Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect is one of my favorite thinkers, and I am glad to share his latest with you. Republicans like to say, as Texas Governor Greg Abbott did, that this is not the time to “politicize” the issue of gun control, in the midst of a massacre of students and their teachers. But, if this is not the right time, when is? This horrific event was not an accident, it was the result of Republican policies that put the rights of gun owners over the right to life. Republicans have used politics to put the lives of children, teachers, grocery shoppers, and other citizens at risk.
Now is the time to say so. Republicans on the Wrong Side of Public Outrage Their opposition to gun laws and assault on women’s health should be center-stage issues. Here’s the bizarre thing about mass gun violence that takes the lives of schoolchildren and the likely reversal of Roe v. Wade: Public opinion is not with the right. It is overwhelmingly in favor of banning civilian purchase of assault weapons. It is overwhelmingly in favor of keeping Roe. And yet a party that espouses these and other extreme views is on the verge of taking over the country. If we let it.
What can prevent this grim fate is resolute leadership that stands with most Americans—and also hangs this lunacy around the necks of Republicans and makes them squirm. In his first statement on the mass murder, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott noted that the shooter was dead. You can imagine how much comfort that offers parents.Other Republicans have offered reassurance by pointing out that the killer acted alone. No, he did not. He had multiple Republican accomplices who keep blocking gun control and valorizing guns with open-carry laws.They also like to term the Texas shooting a “tragedy.” No, it was not. It was preventable homicide of children. Political allies of abortion zealots who worry about the alleged rights of the unborn need to look to the rights of living children.President Biden was at his best in his statement on the Texas school shooting. He called out both the gun lobby and the gun manufacturers. He ridiculed gun nuts who conflate hunting rifles with assault weapons.When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down. When the law expired, mass shootings tripled. The idea that an 18-year-old kid can walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong. What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone? Deer aren’t running through the forest with Kevlar vests on, for God’s sake. It’s just sick.
Biden’s expression of appalled sympathy was from the heart. “To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away,” he said. Biden has been there.Maybe the president’s first statement on the shooting was not the time to call out the Republicans who resist even the mildest gun legislation. But this is no time to temporize for fear of rural voters or pro-gun Democrats. The vast majority of citizens are sick of this carnage.Biden needs to follow up by sending Congress legislation that goes beyond poll-tested “commonsense” measures like background checks and the extension of existing regulations to gun shows. We need to ban all military weapons, and to identify the wall-to-wall opposition with Republicans, and dare them to block it.Biden is facing political headwinds on inflation and supply shortages. But on gun control and women’s health, public opinion is with him, and Republicans look like fools. There is nothing shameful about maximizing the partisan advantage. In a democracy, that’s what leadership is all about.~ ROBERT KUTTNER
Fiscal instruments can reduce inequality, but some yield short-term results while others bear fruit over the long term
After years of quasi-neglect, economic inequality has taken center stage in the policy debate worldwide. In advanced economies, the apparent impact of globalization and technological change and the cost of counteracting these forces is raising concern. In developing economies, where inequality is higher, the issue is whether it poses a major obstacle to raising growth and reducing poverty. In both cases, the redistribution of income might achieve not only greater equality but also faster growth and, for developing economies, faster poverty reduction.
In countries where growth is satisfactory but benefits the poor much less than the non-poor, there obviously is a strong case for shifting resources from those at the top of the income scale to those at the bottom. Giving poor children access to better education and paying for it by taxing the affluent is one way to reduce inequality while also fostering future growth and poverty reduction. Redistributive policies could also help narrow the gap between rich and poor in countries with high inequality, where social and political tensions or the rise of populist regimes might prove bad for growth in the long run.
Knowing that a more equal distribution of resources may be good for development is one thing; having the right instruments to implement it is another. These instruments—from progressive taxation, cash transfers, and investment in human capital to regulation and inclusive growth strategies—do exist. But they are vastly underused in developing economies.
Straight income redistribution
Taxation and income transfers to the poorest segment of society are the most direct way to keep inequality in check and reduce poverty in the short term. These instruments are particularly appropriate when the benefits of growth fail to reach the poor. But most of the time they are too small to really make a difference. On average, taxes on personal income and cash benefits to the poor are almost 10 times lower, as a proportion of GDP, than in advanced economies.
The success of conditional cash transfer programs has demonstrated that it is possible to transfer cash efficiently to poor people in developing economies. These cash transfer programs give money to households on the condition that they comply with certain pre-defined requirements, such as up-to-date vaccinations or regular school attendance by children. The spread of such initiatives as Mexico’s Prospera (previously Progresa), or Brazil’s Bolsa Família from Latin America to other developing regions—as well as the results of several pilots in poorer sub-Saharan African countries—shows the progress made in the last 15 years or so in the field of redistribution. New methods of means testing and cash distribution have made it possible (see “Reaching Poor People” in the December 2017 F&D).
Such programs should continue to improve in the future, thanks to advances in information technology, particularly the use of mobile money. But their current impact on poverty and inequality is limited. Their main weakness is their size, which amounts to 0.5 percent of GDP at most in middle-income countries. In poorer countries, they are still at the pilot stage.
Expanding those programs requires more resources. A higher and more effective income tax in the upper part of the income scale could help raise the necessary funds. In this respect, the generalized use of bank accounts, credit cards, and debit cards by higher-income people in most countries should make it easier to monitor personal incomes and reduce tax evasion. Political economy issues aside, this should lead developing economies’ governments to place more emphasis on direct taxation than they presently do.
Developing economies tend to rely relatively more than advanced economies on the indirect taxation of domestic and imported goods and services. Indirect taxes are said to be regressive because they tax consumption rather than income, and wealthier people save a higher proportion of their income. But in addition, indirect taxation in developing economies may even increase poverty depending on the structure of tax rates and the consumption basket of households at various rungs of the income scale (Higgins and Lustig 2016). In any case, lowering taxes on goods such as food that weigh more in the budget of poor people achieves relatively little redistribution because wealthier people also consume these goods, perhaps as a lower proportion of their budget but possibly in larger quantity. The same argument applies to subsidies for purchases of basic goods like bread or fuel. Income transfers are preferable to subsidies because they cost less and are better targeted to the truly needy, as evidenced by the pilot experiments on the replacement of food subsidies by “direct benefit transfers” in some Indian states (Muralidharan, Niehaus, and Sukhtankar 2017).
There is therefore a strong case for the expansion of redistribution in developing economies when growth is satisfactory but poverty reduction is slow. There are political obstacles to doing so, however, as well as challenges related to the country’s administrative capacity. Political opposition may well remain, but modern information technology is likely to improve administrative capacity.
Income redistribution will lower poverty by reducing inequality, if done properly. But it may not accelerate growth in any major way, except perhaps by reducing social tensions arising from inequality and allowing poor people to devote more resources to human and physical asset accumulation. Directly investing in opportunities for poor people is essential. Transfers to the poor should not consist merely of cash; they should also boost people’s capacity to generate income, today and in the future. Education and training as well as access to health care, micro-credit, water, energy, and transportation are powerful instruments. Social assistance is critical to prevent people from falling into poverty traps when adverse shocks hit. Programs such as India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee, in which the state acts as the employer of last resort, do precisely that.
Conditional cash transfers have been shown to motivate families to send their children to school, improve their nutrition, and monitor their health. But facilities to meet this additional demand must be made available and must be financed. The same is true of other programs focusing on improving opportunities for the poor. Financing these programs through progressive taxation while providing cash transfer incentives to poor households thus reduces inequality and poverty in the short term and helps these households generate more income over the medium and long term.
Is such a strategy of static and dynamic income equalization immune to the efficiency cost of redistribution? In other words, do these taxes and transfers take away the incentives for people to work, save, and become entrepreneurs? Given the limited scope of redistribution in developing economies, it is unlikely that it would have much effect on economic incentives. Substantial income tax progressivity may indeed be achieved with marginal tax rates much below those in advanced economies, where redistribution is not considered to be an obstacle to growth (Lindert 2004). Also, replacing distortionary indirect taxes or subsidies with income transfers should improve efficiency. Moreover, conditional cash transfers appear to have no significant negative effect on labor supply; they may even encourage entrepreneurship (Bianchi and Boba 2013).
Strategies that promote greater equality and stronger growth rely on raising resources in a progressive way and spending them on programs that benefit the poorest segment of the population in this generation or the next one. Other policies that do not rely on redistribution may achieve the same goals. Before contemplating redistribution, however, governments ought to consider enhancing the pro-poor nature or inclusiveness of their growth strategies, in particular through fostering employment for unskilled workers.
Other policies besides straight redistribution are also available. Minimum wage laws—although controversial in advanced economies because of their potentially negative effects on employment when the minimum is set too high—generate more equality in the distribution of earnings. In developing economies, such policies may actually increase labor productivity by improving the physical condition of workers, as predicted by the efficiency wage theory. Part of the drop in inequality observed in Brazil at the turn of the century just as growth was accelerating has been partly attributed to the significant increase in the minimum wage (Komatsu and Filho 2016).
Anti-discrimination laws can also promote equality and foster growth by improving work and training incentives for minority groups. And anti-corruption strategies, by reducing rent seeking, are probably the best candidates for both enhancing growth and income equality, even if the inequality arising from corruption is often difficult to observe.
Governments can draw on an array of policies to foster growth by reducing inequality and ensuring that growth reduces poverty. The policies they adopt will depend on the relative importance of these two objectives and the time horizon over which they can be expected to deliver results. Pure income redistribution policies generate less future growth than those policies that expand the economic opportunities of poor people—but they reduce poverty immediately. They also alleviate social tensions and may thus free growth constraints in the case of excessive inequality. On the other hand, policies that enhance opportunities for the poor do less to reduce inequality today, essentially through taxation, but result in faster growth, less poverty, and greater equality tomorrow.
It is up to governments to choose their preferred policy combination. The choice is difficult because some parties will necessarily lose in the short run and might not make up for this loss anytime soon. Yet instruments are available today that would benefit all in the long run, through faster growth, more rapid poverty reduction, and less inequality. It would be a serious mistake not to make use of them.
FRANÇOIS BOURGUIGNON is a professor emeritus at the Paris School of Economics. He was the World Bank’s chief economist from 2003 to 2007.
