Saturday, February 12, 2005

Howard Zinn

Changing Minds, One at a Time
By Howard Zinn
The Progressive

March 2005 Issue

As I write this, the day after the inauguration, the banner headline in The New York Times reads: "BUSH, AT 2ND INAUGURAL, SAYS SPREAD OF LIBERTY IS THE 'CALLING OF OUR TIME.' "

Two days earlier, on an inside page of the Times, was a photo of a little girl, crouching, covered with blood, weeping. The caption read: "An Iraqi girl screamed yesterday after her parents were killed when American soldiers fired on their car when it failed to stop, despite warning shots, in Tal Afar, Iraq. The military is investigating the incident."

Today, there is a large photo in the Times of young people cheering the President as his entourage moves down Pennsylvania Avenue. They do not look very different from the young people shown in another part of the paper, along another part of Pennsylvania Avenue, protesting the inauguration.

I doubt that those young people cheering Bush saw the photo of the little girl. And even if they did, would it occur to them to juxtapose that photo to the words of George Bush about spreading liberty around the world?

That question leads me to a larger one, which I suspect most of us have pondered: What does it take to bring a turnaround in social consciousness - from being a racist to being in favor of racial equality, from being in favor of Bush's tax program to being against it, from being in favor of the war in Iraq to being against it? We desperately want an answer, because we know that the future of the human race depends on a radical change in social consciousness.

It seems to me that we need not engage in some fancy psychological experiment to learn the answer, but rather to look at ourselves and to talk to our friends. We then see, though it is unsettling, that we were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness - embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television.

This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas. It is so simple a thought that it is easily overlooked as we search, desperate in the face of war and apparently immovable power in ruthless hands, for some magical formula, some secret strategy to bring peace and justice to the land and to the world.

"What can I do?" The question is thrust at me again and again as if I possessed some mysterious solution unknown to others. The odd thing is that the question may be posed by someone sitting in an audience of a thousand people, whose very presence there is an instance of information being imparted which, if passed on, could have dramatic consequences. The answer then is as obvious and profound as the Buddhist mantra that says: "Look for the truth exactly on the spot where you stand."

Yes, thinking of the young people holding up the pro-Bush signs at the inauguration, there are those who will not be budged by new information. They will be shown the bloodied little girl whose parents have been killed by an American weapon, and find all sorts of reasons to dismiss it: "Accidents happen. . . . This was an aberration. . . . It is an unfortunate price of liberating a nation," and so on.

There is a hard core of people in the United States who will not be moved, whatever facts you present, from their conviction that this nation means only to do good, and almost always does good, in the world, that it is the beacon of liberty and freedom (words used forty-two times in Bush's inauguration speech). But that core is a minority, as is that core of people who carried signs of protest at the inauguration.

In between those two minorities stand a huge number of Americans who have been brought up to believe in the beneficence of our nation, who find it hard to believe otherwise, but who can rethink their beliefs when presented with information new to them.

Is that not the history of social movements?

There was a hard core of people in this country who believed in the institution of slavery. Between the 1830s, when a tiny group of Abolitionists began their agitation, and the 1850s, when disobedience of the fugitive slave acts reached their height, the Northern public, at first ready to do violence to the agitators, now embraced their cause. What happened in those years? The reality of slavery, its cruelty, as well as the heroism of its resisters, was made evident to Americans through the speeches and writings of the Abolitionists, the testimony of escaped slaves, the presence of magnificent black witnesses like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

Something similar happened during those years of the Southern black movement, starting with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the marches. White people - not only in the North, but also in the South - were startled into an awareness of the long history of humiliation of millions of people who had been invisible and who now demanded their rights.

When the Vietnam War began, two-thirds of the American public supported the war. A few years later, two-thirds opposed the war. While some remained adamantly pro-war, one-third of the population had learned things that overthrew previously held ideas about the essential goodness of the American intervention in Vietnam. The human consequences of the fierce bombing campaigns, the "search and destroy" missions, became clear in the image of the naked young girl, her skin shredded by napalm, running down a road; the women and children huddled in the trenches in My Lai with soldiers pouring rifle fire onto them; Marines setting fire to peasant huts while the occupants stood by, weeping.

Those images made it impossible for most Americans to believe President Johnson when he said we were fighting for the freedom of the Vietnamese people, that it was all worthwhile because it was part of the worldwide struggle against Communism.

In his inauguration speech, and indeed, through all four years of his presidency, George Bush has insisted that our violence in Afghanistan and Iraq has been in the interest of freedom and democracy, and essential to the "war on terrorism." When the war on Iraq began almost two years ago, about three-fourths of Americans supported the war. Today, the public opinion polls show that at least half of the citizenry believes it was wrong to go to war.

What has happened in these two years is clear: a steady erosion of support for the war, as the public has become more and more aware that the Iraqi people, who were supposed to greet the U.S. troops with flowers, are overwhelmingly opposed to the occupation. Despite the reluctance of the major media to show the frightful toll of the war on Iraqi men, women, children, or to show U.S. soldiers with amputated limbs, enough of those images have broken through, joined by the grimly rising death toll, to have an effect.

But there is still a large pool of Americans, beyond the hard-core minority who will not be dissuaded by any facts (and it would be a waste of energy to make them the object of our attention), who are open to change. For them, it would be important to measure Bush's grandiose inaugural talk about the "spread of liberty" against the historical record of American expansion.

It is a challenge not just for the teachers of the young to give them information they will not get in the standard textbooks, but for everyone else who has an opportunity to speak to friends and neighbors and work associates, to write letters to newspapers, to call in on talk shows.

The history is powerful: the story of the lies and massacres that accompanied our national expansion, first across the continent victimizing Native Americans, then overseas as we left death and destruction in our wake in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and especially the Philippines. The long occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the repeated dispatch of Marines into Central America, the deaths of millions of Koreans and Vietnamese, none of them resulting in democracy and liberty for those people.

