Contents Past Issues About Us Search
Email this page to a friend
Their Private War

I want to congratulate Helen Benedict of the Graduate School of Journalism for “Betrayal in the Field,” in your Spring issue, and for the publication of her new book, The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq.

I also want to commend the public service Columbia magazine performed by publishing Benedict’s reporting. Popular media almost never dedicate prime editorial space to the sexual abuse of our women soldiers, allowing the issue to reside in the shadows of war.

As a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Army, which I entered as a private and left as a captain, I can attest to the viciousness of many male colleagues. I know that many women soldiers, straight or lesbian, are vulnerable to a spectrum of harassment that begins with name-calling, escalates to a hostile work environment, and culminates in sexual assault. GAO reports describe the conditions that women cadets have endured at the military academies. In the most egregious cases, females have been raped in their own beds. The military annually comes before Congress to tell our elected representatives, who possess oversight authority, that they will do better on this issue. Many promises are made, nearly none fulfilled. Congress has done a miserable job carrying out its oversight function under both Democratic and Republican leadership.

Women continue to perform admirably under some of the most trying conditions, not only in war itself, but in war with their colleagues. In Iraq, it has been estimated that nearly one out of six women service members are subjected to some form of sexual assault. This situation is shameful, and all of the services bear a stain for their despicable treatment of women — of someone’s mother, sister, or daughter.

While I am proud that I served, I would never go back. Check the statistics on how many women junior officers, especially those who graduated from the academies, leave the military. Why stay when women are treated so shamefully?

Tanya L. Domi ’07GSAS
New York, NY

The cover and cover story of your recent magazine disgusted me.

As a retired captain in the U.S. Army, I am not proud to have graduated from this once-great university.

The U.S. military has done many great things for the people of Iraq. Despite what you may feel about our involvement there, it is undeniable that the country has been freed from oppression under the rule of a tyrant. Mass political killings no longer occur, opposing segments of the population are not gassed, and the citizens even have the right to vote. Women now have relative freedom. Schools and hospitals have been built.

What you chose to highlight about the military was mistreatment of female soldiers. I am sure that this happens. However, does it occur more frequently than among police departments, fire departments, and even the faculty at Columbia University?

When it comes to the U.S. military, you can count on Columbia to strongly accent the negative. The University is no longer a place where all sides of an issue are heard. I am ashamed of my alma mater. This is why appeals for financial contributions end up where they belong: in the garbage.

S. Riveles ’66PRM
Hopewell Junction, NY

“Betrayal in the Field” described so vividly why war is hell — especially for women. As an American, I am embarrassed that the Department of Defense has not been responsible about this issue. Helen Benedict’s writing is very revealing and objective.

Frederic S. Sater ’60BUS
New York, NY

No doubt, our University has a history of being pacifist, if not outright antiwar. That’s OK. I also realize that bad news tends to sell better than good news. And while it’s worthy journalism to write about perceived social-justice topics as the harsh treatment of women in our military (I have two daughters, one a Barnard alumna, and my mother graduated from the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences), I encourage you to write about positive aspects of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are a lot of societal reconstruction projects that have improved the lives of people in those nations. These projects are performed by the U.S. Agency for International Development and our Army Corps of Engineers, as well as by many civilian contractors and firms.

My son, Taylor K. Hwong ’92SEAS, ’06BUS, served in Afghanistan and in Baghdad. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan.  

I’m sure there are other Columbia or Barnard alumni who’ve recently served in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the University appears to be reluctant to highlight these folks. That’s unfortunate.

Corrington Hwong ’76SEAS
Princeton, NJ

I make no excuses for soldiers who abuse or rape other soldiers, male or female, but as Helen Benedict makes clear in the opening paragraphs of her article — war is hell. To expect men who are thrust from home into the brutality of a war zone to behave better than fraternity boys on 114th Street and Broadway may be asking more than human nature can provide.

In the midst of stressful, life-threatening combat situations, it is unrealistic to put women’s cots among the men’s and not expect sexual tension.

My son has served as executive officer aboard both a destroyer and an aircraft carrier, and sexual problems among crews greatly complicated his life as a superior officer. Among those most opposed to mixing the sexes aboard ship were the wives (ashore) of the male sailors. My son found that a great many of the sexual liaisons aboard ship were initiated by the women.

