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Claire Berlinski
The View from Abroad « Back to Story

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Claire please tell us you are no longer in Istanbul. Or that you are getting out, now. Are you waiting for the very last moment? By then who knows if you will be able to get out with ease.

I greatly admire your father btw - one of the most articulate writers on contemporary controversies in science - and I'm sure he is begging you to get out of Turkey likewise, or at least I hope he is.

Agent Orange for Breakfast September 12, 2011 at 7:55 PM
@Anja You're obviously more familiar with Ms Berlinski's work and life than I am. I was only responding to part of the text of the article, namely:

"...Then I’d like to see a detailed analysis of the various military options we might employ: What would it take to occupy, say, Kabul, Baghdad and every terrorist training camp or military facility related to this attack, all facilities for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Sudan? How many carrier groups, what kind of aircraft, artillery, missiles would we need, how many ground troops, how long would it take to effectuate this kind of campaign, what kind of casualties would we take; do we have what it takes now or will we have to enter a prolonged phase of military production first? How many men do we currently have under arms, what weapons are battle ready, what would the numbers be if the whole of the NATO alliance is involved; a full-fledged international coalition? How should the battle be waged, geographically and strategically? There would be a sustained air campaign first, obviously, followed by a ground campaign—but of what kind? Where should forces be concentrated? What kind of civilian casualties would we inflict? What scenarios are more and less likely to lead to a wider Mideast war, a nuclear holocaust involving India and Pakistan?

I hear, “level Kabul,” but there’s nothing in Kabul but a few cripples and a pathetic one-eyed lion in the Kabul Zoo. We can’t bomb Kabul back to the Stone Age because it’s already there. So does it make sense to waste time, money and life eviscerating Kabul, when there are so many more targets of real strategic significance?..."

I was particularly struck by the comments about Kabul (nothing there but a few cripples and a one-eyed lion, apparently), but her blithe indulgence in fantasy world-busting
was quite arresting, too. I suppose we're to assume she would rather not provoke India and Pakistan into a nuclear holocaust -- I hope the Nobel Committee will take this into account when considering nominations for the next Peace Prize. Perhaps we should also assume that in her military number-crunching she will as a matter of course provide medical facilities to neutralise the "civilian casualties" she will inflict. But there's no evidence here that it matters to her. She seems perfectly at ease with the prospect of a general conflagration on the other side of the world, ignited and fanned by the US military. She's going to attack "Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Sudan" and drag in "the whole of the NATO alliance". Do you not get a feeling in reading these megalomaniacal chunterings that Ms Berlinski has but the faintest awareness of human life outside the United States? When was the last time you or any of your friends used the world "cripple"? Whom would you describe with that word, and would you then couple it with a reference to a "pathetic, one-eyed lion"? According to Ms B, "We can’t bomb Kabul back to the Stone Age" not because there would be an extremely serious moral issue involved in destroying a city and killing many thousands of people, but merely "because it’s already there." Ah, yes, in Kabul they cut with tools made of flint and are getting excited over Wheel 2.0. Bombing such a sorry place would just be a waste of time and money. A waste of time and money. That's what she says. That internationalist. Really, if this passage does not drip with contempt for non-American life, I must give up my pretensions to understanding English. And the really cringe-making thing is, that these are the cogitations of a ... journalist. Good grief! What must the generals be like?

By the way, I used to live in Istanbul, too, a stone's throw from Marks & Spencer's. If I cited that as evidence that I am a great humanist, would you be convinced?
Thank you -- this was one of the simplier yet far more profound pieces I've read recently as we gaze back at this past decade.
Eh, why so hard on the author for her closing remark?

When she said, "I wish I knew exactly what he meant," it's quite possible that *she* meant exactly what she said, too. She didn't say, "I wish I knew what he meant," or "I wish I knew in general what he meant." The word *exactly* is probably in there for a reason.

Anyhow, who knew the author's grandfather better, the author herself or perfect strangers? Why should we presume to have the greater knowledge?