Bianchi, M., and M. Boba, 2013, “Liquidity, Risk, and Occupational Choices.” Review of Economic Studies, 80 (2): 491–511.
Higgins, Sean, and Nora Lustig. 2016. “Can a Poverty-Reducing and Progressive Tax and Transfer System Hurt the Poor?” Journal of Development Economics 122: 63-75.
The Biden administration is framing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a “strategic blunder” as Moscow’s assault enters its second month.
U.S. officials say Putin’s top aides are shielding the Russian leader from Moscow’s military losses, even as Russian forces shift some of their resources away from Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv.
Some analysts believe the shift is a tacit acknowledgement that Russia cannot take and hold Kyiv as Putin had hoped.
But the administration is carefully stopping short of predicting an all-out Russian defeat.
Leaders in the U.S. and Ukraine are warning Russia is likely repositioning forces that have moved away from Kyiv to other areas of Ukraine, likely to focus its military might on taking full control of the eastern Donbas region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a speech delivered after midnight on Friday in Kyiv, echoed the view of Russia’s military faltering, but warned against declaring victory.
“The expulsion of the occupiers continues. But we must also realize that for the Russian military, this is part of their tactics,” he said in a video message.
“We know that they are moving away from the areas where we are beating them to focus on others that are very important, on those where it can be difficult for us,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian and Russian officials continue efforts to advance peace talks in Istanbul, though the discussions have yet to yield any breakthroughs.
Oleksiy Goncharenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, told The Hill by phone from Kyiv he is not optimistic about the talks but that “we need to try, and we are trying to find some solutions, that is the situation.”
He called for more military and humanitarian assistance and warned that Russia’s war is likely to continue for months.
“In reality, certainly nobody knows, but what I am telling people, please be ready for a long war,” he said. “It’s better to be prepared for [the] worst, and if it will finish quicker, we will be happy. But better to be prepared for the worst, that it can last for months and months.”
The U.S. and allies are working to maintain deliveries of key weapons and military assistance to Ukraine, ratcheting up sanctions on Russia, and executing contingency plans to offset impacts on the American and allied economies.
The administration declassified new intelligence saying Putin is being misled by his advisers over the failures in Ukraine. It paints a portrait of a leader increasingly isolated and lashing out in desperation.
President Biden told reporters offhand on Thursday that Putin may have put advisers under “house arrest,” a remark White House press secretary Jen Psaki said was based on public reports.
“This war is not going how President Putin had planned,” Psaki said. “This intention of winning a quick war, defeating the Ukrainians quickly is not how it has played out.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe, told The Hill that Russia had failed in its original plan and is shifting strategy.
“They no longer have the ability to conduct sustained land operations towards Odessa, towards Kyiv, anywhere towards west,” Hodges said.
“They’re going back to where they have most of their advantages, and I think they are going to try to continue grinding Mariupol and try to solidify what they have,” he added.
At the same time, Hodges argued that the U.S. needs to give the Ukrainians everything they need to push the Russians back to the territory they were in before the full invasion on Feb. 24 — meaning better air defense capability. Without it, the war could grind on much longer, he said.
“I think it’s up to us how much longer this goes on,” he said.
Goncharenko echoed that the country needs air defenses.
“That is our priority, number one, to defend our skies,” he said, calling for delivery of Soviet-era fighter jets from Poland and for countries in Eastern Europe to provide the Russian-made S300 missile defense system.
“Our officers and crew know what to do with them,” he added.
The U.S. announced $1 billion in additional military assistance to Ukraine in recent weeks, including Switchblade drones, which act as a discreet, remote-controlled missile.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters this week that about half a dozen shipments had already arrived in Ukraine that included Javelin anti-tank missile systems and Stinger air defense systems.
Psaki said Friday that more than $350 million in U.S. assistance to Ukraine has been delivered in the past few weeks. She also confirmed the U.S. is supplying the Ukrainians with equipment to protect against any Russian chemical or biological attacks.
But even as Russian forces retreat from Kyiv and reposition, Putin is not signaling defeat.
The Russian president reportedly ordered up 135,000 military conscripts, is preparing to send hundreds of Syrian mercenaries to Ukraine and has threatened to cut off Russian gas deliveries to Europe if not paid in rubles.
Ukrainians are digging in, fortifying the territories under their control and retaking cities and towns where Russians are leaving.
“I think Ukrainians can hold on for a very long time — but that of course is not the same thing as the Ukrainians being able to successfully counterattack on a very large scale,” said Anatol Lieven, senior research fellow on Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “The Ukrainians have proved they sometimes can, but we’re not sure.”
Lieven added that it’s clear Putin’s army has suffered great losses in the war so far but that any exit from the conflict is likely to rely on the Russian leader looking to portray some element of victory.
“Once the Russians have taken, if they can, what Putin regards as politically essential, I think there is a pretty strong incentive for Russia to stop and seek a peace deal,” he said.
Russian negotiators have said very little publicly about Moscow’s position in the peace talks, while the Ukrainians have offered key concessions and areas of negotiation — including status as a neutral state, albeit with international security guarantees.
While Ukrainians have called for Russian troops to pull back to their positions before the invasion — that includes their occupation of the eastern territories of the Donbas and the Crimean Peninsula — they have offered the final status of those territories to be part of discussions.
“I do see Zelensky quietly preparing the population for concessions,” said Vladislav Davidzon, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council who has traveled between Ukraine and Europe over the past month and is at the border with Poland.
“At this point it’s going to be very difficult for him to get certain things agreed upon by the population and certain things he’s not in control of — so it will be an odd situation where Ukrainians will have to get the population on board and have to press the West to step down on certain sanctions.”
“To resolve conflict, you have to engage with all parties. And not only do you have to engage. You have to imagine how they’re thinking. … You have to write their victory speeches,” she said in remarks during a panel discussion hosted by the Quincy Institute on Tuesday.
But Davidzon echoed the view that the war is likely to drag out, with more devastation.
GENEVA — Switzerland, a favorite destination for Russian oligarchs and their money, announced on Monday that it would freeze Russian financial assets in the country, setting aside a deeply rooted tradition of neutrality to join the European Union and a growing number of nations seeking to penalize Russia for the invasion of Ukraine.
After a meeting with the Swiss Federal Council, Switzerland’s president, Ignazio Cassis, said that the country would immediately freeze the assets of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail V. Mishustin and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, as well as all 367 individuals sanctioned last week by the European Union.
Switzerland said it was departing from its usual policy of neutrality because of “the unprecedented military attack by Russia on a sovereign European state,” but expressed a willingness to help mediate in the conflict. It also joined European neighbors in closing its airspace to Russian aircraft, except for humanitarian or diplomatic purposes. But said it would evaluate whether to join in subsequent E.U. sanctions on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Lavrov, who was scheduled to be in Geneva on Tuesday to address the United Nations Human Rights Council, will no longer make the trip because of the flight ban, Russia’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva said on Twitter.
Swiss national bank data showed that Russian companies and individuals held assets worth more than $11 billion in Swiss banks in 2020. As a hub for the global commodities trade, Switzerland also hosts numerous companies that trade Russian oil and other commodities.
The decision came amid mounting condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which saw thousands of antiwar protesters march in Bern, Switzerland’s capital, over the weekend. Demonstrators chanted for an end to “Putin’s war” and criticized the government’s initially cautious response to the crisis.
Switzerland cherishes a reputation for neutrality that has established Geneva as a home to the United Nations and a host to peace talks in numerous conflicts, including the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Recently, Geneva was the venue for last year’s summit between President Biden and Mr. Putin.
Mr. Cassis expressed concern that the Alpine nation’s credibility as a neutral diplomatic intermediary would suffer if it automatically followed suit with E.U. sanctions. Initially, Switzerland said last week that it would enforce travel bans against Russians on the E.U. sanctions list and stop Swiss banks from accepting new Russian money — but stopped short of cutting off the individuals’ access to their bank accounts.
Since then, images of bloodied Ukrainian civilians and apartments damaged by shelling have fueled popular anger against Russia, Switzerland has adopted a tougher tone as well. Mr. Cassis told the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday that Russia’s attack on Ukraine was a flagrant violation of international law.
“There has been no provocation which could have justified such an intervention,” he said.
Nick Cumming-Bruce reports from Geneva, covering the United Nations, human rights and international humanitarian organizations. Previously he was the Southeast Asia reporter for The Guardian for 20 years and the Bangkok bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal Asia.
PROBLEMATIC ESSAY: “WHY WE BOMB” Frederick Shiels / Olson Project
Following many years of intense interest in the subject of the United States’ impact on Third World countries, the events of the first three years of the 21st Century prompted me to start a systematic study of civilian deaths resulting from U.S. military actions in the 20th. These include wars, police actions, and other occupations. It might be asked: why not also study American deaths resulting from the aggression of others, such as the 9/11 attacks, Pearl Harbor, or the Lusitania sinking in 1915? This is work that needs to be done and has been done to a limited extent, and the roughly agreed-upon figure for such 20th C. fatalities stands somewhere around 4000— nearly 2000 deaths at Pearl Harbor (three fourths of the dead) were military..
Or why not study American military deaths caused by the political/ military hostility of Others? This, too, is a worthy scholarly mission , one that has been attempted, and the 20th C. death count for Americans, mainly in two World Wars and the Korean and Vietnam wars, hovers at around 500,000. The military deaths on the other sides of American wars is harder to calculate, for reasons that will become apparent. To take but one example, American battles in the two world wars and, to a lesser extent, Korea and Vietnam, were fought alongside allies. But a fair estimate for such deaths in these wars— and a very conservative estimate–would be around 4 million.– half in Germany and Japan, half in Korea and Vietnam.
For my study, civilian casualties on the other side is the preferred focus, because:
1. Conservative estimates just for civilians in Japan, Germany, Korea and Vietnam would put the death toll at above 4 million,
2. The killing of civilians of any sort in a military action would have been appalling to most Americans in the 1700s and 1800s with the exception of wars against American Indians,
3. The killing of civilians in wars, declared or undeclared, is frowned upon in international law and the human rights literature regardless of which states are seen as having started the hostilities, and
4. Americans, rightly or not, believe themselves to be”outside the curve of historical imperialism” and generally to display more sensitivity to human life and safety and welfare than, say, Germany, Russia, China or Japan, and perhaps, if one looks at Indochina and India, France and Britain.