Add to all that the toll of the American young, especially the poor, black and white, a toll measured not only by the corpses and the amputated limbs, but the damaged minds and corrupted sensibilities that result from war.

Those truths make their way, against all obstacles, and break down the credibility of the warmakers, juxtaposing what reality teaches against the rhetoric of inaugural addresses and White House briefings. The work of a movement is to enhance that learning, make clear the disconnect between the rhetoric of "liberty" and the photo of a bloodied little girl, weeping.

And also to go beyond the depiction of past and present, and suggest an alternative to the paths of greed and violence. All through history, people working for change have been inspired by visions of a different world. It is possible, here in the United States, to point to our enormous wealth and suggest how, once not wasted on war or siphoned off to the super-rich, that wealth can make possible a truly just society.

The juxtapositions wait to be made. The recent disaster in Asia, alongside the millions dying of AIDS in Africa, next to the $500 billion military budget, cry out for justice. The words of people from all over the world gathered year after year in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and other places - "a new world is possible" - point to a time when national boundaries are erased, when the natural riches of the world are used for everyone.

The false promises of the rich and powerful about "spreading liberty" can be fulfilled, not by them, but by the concerted effort of us all, as the truth comes out, and our numbers grow.

Howard Zinn's latest work (with Anthony Arnove) is "Voices of a People's History of the United States."

Jump to today's TO Features:

How The Nation Got Tricked....

February 12, 2005
A Vital Job Goes Begging

Add to the painful postmortems of 9/11 this week's disclosure that federal aviation officials were more lulled than alarmed by a steady stream of intelligence warnings about Osama bin Laden in the months before the terrorist attacks. As with numerous other intelligence failures uncovered by the Sept. 11 commission, the warnings - dozens of them - were not deemed specific enough to provide adequate defenses at the nation's airports, according to Federal Aviation Administration officials. In 105 intelligence reports received during the five months preceding the attacks, Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda were mentioned 52 times, according to the commission, which faulted the F.A.A. for not doing enough to heighten security.

These latest details were contained in a chapter of the commission's final report that was withheld by the Bush administration for months, heavily censored and then released to the public only after Eric Lichtblau printed details in The Times. They point to the cornucopia of intelligence that was flowing through federal bureaucracies without benefit of an authoritative analysis to pinpoint the looming threat. The F.A.A. got the reports through a 24-hour liaison it maintained with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department. It's not clear from this latest report, or at least the portion the White House thought fit for public consumption, whether those agencies passed on the warnings to the White House.

It is clear that none of those agencies connected the dots in time. That's a familiar, grim lesson, but, sadly, Americans should not conclude that it has been taken to heart. The problem of "stovepiping" - rival intelligence gathering conducted without effective coordination by the 15 national spy agencies - still awaits a firm hand to bring order from bureaucratic chaos. If anything, fresh mischief is afoot as the Pentagon is lately reported to have created specialized overseas espionage teams, thereby angering the C.I.A., while the F.B.I. is reported to be recruiting foreigners as overseas spies, further raising C.I.A. hackles.

Still, no one's in charge. The newly created post of national intelligence director is supposed to rein in these agency rivalries. But the job remains vacant eight weeks after President Bush signed the intelligence overhaul law that he reluctantly accepted after the 9/11 commission pressed Congress for reform. One prime candidate, Robert Gates, a former director of central intelligence, has already declined consideration for the job - which has been so whittled down by back-room deals in Congress that it strikes many Washington insiders as thankless. As now configured, it involves refereeing disputes between the Pentagon and civilian spy agencies, minus the full powers the director needs to hire and fire and to control the disparate agencies.

For all his earlier reluctance, it will take President Bush to step up and embrace the intelligence reform law with enough conviction to attract a top-flight director willing to serve the nation and take on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. His choice will then need the backing of the president's moral and political authority. Otherwise, the nation's intelligence shield threatens to slip even further.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Arthur Miller Dies at 89 NY Times

February 11, 2005
Arthur Miller, Legendary American Playwright, Is Dead

Arthur Miller, one of the great American playwrights, whose work exposed the flaws in the fabric of the American dream, died Thursday night at his home in Roxbury, Conn. He was 89. The cause was congestive heart failure, said Julia Bolus, his assistant.

The author of "Death of a Salesman," a landmark of 20th-century drama, Mr. Miller grappled with the weightiest matters of social conscience in his plays. They often reflected or reinterpreted the stormy and very public elements of his own life, including his brief and rocky marriage to Marilyn Monroe and his staunch refusal to cooperate with the red-baiting House Committee on Un-American Activities.

"Death of a Salesman," which opened on Broadway in 1949, established Mr. Miller as a giant of the American theater when he was only 33 years old. It won the triple crown of theatrical artistry that year: the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Tony Award.

But the play's enormous success also overshadowed Mr. Miller's long career. Although "The Crucible," a 1953 play about the Salem witch trials inspired by his virulent hatred of McCarthyism, and "A View From the Bridge," a 1955 drama of obsession and betrayal, would ultimately take their place as popular classics of the international stage, Mr. Miller's later plays never equaled his early successes. Although he wrote a total of 17 plays, "The Price," produced on Broadway during the 1967-68 season, was his last solid critical and commercial hit.

Nevertheless, Mr. Miller wrote successfully in a wide variety of other media. Perhaps most notably, he supplied the screenplay for "The Misfits," a 1961 movie directed by John Huston and starring Monroe, to whom he was married at the time. He also wrote essays, short stories and a 1987 autobiography, "Timebends: A Life." His writing remained politically engaged until the end of his life.

But his reputation rests on a handful of his best-known plays, the dramas of guilt and betrayal and redemption that continue to be revived frequently at theaters all over the world. These dramas of social conscience were drawn from life and informed by the Great Depression, the event that he believed had had a more profound impact on the nation than any other in American history, except possibly the Civil War.

