Monday, December 10, 2007

A Challenge from the New York Review of Books

Someone at the New York Review of Books must be reading Ruminations. About three weeks ago I pointed out that different Americans were engaged in totally different intellectual exercises, to the extent that it's probably getting hard simply to have a conversation based on a common cultural basis.

No sooner had I said that, Michael Massing went to read some of the war literature the folks at Radcliffe may not be reading. He poses a serious challenge to the part of American society willing to take the present war seriously enough as to read books about it.

One could of course nitpick his article. He uses the Beauchamp episode at The New Republic in a way hardly warranted anymore even by TNR's own editors. He chooses which books to read, which ones of those he'll report on, and it's far from clear to me if his rendering of their themes are quite what the authors intended.

One could argue against his thesis from his own findings. At one point he leads us to believe that a unit of marines has just opened fire at Iraqi soldiers hiding behind Iraqi women, only to tell us later that in the entire campaign that unit only killed three Iraqis with direct fire: something smells of creative editing to me. Or he'll tell of American war crimes and in the following paragraph he'll tell of Iraqi civilians clamoring for aid from the same soldiers - again, not a coherent description.

One could argue about his use of history. He sort of implies that American troops in previous wars were better, but then again, in his haste to say that war is always bad he taps away at the myths of the 2nd World War, reminding us (thru the words of one of his authors) that Kurt Vonnegut, Norman mailer and Joseph Heller were all anti-war.

And yet, I don't think any of these methods are to be recommended, because his thesis will withstand them all. The power of his thesis is not in the various sleight of hand tricks he uses but in its simplicity: War is evil, and the waging of it is wrong. Period.

I have responded to this elsewhere. There's an article over here, and an entire book here. The book, however, deals mostly with Israel, and ironically, although Massing almost certainly didn't intend this, his article largely exonerates Israel's actions at war, because most of what the American forces are indited of, Israeli's try not to do.

There are two points to this post. First, it's part of an attempt to tell things as they are, in the assumption that rational discourse cannot shy away from relevant facts. The second is to say that while to my mind the American's can mostly respond to this ideology whereby waging war is wrong, period, it needs to be done; moreover, the responding needs to take as its starting point precisely the facts presented in these accounts.

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