Oh, gawd. Bobo is concerned that the US isn’t swinging its big dick in the world enough. In “The Leaderless Doctrine” he gibbers that there has been a shift in Americans’ understanding of the role of the U.S. and the nature of power, with complex and unnerving consequences. Mr. Cohen, in “Left Hand Among Bones,” says two children of the disappeared know the nature of endless loss. Here’s Bobo:
We’re in the middle of a remarkable shift in how Americans see the world and their own country’s role in the world. For the first time in half a century, a majority of Americans say that the U.S. should be less engaged in world affairs, according to the most recent Pew Research Center survey. For the first time in recorded history, a majority of Americans believe that their country has a declining influence on what’s happening around the globe. A slight majority of Americans now say that their country is doing too much to help solve the world’s problems.
At first blush, this looks like isolationism. After the exhaustion from Iraq and Afghanistan, and amid the lingering economic stagnation, Americans are turning inward.
But if you actually look at the data, you see that this is not the case. America is not turning inward economically. More than three-quarters of Americans believe the U.S. should get more economically integrated with the world, according to Pew.
America is not turning inward culturally. Large majorities embrace the globalization of culture and the internationalization of colleges and workplaces. Americans are not even turning inward when it comes to activism. They have enormous confidence in personalized peer-to-peer efforts to promote democracy, human rights and development.
What’s happening can be more accurately described this way: Americans have lost faith in the high politics of global affairs. They have lost faith in the idea that American political and military institutions can do much to shape the world. American opinion is marked by an amazing sense of limitation — that there are severe restrictions on what political and military efforts can do.
This sense of limits is shared equally among Democrats and Republicans, polls show. There has been surprisingly little outcry against the proposed defense cuts, which would reduce the size of the U.S. Army to its lowest levels since 1940. That’s because people are no longer sure military might gets you very much.
These shifts are not just a result of post-Iraq disillusionment, or anything the Obama administration has done. The shift in foreign policy values is a byproduct of a deeper and broader cultural shift.
The veterans of World War II returned to civilian life with a basic faith in big units — big armies, corporations and unions. They tended to embrace a hierarchical leadership style.
The Cold War was a competition between clearly defined nation-states.
Commanding American leaders created a liberal international order. They preserved that order with fleets that roamed the seas, armies stationed around the world and diplomatic skill.
Over the ensuing decades, that faith in big units has eroded — in all spheres of life. Management hierarchies have been flattened. Today people are more likely to believe that history is driven by people gathering in the squares and not from the top down. The liberal order is not a single system organized and defended by American military strength; it’s a spontaneous network of direct people-to-people contacts, flowing along the arteries of the Internet.
The real power in the world is not military or political. It is the power of individuals to withdraw their consent. In an age of global markets and global media, the power of the state and the tank, it is thought, can pale before the power of the swarms of individuals.
This is global affairs with the head chopped off. Political leaders are not at the forefront of history; real power is in the swarm. The ensuing doctrine is certainly not Reaganism — the belief that America should use its power to defeat tyranny and promote democracy. It’s not Kantian, or a belief that the world should be governed by international law. It’s not even realism — the belief that diplomats should play elaborate chess games to balance power and advance national interest. It’s a radical belief that the nature of power — where it comes from and how it can be used — has fundamentally shifted, and the people in the big offices just don’t get it.
It’s frankly naïve to believe that the world’s problems can be conquered through conflict-free cooperation and that the menaces to civilization, whether in the form of Putin or Iran, can be simply not faced. It’s the utopian belief that politics and conflict are optional.
One set of numbers in the data leaps out. For decades Americans have been asked if they believe most people can be trusted. Forty percent of baby boomers believe most people can be trusted. But only 19 percent of millennials believe that. This is a thoroughly globalized and linked generation with unprecedentedly low levels of social trust.
We live in a country in which many people act as if history is leaderless. Events emerge spontaneously from the ground up. Such a society is very hard to lead and summon. It can be governed only by someone who arouses intense moral loyalty, and even that may be fleeting.