"In play after play," the drama critic Mel Gussow wrote in The New York Times, "he holds man responsible for his and for his neighbor's actions."

Elia Kazan, who directed "All My Sons," "Death of a Salesman" and "After the Fall," recalled that "in the 30's and 40's, we came out of the Group Theater tradition that every play should teach a lesson and make a thematic point."

"Arthur organized his plays so that they came to a thematic climax," Kazan said. "He urged you to accept the thematic point."

The Broadway producer Robert Whitehead, who worked frequently with Mr. Miller, found a "rabbinical righteousness" in the playwright. "In his work, there is almost a conscious need to be a light onto the world. ... He spent his life seeking answers to what he saw around him as a world of injustice."

Mr. Miller, a lanky, wiry man whose dark hair turned to gray in his later years, retained the appearance of a 1930's intellectual whether wearing work boots and blue jeans while fixing his back porch or seated behind his word processor or typewriter when the power failed at his 350-acre farm in Litchfield County.

Writing plays was for him, he once said, like breathing. He wrote in "Timebends" that when he was young, he "imagined that with the possible exception of a doctor saving a life, writing a worthy play was the most important thing a human being could do."

He also saw playwriting as a way to change America, and, as he put it, "that meant grabbing people and shaking them by the back of the neck."

He had known hard work firsthand in an automobile-parts warehouse during the Depression; in what he called a mouse house, where he earned $15 a month feeding mice used in medical experiments; and on the night shift in the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II.

But Mr. Miller called playwriting the hardest work of all. "You know," he said, "a playwright lives in an occupied country. He's the enemy. And if you can't live like that, you don't stay. It's tough. He's got to be able to take a whack, and he's got to swallow bicycles and digest them."

What Mr. Miller could not swallow was critics. During a 1987 interview, he dismissed them as "people who can't sing or dance." It was a reprise on a bitter theme he had sounded throughout his working life.

"I'm a fatalist," he said. "I consider I am rejected in principle. My work is, and through my work, I am. If it's accepted, it's miraculous or the result of a misunderstanding."

Mr. Miller once said, "I never had a critic in my corner in this country," and said he never saved the reviews of his plays, even the raves.

"There's an instinct in me that I had to exist apart from them, lest I rely on them for my esteem or despair," he said. "I don't know a critic who penetrates the center of anything."

Mr. Miller's antipathy was understandable. At one moment he was hailed as the greatest living playwright, and at another as a has-been whose greatest successes were decades behind him. Even at the height of his success, Mr. Miller's work received harsh criticism from some prominent critics. Eric Bentley, the drama critic for The New Republic in the 1950's, dismissed "The Crucible" writing, "The world has made this author important before he has made himself great."

Mr. Miller also despaired of the American theater, which he believed was too profit-oriented to allow writers and actors to flourish. He noted that opera and ballet in America were supported through contributions, but that what he called the "brutal inanity" of Broadway required that the American theater pay for itself.

"If the thing is gonna be regarded the same as the fish business, it ain't gonna work," he said in the feisty tones of his New York City boyhood. "In the whole entertainment enterprise, the theater has become a fifth wheel. People only take parts hoping it will lead to the movies."

Arthur Miller was born on West 110th Street in Manhattan on Oct. 17, 1915, to Augusta and Isidore Miller. His father was a coat manufacturer, and so prosperous that he rode in a chauffeur-driven car from the family apartment overlooking the northern edge of Central Park to the Seventh Avenue garment district. For young Arthur, life, as remembered in "Timebends," unfolded "as a kind of scroll whose message was surprise and mostly good news."

The Depression changed everything for the family, and it became a theme that etched its way through Arthur Miller's plays, from "Death of a Salesman" to "The Price" and "After the Fall," from "The American Clock" to "A Memory of Two Mondays." The crash meant the collapse of the coat business and a move from the apartment overlooking the park to considerably reduced circumstances in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, where the teenage Arthur worked as a delivery boy for a bakery and developed a knack for carpentry, which left him fascinated, he said, with "the idea of creating a new shadow on the earth."

He attended James Madison High School, graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1932, and then went to work in the auto parts warehouse, earning $15 a week and saving $13 each week for college. Mr. Miller said he was not much of a student, but he knew by the time he was 16 that he wanted to be a writer. He recalled a terrific urge to tell stories, a talent that he said made him a center of attention at Dozick's corner drugstore.

When he had put away enough money for his freshman year, Mr. Miller went to the University of Michigan with the hope that he could write a play good enough to win the Avery Hopwood Award, an honor administered by the university that carried a prize of $250, enough for a second year at college.


He did not win the first year, but managed to scrape together enough money to go back. He went on to win two Hopwood Awards, as well as a $1,200 award from the Bureau of New Plays of the Theater Guild. He earned more money by winning that one award than he had earned in three years at the warehouse. It became clearer than ever that playwriting was for him.

Within two years after his graduation, Mr. Miller had written six plays, every one of them rejected by producers except for "The Man Who Had All the Luck." When that play lasted only four performances on Broadway in 1944, he added two or three more plays to the reject pile and wrote "Focus," a novel about anti-Semitism.

In 1940 he married his college sweetheart, Mary Grace Slattery, with whom he soon had two children. To support his family he worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, wrote scripts for radio and gave himself a final shot at writing a play.

"I laid myself a wager," he wrote in his autobiography. "I would hold back this play until I was as sure as I could be that every page was integral to the whole and would work; then, if my judgment of it proved wrong, I would leave the theater behind and write in other forms."

That play was "All My Sons," which Brooks Atkinson, the drama critic of The New York Times, called "an honest, forceful drama about a group of people caught up in a monstrous swindle that has caused the death of 21 Army pilots because of defectively manufactured cylinder heads." It was selected as one of the 10 best plays of 1947, won two Tony Awards and took the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. (Eugene O'Neill's "Iceman Cometh" was the runner-up.)

