March 12, 2012
Before the media vans took over Main Street, before the environmental testers came to dig at the soil, before the doctor came to take blood, before strangers started knocking on doors and asking question after question, Katie Krautwurst, a high-school cheerleader from Le Roy, N.Y., woke up from a nap. Instantly, she knew something was wrong. Her chin was jutting forward uncontrollably and her face was contracting into spasms. She was still twitching a few weeks later when her best friend, Thera Sanchez, captain of one of the school’s cheerleading squads, awoke from a nap stuttering and then later started twitching, her arms flailing and head jerking. Two weeks after that, Lydia Parker, also a senior, erupted in tics and arm swings and hums. Then word got around that Chelsey Dumars, another cheerleader, who recently moved to town, was making the same strange noises, the same strange movements, leaving school early on the days she could make it to class at all. The numbers grew — 12, then 16, then 18, in a school of 600 — and as they swelled, the ranks of the sufferers came to include a wider swath of the Le Roy high-school hierarchy: girls who weren’t cheerleaders, girls who kept to themselves and had studs in their lips. There was even one boy and an older woman, age 36. Parents wept as their daughters stuttered at the dinner table. Teachers shut their classroom doors when they heard a din of outbursts, one cry triggering another, sending the increasingly familiar sounds ricocheting through the halls. Within a few months, as the camera crews continued to descend, the community barely seemed to recognize itself. One expert after another arrived to pontificate about what was wrong in Le Roy, a town of 7,500 in Western New York that had long prided itself on the things it got right. The kids here were wholesome and happy, their parents insisted — “cheerleaders and honor students,” as one father said — products of a place that, while not perfect, was made up more of what was good about small-town America than what was bad. Now, though, the girls’ writhing and stuttering suggested something troubling, either arising from within the community or being perpetrated on it, a mystery that proved irresistible for onlookers, whose attention would soon become part of the story itself.
Le Roy’s East Main Street displays an impressive row of grand Victorians and Federalist-style homes built in the 19th century, testament to the flour mills and salt mines that made the town a comfortable place to live. After that came the Jell-O years, when that company and several others employed thousands of people in the area. But Jell-O and most of the rest of the factories took their work elsewhere by the 1960s, and now a good number of those historic homes have been divided into two- or three-family rentals, with peeling paint and rows of crooked mailboxes inside the foyer. Some houses look so beaten down by weather and disrepair that it comes as a surprise to see a light on inside. Le Roy is a working-class community with good schools that attract people who work in nearby Rochester. But it is also a manufacturing town whose prosperous days are behind it — the kind of place where local politicians are always talking about how to bring back the good old days.
Katie Krautwurst and her family live in one of the stately, well-preserved houses in town, a home her mother’s ancestors built, its porch now decorated with semicircular American flag banners and a child’s antique sled. At the top of a winding staircase is Katie’s room, a pink-and-yellow perch where she and Thera sat talking one late February afternoon. The girls grew close a few years ago, when they met through cheerleading and realized they both had a crush on the same guy. “How weird was that?” Thera asked, her voice going loud and her eyes going wide. Thera speaks in italics and underlines; Katie, by contrast, is so reserved she could be mistaken for nonchalant. As they talked, Thera was idly going through Katie’s walk-in closet to see what was new. Katie’s face showed a quick spasm, a twitch, every few minutes, subtle enough that you might miss it if you weren’t looking. Thera had a bruise on her left leg from where she had fainted the evening before and landed on her bedside table.
On the afternoon when Katie first started twitching, she was at her boyfriend’s house. When the symptoms worsened, his mother called her mother, who told them to call an ambulance and meet her at the emergency room in Rochester. Paramedics strapped Katie onto the stretcher. “Then I couldn’t twitch, so it made it even worse, and I was freaking out even more,” she said. Doctors at the hospital told Katie and her mother that she was having an anxiety attack. Katie was a straight-A student who admits she can be anxious at times. But her symptoms persisted, so she and her mother went back to the same emergency room a few days later. This time, Katie’s mother, Beth Miller, a nurse, insisted they conduct more elaborate tests. After seven hours of testing that included an M.R.I. and a blood panel, the doctors told Miller what she already knew: her daughter had tics.