The belief that humanity is perfectible is wrong. If women are to engage in combat or near combat, perhaps they ought to be in women-only units. Certainly, to mix the sexes in combat is asking for trouble of this kind.

Gordon White ’57JRN
Hardyville, VA

About halfway through reading your Spring issue’s lead article, “Betrayal in the Field,” I stopped, having come to the conclusion that this was but another antimilitary screed given high profile by Columbia University based on a pinpoint view of one military person and an author who probably never saw one day of active service.

Paul S. Frommer ’57CC
Alexandria, VA

Paul S. Frommer is a retired navy commander.

I served in Afghanistan in 2005 as a medic, performing nurse-level patient care with a forward surgical team and ICU unit. The men called us by the nickname “naughty nurses.” I felt so alone over there — and the stares, comments, and persecution I endured were all in Helen Benedict’s article and her book. Thank God she wrote The Lonely Soldier. I feel better knowing I wasn’t the only one who was treated as if I were a slut.

Haley Fish
Sacramento, CA

In the past, men went to war and protected the women and children at home. Now they are sending women with the troops and are surprised that men attack the women in their midst. Don’t they know anything about men?
Women do not belong in combat.

Patricia Bentivegna ’55GSAS
Loretto, PA

Members of military units harass each other because of skin color, religion, height, weight, body odor, job description, preference of music, hometown, and myriad other reasons. The obvious question, therefore, to Helen Benedict, is rhetorical. What can she expect when one female is thrown in with 50 males who have nothing to look at except Iraqis and camels? Political correctness and the equality of women notwithstanding, women should not serve with men, especially in combat-related areas. 

Philip Lille ’62CC, ’64SIPA
Paradise Valley, AZ

Philip Lille is a marine veteran.

Helen Benedict’s article was a powerful condemnation of the Department of Defense, the army, and the United States as a whole.

At a recent dinner party, after a few glasses of wine, two male veterans, one an air force officer from the Korean era and the other a covert-ops vet from the Vietnam War, loudly condemned the presence of women in the military. Two women vets present, one an air force nurse from the Korean era and the other a WWII veteran, kept silent. I changed the subject.

Bob Rennick ’61CC,  ’62SEAS, ’64SEAS
Colorado Springs, CO

Helen Benedict is right to criticize behavior in the military that would not be acceptable in civilian life. But in a world where aggression is a plus, what can one expect? I’ve always felt that equality for women meant they would persuade men not to go to war — not join them there. There are other ways to serve one’s country. Right?

Carl Silverman
New York, NY

I am shocked and appalled that female soldiers continue to endure military sexual assaults and that Department of Defense officials banned Kaye Whitley, director of the department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, from testifying at a hearing to address the issue. More steps need to be taken in all quarters, including Congress and the White House, to bring about change as quickly as possible.

Judith Cross Myrick ’53JRN
Brattleboro, VT

Helen Benedict did an excellent job of writing about female soldiers threatened by the enemy and by their fellow soldiers. Once these soldiers come home, they face a world of challenges and frustrations, including an underfunded, overworked, and badly overpaperworked VA.

Montana, where I work and live, has become a model state for assessing and helping such veterans, and legislation is now pending in the U.S. Senate to make such assessments mandatory nationwide. (See my articles at

Eric Newhouse ’72JRN
Great Falls, MT

Eric Newhouse is a Pulitzer Prize winner and the author of the book Faces of Combat, PTSD and TBI: One Journalist’s Crusade to Improve Treatment for Our Veterans.

Helen Benedict presents the experiences of a few women soldiers (who may have been temperamentally unsuited for military careers to begin with) and uses their misery and discomfort in Iraq to suggest that the U.S. military as a whole is callous about women’s issues.

I spent nearly five years doing research for The Kinder, Gentler Military: Can America’s Gender-Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars?, which was published in 2000. That was five years of countless conversations with military personnel of all ranks on aircraft carriers, army bases, and training camps, and your article does not square at all with what I saw. What I observed was an institution that is tortuously trying to remake itself to accommodate the women it is under government mandate to recruit, retain, and promote.