"All My Sons" enjoyed a revival and new relevance when it was shown on public television in 1987, a year after the Challenger space shuttle exploded because of defective seals in the joints of its booster rocket.

In 1949 Willy Loman, riding on "a smile and a shoeshine" and determined to be not just liked but well liked, made his way into American consciousness in "Death of a Salesman." Mr. Miller wrote the play in six weeks, and for the first time in Broadway history, a play made a clean sweep of the top three awards: the Pulitzer, the Tony and the Drama Critics' Circle.

Acclaimed as a modern American masterpiece in its first reviews, translated into 29 languages and performed even in Beijing, "Salesman" was no sooner a major success of the Broadway stage than it was savaged in the intellectual journals as sentimental melodrama or Marxist propaganda.

"Death of a Salesman" stunned audiences. Mr. Atkinson called it "a rare event in the theater" and "a suburban epic that may not be intended as poetry but becomes poetry in spite of itself."

Lines from the play became hallmarks of the postwar era. "You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away," Willy bellowed, coming to grip with the fact that he was no longer the hot-shot salesman he once was and finding himself pleading with his young boss to keep his job. "A man is not a piece of fruit." More eloquently, Willy's careworn wife spoke for the inherent dignity of her husband's life, providing a stirring refutation of the cruelties of America's capitalist culture: "Attention must be paid."

In 1950, Mr. Miller wrote an adaptation of Ibsen's drama "An Enemy of the People." This 19th-century play, whose hero resisted pressure to conform to the ideology of the day, resonated in the McCarthyite climate of the mid-20th century. Mr. Miller was encouraged to undertake the work by one of the foremost acting couples of that generation, Fredric March and his wife, Florence Eldridge, who, Mr. Miller wrote, were suing a man for libeling them as Communists and had agreed to play the leading roles.

The work, in philosophy at least, served as a forerunner of "The Crucible," a dramatization of the Salem witch hunt of the 17th century that implicitly articulated Mr. Miller's outrage at McCarthyism. In his autobiography he recalled that at one performance, upon the execution of the leading character, John Proctor, people in the audience "stood up and remained silent for a couple of minutes with heads bowed" because "the Rosenbergs were at that moment being electrocuted in Sing Sing."

"The Crucible" marked Mr. Miller's explosive rift with Kazan, the director of his greatest successes. Kazan's decision to name names at a House Committee on un-American Activities hearing incensed Mr. Miller, and the play was seen by some as a personal rebuke. Searching for a replacement, Mr. Miller and his producer, Kermit Bloomgarden, turned to Jed Harris, a domineering director whose career had faltered after a string of successes in the 1920's.

But Mr. Harris' production was not well received, with Atkinson criticizing his "overwrought" work. Five months into the run, with the box office lagging, Mr. Miller restaged the play himself, inserting a scene that had been cut. The revised version was better received, but the initial run was still unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, the play won Mr. Miller another Tony Award in 1953 and would go on to become his most frequently produced work.

"I can almost always tell what the political situation is in a country when the play is suddenly a hit there," he wrote in "Timebends." "It is either a warning of tyranny on the way or a reminder of tyranny just past."

Mr. Miller recalled that when he wrote "The Crucible," he hoped it would be seen as an affirmation of the struggle for liberty, for keeping one's own conscience.

"That's what it's become," he said with considerable satisfaction in a 1987 interview. "I was very moved by that play once again when the Royal Shakespeare Company did a production that toured the cathedrals of England. Then they took it to Poland and performed it in the cathedrals there, too. The actors said it changed their lives. Officials wept; they were speechless after the play, and everyone knew why. It was because they had to enforce the kind of repression the play was attacking. That made me prouder than anything I ever did in my life. The mission of the theater, after all, is to change, to raise the consciousness of people to their human possibilities."

In 1956, Mr. Miller was himself called to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. By this time, his relationship with Monroe had made him a far more public figure than any of the awards he had won, and therefore a prime target who could attract attention to the committee in its waning days. Mr. Miller wrote in "Timebends" that his lawyer said there had even been an offer to cancel the hearing "provided Marilyn agrees to be photographed shaking hands" with the chairman of the committee, Representative Francis E. Walter of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Miller was applauded in Hollywood and in New York theater circles when he refused to name names, a courageous act in an atmosphere of palpable fear. He was cited for contempt of Congress, although he said he had never joined the Communist Party.

Of Mr. Miller's performance before the committee, Mr. Atkinson wrote in 1957: "He refused to be an informer. He refused to turn his private conscience over to administration by the state. He has accordingly been found in contempt of Congress. That is the measure of the man who has written these high-minded plays."

The year he appeared before the committee was the year the University of Michigan gave him an honorary degree. Two years later, the courts dismissed his citation for contempt of Congress.

In 1956, even as Mr. Miller's testimony had continued, he and Monroe were married, a union that Norman Mailer sourly remarked brought together "the Great American Brain" and "the Great American Body." The marriage - less than a month after his divorce from Ms. Slattery and two years after her divorce from Joe DiMaggio - was the consummation of a lengthy obsession that Miller, a moralist, had agonized over and even guiltily confessed to his wife. (John Proctor, the flawed hero of "The Crucible" in 1953, confesses a similar affair with a younger woman.)

He and Monroe had met in 1951 at a Hollywood party. Monroe was dating Kazan at the time, but the director had asked Mr. Miller, the newly minted Pulitzer winner, to cover for him as Kazan went on a date with another actress. It was a decision that Kazan would later regret as Monroe - the struggling, richly ambitious young actress - and Miller, the bold young voice of American theater, seemed to bond immediately.

"I watched them dance," Kazan would recall years later in his autobiography. "Art was a good dancer. And how happy she was in his arms!"

Whether both men's attraction - and sexual involvement - with Monroe played a part in their professional alienation is unclear. But in the end Miller captured Monroe's heart and she his mind.

