William Pfaff’s latest book is The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy.
 (June 2013)


Pure, Purifying, and Evil

An aging mural of Lenin at a former Soviet Air Force base in East Germany; photograph by Martin Roemers from his 2009 book Relics of the Cold War, published by Hatje Cantz

The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century

by Vladimir Tismaneanu
The twentieth century undoubtedly will mainly be remembered for producing totalitarian politics. Italian Fascism was the first to give this name to the phenomenon, even though Mussolini’s movement was the least “total” of the regimes upon which the name has since been bestowed. While Mussolini wanted concentration of all power …

Challenge to the Church

Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, celebrating Mass in a poor neighborhood of Buenos Aires, 1998

Why Priests? A Failed Tradition

by Garry Wills
Garry Wills’s latest book on Catholicism coincides with a crisis in the church that has been developing since Pius IX (1792–1878) set the course of Peter’s barque against the winds of Enlightenment and revolution. Driven from Rome by the rioting of 1848, the pope returned under the protection of Napoleon …


When the Army Was Democratic

Somewhere north of the Chongchon River, while fighting with the 2nd Infantry Division, Sergeant First Class Major Cleveland, weapons squad leader, points out a communist-led North Korean position to his machine gun crew, Korea, November 1950

The army, in my opinion, did more to desegregate the United States than the civil rights movement of the 1960s. From 1948 on, nearly every able-bodied young man in the United States served and lived side by side with Americans of all colors, all in strict alphabetical order, in old-fashioned unpartitioned barracks, sleeping bunk to bunk, sharing shelter-halves on bivouac, in what amounted to brotherly endurance of the cold, heat, discomfort, and misery of military training—and following that, of service. When their war was over, the survivors, white and black, didn’t go home to Georgia and hang out together on Saturday nights. They hardly saw one another again. But those two years changed them. It certainly changed many of the younger generation of white southerners who served and who a decade and a half later were ready to accept desegregation, even though they disliked it.

More on the Toulouse Murders and Anti-Semitism

The Chief Rabbi of France Gilles Bernheim and the President of the French Council of Muslim Faith Mohammed Moussaoui after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Paris, March 21, 2012

More may be said about the Toulouse murders. In murdering the children, Mohammed Merah acted ruthlessly and despicably. We do not know enough about him to be sure he killed principally out of anti-Semitism, which is an irrational hatred with historical origins not to be gone into here. Merah killed Muslim, or supposedly Muslim French soldiers (the one survivor was Christian, and remains in a coma), because they betrayed Islam by joining the enemy army. I would presume that he acted—in the case of both the children and the soldiers—out of what to him was a rational motive, to kill, or punish, those he believed or had been told were enemies of Islam. It does not appear he was directly influenced by any coherent ideology.

The Middle East Conflict Comes to France

Casings of Qassam rockets found in Sderot, Israel

The terrorist shootings in Toulouse and Montauban in France last week were, among other things, another episode in the war that for nearly a half century has been going on between Zionism and the Palestinians, in which Western Europe and the United States have suffered much collateral damage. Sensational headlines about al-Qaeda and the “global jihad” striking France have followed Mohammed Merah’s death. But the night before he was killed in a police raid, Merah told police that he felt justified for killing three children and a teacher at a Jewish school as revenge for the killing of Palestine children in Gaza.

The Trouble with Dictators

Habib Bourguiba, the founder of the Tunisian Republic and predecessor of recently deposed Zein el-Abedine Ben Ali, viewing a military parade at an Arab Summit meeting, Rabat, Morocco, 1974

Dictators do not usually die in bed. Successful retirement is always a problem for them, and not all solve it. It is a problem for everybody else when they leave. What’s to be done afterwards?