James Russell
This Land was Your Land, This Land was My Land, p.5

The nation that voted in FDR in 1940 was learning to cross ethnic lines and to grow out of old prejudices, in ways that did not happen, or did not happen enough, in Europe. Such political consciousness, which delves past the tribe’s pain (or the tribalism of ‘true Americans’) to the universal values beneath it, has strong roots in the essential values of American democracy, expressed not only in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and the writings of the Founding Fathers, but in the poetic coda to these of Walt Whitman. It moves ever forward, embracing new citizens (Koreans! Iranians! Hispanics of a score of countries!), healing wounds once unseen (Gay Liberation!), challenging new threats to our liberty and overcoming them.

Still, many of us Jews have a perpetual fear that will never go away. Many Armenians had it, too. Peter Balakian expresses that, and responds to it, with scholarship, vigor, and an artistry kindred to Philip Roth’s. And this is surely both Roth's greatest novel and the darkest work of American literature I have read. No writer in American Jewish history has ever written with such imaginative force of an anxiety widely shared but hardly ever articulated, perhaps lest the proposition engender the object of the fear. And what is more American than to walk with a torch into that dark room? The Plot Against America will go on the shelf next to the other prophecies of our people in this astonishing country we call home: Allen Ginsberg's poems, Tony Kushner's Angels in America and Slavs! “Don't mourn, organize!” the Union used to say at funerals of murdered strikers. Well, maybe it's more realistic to say, “mourn and organize at the same time.” Should we be prepared to pack up and move? No. Pack up, maybe, and fight, yes, for Israel, if ever it is endangered as Spain was once. And then come back. And fight here, if you have to, as well, to defeat those who plot against our America. Philip Roth in Newark, Peter Balakian in Newark, me and the ghost of Avedis Derounian in Washington Heights, all together now: This land was made for you and me.

[1]       [2]       [3]       [4]       5

James Russell is the Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University.

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From previous issues:

The Virtue of Mediocrity
Michael Shurkin

Four Israeli Intelligence Directors
The Yediot Interview

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