The argument to this point is not that Americans or their government like killing foreign civilians or even that they tolerate it casually, but rather that the American government, with the tacit approval of its citizenry, has killed civilians, mostly from altitudes of greater than 10,000 feet, often with considerable planning, and intentionally, with the use of carefully designed weapons and–less often– unintentionally.
So focusing for now on World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, we want to highlight several reasons given as justifications for treating non-military people as expendable in some measure and perhaps with some reluctance. Foreign civilians in these conflicts died in very large numbers, mostly from aerial bombs, which we will account for here, but also from chemical sprays, ground artillery fire, and as more or less innocent bystanders near the fields of battle.
One of the most horrific aspects of the World Trade Center and Pentagon killings of civilians was that they were so unexpected. No sense of danger attended the thousands of office workers heading into lower Manhattan and Arlington, Virginia on the morning of September 11, 2001. Many, though not all of the civilians in cities like Dresden, Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Nagasaki–to name a few–and Pyongyang and Hanoi and the numerous smaller towns and villages of North Korea and Vietnam did go through a prolonged awareness of danger, risk, and deprivation before meeting their ends. The loss of loved ones in firestorms and blast-collapsed structures was more or less anticipated as a possibility, sometimes over a period of years–say, 1943-45, 1950-53, or 1965-72.
The broad reasons for the killing of civilians in Germany, Japan, from bombs dropped over urban centers, might be summarized as follows:
(1) Germans and Japanese had the misfortune to live under governments, either unelected (Japan)or elected by a minority (Germany)that had launched aggressive wars in Europe and that had themselves taken millions of lives, military and civilian,
2. The United States had committed several million men, mostly between the ages of 18 and 30, to extract or help allies extract several million German and Japanese military men from places like France, Scandinavia, the USSR, China, the Philippines and Korea. To shorten the war and reduce the cost in America lives, it might be necessary to sacrifice an unspecified number of civilian lives, mostly in about 80 German and Japanese cities (each). This unspecified number turned out to be about 900,000 each in Germany and Japan– these are the most conservative estimates and focus largely on the air raids during the 2-year period mid-1943 to 1945.
3. A certain number of German and Japanese civilians, who perished and a similar number of those who were maimed for life, worked in factories, government offices and transportation networks vital to the Axis war effort. Also there were large numbers of doctors, postal employees, nurses, sanitation workers, firemen, and other civil personal who, while at the center of the war machine, were involved in keeping the war machine’s more active participants healthier, cleaner, safer and to be able to communicate better.
Before breaking this reasoning down, we might anticipate a powerful question from the reader or audiences.: why devote so much attention to the populace in warring states so clearly devoted to the mass killing of others and conquest by force? To answer that “two wrongs don’t make a right” would be to oversimplify in more than one way. But in any case, before moral judgments are made, any national American project involving tens of thousands of bomber crew members under orders from career officers and civilians to carry out acts that result in a loss of life roughly equaling the combined populations of Baltimore, Boston, San Francisco and St. Louis, or the entire state of Oregon OR Connecticut or Oklahoma, is surely deserving of careful study. Such investigations have been made– and some very good ones**– but mine is the only one that both focuses on civilian deaths and attempts to compare the way in which civilians died in at least seven different military conflicts.
Return to the central question of why we bomb civilians. A breakdown of reasons for the official sanction of carefully planned actions leading to large numbers of deaths and injuries can proceed as follows:
1. Following Sherman’s 1864 dictum that “war is all hell” and needs to be made as painful as possible, generations of strategists have used “Shorten The War” as a rationale for all sorts of war intensifying strategies. These have included: massive drafts to throw as many soldiers as possible against the enemy, development of terror weapons such as the machine gun, heavy naval vessels capable of devastating coastal shelling and, beginning in the 1930s, aircraft designed to drop explosives, or even deadly gas, onto masses of infantry, fortifications, and, finally, cities. In chilling words of Douhet, the Italian air-war theorist, depicting air attack:
First would come explosions, then fires, then deadly gases floating on the surface and preventing any approach to the stricken area. As the hours passed and night advanced, the fires would spread while the poison gas paralyzed all life. ** Schaffer 21, Douhet
Politicians and generals on all sides in World War II spoke longingly of shortening the war and no doubt they were sincere.* More recently, the creation of “smart” bombs and “shock and awe tactics,” especially for use against Iraq in 1991 and 2003, provide an updated strategy of using highly accurate and very noisy bombs to cow the enemy into a faster surrender, while taking world public opinion sensibilities into account.
Even before World War Two, a US Army Air Corps tactical manual regarded air attack as “a method of imposing will by terrorizing the whole population.” It was, as Schaffer puts it, vastly preferable to long wars of attrition like the First World War[cite p 27]
Proving that hammer blows against a foreign population can shorten a conflict has been more difficult. It has made intuitive sense to say that Germany and Japan might well have fought longer had they not lost so many cities and industrial cites to massive air attack. This is most dramatically illustrated in the hasty Japanese call for a cease fire after the second atomic bomb obliterated Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 and the little- known final devastating conventional bomb raid in Tokyo August 13th.
It has argued for example been argued, for example, that Hirohito’s speech coming shortly after the second atomic bomb, represented a consensus that the level of destruction had become intolerable:
[Surrender Speech by Japanese Emperor Hirohito, August 14, 1945 [five days after Nagasaki]
The surrender announcement, broadcast by radio, was the first time Japanese people had ever heard the voice of their leader.To our good and loyal subjects: After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in our empire today, we have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure. We have ordered our Government to communicate to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that our empire accepts the provisions of their joint declaration.
Indeed, we declared war on America and Britain out of our sincere desire to insure Japan’’s self- preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement. But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone——the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of our servants of the State and the devoted service of our 100,000,000 people——the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.
Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization. **
However there is also evidence that a little publicized final convention bombing raid on Tokyo, after Nagasaki on August 13, was decisive in bringing about surrender. On August 10, 1945, a day after Nagasaki, Japanese leaders still disagreed on the desirability of surrendering according to the Potsdam unconditional surrender terms. Hirohito ordered that the surrender be accepted, provided he be allowed to retain the throne. The Americans responded on August 11 that they recognized the Emperor but could not guarantee his position. All bombing was suspended pending a definitive Japanese response. When none was received, Gen. Arnold ordered the largest conventional raid of the war, with over 1000 planes, which took place on August 13th. The raid received little publicity and is little-mentioned in accounts of the war . The Emperor’s public statement of surrender (quoted above) followed the next day. It is not entirely clear whether further consideration of the implications of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the final Tokyo raid was decisive. Perhaps both together were. [See J. Smith and M. O’Connell, The Last Mission, Broadway Books, 2002]
2. Save American lives– Although nobody likes a long war, Americans in particular have
placed a premium on speed and the use of machinery to shorten fighting time and perhaps transfer the human sacrifice (almost literally) that is war, from our side to theirs. High technology air and armed vehicle fighting tends to protect American– and other– combatants relative to the number of killed and injured on the other side, and the conflict shortened. It has been argued that not only American military lives would be saved and men transferred to the protection of high altitude aircraft and armored ground machines, but also, ultimately, many “enemy” lives–especially civilian–could be spared by the application of concentrated intense force.
3. Make war more “merciful”- A shorter war with less loss of life would certainly be more humane, if it could be demonstrated that it could be achieved. The argument has been used, as with the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945 and with the Iraq wars of 1991 and 2003. Of course such arguments are very difficult to prove: the best one can normally do is make a strong case. In the August, 1945 case of Japan, a sort of acceleration of the Japanese willingness to consider surrender occurred, first privately and then quite openly, publicly, and quickly with the Emperor’s call to end the fighting after the Nagasaki bomb was dropped on 9 August. What might be easier to establish is that shortening wars through terror bombing can take place, that the loss of life might not be reduced overall, but may be transferred from U.S. forces to foreign civilians. The term “merciful” (Churchill’s term for the use of atomic weapons was “avert a vast, indefinite butchery”) in any universal sense seems inappropriate unless there is a way of demonstrating that more American military would have died in a drawn out land battle such as the Japanese “home island” invasion envisioned for the fall of 1945.
The moral and strategic implications of these first three arguments for bombing are not simple. Even if it appears that a war has been shortened because of city-busting tactics (e.g., Japan, summer, 1945) it is very hard to demonstrate that fewer civilians would have died if the war continued with more ground fighting and less aerial destruction. Merciful to the American soldier probably, but merciful in universal human terms, probably not. A World War Two with more intense aerial attacks on German and Japanese infrastructure outside of cities, or on concentration of German and Japanese military forces, say in Russia or the South Pacific islands, would have killed different civilians, but probably smaller numbers of civilians and certainly more uniformed military. Most would agree that reducing civilian deaths in favor of military would be desirable, except that many of the military were young draftees and a number of civilians were directly involved politically or economically with the war effort. There are some shades of gray here to be reckoned with. The classic account of the debate over the “necessity” of using atomic weapons is Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, updated 1996. **
4. Easier to demonstrate is that bombing campaigns dramatically reduced the production and output of “enemy” economic systems in Germany and Japan, and certainly North Korea, though to a lesser extent . Bombing damaged the North Vietnamese economy as well, although in a more limited way because of its less centralized and capital intensive infrastructure. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey published September 30, 1945, goes into great detail about the gradual destruction of German and Japanese industries by U.S. (and in the case of Germany British) bombing sorties. Preferred targets were steel, machine tool, tank, aircraft, other munitions factories and oil refineries. There were many other target categories as well. During World War Two the kind of pinpoint bombing available in the 1980s and 1990s into the Twenty First Century was not an option. When the nearly 300,000 tons of bombs were dropped over the two Axis powers between 1943 and 1945, much of the targeting was industrial and infrastructure sites. However, as other parts of this essay relate, a significant minority of bombings took out largely residential areas and an additional percentage of bombings against the war related cites, especially urban took the lives of tens of thousands of civilians as “collateral damage.”
