Bifurcating Realities, Joseph P. Kennedy and Other Letters to the Editor

Imagining Reality

To the Editor:

I very much enjoyed Karen Joy Fowler’s review of Matt Haig’s “The Midnight Library” (Dec. 6). In a world of virtual reality, where one can seriously debate the odds that we are all characters in someone else’s video game, the themes of this novel are engaging and timely.

It seems only fair, however, to acknowledge the genius who conceived of alternate or bifurcating realities decades ago, long before string theory, the internet and virtual reality: Jorge Luis Borges. In stories such as “The Garden of Forking Paths” and “The Lottery in Babylon” the reader can find the fascinating precursor to many current movies and works of literature, as well as to our reality itself.

Abby Kanter
Englewood, N.J.

Double Takes

To the Editor:

In his review of Fredrik Logevall’s “JFK” (Dec. 13), David M. Kennedy writes that Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was “solicitous, supportive and, it must be acknowledged, seriously and high-mindedly patriotic.” In the book, Logevall writes: “Say what one will about Joseph P. Kennedy, it’s not every multimillionaire father who takes such broad interest in his children, who believes in them so fervently and who, together with his wife, instills in them, from a young age, a firm commitment to public service.”

Barely a mention in the review that his patriotism and commitment to public service included well-documented support of the policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany, and vicious anti-Semitism (complete with references to the “Jew media”). I’m not easily shocked anymore, but this review did the trick. If that’s high-minded patriotism, give me internationalism any day.

Stephen Dodson
Hadley, Mass.

To the Editor:

I for one was not “ensorcelled” by Kennedy’s review of Fredrik Logevall’s book. “Here phylogeny closely replicates ontogeny” — why yes, of course it does, and a “prolegomenon”? By all means, make mine a large one, no ice.

I understand that Kennedy is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, but perhaps he should rein it in a little when reviewing books for the rest of us.

Tony Rutt
Portland, Ore.

Midnight War

To the Editor:

Victor Sebestyen’s review of Barnes Carr’s “The Lenin Plot” (Dec. 20), about the invasion by American, British and French forces of northern Russia in 1918, claims that one “would be hard pressed to find anything about this conflict in official United States documents, or even American military history books.”

Surely “Soviet-American Relations,” George F. Kennan’s two-volume history concerning American intervention in the Russian Civil War, deserves at least a mention.

Yoma Ullman
Newtown, Pa.

An Open Secret

To the Editor:

Christina Lamb’s wide-ranging study of rape as a weapon of war, in “Our Bodies, Their Battlefields,” is a badly needed update, but I am surprised that Judith Matloff, in her review (Nov. 29), makes no mention of Susan Brownmiller’s groundbreaking “Against Our Will.”

While Brownmiller’s book tackled the topic of rape across multiple contexts, there is a section devoted to wartime rape. I remember it as a shock in 1975, when I had little idea that such a weapon was wielded so widely and violently around the world.

Matloff describes war-embedded rape as “rarely written about” and something “most of us never learned about.” All true, and the fact that the first prosecution of rape as a war crime occurred in 1998 is appalling — especially when Susan Brownmiller tried to tell us about it 23 years before.

Julie Stielstra
Lyons, Ill.

To the Editor:

As regards Matloff’s review, Jewish law addressed the issue of women as war booty in Deuteronomy 21:10. Although it acknowledges the lust of victorious soldiers, the passage insists on humane and compassionate treatment of such captives by delineating specific rituals intended to assure the women’s well-being under terrifying circumstances.

The captured woman is to be sequestered and allowed to mourn her family for a full month. If, after this time, the captor still finds her desirable, he can take her as his wife, treating her with due respect. If he has changed his mind, he may send her off. However, he may neither sell nor enslave her “because you have inflicted her.”

This law was revolutionary in its time and, most unfortunately, still is.

Barbara Wind
Charleston, S.C.

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