One has to be a writer to appreciate fully how we want to get our work accepted by the top publications in the world.  The New Yorker has a circulation of over a million.  The articles are extremely well written; I have long been jealous at the medical writers, who put me to shame.  But I read every word they write.  A very good friend, writer, and neurologist helped me write A Wise Owl, which won me the Creative Expression Award for Human Values in Neurology 10 years ago.  His goal was to get a letter published in the magazine.  Sadly, he died before that could happen.

I don’t set out to write letters to get published.  I read something, and if it connects with me in some fashion, I write.  It is difficult for me to do so, because I am under a time pressure, which adversely affects my writing.  I am under a word pressure, too, but I have learned to cut words.  Some will say, “You should have said such and such.”  Maybe, but if the letter is too long, it will never appear, so all the wisdom is lost.

The current letter had to do with an article about Syria.  I thought Senator McCain, who represents me in the Senate, was allowed too much space and did not see the same picture I did.  I thought maybe I had something to impart on the debate, so I wrote.  I never expected anything to come of my letter, but last week, I was told it was a “finalist,” which gives one some idea of how difficult it is to get writing into the magazine.  I said to my wife that I got lucky, but both of us realized it wasn’t just luck.  I get a high percentage of my letters to the local newspaper published, because I pick my battles carefully and keep the letters short.


Filkins reports that Senator John McCain has pushed for military intervention in Syria. But I doubt Republicans in 2013 will tolerate “emergency authorizations,” even if they raised no objections to these off-budget costs a decade ago. Indeed, overruling a national security team might show more wisdom than McCain might think. President Obama overruled his Secretary of Defense in 2011, when he authorized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Obama is weighing morality, costs, and unintended consequences of another conflict after learning the hard lessons of exiting the military morass in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps he is heeding the proverb, “The more we sweat during peace, the less we bleed in war.” 

Michael S. Smith

Tucson, AZ


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