5.A more specific and quite interesting American argument about the assault on enemy populations is that bombing civilians –literally the “inhabitants of cities”– thins out the number of industrial workers and potential soldiers, “castrating” (in FDR’s memorable metaphor) the opposition and quite literally reducing the number of future war-makers. For Roosevelt it was weakening German society by reducing the number of war-prone Germans:
We either have to castrate the German people or you have got to treat them
in such a manner so they can’t just go on reproducing people who want to continue the way they have in the past…[Schaffer 88]
Ronald Schaffer goes on to cite Robert Dallek’s citation of Roosevelt’s comments to Secretary of War Henry Stimson that:
It is of the utmost importance that every person in Germany should realize
that this time Germany is a defeated nation. I do not want them to starve to death, but, as an example, if they need food to keep body and soul together beyond what they have, they should be fed three times a day with soup from Army soup kitchens…The fact that they are a defeated nation , collectively and individually must be so impressed upon them that they will hesitate to start any new war. ** [in Dallek, Roosevelt, 472-473]
6. Bombing cities is more simply an efficient way of destroying industry, infrastructure and human capital. The problem with this reasoning is that attacks on cities destroyed much that was not directly involved in industrial production, although perhaps demonstrably involved in war-making indirectly: residential neighborhoods in non-industrial areas, urban targets of limited industrial value (e.g., Dresden and Nagasaki) including also schools, churches, hospitals and small businesses. An important part of the literature on aerial bombardment examines these non-industrial targets and questions the need for their destruction much as military policy-makers debated the wisdom of such targeting during the wars under consideration here. ** [Michael Sherry’s and Ronald Schaffer’s books are especially good in short sections on non-industrial “psychological” urban targets and residential areas; also Werrell]
7. An early and more specialized motive for the bombing of German, Japanese, and–later– Korea and Vietnamese cities, especially toward the beginning of those conflicts, was to demonstrate the physical vulnerability of the civilian population and urban centers that could affect both popular and leadership morale. It was believed that the post-Pearl Harbor air raid on Tokyo led by Gen. James Doolittle in April, 1942 achieved a stunning morale victory for the U.S., even though damage was quite modest by later standards. Early raids on Berlin (Nov. 1941) had been costly for the British but symbolically important. These raids were suspended during 1942 (until 1943) because of the heavy anti-air defenses around the city.
8. Demonstration effect for non-enemy but rival powers– this is a curious but credible perspective that notes the desire of some generals directing attacks on eastern German cities to make a statement about U.S. air power to the Soviets occupying those regions in ever greater numbers as well as to the Germans themselves. Schaffer notes that the (British) Royal Air Force bomber command was especially convinced that striking the heart of Berlin would impress the Russians with the “effectiveness of Anglo-American air power.” Schaffer quotes Air Force General David Schlatter, writing in his diary just before the Yalta conference:
I feel that our air forces are the blue chips with which we will approach the post-war treaty table and that [Operation THUNDERCLAP] will add immeasurably to their strength, or rather to Russian knowledge of their strength.” **[D.M. Schlatter Daily Diary, Jan 28, 1945, file 168.7052-5, 44/10/41-45/07/11, Alfred F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, cited in Shaffer, p. 96]
9. Self-preservation for pilots-Another reason to bomb German, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cities thoroughly was to take out industries and military installations that would endanger bombers and crews (!) Through construction or emplacement of anti-aircraft equipment: guns, fighter planes, etc. [specify which cities had such factories and installations].
10. Terror bombing- related to many of the already mentioned reasons for air bombardment but worth focusing on as a special motive is the terror and morale-eroding effect of punishing air raids. This has been one of the most sensational and closely argued debates in the reconsideration of the value of city destruction, 1943-45, 1950-53, and 1965-72. In 1944 noted Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport sent out a survey, later forwarded to the Strategic Bombing Survey, asking “leading members of his profession” their views on the probable effects of bombing on German and Japanese morale. The responses reflected as much division on the question as their was in the upper ranks of the Air Force leadership.** [Schaffer, p. 90]
11. Dehumanization-Related to and magnifying some of the effects of the rationale for bombing missions listed above, is the oft-commented on tendency of societies and their military forces to dehumanize the other side. This process starts with leaders: Hitler, the Kaiser, Tojo, Hirohito; extends to the enemy military forces: “Huns” “Storm Troopers” “cruel Japs” and finally, in an age of total war, to the Other Society itself. Amerindians become expendable, more modern foes need to be castrated, exterminated, etc. There is a great range of feelings within the societies: not all Germans had contempt for Jews and Slavs, too many did; not all Japanese had disregard for the lives of conquered Asians– too many did; not all Americans felt the large numbers of civilian deaths in Germany and Japan were acceptable, but many did.
There seems to be some correlation between the power and scope of “enemy conquest” and the degree to which the corresponding society is deemed evil and worthy of severe counter-blows. Racism and differentiated xenophobia, discussed below, certainly contribute to rationalizing mass counter-killing. But the success of Germany and Japan and the perceived direct threat they posed to the United States, made the massive onslaught against their cities in some ways easier than the less publicized air attacks on North Korea, and the much more criticized attacks on North Vietnam.
**This might be an opportune time for a short but needed digression from the flow of this presentation: [consider inserting this earlier in oral presentations]: by cataloguing the devastation inflicted by American bombing missions, we are not saying that the German, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese leadership and military were less than cruel or violent themselves. Atrocities abounded and excessive violence was not just “fallen into”, but carefully planned in some cases in substance if not in form and exact execution. And we are not saying that American allies do not share responsibility for helping get the U.S. involved and coordinating the attacks on enemy cities alongside the Washington leadership. The point is that the atrocities of enemies and shared brutality of Allies only partly absolves the U.S. from confronting fully the acts of collective destruction it has practiced.
12. Racism and Differentiated Xenophobia– Fueling the “Anger and Revenge” motives for strikes against Japanese cities in particular was a long- standing American animus toward Asians (the “Mongol race”) and particularly the Japanese, who had never been colonized. A history of immigration restrictions, anti-Japanese laws in California, resentment in the 1930s as the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere became bigger and rougher, capped by the post Pearl Harbor internment of Japanese American civilians, raised the tolerance for total war against “the Japs.”
And when Allied prosecutors sitting in the gutted capital city of Japan in 1946 accused the country’s leaders of promoting the indiscriminate destruction of “men, women and children alike”, they still did so with little sense irony. Japan had merely reaped what it had sowed. ** Dower p. 41
This was compounded by newsreels of Japanese atrocities in China and the Philippines. The Bataan Death March would establish a public opinion climate against Japan that would give license to the fiercest air assault on any nation, including Germany, in the history of warfare before or since. It is essential to note, however, that the public opinion contempt for Asian culture and the differentness of its people predated the aggressive phase of Japanese expansion after 1931 and was reflected in US newspapers nearly 40 years before that time:
Some, like the Hearst newspapers, warned of a yellow peril led by Japan as early as the 1890s, and maintained an unwavering editorial policy of anti-Oriental polemics over the next half-century.**Dower, p. 157
In the war itself, the no surrender, no-prisoners policy of Japanese soldiers and officers in the island hopping campaigns of the Pacific reinforced the image of a people for whom life was cheap and sacrifice a given. One of many famous Japanese soldier/sailor poems reads:
Across the sea, corpses soaking in the water
Across the mountains heaped upon the grass
We shall die by the side of our lord
We shall never look back. ** [Dower 25}
Dower and other scholars have also noted that the Japanese entertained many of their own racial stereotypes of effete Westerners, including Americans, with their exaggerated noses and ears, reflected in cartoons and drawings and in the press generally.
The Pacific war has been characterized as “The War Without Mercy.” 1941-1945 was replete with surprise attacks, forced marches, torture of prisoners, island battles in which the dead outnumbered the square mileage of the island to a power of 10 or 20, aerial firebombing, and, ultimately, kamikaze and flame- throwers-in-caves attacks (Okinawa), capped off by two bombs 1000 times more powerful than any explosive ever dropped from an airplane.
The race-based analysis that the atomic bomb was used against the Japanese but would not have been against the Germans is debatable. The first A-bomb was tested in New Mexico on July 21, 1945. Had Germany still been in the war, the chances of a sizeable bomb being used against a German city would have been high. I know of no memorandum or scholarly writing that indicates that the Manhattan Project was designed for Japan only.
In addition to racial prejudice intertwining with other forms of resentment against Japan to fuel the deadly incendiary assault on its cities, there was an American public opinion history– by no means unique to this country– of what might be called differentiated xenophobia. As a relatively isolated power 3,000 miles from Europe and 8,000 from Asia, the Americans had contact over the years with foreign cultures mainly through immigrants coming into the U.S. and from foreign travel, mostly by the elite classes– at least until World War One. Although there was not the kind of distaste for foreign cultures found in, say Korea or Japan before 1870, Americans did share what might be called an Anglo-American disdain for non-white, but also in varying degrees, Latin based Cultures (American and European) and Slavic as well as Celtic cultures. This observation greatly oversimplifies, but does help explain a somewhat greater reluctance to participate in the city bombing of Germany than Japan and also the receptivity of Americans for assisting the British over the Germans. Political ideology and perceptions of who the aggressors were in the world wars thus accounts for a great deal.
13. Anger and Revenge– When returning to the central question of “Why We Bomb,” we can differentiate between two genera of mid- Twentieth Century bombing: A. the use of bombs in later campaigns against North Korea and North Vietnam in which strategic and racial factors blended together to break the will of Asian communist nations that were upsetting the geo-political equilibrium sought by the United States and B. the earlier use of air attack against cities to cripple the populations of states engaged in costly wars of regional conquest, namely Germany and Japan.
North Korea had its urban landscape flattened because it tried to reunite all of Korea under its rule in 1950. No other country was involved in its real estate altering efforts. North Vietnam similarly attempted, ultimately successfully, to bring the South under its control in the late 1950s and 1960s, and the price of doing so was made higher by punitive U.S. air attacks.
In the case of Germany there was successful annexation of the Low Countries, Austria, western Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the rest of Eastern Norway, Denmark and France, with threats of conquest for Greece, Britain, and Russia by made-late 1941. The brutality of Hitler’s attacks on those societies, including civilians and particularly ethnic minorities like the Jews and gypsies and whole ethnic majorities like Slavs (the contrast between treatment of Germans and and Slavs in Czechoslovakia was characteristic) is legendary: aerial bombardment of Dutch, Polish and British cities, concentration camps, execution of city officials wherever resistance was met and sometimes when it was not met. Japan’s equally unrestrained moves into China, Indochina, Malaya, the Philippines and much of the Western Pacific offended international human rights sensibilities (insofar as they were developed at the time) as well as the geopolitical status quo.