Many of these mandates are conflicting. If commanding officers acknowledge scientifically demonstrated gender differences (as in, say, upper body strength) by discouraging women soldiers from taking strength-intensive military jobs, like loading trucks, they are accused of and even disciplined for sexism. On the other hand, if they attempt to ignore gender differences and female needs for privacy around male soldiers and throw women soldiers into the rough world of the male soldier, the Benedicts of the world accuse them of subjecting women to harassment. For a good example of the damned-if-you-do-or-if-you-don’t syndrome, see Benedict’s long, rather maudlin description of a female soldier’s discomfort as she is forced to spend a night sleeping in a “long metal warehouse stuffed with roughly 1000 green army cots, almost every one occupied by a man . . . [where if] she needed to use the bathroom, she would have to weave her way across the room with all those men watching her.” 

Another rather famous example of the syndrome is the air force’s experience when it puts a promising female cadet through routine Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. Designed to prepare downed pilots for rough interrogation in enemy capture, SERE training is necessarily harsh. Trainers do what they can to anticipate what enemy captors will do: They humiliate, degrade, and terrorize. Cadet Elizabeth Saum sued the air force for sexual harassment. The air force is now in a bind: Does it send female pilots into harm’s way underprepared or does it risk more sexual harassment suits?

Equality has its price. War is as hellish as ever and forward-deployed soldiering in places like Iraq is brutal, stressful work. It is tough for everyone, male or female. Benedict does not seem to acknowledge that. Her article is dotted with allegations of rape (clearly criminal offenses) presented alongside her descriptions of routine, albeit uncomfortable, soldiering. The implication is that some of this soldiering was sex-specific, antiwomen harassment. One of her article subjects, for example, is “exposed to yet more abuse,” as Benedict puts it, when she is assigned to spend hours guarding Iraqi prisoners who masturbated in front of her, “hurled insults and threats . . . and flung feces, scorpions, and snakes.” But this is not a U.S. Army conspiracy to humiliate a female soldier. This is the U.S. Army’s attempt to give women soldiers what they have asked for: the chance to do what the men do out there. Unfortunately, this is one aspect of military police work. Male soldiers guarding prisoners in Iraq are pelted with feces as well. 

It’s true: Benedict’s subject was obviously shocked by the degree of hatred directed against her, much of which had a very sexual character, but this is to be expected if Western women are given the job of policing men from a culture in which women rarely wield power. Should the military acknowledge this cultural difference by barring women from jobs guarding male prisoners in countries with radical Islamic populations? This would play into the hands of those who argue that it is too complicated and too difficult to deploy women in combat zones at all.

Finally, Benedict confused civilian and military definitions of the term “direct combat” when she wrote, “the Department of Defense recently reaffirmed its long-standing ban against women in ground combat, even though women are in combat in Iraq every day.” There is no hypocrisy here. Carrying a gun and using it in self-defense is not the same as being assigned to what the military defines as direct combat. A job involving direct combat is one in which “one’s primary purpose is the goal of engaging the enemy.” I applaud women soldiers who are able to use guns to defend themselves or others, but this still is profoundly different from the harrowing work of seeking out the enemy to engage him. In order to give the men (and, yes, they are still usually men) who do this especially harrowing job the credit they deserve, the difference should not be blurred.  

Stephanie Gutmann ’90JRN
Piermont, NY

One-Ring Binder

Paul Binder ’67BUS, the founder and longtime ringmaster and artistic director of the Big Apple Circus, notes that the circus that he founded opened in 1977, in a tent on the landfill at Battery Park City (“King of Thrills,” Spring 2009). I was instrumental in bringing this about. As the first director of public information of the Battery Park City Authority, my job was to keep the development, then in very slow motion because of New York City’s fiscal crisis, in the public eye. Reading that the recently-formed Big Apple Circus was looking for a place to perform, I contacted the circus and offered our then-vacant site, which was composed of sand dredged from the lower New York Harbor. By accepting, the circus gained a temporary home and Battery Park City gained some needed positive ink.

Flash-forward 17 years. I read in my local newspaper that the circus was scheduled to perform in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, not far from my home, and that the public was invited to attend the doings when the roustabouts were to raise the tent. Thinking to give my seven-year-old grandson a treat, I took him to see the tent-raising ceremony. I asked to see Paul Binder to renew our acquaintanceship and impress my grandson with a meeting of a real-life circus impresario.
Directed to Binder’s tent, I reintroduced myself and asked if he remembered his inaugural performances at Battery Park City. “Remember them?” he asked. Rolling up his sleeves, he said, “I still have the scars on my arms from the bites of the sand flies that infested your landfill property!”

