September 15, 2003

The Christopher Hitchens of Britain

I am pleased to announce that this is the first web log to provide a permanent link to British journalist Johann Hari's new Web site. (The permanent link is under "Columnists" on the left. His site is not a web log.)

If you aren't already familiar with his work, go read.

He writes for London's Independent, which annoyingly charges money to read his article archive there. But you can read his stuff on his own site, and the page that archives his work against tyranny can keep you reading for half an afternoon.

Johann is my kind of lefty, the Christopher Hitchens of Britain. He says in his bio:

Since he began work as a journalist, Johann has been attacked in print by the Telegraph, the Spectator, John Pilger, Private Eye, Andrew Neil and Richard Littlejohn, so he feels he must be doing something right.
Indeed, he does nearly everything right. So bookmark him.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 15, 2003 12:16 AM
Comments

I'm not sure about the immigration or residence history of The Hitch, but calling someone else "the Christopher Hitchens of Britain" reminded me of when Krusty, shilling for the giant SUV, called the Canyonero "the Cadillac of automobiles."

Posted by: Bob71 at September 15, 2003 06:04 AM

This guy is great. His "My Visit to Israel with the Christian Coalition" was especially good, although I'm not exactly sure that someone who can write (about one his travelling companions) "At this point, I wager, even Mahatma Gandhi would have renounced pacifism and beaten Tracey to death with his bare hands" can be said to be entirely objective... naah, who cares? I've been where Mr. Hari's been. :)

Moe "Right-Wing Death Beast" Lane

Posted by: Moe Lane at September 15, 2003 06:09 AM

Oh yeah, this guy is good. Thanks, Michael.

Posted by: Richard at September 15, 2003 06:13 AM

Reading the Holocaust Denial story struck me as scary. But this idiot really needs a head check,

"Another young delegate, Russ Gustavson, 22, from
Portland, Oregon, was also led to the denial
literature after reading Lipstadt. He was good-looking and seemed rather charming – but then, in his disconcertingly mild-mannered and polite voice, he explained, “I’m on the far left – I’m a true socialist.” He admitted that it was, therefore, a bit weird for him to be here – “especially since my fiancée is black and all.” Hello? “Well,” he said, “you know, when you get to the far left or the far right, things get pretty similar. I have lots of friends who are neo-Nazis.” You call yourself left-wing, but you have lots of Nazi buddies? Several hours of argument later, I still hadn’t got any closer
to understanding Russ."

This person just knows that he is enlightened, after he is marrying an African-American Woman. And just the fact he dropped that tidbits was to show how enlightened he thought he was.

Thanks for the link.

Posted by: James Stephenson at September 15, 2003 06:28 AM

Johann Hari wrote brilliantly in support of the war to oust Saddam Hussein, but he also wrote a remarkably one-eyed paean to the International Solidarity Movement, which sends volunteers to the West Bank and Gaza to "protect" Palestinians, whoever they are and whatever they've done:
http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0803-05.htm

In the most egregious part of the article, Hari writes:

"The ISM is to our day what the International Brigade was to the Spanish Civil War. Left wingers from countless countries have gathered here with nothing to unite them but their hatred of oppression; the ghost of George Orwell is no doubt smiling on them."

Huh? Please don't drag Orwell into this, Johann, or pretend to know what he's smiling or scowling at from his heavenly perch. And please don't forget that Orwell ended up fleeing Spain for his life because the Communists (the IB's sponsors) decided that the POUM militia in which Orwell fought were a bunch of Trotskyite fascists.

Maybe the comparison to the IB is an apt one, however. Many IB volunteers sincerely believed they were fighting for a free and democratic Spain, when in fact they were an arm of a movement that had no interest in freedom or democracy. Similarly I think many ISM volunteers sincerely believe in a two-state settlement, while their activities help prop up the discredited Arafat, who is not sincere at all. (They did, after all, place themselves in Arafat's heaquarters when it was under Israeli siege. Why they thought the terrorist-supporting Arafat was worth defending with their lives is beyond me, but I wonder if they would have done the same for Ariel Sharon?)