As for A.O's claim that Ms. Berlinski's work illustrates American contempt for non-American life: Ha! The lady lives in Istanbul, and I can think of few other writers who show as much affection for and genuine curiosity about the many non-Americans she meets on a daily basis. But if mistaking affection and curiosity for contempt is your bag, I'll not stop you, A.O.
Agent Orange for Breakfast September 12, 2011 at 7:32 AM
@SWW You just don't get it. I don't hate Americans. The ones I've met have mostly been very nice. There are a lot of things I admire about the USA. It's just that [anticipates gasps of outrage] I don't think an American life is worth any more than a non-American life. I think that when US forces kill people at an Afghan wedding, those people die, some no doubt instantly (does that make it better?) and some in great agony. I think that that is a catastrophe for them, and I think it matters. I think that the surviving dependents of those killed have had their lives devastated, that their cup of pain and grief overflows, and that they will forever live with the grief and, yes, bitterness of having their loved ones destroyed by the (at best) negligent actions of a distant superpower, one that barely has the decency to make a perfunctory acknowledgement of their deaths. And I think that there are a lot of people around the world who feel such grief and bitterness, and are fully entitled to do so.

The United States is No 1 in the world in many ways. One of these ways is that it is the world's No 1 widow-maker, and the No 1 creator of orphans. How big is that pile of bodies? Bodies of the people of smaller, weaker nations: you think of Israel, I think of Vietnam. Two and a half million Vietnamese killed. You really tried to smash that little country, didn't you? Defoliant on plants, napalm on humans. You kept at it for year after year, dropping 7 million tons of bombs on that little country, compared to 2 million tons in the whole of World War II. And when you lost, you tried to starve that little country through your economic sanctions. Any commemorations in the offing for the Vietnamese dead? Of course not: when you massacre women, children and babies and torch the straw huts they call home, that isn't "a day that changed the world". That's nothing at all to you. You have less regard for the lives of such people than you do for your pet cats and dogs. And that was from some time ago. The full human story of Iraq and Afghanistan waits to be told, with Abu Ghraib as a grisly trailer.

The US never stops meddling in the affairs of other nations: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya at present, and an endless list since 1945. Iraq and Afghanistan have been all but destroyed. That surely must be more than a city. Yet Osama bin Laden was a citizen of Saudi Arabia, as were most of his cronies. And he was killed in Pakistan. Something awry there?

The cry of freedom and democracy is nothing more than a fig-leaf that most people outside the US have no difficulty seeing through. The US has been in the habit of propping up repressive dictatorships all over the world, not least in the Middle East, Central America and South America. The people of those repressed nations see their local oppressors, the native governments, as the "near enemy", and the supporters of the local oppressors, the United States in so many cases, the power that keeps the oppressors in power, as the "far enemy". People aren't stupid. They know that the US will sacrifice their freedom on the altar of US "vital interests", which usually boil down to cheap oil, military control (the US has military bases in 150 countries) and trading rights. They know that when the US talks of freedom and democracy, it only means freedom and democracy for Americans.

American anti-terrorism rhetoric rings hollow in Britain, where we know that the IRA, responsible for a decades-long terrorist bombing campaign, could openly tout for funds in the streets and bars of the United States, and were supported by some prominent American politicians. Here is an outline of their activities:

Re: your ad hominem comments. You think I'm jealous? I don't live in a mud hut. I do own a house, a car, a computer and bicycle among other things. I went to a very good university and I live in the region of Britain that routinely tops the quality of life table. You may like to dismiss criticism of the US as the hatred of bitter losers who know not the benefits of Western civilisation, but you're off the mark this time, as I suspect you are most of the time.

And I think it's a bit rich of you to accuse me of being "bitter" and "unreasoning" when you seemingly automatically conflate American interests with Zionism, portray Israel as a plucky little underdog not dependent on American handouts, and mention Auschwitz in a thread about 9/11.
Sylvia Weiser Wendel September 11, 2011 at 7:18 PM
The comment from Agt Orange exemplifies the bitter, unreasoning, jealous hatred that we still have to face and defeat.
When we talk about "smaller, weaker nations", I immediately think of Israel, abandoned by the ignoramus in the White House, condemned by PCbots around the world (but especially in Western Europe). Instead of whining and begging for handouts, the Jewish homeland has defended itself against what still seem impossible odds. And by the way -- for those who question Zionism -- let's not forget that the number of people who died on 9/11 represents about two hours at Auschwitz/Birkenau. The Nazis could, and did, kill 20,000 Jews a day. Some of us really do mean "Never again."
Agent Orange for Breakfast September 11, 2011 at 4:35 PM
Here's another view from abroad: on 11th September 2001, the US got a tiny taste of the suffering it has been inflicting on smaller, weaker nations for decades.