Avrum Hyman ’54JRN
Riverdale, NY

Harlem Boycotters

Cindy Rodríguez’s review of Thomas Sugrue’s Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (“Not in My Neighborhood,” Spring 2009) mentions that in Harlem “some local stores refused to hire blacks.” The whole truth is more complicated and uglier. Almost until World War II, stores on 125th Street, which were almost exclusively white-owned, refused to hire blacks for anything other than menial positions, and did not allow black shoppers to try on clothing. The situation changed through the efforts of the famed “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” boycotts. Those protests forced stores such as Blumstein’s — its huge sign still hangs across from the Apollo Theater — to hire black clerks, but even then they only hired light-skinned blacks, which spurred more demonstrations. That is when Blumstein’s promised to end all of the skin games. Other stores followed suit, though it was years before shoppers saw the changes fully implemented. The sad details, which appear in my forthcoming history of Harlem, due out in 2010, offer essential insights on the changing role of race in today’s “New Harlem.”

Jonathan Gill ’86CC, ’99GSAS
Amsterdam, The Netherlands



Editor's Note

We are still receiving letters in response to our articles and correspondence from previous issues. To make room in the print version of the magazine for letters about more recent coverage, we are publishing new letters on old issues below.


Global Warming

Ken Williamson ’54CC mentions the name of Norbert Bernstein six times in his letter to the editor (Spring 2009) but not once does he explain why the Northwest Passage is now free of ice for the first time in its history. 

He scoffs at the suggestion that homeowners could cut down on carbon emission by planting trees in their front yard instead of grass, but nowhere does he explain why satellite pictures show that Antarctica has lost one third of its land mass in the past ten years.

And while he dismisses the idea of educating our children about global warming he fails to comment about the Greenland glaciers, which moved inches in the past, and are now moving by several feet at a time, disgorging ice the size of football fields into the ocean.

Norbert Bernstein ’53LS
Holyoke, MA

I have read with curiosity the strong opinions of the respondents to the global warming debate carried out on your pages. The debate is overshadowed by the burgeoning acknowledgement that we have not, for some time, been responsible in protecting the planet’s resources. The consumptive fervor that characterized the past decade and more is accompanied by undeniable disregard for the cradle-to-grave environmental cost of each electronic device, SUV, building, or other goodies that we just had to have.

My elementary school kids have been taught since preschool to reduce, reuse, and recycle; they keenly observe that many adults do not subscribe to these paradigms. Until the consumers in this world infuse more sustainable actions into their culture there may never be enough resources to solve the other major world problems that some global warmer deniers point to as far greater threats to this planet.  

Ed Stanley ’83SEAS
Guilford, CT

In your Spring 2009 issue, many letters were critical of your fine discussions on global-warming, one calling this “a prime example” of hysteria and paranoia in America. Since global-warming’s potential damage to civilization is so huge, it warrants careful examination. Let’s first follow philosopher-scientist Blaise Pascal and check alternates. Plan one: If what has happened is a mere burp in the vagaries of climate, we need do nothing, because the claims made by nearly all scientists are doubtless “scams to get more funding.”

Plan two: We do nothing, but the scientists turn out to be right, and the consequences — including worsening storms, rising seas, desertification, and tropical insects — are horrific. Plan three: We take serious steps ASAP to slow the climate “burp.”

Before deciding, let’s briefly review some of the evidence, which one letter writer claimed is nonexistent. Audubon has noted a change in behavior of many birds, nesting several weeks earlier, with over half the Eastern species wintering as much as hundreds of miles farther north. Other environmentalists have observed that the pika, a cute Western mountain rodent with a heavy coat and a need for cold weather has been moving higher on the mountains.

This spring, a rising ocean level in the South Pacific forced some Solomon Islanders to abandon their low-lying island homes: Destructive storm surges were sweeping over their land, and coconut trees, their main source of food and medicine, were dying because salt-water intrusion was killing their roots. Fortunately, they were able to resettle in Australia and New Zealand. And the long-frozen tundra in Alaska and northern Siberia has been thawing, causing buildings to sink into the muck and making roads difficult for oil-driller vehicles. Also, the thaw has let deep-frozen plant matter defrost, rotting and releasing clouds of methane, a flammable and very potent greenhouse gas. Methane is the dreaded “damp,” a prime cause of coalmine explosions. Shall we keep killing miners with black lung disease or decapitating mountains for coal?

