I thoroughly enjoying reading your Australian Journeys edition on rivers [Sept. 17]. The magnificent photography and the beautiful and sometimes tragic stories made me realize why I have such a passionate fondness for my adopted homeland, this ancient continent of adversity and contrast. I hope your story will send a cooee around the world to all expatriate Australians.
Reading your stories about rivers, I was struck by how big a role rivers have played in Australian literature. Kate Grenville's The Secret River, on which Michael Fitzgerald based his visit to the Hawkesbury, is only the latest work to refer to rivers. Your editor's letter was right in suggesting that the dryness of so much of the continent gives rivers a special significance. Every Australian knows Banjo Paterson's The Man From Snowy River, but rivers also come up frequently in the poetry of Harry "Breaker" Morant. One of his best-known verses is At the River Crossing. Henry Lawson was another poet who wrote a lot about rivers. A stanza from his Song of the Darling River could apply to most of Australia's rivers. "I drown dry gullies and lave bare hills,/ I turn drought ruts into rippling rills./ I form fair islands and glades all green/ Till every bend is a sylvan scene."
I very much enjoyed Elizabeth Keenan's account of the extraordinary Finke river race in central Australia, and the certifiably crazy people who take part in it. I was intrigued, however, by the geologists' reference to the Finke as the "oldest river on earth." I am no hydrographer, but I have always thought one of the defining qualities of a river is water. Given that the Finke is almost permanently empty, shouldn't it be known as the oldest groove on earth?
The Progress Report
You asked "How Much Longer?" for the war in Iraq [Sept. 17]. My question is, How do you get out of quicksand when you are in it up to your waist? It doesn't take a four-star general to see that the fanatical enemy simply has to sit back and wait. When we withdraw soldiers, the counterinsurgents and terrorists can resume their attacks. We all know that there are thousands of young men who are ready to martyr themselves so they can enter paradise. And if we ever completely pull out of Iraq, corruption and civil war will continue until the country inevitably becomes another Iran. Let's declare victory now and get the hell out!
John J. Grimes,
Michael Duffy's piece revealed that the U.S. has bottomed out in Iraq. Americans are not merely war-weary; they are exhausted. The Administration's misuse of the military threatens to bring on its ruin. Iraq is not a nation, and nobody can unite its tribes. The notion that Iraq can be democratized or even civilized must be abandoned. But the industrialized world cannot risk a disruption of the Middle East's oil supply, so the U.S. must find a way to keep Iran in its box and prevent any of Iraq's three major sectarian groups from dominating.
Stephen L. Castner,
During World War II we didn't see the media asking stupid questions like "How much longer?" If the U.S. had called it quits back then, we would all be living in a much different world today, one with far less freedom. Likewise, why the hell should we quit the war in Iraq now? We have at least as much to lose there, maybe more given the Islamic militants' goal of world dominance. If the media and Democratic Congress force a withdrawal from Iraq they are going to cost millions of Americans their lives.
Robert M. Moon,
Fort Worth, Texas
The Administration has tried to accelerate nation building in Iraq, ignoring history and human nature and forgetting America's own long struggle to become "one from many." If the Iraqis are nowhere near forming a united country, perhaps letting them settle into states partitioned according to ethnic and religious differences is the most practical and humane policy available. Someday the better angels of the Iraqis' natures may bring them closer to union, but American blood and treasure are not bottomless resources for propping up a largely fictive nation.
President George W. Bush rightly invoked the fiasco that ensued after the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam. If we leave Iraq within the next year, there will be a civil war. If we leave Iraq in four years, there will be a civil war. The difference will be in the number of American troops who will die in delaying the inevitable.
Joseph A. Rihn Jr.,
With God on Their Side
In "God As Their Running Mate," Michael Kinsley said that, for him, anyone who believes in the literal truth of religious texts is "too credulous to be President" [Sept 17]. That would apply to a number of our past Presidents. It sounds like Kinsley thinks you can't be a good President unless you are in line with Kinsley's personal preferences.
I guess Kinsley fears that literal-minded Jewish leaders would ban pork and Catholics would outlaw birth control. And Muslims? Presumably he thinks they would promote terrorism, of course. Fortunately, the majority of Americans are clever enough to see beyond stereotypes. Great leaders successfully balance morality, democracy and freedom of choice regardless of religious faith.
Walnut Creek, California
I appreciated Jeffrey Kluger's article about commemorating 9/11 [Sept. 17]. We should never forget what happened that day, and we still need to resolve the serious issues of rebuilding and, to our shame, taking care of health and property damage. But in a country that celebrates its birth with discount sales, gives passing recognition to Pearl Harbor Day and virtually ignores the ending dates of the two World Wars, the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks needs to be put into perspective. People who lost loved ones will have grieved and marked the occasion in their own way, as they should. For the rest of the nation, Sept. 11 should have been a day to look at the calendar, reflect for a moment and then go to work.
Wayne, New Jersey
We all grieve for the victims of tragedies, but there comes a time when we must be left to our own manner of grieving. Splashing memorial ceremonies throughout the media only dredges up the sorrow, which we hardly need at this time in our country's sorry state. If we could bring such passion to the truly important issues, we could forge a better future. Let's move on.
If we stop commemorating 9/11, it will become just another event in the history books that will eventually fade from the collective memory. We must not forget.
Esther Ann Horwitz,
Even from across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, we pray for those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and for those who survived. We sympathize with the bereaved families. We should continue to remember 9/11 to remind ourselves of man's cruelty to man and to make us ponder why.
Eleuterio P. Ong Vaño
Cebu City, The Philippines
Burma's Persistent Problems
Thank you for reporting on Burma and helping to make the world aware of the country's problems [Sept. 17]. As good as your article was, there is no way to fully describe to the world the difficult circumstances under which the average Burmese citizen lives. I lived in Rangoon with my family in the late '70s and early '80s, so I know how bad the situation was then, and I realize it has gotten much worse since. Even though we left Burma almost 25 years ago, our hearts are still there.