The phrase “intense moral loyalty” gives me a case of hives. Smacks of torchlit rallies… Here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Buenos Aires:
In the end it was his father’s left hand, found a couple of years ago in a pile of charred bones outside La Plata, that enabled Gonzalo Reggiardo Tolosa to know for a fact the man he never knew was dead. This was physical knowledge, different from the almost-certain supposition with which he had lived ever since he discovered as a boy in the late 1980s that the couple who raised him and his twin brother Matías were not his parents.
Even his father’s remains did not constitute closure for this child of the “disappeared,” born in 1977 under the rule of Argentina’s military junta, seized at birth from parents who vanished into the vortex of the “Dirty War,” raised by a police officer named Samuel Miara and his wife Beatriz who initially insisted he was their son, thrust into foster care after Miara was jailed, then handed over to a biological uncle, told to forget his former life, and finally left to sift through the scattered fragments of his existence.
Still the trials go on.
“I am incredibly mad at the cruelty of not allowing a person to mourn his parents,” Reggiardo Tolosa tells me. “They did all they could to destroy the evidence. The other day I left the witness stand after giving testimony and broke down. I was sobbing. I am still trying to mourn my parents.”
We are seated in a Starbucks in the Argentine capital. It is a holiday, as usual. The streets are quiet — apart from the money-changers’ refrain: “Cambio, cambio, cambio.” Yet another little currency crisis has hit Argentina. Nobody wants pesos.
Reggiardo Tolosa speaks slowly of another time, when our sons of bitches, to paraphrase Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s apocryphal comment, did their foul business in the name of defeating communism in the Americas, and many thousands disappeared. His manner is gentle, his pain evident, still. This is what our sons of bitches wrought, a legacy without end.
His breakdown occurred last month. He and his brother were called to testify in a trial involving former army officers accused of involvement in killings under the junta at a clandestine facility called La Cacha, adjacent to Los Olmos prison in La Plata, where the twins’ parents were held before being “disappeared.”
One of the indicted, Ricardo Fernández, a former intelligence officer, is Gonzalo Reggiardo Tolosa’s godfather. His godfather! He was chosen by Miara, who always insisted, however, that Fernández had no role in abducting the twins. Now Reggiardo Tolosa is convinced Fernández was the conduit from the hell of La Cacha to the Miaras.
The twins arrived at the Miaras’ home on May 16, 1977. They have no birth certificate. It is estimated they were born around April 27. “What I must find out now is what exactly happened in those three weeks,” Reggiardo Tollosa says. Almost 37 years after he and his brother were taken, he is closing in on the truth.
I have known this man since he was a boy. His hair, now brown, was blond then. He and his brother were playing soccer in a yard in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción. I had followed a lead that the Miaras had fled to Paraguay with two boys born to a disappeared Argentine couple. Miara, when I confronted him in 1987, denied it. But the piece, published in The Wall Street Journal, helped secure his eventual extradition to Argentina.
Some stories will not leave you. They are your actual responsibility.
Reggiardo Tolosa is with his girlfriend, Jimena Vicario. She was a baby when, on Feb. 5, 1977, she was taken from her mother (who disappeared) during police questioning. She was dumped in a Buenos Aires hospital, raised by a woman who took pity. Her father, Juan Carlos Vicario, a Spanish citizen who fled Franco, was also murdered. The couple was about to leave for Spain when they vanished.
Jimena Vicario never gave blood for DNA testing, never wanted to know what exactly happened to her parents, never saw the point. Reggiardo Tolosa thinks she hates the tango and wants to get out of Argentina because that is what her parents were about to do when they were killed. For himself he cannot leave his football club (San Lorenzo), his city’s particular melancholy.
They first glimpsed each other as children in court. They re-met a year ago through Facebook. They laugh that there is so much they don’t have to explain to each other; that they don’t need to deal with in-laws; that money received in compensation for their loss disappeared in another currency crisis; and that they no longer have partners who, when angry, say: “Spare me your story yet again.”
They can laugh, just. The next trial, Reggiardo Tolosa says, will focus specifically on Fernández and the twins’ abduction. Perhaps then, he muses, “I will finish realizing I am an orphan.”