I quote some graphic excerpts in the review below. If you have a low threshold for such, skip the blockquotes. You’ve been warned.
It is impossible forI quote some graphic excerpts in the review below. If you have a low threshold for such, skip the blockquotes. You’ve been warned.
It is impossible for me to objectively review this book for the reason that I do not think it’s possible for any sane human being to justify war, violence, or any culture or tradition that denies a voice to half of our species if they read this book. (Or similar ones: From my own bookshelf I can list The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East and Vietnam at War, and there are more.) When you read books like this, it’s also difficult to swallow what passes for reasoned discourse in our public sphere where you see the appalling arrogance, ruthlessness and ignorance of our governing classes (who are only too happy to keep the hoi polloi equally arrogant, ruthless and clueless).
In War Is Not Over When It’s Over, Ann Jones argues that war is only the most visible face of violence and that its consequences destroy lives well after any peace accords have been signed and all the politicians have gone home. Even when it’s over, war ingrains the habits of violence and dehumanization, which leak over into civil life. Jones doesn’t address the issue in relation to the U.S. but you can easily find stories about increasing domestic violence and rape perpetrated by returning veterans or by soldiers in the field.
The origins of this book come out of Jones’ work with the UN and the International Red Cross (IRC) in their efforts to aide and protect refugees and the victims of the myriad wars afflicting our planet. Jones visited several countries where she organized groups of women who would photographically document their lives. It wasn’t meant to be a witness to the atrocity of violence (though that was a part of the project) but the women were meant to document their communities’ needs and the positives in their lives. At the end of the projects, the women hosted an exhibition displaying their efforts. In every case, Jones found that the experience made its participants more confident. In some cases it helped bring about real change. For example, in one village in Côte d’Ivoire, its chief, Zatta, declared that the violence documented in the photos must end and began including women in his council (which he continued to do even after the UN mission left, according to Jones). Among the Burmese refugee camps along the Thai border, the women learned to document rape and abuse cases and have made some progress in having offenders prosecuted. Both examples point up to the forces of inertia and tradition women struggle against. Everywhere she went, Jones faced societies that relegated women to second-class status and blamed their oppression on them (an attitude the enlightened West still falls prey to all too often).
I’ve written enough – let a few representative excerpts speak for themselves now:
From Sierra Leone:
“Official reports document appalling crimes: fathers forced to rape their own daughters; brothers forced to rape their sisters; boy soldiers who gang-rape old women, then chop off their arms; pregnant women eviscerated alive and the fetus snatched from the womb to satisfy soldiers’ bet on its sex. A brother is hacked to death and eviscerated; his heart and liver are placed in the hands of his eighteen-year-old sister, who is commanded to eat them. She refuses. She is told that her two children and her sister have been abducted. She's taken to the place where her sister and two other women are held. She sees them murdered. Their heads are placed in her lap. Such crimes deliberately violate primal taboos; they aim to crush not only the individual victims but also those who physically survive the violence. They are meant to destroy a way of life and the values that inform it. Yet the individual victims are important in their own right, and in most cases they are women and children.” (pp. 96-7)
“Charlotte had become a leader in CFK, working on the cases of young girls who had recently been raped, not by militiamen but by civilians right there in Kamanyola. A twelve-year-old girl was raped by her teacher. A nine-year-old was raped by a young boy. A seven-year-old was raped by a middle-aged man. An eleven-year-old was raped by her father. A seven-year-old was raped by her pastor. Charlotte was one of the women who visited the parents, persuaded them not to compromise, and helped them take their child’s case to court. But the rape of these young girls by civilians – by teachers, pastors, fathers – this was something new in the community, since the war, and the women of CFK were struggling to understand it. Later I told Charlotte and others about the way the habits of war carry over into peacetime, the way the habits of soldiers are taken up by civilians. I told them about the civilian rapes of little girls in Liberia, snatched even from church, and in Sierra Leone. Unknown before the war, civilian rapists and child rape in Kamanyola – like gang rape – were becoming normal.” (pp. 146-7)
And two examples from our “glorious liberation” of Iraq:
“The violence done by ordinary men to other ordinary men like Othman and Sayed destroys the victims. Men told me of being kidnapped as teenagers, beaten, confined without food or water, and coerced to provide sexual gratification to their captors. They spoke without apparent feeling, having retreated behind some psychic barrier where safety lay. Although most men won’t tell - `A raped man is not a man,’ one said – UNHCR in Amman had recorded nearly three hundred cases of sexual violence against men. Captivity and torture of men in Iraq always seemed to have about it this peculiar quality of homoerotic sadism, the effluence of a culture that adores men far more than women yet sets them officially out of reach.” (p. 215)