Posted by: Gene at September 15, 2003 06:35 AM

Thanks for alerting me to this guy's work, which I did not know. I am linking with logo.

Posted by: Roger L. Simon at September 15, 2003 08:11 AM

Uh-oh... Just read Gene above. Will have a further look. ISM does NOT remind me of the International Brigade except in the most remote ways (and those are sad, alas).

Posted by: Roger L. Simon at September 15, 2003 08:14 AM

The "Christopher Hitchens" of Britain? Maybe the "Hitchens of sobriety", or the "honest version of Hitchens", or even "like Hitchens, but not a snitch to his pals nor a champion of holocaust-denying historians", but Hitchens, I believe, carries a British passport.

Posted by: Steve Smith at September 15, 2003 08:18 AM

Sorry, but I have to agree on the "Hitchens of Britain" thing. I thought it was a joke when I saw the title. I mean, I think Hitch lives in Washington most of the time now, but he still very much registers as being British, at least to me.

On a cursory examination of his clippings, so far he does not seem to me to be Hitchens-like in his writingseither. While Hitchens is provocative, tough, surprsing, and free-thinking, Hari seems to be a rather run-of-the-mill liberal.

The column calling for greater state regulation of the work week was particularly banal and could have been written by anyone. My God, people are too busy. They say their work is "stressful" I say, based upon a conversation with a latte buddy of mine. The solution? We should become even more socialist, like the French, who by using state regulation to artifiially create a small number of low-paying, low-hour jobs have managed to lessen unemployment from an astronomical figure to a sightly less astronomical figure. Perhaps England can one day look forward to all of their pensioners dying of heat as the younger people enjoy state-mandated month long August holidays.

He does seem to have outdone Hitchens on one front though. He seems to hate Israel even more.

Posted by: Eric Deamer at September 15, 2003 08:41 AM

Hi folks,

Just an FYI, Hitchens has taken out his papers for American citizenship. I'm not sure if he finished the process or not, but if he isn't one of "ours" now, he soon will be.

Roger and Gene, read Johann's article from last week called Hanging With Hamas.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 15, 2003 09:43 AM

"More than 50 per cent of the population of the Occupied Territories is
under 16; a middle-aged Palestinian is in a tiny minority."

You want to know why their society os so self-destructive? That says it all. Imagine a society driven by teenagers' overdramatic simplistic view of the world.

Posted by: Yehudit at September 15, 2003 10:20 AM

Michael:

I'm sorry if my comment came off a bit churlish. It was an off the cuff remark based upon only having read a few columns.

On the British thing, not that big a deal, but I think the point I and a few others were trying to make was that, regardless of residence/citizenship status Hitchens's persona still reads "British". I would say even more so than Andrew Sullivan's. I'm not for a minute being some kind of purist about American nationality, or implying that just because one happens to have been born or to have spent a lot of time in another country one isn't a "real American". He's a real American, and I'm glad to have him. Same with Sullivan. It's more my being extra pro-Hitch than anti-Hari. We already have a "British Christopher Hitchens" Christopher Hitchens! Anyway, no big deal either way.

I also should clarify that I overstated when I said that Hitchens "hates Israel". I disagree with his writings on Israel but he is a more rational, fair critic of Israel than most.

On Hari, that ISM piece is pretty damning. That's kind of a red flag for me. Whatever else he's written, he really goes out of his way to glamorize these terrorist enablers. This was written in January. Maybe he's learned more of what they're about since then. If so, he should clearly refute what he said before.

About the demographics, are they not a result of a deliberate campaign to sort of out-breed the Jews? I don't know, I'm truly just asking.

Posted by: Eric Deamer at September 15, 2003 11:56 AM

Just read the Hanging with Hamas. I'm mildly impressed: the only way you could get me in a room alone with guys like that would be if I was allowed to toss in a couple of hand grenades first.

Posted by: Moe Lane at September 15, 2003 12:13 PM

Some good points and not so great points in this article.

http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=31

He notes that the only way to counterbalance the over influential pro Israel lobby groups is with pro Palestinian lobby groups.

