The Week

(Roman Genn)


There are 1.3 billion people in China, and the state does brutal things to many of them. One can hardly cite every case. But let’s consider one of them: that of Shen Hongxia. We learn of her through an admirable group, Women’s Rights Without Frontiers. She lived in a village called Dabancheng in Hubei Province. She died in one of those forced sterilizations. As the aforementioned organization says, “a doctor [in] Tongshan County warned that sterilizing Shen Hongxia would be life-threatening. Nevertheless, local Family Planning Officers forcibly sterilized her, in order to avoid an ‘illegal pregnancy.’ Shen Hongxia, 42, died, leaving behind her husband and two children, one of whom is two years old.” When people say China is no longer a totalitarian state, remember stories like this one.

When the British want to encourage someone to persevere against insuperable odds, they say, “Remember Rorke’s Drift.” It’s the sort of stirring, heroic military episode from Britain’s glorious imperial past that David Cameron probably wishes had never happened: In 1879, in South Africa, 150 of Her Majesty’s tired, ill-equipped soldiers miraculously held off 4,000 Zulu attackers (freedom fighters, in modern parlance) for twelve harrowing hours. For many years the family of Private David Jenkins has insisted that he was one of that gallant band of defenders, but the army refused to recognize the Welshman, citing a lack of evidence. Recently, though, the National Army Museum used a pencil sketch of a kneeling rifleman at Rorke’s Drift to publicize a contest it was holding. The sketch was made after the men returned home by Lady Elizabeth Butler as a study for her painting of the battle. She was known to have used actual Rorke’s Drift veterans as her models, and when Jenkins’s great-grandson saw the sketch, he noticed that the kneeling man had the same features as those in a photograph of Jenkins. He notified the museum, and now Private David Jenkins has, at long last, been added to the Roll of Honour for Rorke’s Drift. Well done, soldier.

It’s always awkward to receive gifts while traveling: The useless slow-cooker that’s too bulky to bring home, the hideous sweater that you won’t put in your suitcase for fear someone might see you unpacking it. President François Hollande of France found himself in just such a situation when he went to Mali to receive thanks for suppressing an Islamist rebellion there. (France was deposed as a colonial power in the 1960s but still intervenes in Africa when needed, like a divorced husband who drops by for the occasional bit of fraternization.) The grateful Malians gave Hollande a camel, which from a Malian’s perspective has manifold uses but to a modern urban Frenchman is distinctly de trop. They clearly expected him to take it home, so he muttered something about picking it up the next time he was in town and then packed it off to lodge with a local family — which, “evidently misunderstanding the purpose of the custody arrangement” (reports the New York Times), “fashioned [the camel] into a tasty tagine, a regional type of slow-simmered stew.” But no matter; the Malians have promised to procure another camel and this time deliver it to Paris.

Princeton alumna Susan Patton, a member of the class of 1977, urged Princeton co-eds in a letter published in the Daily Princetonian to make use of their time on campus to “find a husband.” Never again, she argued, would they be surrounded by “this concentration of men who are worthy of you.” This, she said, was the advice she would give her daughters if she had any. A few days later, in a Slate piece titled “Marry Young: I got married at 23. What are the rest of you waiting for?” Julia Shaw made the case against delaying marriage until after achieving career success and financial security. “Marriage wasn’t something we did after we’d grown up,” she said of her own marriage, “it was how we have grown up and grown together.” The pieces set off a firestorm, with professional feminists lining up to pour vituperation on the pair. Patton expressed astonishment at the “extreme reaction” to her letter. She could legitimately be criticized for snobbery. The sin for which both women were pilloried instead was daring to suggest that anything other than a career might be the “cornerstone” of women’s “future and happiness.”

On March 29, the Wall Street Journal gave the country a breath of fresh air. It came in the form of an op-ed by Suzy Lee Weiss, a high-school senior. It began, “Like me, millions of high-school seniors with sour grapes are asking themselves this week how they failed to get into the colleges of their dreams. It’s simple: For years, they — we — were lied to.” Young people were told to be themselves — which was fine, said the author, as long as their true selves had “nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms.” If she had known before what she knows now, she wrote, she “would have gladly worn a headdress to school. Show me to any closet, and I would’ve happily come out of it. ‘Diversity!’ I offer about as much diversity as a saltine cracker. If it were up to me, I would’ve been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I salute you and your 1/32 Cherokee heritage.” On she went, in this delightful vein. She put some noses out of joint — offenders of the pieties always do. But we look forward to more writing from this refreshing source.

Columbia University has awarded Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Their citation praises “his incisive columns on American foreign policy and domestic politics, often enlivened by a contrarian twist.” Stephens’s work at the Journal, and as editor of the Jerusalem Post before that, is some of the most incisive thinking on the issues the United States faces abroad. When the Pulitzer Prize committee brings itself to honor a conservative voice, the honor is the greater. Congratulations, Mr. Stephens.

Joan Baez, the folk singer, went to Hanoi for the first time since 1972. In that year, the Associated Press tells us, she and her friends undertook a “peace mission.” That may be true, but most Baez types were less interested in peace than in a Communist victory. The North Vietnamese government, says the AP, “was happy to welcome those prepared to listen to its side of the story.” It welcomed those who would advance its propaganda aims. During her return visit, Baez “closed her eyes and sang out the African-American spiritual, ‘Oh Freedom.’” Baez explained that Vietnamese people must not blame American soldiers: “They were just kids; they were just following orders.” Yes, and they were also trying to keep Vietnam from the fate that in fact befell it. When the Communists conquered all of Vietnam, they killed about a million people and instituted “re-education” camps and other horrors. If that spiritual had been sung by anyone subject to the regime’s power, it would have been treated as an act of subversion.

Many have documented the ridiculousness that passes for education in our nation’s colleges, but “What Does Bowdoin Teach?” — a study of a liberal-arts college in Maine, conducted by Peter Wood and Michael Toscano of the National Association of Scholars — is particularly thorough and alarming. Not only did the authors take note of the various goings-on on campus, but they compared the school’s current course offerings with the classes taught decades ago. Basic survey courses are much rarer than they used to be, but students looking for a freshman seminar might try “Queer Gardens,” a course about the gardening of lesbians, and about “the link between gardens and transgression.” Wood identifies the college’s turning point as 1969, the year in which it dumped universal requirements; today, the only courses that are required are those needed for a student’s major. The report is a must-read for students considering the school and for their parents — and, more broadly, for those concerned about the liberal arts.

May 6, 2013    |     Volume LXV, No. 8

Special Defense Section
Books, Arts & Manners
  • Jay Nordlinger reviews Roger Ailes: Off Camera, by Zev Chafets.
  • Richard Brookhiser reviews The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues: A History of Greenwich Village, by John Strausbaugh.
  • Abigail Thernstrom reviews Intellectuals and Race, by Thomas Sowell.
  • Robert VerBruggen reviews Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?, by Neil Gross.
  • John Daniel Davidson reviews Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn From the Strange Genius of Texas, by Erica Grieder.
  • Ross Douthat reviews Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder.
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .