To celebrate the Review’s fifty-fifth anniversary in 2018, we have been going back into our archives year by year. Today we go back to the turn of the millennium, with Tatyana Tolstaya on Russia’s new president, Tony Judt on the future of Israel, James McPherson on enduring Civil War fantasies, William Nordhaus on what war in Iraq would cost, and Marcia Angell on the deceptions of the pharmaceutical industry.
A month after Vladimir Putin was elected president for the first time, Tatyana Tolstaya reviewed Putin’s book First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait. “I’ve heard that the training program for US Green Berets includes an exercise in ‘determining the contents of a box without opening it,’” Tolstaya wrote. “Let’s try to apply something of the same approach to the freshly elected president of Russia as well.” Her review was translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell.
When we see Putin skiing down a mountain on TV, mixing with the crowd (his bodyguards also pretend to be red-cheeked skiers), or watch him drop by a little restaurant, supposedly to eat blinis, you understand that Putin himself is absent, that you are watching a kind of national fun-house mirror in which the projected fears, hopes, tastes, and customs of the electorate are reflected.
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Reviewing three books about the Civil War, historian James McPherson provided a definitive refutation of the Lost Cause view, that it “was not a war to preserve the nation and, ultimately, to abolish slavery, but instead a war of Northern aggression against Southern constitutional rights.”
James M. McPherson
The Lost Cause myth helped Southern whites deal with the shattering reality of catastrophic defeat and impoverishment in a war they had been sure they would win. Southerners emerged from the war subdued but unrepentant; they had lost all save honor, and their unsullied honor became the foundation of the myth.
Also: Ronald Dworkin: A Badly Flawed Election
William Nordhaus, who was recently named winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in economics, published this analysis in 2002 of the costs of going to war in Iraq. At a time when the White House and the Department of Defense were predicting that a war would be over quickly and cost less than $50 billion, Nordhaus was nearly alone in estimating that the eventual cost could be well over a trillion dollars.
William D. Nordhaus
An assessment of the costs of a war with Iraq needs to be based on scenarios for the conduct of the war, the aftermath of hostilities, the impacts on the oil market and other related markets, and the “macroeconomic” impacts, i.e., on the overall US economy. It is impossible to project detailed military strategies. However, we can describe the general contours of a “quick victory” and a “protracted conflict” and attempt to put price tags on each.
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“The very idea of a ‘Jewish state’—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism,” wrote the late Tony Judt in what was perhaps his most controversial article in the Review.
The time has come to think the unthinkable. The two-state solution—the core of the Oslo process and the present “road map”—is probably already doomed. With every passing year we are postponing an inevitable, harder choice that only the far right and far left have so far acknowledged, each for its own reasons. The true alternative facing the Middle East in coming years will be between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.
“Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has moved very far from its original high purpose of discovering and producing useful new drugs,” wrote Marcia Angell, a physician and the former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine. “Now primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, this industry uses its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself.”
In the past two years, we have started to see, for the first time, the beginnings of public resistance to rapacious pricing and other dubious practices of the pharmaceutical industry. It is mainly because of this resistance that drug companies are now blanketing us with public relations messages. And the magic words, repeated over and over like an incantation, are research, innovation, and American. Research. Innovation. American. It makes a great story. But while the rhetoric is stirring, it has very little to do with reality.
Also: Michael Massing: Now They Tell Us