Dubious Mandate

Andrew Bacevich's haughty and politically correct attack upon the UN and upon my book (Dubious Mandate: A Memoir of the UN in Bosnia) was predictably distorted (Book World, Sept. 12). UN-bashing is a popular parlor sport among those who favor the use of force in international relations. There were many in Zagreb, Sarajevo and Washington who were never satisfied that UN international soldiers, with a dubious mandate, refused to become mercenaries against the Serbs. In fact, the international community never provided the UN with the resources it needed in the former Yugoslavia, and then it blamed the UN for not accomplishing an impossible task. NATO today, with financial, military and political support, and with peace -- none of which the UN had -- cannot accomplish its goals in Bosnia. Yet there is scant criticism of NATO's failures.

Bacevich is quite right that President Clinton's actions in the Balkans were driven by domestic considerations, mainly to get elected and re-elected, a tactic that made him adopt Bob Dole's Serbophobia. But one of the Big Lies used to justify NATO's intervention in Bosnia was that the war there would have spread if NATO didn't intervene. Not true. There was never any possibility that the wars inside the former Yugoslavia would have spread, militarily, outside its boundaries. The greatest cross-border problem was with refugee flows, but those too could have been limited if NATO had been guided by the realities of the situation on the ground rather than by the domestic politics of its own member states.

As for Bacevich's cynical dismissal of "impartiality" and "diplomacy" (his quotes), his attitudes are self-indicting. The use of force in international relations is most often a sign of desperation rather than determination, a confession of failure rather than triumph. The pity is that such intellectual arrogance should masquerade as scholarship.

Finally, I must say that I am not an official spokesman for the UN. I was, however, a UN official. And like any author, I appeal for readers to read my book and decide for themselves whether or not my arguments are credible.


New York City

Eugene Debs

Steven Moore's review of Marguerite Young's Harp Song For a Radical: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs, entitled "Fanfare for an Uncommon Man," (Book World, Sept. 26) is anything but. Instead of a fanfare for Debs, this is an organ recital for Young, with hardly a note for the truly historic labor pioneer. Moore comments in his opening line about his difficulty in deciding who is more important in the book -- Debs or Young -- then, in a full-page review with four columns of newsprint, he devotes only three brief sentences to Debs, which tell us almost nothing about him. Insofar as authorial intrusion is concerned, Young apparently upstaged even Edmund Morris, who in Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan at least gave Reagan equal time. It is one thing for a biographer to displace his subject with himself; it is another thing for a reviewer to let him get away with it.


Washington, D.C.

Steven Moore replies:

Unlike Edmund Morris, Young did not choose the form in which her book finally appeared. She died before she could finish it, and her publisher edited out much of what she did write (perhaps more on Debs). It would have been churlish to take Young to task for dying before she finished the book, so I reviewed the book Knopf published: less on the life of Debs than on his times, which is where I placed my emphasis. But hey, thanks for the "organ recital" remark.


I was rather troubled to read a number of comments in Joseph Ellis's review of Edmund Morris's new Reagan biography (Book World, Oct. 3). What most disturbed me was that a historian of his caliber should express surprise at the intermingling of "fact" and "fiction" in the biography, and describe Morris's methodology as a "blurred postmodern genre," with the implication that Ellis was creating something innovative.

Morris has in fact reverted -- knowingly or not -- to the practice of ancient historians, aligning himself with the likes of Herodotus, Thucydides, Sallust, Livy and Tacitus in his methodological approach, in which speeches, motives, psychology, even history itself were fabricated with a great deal of freedom. Space does not permit a detailed discussion of why any contemporary student of the ancient historians knows full well that Solon's encounter with Croesus in Herodotus, or the tyrannical personality of Tacitus's Tiberius, is for the most part fictions. Yet we scarcely consider such authors guilty of "scandal" or "travesties."