For most of the four years of that marriage, Mr. Miller wrote almost nothing except "The Misfits," composed as a gift to his wife, who found herself increasingly tormented by personal demons and drug abuse despite a deep love for her husband. The film would premiere early 1961, shortly after the couple's marriage ended in divorce. A year later, Mr. Miller would remarry, and six months after that, Ms. Monroe would be found dead, a suicide, at her house in Los Angeles.

In a biography of Monroe, Maurice Zolotow wrote that Mr. Miller had "to give up his entire time to attend to her wants."

He was once asked if he had resented having to care for her to the detriment of his work. "Oh, yeah," he answered.

"After the Fall," his most overtly autobiographical play, brought Mr. Miller a storm of criticism when it was produced in 1964, shortly after Monroe's death. The play, which had been written soon after the collapse of their marriage, implies a search for understanding of his responsibility toward her, of her inability to cope and of his failure to help her. He insisted that he was dealing with large human themes and professed surprise when critics noted the resemblance between Monroe and Maggie, the drug-addicted, blond-wigged protagonist in the play, and accused him of capitalizing on Monroe's fame and defiling her image.

"The play," he said at the time, "is a work of fiction. No one is reported in this play. The characters are created as they are in any other play in order to develop a coherent theme, which in this case concerns the nature of human insight, of self-destructiveness and violence toward others." And although many of the characters were seen as thinly veiled representations of Mr. Miller himself and the people who had passed through his life, he said they resembled real people "neither more nor less than any other play I ever wrote."

Almost no one took his explanations at face value, and some of his critics considered the play a cruel way of getting even, not only with Marilyn Monroe but with her teachers from the Actors Studio, Paula and Lee Strasberg, who came in for Mr. Miller's special contempt.

Similar criticisms were voiced when Mr. Miller's last play, "Finishing the Picture," was produced at the Goodman Theater in Chicago in the fall of 2004. The play depicted the making of the movie "The Misfits."

But "After the Fall" did occasion Mr. Miller's reunion with Kazan, the most insightful director of his work. It was brought about by Mr. Whitehead, one of the architects of the ambitious plan to create an American repertory theater company as part of the new Lincoln Center complex. In his autobiography, "A Life," Kazan wrote, "Once brought together, Art and I got along well - even though I was somewhat tense in his company, because we'd never discussed (and never did discuss) the reasons for our 'break.' "

"After the Fall" was the inaugural production of the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center, although the new Vivian Beaumont Theater was not finished in time and the first season of the company was produced elsewhere. Mr. Miller contributed a second play, "Incident at Vichy," to the following season, but it, too, was not well received. Mr. Miller accepted the presidency of PEN International, the association of poets, editors, essayists, novelists and other literary figures, in 1965, and became increasingly active in defending the rights of writers. He was fond of recalling an appeal he received in 1966 to send some sort of message to Gen. Yakubu Gowon, who was about to take over the Nigerian government, to save the Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, who was facing execution.

"Gowon," he wrote in his autobiography, "on seeing my name, asked ... whether I was the writer who had been married to Marilyn Monroe and, assured that that was so, ordered Soyinka released. How Marilyn would have enjoyed that one!" Mr. Soyinka went on to win the Nobel Prize in literature in 1986.

Mr. Miller, who had spoken against the Vietnam War in 1965 at the first teach-ins on the subject at the University of Michigan, was also active in local political affairs in Connecticut and was elected to serve as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1968.

In 1967, he published a book of short stories, "I Don't Need You Any More," and continued to write plays. "The Price," a drama about two brothers, one a successful surgeon, the other a police officer who had given up the chance for a more promising career to support his father, was a modest success and received some critical approbation. Both would become increasingly elusive in the years that followed, even as Mr. Miller's works began to appear Off Broadway.

"The Creation of the World and Other Business," a serio-comic treatment of the human predicament in the Garden of Eden, closed after 20 performances on Broadway in 1972. Two years later, Mr. Miller turned to Genesis again and reworked "The Creation of the World" for his first musical, "Up From Paradise." It was produced Off Broadway and it, too, flopped.

Two later plays, "The Archbishop's Ceiling" (1976) and "The American Clock" (1980), which recalled his family's struggle during the Depression, were more successful in London than in the United States.

Mr. Miller made a less than triumphal return to Lincoln Center in 1987 with two one-act plays about the danger of remembering and the danger of forgetting, called "Danger: Memory!" Frank Rich, who was then the chief drama critic of The New York Times, wrote in a review, "While Arthur Miller's admirable voice of conscience remains firm as always, 'Danger: Memory!' is an evening in which the pontificator wins out over the playwright."

Mr. Miller enjoyed greater critical acclaim in 1980 with his dramatization for television of "Playing for Time," a book by Fania Fenelon, who survived Auschwitz by playing the violin to entertain Nazi officers. Mr. Miller opposed demands to have Vanessa Redgrave removed from the lead role because of her support of Palestinian causes.

"To fire her now because of her political views would be blacklisting," Mr. Miller said. "Having been blacklisted myself in time past, I have fought against the practice abroad as well as here, and I cannot participate in it now."

In his later years, Mr. Miller seemed to get greater satisfaction from writing books, although he continued the difficult work of writing plays.

After his divorce from Miss Monroe, Mr. Miller married Inge Morath, the Austrian-born photographer, with whom he had a daughter, Rebecca, an actress and a painter. With Ms. Morath, Mr. Miller collaborated on a number of books: "In Russia" (1969), "In the Country" (1977), "Chinese Encounters" (1979) and " 'Salesman' in Beijing" (1984).

Ms. Morath died in 2002. Besides Rebecca, he is survived by the children of his first marriage, Jane and Robert; a sister, Joan Copeland, an actress; and four grandchildren. He is also survived by his companion, Agnes Barley, a young painter whom he met shortly after Ms. Morath's death.