I would argue that in any war, from medieval conflicts to religious and Amerindian wars in the 16th and 17th centuries to more modern wars, strategy has been colored in varying degrees by revenge and anger for past mistakes and slights. When the townsfolk of Puritan Massachusetts torched Wampanoag villages in King Philip’s War, they did so at first tentatively and later vigorously in response to attacks on Deerfield, Springfield, and other settlements. More to the current point, when the German Luftwaffe leveled Rotterdam, and parts of Warsaw and London, it mirrored the Nazi leadership and some of the German body politic’s loathing of European neighbors that had A. humiliated the Germans after World War I (UK), B. stood between Germany and those foes (Netherlands, Belgium) and C. held substantial German populations under the rule of the Slavic kin of Russia and then the Soviet Union (Czechoslovakia, Poland). While conquests and economic motives drove part of Berlin’s war machine, the octane of the fuel that the machine was running on was heightened by feelings of settling a score, rationalized by perceived slights from London, the Hague, Brussels and the Slavic capitals to the East.
When Japan launched its assaults on China between 1931 and 1938 and then moved against Hawaii, the Philippines, Indochina, the Dutch East Indies, it was for far more than the establishment of Tokyo’s hegemony over and economic exploitation of those areas. The motives were, equally, contempt for Asian neighbors that had allowed themselves to be colonized and animus against the European and American hegemons defiling Asia. In a certain sense, when the bombs fell and shells flew and bayonets thrust, causing such agony in Shanghai, Nanking, Rangoon, and Manila, the collective contempt for lesser Asian peoples in the eyes of Japanese leaders and their soldiers was intensified by a national resentment of American, British and French slights—the U.S.’s pro-Russian mediation of the Russo-Japanese War was an early example– against the “People of the Rising Sun. “
Right after the December 7, 1941 attack, General Leonard Gerow of the Army Chief of Staff’s planning office, had noted: “Perhaps the best way to offset this initial defeat is to Burn Tokyo and Osaka.” [Cited in Sherry, p. 115, note on p. 384]
And as the war was moving toward a conclusion, top generals were mindful, in the wake of the first a-bomb attack, of how a score was being settled:
When General Leslie R. Groves , the director of the Manhattan Project, told [Gen. Henry] Arnold and General Marshall about the attack on Hiroshima, Marshall suggested that it would be a mistake to rejoice too much, since the explosion had undoubtedly caused a large number of Japanese casualties. Groves replied that he was not thinking as much about those casualties as about the men who had made the Bataan Death March. Afterwards, in the hallway outside Marshall’s office, Arnold slapped Groves on the back and exclaimed, ‘I’m glad you said that,–it’s just the way I feel.’” **[Schaffer, p. 154, also quoting Groves in Now It Can be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project (New York, 1962) p. 324.
So it was, with different historical particulars, with the vast aerial counter-thrust against Germany and Japan. There was a need not simply to stop the Tokyo and Berlin juggernauts, but also to avenge the losses of innocents in the paths of the aggressors and to avenge the humiliation of London and Washington for the Blitz against London, Coventry, Liverpool, and the smashing into Pearl Harbor, Manila, and British Hong Kong, Rangoon, and Kuala Lumpur.
British pilots over Dresden and Hamburg were well aware that those targets that were contributing to the war effort that had leveled sections of London, Manchester, and Belfast and equally as acutely, had necessitated the enlistment of many thousands of British and, later, American soldiers who were dying because of German bellicosity. American pilots and bombing crews flew mass sorties that lit up Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, and two dozen other Japanese cities of size with the knowledge that the targets below had spawned the soldiery that had laid waste to Chinese and Philippine cities and, far more centrally, brought hundreds of thousands of American farmers, businessmen, workers, and budding professionals overwhelmingly under 30 years of age into the path of harm and death in the Pacific.
Because most accounts of bombing campaigns stress strategy, logistics, and statistical results: square mileage of flattened buildings, targets destroyed, civilians killed and injured, there is often not a clear way to gauge the extent to which the anger of leaders and the desire for revenge may shape these campaigns and their execution. The historian is forced to rely on anecdotal evidence: accounts of generals and politicians, memoirs of pilots and bombing crew-members, and– to a very limited extent– memoranda and journalistic pieces composed by players in the drama– in World War II men like Eisenhower, Arnold, Spaatz, Kuter, and even Roosevelt and Stimson. As with all of our motivation categories for the bombing of civilian areas, it would be valuable to have these sorts of recollections to leaven “the official record”. It would also be enlightening to compare these with memoirs of British, German and Japanese bombardiers. Anger does not always bottle and age well, however, and there is no guarantee the recollections would translate what went through the minds of theater commanders, mission weary pilots and worried White House and Pentagon occupants.
CONCLUSION: AND WAS IT WORTH IT?
Here we seek to pull together the strands of motivation to engage in what must surely rank as one of the most weighty and morally debatable human endeavors in history: the destruction of several dozen cities and 4 million or so civilian lives as part of the effort to subdue four adversaries: Germany Japan, Korea and Vietnam between 1942 and 1972. The distinguished British military historian, Gen. J.F.C. Fuller, in his The Second World War, writing of the July 1943 raid on Hamburg in particular, as part of a general discussion of the bombing of German cities said:
Eyewitnesses described how the holocaust was so terrible that the air was sucked into it from outside of the perimeter of the fire. Many were suffocated or shriveled up by the intense heat. Others were drowned on throwing themselves into the canals that ran through the city. Days later, when the nearby cellars were opened, thousands were found to have perished as if cooked in an oven….These appalling slaughterings, which would have disgraced Attila, were justified on the plea of military necessity– only military objectives were attacked. In Britain, there were vindicated by the Archbishop of York, because they would shorten the war and save many thousands of lives. **[Fuller, 238]
It is widely agreed that the cost of city-blitzing was extremely high. The debate rests on whether the strategic and national humanitarian objectives achieved (save American lives) were met (by the cost extended to others) and the surprisingly difficult and closely related question, for many, of whether the cost was too high. This inward debate played itself out early within the minds of the bomber crews themselves and those who advised them:
Airmen especially criticized the long and dangerous raids on Berlin. Typical complaints in a June 1944 survey were that the city is not a military target and bombed mainly for “headlines.” and “I don’t believe in spite bombing.” Almost three quarters of veteran flyers stated they occasionally or “quite often” had undergone missions “not worth the cost.” **[Crane, 38] and
One man was only able to keep his sanity by following his chaplain’s advice to “keep it impersonal and not to focus on what happened on the ground “He rationalized that he was doing his best to hit military targets, helping shorten the war and save lives in the long run. Yet he was still troubled throughout his tour by recurrent thoughts of an incident in which he had almost hit the city’s amphitheater with an errant bomb. [ibid.]
These perspectives, it must be emphasized, still represent a small sampling, a “minority report” of doubts set against an orthodox consensus that many of the life-saving, war-ending goals were met. Our thirteen ways of accounting for city-bombing can be collapsed into four broad areas: A. “Taking lives to save other lives” B. “Help defeat the enemy by psychological and physical means” C. “The results of anger, revenge, sometimes aggravated by racism and xenophobia, and
D. “Collateral damage”: that is, civilian lives lost in spite of an attempt to avoid taking them while aiming at other targets. For true believers, such as Gen. Curtis LeMay, architect of bombing strategies for both the ending German and Japanese war strategies, B & C melted together seamlessly:
We were going after military targets. No point in slaughtering civilians for the mere sake of slaughter. Of course there is a pretty thin veneer in Japan, but the veneer was there. All you had to do was visit one of those targets after we’d roasted it, and see the ruins of a multitude of tiny houses, with a drill press sticking up through the wreckage of every home. The entire population got in the act and worked to make those airplanes or munitions of war…men, women, children. We knew we were going to kill a lot of women and children when we burned that town. Had to be done. [LeMay with McKinlay Kantor, Mission with LeMay, Garden City, Doubleday, 1965, p. 384]
Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, Vintage Books, 1996
Crane, Conrad. Bombing, Cities, and Civilians, U. Kansas Press, 1993
Dower, John. War Without Mercy, Pantheon, 1986
Fuller, J.F.C. . The Second World War, 1939-1945: Duell, Sloan and Pearce (NY), 1954
Keegan John. The Second World War, Penguin, 1990
Neillands, Robin. The Bomber War, Overlook, 2001
Schaffer, Ronald. Wings of Judgment, Oxford, 1988
Sherry, Michael. The Rise of American Air Power, Yale, 1987
Stokesbury, James. A Short History of World War II, William Morrow, 1980
Werrell, Kenneth. Blankets of Fire, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996
Churchill, Winston, The Grand Alliance, Mariner Books (reissue), 1986
Le May, Curtis (with MacKinlay Kantor), Mission with Le May, Doubleday, 1965
Mozambique AssignmentOF STUDENT AURORA S RUUD From Norway
Many countries have been able to better their economy through tourism. This is especially true for countries that have a high unemployment rate but scenic views. Mozambique is an example of a country that has provided more jobs through tourism, but it has not realized its full potential in the tourism industry. Many other countries, such as the Maldives, Tanzania, and Indonesia have been able to alleviate poverty through the tourism sector. This essay will look at how Mozambique has alleviated poverty, especially through tourism, and look at howthey can take it further with inspiration from other countries that have done this successfully.
Mozambique became independent in 1975, but after this came a civil war that lasted until 1992. This civil war displaced nearly five million people, fractured the country, and increasedthe poverty rate in Mozambique significantly. The civil war set back the nation’s economic development significantly (The Borgen Project). Mozambique is located in South-Eastern Africa and is a very scenic country. It has a lot of natural resources and is located on the coast. This gives it strategic access to the maritime economy (The Borgen Project) and provides for a beautiful and vibrant environment.
Being that Because Mozambique is such a scenic country, tourism is a great resource to create jobs and promote economic development. The country is rich in culture and has opportunities for safaris and beach activities. Since 2006 The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has been helping to grow Mozambique’s tourism sector to create employment opportunities for the nation’s poor. The IFC has made legal material on the country’s tourism industry free for potential investors (The Borgen Project). The IFC has been aiding Mozambique in sustainably developing its tourism assets such as its beaches, coral reefs, and turquoise seas. According to the IFC, this sustainable development attracts foreign exchange investments, and creates much-needed jobs, while facilitating economic development in the country as a whole. It is also important to focus on other areas than only the capital, Maputo. In 2009 the World Bank Group started the Competitiveness and Private Sector Development project which aimed to help economies outside of Maputo. Amongst other things, it promoted tourism in the Inhambane province by developing tourism-related skills such as financial accounting and management. This initiative trained more than 1300 people in order to get them to work in the tourism sector.
