Atlantic Monthly

Among the Kurds

The Atlantic (online)

When I visited the PKK training camps in northern Iraq last year, about half the terrorists I met were women, and most of the rest looked barely old enough to shave. This week, according to reports, after years of threatening to bomb the camps, the Turkish military started pounding the PKK’s camps near the Turkish border hard. The PKK have used those facilities to train for their guerrilla struggle in Turkey. The earnest ideologues I met in the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, having long practiced for war, are now probably living through it, and facing the gravest dangers of their young lives.

The average age when I visited last year hovered somewhere between college sophomore or young grad student. Indeed the PKK members called their training facilities “the world’s greatest university,” offering an intense outdoor education, where everyone triple-majored in political philosophy, guerrilla tactics, and history. They bunked in communal dorms and tents, and they spent their days and nights in classes (principally on the works of their imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan) and bull sessions peppered with buzzwords like “praxis,” “radical feminism,” and “cultural hegemony” that reflected the movement’s origins in European academic leftism. They trained every day in warfare, maintained their ramshackle campus, and prepared mentally and physically for the day when they would leave their studies in the remote heights of the Qandil Mountains and go kill Turkish soldiers.

New York Sun

Getting to the Very Roots of Genocide

The New York Sun

Review of Blood and Soil, by Ben Kiernan.

How much murder is too much? Ethnic cleansing is a crime, but what qualifies? Does slaughtering a village count, or do you have to lay waste to a larger polity, perhaps with some torture thrown in? How many people do you have to kill before graduating from mere mass murder to full-on genocide?

The legal answer, strangely enough, is zero. In Ben Kiernan’s “Blood and Soil” (Yale University Press, 606 pages, $40), a meticulous new study of this most slippery of criminal categories, he points out that the standard definitions of genocide — those offered by the U.N.’s Genocide Convention and International Criminal Court Statute — require not even a single death, or indeed any physical harm at all. In fact, the génocidaire need not even target a whole ethnic group. To win a place in the defendant’s chair — or a mention in Mr. Kiernan’s book — requires only the attempt to cause that group “serious mental damage.” The extermination of European Jewry counts, but so does a single British colonial officer’s efforts to take away an Australian aboriginal child from her parents, involving, as it did, the intent to “breed out the color.”


A Toothless Accord on the PKK

Short contribution to Jane’s Foreign Report.

Atlantic Monthly

Riders on the Storm

The Atlantic, October 2007

Most of the hurricanes that strike the United States are born off the coast of West Africa, and nursed on tropical waters. As air warmed over the Atlantic surges up to meet the cool atmosphere, its heat turns into kinetic energy, creating a violent twist of wind and rain. The bigger the temperature difference between the hot sea and the cold upper air, the more furious the storm can grow.

Climate scientists, aided by ever-more-powerful computer models, are investigating whether it’s possible to choke these storms slowly, during their long drift west. They want to attack big hurricanes from above or below, sapping the storms’ strength by either heating up their chilly tops or chilling their hot underbellies. According to some models, well-timed interventions could diminish a hurricane by 40 percent—enough to turn a possible Category 5 storm into a mere Category 2 or 3, which would break windows and wreck trailer parks but leave most buildings intact.