The Blog

Lapham Strikes Again

The editor of Harper's is notorious for his anti-Americanism. He's now forcing it into the rest of his magazine.

12:45 PM, Dec 21, 2001 • By DAVID SKINNER
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THE OTHER DAY I reported that Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harper's magazine, was angry at America. His writings following September 11 show he is really pissed off that three airplanes should be hijacked and crashed, the Twin Towers should be reduced to rubble, a massive bite should be taken out of the Pentagon building, thousands of people should die, and still the American people will not focus on such life-or-death issues as road repair and prescription-drug benefits for the elderly. And now--thanks to reader Ken Goldstein--there is an important nuance to add to the story of Lapham's one-sided shouting match with the United States.

In the January 2002 issue of Harper's where Lapham calls the war on terrorism "American jihad," he refers to a speech given by the military historian Michael Howard. Harper's excerpted this same speech in the "Readings" section of the magazine. In it Howard harshly criticizes President Bush for declaring war not on a state, but an abstraction, terrorism. Howard goes on to argue that "many people would have preferred a police operation conducted under the auspices of the United Nations on behalf of the international community as a whole, against a criminal conspiracy, whose members should be hunted down and brought before an international court, where they would receive a fair trial and, if found guilty, awarded an appropriate sentence. In an ideal world this is no doubt what would have happened."

The next paragraph, as seen in Harper's, continues, "But we do not live in an ideal world. The w word has been used and now cannot be withdrawn." In the excerpt, these two sentences appear to be consecutive and to have been copied verbatim from Howard's speech. But that is not the case. A look at the original speech shows about three and a half paragraphs have been cut without any ellipses. This would seem to be a trivial copyediting error, except that the missing three and a half paragraphs are full of praise for President George W. Bush. Which suggests that not only doesn't Lewis Lapham have anything nice to say about America's war on terrorism, but that he won't allow anyone else to say anything nice about America's war on terrorism in the magazine he edits.

Goldstein, a 30-year-old "copywriter-editor-proofreader for an electronics company" reports Harper's Soviet-style editing on his website, The Illuminated Donkey, Goldstein says his catch is exactly the kind of story-behind-the-story that "I used to like Harper's for." But now Lapham only runs "the same type of article over and over."

As a service to readers of Harper's, here are the missing paragraphs of Sir Michael Howard's speech. (For full text, click here.)

What Harper's doesn't want you to read from Sir Michael Howard's October speech in London:

"But we do not live in an ideal world. The destruction of the twin towers and the massacre of several thousand innocent New York office-workers was not seen in the United States as a crime against 'the international community' to be appropriately dealt with by the United Nations; a body for which Americans have little respect when they have heard of it at all. For them it was an outrage against the people of America, one far surpassing in infamy even the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Such an insult to their honor was not to be dealt with by a long and meticulous police investigation conducted by international authorities, culminating in an even longer court case in some foreign capital, with sentences that would then no doubt be suspended to allow for further appeals. It cried for immediate and spectacular vengeance to be inflicted by their own armed forces .

"And who can blame them ? In their position we would have felt exactly the same. The courage and wisdom of President Bush in resisting the call for a strategy of vendetta has been admirable, but the pressure is still there, both within and beyond the Administration. It is a demand that can be satisfied only by military action--if possible rapid and decisive military action. There must be catharsis: the blood of five thousand innocent civilians demands it.

"Again, President Bush deserves enormous credit for his attempt to implement the alternative paradigm. He has abjured unilateral action. He has sought, and received, a United Nations mandate. He has built up an amazingly wide-ranging coalition that truly does embody 'the international community' so far as such an entity exists.