After his autobiography was published in 1987, he reflected in an interview on the course he had taken in life. "It has gone through my mind how much time I wasted in the theater, if only because when you write a book you pack it up and send it off," he said. "In the theater, you spend months casting actors who are busy in the movies anyway and then to get struck down in half an hour, as has happened to me more than once ... You have to say to yourself: 'Why do it? It's almost insulting.'"

But when asked how he wanted to be remembered, he did not hesitate. "I hope as a playwright," he said. "That would be all of it."

Charles Isherwood and Jesse McKinley contributed reporting for this article.

February 12, 2005
Miller Recalled as Last of Giants

Brian Dennehy was already well into his run as Willy Loman in the 1999 Broadway revival of "Death of a Salesman" when the play's author, Arthur Miller, approached him with a small note on his performance.

"He said, 'You're leaving out a line,' " Mr. Dennehy recalled yesterday. "And I said: 'I don't think so. What line?' And he said, 'You're leaving out an "Oh" in the bar scene.' "

That eye (or ear) for detail was just one of the many creative traits being celebrated along Broadway yesterday, where Mr. Miller was a force for 60 years - from his debut in 1944 with "The Man Who Had All the Luck" to last year's revival of his autobiographical drama "After the Fall." His unparalleled run touched generations of actors, directors and playwrights.

"I think Arthur was one of the last giants to stride the earth," said Robert Falls, who directed the "Salesman" revival that starred Mr. Dennehy. "With Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill, they created the serious American drama. Broadway has changed, of course, but I think he's one of the three giants, and the last one saying this is serious business and must be taken that way."

Indeed, for those who worked with him, Mr. Miller exemplified the ideal man of the theater: a high-minded, hard-working aesthete blessed with a surprising open-mindedness, especially considering his accomplishments. "He loved talking to actors," said the actress Frances Conroy, who appeared on Broadway in two of Mr. Miller's later plays, "Broken Glass" and "The Ride Down Mount Morgan." "He wrote great notes. They were so clear. He was shy to people he didn't know, but he was always open to an actor that was working with him."

John Guare, whose works include "Six Degrees of Separation" and "The House of Blue Leaves," was a young playwright on the rise when he first met Mr. Miller at the Midtown restaurant La Strada with the legendary producer Robert Whitehead.

"Whitehead was, like, 'Oh, you know Arthur Miller,' and I was, like, 'Er, uh, oh, hi,' " Mr. Guare said. "But Arthur just sat down and did, like, 20 minutes of stand-up comedy about the business. And it was always the best kind of shop talk."

For playwrights like Mr. Guare, Mr. Miller was a hero for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that he favored theater over the more lucrative lights of Hollywood. "Arthur made the choice of being a playwright a moral choice," Mr. Guare said. "If you had the ability to write plays, you simply had to."

Mr. Miller's social and political stands - his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, his opposition to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy - "took the playwright out of the ivory tower," Mr. Guare added. "Arthur was there - in real life."

"Politically, sexually, whatever," Mr. Guare said, "he was in the front row."

The playwright Tony Kushner, who, like Mr. Miller, has often mixed his art and his politics, echoed that sentiment. "As a political figure, he was a progressive man, but never doctrinaire," Mr. Kushner said. "There was a simplicity, and humbleness, and decency in his work."

He said he was always most impressed by the literary craftsmanship of Mr. Miller's plays. "They are staggeringly well structured," he said. "I've read them over and over again, trying to figure out how the hell he did it."

For actors, even big stars, working with Mr. Miller was considered a badge of honor. Liam Neeson, who appeared in the 2002 Broadway revival of Mr. Miller's "Crucible," described him as "an intellectual and a farmer and a carpenter, too." Mr. Neeson, who wasn't born when "Death of a Salesman" had its premiere in 1949, said he held Mr. Miller in awe and counted working with him as "one experience I keep in the memory bank."

In particular, Mr. Neeson remembered that he and his fellow cast members held their collective breath after an early run-through of "The Crucible."

"The lights came up," he said, "and there was one man sitting in a chair, and it was Arthur." The one thing that pulled us through was that it would never be as tough as that." Daunting as he was, however, Mr. Miller soon smiled and said he approved.

David Richenthal, who produced three of Mr. Miller's plays on Broadway, said that Mr. Miller's children would probably handle his estate. He added that he, Mr. Falls and Mr. Dennehy were planning a London production of "Salesman" in May.

"Arthur was very involved in it," Mr. Richenthal said. "He was very enthusiastic and wanted to make the trip for the opening."

A tall man whose frame seemed to fill any doorway, Mr. Miller was repeatedly described by Mr. Richenthal and others in terms that suggested both his physical and his cultural stature. (Mr. Neeson called him "a big, sexy giant.")

Mr. Dennehy summed up: "He was a planet and there aren't many of those. And his passing affects the gravity of all of our existences."

February 11, 2005
A Playwright Whose Convictions Challenged Conventions

Arthur Miller may or may not be the greatest playwright America has produced - Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams both have equal, if not more, claim to that phantom title - but he is certainly the most American of the country's greatest playwrights.

He was the moralist of the three, and America, as some recent pollsters rushed to remind us, is a country that likes moralists. The irony, of course, is that Mr. Miller's strongest plays are fired by convictions that assail some of the central ideals enshrined in American culture.

If O'Neill's concerns were more cosmic, and Williams' more psychological, Miller wrote most forcefully of man in conflict with society. His characters have no existence outside the context of their culture; they live only in relation to other men. Indeed, it was a fierce belief in man's responsibility to his fellow man - and the self-destruction that followed on his betrayal of that responsibility - that animated Mr. Miller's most significant work.

His greatest concerns, in the handful of major plays on which his reputation will last, were with the moral corruption brought on by bending one's ideals to society's dictates, buying into the values of a group when they conflict with the voice of personal conscience. To sell out your brother is to sell out yourself, Mr. Miller firmly believed.