I for 1 sure as hell don't believe that, considering that AIPAC was fully behind Oslo and Camp David. The problem is there are no moderate voices in the Territories, or none still alive able to speak out without being branded a traitor and shot or hung.

The problem is that within Islam there are no loud voices that will or want to speak out against the "family line" anywhere.

And finally the problem is that in the EU there is not a strong enough contingent to hold the PLO and its murder organizations accountable.

SHIT, THEY ONLY LAST WEEK FINALLY DECLARED HAMAS'S "POLITICAL" WING A TERRORIST ORGANIZATION!!

NO, the only thing keeping Israel alive and keeping at bay the Arab unending thirst to kill it, is American and Israeli power and American support.

Michael, let your buddy know, since I don't have his email, that THOSE ARE THE FACTS.

Mike

Posted by: Mike at September 15, 2003 03:27 PM

I get so enraged at the bullshit even from reasonable leftists in Europe at the idea that the Arab side doesn't ever get a voice in America.

WHAT A LOAD OF BULLLL SHIT!

In America Fox has the gall to call people who blow up cafes "terrorists", and they don't even do that anymore, they're now "militants" at Fox as well.

Americans had the gall to refer to Arafat as a "terrorist" and not the beloved Norwegian Nobel
Prize Winner.

Americans have the fucking "gall" to assume Israel is the morally (by fucking miles!) side of the two and comment as such.

THEREFORE, EVEN THE LEGIT LEFTIES WILL ASSUME IT MUST OVER INFLUENCE OF ISRAELI LOBBY ORGANIZATIONS.

Meanwhile, if not for Saudi oil and trmendous personal influence of people like Bandhar, Arafat and others would have been dealt with long ago.

AHHHHH....... one could just go on and on......

G-d forbid we ever become the morally fogged up pussies that Europe now is. With all their moral equivalences.

Even legit lefties decry the fact that there is no Guardian, or g-d forbid, Independent in the mainstream in American media. That a raghole like the Nation is on the left fringe and Indymedia are considered nutjobs!!

THANK G-D FOR THE ABOVE AND YOU CAN LET YOUR BUDDY KNOW THAT AS WELL MICHAEL.

Mike

Posted by: Mike at September 15, 2003 03:34 PM

Is that the same Johann Hari who wrote THE HATRED THAT GROWS IN AN OCCUPIED LAND:

http://www.aljazeerah.info/Opinion%20editorials/2003%20Opinion%20Editorials/July/21%20o/The%20Hatred%20That%20Grows%20in%20an%20Occupied%20Land,%20Johann%20Hari.htm

"Why have Israeli governments for 35 years chosen a route that is doomed to failure? This occupation is not only evil, it is insane; and if the road map ends up going the same way as the Oslo peace process and fails to create a Palestinian state, then there will be a thousand more Marams in the generations to come."

BTW, Palestine is most definitely NOT run by teenaged boys, and anyone who says that has never been near the place. Have I? Yes, several times.

Posted by: Diana at September 15, 2003 09:03 PM

I'm not saying it's run by teenage boys. But the zeitgiest of the place is certainly influenced by that mentality. A graying society behaves differently than a young society.

Posted by: Yehudit at September 15, 2003 09:45 PM

So, how does this fact jive with the idea that the Palestinians as a people are responsible for the stupidity of the 1967 war? Most of the Palestinians are kids who weren't even twinkles in their parents' eyes when that war concluded.

Posted by: Kimmitt at September 16, 2003 01:23 AM

Please forgive a tangential defense of Hitchens.

Steve Smith accuses him of being "a snitch to his pals." Hitch's pal Blumenthal bragged to him that the Clinton administration had a plan smother the "bimbo eruptions" by executing character assassinations on the women in question, pillorying them in the mass media as lying, stalking sluts. Blumentahl's direct quote about Lewinsky, according to Hitch, was something like, "We're going to get that bitch."

