• Where has the War on Terror led us?


    septembre 11 statue.jpgThe events marking the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11 will be filled with the horrors of the deaths of 3,000 people. We will be shown the playback of the tragic scenes of those jumping from windows, of the crumbling of the World Trade Center Towers, of the plane crashing into the Pentagon. Survivors will be asked how they are dealing with the past; relatives will share their enormous grief. Loved ones will have their virtues extolled. Heroic firefighters and policemen will be interviewed. We will all mourn. We will properly pay our respects to all those who died in the United States as well as around the world in terrorist attacks.

    Could the commemorative services also serve another function? I recently walked the beaches of Normandy. Hectares after hectares of crosses and monuments and dedications to those who lost their lives in the landings of June 1944. With time, the heroism of those actions continues to impress and to humble. We are certain that we are all better off for the sacrifices of those buried there.

    Where has the War on Terror led us?

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  • Security in Geneva: I was raised in the Bronx...


    A major local newspaper last week compared the lack of security in Geneva to the Bronx. I was offended. I was raised in the Bronx and have never understood why the Swiss Romand use the Bronx as a synonym for violence and chaos, although I continually have sought the origins of this tradition.

    The Bronx - I will give some information here since I assume that even those who have visited New York City have skipped the Bronx - is one of five boroughs of NYC. Its size is 109 square kilometers and the 2010 census puts its population at 1. 3 million people. We are not talking about Carouge here. Although the Bronx is one of the most densely populated areas in the United States, about one quarter of its space is open areas. I grew up next to Van Cordlandt Park, 4.6 square kilometers, which has a large lake, sports stadium, two public golf courses, riding stables, and a famous cross-country track. In addition, my neighborhood was boarded by a large reservoir surrounded by 3 kilometers of stone walls. West of Van Cortlandt Park is the very chick neighborhood of Riverdale, which contains many stately mansions with tennis courts and swimming pools as well as the prestigious Horace Mann, Riverdale and Fieldston private schools. The Bronx also has the elite public Bronx High School of Science as well as several universities. The house of the famous poet Edgar Allan Poe is in the Bronx as well as the stadium of my beloved New York Yankees baseball team.

    It is true that not all of the Bronx is peace and love. References to the Bronx Zoo are not always positive and do not always refer to animals in cages. From 1968 to 1969 I taught in a junior high school in the South Bronx. On my way to my first day at the office, I passed a man sitting on the sidewalk with a rifle in his hand. People passed him going to work as if nothing was unusual. I stopped to watch. Across the street from where he was sitting was a sewer opening to drain runoff water. From time to time, rats would run out of the sewer and he would shoot them. No one seemed surprised or upset at what I soon learned was a daily occurrence. And indeed, the South Bronx was, at the time and still to some extent, like a city bombed out after a war. There was a movie made entitled "The Bronx is burning," and a novel and movie were made about the famous 41st police station in the South Bronx nicknamed Fort Apache. Tom Wolfe immortalized the South Bronx in The Bonfire of the Vanities.

    In short, I would not object if the headlines screamed "Geneva has become the South Bronx". But, please, be able to distinguish and specify. After all, not all Geneva is like my Carouge!





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  • Let Them Eat Cake


    As the streets of cities in England were ablaze, and groups of unemployed youths marched in the streets of Spain and Greece, I wondered where were the protests in the United States. If you responded that the situation in the US is better, then I respectfully differ, and there is no point in continuing a discussion. If you responded that the young in the United States still believe that their future will be better, then you will have to explain why this is so. In any event, as someone who marched in the streets in the 1960s, I am deeply puzzled by the apathy across the Atlantic.

    It was certainly not always this way. Students of my generation rioted in the United States over the military draft, the Vietnam War, and civil rights. These were three specific issues that touched us. Most of my senior year in college from 1967 through 1968 was taken up with the pros and cons of military service. Actually, we protested against other issues as well, but it is slightly embarrassing to remember how agitated we were about visiting rights of women in our dormitories. More seriously, riots at Columbia University were set off by a confrontation over access to a new gymnasium for local residents of Harlem.

    My point is that we were engaged, and that we felt that our actions could have an effect on policy. Oh my how we celebrated Lyndon Johnson's announcement that he would not run for re-election and that he was winding down the war in Southeast Asia! From the streets of Selma and Birmingham to Chicago and Miami, even to the village greens in small New England towns, we were present. We believed we could make a difference. We followed Mario Savio at Berkeley, we read the Port Huron statement of Students for a Democratic Society and listened to Tom Hayden tell us about the situation of poor workers in Detroit. Some even flirted with the Black Panthers. We read Angela Davis and Herbert Marcuse; we levitated the Pentagon.

    The question is not where we are today. The question is where is the next generation. For all the buzz about social networking and its role in the Arab Spring, it has had little political impact in the United States. Yes students are worried about jobs, but what are they doing about the unemployment situation in general? Where is the solidarity with those losing their homes?

    Someone once said that if you are not an idealist in your twenties, there is a serious problem. Students in the United States unite; you have nothing to lose but your headphones!


    August 15, 2011


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  • The American Half Century From the Beaches of Normandy


    The downgrading of the United States by Standard & Poor's has sent tremors throughout the financial markets. The United States economy, according to the rating agency, is not as safe as it used to be. For the first time, in history, in spite of the fact that it has the world's base currency, Uncle Sam is being seriously called into question as a sound financial risk. Although not yet as high a risk as Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland or Italy, the foundations of the US economy are deemed less than guaranteed. While one could certainly question the validity of the rating agency with its very poor performance in the sub-prime debacle, the lower rating of the US raises numerous questions.

    From the beaches of Normandy, where one is constantly reminded of the heroic acts of the Allied invasion of June 6, 1944, I wonder if we are seeing the end of the American Empire. Following Henry Luce's announcement of the beginning of the American Century following the end of WWII, a little more than 50 years later the downgrading seems to confirm that the American Half Century of domination is approaching its end. The listless performance of President Obama during the debt ceiling confrontation only reconfirms that the Ship of State is rudderless. And in a world that cries out for leadership from Uncle Sam in both the public and private sectors, it is frightening to watch the Ship float aimlessly on the turbulent high seas with the only major activity on board internal bickering among the crew.

    The beaches of Normandy are filled with monuments to heroism. In contrast to the wasted lives fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq for causes difficult to understand, those who landed on Juno, Utah and Omaha beaches had purpose, and were appreciated. The French residing here, certainly of a given generation, do not forget what it meant to live under an occupation and what it meant to be liberated. Those who lost their lives here died for a universally accepted just cause. Is it too nostalgic to remember that period? Having relatives who landed here, it is sad to think how quickly those concepts of heroism have gone, and how quickly the image of the United States as leader and savior has disappeared. American soldiers today are often shot at and vilified in Afghanistan and Iraq, seen as invaders and occupiers rather than liberators.

    No matter how the debt problem and market volatility plays out, it is difficult to image any form of reconstruction of that 1944 moment.

    August 9, 2011


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