Subscribe to The Atlantic and get 2 free issues

He Remade Our World

A series of decisions, made more than a decade ago by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, still shape the world we live in today:

In the end, perhaps inevitably, Bush would disappoint Cheney, bowing, in the steely unforgiving view of the older man, to the shoddy demands of politics and the fear of “negative press stories.” As Cheney describes the end of the Stellar Wind confrontation in his memoirs, one can almost hear the condescending disappointment in the former vice-president’s voice:

“Faced with threats of resignation, the president decided to alter the NSA program, even though he and his advisors were confident of his constitutional authority to continue the program unchanged.”

PUBLISHED: March 27, 2014
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4186 words)

Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our favorite stories of the week, featuring Washingtonian, New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, Financial Times and Full Stop.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 24, 2014

On Breaking One's Neck

A senior physician gets a new perspective about what it's like to be critically ill under the U.S. medical care system after falling and breaking his neck:

What did this experience teach me about the current state of medical care in the US? Quite a lot, as it turns out. I always knew that the treatment of the critically ill in our best teaching hospitals was excellent. That was certainly confirmed by the life-saving treatment I received in the Massachusetts General emergency room. Physicians there simply refused to let me die (try as hard as I might). But what I hadn’t appreciated was the extent to which, when there is no emergency, new technologies and electronic record-keeping affect how doctors do their work. Attention to the masses of data generated by laboratory and imaging studies has shifted their focus away from the patient. Doctors now spend more time with their computers than at the bedside. That seemed true at both the ICU and Spaulding. Reading the physicians’ notes in the MGH and Spaulding records, I found only a few brief descriptions of how I felt or looked, but there were copious reports of the data from tests and monitoring devices. Conversations with my physicians were infrequent, brief, and hardly ever reported.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 20, 2014
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4024 words)

'The Greatest Catastrophe the World Has Ever Seen'

On the 100th anniversary of World War I, severalnewbooks examine how the global powers walked into it, and who really was to blame:

Thus was unleashed the calamitous conflict that, more than any other series of events, has shaped the world ever since; without it we can doubt that communism would have taken hold in Russia, fascism in Italy, and Nazism in Germany, or that global empires would have disintegrated so rapidly and so chaotically. A century on we still search for its causes, and very often, if possible, for people to blame. In the immediate aftermath of war that seemed clear to many: Germany, and especially its leaders, had been responsible; the Austrians too, as accomplices, in lesser degree. The Treaty of Versailles made this official, as the victorious powers there spoke of a “war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.” This was the notorious guilt clause used to justify severe “reparation” payments stretching far into the future. It was a widespread view, and ordinary Germans might have shared it if the vanquishers had not gone for the premise of collective responsibility, which undermined attempts to build a fresh German regime untainted by the past.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 18, 2014
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4424 words)

The Newspaper War That Gave Birth to Color Comics

How William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper battles kickstarted the modern era of comics:

The sudden explosion of color comics had been facilitated by new high-speed four-color printing presses, but “lead pipe” may have been the operative term in Hearst’s boast. The original comics were designed to stun—both their startling graphics and their rambunctious antics. “Mit dose kids, society is nix!” an adult character says of Hans and Fritz, the daemonic, chortling child protagonists of The Katzenjammer Kids which, although inspired by the German artist Wilhelm Busch’s humorous picture book Max und Moritz, may be considered America’s first fully realized comic strip.

PUBLISHED: Dec. 31, 2013
LENGTH: 6 minutes (1500 words)

The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?

Jed S. Rakoff, a United States District Judge, looks into why there were no criminal charges against bank executives, despite clear findings of fraud:

In striking contrast with these past prosecutions, not a single high-level executive has been successfully prosecuted in connection with the recent financial crisis, and given the fact that most of the relevant criminal provisions are governed by a five-year statute of limitations, it appears likely that none will be. It may not be too soon, therefore, to ask why.

One possibility, already mentioned, is that no fraud was committed. This possibility should not be discounted. Every case is different, and I, for one, have no opinion about whether criminal fraud was committed in any given instance.

But the stated opinion of those government entities asked to examine the financial crisis overall is not that no fraud was committed. Quite the contrary. For example, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, in its final report, uses variants of the word “fraud” no fewer than 157 times in describing what led to the crisis, concluding that there was a “systemic breakdown,” not just in accountability, but also in ethical behavior.

PUBLISHED: Dec. 18, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4036 words)

Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our story picks of the week, featuring the Hollywood Reporter, New York magazine, Wired, Oxford American and the New York Review of Books, with a guest pick by Teddy Worcester.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 29, 2013

Rumsfeld's War

A political history of Donald Rumsfeld, from the Nixon years to a war in Iraq that he promised would be over in months:

Rumsfeld would offer the “creative” plan for the Iraq invasion that his president had requested that tearful evening in September 2001, one that envisioned a relative handful of troops—150,000, fewer than half the number the elder Bush had assembled a decade before for the much less ambitious Desert Storm—and foresaw an invasion that would begin in shock and awe and an overwhelming rush to Baghdad. As for the occupation—well, if democracy were to come to Iraq it would be the Iraqis themselves who must build it. There would be no occupation, and thus no planning for it. Rumsfeld’s troops would be in and out in four months. As he told a then adoring press corps, “I don’t do quagmires.”

It did not turn out that way. Having watched from the Oval Office in 1975 the last torturous hours of the United States extracting itself from Vietnam—the helicopters fleeing the roof of the US embassy in Saigon—Rumsfeld would be condemned to thrash about in his self-made quagmire for almost four years, sinking ever deeper in the muck as nearly five thousand Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. He was smart, brash, ambitious, experienced, skeptical of received wisdom, jealous of civilian control, self-searching, analytical, domineering, and he aimed at nothing less than to transform the American military. The parallels with McNamara are stunning.

PUBLISHED: Nov. 27, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5011 words)

The Snowden Leaks and the Public

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger on what we’ve learned so far about the Edward Snowden leaks, our privacy, and the way our government, press and commercial Internet companies have handled it. In many cases, it can come down to people who aren’t quite sure what’s going on trusting the people who do know:

But I did have an interesting (unattributable, of course) briefing from someone very senior in one West Coast mega-corporation who conceded that neither he nor the CEO of his company had security clearance to know what arrangements his own organization had reached with the US government. “So, it’s like a company within a company?” I asked. He waved his hand dismissively: “I know the guy, I trust him.”

PUBLISHED: Oct. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5084 words)