More evidence: For thousands of years, the Ganges has flowed reliably and helped to nourish half of India. Dating back centuries, a bronze marker could be seen at the lower tip of the Himalayan glacier feeding this holy stream. But starting in the 1900s, new markers were needed farther and farther up the mountain. Comparison of aerial photos from then and now makes glacier melt quite obvious, and it’s become evident that the Ganges must soon dry up in the summer, precipitating disaster for hundreds of millions. The Chinese also depend on reliable glacier water from another part of the Himalayans, and are beginning to worry about the coal-fired power plants abuilding, one per week. See for yourself, go to our Glacier National Park or check out Mount Kilimanjaro.

Another change imperils our supply of certain ocean fish. If you have been snorkeling lately, you may have noticed fewer fish. Measurements show that the seas have become somewhat warmer, and also more acidic as carbon dioxide is absorbed and changed to carbonic acid. The result is a die-off of the algae living symbiotically with coral and photosynthesizing food for them both. The coral structures are major fish nurseries, and without them, there can be no more tarpon for the big-game fisherman.

We have been making reliable measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide going back hundreds of millennia by determining the content of the air bubbles in drill cores from long-frozen glacier ice. The readings were holding relatively steady, though zig-zagging below 200 parts per million in summer (growing season) and rising to 240 or 280 in winter. Then, back in 1958, Professor Roger Revelle of U.C. San Diego found indications of a possible worldwide climate change. Curious, he and his associate Charles Keeling set up precise instruments atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, far from chimneys and contamination. The first summer’s measurement reached 312 ppm, which rose to 316 that winter. The measurements went up steadily year-by-year, reaching 385 ppm in 1985, when Keating died. The decades since then have seen strong indications of further climbing.

We keep building pollution-spewing coal-fired power-houses and driving ever more gasoline and diesel vehicles rather than comfortable, safe trains. Since trees and rain forests are being cut down all over the world instead of being permitted to soak up carbon dioxide with new growth, we are clearly headed for big trouble unless such man-made changes are reversed. Meanwhile, a major positive feedback mechanism is occurring. The shiny white glacier surfaces had been reflecting sunlight back into space. But whenever part of a glacier is melted down, bare rock and soil are exposed. Such dark-colored surfaces soak up solar heat the way macadam can get hot enough to fry eggs. And the heated rock radiates infrared heat into the air above, which contains more heat-absorbing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor. They are called greenhouse gases because they are partially opaque to infrared like greenhouse glass, letting sunlight through, but trapping infrared. But in the case of glaciers, the more rock is exposed below, the more water vapor rises; this vapor condenses, giving its heat of evaporation to the cooler air and falling back as warm rain, melting still more of the glacier. This is positive feedback, and it is the primary reason why global warming is accelerating much faster than anyone expected.

Plan three is to reduce global warming by reducing human causation and checking the likely results. We know how to reduce fossil fuel burning and pollution by switching to such power sources as sunlight, wind, wave and tidal power, the choice depending on the world-wide safety record compared to other major, ready-anytime, nonpolluting power sources. If nothing else, nuclear energy can be useful until other sources can be put into service. (Note: Many consider that the media exaggerate the storage problem of spent fuel-rods.) Meanwhile, shade trees and orchards should be widely planted at once to help absorb excess carbon dioxide and hopefully return the world to earlier CO2 levels. The world would then be more livable, and many animals would be spared extinction.

We can cut power needs and costs for illumination by switching now to fluorescent lamps, later going to the more efficient and longer-lasting LED lamps, soon to be ready for market. Oil from green pond scum works splendidly in diesels, and plug-in electric cars will soon be flooding the market, getting us away from stinky exhausts as we gleefully bypass filling stations and avoid buying petroleum from those who hate us (while getting rich off of us). Health is another factor: Why not walk or bike to work? We can save money and cut central power usage by investing in photovoltaic rooftop power generation, along with pipe arrays to heat water. This would save money for schools, where classroom needs correspond to the sun’s morning arrival. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

A. F. “Tony” Gagné ’42SEAS
Kissimmee, FL

I was surprised how many letter writers question global warming. Some dispute that there is even a scientific consensus about it.