Like all artists, Mr. Miller was a product of a particular historical moment. He lived through the Depression, absorbed the fiery righteousness of Clifford Odets's agitprop, and began writing plays just before and during the years of World War II. His first great success, "All My Sons," produced in 1947, fired a warning shot in the face of the country's growing complacency, in the wake of a war that was seen as establishing America's reputation as both the world's policeman and its moral conscience.

Mr. Miller's play scorchingly questioned that status, shining a harsh light on the ethos that underlay an exclusive veneration of individual rights. "All My Sons," in which a middle-class businessman looking out for his family causes the deaths of Army pilots, argued that a moral code that heedlessly placed the interests of the individual over responsibility to the group could breed corruption and destruction.

The roots of Mr. Miller's art stretch back to Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright who used tropes of melodrama to expose rents in the fabric of bourgeois society. But with "Death of a Salesman," inarguably his masterwork, Mr. Miller broke free from the conventions of naturalistic drama to write in a more stylistically unfettered manner. In this impressionistic portrait of a deluded man discarded by society, he achieved something akin to poetry. As Harold Clurman astutely put it, the poetry in "Death of a Salesman" is "not the poetry of the sense or of the soul, but of ethical conscience."

In "Death of a Salesman," Mr. Miller stated in clean dramatic terms his belief that the tragic hero of the American 20th century was the average man, a belief that caused ripples of contempt in academic circles even as it struck a powerful chord with audiences. Tragic or merely piteous, Willy Loman's desperate struggle against the onrushing knowledge that he has slaved in service to a false ideal of worldly success was a powerful repudiation of the hollow promises of the American dream.

As he sourly noted more than once, Mr. Miller was not long fashionable with many of the country's theater critics. Even in his finest work, he sometimes succumbed to overstatement. He was probably the least subtle of America's Big Three - and neither O'Neill nor Williams was a particularly subtle playwright. Themes, motifs, moral conclusions often glare from his plays like neon signs in a diner window.

But, like all significant artists, in his finest works Mr. Miller transcended his flaws. In the case of "Death of a Salesman," he even made a virtue of them: The repeated iterations of the play's sonorous lines - "Attention must be paid," "Nobody dast blame this man" - have the solemn and unforgettable effect of a bell tolling deep, loud and long. And, as continual revivals of "The Crucible," "All My Sons" and "A View From the Bridge" attest, his plays are so strongly saturated in trenchant observations about man's flaws, and his struggles against the social forces that will exploit them, that they retain their full power to engage and move us.

In the last decades of his life, Mr. Miller continued to write plays in the face of critical indifference; he never lost faith in the value of the writer's work. His decline in popularity coincided with Broadway's loss of hegemony in the American theater, although he had nothing but contempt for the crass atmosphere of the commercial theater. The playwrights associated with the Off Broadway movement that bloomed in the 1960's - Edward Albee, Sam Shepard and others - wanted to tear down the conventional structures that had served so solidly as the vessels for Mr. Miller's ideas. And yet in their stylistically far different analyses of the contaminations of late 20th-century life, and their use of the American family as an image to be ruthlessly dissected, can be heard distant echoes of Mr. Miller's vision. "Death of a Salesman" has been cited by innumerable and wildly different playwrights as a seminal influence, from Lorraine Hansberry to Vaclav Havel to Tom Stoppard.

That his greatest plays have been produced widely on international stages suggests that the ills Mr. Miller diagnosed in America in the postwar years are not specific to the country or the era; they merely took firmest root in the soil of a country on a meteoric rise to the top of the global heap.

By now, the American dream has been thoroughly dissected, but American values continue to be touted by politicians as the country's most fruitful export. And so Mr. Miller's greatest plays, in which he used both his conscience and his compassion to question the prerogatives of American society, remain both as unfashionable and as necessary as ever.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company |

How Does the Retirement System Work in Sweden? Not Great!

February 12, 2005
Sweden's Take on Private Pensions

STOCKHOLM - Every spring Marie-Louise Graveleij, a 62-year-old receptionist in a funeral home, receives a large orange envelope through the mail. Now, it is about to become her lifeline, offering her an alternative to a full-time job.

Soon, she said, she will end her current work contract and decide whether she can afford to retire. The orange envelope she expects to receive within the next few weeks will contain a statement of her rights under a five-year-old restructuring of this country's still-generous state pension program that - like the changes President Bush wants to introduce in Social Security - includes a personal investment account.

The question is, will she be able to get by on what the envelope offers or not?

As in other lands where private accounts have been introduced in various forms, the answer seems ambiguous. For all the uncertainty over such accounts, what may be most surprising to Americans is that Sweden, long known for its cradle-to-grave welfare state, has already embraced a system that partly resembles the White House proposals.

"I felt everything was going to be simple; this is Sweden," Ms. Graveleij said in an interview, musing over her understanding of her pension rights before and after the changes in the system. "I didn't worry about it before. I felt safe. I felt everything would be O.K. Then, the safety net was gone."

Even after poring over the statement of benefits, she said, she was still not sure how much she would receive to help her afford the $450-a-month rent on her 400-square-foot apartment. "Everything has become very complicated," she said.

Her anxiety could eventually be shared by Americans who would lose some of the guaranteed benefits of Social Security if President Bush's plans to introduce privatized accounts became law. But Sweden's struggle with a new approach to pensions is by no means unique.

Its experience, along with those from other countries, highlights some of the benefits involved but also underscores the various risks when a government turns over an important investment decision to people not always comfortable with managing their retirement money.

With the possible exception of Singapore's ambitious and expensive savings programs, the experience of other countries has been mixed. In Britain, in the late 1980's, legislation permitting savers to divert funds from company and state retirement plans into private investments backfired when the value of those investments fell and insurance sales representatives were accused of selling products under false pretenses.

