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Soft Power

Some promising endeavors on Pacific islands

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Paul Theroux, author of the novels Chicago Loop and The Mosquito Coast and numerous travel books, including The Old Pata-gonian Express and The Great Railway Bazaar, began keeping geese on his six-acre Hawaiian spread because he was sick of cutting the grass. Somebody told him that the birds would be the answer. "Three of them kept it short, and I seldom cut grass anymore," he says. "Also, I got to see aspects of goose behavior that fascinated me."

In his cover essay, "Living with Geese," Theroux, never one to pull punches, takes on the rampant practice of anthropomorphism—ascribing human qualities to animals—as well as fellow gozzard E. B. White, the venerated author of Charlotte’s Web and, more to the point, a much-praised essay on geese. "I was very surprised," says Theroux, "to see the inaccuracies in the famous E. B. White essay—notions that needed to be corrected." Yet even Theroux slips at times, describing, for example, "the great joyous cry of the guarding gander." Does that make him guilty of the very thing he decries? "Obviously, in describing geese," he says, "one is using the same lexicon that one would use for humans, but it is possible to go overboard. What bothers me most about passionate anthropomorphists is that they are often misanthropes."

Having reported on militant Islam throughout Southeast Asia, Eliza Griswold was interested in covering the U.S. military counterterrorism program in the southern Philippines ("Waging Peace in the Philippines"), where terrorists have operated since at least the 1990s; two of the Bali bombers are believed to be still hiding there. She was surprised to find little hostility toward the United States. "This is largely because the Philippines is Christian and also because of the long-standing American involvement there," Griswold says. She was also surprised by the relative success of the U.S. military’s unusual counterterrorism efforts in parts of the 7,000-island nation: "What’s going on in the Philippines is important and interesting because now we’re seeing—in other places too—a move toward ‘soft power,’ toward a nonmilitary response to terror, and this is the oldest model of that."

Entries for this year’s photo contest are due by 2 p.m. (Eastern time) January 4, 2007, at Smithsonian.com.

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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