor-General's Award now to his credit¨once too often.
Lois Hashimoto
Laval, Quebec

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