Three thousand people died at the World Trade Centre that day. I'm sorry. They didn't deserve to die. They were real human beings with real lives and real family and friends. We learned that one of them played the drums. He had a face and a name. Pictures of the faces of him and the others were printed on the front pages of the British papers. So we know that they were human and their death was wrong and horrific.

But suppose, in imagination, you piled up the 3000 bodies of those who died that day. And then you piled up the bodies of those killed by the American military and its proxies since World War II. Which would be the bigger pile, and by how much? I'm certain that we will never see on the front pages of British or American papers photos of the civilians killed by US forces; nor lists of their names, occupations and hobbies. It's clear that to Americans and their allies, the "lesser breeds" just aren't really human. Six US soldiers die on one day, and it's "the worst day for the American military since ...." But no matter how many Iraqis (estimates range from 100,000 upwards), Afghans, Libyans or Palestinians die, they will never get the "human interest" treatment. You have no interest because deep down you do not feel that they are human. But to the people of other nations, they are every bit as human as Americans.

This is why, all over the world, and not least in Britain and the rest of Europe, the 9/11 attacks were viewed with incredulous satisfaction. Many people felt that you got what you deserved. But whereas "a city should be repaid with a city", you got off very lightly.

The above article illustrates the attitudes and values common to Americans that so many people around the world despise: your contempt for human life outside your borders, your grandiose plans to invade this, and raze that, and your ineradicable conviction that only the United States really matters. Your apparently unchanged belief that everyone loves your country shows how deluded you are.
so Le Monde headlines "We are all Americans" after 9/11, and Berlinski applauds the lack of "subtle anti-Americanism" in the paper but then gets in her own little dig that the French "had 200 dead there, too". Uggh.

So a spontaneous show of solidarity gets a slap in the face. American anti-Gallic cliches are just as obnoxious as their opposite.
One of the worst things about us the Jews is that when we say "Never Again", we don't really mean it. Sadly, it's just a soundbite. Perhaps it's a paradox which has no parallels in the human history: the people of the Book never learn.
I sympathize with the author and praise her willingness to share her story, but her feigned ignorance in the last sentence is nothing short pathetic. Your grandfather had the courage and clarity to respond to unjustified atrocity with justified atrocity. For having lived what seems such a rich life, you failed in learning the central lesson of your grandfather's life.
I know what he meant...

It has apparently not occurred to Ms. Berlinski that such attacks can be prevented by keeping Muslims out of the US. They won't attack us over here if we keep them over there.
Your grandfather knew what we prefer not to remember. Your can only eradicate evil by bombing it out of existence, not by exporting our democracy to them. Unfortunately, we as a whole, still don't get it.

