Joan Didion, in Memoriam

The American novelist and essayist Joan Didion died yesterday, just a few weeks after her eighty-seventh birthday. In 1976, the great political scientist James Q. Wilson reviewed her most recent collection of essays—titled The White Album after its first essay, which discusses the Beatles—in Commentary. He praises her as a “splendid writer” who stood apart from her own times, in ways that make her even more unusual in 2021, beginning with the way her work resists pigeonholing into political categories:

Her latest collection of essays offers . . . a characterization of liberal Hollywood political activism as a “kind of dictatorship of good intentions,” a “peculiar vacant fervor.” And, of course, there is her well-known essay on the women’s movement in which she suggests that there are aspects of feminism that reveal a “narrow and cracked determinism” and numerous feminists who want romance rather than revolution.

The central passage is one in which she observes of her generation that it was the last to identify with adults. An adult view of the world was that it is imperfect owing less to an error in social organization than to a defect in man’s nature. The “silence” of the 1950’s reflected neither self-congratulation nor fear of repression, but a suspicion of political action as a tranquilizer that temporarily masks personal inadequacies. The world of adults was ambiguous: one had to make commitments, but of necessity they would be partial ones. There was a distinctive process called Growing Up; no one supposed, save the Beatniks, that one could or should forever remain an adolescent. But to grow up meant surrendering some measure of sincerity for some measure of accomplishment. In the 1960’s, one rejected the adult world, denied that growing up was either desirable or necessary, clung to sincerity (renamed “authenticity”) and chose to be young, which is to say self-indulgent, forever.

Read more at Commentary

More about: American society, James Q. Wilson, Journalism

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security