SEOUL—When my plane landed in South Korea earlier this week, the nation was much occupied with a controversy that seemed, to this American journalist, somewhat perplexing. Families of those killed by South Korea’s then-military regime during a 1980 uprising were upset because a conservative government minister had ruled against making a song called “Marching for our Beloved” the official anthem of the government’s observance of the anniversary.
Of course Barack Obama will go to Hiroshima. If there is any cause for surprise, it is that it has taken him seven years to work up his nerve. A trip to where America killed some 100,000 Japanese subjects of the Emperor Hirohito—no one knows the exact death toll—in order to call for “a world without nuclear weapons” is so natural a gesture for this president.
In late June, citizens of the UK will vote on whether to leave the European Union, and may well make the historic decision to do so. During the second half of July, the two major U.S. political parties will have conventions at which they nominate their presidential candidates. At the first one of these, the current frontrunner has all but threatened mob violence if he is denied his party’s nod, and events in Cleveland are very likely to occupy the nation’s attention. Meanwhile, as the weather improves throughout the spring in the eastern Mediterranean, and considering that there is no end in sight to the violence in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan, the flow of refugees from the Middle East and Central Asia into Europe will pick up again, further destabilizing the member nations of the NATO alliance.
Matthew Spender was around nine years old when he noticed that something was off about the gardener. The middle-aged Tony, who also did odd jobs around the Spenders’ London home, would “say the weirdest things.” For example: “Well, Matthew, and so there you are. Who ever would have thought of Stephen as a family man?” Stephen Spender, the poet, writer, editor, unwitting agent of the CIA, and by this point—1954 or so—a fixture in British letters, was Matthew’s father.
Paul G. Allen, whose billions come by way of co-founding Microsoft, bought his first Monet in 1992. “It’s great to make a pilgrimage to museums,” he told the curators of a traveling exhibition of his landscape collection, “but after a while you start wondering what it would be like to live with amazing pieces in your own living spaces and to have them give you those same kinds of feelings in daily life.” I’m sure many do wonder about exactly that, but few have the resources to own and then rather generously send on the road a couple of Canalettos, a Turner, a Cole, two Morans, a Manet, five Monets, a Sargent, a Hopper, a Klimt—and more. It’s as though Allen read the entry on landscape painting in The Oxford Companion to Western Art and said, “I’ll take one of each, please.”
One can imagine a sustained left-wing rebuke to the argument of Waller Newell’s new book, Tyrants, the sketch of which is as follows. Newell is a partisan of a kind of politics we might label, depending on our mood, “liberal democracy” or “Atlanticism” or “neo-liberalism,” or even “first-wave modernism.” Given such an allegiance, and apparently seized with the desire to write a book for a popular audience that defends the interests of his preferred regime, he has awkwardly jammed together most, if not all, of liberal democracy’s enemies under the single ill-fitting header, “tyranny.”