Engelhardt, Winter Letter

Dear TomDispatch Reader,

I do this so seldom — only this once in 2021 — because I never like sending out a letter of this sort (in the same way I don’t enjoy receiving funding appeals myself).  But then, of course, reality strikes.  And now is that moment.

Yes, a number of TomDispatch readers have been all too generous this year and others of you give monthly, which is truly wonderful.  And yet, as the grim year 2021 ends, here I am once again begging you for your support.

Sadly, it’s all too simple. To keep doing the work TomDispatch does, I need money.  (My good fortune is that the wonderful Lannan Foundation has always supported me personally, so I never take the money that you send in.)  Still, I need to pay authors for their articles, approximately 120 of them a year, at $300 a pop.  I need to pay a wonderful small staff who keep this old guy going in a world that, technologically speaking, has left him in the dust. And I suppose you won’t be surprised to learn that it all adds up.  And what it adds up to, since TD doesn’t take advertising, is you.  It’s you or the end of the line.  It’s no more complicated than that.  Your contributions, your support, really does make the difference between this site going on or a world growing more desperate by the moment without TomDispatch‘s critical eye and voice. 

I’ve been doing this for 19 years now, since I first stumbled into producing a no-name email listserv just after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.  In my own way, in these endless years of forever war, I’ve been a forever site.  And so I remain, even as the Afghan War finally ended (more or less) and a new Cold War (god save us) began, while the war on terror just quietly trundled on. 

I doubt there’s another site around that’s offered the quality of writing and thinking TomDispatch has in these years, along with our angle on the world: critical in a sharp, original way, and focused above all on this country as a failing imperial power with a democracy in distinct peril on what increasingly looks like a planet in disarray.  From the beginning, TD has always put a special emphasis on this country’s global military posture, its forever wars, and (thanks especially to superb writers like Michael Klare, Alfred McCoy, David Vine, and Karen Greenberg, among others) Donald Trump’s special legacy to us all, a new Cold War with China and Russia.

I take a certain pride in the fact that TomDispatch was the first “progressive” site to regularly publish articles by retired (or sometimes even active) military officers critical of American war-making, including this year Andrew Bacevich, William Astore, andKevin Tillman (brother of Pat!). And don’t forget co-founder of the Costs of War Project and military spouse Andrea Mazzarino. In addition, in 2021 (as in the past),TD has focused on the way the U.S. government grabs staggering numbers of taxpayer dollars for what still passes for “defense,” despite our military’s 750 bases around the world (a new count made by Patterson Deppen and published at TD this year).  Pentagon experts Mandy Smithberger and William Hartung continue to focus on the soaring Pentagon budget, the revolving door between that institution and the rest of the military-industrial complex, and the global arms racket. But the site focuses on so much more as well! This year, Rajan Menon considered the true lessons (which Washington will never draw) from the Afghan War; while Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and a TD regular, explored both the desperation and the organizing efforts of the poor in a country in which inequality has reached new heights.

In pandemic America, Nina Burleigh wrote about the way, in the past, this country has forgotten pandemics and why we definitely shouldn’t this time. Meanwhile, high-school teacher Belle Chesler focused on what it meant to continue teaching through Covid.   

Recently and typically, I think, TD featured an interview that scientist Stan Cox conducted with the remarkable Noam Chomsky about a planet in the grips of climate change in a way that relatively few of us thought possible not so long ago. (It’s a subject, by the way, that I focused on myself more than once this year.)  In addition, in 2021, TomDispatch managing editor Nick Turse explored so many subjects, including “war porn” and what a “wall of carnage” dedicated to the casualties of the war on terror on the Washington Mall would be like. Frida Berrigan wrote about what it means to live with the end of the world rather literally within sight; Ann Jones on the forgotten women of Afghanistan; Jane Braxton Little on what it feels like to be a climate refugee after the great California fires of 2021; and former New York Times sports columnist Robert Lipsyte on what the ongoing age of Trump did to fandom. (Nothing good, of course!)

And mind you, one of the small wonders of TomDispatch is that, while the site itself is modest indeed, the articles it publishes travel the web and are regularly reposted at sites ranging from the Nation magazine to Common Dreams, Alternet to the LA Progressive, among so many others, and so are read by hundreds of thousands of people.  And don’t forget our publishing program with Haymarket Books. After all, we just published Alfred McCoy’s remarkable new history of empire from the 16th century to late tomorrow night, To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change.  Upcoming next year or thereafter are books by both Andrew Bacevich and the superb Rebecca Gordon who writes regularly for TD on a remarkable range of subjects. 

One regret I always have — every time a donation comes in (because I do see them all) — is that I can’t thank each of you.  I only wish I had the time, but believe me, for a 77-year-old guy, TD is truly a full-time operation and leaves me no extra space for much of anything else.  Sigh…

Still, I’m eternally amazed and moved by the fact that the site’s contributors (you!) are spread so widely across this complex country (and even this world) of ours. What else is there to say, except that I hope you’ll visit our donation page and think about what you might give to keep TomDispatch rolling along.

For all of you who have already contributed this year, I just can’t thank you enough.  You continue to make me feel that my life remains meaningful in this desperate century of ours.

Warm regards,

Tom (Engelhardt)