History Redux


If breaking news does not tell you enough about what’s going on in Baghdad, try a new anthology called The Iraq War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions. Editors Micah l. Sifry and Christopher Cerf, who also put together the 1991 Gulf War Reader, are skilled at placing wars in historical context. The goal of the new book, Sifry says, is to “lay out all the strongest arguments from all sides—along with key documents, historical essays and speeches—and let readers come to their own conclusions.”

Those who already know what they think will find plenty of reinforcement here. The book includes speeches by key players (e.g., George “the day of your liberation is near” Bush); analyses of oil, nationalism, and religious fanaticism; and even a debunking of the myth of Lawrence of Arabia. The book has just been published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster and will continue to evolve at

Conservatives are well represented in The Iraq War Reader—for example, Robert Kagan and William Kristol explain why it is imperative not to let “brutal, well-armed tyrants . . . hold democracy and international security hostage.”

But on balance, the book reflects the editors’ progressive views. “I see this as a battle between the neocons and their fellow travelers, and their sense of assurance that they know what’s best,” explains Sifry, “and everybody else who has read the same history and learned that it doesn’t always work out that way. These are complicated societies with their own histories and narratives and they don’t look too fondly on foreigners telling them what to do. The hope is that we learn a little humility.”

According to Sifry, readers of the book will become “more informed news consumers and less likely to buy the claims of officials of any government.” For example, he says, after reading the book, “You’ll know that Jay Garner, who is now the viceroy of Iraq, made a mark for himself after the first Gulf War by trying to spin Congress over the accuracy of the Patriot missile. You’ll know that there’s a real temptation for both Congress and the mainstream media to hype misinformation.”

One example of such misinformation was the “incubator story” cited by some senators as a justification for Gulf War I. In 1990, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl known only as Nayirah told Congress that she had seen Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators and leave them to die. After the war was over, Nayirah turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S., and her credibility crumbled. John R. MacArthur’s 1992 New York Times op-ed on the subject is reprinted in The Iraq War Reader.

Today’s equivalent, Sifry says, “is the hoax we were fed over the idea that Iraq was trying to import uranium from Niger.” This claim, advanced by British officials and the CIA and cited as a justification for war on Iraq, fell apart when it turned out the evidence was forged. Sifry praises Seymour Hersh’s authoritative account in the March 31 New Yorker, which appeared too late to include in the book.

Fortunately for the authors, the war debate never ends. For example, Sifry says, the jury is still out on whether the war was justified, on whether Bush’s preemptive-strike doctrine will help stabilize the Mideast, and even on the fate of the Iraqi Republican Guard. “Everybody’s acting like everything is over,” he says, “but we just don’t know.”

Scions of the ‘Times’

If New York Times executive editor Howell Raines had to choose one person on his staff he considers indispensable, who would that be? How did Arts and Leisure editor Jodi Kantor tell fellow students she was a “New York Times dork” in high school? And why does Times columnist Maureen Dowd keep her lights down low?

Answers to these questions and more appear in the April 25 edition of Our Times, a newspaper that is designed like a section of the Times and published once a year by and for the children of Times employees, with the help of editorial staffers. Last Friday, free copies of Our Times were available in the lobby of Times headquarters at 229 West 43rd Street.

Unlike the adult Times, Our Times is dominated by female bylines and personalities. For example, on the front page above the fold is a profile and color photo of 22-year-old rapper La La, whose “pink tight shirt” and pink Adidas “caught every girl’s eye” in the room where she was interviewed. The kids also profiled three prominent women from the Times editorial department—Boldface Names columnist Joyce Wadler (“She Parties for Us”), editor Kantor (“Young and Gifted”), and columnist Dowd (“Reads a Lot, Writes a Lot”). A photo of Dowd shows the columnist in a black suit with striking décolletage speaking to two girls and one boy in her D.C. office. Dowd explained that she keeps her office lights dim so she can “lure” reporters into helping her.

Our Times used to be called Girls’ Times. It has been published every year since 1992, when the Times joined the annual Take Our Daughters to Work Day campaign. The campaign was conceived by the Ms. Foundation for Women as an “intervention” that would develop girls’ self-confidence and prevent boys from hogging the light.

But this year, the Ms. Foundation changed the name of the campaign to “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work” to reflect the fact that more boys today are expressing an interest in balancing time between work and family when they grow up. The Times was right in step, changing the name of its paper this year from Girls’ Times to Our Times.

Support for the girls-only tradition at the Times had already begun to erode. Columnist Lisa Belkin has long lobbied for a change, and as early as 1997, a Girls’ Times editorial called the exclusion of boys “needlessly discriminatory.” Last year, when the Times first invited boys to work, few attended. But this year, boys represented 77 out of 250 participants, and a survey shows that participants support the open-door policy by a margin of three to one.

In a letter published on the front page of Our Times, New York Times Company president Janet Robinson called the decision to include boys a show of commitment to diversity in the workplace. This year, she said, boys and girls had the opportunity to see Times men and women “working together in a team-spirited, collaborative manner.”

Team spirit was also the message of a front-page interview with executive editor Raines. Asked by Our Times contributor Meagan Carr how he stays on top of “one big story after another,” the editor called his staff a source of continual inspiration. “It’s such a team effort,” Raines explained. “Nobody is indispensable, including me.” Asked if there was anyone without whom he could not do his job, Raines “struggled for a name” and then said a few people’s absence would be most notable because of their deep knowledge of the Times and its standards. “Let Al Siegal be symbolic of that group,” he said.

Siegal, an assistant managing editor, is the house expert on issues of copyediting and style. In high school, Kantor wore a Times sweatshirt and a Times button on her knapsack.