Cody Boutilier: “Semyon” (Excerpt from ‘Scarlet Field’)

(The following is an except from the novel-in-progress Scarlet Field):

As far back as he could remember, Semyon always wanted to see the Empire State Building. He knew those five syllables before he knew his patronymic. Some of his earliest memories were of gazing at the Sea of Okhotsk, looking out from his cold world of perpetual hunger, waiting for the merchant ships to come ashore so he could ask the sailors to take him to the empayr-steyt-beeldeeng. He had only made the summer trek to the shore a few times, maybe twice – each time his mother was trudging close behind, hastening to bring him back to the kommunalka where they’d been enjoying a midday portion of black bread a few minutes before. In those starbursts of euphoria that followed the bellow of the ships’ horns, Semyon was oblivious to his mother’s calls and the perilous terrain of the beach. He’d have swum out to the ships if he’d only known how. Instead he’d cup his hands to his little mouth and call in his piccolo voice: “Take me to New York City! I want to go! Take me to see the Empire State Building!” He’d have strained his voice to the point of muteness if his mother hadn’t snatched him away each time, carrying the screaming little body back to the kommunalka with strength that her withered frame could never have summoned under less urgent circumstances.

It was early 1954 then. Semyon was four, his mother forty-three. Semyon’s conception, not to speak of his birth, was a small miracle. It had been decades since she thought in terms of religious mysticism, but she intuitively knew that Semyon’s very existence was too extraordinary to end prematurely in some meaningless accident. This knowledge didn’t mute her protective maternal instinct, and she kept herself alive in the frozen wasteland of Kolyma for Semyon’s sake only. She had already lost a son and daughter to an orphanage, and barely clung to the hope of recovering trace of them. Her life thus far had been an incessant spectacle of mass death – by bullet and bomb, by starvation and cannibalism, and by cold and fatigue – and Semyon’s miraculous birth had infused her with faith in the ultimate triumph and transcendent power of life over death. It had been a late-term, unlikely reprieve from her life’s bitter cup of misery and betrayal.

The Hustings


Cody Boutilier: “Jim meets Yusuf” (Excerpt from ‘Scarlet Field’)

(The following is an except from the novel-in-progress Scarlet Field):

Jim had arrived in Sochi’s Lazarevskoye Microdistrict the previous night. The train ride from Moscow took a day and a half. The proprietors of his guesthouse were a family of three generations (four counting the baby girl), and the matriarch’s daughter readily obliged to drive the mysterious young American back to the city center. Jim wanted to swim in the sea; he wanted to find hot mineral springs like the ones he’d bathed in outside of Kislovodsk a year before; and most of all he wanted to meet people. He strode into a doorless shawarma shack and asked for a beer, resting on a stool.

What do you recommend eating?” he asked the cook, a wiry Central Asian about his age, after taking a swig of Baltika 9. The cafe’s walls were a garish sea-blue stucco. The heavy aroma of grease-soaked meat hung precariously in the open summer air of the shack. The hit of the summer, Natali’s “O bozhe, kakoi muzhchina,” wafted from a speaker in the ceiling corner, the singer squealing, “oh God, what a man, I want a son by you.” Jim chortled. He turned around on the stool and contemplated the boardwalk. Families with small children, a dying breed in Russia, strolled by in their beachwear. Blacks appeared to be common here – mostly young African men, presumably students, and pretty half-Slavic girls, presumably locals.

Taking the chef’s advice, Jim ordered a lamb sandwich. Most of the people in Lazarevskoye, Jim had noticed, were Russians and Armenians. The cook seemed out of place.

“Where are you from?” Jim asked.

“Andijan. You?”

“USA. California. Where is Andijan?”

Oho! Amerikanets!” He shoved a greasy shawarma plate onto the counter. Jim started with the pickled vegetable garnishes. “Andijan is in Uzbekistan – Ferghana Valley. You know Babur, the conqueror of India? He came from Andijan.”

Jim nodded enthusiastically. “Quite a history! What’s your name? I’m Jim.”

“I’m Yusuf,” said the Uzbek. His Russian was accented but intelligible, much like Jim’s.

The Hustings


Henry Srebrnik: Conservative Republican Barry Goldwater Lost the Presidential Election in 1964

The march of conservative Republicans to the White House, which culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, began fifty years ago this summer.

Barry Goldwater, the U.S. senator from Arizona, was nominated by the Republican Party as its presidential candidate in July 1964. He faced Democrat Lyndon Johnson, who had become president after John Kennedy’s assassination a year earlier.

Goldwater rose to prominence in conservative circles with the 1960 publication of his book The Conscience of a Conservative. It explored the perils of power, states’ rights, civil rights, taxes and spending, and the welfare state.

But this was the era of liberal activism, and Johnson’s social reforms, collectively known as the “Great Society,” were designed to eliminate poverty and racial injustice. New major spending programs that addressed education, medical care, urban problems, and transportation were launched during this period.