Katie was still twitching when she saw Thera early the next week at the art class they were taking together. “I was really weirded out,” Thera said. “I got upset, really upset.” When, a few weeks later, Thera’s symptoms came on, she and Katie did not connect the events. “A lot of people have tics,” Katie said, as if she thought at the time it was just something girls got, like cramps or a cold. It’s true that tics are not that uncommon — one in a hundred high-school students experiences them at one time or another. Last summer, Katie played soccer with two girls who were displaying tics on and off for more than a year. One was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome.
When doctors told Thera’s mother, Melisa Phillips, that her daughter’s tics were stress-related, she “went along with it,” she told me. “I know she has a huge heart, and she’s wound tight.” Thera also had an episode of tics three years ago. But when Phillips learned that other girls were coming down with similar symptoms, she began to wonder if there was more to this than stress.
Other parents were wondering the same thing: Maybe there was something in the water at the school or in the ground under the playing fields. By mid-January, the number of known cases was around 12, and parents eagerly awaited the preliminary results of an investigation by the New York State Department of Health. But at the community meeting where the results were to be announced, officials said that out of deference to the patients’ privacy, their diagnosis could not be revealed. They did try to assure the crowd that the school’s environment was safe, but the air-quality tests they performed left a number of parents unsatisfied, including Katie’s mother and stepfather, Don Miller. Five days after the meeting, Katie, Thera and their mothers — all of them photogenic and sympathetic — appeared on the “Today” show. “I’m trying to get all the information together so I can proceed in finding a cure for our daughters,” Beth Miller told Ann Curry…
The only reason Israel has been able to survive in the Middle East, and even to flourish there, is because its enemies’ armies are incompetent. When asked how and why Israelis win every battle, the celebrated general Moshe Dayan said it’s because they fight Arabs. “We’re a feuding people, not a warring people,” Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi said to me once in Beirut. “We haven’t been good at war for hundreds of years.” If Arabs could fight as effectively as, say, the Russians, Israel would have ceased to exist long ago. Most likely it would have died before its first birthday. Syrian and Egyptian armies tried three times to destroy the Jewish state, and the Jordanian army tried twice. Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization have spent decades harassing Israel with terrorist, guerrilla, and low-level rocket attacks, but they’ve never come close to threatening the country’s existence.
Hezbollah—Lebanon’s Syrian- and Iranian-sponsored Party of God—is different. Hezbollah is the most formidable non-state army in the world and by far the deadliest and most effective fighting force ever fielded against Israel. And it’s just as sworn to Israel’s destruction as the would-be conquerors of the past. Nicholas Blanford’s gripping new book, Warriors of God, explains in peerless detail how Hezbollah grew into such a major force.
It began as a shadowy, ragtag terrorist-guerrilla group during the crucible of Lebanon’s civil war. After Israel’s withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah transformed itself into a wholly original hybrid of guerrilla army and conventional army. The Party of God’s partisans didn’t even have their own name in the early years. They made themselves famous with hostage-taking and airplane hijackings, but their most potent innovation—which transformed the face of the region—was the suicide bomber.
In November 1982, Imad Mughniyah, who would later become Hezbollah’s most skilled and hunted commander, told Fatah member Bilal Sharara he had found someone willing to blow himself up. “I laughed and thought he was crazy,” Sharara told Blanford. “Who would want to blow themselves up? No one had done anything like that at the time.” Suicide bombers are dangerous, but they’re weapons of the weak: it would be 18 years before the last Israeli soldier evacuated the “security zone” in South Lebanon. As the anti-Israel insurgency ground on, though, Hezbollah tacticians and fighters acquired better weapons and the skills to use them.