Hitchens was rightly appalled, but did nothing until he saw the plan actually being implemented by the White House against Lewinsky in the press. He then felt that he could not, in good conscience, withhold what he knew and let the most powerful man in the world crush a foolish young woman to save himself some embarrassment. I don't know that I could either. Does "don't rat out your friends" trump "speak truth to power" in your moral universe?

For what it's worth, Hitchens told Congress that he would testify as to what his friend had bragged to him, but only if that testimony was used against Clinton and not against his friend, and if they didn't like that condition, they could hold him in contempt of Congress and jail him. By my lights, Hitch found a way to be true to his own sense of justice and as loyal a friend as he could be under the circumstances. I think that was actually rather brave and principled.

Steve Smith also accuses Hitchens of being "a champion of holocaust-denying historians." This is just a base lie, one that has also been spread by Henry Kissinger, who, I believe, retracted it when Hitch threatened to sue. Hitchens, like his old friend Noam Chomsky, has argued that freedom of speech applies as much to Holocaust deniers as to anyone. This is basic civil liberty common sense -- covered under the famous saying misattributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It's perfectly obvious that Hitchens does not deny the holocaust, and anyone who tries to insinuate that he does is either a dirty rotten scoundrel or the fatuous dupe of one.

Posted by: Browning Porter at September 16, 2003 06:40 AM

Pardon me, I focused on the word "driven." When you said, "Imagine a society driven by teenagers' overdramatic simplistic view of the world" one tends to conclude that you think it is run by them.

Yes, a graying society is different from a youthful one. But societies gray in different ways. In a patriarchal, custom-oriented society, things are different than in a consumer-driven dynamic, technocratic one.

The kids (they are mostly kids) who blow themselves up are acting at the behest of the older males who run the place. All societies are run by cliques of older males; Pal. society is no different. They exploit the willingness of kids to sacrifice for an ideal, but IMO this isn't the major factor. The major factor is what's going on between the ears of the Palestinian leadership. If they told the kids that the waters off Gaza were Mecca Cola they'd drink it.

I do think the extremely high birthrate influences Palestinian willingness to continue armed struggle indefinitely. The Israelis know this quite well. It's certainly a factor.

Posted by: Diana at September 16, 2003 07:28 AM

In fact, Hitchens sought out Republican investigators and volunteered the information that Blumenthal had been his source for the allegation that Lewinsky was viewed as a "stalker" (as Jeffrey Toobin points out, that was not an unfair characterization, considering that she referred to herself in that manner before the story broke). As I recall, the words "we're going to get that bitch" were not in the affidavit Hitchens gave to the Republicans, and if he's now claiming that, he should consider A.A. As far as him being a champion and benefactor to David Irving, I would need only point out that before he was discredited in a London courtroom, Irving was paid the honor of being called by Hitchens, "not just a fascist historian, but an excellent historian of fascism".

Speaking "truth to power" requires something more than pissing on the graves of Princess Di and Bob Hope, or dowdifying a quote from Paul Begala, from the comfortable perches of the Atlantic Monthly and Vanity Fair; it requires a willingness to buck the overwhelming majority. Clearly, taking on such politically powerful targets as Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal is not exactly a lonely task. He took the easy path on Iraq, swallowed the administration's lies on WMD's to get his little adventure, and is now perhaps the prime example of a pundit who shouts power at truth, and is as far removed from Johann Hari as you can get.

Posted by: Steve Smith at September 16, 2003 08:46 AM

Actually Hitchens called Irving a "great historian of fascism" in Vanity Fair, June 1996. Referred to and quoted by DD Guttenplan (NY Times 6/26/99).

Many people who disagreed with his conclusions always gave him credit for being an indefatigable researcher and a fine translator of German.
But now the historian Gitta Sereny, whom Irving also sued or is suing, has questioned his proficiency in German, upon which whatever reputation Irving had was based. She began exposing him in the mid-1990s.

Does Hitchens know German? Is he at all qualified to pronounce upon Irving's greatness, or lack thereof? I don't think so, and therefore I have no idea why he would call Irving a great historian, unless Irving was saying things he was sympathetic to. In any case, if Sereny, a noted journalist, was questioning Irving's credibility & conclusions in the mid-90s, why wasn't Hitchens listening?