“Mona was attacked in her Baghdad home by a gang of men in black who broke down the door at four o’clock in the morning. They dragged her about by her hair and slapped her around, demanding to know where her husband was. She told them the truth, that he had fled to Lebanon for fear of kidnapping. She said she had stayed behind so that her children could finish school…. They told her to write down the names of people in the neighborhood and whether they were Sunni or Shia…. She refused. They broke her arm, they ripped off her nightclothes, they twisted her broken arm behind her back, and they raped her. She begged for mercy, saying, `I am Muslim, like you.’ One of them said, `You are a Sunni infidel. If you were a Muslim you would not let your daughter do gymnastics.’… `They raped my sister, too,’ she said, gesturing toward the corner where a skeletal figure lay on the floor, staring at us with vacant eyes. `She was an invalid; she couldn’t use her legs. The rape finished her. All those men. Now she just lies on her mat and pisses herself.’ That night, Mona feared for her children, but after the men left the house, the two little boys crept out of the cupboards, and she found her daughter on the roof, hiding in the water tank. She phoned her husband, and he blamed her. A year later, long after her brother helped her move the family to Damascus, her husband came to join her. He raped her too, and she became pregnant, but before long he beat her so badly that she miscarried. He left again for Lebanon and sent notice of their divorce. Her daughter was not able to finish school.” (pp. 223-4)
Jones also points out the iniquities and hypocrisy of the U.S. government. In Iraq we’ve (the U.S.) managed to refuse a significant number of refugees by the simple expedient of accusing them of violating the PATRIOT Act: “Families that had redeemed relatives from kidnappers were excluded on the grounds that paying ransom amounted to providing `material support’ to terrorists…” (p. 232). Refugees in Jordan get more aid than those “fortunate” enough to reach the U.S., and many of those advise their relatives still in Iraq to reject the U.S. if they can.
When you’ve come to the end of a book like this, the inevitable question is, “What can I do?” It’s a depressing situation, and it seems intractable. On my part, inadequate as it may be, the IRC has joined the list of charities I support. It’s amazing what they manage to accomplish in the face of misogynistic tradition and political indifference. And I’m going to pester my representatives to stop frakking around with our obligations under the UN and international law, and to support family planning even if it does include (gasp!) abortion counseling. (I’m fortunate in that all my reps are Democratic women so I hold out the hope that they might listen – an admittedly faint one, I’ll grant you.)
There are a few flaws in the book that, I believe, weaken its impact (and make it a 3- rather than a 4-star on my shelves):
There’s a certain lack of passion or connection in the first few chapters that only begins to lift when we reach Congo and makes the second half more intense and memorable. Perhaps Jones had a more personal interest invested in these later venues. Whatever the case, the greater passion she’s capable of while still maintaining the necessary distance makes me want to see what she’s written about her experience in Afghanistan – Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan.
Not enough photos. I don’t mean that I wanted to see photos of torture or rape victims but I did want to see more evidence of the conditions these people endure and of the good things they were able to find in their lives.
I wish there was a section dedicated to resources and sources. They are there but buried in the Notes section.
These are decidedly minor quibbles and certainly shouldn’t deter you from reading this important witness to the atrocity of violence....more
The lectures on this CD were recorded in 2004, before the Texas school textbook circus and before the recent upsurge in whitewashing Civil War historyThe lectures on this CD were recorded in 2004, before the Texas school textbook circus and before the recent upsurge in whitewashing Civil War history to make the South the oh-so-innocent victim of evil Northern aggression, and I wonder what Loewen makes of such recent developments. He ends his lectures on a hopeful note, urging his listeners to "write history on the land to represent the past accurately." (p. 75 of the accompanying "Course Guide") I can only imagine he must be feeling a certain amount of despair with the publication of such books as The Real Lincoln A New Look at Abraham Lincoln His Agenda and an Unnecessary War. But as he argues in his "Civil War" and "Race Relations" lectures, it's merely further evidence that the South may have lost the war on the battlefield but it won the war of ideas.
As usual with my Audio CD books, I listened to this in the car and didn't take notes so this review will be short and sweet (short, anyway).
Loewen is at his devastating best when he's analyzing the subjects that he's particularly interested in - namely the Civil War era and after and race relations, to which he devotes nearly a third of the 14 lectures. Their power comes from his reliance on primary sources. He quotes letters, newspapers and speeches that put the lie to the simplified, pasteurized gruel that passes for popular history (and not just in our schools).
