Madness, Death, and Chaos in the Poems of Anthony Hecht

Although the poet Anthony Hecht never earned the fame of his friend and high-school classmate Jack Kerouac, he won a Pulitzer for his work in 1968, and was much admired in literary circles. Adam Kirsch reviews David Yezzi’s new biography:

For Hecht, madness wasn’t just a Shakespearean allusion, but an ever-present possibility, and his best poems rely on formal strictness to contain an intimate knowledge of chaos and evil.

Chaos was a familiar presence since childhood. Born in Manhattan in 1923 to an upper-middle-class German-Jewish family, Hecht had a privileged upbringing even after the Depression struck, complete with private schools and European tours. But his father, Melvyn, was a failure in business, losing much of the money his forebears had made in the leather trade, and the family’s downward mobility gave the young Hecht a basic sense of insecurity.

Hecht’s experience of combat [in World War II], was brief, but Yezzi convincingly shows that it affected the whole course of his later life and work. His unit landed in Europe in March 1945 and proceeded into Germany on April 7, just four weeks before V-E Day. . . . In late April Hecht’s division liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Flossenburg in Bavaria, where some 30,000 people had been killed and hundreds continued to die every day from typhus. He was assigned to interview the surviving inmates, collecting testimony that was later used in war-crimes trials.

Read more at New Criterion

More about: American Jewish literature, Holocaust, Poetry

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship