The Forgotten Writing of Bette Howland

Best known, perhaps, for her short-lived romance with Saul Bellow—who remained her friend and confidant for the remainder of his life—Bette Howland, who died in 2017 and is little remembered today, had a promising career as a writer of criticism and fiction. The recently published Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage collects a novella of the same name, some of her short stories, and a previously unpublished work. Calling Howland a “brilliant 20th-century Jewish American woman writer,” Rachel Shteir describes her career and oeuvre:

On paper, Howland seems deserving of . . . new attention. She wrote one memoir, two short-story collections, and criticism, mostly for Commentary magazine. Her books received good reviews and she was awarded both Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships. After the MacArthur, she mostly stopped writing fiction. . .

I am reluctant to paint Howland as a victim of her onetime lover—or the “patriarchy.” After the early passion waned, Bellow seems to have been devoted to his friend. . . . It also seems wrong to blame Bellow for the fact that after the breakup, while his exile from Chicago included Bellagio, hers included a remote island in Maine and a farm in Pennsylvania. He was ravished by the world; she lived like a monk. . . .

[Likewise], I don’t see any glimmer of [ravishment] in Howland’s work, which, as her son writes, is mostly about “the indescribable metaphysical bleakness of life in Chicago.” The best of Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage describes that city. My favorite story, “Blue in Chicago,” remains among the most accurate descriptions of Hyde Park’s siege mentality that I have read. “You always want to know how close these things come to you,” the narrator begins, describing the shooting of a graduate student. Howland’s cold evocation of that South Side neighborhood only serves to illuminate more brilliantly the sadness she feels when trapped with her sulky Jewish relatives at a wedding. She has nowhere to go.

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More about: American Jewish literature, Chicago, Jewish literature, Saul Bellow

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy