Roving thoughts and provocations

André Zucca’s Wartime Paris: What You Don’t See

Ian Buruma

André Zucca

The French photographer André Zucca was not a Nazi,” Ian Buruma writes in his recent article on Paris during the German occupation, “but he felt no particular hostility to Germany either…. Zucca simply wanted to continue his pre-war life, publishing pictures in the best glossy magazines. And the one with the glossiest pictures, in fine German Agfacolor, happened to be Signal, the German propaganda magazine.” Born in Paris in 1897, Zucca worked for both French and foreign publications in the 1930s, and covered the Russian–Finnish War in the winter of 1939–1940 for Paris-Soir, before becoming a photographer for Signal from 1941 to 1944. After the liberation he was arrested but never prosecuted, and spent the remainder of his career as a wedding and portrait photographer in a small town west of Paris. He died in 1973. Recently, a volume of Zucca’s controversial wartime pictures of Paris was published in France. Here is a selection from it with comments by Buruma. —The Editors

Lost in the Virtual Pile-On

Sue Halpern

One of the defining features of social media, if not the defining feature, is its participatory nature. Anyone, everyone, is a content producer. Anyone, everyone, is a critic. And, for the most part, everyone’s voice registers at the same volume. Your take on the new Michael Jackson movie, and my take, and the take of the fifteen-year-old boy down the street are given equal weight. True, there are some sites, like The New York Times and Amazon that let readers rate or recommend other people’s musings, rants and insights, but even so, all the comments are put “out there” with little or no intercession. This works really well for consumer products, where the average user, whose experience is actual and authentic, is typically a more reliable guide than that of professional testers, though manufacturers have figured out how to game the system by mobilizing armies of average-joe posters to shill their products. Still, if 328 people have something to say about a piece of software or a robotic vacuum cleaner you’re interested in, you are going to get a very good sense whether these products will meet your needs.

The News Crisis: What Google Can Do

Michael Massing

How Google Can Help Newspapers,” ran the benign-sounding headline atop an Op-Ed column by Google CEO Eric Schmidt in the December 1 Wall Street Journal. In it, Schmidt sought to rebut claims that, as Les Hinton, the CEO of Dow Jones, has put it, Google is a “digital vampire” that is “sucking the blood” out of the news business. Quite to the contrary, Schmidt argued, Google wants to turn that business around. He wasn’t very convincing. In fact, his article shows how inept Google has been in responding to its critics. I’d like to suggest a better way.

The Disappearing Snows of Everest

Jeremy Bernstein

In the fall of 1967 with two French friends I trekked from Kathmandu to the base of Mount Everest. At that time, climbing was forbidden in Nepal and the trekking business was in its infancy. During the thirty-seven days we were on our trek we saw less than a handful of other westerners and the ones we saw were in Nepal on official business. The high point of our trek in every sense was our climb of a small hillock named Kala Patthar. It was a grassy knoll whose summit was at 18,200 feet—about 800 feet above what had been the British base camp for Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s climb of Everest in 1953. From this summit one has a fantastic view of Everest and neighboring peaks, such as Nuptse and Lhotse. In fact, during a reconaissance mission with Hillary and others in 1951, the British climber Eric Shipton used vantage points on the ridge that Kala Patthar is part of to plot the route that Hillary’s team took in their ascent two years later.

1989: Poland Was First!

Timothy Snyder

We call the revolution of 1789 the “French Revolution” and the revolution of 1917 the “Russian Revolution,” but it seems unlikely that we will ever call the revolution of 1989 the “Polish Revolution”—even though that is essentially what it was.

Afghanistan: The Forgotten Conflict in Kashmir

Pankaj Mishra

Obama’s long speech on Afghanistan did not refer even once to India or Kashmir. Yet India has a large and growing presence in Afghanistan, and impoverished young Pakistanis, such as those who led the terrorist attack on Mumbai last November, continue to be indoctrinated by watching videos of Indian atrocities on Muslims in Kashmir. (Not much exaggeration is needed here: an Indian human rights group last week offered evidence of mass graves of nearly 3000 Muslims allegedly executed over the last decade by Indian security forces near the border with Pakistan.) Another terrorist assault on India is very likely; it will further stoke tensions between India and Pakistan, enfeebling America’s already faltering campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Copenhagen: China’s Oppressive Climate

Perry Link

As the UN’s Climate Change Conference opens in Copenhagen this week, much attention will focus on China and the United States, who are, by a wide margin, the world’s two leading emitters of greenhouse gases. The success of the conference will depend in part on whether both countries can live up to recent pledges by their leaders to curb emissions. Just as important for China, however, is the need to address repression—until now ignored by the Obama administration—of citizen activists trying to call attention to the country’s environmental problems.

Terror on the Nevsky Express

Amy Knight

The horrific November 27 bombing of the Nevsky Express halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg could have serious political repercussions for the Kremlin. News of the explosion, which killed twenty-six and injured around a hundred passengers aboard the luxury, high-speed train, sent shockwaves throughout Russia. Adding to the sense of danger were the deaths of two high-level federal officials in the attack, as well as a second bombing at the site many hours later, which injured Alexander Bastrykhin, the head of the powerful Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office, and several of his subordinates, who had come to examine the damage. These bombings were followed by yet another explosion, on a railway track in the North Caucasian republic of Dagestan, on November 30. As Yulia Latynina, one of Russia’s top independent journalists put it: “The feeling of war, of a complete and total disintegration of the state, is hanging in the air.”

When Heaven Was More Interesting Than Hell

Ingrid D. Rowland

As a political analyst, the Sienese painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti is hard to rival, even if he painted rather than wrote, and did so towards the middle of the fourteenth century. The frescoes he executed for the city council of Siena in 1338–1339, showing The Effects of Good and Bad Government on the City and Countryside, mark what may be a unique achievement in the history of art: making Heaven, (or at least Heaven on earth), look infinitely more interesting than Hell.

Afghanistan: The Missing Strategy

Ahmed Rashid

After all the talk about how many different audiences President Barack Obama had to satisfy when he finally outlined his strategy for Afghanistan on Tuesday night, he probably satisfied no more than one—the American audience who will support a continued US war effort only if there is a fixed deadline for starting to pull out US troops. Those who feel the war is futile were bound to be disappointed. But the reaction in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been equally skeptical.