This is not to defend Morris or to put him in a class with a Tacitus or a Thucydides. Ellis's review, however, does highlight a major problem in the field of historical studies today in which "presentism" reigns supreme to the detriment of ancient studies and to the full understanding of our own society (hence Ellis's erroneous implication of Morris's originality). Because Ellis -- and just about every other negative reviewer of the book -- fails to set Morris's methodology in the larger context of the genre of history, we find overstatement and misleading analysis. History from the start was a literary genre foremost. In addition to the "factual" events historians recorded, they added healthy doses of epic poetry, drama, rhetoric, even fictional or anachronistic characters, with the intent both to delight and to instruct. All of this of course asks a question of genre that few ever bother to ask: Just what is history?


Department of Classics

University of Maryland

Crime Against Crime

I was very disappointed with your Mysteries column (Book World, Oct. 17). I take exception to it because it is misleading and demeaning to continue to categorize crime fiction as mysteries or murder mysteries. Frankly, it offends me greatly when someone calls me a "mystery writer," as if violent deaths are mysteries or games, as if the world in which my novels isn't serious and authentic.

The rubric "murder mystery" is a throw-back to the era of Gothic tales which eventually evolved into the parlor games of "Who-Dunnits." Mysteries in this sense really don't exist anymore. Most who write about crime these days at least try to employ the modern technology used to solve it. Most want readers to believe that blood and deaths are real, not puzzles, and that by examining how we die, we are examining how we live in contemporary society. I worked in a medical examiner's office for six years: I have seen thousands of dead bodies and scenes of violence, as has my fellow author and friend New York district attorney Linda Fairstein. To trivialize fictional depictions of these as "mysteries" is an evasion of moral responsibility, especially in this day of random mass murders and school shootings.


A Slip on the Mountain

Dennis Drabelle's review of four new books on Mount Everest (Book World, Nov. 26) referred to the man who made "the first documented ascent of Everest in 1953" as "the Englishman Edmund Hillary." In fact, Sir Edmund Percival Hillary was born in New Zealand, and has never been ashamed of that fact.


Washington, D.C.

Two Popes

Although it was labeled history (Book World, Oct. 3), John Cornwell's book, Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, should have been reviewed as fictionalized history. According to Tad Szulc, Cornwell makes Pope Pius XII responsible for putting Hitler in power and the resulting Holocaust.

The preponderance of evidence is that Pius XII was a great friend of the Jews, taking many risks on their behalf. Pius XII was praised magnanimously for saving 800,000 Jews by hundreds of contemporary Jewish leaders after the war and at his death in 1958. Some of those lauding the Pope were cited in The Pope and the Holocaust by Rader and Fedoryka, including Chief Rabbi Herzog of Palestine; Dr. Raphael Cantoni, head of the Italian Jewish Assistance Committee; Golda Meir, Israeli prime minister; Albert Einstein, physicist; Pinchas Lapide, historian; Joseph Lichten of the International Affairs Department for the Anti-Defamation of B'nai B'rith; and Emilio Zolli, Chief Rabbi of Rome.

The Israeli government planted 800,000 trees in a forest near Jerusalem to commemorate the 800,000 Jews they estimated Pope Pius XII saved from Hitler.

The Chief Rabbi of Rome became a Catholic and took Eugenio, the first name of Pius XII, as his Christian name because he was so impressed with the work the pontiff did in saving Jews from the Nazis.

Jeno Levai, an eminent Jewish historian, said that during the 1930s, while serving as Vatican secretary of state, then-cardinal Pacelli lodged no fewer than 60 protests on behalf of the Jews, and as Pius XII "did more than anyone else to halt the crime [the holocaust] and alleviate its consequences."

In The Hiding Places of God (1991), Cornwell wrote of his experience in the Catholic seminary he attended: "I took delight in attempting to undermine the beliefs of my fellow seminarians with what I regarded as clever arguments; I quarreled with the lecturers in class and flagrantly ignored the rules of the house." He declared that human beings are "morally, psychologically, and materially better off without a belief in God." Truth about Pius XII and the Church should not be expected from someone who writes with such loathing about these subjects. Szulc would have better served his readers if he looked into Cornwell's biases prior to his review of Hitler's Pope.


Silver Spring

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