While tourism has already contributed to Mozambique’s economy, weaknesses in the tourism sector present challenges to future growth. These challenges include low levels of spending per visitor and poor occupancy rates. “The tourism sector needs to improve, a shift from a focus on hotel investments and a number of tourists to a focus on quality-based performance and prioritization of diversification of cultural and natural aspects of tourism” (Jones & Ibrahimo, 2007). This means prioritizing the bettering of activities and making tourists spend money once they are already in the country. In order for the tourism industry to be more beneficial, spending per visitor has to increase.
In 2017, the president of Mozambique, Filipe Nyusi, said that other challenges to tourism include poor access to roads, low quality of drinking water and electricity in tourist areas, and shortage of trained tourist guides. Programs that train locals in needed jobs like tour guides not only benefit the quality of the tourist experience but also benefit the locals and the economy. Infrastructural improvements are necessary in order to attract even more tourists, foreign investment in the country and economic development will result in money that can be used to improve infrastructure.
“The total contribution of Travel &Tourism to Mozambique’s GDP, including its wider economic impacts, is forecast to rise by 6.4% each year over the next ten years. By 2021 Travel & Tourism will support over 700,000 jobs in Mozambique” (World Tourism Organization, 2011). In 2019, travel and tourism employed 755 thousand people (World data atlas, 2019). This number was significantly reduced when the COVID-19 pandemic halted tourism all over the world. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the employment level intravel and tourism declined by around 28%, resulting in almost 200 thousand jobs lost (Statista, 2021). Mozambique is once again working toward building its economy, and when doing so it is important to consider areas for improvement in order to build the economy in the right way.
A country that Mozambique can look to for inspiration on how to better its tourism sector is the Maldives which has been very successful in creating jobs and promoting economic development in this industry. Mozambique and the Maldives have many traits in common, namely white beaches, turquoise water, and coral reefs. “In recent years, tourism has accounted directly for one-third of GDP and employment. Around 30% of government tax revenues and 70% of total foreign exchange earnings come from the sector.” (Asian Development Bank, 2002). Tourism is closely monitored by the government in the Maldives, which may be a good focus for Mozambique in the future as well. In the Maldives, the Ministry of Tourism keeps records of tourists and monitors the number of tourists on uninhabited islands and fragile coral reefs.
The ministry has created rules for the tourism and travel industry, such as; “for each island resort that is created, one island must be left as a reserve, any new resorts must only be two stories high, only 20% of the land area of an island can be built upon.” (BBC). These rules attempt to address the negative effects that tourism can have on a country. With government involvement and clear engagement and guidelines, the Maldives has been able to provide jobs for 11% of the population and generate over 600 million dollars of income a year. In 2021, the Ministry of Tourism and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed the “GoM-UNDP Reimagining Tourism” project.
This project focuses on diversification of tourism and more community engagement. “Tourism is to be diversified through community-led conservation and utilization of natural ecosystems and cultural heritage as a novel tourism product. This is envisioned to facilitate a bigger role for local councils in tourism planning and enable the establishment of formal linkages of the tourism sector with traditional knowledge and livelihoods, creating avenues for greater participation of women and youth.” (United Nations Development Programme, 2021). This cooperation between the government and a UN agency will continue to better tourism in the country with a focus on the protection of local communities and the environment. The government of Mozambique has shown the political will to better the travel and tourism industry, both the previous and the present president have expressed will to better infrastructure and tourism offers in order to take full advantage of their opportunities for growth. A more hands-on and cooperative approach between the government and other agencies may allow tourism in Mozambique to become better in the right aspects. Good to divide this into 2 paragraphs…
Tourism allows for the creation of jobs that do not require high-level skills. In developingcountries, many people, especially in rural areas, do not have the opportunity to pursue higher education. Jobs in hospitality create jobs for people that have not received this education. In Mozambique, many women drop out of education early, these jobs will allow for them to enter the work economy without being limited by their socioeconomic status. After making primary and secondary school free in 2003, Mozambique has a high number of girls in primary school, but only 11% of these girls progress to secondary school (The Borgen Project, 2019). Domestic responsibilities and early pregnancies are a large part of the reasons why women often do not finish education or progress to higher levels. Between 30 and 40 percent of girls in Mozambique become pregnant before they turn 18.
Already present domestic responsibilities combined with the responsibility of providing forand taking care of a child complicates women’s progress in education and work environments. This starts a bad circle where mothers’ lack of education deprives them of possibilities that can, in turn, affect their children. Since tourism creates jobs that do not require high education, it can alleviate the dispersed effects of poverty and unemployment on women and children. It allows for new groups of people to contribute to the economy and enter the workplace. This can also increase the quality of life as it will take away some of the stresses of poverty and give citizens a sense of fulfillment and purpose.
Tanzania has also been able to attract tourists and foreign investment in the country. These investments have resulted in 470 000 jobs in tourism and travel in 2016. In Indonesia the tourism sector gives great support within communities – regions with higher tourist activity have a poverty rate of 1.5-3.4% lower than regions with less tourist activity (The Borgen Project).
There are complications to the tourism sector, such as the protection of biodiversity and pollution. This problem can be mediated through hands-on government monitoring and policies as seen in the Maldives. The rules established by the Ministry of Tourism in the Maldives mediate and limit the effects tourism can have on the environment by making sure that resorts, buildings, etc. do not take over and ruin the nature on the islands. We have seen the Great Barrier Reef in Australia greatly impacted by tourism. When tourists touch and break the corals, intentionally or accidentally, it often results in coral bleaching. Even sunscreen particles can kill coral larvae and cause coral bleaching. It is important for countries such as Mozambique and the Maldives to take measures to protect and preserve the environment, which the Maldives is clearly doing. Here, tourism is a profitable industry, but it is not all-consuming. Another downside to tourism, which is actually happening in the Maldives, is that many resorts are owned by foreign companies. This means that a lot of money actually leaves the Maldives, and although it still provides jobs, it does not help the economy on a larger scale by keeping the money domestically to continually better travel, tourism, infrastructure, and conservation efforts. Yes, good observation.
Tourism is not the solution to the poverty problem in low-income scenic countries. Itis important for countries to look to other solutions as well as tourism, such as bettering educational programs and making vocational training for basic and/or specific skills available for the population. According to the World Bank, “Governments need to take public policy actions to create an enabling environment. They need to invest in education, from early childhood to adulthood, to build the human capital needed for a rapidly evolving global economy.” (2018).
Many of these factors are alsoconnected, e.g. lack of education causes unemployment and so on. By improving on one area, countries can gain money that can, in turn, be put towards bettering the other areas. This is important for countries like Mozambique in addressing the problem of unemployment, especially in girls and women as discussed above. Yes, women are crucial for training and a presence in the tourism project. They can do many jobs more effectively then men.
In conclusion, tourism can have already been and can continue to be a way for low-income countries to better their economy. Taking advantage of rich culture and scenic viewsis extremely important as it taps into what is already there and attracts new money. Mozambique has already seen the creation of many jobs, over 700 000 in 2019, and although this number was reduced by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is indicative of how important travel and tourism can be in addressing the problem of poverty and unemployment. As seen with the example of the Maldives, a hands-on approach from the government can be very important, and cooperation with agencies such as the UNDP can better tourism and address pressing problems such as loss of biodiversity and pollution.
Seeing what other countries have done right and wrong is extremely beneficial when implementing policies and guidelines for travel and tourism. Focus in the right areas, such as getting spending per visitor, by means such as developing more guided tours, increasing offers of watersports and other activities, can greatly benefit the industry. There are many areas that can be used to alleviate poverty, and measures such as bettering education and making sure people are able to complete their education may be a way of addressing a larger issue early. This is extremely important, and bettering one area of focus, such as the tourism sector, other things, such as unemployment and education, may benefit. It might be observed that attraction of private investment skillfully executed would take some of the pressure off of the government.
In his 2020 book “Politics Is for Power,” Eitan Hersh, a political scientist at Tufts, sketched a day in the life of many political obsessives in sharp, if cruel, terms.
I refresh myTwitter feed to keep up on the latest political crisis, then toggle over to Facebook to read clickbait news stories, then over to YouTube to see a montage of juicy clips from the latest congressional hearing. I then complain to my family about all the things I don’t like that I have seen.
To Hersh, that’s not politics. It’s what he calls “political hobbyism.” And it’s close to a national pastime. “A third of Americans say they spend two hours or more each day on politics,” he writes. “Of these people, four out of five say that not one minute of that time is spent on any kind of real political work. It’s all TV news and podcasts and radio shows and social media and cheering and booing and complaining to friends and family.”
Real political work, for Hersh, is the intentional, strategic accumulation of power in service of a defined end. It is action in service of change, not information in service of outrage. This distinction is on my mind because, like so many others, I’ve spent the week revisiting the attempted coup of Jan. 6, marinating in my fury toward the Republicans who put fealty toward Donald Trump above loyalty toward country and the few but pivotal Senate Democrats who are proving, day after day, that they think the filibuster more important than the franchise. Let me tell you, the tweets and columns I drafted in my head were searing.
But fury is useful only as fuel. We need a Plan B for democracy. Plan A was to pass H.R. 1and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Neither bill, as of now, has a path to President Biden’s desk. I’ve found that you provoke a peculiar anger if you state this, as if admitting the problem were the cause of the problem. I fear denial has left many Democrats stuck on a national strategy with little hope of near-term success. In order to protect democracy, Democrats have to win more elections. And to do that, they need to make sure the country’s local electoral machinery isn’t corrupted by the Trumpist right.
“The people thinking strategically about how to win the 2022 election are the ones doing the most for democracy,” said Daniel Ziblatt, a political scientist at Harvard and one of the authors of “How Democracies Die.” “I’ve heard people saying bridges don’t save democracy — voting rights do. But for Democrats to be in a position to protect democracy, they need bigger majorities.”