But let’s leave aside the question of whether or not human activity is causing adverse trends in the climate. Even if we have nothing to do with recent warming, does anyone suppose that we are doing just fine where the planet is concerned? The problems are still abundant, plain to see, and urgent. Think of quickly diminishing resources, above all petroleum, and available potable water. Think of the overfished oceans, the depleted soils, the threat to the food supply. Think of the congestion of our cities and towns, bad air, waste disposal, and growing population. Think of the multitudes at the threshhold of economic modernity, whose consumption will increase dramatically in the near future. Finally, think also of the destruction of wilderness and of the flora and fauna driven to extinction. Who believes we can go on like this, convinced that infinite growth is not only possible but desirable?

Although hardly the first to do so, I would like to assert a broad esthetic basis for environmentalism. I feel that even the merely esthetic is sufficient reason for us to behave in a way that will avoid spoiling the earth. The esthetic is not just a thing with no place outside the realm of art. It is a largely instinctive reaction to all we see around us. Ugliness is not just disagreeable, it also offends (as does a bad painting) our sense of how things ought to be. Our moral instincts are closely tied to our feelings about what we see. If one reveres life and the earth, one experiences the ugly aspects of civilization as a sort of blasphemy, a sin against nature. That we may as well be endangering ourselves and future generations on a very material level only makes the matter more urgent. (Too bad that for so many people the esthetic reason for environmentalism is insufficient — that it takes a threat to our own economic welfare to arouse our interest.)

This is not a call for us to return to the Dark Ages in order to save the planet. Technology is here to stay, and although alone it won’t solve our problems, it is still valuable and by now indispensable. I would like to see a smaller, less intensive civilization — a few billion people would be plenty — but one which would value more the quality of life, not just our raw material circumstances. If instead we continue more or less as usual, we may soon find ourselves in a Dark Age of another sort, be there global warming or not.

Allen Schill ’73CC
Torino, Italy

Misunderstanding Gaza?

“Gaza: a legal perspective” (Columbia, Spring 2009, pp. 38-39) insults the intelligence of your readership with the ludicrous claim that the discussion titled “Understanding the War on Gaza” was a “balanced, largely dispassionate analysis.” The very name given to the proceedings perpetrates a propagandist fraud by implying that recent events in the Middle East, including the Cast Lead Operation, can be understood as a “war on Gaza.” The same logic would justify labeling an analysis of the Second World War “Understanding the War on Germany.” As any honest observer would decry such an attempt to obscure the Nazi aggression that precipitated World War II, a scintilla of historical integrity and minimal awareness of current events suffice to deride any pretensions of evenhandedness in referring to a so-called “war on Gaza.” The record of the past decade leads inexorably to an opposite conclusion: The Cast Lead Operation was but a long-overdue response to an ongoing war on Israel that includes relentless missile and rocket barrages launched by a terrorist regime in Gaza, deliberately targeting innocent civilians throughout Israeli cities and towns.

Consistent with the title, the article proceeds immediately to inveigh, in the name of “years of effort by Palestinians,” against Israel’s so-called “occupation.” In particular, it facetiously quotes one speaker who quotes his friend who quotes unnamed “officials in the Israel Defense Forces” replying to allegations of “occupation” with an evasive “Well, we know what it’s not. We don’t know what it is.” One cannot help wondering whether the law school audience was so obtuse as to reckon this thrice-removed report an authoritative — let alone cogent — synopsis of Israel’s position. If instead this was an attempt at humor, I fail to hear the laughter. Casting the Jew in the traditional role of callous, bumbling buffoon or worse (shades of Shylock or Fagin perhaps?) is somehow reminiscent of the sort of banter that may have prevailed in genteel lavatories at the country clubs of the midtwentieth century with elegant signs on their well-manicured front lawns banning “dogs and Jews.” Corrective admission policies may have been instituted in the interim, but evidently the rhetoric remains unchanged.

Only in the article’s following paragraph do we find the sheepishly parenthetical and misleadingly understated admission, “(Israel withdrew its military from Gaza in 2005).” In fact, Israel withdrew its military from virtually all Arab-occupied areas in Gaza (including all of Gaza City) at the beginning of the so-called Oslo process, over ten years earlier. Ten years ago, an Israeli prime minister offered to create a new Arab state including all of Gaza and nearly all the West Bank. The Arab response was to launch a war of terror against Israeli civilians, including the aforementioned missile barrages from Gaza. In the ensuing five years, the twenty-one Jewish towns and villages in Gaza with over 10,000 civilian residents lived besieged, bearing the brunt of a terror war including sniper attacks, drive-by shootings, car bombs, roadside explosives, and almost six thousand mortar shells and Qassam rockets raining down upon them. Ironically, what took place in 2005 was the expulsion by Israel of those civilian communities, in a fruitless (and, truthfully, senseless) attempt to appease the terrorists.

