From the Editors
Readers of the October issue grooved on “How Music Works,” by Talking Heads co-founder David Byrne. “The concept of Music of the Spheres has always rung true to me,” said Mark Nutting. “Is it not possible that it has influenced our genetic makeup?” Our story about CIA operative Douglas Groat, “The Code Thief,” elicited sympathy and criticism. “It is unbelievable that a person who risked his life for our country received such a ‘thank you,’ ” Robert O’Fisch says, while Shawn Wilson felt Groat’s actions after he left the agency were “criminal.” Henry Wiencek’s piece about Thomas Jefferson as a slaveholder, “Master of Monticello,” inspired the most feedback. Gerald Karey cautioned on Facebook, “It’s easy but not fair to judge him from our perspective.” But the majority of comments expressed disillusionment.
The contrast of what I was brought up to believe about Jefferson and the new evidence in this article is devastating. Now I see an acquisitive, house-proud, arrogant, self-satisfied user of people. That may have been the norm among rich and privileged Virginians then, but now I’ve removed Jefferson from my mental pedestal. He is rescued from being totally smashed on the floor by his brilliance, his deliciously curious mind and the beauty of the University of Virginia campus.
Thanks to Mr. Wiencek for a fresh look at Jefferson. By uncovering his eager embrace of the slave marketplace, you have created a new opportunity for a healthy dialogue about the role of slavery in America. Jefferson was no doubt brilliant, but there has always been something creepy about the clash between his thoughts and behavior. I finished the article wondering if Monticello was a marvel of invention, an example of a good man trying to make the best of a bad system or a Jonestownian experiment by an emotionally disturbed man with an insatiable sense of entitlement.
Wiencek’s story confronts us with the real Jefferson—the one who penned those majestic and immortal words of freedom in the Declaration of Independence while engaging in and perpetuating a system of human bondage for profit. Interestingly, the author compares Jefferson to George Washington and concludes, “Never did Washington suggest that blacks were inferior or that they should be exiled.” Yet our first president was the owner of numerous slaves whose freedom was delayed until after his death. So Washington didn’t believe African-Americans were inferior—but it was acceptable to enslave them. Curious. In his effort to debunk one myth, Wiencek may have unwittingly created another. This, I am afraid, is the danger of hero worship.
Dale M. Wiley
Not only is the battered file cabinet that belonged to Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist a national treasure [“The Ellsberg Files”], so is Ellsberg himself. I was arrested with him and 111 others—mostly members of Veterans for Peace—at the White House on March 19, 2011. Nervous about being handcuffed for hours, I marveled at Ellsberg entertaining us with handkerchief magic tricks. He was used to being arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience. May the old warrior keep up the good works.
Ronald Van Deusen
Clayton, New York