There are people working on a Plan B. This week, I half-jokingly asked Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, what it felt like to be on the front lines of protecting American democracy. He replied, dead serious, by telling me what it was like. He spends his days obsessing over mayoral races in 20,000-person towns, because those mayors appoint the city clerks who decide whether to pull the drop boxes for mail-in ballots and small changes to electoral administration could be the difference between winning Senator Ron Johnson’s seat in 2022 (and having a chance at democracy reform) and losing the race and the Senate. Wikler is organizing volunteers to staff phone banks to recruit people who believe in democracy to serve as municipal poll workers, because Steve Bannon has made it his mission to recruit people who don’t believe in democracy to serve as municipal poll workers.
I’ll say this for the right: They pay attention to where the power lies in the American system, in ways the left sometimes doesn’t. Bannon calls this “the precinct strategy,” and it’s working.“Suddenly, people who had never before showed interest in party politics started calling the local G.O.P. headquarters or crowding into county conventions, eager to enlist as precinct officers,” ProPublica reports. “They showed up in states Trump won and in states he lost, in deep-red rural areas, in swing-voting suburbs and in populous cities.”
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The difference between those organizing at the local level to shape democracy and those raging ineffectually about democratic backsliding — myself included — reminds me of the old line about war: Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics. Right now, Trumpists are talking logistics.
“We do not have one federal election,” said Amanda Litman, a co-founder of Run for Something, which helps first-time candidates learn about the offices they can contest and helps them mount their campaigns. “We have 50 state elections and then thousands of county elections. And each of those ladder up to give us results. While Congress can write, in some ways, rules or boundaries for how elections are administered, state legislatures are making decisions about who can and can’t vote. Counties and towns are making decisions about how much money they’re spending, what technology they’re using, the rules around which candidates can participate.”
An NPR analysis found 15 Republicans running for secretary of state in 2022 who doubt the legitimacy of Biden’s win. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, the incumbent Republican secretary of state who stood fast against Trump’s pressure, faces two primary challengers who hold that Trump was 2020’s rightful winner. Trump has endorsed one of them, Representative Jody Hice. He’s also endorsed candidates for secretary of state in Arizona and Michigan who backed him in 2020 and stand ready to do so in 2024. As NPR dryly noted, “The duties of a state secretary of state vary, but in most cases, they are the state’s top voting official and have a role in carrying out election laws.
Nor is it just secretaries of state. “Voter suppression is happening at every level of government here in Georgia,” Representative Nikema Williams, who chairs the Georgia Democratic Party, told me. “We have 159 counties, and so 159 different ways boards of elections are elected and elections are carried out. So we have 159 different leaders who control election administration in the state. We’ve seen those boards restrict access by changing the number of ballot boxes. Often, our Black members on these boards are being pushed out.”
America’s confounding political structure creates two mismatches that bedevil democracy’s would-be defenders. The first mismatch is geographic. Your country turns on elections held in Georgia and Wisconsin, and if you live in California or New York, you’re left feeling powerless.
But that’s somewhere between an illusion and a cop-out. A constant complaint among those working to win these offices is that progressives donate hundreds of millions to presidential campaigns and long-shot bids against top Republicans, even as local candidates across the country are starved for funds.
“Democratic major donors like to fund the flashy things,” Litman told me. “Presidential races, Senate races, super PACs, TV ads. Amy McGrath can raise $90 million to run against Mitch McConnell in a doomed race, but the number of City Council and school board candidates in Kentucky who can raise what they need is …” She trailed off in frustration.
The second mismatch is emotional. If you’re frightened that America is sliding into authoritarianism, you want to support candidates, run campaigns and donate to causes that directly focus on the crisis of democracy. But few local elections are run as referendums on Trump’s big lie. They’re about trash pickup and bond ordinances and traffic management and budgeting and disaster response.
Lina Hidalgo ran for county judge in Harris County, Texas, after the 2016 election. Trump’s campaign had appalled her, and she wanted to do something. “I learned about this position that had flown under the radar for a very long time,” she told me. “It was the type of seat that only ever changed who held it when the incumbent died or was convicted of a crime. But it controls the budget for the county. Harris County is nearly the size of Colorado in population, larger than 28 states. It’s the budget for the hospital system, roads, bridges, libraries, the jail. And part of that includes funding the electoral system.”
Hidalgo didn’t campaign as a firebrand progressive looking to defend Texas from Trump. She won it, she told me, by focusing on what mattered most to her neighbors: the constantflooding of the county, as violent storms kept overwhelming dilapidated infrastructure. “I said, ‘Do you want a community that floods year after year?’” She won, and after she won, she joined with her colleagues to spend $13 million more on election administration and to allow residents to vote at whichever polling place was convenient for them on Election Day, even if it wasn’t the location they’d been assigned.
The omicron variant is fueling an unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases and placing a strain on hospital capacity, but experts say the spike could play out in the shape of an “ice pick” — a sharp but fast increase — that may leave the U.S. on better footing as soon as next month.
The U.S. health care system is in for significant pain in the short term, but the fast surge could even help defeat the pandemic in the longer term by conveying broader immunity.
Some experts are calling for people to buckle down for a last stretch of diligent precautions like mask-wearing in public, indoor settings to spread cases out and get hospitals through the next few weeks before the situation improves.
“We need to have sort of the last effort so that we can make it to the spring,” Janis Orlowski,chief health care officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), said in a press briefing.
Some experts predict that cases could peak in the U.S. later in January or in early February, though because of the large size of the country, certain areas will have localized spikes after currently hard-hit areas like New York have already peaked.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday the experience in South Africa indicates a “precipitous increase and then a precipitous decline,” in the shape of an “ice pick,” though she noted that pattern could be one that “travels across the country” at different times.
Carlos del Rio, an infectious diseases professor at Emory University School of Medicine, predicted the national peak could come “between the third week of January and the first or second week of February.”
Once the highly transmissible omicron variant burns through the population, the outlook will be improved.
“At this rate we may actually really be able to reach herd immunity because we’re going to get so many people in the population infected that at some point in time this may be sort of the beginning of the end of the pandemic, at least in this country,” del Rio said, during a discussion hosted by Emory University. “Because omicron is really going to infect pretty much everybody who hasn’t been infected so far.”
Experts still stress that it is far better to get your immunity from vaccinations and boosters without getting sick, rather than from getting the virus, which can have lingering effects even if it is not bad enough to require hospitalization.
The symptoms of omicron are milder on average, and people who are vaccinated and boosted are especially well-protected against severe disease. But even with only a small percentage of cases requiring hospitalization, the sheer number of total cases means overwhelmed hospitals.
“We are overrun,” said Orlowski, of AAMC, which represents teaching hospitals across the country.
The U.S. is recording more than 700,000 new cases per day and climbing, an unprecedented number, though between the protection from vaccinations and omicron’s diminished severity, many are mild or asymptomatic.
Still, hospitalizations from COVID-19 are spiking to over 128,000, according to a New York Times tracker, though deaths have so far stayed relatively steady at about 1,400 per day.
Orlowski and del Rio said about a third of patients in the hospital with the virus are not sick solely because of COVID-19, but have other conditions that in some cases are exacerbated by having the virus, too. Some hospitals reported as many as roughly half of patients testing positive were not primarily in the hospital because of COVID-19.
Del Rio said that among patients solely in the hospital for COVID-19, about 80 to 90 percent are unvaccinated, or in some cases have received two doses of vaccine (without a booster shot) and also have an underlying condition.
Hospital staffing shortages, from workers having burned out and left over the past two years, or from workers currently being home with the virus themselves, are adding to the strain.
“The percent in the ICU is much lower [than previous surges], but that doesn’t mean that we’re not getting overwhelmed,” del Rio said.
While the broad immunity provided after the omicron wave could improve the outlook going forward, potential new variants can always pose a curveball.
For unvaccinated people infected with omicron, Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University, said it is unclear “if there’s a new variant that arises in six months or a year, will they still be protected if they refuse to get vaccinated?”
Advocates have long pushed the Biden administration to step up its efforts to vaccinate the world to help cut off the development of new variants.
Few experts are calling for shutdowns like there were in the early days of the pandemic, but steps like mandating vaccination to eat in a restaurant or go to a concert, as several large U.S. cities have already done, would help, Wen said. Better availability of rapid tests has also been a major pressure point on the Biden administration.
There is currently a split, Wen said, between the “very low” risk to individuals who are vaccinated and boosted, on one hand, and the “existential, very high societal risk,” of the “collapse of our health care system,” largely fueled by unvaccinated people.
But even vaccinated people are harmed by overwhelmed hospitals, if they have a life-threatening medical event such as a heart attack or bodily trauma from a car crash.
“It may have a long-term beneficial effect for a combination of reasons, leading with the fact that the spike is going to be quick,” said Ross McKinney, chief scientific officer at AAMC. “And then secondarily going to the fact that people may be protected having been exposed.”
Escaping the Trap of Efficiency: The Counterintuitive Antidote to the Time-Anxiety That Haunts and Hampers Our Search for Meaning
“Productivity is a trap. Becoming more efficient just makes you more rushed, and trying to clear the decks simply makes them fill up again faster… Since finitude defines our lives… living a truly authentic life — becoming fully human — means facing up to that fact.”
BY MARIA POPOVA
A decade ago, when I first began practicing with my mindfulness teacher while struggling to make rent and make meaning out of my borrowed stardust, one meditation she led transformed my quality of life above all others — both life’s existential calibration and its moment-to-moment experience:
You are asked to imagine having only a year left to live, at your present mental and bodily capacity — what would you do with it? Then imagine you only had a day left — what would you do with it? Then only an hour — what would you do with it?
As you scale down these nested finitudes, the question becomes a powerful sieve for priorities — because undergirding it is really the question of what, from among the myriad doable things, you would choose not to do in order to fill the scant allotment of time, be it the 8,760 hours of a year or a single hour, with the experiences that confer upon it maximum aliveness, that radiant vitality filling the basic biological struggle for survival with something more numinous.
The exercise instantly clarifies — and horrifies, with the force of its clarity — the empty atoms of automation and unexamined choice filling modern life with busyness while hollowing it of gladness. What emerges is the sense that making a meaningful life is less like the building of the Pyramids, stacking an endless array of colossal blocks into a superstructure of impressive stature and on the back of slave labor, than like the carving of Rodin’s Thinker, cutting pieces away from the marble block until a shape of substance and beauty is revealed. What emerges, too, is the sense that the modern cult of productivity is the great pyramid scheme of our time.Wall clock featuring Discus chronologicus — an early eighteenth-century German depiction of time. (Also available as a print.)