People of courage breed Curtis LeMay and Sir Arthur Harris, we on the other hand, produce community organizers and politicians who know only how to marry well.
Sylvia Weiser Wendel September 11, 2011 at 12:48 PM
My father, Daniel Weiser, was a classmate of your grandfather's at their Jewish school in Leipzig. As a lifelong music lover, he was very proud of your father's success, and throughout his life treasured his friendship with "Herman." They saw each other a few times in New York, where we lived. He never forgot his classmates and could still recite their names: "Adler Bein Berlinski. Braun..."
My father, the oldest of five children, fled Leipzig in 1933 for Paris. He became a Zionist and emigrated to Israel in1936. A "yekke" to his core, he nonetheless married a girl from Vilna, so that my brother and I were fortunate enough to grow up with both sides of the European Jewish experience. As you point out, that generation knew what we, their descendants, have had to learn. They were unique in their wisdom and in their love of life despite the horror of their times. Thank you for sharing your story.
I was in Prague, Czechloslovakia (as it was called at the time) at the time of the attacks. On an "elective" in medical residency, staying in a tiny, cold apartment without phone (no cell), radio, or TV. Internet access terrible through hospital - checked 1-2 times per day. Heard from partner in Pittsburgh about attacks -- and that flight was cancelled indefinitely. Czechs who lectured me on "American arrogance" the week before replaced by those with support and affection, as you describe. Flight 1.5 weeks later into NYC silent, scared, and full of ovation at landing.
Thank you for sharing your experiences. I wish I had known your grandfather, too.
May God bless you for your article and your Grandfather for his courage and service, and God bless the French people for their love and support, it is mutual.
Hello Claire, It seems to me that your grandfather believed this atrocity rose to the level of justification for nuclear vengeance. Unpleasantly, more than one city in more than country produced the spirit of hate that formed into this attack.
The machine gun the Germans used against the Hotchkiss was the MG34, which fired about 850 rounds per minute. Berlinski's grandfather was indeed outgunned by the enemy.
I am surprised that Ms. Berlinski has not been writing about the upheaval in Turkish Israeli relations due to the anti Semitic demogoguery of Erdogan and his vicious anti Israel rhetoric.
That day, I slept late. Friends from Mexico were staying with me and making breakfast. They woke me up because another friend, from Tokyo, was calling.

My Japanese friend apologized, but said he would be unable to arrive on Thursday because of "what happened." Huh? I foolishly asked, "What happened?"

I was stunned. My Mexican friends had been watching coverage on one of the Spanish channels, but I tuned it out until I saw the images and was awake enough to translate in my head.

All flights were cancelled, and so was their trip. We started hearing conflicting reports of scares on the bridges in Nuevo Laredo.

There was gunfire. No, it was a bomb. No, they caught some terrorists escaping. No, they just shut the bridge down. My friends quickly packed and headed for the bus station. They wanted to get back home while they could. Mexico seemed much safer than America that morning.

I'm kind of taken aback by some of the other comments. To me, they seem presumptuous to "know" what your grandfather meant. I think I understand, you wanted to explore his comment, allow him to elaborate on his reasoning, and even his specific idea of what was necessary.

Somewhat unrelated, I work in Kabul today. Frequently I go sit by the flightline to watch planes and relax.

A few weeks back, a French helicopter pulled up with 10 soldiers waiting. I'd seen ambulance crews previously, but this was different.

First to emerge from the group was a French soldier holding a red, velvet pillow with a beret atop. Next, the others unloaded a long box draped in the flag of France. They marched him to the morgue. Everybody nearby stood in silence.

I learned later, he was a 21 year old French parachutist, killed by a sniper while providing protection to a crew clearing an IED.

A few days later, there were two helicopters, and two flag draped coffins were unloaded and marched along the same path. The next day, we heard the French lost 6 more.

In the space of less than two weeks, they lost 10 young, precious souls. I was overwhelmed by guilt for the silly French surrender jokes I once posted on my cubicle wall 8 years earlier.

I'm spoiled by working closely with Poles and Czechs. My appendix was removed in the French combat hospital by a Bulgarian doctor, assisted by Romanian nurses. I live on a British base, eat breakfast with Canadians, and fixed computer problems for Aussies, Kiwis, Finns, and Swedes (non-NATO nations). Two weeks ago, Korean blackhawk helicopters landed en route to another battle.

Whatever our differences at various times, in different circumstances, America is blessed with good friends. Regardless of the high level politics, their soldiers fight along side ours, and almost every country - even little Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and El Salvador - has sacrificed sons in this fight.

This is a very different world from the failed alliances and hollow promises offered in Europe in the 1930s forcing those like your family to flee. Thank God for that too.
God bless your grandparents, and thank you for sharing your personal experiences.'re kidding aren't you about "I wish I knew exactly what he meant." He meant that we must react beyond proportion to the attack on send a message to the fellow terrorists. Pick the heart of something very dear to the Terrorists and obliterate it with full resolve. And respond even more intensely if they even blink in our direction. It is the only way to deal with such evil; quickly and decisively. He knew and understood evil. It is kill or be killed, even if innocents must die in the is either their innocents or our innocents. No negotiation. Harsh, but there is no other way. I think out generation is ripe for placated thinking...we do not understand the nature of evil in the hearts of men.
The Hotchkiss fired 450 rounds per minute or about 8 rounds per SECOND.
He meant exactly what he said: a city.