For example, to the contention that the Civil War was not about slavery, he quotes Jefferson Davis in 1861: "(the Lincoln administration's policies would) make property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless, thereby annihilataing, in effect, property worth thousands of millions of dollars." (p. 38, "Course Guide")
Loewen is not as strong in other areas. He overgeneralizes in his discussions of prehistoric America and in regards to Socialism (a term which, for him, appears to cover everything from Stalin's Russia to British Labour). And his discussion of US foreign policy in Lecture 12 lacks the "umph" of earlier lectures because it is based on secondary sources. He's back in form in Lecture 13, "Capitalism and Social Class," when he returns to quoting the primary sources.
All is not a tale of woe, however. Loewen takes pains to highlight positive aspects of American history: What the Founders got right in the Constitution, the real progress made among the races between 1865 and 1890, the Civil Rights movement, John Logan's progress from racist to equal rights advocate, and a list of examples in the last lecture of people making the effort to learn the truth - good and bad - about their history. And it's the latter that is Loewen's point. People need to make the effort to understand their history:
1. Don't trust what you learned in school or read in books. Check it out. 2. History is a process of forgetting. 3. Modern perspectives are projected onto past subjects. 4. America's current status in the world invites a dangerous ethnocentrism. 5. Resist the process of "heroification."
The blurb on the dust jacket of my edition says that Vietnam At War is “a penetrating history of how the Vietnamese people experienced the wars for thThe blurb on the dust jacket of my edition says that Vietnam At War is “a penetrating history of how the Vietnamese people experienced the wars for their country” and “Mark Philip Bradley paints a vivid picture of how Vietnamese people of all classes…came to understand the thirty years of bloody warfare that unfolded around them.” It was comments like these and favorable reviews of this book that got it on my GR wishlist and convinced me to acquire it when given opportunity. Unfortunately, that’s not what I got with this book. It’s a perfectly adequate primer on the war in Vietnam (from the French attempt to recolonize the region after 1945 to Saigon’s fall in 1975) but it’s hardly a “penetrating” look at how the Vietnamese experienced the wars; it’s hardly a look at all.
One problem is that the book’s too short. At 196 pages of text in my edition, it wastes too many of them setting the background and not nearly enough talking about the Vietnamese. We meet some individuals: Dang Thuy Tram, a young Northern medical student who worked in a field hospital from 1967 to 1970, when she was killed; the writers Tran Huy Quang and Bao Ninh; Trinh Công Son, a musician; and Dang Nhat Minh, a film-maker. But Bradley barely mentions them and their lives before returning to the straight-up narrative.
This was not the book I expected or hoped for. At the end of the day, I expected to know more about both how the Vietnamese responded intellectually to the wars and how individuals lived through it. I’m sure – if I could read Vietnamese – that I would find a wealth of sources to satisfy my curiosity but lacking that skill I found Bradley’s slim volume a not-very-credible attempt to convey that information to an English-reading audience. (The best parts of the book are the “Introduction” and “Coda,” where the individuals mentioned above are most visible, because they show the kind of book that Bradley could have/should have written.)
Another complaint I have is that the photographs included don’t seem to be very well organized and there are too few....more
Once again Peter Heath has written an extraordinarily complex and nuanced account of Europe in the first millennium AD, a period when the modern foundOnce again Peter Heath has written an extraordinarily complex and nuanced account of Europe in the first millennium AD, a period when the modern foundations of European society were established. He focuses on migration and its role in transforming the Mediterranean-centered world of Late Antiquity into the Atlantic-centered one of the Medieval and Modern eras. Toward that end, the author looks at the drift of Germanic tribes ever westward into the Roman Empire (to c. AD 600); their replacement by Slavs in north and central Europe (after AD 400); and the last great migrations of the Vikings (AD 700-1000). Up to the 1960s, the theory – influenced by 19th Century ideas of nationalism and, frankly, racism – of mass migrations of large, coherent “nations” of peoples sweeping through the old provinces of Rome and exterminating or pushing all before them dominated the historiography. As textual and archaeological evidence accumulated, this view grew more and more inadequate. It engendered a reactive scholarship that emphasized internal transformations on both sides of the frontier rather than migrations as critical factors (Preface and Chapter 1, “Migrants and Barbarians”). Walter Goffart is a good (and intimidating) example of this school.* Heather argues that neither extreme is terribly productive in explaining what happened, and we should take a more nuanced view that incorporates the very real internal transformations that made Constantine’s empire very different from Augustus’ and Fritigern’s Germania very different from Arminius’ and the external migrations of significant populations that certainly took place (p. x).
