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Letters From the August 26-September 2, 2019, Issue

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Eyes Wide Open

I write to thank you for Arran Skinner’s beautiful and timely article about the victims of oppression who are being found on the riverbanks and beaches and in the detention facilities of autocratic regimes in many places [“On Not Looking Away,” July 29/Aug. 5]. This article reminds us, in nearly every sentence, of what is missing in the current political discussions. Compassion. Empathy. The recognition that each of these victims is as human and as valuable to the future of the planet as ourselves. America will never become great again until we absorb—and express—this truth.
Frank Southworth
new york city

The Other Stain

Eric Foner’s commentary “The Court: Grave of Liberty” [July 29/Aug. 5] quotes a scholar as saying that Oliver Wendell Holmes’s 1903 decision in Giles v. Harris “is—or should be—the most prominent stain on his reputation.” But surely in the running for that distinction should be Holmes’s 1927 decision in Buck v. Bell. Carrie Buck was a 17-year-old patient at the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, said to be, using the language of the times, the feebleminded daughter of a feebleminded mother, and herself the parent of a feebleminded child. In an 8-1 decision, Holmes argued that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The Supreme Court thus upheld a Virginia statute authorizing her eugenic sterilization—which led to the sterilization of at least 65,000 Americans against their will.
Joel D. Howell
ann arbor, mich.

Editor’s note: See the review of Stephen Budiansky’s new biography of Holmes that discusses Buck v. Bell in this issue.

Sanders’s Exceptionalism?

I have long been a fan of Greg Grandin’s historical writing, but his latest essay, “Bernie’s Challenge to American Exceptionalism” [July 29/Aug. 5], does not present a compelling argument that Sanders is unique among the candidates for the Democratic nomination or that he is the best choice to beat Trump in 2020.

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