The Party of God hasn’t yet outworn its designation as a terrorist group—the United Nations accuses it of killing Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, for instance—but it rarely resorts anymore to al Qaida-style attacks. Hezbollah now has an enormous rocket arsenal with the power not only to kill civilians in Israel, but also to sink Israeli ships and to blow up supposedly indestructible Merkava tanks with swarms of missiles.
During the 2006 war, Hezbollah fought Israeli ground troops with a highly sophisticated mixture of guerrilla and conventional tactics. “The resistance,” Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah boasted, “did not wage a guerrilla war. . . I want to clarify this point; it was not a regular army, but [it] was not a guerrilla [army] in the traditional sense, either. It was something in between.” Blanford quotes an Army War College study bolstering the Hezbollah chief’s claim. “Hezbollah’s position on the guerrilla-conventional continuum in 2006,” it said, “was much closer to the conventional end of the scale than non-state actors are normally expected to be.”
Today, Hezbollah’s rocket and missile arsenal is larger than that of most national armies. Not only does it stock thousands of relatively weak Katyusha rockets in bunkers, houses, and hillside launch sites; it also has ballistic missiles that can blow skyscrapers off the map in Tel Aviv. Its conventional strength means that it can now wreak far more havoc than a mere terrorist organization, but its well-honed guerrilla tactics make it just as hard to defeat.
Hezbollah scored its great victory in forcing the withdrawal of exhausted Israelis from their “security zone” in South Lebanon. It was the first time, arguably, that the Jewish state lost a war. Hezbollah, though, was never solely interested in the liberation of land. Its war of “unrelenting hostility,” as Blanford puts it, was always about the destruction of Israel. “The ‘resistance,’” he writes, “is Hezbollah’s beating heart, its one immutable defining certainty.” The Party of God said so explicitly in its first manifesto, the Open Letter of 1985, and Nasrallah has repeated that promise ever since he became the militia’s leader. “The elimination of Israel from existence,” he said in February of 2008, “is inevitable because this is a historical and divine law from which there is no escape.”
Hezbollah’s cult of death, nurtured during its suicide-bomber phase, is stronger than ever. Wherever Hezbollah has a serious presence in Lebanon, portraits of young “martyrs” hang from electrical pylons. The eliminationist rhetoric and dreams of total destruction are taken to heart by those willing to die to kill Israelis and Jews. “You cannot understand the joy of jihad unless you are in Hezbollah,” one of its fighters tells Blanford. Nasrallah himself refused to accept condolences when his own son was “martyred.”
Blanford refrains from condemning Hezbollah outright—partly, no doubt, because he wants to retain his nearly unparalleled access to its spokesmen, but also because it isn’t necessary. Readers seeking denunciations of terrorism and “resistance” will have to look elsewhere. The Party of God’s own actions and words suffice well enough to condemn it. If calls to destroy a sovereign U.N. member state don’t bother you, there isn’t much Blanford or anyone else can say that will change your mind.
While Blanford’s focus is Hezbollah, the portrait he paints of the Israeli occupation isn’t flattering, either. Israelis of nearly all political persuasions view Lebanon as their Vietnam, so to speak, since one disaster and botched operation after another led to an all-but inevitable defeat and withdrawal. Blanford, though, does a better job here than most of his Beirut-based colleagues. He’s seemingly aware, without actually saying so, that Israel is the subject of hysterical lies every day in the Arab world, and he almost always takes great care before accusing Israel of any wrongdoing…
Can Germany Help Central Europe Confront Its Dark Past?: “So, you come in, you show us how to kill the Jews, and now you come in and show us how to be sorry?”
