From Kelly Jane Torrance’s fascinating interview with Mark Helprin (be sure to read the whole thing here):
MH: …I gave a speech that lasted 45 minutes or an hour, followed by a long question period. And one of the questions was about the democracy initiative, about changing Iraq into a democracy, and I am on record as saying—I don’t quite remember exactly, but I said more or less—I think it’s insane. I emphasize it like that, because among other things, if you count intensive language courses I took there in the summer as preparation, I spent almost three years in graduate school at Harvard in Middle Eastern Studies learning about Middle Eastern history, Arabic. And it was very clear to me, from the very beginning, that it’s impossible. If you know anything about Islamic civilization, or about the contemporary Middle East, about the sociology and the anthropology of the people who live there, and their recent history, and their religion, and their motivation and everything, then you realize that it’s not going to happen.
Even if it could be done, I don’t think it’s a desirable goal. Particularly as a Jew, I don’t like missionary work. I’ve had it focused on me, and I don’t like it. Let people be what they want to be. Now that doesn’t mean that we can’t explain what our point of view is. I would never back down from the American ideals, and we should make them known, whatever way we can, but the idea of actually embarking upon—and a crusade is a perfect word for it—a crusade to transform a culture, another culture . . . well, has it ever ended up in anything other than war? When we did it with Japan and Germany, it was after the war. They made on war on us, we hit them, and then we said, Okay, this is what we’re going to do. But the object of the war was not to—even though the propaganda may have said so—was not to change Japan and Germany into democracies. They both were democracies, to a large extent, already, but the object was to check them. My positions on this are complicated, but simple—and they’re all available.
DT: Have you found that your colleagues at places like the Wall Street Journal are unhappy with your criticism?
MH: Yes, I no longer am with the Journal.
DT: Is it because of this? Your thoughts on these issues?
MH: Pretty much, yes…