Century Marks

Century Marks

Hope

The late Václav Havel, the dissident Czech writer who became his country's president after the fall of the iron curtain, differentiated between hope and optimism. Hope, he said, "is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . . It is an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. . . . [Hope] is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out" (Pro Ecclesia, Winter).

Haves and have-nots

Economist Richard Wolff says that both rich and poor Americans tend to think of themselves as middle class, but the middle class has nearly disappeared. The businesses that had success catering to the middle class in the past—Sears, for example—are having difficulty today. Upscale boutiques and high-end department stores at the one end and discount stores at the other end are doing well (The Sun, February).

Dead ringer

In a video shown by the Westminster Presbyterian Church, Burbank, California, congregants are reminded to turn off all cell phones and all electronic and messaging devices. The video warns that a fee of $25 will be assessed for a cell phone that goes off during announcements, $50 if it goes off during prayer concerns. Anyone whose phone goes off during the sermon . . . is going to hell (YouTube.com).

Unknown endings

George Kennan was arguably the greatest U.S. foreign policy analyst of the 20th century. He devised the containment doctrine in relation to the Soviet Union, a middle ground between war and diplomacy. When the U.S. was moving toward invading Iraq, Kennan warned: "War has a momentum of its own, and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it. Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end" (Foreign Affairs, January/February).

From savage to terrorist

Americans like to think of themselves as compassionate and generous, and they often are. But when it comes to the casualties in other countries caused by U.S. wars, says John Tirman, Americans tend to be ignorant at best and callous at worst. By one estimate, American wars since 1945 have taken the lives of 6 million people, both civilians and soldiers. An early 2007 poll asked Americans how many Iraqis had died in the Iraq War. Their average answer was nearly 10,000 when in fact the actual number was in the hundreds of thousands. Historian Richard Slotkin says this neglect of casualties on the other side stems from what he calls the "the frontier myth." This is the notion that righteous violence is justified to subdue or annihilate savage peoples. Today we call them terrorists (Washington Post, January 8).