A number of eastern establishment moderate Republicans tried to stop Goldwater in 1964, but to no avail. He did gain the backing of then Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan, who gave a well-received televised speech supporting Goldwater.

Already targeted by Johnson as a dangerous right-wing radical, Goldwater responded with this famous retort at the convention: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

Most famous of Johnson’s attempts to scare the electorate into rejecting Goldwater was the so-called “Daisy Girl” television ad, which featured a little girl picking petals from a daisy in a field, counting the petals; it then segued into a launch countdown and a nuclear explosion.

Goldwater lost to Johnson in a landslide, winning only five southern states along with his home state of Arizona. But Goldwater’s disastrous campaign planted to seeds for an eventual conservative takeover of the Republican Party. Two years later, Ronald Reagan won election as governor of California.

In 1976 he was narrowly defeated in his bid for the Republican nomination for president by Gerald Ford, who went on to lose the Jimmy Carter. However, Reagan succeeded four years later, and then bested Carter in the 1980 presidential election. The rest is history.

The Hustings


Karsten Erzinger: Defending the Iraq War

A few weeks ago Henry Srebrnik looked back at the arguments advanced by many public figures in favor of going to war with Iraq and concluded his piece by asking “how did so many get it so wrong?” Well, I would argue that they didn’t get it wrong. The case for the war was justified for many reasons, some of which were cited in Henry’s column, and poor post-war planning and execution does not refute or negate any of those reasons.

While the intelligence on Saddam’s WMD’s turned out to largely be false, many people don’t realize what Saddam did possess and how close he was to getting his hands on WMD’s. We should know this; it was Canada that disposed of 550 metric tons of Iraqi yellow cake uranium. Not only did Saddam have yellow cake uranium, but he also retained his WMD’s program and his aspirations to develop and produce WMD’s. Does anyone really think that Saddam would have sat and done nothing while Iran aggressively pursues a nuclear bomb? Because of the American intervention in Iraq, we only have to deal with one repressive dictatorship seeking nuclear arms in the region instead of two. Not only that, but the Iraq War resulted in Libya giving up its desire for WMD’s; surely a good thing given the terrorism and chaos enveloping that country.

Another thing that must be addressed is what would have happened if the US did not invade Iraq; this is something many Iraq War critics are hesitant to do. While this is purely a speculative exercise, there are a few things that can be reasonably be concluded. The withering sanctions against Iraq would have continued to crumble, allowing Saddam more freedom and flexibility to pursue whatever nefarious plans he may have had, such as developing and re-building his WMD stockpiles. If Saddam was still in power when the Arab Spring swept through the region, it’s not hard to imagine the type of crackdowns and atrocities he would have committed to maintain his hold on power.

Saddam Hussein was perceived as a threat to the United States and in a post 9/11 world, the US took every threats seriously. He was a brutal and dangerous tyrant who, had he not been removed from power, would’ve been even more dangerous today – those who argued for his removal did not get it wrong.

The Hustings


Henry Srebrnik: Can Rand Paul win the White House?

Study after study has demonstrated that, when it comes to foreign policy, there is a wide gap between American elite decision-makers and the wider public. While America’s leaders are internationalists, most Americans are more concerned with domestic matters, including their own economic welfare and security.

Will this lead to a new wave of isolationism, a recurring theme in U.S. politics?

The Republican Party was historically isolationist, but the Cold War saw a sea change in Republican attitudes, and they became committed to a world-wide system of alliances.

Even so, it was Republican Dwight Eisenhower who ended the Korean War after his election in 1952, and it was Richard Nixon who slowly wound down the Vietnam War.

All of this changed with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism in Europe.

The 1991 Gulf War saw Washington engage in warfare in Iraq, followed by Bill Clinton’s wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. But George Bush’s wars after 2001 have led to war-weariness.

Barack Obama won election against John McCain in 2008 as the “anti-Bush,” but his own foreign policy is totally incoherent. The civil wars in Iraq and Syria, the disputes between Russia and Ukraine and between Israel and the Palestinians, are headaches he wishes would go away.

So what now? If we assume that Hillary Clinton gains her party’s nomination, where does that leave those Democrats who seek a less aggressive foreign policy? Unlike Obama, she’s more of a foreign policy “hawk” than he is.

The Republican Party, on the other hand, is in the midst of a real period of soul-searching. It still has voices who call for a more robust military policy abroad, but it also now contains many who feel America has over-stretched itself and faces huge problems at home.

So the long-dormant isolationist wing of the party may be reviving, and coalescing around the improbable candidacy of libertarian Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Paul has long been wary of foreign intervention and also has spoken out against foreign aid programs. He has recommended that Washington shouldn’t take sides in Iraq’s civil war.

Paul would face long odds, including opposition from the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower warned Americans about as he left office. Still, stranger things have happened.

The Hustings