A New Yorker’s View of War

Will George Bush declare war on Iraq? The question preoccupies the country and the world, but perhaps nowhere is it a more pressing, and thorny, question than in New York. While there are those New Yorkers who are attending peace rallies in Central Park, and others who thrill to the President’s war talk, most New Yorkers are caught somewhere in between. From a global geopolitical perspective, a New Yorker may very well believe that invading Iraq is a foolhardy and ultimately self-destructive thing to do. But from the perspective of a resident of this city post-Sept. 11, a city that remains the world’s No. 1 target for terrorists and deranged dictators with access to nuclear weapons, that same New Yorker likely has moments of being in favor of doing whatever it takes militarily to remove the not-so-subtle threats represented by Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il.

Both points of view are, of course, valid. It’s fair to conclude that an invasion of Iraq may result in thousands of American casualties while creating even more anti-American hatred in the Islamic world, breeding more terrorists and provoking Saddam Hussein into using chemical and biological weapons that he might otherwise not have used. We also know that, if we attack Iraq without the support of the United Nations, other countries such as India may feel at liberty to launch “preventative” wars against adversaries-in India’s case, nuclear-armed Pakistan. And we know that President Bush’s plan to have a democracy rise from the

rubble of Baghdad is a pipe dream, and could cost the U.S. and its allies-if we have any left-hundreds of billions of dollars and years of occupation by American forces.

But as New Yorkers, we cannot avoid the knowledge that was forced upon us on Sept 11. Unlike the rest of the country-with the exceptions of Oklahoma City and Washington, D.C.-New York knows firsthand the true cost of terrorism. The attack on the World Trade Center wasn’t just something seen on TV; we were eyewitnesses to the event. After Sept. 11, people across the country agreed that “the world has changed,” but perhaps only New Yorkers understand just what that means-namely, that American cities are no longer immune from horrible acts of war; that innocent people just going about their daily lives are

considered fair game for those who dislike our country, frenzied and determined young men who have no concern for losing their own lives and who are backed-openly or secretly-by Middle Eastern governments and billions of dollars of oil money.

And among American cities, none is as tempting a target as New York. Those who say that Saddam Hussein would never be able to unleash smallpox in Times Square, or deliver a crude nuclear weapon into New York harbor, would surely also have dismissed the possibility-as we all did-of men armed with box-cutters flying airliners into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, killing thousands of U.S. civilians. And now Mr. Hussein and others have seen just how easy it is to strike against America’s greatest city.

And so many New Yorkers are left without a clear place to stand when it comes to Iraq and other potential agents of our destruction. We see the big picture; but we lived through the details, and do not wish to do so again.

Boys’ Schools in Brooklyn

There’s good news to report from the city’s education front: Two groups in Brooklyn want to open charter schools for boys only. No doubt, civil libertarians and liberal advocacy groups will yammer on about discrimination. That’s fine-it’s a sign that single-sex education is a step in the right direction.

Several years ago, the Board of Education opened the girls-only Young Women’s Leadership School in East Harlem to much fanfare … and much criticism. Civil-rights groups-including, amazingly, the National Organization for Women-filed federal complaints and charged the school system with

sex discrimination. Now, however, the school’s stunning performance has vindicated the vision of its patron, Ann Rubenstein Tisch.

It should hardly come as a surprise that for some teenagers, co-ed schools provide unwanted pressures. Single-sex education has worked in Harlem, and now, if the state gives the O.K., it will be given a test in Brooklyn. One

school would be based in Bedford-Stuyvesant and would serve boys from kindergarten to fifth grade; the other would be for boys in grades 6 to 10.

It’s a timely proposal. As a recent 60 Minutes investigation showed, boys and young men are falling behind in education. Women are in the majority in the nation’s law schools and are making great strides in

medical schools. One person told 60 Minutes that many colleges and

universities secretly practice affirmative action for boys.

All the more reason why the state would be well-advised to approve the all-boys charter schools in Brooklyn. Something must be done to super-charge boys’ education. Otherwise, we’ll be looking at a world in which all the white-collar jobs are held by women, while men have nothing but blue-collar leftovers.

Morality in the Marketplace

If you follow your conscience, can you be successful in your job? This is a question that most ambitious New Yorkers have wrestled with, and it’s at the center of research being done by Howard Gardner, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Mr. Gardner believes that the question of morality in the workplace has gained urgency with the rise of the power of the marketplace and the decline of factors such as socialism, communism, fascism, community values and religion, which, Mr. Gardner argues, had previously acted as a moral compass for individuals. As he

recently told The New York Times , “If you feel that God is with you all the time and is looking at everything you do, you behave very differently.

How you work had an impact on whether you got into heaven.”

Without those previous guidelines, things can get murky. Mr. Gardner defines “good work” as “a combination of high-quality performance and social responsibility.” He said “bad work” occurs when “you have no authority figures at all, or the bulk of your peers are acting in an unethical fashion, or your own sense of right and wrong begins to atrophy.” He and colleagues are studying professionals in fields such as business, law,

higher education, medicine, social activism and journalism. The question they are exploring: “How do people who want to do good work-work that is excellent and responsible-succeed or fail at a time when market forces are unprecedentedly powerful and there are no countervailing forces?”

Mr. Gardner’s early research revealed that geneticists were among the happiest professionals, because they found their work important and meaningful. Which profession was the unhappiest, the most self-loathing, self-doubting and all-around miserable? Journalists.

A New Yorker’s View of War