Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | September 12, 2013

Jonah in Solitary, World War II, and Other Links

1. During these High Holy Days of Judaism, the Tablet has this reflection by Margo Schlanger on the Book of Jonah and on the practice of keeping some prisoners in solitary confinement. An excerpt:

Jonah is perhaps the most famous solitary prisoner of all time. And at first blush it might seem that his (short) stay in solitary—inside a whale—was pretty good for him. It turns out, though, that even Jonah didn’t find redemption in solitary confinement.

The story of Jonah is ancient, but it addresses a topic with real contemporary urgency. At last count, 80,000 American prisoners were locked in solitary confinement. In California this summer, long-term solitary provoked a hunger strike of tens of thousands of prisoners; it ended a week ago, with dozens of prisoners having refused to eat for two entire months, after the California legislature promised hearings. …

Do read the whole thing. As Schlanger says, “Jonah learned something in the whale’s belly, but even Jonah’s new-found clarity was far from perfect. He learned obedience but not understanding.” (H/T: Scott Lemieux, Lawyers, Guns & Money.)

Fun fact: J.R.R. Tolkien produced a translation of the Book of Jonah as part of his work as a contributor to the Jerusalem Bible (the English-language Bible used for a number of years by the Catholic Church in England and Wales).

Erlangen Burgberggarten Heinrich Kirchner Jonas 001

Heinrich Kirchner, Jonas, 1971, bronze relief in Burgberggarten, Erlangen, Germany

2. Shirley Tilghman (former president of Princeton): “When the ability to have movement across social class becomes virtually impossible, I think it is the beginning of the end of a country… if we don’t figure out a way to create greater mobility across social class, I do think it will be the beginning of the end.” (Source: NewsHour via Howl at Pluto.)

3. Tyler Cowen and Dan Drezner both review The Empire Trap, by Noel Mauer.

Prof. Cowen: “the subtitle is The Rise and Fall of U.S. Intervention to Protect American Property Overseas, 1893-2013. This is an excellent book and somehow the title, while descriptively accurate, does not do justice to its interest and contents. My favorite part of the book is about the fiscal receiverships applied to various Latin American countries in the early twentieth century. They were much more extensive than I had realized, and virtually all of them failed.”

Prof. Drezner: “Maurer makes an argument that strikes me as pretty much the opposite of Stephen D. Krasner’s Defending The National Interest. He posits that U.S. interventions have been dictated by private rather than national interests, and that military interventions to deal with expropriations have proven to be a costly and unnecessary exercise.”

4. Scott Wolford (Univ. of Texas at Austin) reviews Ernest R. May’s Strange Victory: “It’s a great account of just how, against everyone’s expectations—including the Wermacht generalship—Germany was able to conquer France in such a short time in 1940. There’s a frustratingly weak nod towards political science analysis at the end, largely based on personalities, but when the book is at its best, it’s (a) doing the hard work of figuring out exactly what happened (a contribution of history as a discipline that I think we tend to underestimate) and (b) essentially describing the equilibrium to a Colonel Blotto game.”

16May-21May Battle of Belgium

The German advance across Belgium and northern France through 21 May 1940

I had never heard of a Blotto game before, so Prof. Wolford’s explanation is helpful: “Most game theorists will recognize the problem we represent with the good Colonel: he’s got to allocate limited defensive assets across a mountain and a pass, while his opponent has to choose between attacking either the mountain or the pass. (Let’s set aside, for now, the whole “why you might attack a mountain” question; this ain’t about geography.) The problem, of course, is that Colonel Blotto’s opponent would like to attack at the location the Colonel doesn’t defend, while he’d of course like to defend the point of attack. If the enemy knew the Colonel’s position, he’d attack elsewhere, and if the Colonel knew the enemy’s plans, he’d defend accordingly. The solution to such a game, with apologies to precisely how we might interpret mixed strategies, is to obscure your intentions—which the Nazis were, for the most part, able to do. The French, of course, fortified their eastern frontier with Germany, anticipating an attack along that axis (ha!), but the German plan, as we know, sent the materially and technologically inferior (at the time) Wermacht through BeNeLux and conquered France in a matter of weeks—all because they won the Blotto game.”

5. J. Otto Pohl on Africa and North Africa: “More Arabs live in Africa than live in Asia and Arabic is the most widely spoken language on the African continent.”

6. Anderson on dates that changed the world: “9/11/2001 created a sense of ‘before’ and ‘after’ that may end up being taken to have marked the end of the ‘twentieth century’ as a historical (not calendar) period. There is little doubt about when that century began, however: August 1914. …”

7. The anniversary of 9/11 this week reminded me of a Dan Drezner post (“What I Think about when I think about 9/11”) from 2010. (The post may be behind a paywall now at Foreign Policy.) I wanted to highlight this bit (emphasis added): “The other thing I remember in reaction to that day was when it was OK to be funny again. Many pop culture historians will likely point to the first Saturday Night Live episode featuring Rudy Giuliani — except that wasn’t funny. Slightly more hip pop culture historians might point to the monologues of either David Letterman or Jon Stewart — except they weren’t funny either. No, the first thing that made me laugh after the terrorist attacks — and sustained my hope for America — was The Onion’s first post-9/11 issue…” (The Onion headline from that issue that sticks with me is this: “Massive Attack On Pentagon Page 14 News.”)

Prof. Drezner’s conclusion: “Any country with the capacity for that much self-lacerating humor will be OK in the long run. So I mean this with all sincerity: that issue of The Onion made me proud to be an American.” Agreed.

Image Credits: (1) Bronze relief outdoor sculpture by Heinrich Kirchner, 1971. Photo by “Janericloebe,” 2009. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
(2) United States Military Academy via Wikimedia Commons.


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