I have nexised both names and I can't find a cite where Hitchens comments on Sereny's criticisms of Irving's "scholarship."

Posted by: Diana at September 16, 2003 11:06 AM

Hey, Steve.

You clearly have your issues with the Hitch, and there are too many for me to address in an off-topic debate on Michael's blog, but you have made a lot of noise without touching my defense of him regarding your orginal accusations.

I don't dispute that Hitchens went to Congress on his own volition -- only that his decision to do so is morally defensible. The attempt by the White House spin doctors to make Lewinsky out to be a liar or a lunatic was flat-out wrong, and I can't really blame Hitchens for deciding to expose it, even at the expense of betraying his friend. Clinton and Blumenthal were betraying the principles that good liberals ought to uphold. When those who are infinitely less powerful than you tell an embarrassing truth about you, you don't try to destroy their credibility with lies. You just don't. There's power on one side of that inequation, and truth on another, and Hitchens weighed in on the truth side.

It's ludicrous to say that Lewinsky was a stalker, even if she was so silly to think of herself as one. Hitchens' quite reasonable question to Blumenthal was this: "How is it possible for an intern to "stalk" the President of the United States in the White House?" Come on.

With regards to David Irving: you are clearly not above a little dowdification yourself. Hitchens' line about his being "an excellent historian of fascism" was in the context this argument: just because Irving drew the ridiculous conclusion that the holocaust was a hoax did not mean that the data he collected about the Nazis should be suppressed, especially since no one else had been sufficiently interested in collecting it. It could have some value for posterity, and in any case, bad ideas are best met with rebuttal, not censorship.

You may quibble with this argument if you like -- maybe you think that whatever data is collected by someone with reprehensible politics should be flushed down the oubliette. But insofar as you try to insinuate Hitchens' is a holocaust-denier for defending the free speech rights of one, then you are are no better than those who try to smear Chomsky with the same brush. It's dishonest and low.

Posted by: Browning Porter at September 16, 2003 11:13 AM

Browning,

Did you completely ignore my comment about Hitchens and Irving?

Or can't you respond?

Hitchens has not retracted his laudatory comments about Irving, even though the latter's reputation has been eviscerated.

Posted by: Diana at September 16, 2003 01:04 PM

Diana,

Hitchens defended Irving's right to publish, not his ideas, and his enemies used that as an excuse to libel him.

Here is a quote from Hitchens in the very same Vanity Fair article from 1996:

I have caught David Irving out, just by my own researches, in one grossly anti-Jewish statement and one wildly paranoid hypothesis and several flagrant contradictions. But I learned a lot in the process of doing so. It's unimportant to me that Irving is my political polar opposite. If I didn't read my polar opposites, I'd be even stupider than I am.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 16, 2003 01:47 PM

Sorry, Diana. I posted my reply before I'd read yours.

But I'll say now that think your comments are largely irrelevant. I think you are right that Hitchens' assessment of Irving's value as a scholar of Nazism were based on the opinions of mainstream historians at the time who were better qualified than he to make that judgement. Was his trust in their expertise misguided? Should he have known about Sereny's critique and taken it into account at the time? Should he now retract his arguments from the mid '90's? Maybe, maybe and maybe. (At least one article I read said that Hitchens has expressed regret at defending Irving's scholarship.) I honestly don't know the answers these questons, and I'm not terribly interested in researching and holding that debate.

The orginal Vanity Fair article wound up with a big quote from Raul Hilberg, and eminent holocaust scholar: "If these people want to speak, let them. It only leads those of us who do research to re-examine what we might have considered as obvious. And that's useful for us. I have quoted Eichmann references that come from a neo-Nazi publishing house. I am not for taboos and I am not for repression."

Hitchens was speaking as a civil libertarian defending a holocaust-denier's right to free speech. This is can be a dangerous thing to do. Ask Noam Chomsky.