In his zeal to restore the good name of “mass migration,” Heather may himself stray into the pitfall of overemphasis but not too often and not too deep.
A reader hoping to understand or find out about the anti-migration argument will be disappointed but I’d refer you to Heather’s earlier book, The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians, or (better since it’s from a proponent) Goffart’s work.** That aside, Heather’s argument for restoring a balance in our perceptions of a nascent European culture is valid, and the evidence he martials for his case, impressive. And eye-opening. Heather has a particular facility in evoking the society of late Antiquity and making the reader see events through the eyes of the participants.
Heather begins the book by looking at the difference between the social and economic development of “Germania” from our first glimpse of it in Roman literature (primarily Cornelius Tacitus) to the Frankish hegemony of the 8th Century (including the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Celto-Roman Britain) (here the primary text is Ammianus Marcellinus). He then looks at the Slavicization of north and central Europe in the wake of the Germanic migration. And he rounds off his survey by examining the Viking migrations that crowned the last few centuries of the first millennium AD. The basic argument for all of these developments is this: Migration is motivated by negative factors such as war and political turmoil but also by positive factors such as economic opportunity. People look toward wealthier economies for the promise of a better life. In the face of a strong polity like Rome before c. 400, a four-tier zone developed: (i) Rome proper, relative to others a highly developed, mature, wealthy economy; (ii) an inner periphery of barbarian polities intimately tied to Rome in trade and politics; (iii) an outer, less developed periphery; (iv) a zone with little or no direct contact with even the inner periphery much less Rome where the levels of technological, political and economic development remained at an Iron Age level (or less). A paradox of this development is that in pursuing its own economic interests, the more advanced culture sows the seeds of relative (if not absolute) decline. In the face of Roman aggression and manipulation, the barbarians on the Empire’s frontier developed more complex and richer economies and equally complex and more powerful political organizations. In 9, Arminius led a coalition of tribes that annihilated three Roman legions (c. 18,000 men) yet within a decade punitive campaigns had thoroughly pacified the frontier and at no time was the Rhine border or the provinces behind it seriously threatened. The situation was different 150 years later when Marcus Aurelius faced the well organized alliance of the Marcomanni in a devastating 10-year war. And the tipping point had been reached by 378 when Tervingi and Greuthungi Goths annihilated another Roman army at Adrianople. At that time, the frontier was fatally breached and the Empire was never able to completely regain its dominant position.
A similar paradigm governed all the migratory movements of the first millennium. There are differences in detail, of course. For example, in the case of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain, elite replacement was a more influential factor than in the Gothic and Frankish conquests of Gaul. Historical accident plays a role and you can’t hitch your star to any single (or simplistic) explanation for outcomes. Migration played an enormous role in the development of Europe but that role diminished over the course of time as other developments came to the fore. By the end of the millennium, Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals was sufficiently advanced socially, economically and politically that subsequent migrations such as the Magyars and the Mongols were the assimilated rather than the assimilators.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and highly recommend it to Roman and European history buffs. I do have several caveats, alas:
1. As mentioned in another review, Heather’s authorial tone is – at times – too folksy and colloquial. I’ve complained before in other reviews, and I’ll continue to do so, but this is not acceptable for a serious book of this nature. I’ll continue to read future works by Heather but I’ll hope (probably in vain) that the tone will be closer to his earlier books.
2. Typos: I’m a copy editor. I’m not obsessive about typos; I make enough of my own not to take too high a position on moral grounds; I’m willing to overlook one or two in a 700+ page work (though I shouldn’t). But in a professionally published, scholarly work such as this there were far, far too many to excuse. Some examples are inconsistent spellings, i.e., “Rurikid” vs. “Riurikid” or “Vojnomer” vs. “Voinomer,” and straight out (and easily avoided) misspellings, “itineration” vs. “itiration.”
3. And my crowning complaint: At many points in the narrative, Heather refers to photographs and there’s a “picture acknowledgements” page but nowhere is there a section of photographs. Nowhere! This is beyond inexcusable. That quality control failed so spectacularly in this print run of the book leaves me spluttering in indignation. I can’t convey how frustrated I feel…argh!
Maybe the paperback edition will correct these mistakes. If you’re interested in reading this book, I’d wait for it.
* Full Disclosure: I respect and admire Goffart and, in the face of his erudition, it’s hard for the dilettante historian such as myself to resist his arguments but I think Heather’s point about ignoring the role of migration is valid.