In Chile, the introduction of private investment accounts almost 25 years ago led to accusations that hidden fees reduced benefits by as much as a third.

In Poland, an army of sales agents, hired under a new private savings regime in 1999, defrauded the system by charging commissions on false accounts. Since some of the sales agents were paid a commission for every new account, they simply invented them. Other accounts were in the names of deceased people. To try to avoid such fraud and secret costs Sweden introduced its private pensions system by placing a state-appointed intermediary, the Premium Pensions Authority, between savers and fund managers, much as President Bush is proposing to do. Moreover, Sweden created a state-administered default account, comprising foreign and Swedish equities, for people who did not want to choose their own investments.

But in seeking a highly competitive program, Sweden threw open its private accounts system to a staggering 675 funds (compared with 6 in Chile and 21 in Poland), requiring savers to pick 5 of them or invest in the default fund.

Unlike Mr. Bush's Social Security overhaul proposal, which would carve voluntary private accounts out of existing taxes, the Swedish system imposes a mandatory 2.5 percent saving on top of its basic benefit. In Sweden, 16 percent of wages goes into an overhauled pay-as-you-go system that defines the contributions savers make but no longer guarantees the same benefits as in the past.

But while the system was meant to help people like Ms. Graveleij make her investments, it has left many Swedes confused, with some expressing indifference.

To some here, the government seems to be requiring savers to take on too much risk with too little expertise after decades of having the state take care of most such issues.

"After a working life, the legislative process should provide a proper standard of living," said Busse Ekvall, 65, who took early retirement six years ago. "As far as the private pension is concerned, it's too risky. We want a guarantee so that the money is not exposed to risk," added Mr. Ekvall, who receives about $3,300 a month before taxes, about 72.5 percent of his final salary.

Similarly, Lars Gedda, 66, a retired bank employee, noted that many of his friends did not feel they were qualified to pick 5 funds out of the 675 offered. "You must have a knowledge that the average person does not have," he said.

And for many of those still quite a few years from retirement, it is difficult to come to grips with the contents of the orange envelope.

"Its 2.5 percent, so who cares?" said Hakan Ehn, 39, an airplane engineer who says he expects to be able to retire at 55 by relying on gains from owning his $250,000 four-bedroom home, a private savings plan costing $300 a month and an anticipated inheritance.

Sweden's investment plan has suffered from poor timing, having been introduced in 2000, just before the global stock market boom came to an end.

"Those who chose to put their money in funds have lost their money in some way," said Berit Andnor, the minister of social affairs. "I think that the experience has not been so good."

Of five million current savers, only three million actively choose their investments - mostly people who chose their five funds when the system was introduced and the market looked more promising. After the initial enthusiasm, according to official figures, only 8 percent to 10 percent of new entrants into the system opt to make their own investments.

Many people do not even bother to open their orange envelopes, the authorities say, either because they are too young to regard pensions as relevant or unsure of how the figures inside will translate into benefits. Such is the uncertainty that the government has ordered an inquiry into the private accounts system.

"The government has misled and under-educated the Swedish people in this huge change of responsibility," said Christer Elmehagen, chief executive of AMF, a leading pension fund manager that makes most of its money in Sweden's thriving regular pension business but also sells funds in the new private accounts system.

"In the United States you have a history of taking responsibility," he said. "We are educated in a completely different landscape where the government has been our big brother."

Christina Lindenius, director general of the Premium Pensions Authority, the state body that oversees the private account system, said the reason the proportion of active investors has fallen is that the new entrants into the system are "young people with very little money in the system" who "are not yet thinking about retirement."

Nonetheless, she said, "my belief is that we should go in the direction of fewer funds."

In some ways, the Swedish model offers important lessons for the United States. A proliferation of funds, for instance, evidently creates confusion, while a default fund attracts savers unsure of themselves in the open market, drawing them away from active investment choices that could turn out to be perilous or profitable - or both.

The Premium Pensions Authority in Sweden aggregates trades between funds made by individual savers on a huge computer system and places them each day in bulk with the specific funds that savers have requested. That cuts out individual transaction costs but it also prevents fund managers from knowing their customers. Mr. Bush has proposed something similar for the United States.

Despite these similarities, the Swedish pension overhaul grew out of political and economic circumstances different from those driving change in the United States.

In the early 1990's, said Klas Eklund, the chief economist at SEB Bank, a deep recession, growing unemployment and soaring interest rates "had a traumatic effect on Sweden and we realized that we were not God's chosen people."

In contrast to the ideological rift in the United States, moreover, the overhaul grew out of a binding consensus among the dominant Social Democrats and four other parties accounting, in total, for over 80 percent of the Swedish Parliament. And the changes were introduced at a time of fiscal surpluses to help offset the costs of switching systems.

But there are similarities, too. The old pay-as-you-go system, like the one in the United States, was under strain as increasing numbers of pensioners relied on decreasing numbers of taxpayers for support. Under the previous system, pensioners were guaranteed 65 percent of the average salary of their 15 best-paid years up to salary levels of around $50,000 a year.

Beyond that, more than 90 percent of all Swedish employees belong to occupational pension plans worth 10 percent to 15 percent of their final salary up to $50,000 and a much higher proportion for higher salaries.

By contrast, the new pay-as-you-go component offers retirees even higher pensions if they postpone their retirement, and it includes a complex formula, known as the brake, that automatically reduces pensions if the system goes into deficit.

So while the level of contributions has remained the same, the overall value of benefits will fall as pensioners in coming decades move increasingly onto the new system. That is where the private accounts come in, forecast, ideally, to provide up to 30 percent of Swedish pensions from real savings for those who are entering the system now. At the moment, the private accounts system holds about $20 billion.

But it seems inevitable that the new plan will lead to greater financial disparities in a society that has long valued equality. "It will all depend," said Ellen Nygren, a specialist in the LO labor union federation, "on which fund you invested in and when you retire."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company |