Just as I re-enter the flow of events after a twelve day trip to be with family in Louisiana, I am stunned to see that Jonathan Schell, one of the luminaries of my generation whose book Fate of the Earth, first serialized in the New Yorker, lit up the night sky for me, has died. Schell’s moving testament to the sickness that has infected the soul of our society since the dawn of the Nuclear Age made me realize, back in the bleak winter of 1981-82, that not only was I not alone in my assessment of humanity’s prospects, but that one could address this terrible situation, not with anger and angst, but with wisdom and a profound compassion for the suffering that attends being human during this critical, and protracted, turning point for Life on Earth.
Yes. The very language Schell used electrified me; moved me — into action and connection with others, at last, after a lifetime of what I can only look back on now and call a stuck, brooding depression. Thank you, Jonathan Schell, thank you, from the bottom of my heart and soul.
Colleagues and journalists ‘heartbroken’ at passing of trusted voice on perils of war and the power of nonviolence
March 26, 2014 Jon Queally, staff writer
The progressive community on Wednesday was celebrating the life, work, and activism of longtime writer and Yale University professor who passed away late Tuesday at his home in Brooklyn after a battle with cancer. A journalist who reported on the Vietnam War as a staff writer for The New Yorker and whose book, The Fate of the Earth, is still regarded as one of the great books on the nuclear threat, Schell became a longtime member of The Nation magazine’s community of writers and an activist who focused on nonviolent struggles, human rights, and ending the injustice associated with foreign wars abroad and assaults on liberty at home. Schell was a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and a lecturer at Yale University, where he taught courses on nonviolence and nuclear disarmament. Over the years, his work appeared in numerous print and online publications, including: The Nation, TomDispatch, Harper’s, Foreign Affairs, and Common Dreams. For a look at those articles which appeared on Common Dreams, click here. In the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and in its aftermath, Schell was an outspoken critic of the Bush administration and put particular emphasis on the failure of a pliant media that asked too few hard questions both before and during the war. In his last essay in a series based specifically on the aftermath of 9/11 and the misguided road to Iraq, titled ‘Letter from Ground Zero,’ Schell wrote movingly about how the flawed response to the attacks of September 11th, though clear for a time, at some point became hard to distinguish from deeper problems—both new and old— that he perceived were gripping the American republic. “Until recently,” he wrote in 2006, “it seemed possible to trace the main developments in the Bush administration’s policies back to that horrible, fantastical day in September 2001, as if following an unbroken chain of causes and effects. Now it no longer does. The chain is too entangled with other chains, of newer and older origin.” Though many voiced the idea that “9/11 changed everything,” Schell proved himself capable of more sophisticated analysis in which, despite the widespread damage and deep implications of those events and the Iraq War that followed, he concluded that “what remains most striking and most surprising is the degree of continuity of the systemic disorder in the face of radical, galloping change in almost every other area of political life.” And comparing the so-called ‘War on Terror’ to the Cold War that preceded it, Schell asked an essential question: “By looking at external foes, are we looking in the wrong place for the origins of [our society’s] illness?” In response to his death, Yale colleague Jim Sleeper offered a ‘fond farewell,’ calling Schell a “luminous, noble” individual who gave others a “powerful example of how to dissent” and concluded: “A much better society’s future is dimmed a bit by the loss of Jonathan Schell’s insight, magnanimity, and love.”