August A Slow News Month? Not Really
GUY RAZ, host:
August is the month we dread here in the news business. Congress is out on recess, dignitaries are closeted in their summer homes, and many reporters go on vacation. So big news can seem to grind to a halt, except it was in August when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, when the U.S. invaded Guadalcanal, when Richard Nixon resigned and when Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 BC.
So, at least one prominent journalist is warning us not to get too comfortable this August. She's Anne Applebaum, a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate. And she joins us.
Anne, welcome to the program.
Ms. ANNE APPLEBAUM (Columnist, Washington Post): Thank you very much. I'm delighted to be on.
RAZ: And I should note that you are joining us from your vacation home in Pomerania in the Polish countryside.
Ms. APPLEBAUM: I am, indeed, in the Polish countryside. Yes.
RAZ: Well, thank you for taking time off of your vacation. What potential news eruptions could destroy that vacation?
Ms. APPLEBAUM: Well, I'm particularly sensitive on this point because last year, my vacation was ruined by the Russian invasion of Georgia. And so, this year, I was looking around, and I was noting that actually, there's really stunning number of important things going on. Most are not in the United States.
Number one, for example, is that the Russians and the Georgians have been calling each other names again. The South Ossetians, this is that little breakaway region inside Georgia, threw grenades last week at the Russian border checkpoint and at the Georgian border checkpoint, and of course, the Russians and the Georgians then accused one another of trying to start hostilities again. And as soon as I saw that, I thought, uh-oh…
RAZ: Oh, yeah.
Ms. APPLEBAUM: …here we go again, maybe.
RAZ: So Georgia and Russia, potential problem. What else is out there?
Ms. APPLEBAUM: There's still quite a lot going on in Iran. There have been a series of show trials. A number of leading members of the regime, of the elite, have been put on trial, accused of either cooperating with the West or staging a counter-revolution.
There have been a number of sort of employees of the British and French embassies have been put on trial, as well and accused of spying. And some people think that the Iranians are testing the international waters. You know, what if we put these people on trial? How will the rest of the world react?
It being August, the rest of the world may not react, and so it is possible that we may be seeing the preparations for another wave of arrests. But you may also see a wave of totalitarian repression, as we have not yet seen take place there. And, you know, are we going to be ready? You know, do we have a policy prepared? I hope someone did think about it before they went on vacation.
RAZ: And next door, Anne, in Iraq?
Ms. APPLEBAUM: Well, Iraq almost doesn't count. You know, there's always potential problems in Iraq.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. APPLEBAUM: But you know, we are in this process of moving our troops out of the cities. And there are all kinds of potential ugly things that could happen. We haven't yet experienced, you know, what would happen if there was a real attack on a U.S. base, and U.S. soldiers, whose numbers were lower, were not able to defend themselves as they could in the past. As the troop numbers decrease there, I think we ought to be prepared for something like that.
RAZ: Any other flash points?
Ms. APPLEBAUM: There's always Afghanistan, where there is a presidential election next week.
Ms. APPLEBAUM: That's a very, very important moment in Afghanistan because it's going to show us whether there can be a change of power. And of course, the elections themselves are supposed to be quite a lot of violence. There's been a lot of violence already.
RAZ: So all these things could possibly happen before the month is over. And Anne, historically, I mean, a lot has happened in August.
Ms. APPLEBAUM: You know, if you look at, you know, World War I and World War II - in fact, I mean, World War I actually started in August. World War II was being planned in August, and it started on the first of September.
It is actually a month in which stuff happens. Remember, 9/11 was also planned in August. I mean, that was the last month before that happened. I actually have a theory about it that, you know, nowadays, stuff happens because, you know, people know the president's on vacation, you know? I think the Georgian crisis happened last summer because everybody knew Putin was in - he was at the Olympics in Beijing. So it seemed like a good time to get things going.
RAZ: Any chance for surprising good news, maybe a peace deal coming through or the birth of a rare baby tiger cub?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. APPLEBAUM: Who knows? There was that wonderful polar bear cub last year in Berlin. I have to tell you, I don't remember…
Ms. APPLEBAUM: Knut the polar bear. That was such a good news story, and it lasted for a really long time. So there's always hope. I mean, when people are sitting around in the heat, all kinds of things can happen, you know, good as well as bad.
RAZ: That's Anne Applebaum, a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate following the news this summer from her vacation home in the Polish countryside.
Anne Applebaum, thanks so much.
Ms. APPLEBAUM: Oh, thank you.
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