March 12, 2012
The home of the German Historical Institute in downtown Warsaw is a handsome, 19th-century neo-Renaissance residence with arched doorways and a tranquil, cobbled courtyard. It is one of the few structures in Warsaw that the Nazis didn’t raze during their 1939-45 occupation of the Polish capital. “Ironic, isn’t it?,” says Katrin Stoll, a young German researcher there. “A building the Germans didn’t manage to destroy and now we’re here.”
Supported by Germany’s ministry of science and education, the institute was established in 1993 to promote collaborative research, scholarly discourse, and exchanges between Germany and Poland, with a particular emphasis on the dictatorships and violence of the 20th century. It houses 14 historians and researchers—two-thirds of whom are German, the others Polish—whose publications at the institute include more than 75 books and hundreds of shorter studies.
In its high-ceilinged, patrician halls, the institute hosts an impressive range of conferences, lectures, and panel discussions; the topics never stray far from the events that compelled the Yale historian Timothy Snyder to label these territories—Central Europe from the Baltic coast to the Black Sea—as the “bloodlands” in his 2010 book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books).
Eduard Mühle, a German historian and the institute’s director, takes pains to explain the institute’s purpose. Mühle is acutely aware of the awkwardness of Germans, of all peoples, appearing to “tell the Poles how to do it.”
“We are modest participants in Polish historiography,” he says. “We’re working together with Polish colleagues and helping them put Polish history in a European context. We share in their discussions and try to bring over ideas, concepts, and trends from German academia. German historiography has something to offer, but it has to be done cautiously, with the past in mind.”
Yet some of the institute’s topics are prickly ones for Poles and their neighbors, like the Baltic states and Ukraine. Stoll, for example, studies the fate of Polish Jews in 1946-7 Poland, after the Germans capitulated. The subject is a sensitive one here, as anti-Semitism was rife in postwar Poland, prompting vicious pogroms in some parts of the country.
“The Holocaust didn’t end when the Red Army entered Poland in 1944,” says Stoll, who last year organized a conference at the institute titled “To Stay or Go? Jews in Europe in the Immediate Aftermath of the Holocaust.” “It’s a difficult topic for Poles,” she says, but at the conference, “they were discussing it openly in a way I don’t think they were 15 years ago.”
So how can Germans, and in particular German historians, aid their eastern neighbors—if at all—in the former bloodlands? The question arises whether Germany is in a position to “export,” as the British historian Timothy Garton Ash puts it, its experience in coming to terms with an ignominious past.
The Germans have special, notoriously difficult-to-translate terms for their rigorous processing of the past, namely Vergangenheitsbewältigung and Aufarbeitung der Geschichte. Perhaps Garton Ash comes closest to the mark in translating them as “past-beating.” This complex treatment spans disciplines—from law to theology—and categories from truth-seeking and atonement to reconciliation and remembrance. At West Germany’s universities, tough-minded historians played a critical role in probing and questioning the taboos of early post-World War II years, at a time when politicians and society alike preferred to concentrate on economic recovery.
Postwar Germany’s battle to come to terms with its past stands out as unique—and uniquely successful. Germans understand this process, which happened in fits and starts, and sometimes in the face of trenchant opposition, as integral to their forging a liberal democracy out of the ruins of the Reich. Today postwar Germans stake their republic’s legitimacy on this “negative memory” and go to great lengths to ensure that future generations imbibe its lessons. Moreover, the Germans went about it not once but twice: with Nazism’s legacy and then, after the cold war, with the Communist past in the unified country’s eastern states.
In fact, so exemplary is the German experience that it has been adapted—with wide-ranging, country-specific variations—in post-totalitarian societies from South Africa to Chile. But those countries do not have such deeply traumatic relationships with Germany as do Central and Eastern Europe.
Germany may have something to pass on to the Central Europeans, explains the Polish intellectual Konstanty Gebert, of the foreign-affairs think tank the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The problem is that Germany cannot decently offer it.”
“So, you come in, you show us how to kill the Jews, and now you come in and show us how to be sorry?” he says. “It can’t work.”…
March 12, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.