Saturday, August 19, 2006

Definitely Not Oprah's Book Club

These are fascinating times in which we live. From global warming to global warfare, our world is in the midst of fundamental change. Simply trying to make sense of what is happening can be a challenge. To do my bit to aid understanding I'd like to introduce some of the best books I've read recently. I'll give a brief precis of each and I hope you'll find it sufficiently interesting to check them out.

1. Future Tense, Gwynne Dyer, McClelland & Stewart.

For anyone unfamiliar with this man, Dyer is a Canadian with a compelling understanding of world conflict. He holds a doctorate in Military and Middle Eastern affairs from the University of London and has lectured at Oxford and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (Britain's West Point). Dyer is a syndicated columnist although you won't find his stuff in many Canadian papers. If you're interested in his columns, a lot of them are available on his web site:

In "Future Tense" Dyer presents an analysis of the Iraq fiasco and American foreign policy on the Middle East. He explains how the Bush administration works to undercut the United Nations and the risk that the U.S. will return the world to strategic blocs of nations suspicious of and threatening to each other, the same situation that brought us to two world wars.

Gwynne Dyer comes to the defence of the United Nations with a skilful analysis of how it has enabled us to change the world that existed prior to 1945. He depicts the UN as a 'work in progress' and shows that the evolution of the United Nations and international law is a project that will likely take a century to reach fulfillment. The far right today doesn't waste any opportunity to criticize and mock the UN as weak, hapless and ineffectual. Dyer takes those arguments apart, one by one, to reveal the dangers facing all nations from the neoconservative agenda.

Here are two passages from the back cover of "Future Tense":

Dyer contends, "that the fate of Iraq is a sideshow, the
terrorist threat a red herring, and the radical Islamists'
dream of worldwide jihad against the West a fantasy.
The ideas may be shocking, but he backs them up with
a solid analysis of the motives and strategies of the fringe
group of extremists - in both the Middle East and the
United States - who have delivered the world to the
brink of disaster."
"What is most worrying, Dyer maintains, is not that
the United States will be defeated in Iraq but that it
migt not be defeated soon enough."
2. WAR is a force that gives us meaning, Chris Hedges 2002, Perseus Books Group
This little gem I picked up from the bargain bin at Munroe's book shop in Victoria. I wish I'd been able to get a dozen copies to send to friends. I expect this is going to be hard to find but you might try Abe Books (online) if you're interested.
Chris Hedges writes for The New York Times and has covered just about every war over the past 15-years. He's quite unique for a reporter. He has a master of divinity degree from Harvard and is an adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia. He received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism and was a member of The Times' team that won the 2002 Pulitzer for their coverage of global terrorism.
The author describes how societies are drawn to war and how it can be as addictive and destructive as heroin. This book is packed with startling insights that may take you aback. Here are a few excerpts:
"While we venerate and mourn our own dead we
are curiously indifferent about those we kill. Thus
killing is done in our name, killing that concerns us
little, while those who kill our own are seen as having
crawled out of the deepest recesses of the earth, lacking
our own humanity and goodness. Our dead. Their dead.
They are not the same. Our dead matter. Theirs do not."
"'The principle of movement is whoever is not included is
excluded, whoever is not with me is against me, so the
world loses all nuances and pluralistic aspects that have
become too confusing for the masses,' wrote Hanna Arendt in The
Origins of Totalitarianism.'"
"We were humbled in Vietnam, purged, for a while, of a
dangerous hubris, offered in our understanding and reflection
about the war, a moment of grace. We became a better country."
"We often become as deaf and dumb as those we condemn.
We too have our terrorists. The Contras in Nicaragua carried out,
with funding from Washington, some of the most egregious human
rights violations in Central America, yet were hailed as 'freedom fighters.'
Jonas Savimbi, the rebel leader the United States backed in
Angola's civil war, murdered and tortured with a barbarity
that outstriped the Taliban. ...President Ronald Reagan called
Savimbi the Abraham Lincoln of Angola although he littered
the country with land mines, once bombed a Red Cross-run
factory making artficial limbs for the victims of those mines,
and pummeled a rival's wife and children to death."
"The moral certitude of the state in wartime is a kind of
fundamentalism. And this dangerous messianic brand of religion,
one where self-doubt is minimal, has come increasingly to
color the modern world of Christianity, Judaism ad Islam.
Dr. James Luther Adams, my ethics professor at Harvard
Divinity School, used to tell us that we would end our careers
fighting an ascendant fundamentalist movement, or, as he
liked to say, 'the Christian fascists.'"
Hedges' WAR is a terrific read. You won't put it down and, when you're finished, you'll realize how your perspective has been changed.

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