BR Blog

November 24, 2015 Assassinating Terrorists Does Not Work Alex de Waal

Two important events in the confrontation between the Islamic State and the West occurred on November 12 and 13. Although overshadowed by the Paris atrocities, they warrant our attention. On November 12, Mohammed Emwazi (“Jihadi John”) was killed by a drone missile in the Syrian city of Raqqa, in a joint U.S.-British operation. On November 13, the commander of IS in Libya, an Iraqi national called Abu Nabil (also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi), was killed by a U.S. air strike. These two high-profile killings were part of an ongoing American campaign to systematically assassinate terrorist leaders—“high-value targets”—a strategy that has become a central component of the War on Terror.

More than ever, it is crucial to debate the political strategy behind such targeted killings. Insofar as there is a political rationale to these acts of remote execution, it is deeply suspect. Even the pragmatic rationale is flawed: the evidence is that targeted killings make us less safe, not more.

The policy of assassinating high-value targets, modeled after Israeli practices, was adopted in the early days of the U.S. War on Terror but escalated by the Obama Administration with the aid of drone technology. Advocates describe it as an efficient way of killing terrorists that poses minimal risk to service members and entails much lower collateral damage than do...

October 27, 2015 Boston Review at 40 Boston Review

At Boston Review we've built our reputation on bringing you complex discussion and debate for the last 40 years. Please take two minutes to watch this special message from Boston Review's co-editor, Joshua Cohen. Boston Review is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so we're supported primarily by grants and our readers. We hope you'll consider ...
October 14, 2015 Thoreau’s Public Mind Simon Waxman

Henry David Thoreau's grave at Sleepy Hollow cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. Photo: Peter Lee

It was a bright winter day when I visited the replica of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond, and therefore very cold. I was with a handful of classmates whose parents had chosen not to send us on a more expensive and ambitious school trip. In preparation we had read selections from Walden, anodyne passages in which the author communed with nature’s splendor.

In spite of the chill, the cabin seemed comfortable. Indeed, that was my strongest impression: it contained no luxuries but was adequate for one reclusive man. But our guide that day explained that Thoreau was not exclusively a homebody. His cabin was not far from town, and he frequently made the short journey to spend time with his family. For a fairly solitary middle schooler who had just been denied a chance at adventures in warmer, more distant climes, the experience at Walden was medicinal: a good life might be had this way, too.

Thoreau was arrogant and contemptuous, but he had a powerful ethical sensibility.

The therapeutic qualities in Thoreau’s life and work are largely stripped from Kathryn Schulz’s recent...

October 19, 2015 Grandparents Today Claude S. Fischer

Lily Tomlin and Julia Garner in Grandma. Image courtesy Mongrel Media.

Lily Tomlin’s star turn, the recent movie, Grandma, presents–alongside a lot of over-the-top histrionics and screaming–a key truth about the role of grandparents today. More so than in previous generations, grandparents today provide a safety net for and probably bond with grandchildren. And the grandparents who do so are disproportionately grandmas.

In an era when Americans worry about the durability of the family–well, Americans have worried about the family in almost every era–grandparents have become, perhaps with little notice, more important in various ways. The reason starts with simple demography: There are more grandparents in more young people’s lives.

More Grandparents

Because the old die later than ever, Americans have more living grandparents than they once did and have them for longer in their lives. In 1900, about one in five 30-year-olds had any living grandparent; in 2000, about four in five did. Before, almost no 30-year-olds had two living grandparents; now about two in five do. In addition, the rise in divorce and cohabitation over the last several decades means that more American children have both grandparents...

October 06, 2015 The People's Technocracy Andrew Mayersohn

Smart Citizens, Smarter State
Beth Simone Noveck
Harvard University Press, $29.95 (Cloth)

Transparency, like all blandly positive terms, is a tricky concept. We want people to know enough about what goes on in government to check its excesses, but not so much that they become too cynical or are overloaded with useless information—the balance Elena Fagotto and Archon Fung describe in "Too Much Information: Making Transparency Good for You." We want enough secrecy that politicians and bureaucrats can deliberate freely, but not so much that it encourages “corruption” (another vague term).

Transparency concerns citizens’ ability to understand what the government is doing. Government intelligence—the state’s capacity to understand its citizens and the world—is in many ways the flip side of transparency. We want the state to know enough to carry out its functions effectively, but not so much that it can oppress its citizens; surveillance, after all, is just one form of...