Some of us left-leaning librerals may have legitimate beefs with Hitchens. Fine. Argue them. But a hit-and-run insinuation that he was ever sypathetic to Irving's fascism or revisionism is either foolish or mendacious or both.

Posted by: Browning at September 16, 2003 02:11 PM

This isn't about Irving or his right to publish. I support the right of Irving to publish. I support the right of any fool not to be suppressed, unless he's yelling fire in a crowded theater. But that's not the issue here.

Hitchens is a man who has written thousands of words, compulsively. Indeed there's hardly a subject on earth he hasn't divulged an opinion on, whether it be Bob Hope's lack of humor, or the Marx brothers (he hated them, too), Israel's eternal perfidy, or Monica Lewinsky. He said in 1996, when the evidence was clear that such wasn't the case, that David Irving was a "great" historian.

He did not say that Irving was a crackpot whose research sometimes yielded finds that other, more conventional historians, did not. That's a reasonable enough statement, and one that many have made.

He said that Irving was a "great" historian. He has never retracted that statement.

Hitchens is a controversialist by trade. He specializes in attacking, constantly, obsessively, and consistently. One suspects that if he had second thoughts about Irving's "greatness" he would have told us.

This is all about Iraq, isn't it? Remember that statement, "no enemies on the left"? Now it's, "no enemies on my side."

Sad.

Posted by: Diana at September 16, 2003 08:31 PM

Diana,

Hitchens "retracted" his statement about Irving in the same article you are using to smear him in your hit pieces here on my site.

He wrote:
I have caught David Irving out, just by my own researches, in one grossly anti-Jewish statement and one wildly paranoid hypothesis and several flagrant contradictions. But I learned a lot in the process of doing so. It's unimportant to me that Irving is my political polar opposite. If I didn't read my polar opposites, I'd be even stupider than I am.

Okay?

And what do you mean by this? This is all about Iraq, isn't it? Remember that statement, "no enemies on the left"? Now it's, "no enemies on my side."

I certainly have enemies on my "side" in the Iraq war. And I have beaten up on them on my own blog. See here.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 17, 2003 12:28 AM

And by the way, Diana, I think Christopher Hitchens is the best journalist in this country, and I have thought so for about eight years now. He is very very very far from being my enemy.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 17, 2003 12:30 AM

Michael,

You are not bright enough to waste any further time on.

Learn the meaning of the phrase, "no enemies on the left".

Posted by: Diana at September 17, 2003 08:28 AM

Diana,

I know very well what "No enemies to the left means."

Bye.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 17, 2003 09:08 AM

"You are not bright enough to waste any further time on."

Well, that'll certainly teach him.

Posted by: Moe Lane at September 17, 2003 09:09 AM

Hari is a great writer, but he does have the Euro-blinkers on when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. The planet on which ISM is "peaceful" by any definition is not one where I reside.

Posted by: angua at September 17, 2003 10:50 PM

You haven't read the 'Hackwatch' demolition of Little Boy Johann in Private Eye, have you? You ought to. More flip-flops than Miami Beach. He's the Aunt Sally of the Independent: comic relief for its readers. And his Amazon.com reviews are also fun, as well, for their libel of a few academics.

I'm not sure if he finished the process or not, but if he isn't one of "ours" now, he soon will be.

Um, Michael: that bit about revoking other citizenships in the Oath? The British ignore it. And Hitch has equivocated on whether he'll go through with it, depending on his audience. He certainly said the opposite when he was in Britain this spring.

Posted by: ahem at September 18, 2003 05:53 PM

Michael,
I think you should read Tal G from Jerusalem's entry today on Hari. He notes a piece he wrote on ISM that will make you both nauseous and disgusted so much so, that if you don't puke you may not be able to eat for a few hours.

His take on the creation of Israel is rather interesting to say the least as well. Mr. Hari replies in the comments section as well.

He may be great in comparison to Sontag, Whitaker at the Guardian and some other rabid drooling coyotes smelling blood and publishing propaganda at will, however, in my book he's as full of shit as they are but is just a bit more sane than they are.

Mike

Posted by: Mike at September 23, 2003 01:42 PM



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