The article eventually does quote Professor Fletcher, “that Hamas has fired 5,000 rockets into Israeli backyards” since that withdrawal. Unmentioned are ongoing weapons smuggling, unabated incitement to murder, and terror attacks against military outposts outside Gaza (within sovereign Israel) and the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit — still held incommunicado, in violation of the Geneva Convention — and cold-blooded murder of his comrades. Moreover, “backyards” sounds more like a nuisance than the unending attacks that destroy homes and lives and towns and exact a toll in life and limb (apart from psychological trauma) that no self-respecting state would tolerate. Yet the author evidently felt compelled to qualify even Fletcher’s tepid observation by gratuitously describing it as a “burly challenge.” One wonders what in Fletcher’s words connotes “challenge” at all, let alone a “burly” one. Is there any credible doubt that Israel’s operation was precipitated solely by ongoing Arab terror and the refusal of the Gaza regime to stop its rocket attacks even temporarily?

Finally, the article, in its detailed presentation of the final talk, refers to Israel’s “illegal settlements.” (Curiously, the article did not deem a “challenge,” burly or otherwise, the speaker’s demand for their removal.) Apart from the reference’s irrelevance, since no Jewish settlements exist in Gaza today, one might ponder the basis for invoking this illegality without contest. Article 49 of the 1949 Geneva Convention, stating that an “occupying power shall not transfer parts of its own civil population on to the territory it occupies,” was intended to prevent displacement of populations. Israel’s settlements have not displaced Arabs nor threaten to do so. All were built on land either previously owned by Jews, purchased outright, or ownerless — and legally unclaimed by any sovereign country. Moreover, this rule was never applied to Jordan when it occupied the West Bank from 1949 to 1967. No country ever recognized Jordanian sovereignty over the West Bank except Great Britain and Pakistan. Israeli Jews have at least as much legal right to the land as any who would contest that right.

In the end, of course, this is the crux of the issue. We just heard in the news the Arab dismissal as “provocative” of Israel’s insistence on recognition as a Jewish state. The Gaza regime adamantly refuses to recognize Israel’s right even to exist, referring to it not by name but as “the Zionist entity.” Arab leaders, including more than one head of state, continue to clamor publicly — and plan actively — for Israel’s annihilation. One can discern nothing in this rhetoric — or in your article — that could remotely promote anything resembling peaceful coexistence. As in 1929, when Arab pogroms and massacres led the British to expel the Jewish victims from Gaza, where even during two millennia of exile Jews had subsisted almost continuously, the Arab Middle East remains overwhelmingly, implacably opposed to any organized Jewish presence, in any form. Therein lies the true challenge. We all know very well that if the Arab terror organizations unilaterally laid down their weapons, the Arab-Israeli conflict (not to mention the Fatah-Hamas conflict) would be no more. If Israel laid down its weapons, Israel would be no more. All the rest is commentary — your article’s flagrantly tendentious bias notwithstanding. 

Chaim Eisen ’81CC
Jerusalem, Israel


Columbia magazine welcomes your letters to the editor. We may edit letters for style, length, clarity, and factual accuracy. Please include your full name, Columbia affiliation (if you have one), and an e-mail address or a telephone number. Send your letters to: Letters to the Editor, Columbia Magazine, 622 W. 113 Street, MC 4521, New York, NY 10025. You can also send a fax to 212-851-7778 or an e-mail to

Key to Abbreviations: Each of the following school affiliation abbreviations refers to the respective school's current name; for example, GSAS — for Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — is used for alumni of the Graduate Faculties, which became GSAS in 1979. The only code not associated with a particular school is HON, which designates that person the recipient of an honorary degree from the University.


Barnard College
Graduate School of Business
Columbia College
College of Dental Medicine
School of General Studies
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
Graduate School of Journalism
Jewish Theological Seminary
King's College
School of Law
School of Library Service
School of Nursing
School of Optometry
Mailman School of Public Health
School of Pharmaceutical Sciences
College of Physicians and Surgeons
School of Continuing Education
The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
School of International and Public Affairs
School of the Arts
School of Social Work
Teachers College
Union Theological Seminary

Submit a letter to the editor // Email this page to a friend