Sunday, May 31, 2015

The real perils of realpolitik

Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in his book The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa (2010), details Israel's longstanding and extensive military links with apartheid South Africa, links that apparently included work on nuclear weapons and missiles that could carry them. 

The driving force behind the establishment of these ties, from Israel's perspective, was realpolitik rather than ideology. Shimon Peres played a significant role in establishing the program in its early years, when the Labor party ruled Israel. He "routinely denounced apartheid in public," Polakow-Suransky writes, and I assume those statements were sincere. But after a visit to South Africa in 1974, he wrote to the South African leaders he'd met with that "'this cooperation is based not only on common interest and on the determination to resist equally our enemies, but also on the unshakeable foundations of our common hatred of injustice and our refusal to submit to it.'" (Chapter 5, text preceding note 27, Kindle location 1639 of 7386).

After 1977, when Menachem Begin and Likud came to power, "the confluence of interests and similar ideologies pushed the two countries into a much more intimate relationship after 1977." Polakow-Suransky does not see the Likud leaders as racist, but he writes that Likud's "ethnonationalist ideology allowed Begin and other Likud leaders to stomach racist apartheid policies because these were part of a larger nationalist project designed to protect a minority group that believed its survival was threatened." (Chapter 6, text following note 25, Kindle location 2256 of 7386) 

The result was a program that provided both countries with substantial benefits during years when they had few other allies. But the trouble with realpolitik is that it so often comes back to haunt you. That was certainly the case here. Polakow-Suransky reports that in 1993 a far-left Israeli politician, Elazar Granot, spoke at the Socialist International and "lavished praise on [Nelson] Mandela, comparing him to Moses and arguing that South Africa's president-in-waiting was even greater than Moses for he had actually reached the Promised Land." But, "[a]s Granot recalls it, the first words from South Africa's icon of forgiveness and reconciliation were: 'The people of South Africa will never forget the support of the state of Israel to the apartheid regime.'" (Chapter 12, text at note 19, Kindle location 4517 of 7386). 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Unlikely events involving Neal Stephenson novels

Earlier this year I purchased a new, paperback copy of Neal Stephenson's book Reamde (2011), a slightly science-fictional global thriller that I had fun reading. But when I reached page 726, I found that pages 727-759 were missing from the book; not pulled out, just never bound in.

What made this especially odd was that some years ago I purchased a new, paperback copy of another Neal Stephenson book, Cryptonomicon (1999). I enjoyed that one too, but when I reached page 790, I found that pages 791-822 were missing from it; again, not pulled out, just never bound in. With Cryptonomicon, I went to the public library and read the missing pages there, but I didn't think l I should have to do that twice -- and fortunately, Stephenson's agent graciously sent me a new copy of Reamde that had all of its pages.

One possible explanation for my twice buying incomplete copies of Stephenson's books is that there are a lot of incomplete copies around. I hope that's not true, for the sake of Stephenson and his many other readers. But the second possible explanation (the one his agent confirmed) was that I was (in book-purchasing terms) struck by lightning twice. 

What can be the odds of this? If one out of 10,000 copies of Stephenson's books is incorrectly bound, then the chance of buying two would be about one in 100,000,000. That's really not very likely! But if this could happen, doesn't it seem that I should be due to win the lottery soon? 

Non-immortal verse

From my grandmother's poetry collection, the first stanza of an 1896 poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, titled "Custer":

All valor died not on the plains of Troy.
Awake, my Muse, awake! be thine the joy
To sing of deeds as dauntless and as brave
As e'er lent luster to a warrior's grave.
Sing of that noble soldier, nobler man,
Dear to the heart of each American.
Sound forth his praise sea to listening sea--
Greece her Achilles claimed, immortal Custer, we.

Of course it is right, especially on Memorial Day, to remember those who died in battle, and those who lived afterwards with the consequences of the wars. But sometimes the passage of years clarifies our view -- and improves our poetry.