This Month’s Book Reviews by Marcia Bookstein
War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning
by Chris Hedges
Anchor; Reprint edition (June 10, 2003) 224 Pages
The end of the Afghanistan war made me think of Chris Hedges’ book, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. In the Wikipedia article about him it says that the New York Times fired him. Not exactly true. He worked for the New York Times as a war correspondent in much of the world, including countries in South America as well as Eastern Europe. He wasn’t exactly towing the line that the Times wanted him to, so understanding the undercurrent of discontent that the publisher had, quit before he was fired. (This has happened to others, including Sy Hersh who uncovered the My Lai massacre.) What’s memorable about this book is the detail he gives. He looks under the blankets covering the dead and wounded, searches for files and photographs in bombed out government buildings, is right there where the bullets are flying, writing what he sees and not mincing words. Don’t eat while you’re reading this book.
Whenever I start a book I look at a random page or two in the middle first to see what the writing style is like. I’m a slow reader, and it’s not worth my time unless the writing is impeccable. Hedges’ writing is gorgeous. Not as blissful as Noam Chomsky’s, but up there in the “excellent” atmosphere. He takes you right there in the country before the conflagration, during, where you meet people and stay with them while they mourn their killed loved ones, and after, with the country changed and divided. He explains the reasons for this particular war in Serbia and Croatia, and the permanent animosities that arise because of mass manipulation and corrupt government. A lesson for the aware.
My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies
by Resmaa Menakem
Central Recovery Press; Illustrated edition (September 19, 2017) 300 Pages
I’m also reading My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem. It’s a beautifully, compassionately written book, and I’m reading it with my daughter, Emily. We have book club every other week and discuss two chapters together. She is the quintessential anti-racist, and was there in Portland protesting with Black Lives Matter, getting tear-gassed, dancing with a group to the tune of bicycle spokes being plucked, and witnessing and experiencing the kindness of strangers, the brutality of the police. Menakem is an acolyte of Bessel Van Der Kolk, an eminent psychiatrist who studied PTSD for over forty years. (“The Body Keeps the Score” is his book, which I’ve also read and highly recommend.) Our bodies are key to how we can face and dissolve the trauma from racism. And we all have it, even when it goes back five hundred years in our land of origin. We’ve all been chased out of somewhere by a warring group of people, whether the Huns, the Germans, the Vikings, the Spaniards, the early Hebrews, the Romans. It goes on and on, doesn’t it? And we’ve all been part of the aggressors. Is this part of the human condition? (This is something that Hedges’ addresses at some length.) But it’s not a great way to live and thrive, and Menakem is here to tell us how to heal, and to help put us in the other person’s shoes. He has chapters for Black people, white people, and blue people (the police). It’s an amazing experience to put yourself in someone else’ shoes, not just mentally and psychologically, but physically as well–in our imaginations. Which is where we learn most things–in our minds.
Who Rules the World? (American Empire Project)
by Noam Chomsky
Picador; Reprint edition (May 2, 2017) 336 Pages
The other book I’m reading concurrently is Who Rules the World, by Noam Chomsky. If you love ice cream, his writing is like the most refreshing and delicious ice cream–your favorite flavor. If you’re not keen on ice cream then it’s creme brulee. Just incredible writing, with added fun snark and a soupcon of sarcasm here and there. In 1947 the US was in a position to take over the path that the world would take in the future, and grabbed that possibility. There’s a reason we have over 800 bases all over the world, and our military is the most aggressive and developed, let alone the private military in the form of Eric Prince’s company. (Is it still called Xi? Used to be Blackwater.) He has chapters on Israel and what happened during negotiations with the PLO, all the details that went into what’s happening there now, Cuba and the missile crisis during Kennedy’s administration and how close we came to destroying ourselves, our animosity towards the Russians, difficulties we have with Asia, North Korea, China, and the origins of those difficulties. It turns out that we are responsible for much of the upheaval in the world. (A good movie is Coup53, about Kermit Roosevelt and the overthrowing of the democratically elected Mosadegh.) Our dealings with Iran are also included. It’s important to know the truth, to know the different sides of our history, and not just what the white supremacists want included in our history books. America might be great, but you might need to define “great”. We are a powerful nation, but the bodies of innocent people murdered because of our deeds are numerous. Yes, 9/11 just passed, but the 9/11 of 1973 (our involvement in overthrowing Allende in Chile) is addressed in this book, as well as the facts of our own 9/11. And then the subsequent wars with Iraq and Afghanistan, including the prison in Guantanamo. The book is grave, saddening, enlightening, and deliciously written, which makes it palatable. Highly recommended.