WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?
It is forever useful to challenge our cherished notion of American exceptionalism, and Vietnam is a critical point of reference for the discussion (Flicks, "Everything old is new again," May 11).
In fact, our wartime behaviors are simply alternative versions of bad behaviors practiced by nations that predated us -- those that survived or perished in large measure according to the effectiveness of their own capacity for brutality. That is to say, we are forever surprised to learn of the baseness of human nature that finds expression in times of war. Sanitized history, spoon-fed to us in our public school youth, has led us to believe that our badasses answer to a higher standard by virtue of their American citizenship. We would like to think that American soldiers wouldn't buckle under the power conferred by state-sanctioned brutality. With this fantasy in the background, we weep for an imagined loss of innocence, even though we never had the innocence to lose; our humanity can be compromised as effectively as anyone else's because war debases the best of us.
Still, like individuals hired for war around the world and throughout history, each soldier has the latitude to kill gracefully, usefully and legally, or each soldier may release the inner brute behind the anonymity conferred by isolation and by policy officials' shameful desperation to bring home victory.
(I had a student deferment during Vietnam and did not serve; my son is 82nd Airborne.)
-- Wade Benson, Atlanta
NO MORE CRYING
More whining from the congenital whiners (cover story, "The gentry are coming," May 4). They lost their neighborhoods because they had no civic pride and let them turn into crime-riddled ghettos. They received fair market price for the dumps they were living in and were able to relocate into a newer, nicer area that they then proceeded to trash. It amazes me that the prevailing mentality is that it's only considered a "diverse" city as long as blacks outnumber whites. I think that as more upscale white "yuppies" return to reclaim the inner city, the more diverse it becomes. How long can any city survive on the tax base of slums?
-- Shondra Winters, Atlanta
I (HEART) MARTA
This morning in our MARTA coach (cover story, "Waiting for a ride," April 20), my husband and I were a minority but never felt out of place. We were surrounded by the usual crowd of people on their way to someplace else. Each, no doubt like us, taking a comfortable break from driving and/or saving money and time, not using gas and relaxing instead of fighting traffic.
We rode before the homeward-bound crush with a pleasant combination of laughing school girls, mothers with sleeping children too young for day care and individuals leaving the driving to someone else. They were all human beings like me and my husband -- except their complexions were darker.
Years ago in Chicago, I had learned that in a mixed crowd, you are comfortable if the attribute you consider most important about yourself is shared by a large number of others in the crowd.
I'm 88 years old now, and I am happy to be alive and lucky to be a human being. I wish more people felt as I do because then there would be more public transportation that we could all enjoy ... just as we shared a comfortable ride.
-- Maggie Hunt Cohn, Austell
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