He was from a generation that had witnessed the destruction of many cities during the Second World War, beginning with Warsaw and ending with Nagasaki.

What he saw on September 11, 2001 was an atrocity that he well knew demanded retaliation of the same nature that occurred many times during the war he fought in, not for vengeance but for deterrence.

It never happened. That's why we're still fighting terrorism around the world--and why we will be until the terrorists commit another crime that deserves (and receives) a hydrogen bomb in reply.
A city for a city. Seems clear to me.
My 19 year old son was in London and called us in California in tears, telling us to turn on the TV. A number of British people told him we brought it on ourselves and deserved it for supporting Israel. He felt very alone and afraid, and couldn't wait to come home.
Your grandfather lived in a time when the final solution to conflict was violent war.
Barbaric as that may be, it is the final resolution if fought until one side is totally, and I mean totally, defeated. Like him, I think the guilty should have paid a high price for what they did. I can't speak for what country he had in mind. Like most of us, he probably had his own ideas, but nothing was proven for a while. For me, that country would be Iran who is the undisputed leader in state sponsored terrorism.
Wish I could have known your grandfather. He sounds like quite a man.
"They must pay for it with a city." Riyadh, for example. I find that perfectly easy to understand. Riyadh still stands, and ten years down the road we still have no new WTC. And the one that will be built will be lower than the old so as not to offend the so-offendable Muslims.

Claire, he meant that the IslamoFascist world needed its' own Hiroshima.
They paid for it with a country. Iraq was a message sent to radical Islam that we would not fail to react to an enemy we couldn't precisely target, but that we know had ties to an evil regime. What Obama is doing in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Libya is equivalent. We still have the same basic problem, how do we fight an enemy that can hide anywhere, everywhere, even among us?
Very moving and articulate article. Thanks for sharing your story.
Like it or not the only effective strategy was the inquisition under Ferdinand and Isabella.
Thank you for sharing this. As an American living in Paris now, on this 10th anniversary, it is interesting to read your thoughts and sentiments from that horrible day. I love it when the immigration agents in the US say, "Welcome home." It always makes my heart swell. As for the editorial from Le Monde, wow...I would have never expected to read those words there either. Again, so very interesting. Thank you.
After a day spent with a good friend who lost his son in the south tower on 911, and listening to radio clips from that day, and reading this post, I wonder if some things are too big for me to grasp in any meaningful way.

The memories of the shoes in the holocaust museum in Israel and the memories of 911 relived make me want to go home and be with those about whom I care the most, where things matter the most.

I found this article very moving, consistent with the day's events.
Legio Patria Nostra
That city should have been Mecca.
Please read Mark Helprin's comment in today's Wall Street Journal as possibly complementary to the central questions raised in this stunning presentation.
This article reminds us how personal the events of that day were to each and every one of us. Thank you for sharing your memories with us, as the 10th Anniversary of that awful day approaches. God Bless America!
Brian Richard Allen September 09, 2011 at 9:14 PM
.... my grandfather was very ill, he was quite lucid in reacting to the news of that day; he understood at once that it was a major atrocity. “They must pay for it with a city,” he said. I wish I knew exactly what he meant ....

He meant what he said.

And then president, Mr Bush, missed the G-d-given opportunity to project America's power and drop a nuclear weapon upon the head of bin Laden, whom the CIA and others tracked for a time before "Democratic" party-activist DoD lawyers so successfully obstructed and confused the intelligence agencies they lost him.

Had America's power been so successfully projected -- and was it still -- hundreds of thousands now dead would be alive -- and every Human would live in a way better world!
Wow! Thank you for writing this.
Read "The Hunt For Bin Ladin" We got a big piece ( many thousands)of his Taliban supporters back in 03 and thereabout. We just never fell into the MSM trap of "body counts" that became so "enemy press" twisted in Viet Nam. When the SF and Northern Alliance troops ripped Afghanistan away from the Muj in a matter of a few months we "took their breath away". There were heavy paybacks. They just weren't advertised