Oliver Burkeman reckons with these ideas in Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (public library) — an inquiry equal parts soulful and sobering, offering not arsenal for but sanctuary from our self-brutalizing war on the constraints of reality, titled after the (disconcertingly low) number of weeks comprising the average modern sapiens lifespan of eighty (seemingly long) years.
After taking a delightful English jab at the American-bred term “life-hack” and its unfortunate intimation that “your life is best thought of as some kind of faulty contraption, in need of modification so as to stop it from performing suboptimally,” Burkeman frames our present predicament:
This strange moment in history, when time feels so unmoored, might in fact provide the ideal opportunity to reconsider our relationship with it. Olderthinkers have faced these challenges before us, and when their wisdom is applied to the present day, certain truths grow more clearly apparent. Productivity is a trap. Becoming more efficient just makes you more rushed, and trying to clear the decks simply makes them fill up again faster. Nobody in the history of humanity has ever achieved “work-life balance,” whatever that might be, and you certainly won’t get there by copying the “six things successful people do before 7:00 a.m.” The day will never arrive when you finally have everything under control — when the flood of emails has been contained; when your to-do lists have stopped getting longer; when you’re meeting all your obligations at work and in your home life; when nobody’s angry with you for missing a deadline or dropping the ball; and when the fully optimized person you’ve become can turn, at long last, to the things life is really supposed to be about.
Denying reality never works, though. It may provide some immediate relief, because it allows you to go on thinking that at some point in the future you might, at last, feel totally in control. But it can’t ever bring the sense that you’re doing enough — that you are enough — because it defines “enough” as a kind of limitless control that no human can attain. Instead, the endless struggle leads to more anxiety and a less fulfilling life.
This pursuit of efficiency hollows out the fullness of life, flattening the sphere of being that makes us complete human beings into a hamster wheel. Burkeman terms this “the paradox of limitation” and writes:
The more you try to manage your time with the goal of achieving a feeling of total control, and freedom from the inevitable constraints of being human, the more stressful, empty, and frustrating life gets. But the more you confront the facts of finitude instead — and work with them, rather than against them — the more productive, meaningful, and joyful life becomes.
I don’t think the feeling of anxiety ever completely goes away; we’re even limited, apparently, in our capacity to embrace our limitations. But I’m aware of no other time management technique that’s half as effective as just facing the way things truly are.
Time-Catcher by Maria Popova. (Available as a print.)
At the crux of facing the limits of reality is the fact that we must make choices — a necessity that can petrify us with “FOMO,” the paralyzing fear of missing out. And yet, as Adam Phillips observed in his elegant antidote to this fear, “our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless tantrum about, the lives we were unable to live. But the exemptions we suffer, whether forced or chosen, make us who we are.”
We have different coping strategies for managing the melancholy onus of having to choose. I am aware that my reliance on daily routines, unvaried meals, interchangeable clothing items, recursive playlists, and other life-loops is a coping mechanism aimed at automating certain choices in order to allay the anxiety and time-cost of having to make them afresh each day. Others orient orthogonally to the problem, avoiding making concrete choices and commitments, in life and in love, in order to keep their options “open” — an equally illusory escape from the grand foreclosure that is life itself.
But however we cope with the fearsome fact of having to choose, choose we must in order to live — and in order to have lives worthy of having been lived. It is, of course, all about facing our mortality — like every anxiety in life, if its layers of distraction and disguise are peeled back far enough.
With an eye to the etymology of “decide” — which stems from the Latin decidere, “to cut off,” a root it shares with “homicide” and “suicide” — Burkeman considers the necessity of excision:
Any finite life — even the best one you could possibly imagine — is therefore a matter of ceaselessly waving goodbye to possibility… Since finitude defines our lives… living a truly authentic life — becoming fully human — means facing up to that fact.
It’s only by facing our finitude that we can step into a truly authentic relationship with life.
Facing our finitude is, of course, the most challenging frontier of our ongoing resistance to facing the various territories of reality. The outrage we intuitively feel at the fact of our mortality — outrage for which the commonest prescription in the history of our species have been sugar-coated pellets of illusion promising ideologies of immortality — is a futile fist shaken at the fundamental organizing principle of the universe, of which we are part and product. Only the rare few are able to orient to mortality by meeting reality on its own terms and finding in that reorientation not only relief but rapturous gladness.Liminal Days by Maria Popova. (Available as a print.)
A generation after Richard Dawkins made his exquisite counterintuitive argument for how death betokens the luckiness of life, Burkeman offers a fulcrum for pivoting our intuitive never-enough-time perspective to take a different view of the time we do have:
From an everyday standpoint, the fact that life is finite feels like a terrible insult… There you were, planning to live on forever… but now here comes mortality, to steal away the life that was rightfully yours.
Yet, on reflection, there’s something very entitled about this attitude. Why assume that an infinite supply of time is the default, and mortality the outrageous violation? Or to put it another way, why treat four thousand weeks as a very small number, because it’s so tiny compared with infinity, rather than treating it as a huge number, because it’s so many more weeks than if you had never been born? Surely only somebody who’d failed to notice how remarkable it is that anything is, in the first place, would take their own being as such a given — as if it were something they had every right to have conferred upon them, and never to have taken away. So maybe it’s not that you’ve been cheated out of an unlimited supply of time; maybe it’s almost incomprehensibly miraculous to have been granted any time at all.
Most other resources on which we rely as individuals — such as food, money, and electricity — are things that facilitate life, and in some cases it’s possible to live without them, at least for a while. Attention, on the other hand, just is life: your experience of being alive consists of nothing other than the sum of everything to which you pay attention. At the end of your life, looking back, whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment is simply what your life will have been.
Annie Dillard captured this sentiment best in her haunting observation that “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” — a poetic sentiment that, on a hectic day, becomes an indictment. What makes our attention so vulnerable to distraction is the difficulty of attending to what is consequential in the grandest scheme — a difficulty temporarily allayed by the ease of attending to the immediate and seemingly urgent but, ultimately, inconsequential. (Who among us would, on their deathbed, radiate soul-gladness over the number of emails they responded to in their lifetime?) “People are drawn to the easy and to the easiest side of the easy,” Rilke admonished a century before social media’s stream of easy escape into distraction, before productivity apps and life-hacks and instaeverything. “But it is clear that we must hold ourselves to the difficult.”
Whenever we succumb to distraction, we’re attempting to flee a painful encounter with our finitude — with the human predicament of having limited time, and more especially, in the case of distraction, limited control over that time, which makes it impossible to feel certain about how things will turn out… The most effective way to sap distraction of its power is just to stop expecting things to be otherwise — to accept that this unpleasantness is simply what it feels like for finite humans to commit ourselves to the kinds of demanding and valuable tasks that force us to confront our limited control over how our lives unfold.
And so we get to the crux of our human predicament — the underbelly of our anxiety about every unanswered email, every unfinished project, and every unbegun dream: Our capacities are limited, our time is finite, and we have no control over how it will unfold or when it will run out. Beyond the lucky fact of being born, life is one great sweep of uncertainty, bookended by the only other lucky certainty we have. It is hardly any wonder that the sweep is dusted with so much worry and we respond with so much obsessive planning, compulsive productivity, and other touching illusions of control.Vanish by Maria Popova. (Available as a print.)
Worry, at its core, is the repetitious experience of a mind attempting to generate a feeling of security about the future, failing, then trying again and again and again — as if the very effort of worrying might somehow help forestall disaster. The fuel behind worry, in other words, is the internal demand to know, in advance, that things will turn out fine: that your partner won’t leave you, that you will have sufficient money to retire, that a pandemic won’t claim the lives of anyone you love, that your favored candidate will win the next election, that you can get through your to-do list by the end of Friday afternoon. But the struggle for control over the future is a stark example of our refusal to acknowledge our built-in limitations when it comes to time, because it’s a fight the worrier obviously won’t win.
And so insecurity and vulnerability are the default state — because in each of the moments that you inescapably are, anything could happen, from an urgent email that scuppers your plans for the morning to a bereavement that shakes your world to its foundations. A life spent focused on achieving security with respect to time, when in fact such security is unattainable, can only ever end up feeling provisional — as if the point of your having been born still lies in the future, just over the horizon, and your life in all its fullness can begin as soon as you’ve gotten it, in Arnold Bennett’s phrase, “into proper working order.”
The primary manifestation of this — and the root of our uneasy relationship with time — is that, in the course of our ordinary days, we instinctively make choices not through the lens of significance but through the lens of anxiety-avoidance, which increasingly renders life something to be managed rather than savored, a problem to be solved rather than a question to be asked, which we must each answer with the singular song of our lives, melodic with meaning.Art by Arthur Rackham from a rare 1926 edition of The Tempest. (Available as a print.)
Maybe it’s worth spelling out that none of this is an argument against long-term endeavors like marriage or parenting, building organizations or reforming political systems, and certainly not against tackling the climate crisis; these are among the things that matter most. But it’s an argument that even those things can only ever matter now, in each moment of the work involved, whether or not they’ve yet reached what the rest of the world defines as fruition. Because now is all you ever get.
If you can face the truth about time in this way — if you can step more fully into the condition of being a limited human — you will reach the greatest heights of productivity, accomplishment, service, and fulfillment that were ever in the cards for you to begin with. And the life you will see incrementally taking shape, in the rearview mirror, will be one that meets the only definitive measure of what it means to have used your weeks well: not how many people you helped, or how much you got done; but that working within the limits of your moment in history, and your finite time and talents, you actually got around to doing — and made life more luminous for the rest of us by doing — whatever magnificent task or weird little thing it was that you came here for.
In the remainder of the thoroughly satisfying and clarifying Four Thousand Weeks, drawing on a wealth of contemporary research and timeless wisdom from thinkers long vanished into what Emily Dickinson termed “the drift called ‘the Infinite,’” Burkeman goes on to devise a set of principles for liberating ourselves from the trap of efficiency and its illusory dreams of control, so that our transience can be a little more bearable and our finite time in the kingdom of life a little less provisional, a lot more purposeful, and infinitely more alive.