Patrick McCoy's Reviews > Things Worth Fighting For: Collected Writings

Things Worth Fighting For by Michael Kelly
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's review
Sep 27, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: current-affairs, essays, non-fiction

I picked up Michael Kelly’s posthumous collection of writings, Things Worth Fighting For, because I was a fan of his writing when I subscribed to The Atlantic Monthly a couple of years ago. I was disappointed to learn what a self-righteous, puritanical curmudgeon he was. The book was mainly made up of profiles and commentaries, but there was also some war reporting. Arguably his best writing was the profiles of Ted Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, and Richard Daley. But the problem of these was that he tended to be over reliant on personality/psychological profiles of his subjects. For him character is everything despite whatever they had achieved. Regan gets off the hook, but he doesn’t mention Kennedy’s accomplishments until halfway through the piece. Similarly he cannot stand Clinton, because he doesn’t trust him. But Bush Sr. and Regan, again, get off the hook despite the fact that they were embroiled in some of the most devious wrong doing ever at the white house, they were involved with the Iran-Contra Affair, which mirrors mainstream journalism and America’s amnesia about the past they prefer not to remember.

Kelly desperately wants to be part of America’s Greatest Generation that liberated the world from fascism, where everyone was clean cut, law abiding, country loving, God-fearing, married, responsible, and supportive of their government. Kelly’s conservative compassion will not admit that the government has ever acted out of self-interest, that there has ever been a reason to protest against authority, or that another America exist that is impoverished and at odds to succeed, because of inadequacies in the system.

Some of his most indulgent and sappy writing comes at the end of the book in the section on family and emails from the front. These little homage’s to his sons and family give no insight into anything other than his own happy family. He seems contemptuous of anyone who has not had a stable, happy family life as if it was their own fault and that they were a bunch of whiners, remember in Kelly’s rosy Voltairian view of America everyone is loved by their parents, gets three squares a day, and is tucked into to bed by loving parents every night before heading off to school seat belted in their SUV.

I am further put off by his “hawkish” patriotism. Even though I am more tolerant of the first Iraqi invasion, Kelly joins the equally disappointingly hawkish war apologist Christopher Hitchens in hyperbolic descriptions of the liberation of people living under unjust rule. He is selective about who these people are and never challenges the long range implications or costs of such actions, when he defends his actions as a “chicken hawk”(one that has never been to war, but advocates it). He seems to regret this (never having been to war) and is like an overeager boy scout reveling in his opportunity to become embedded in a division during the second Iraqi campaign, and it is there while playing soldier that he dies in an SUV accident. I’m sorry that he didn't live long enough to realize his folly.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Athens (last edited Mar 10, 2012 07:41PM) (new)

Athens Based on this review, especially the last paragraph, I will look to read this book ASAP.

Restated, if you do not like hawkish patriotism, I am certain that I shall like it.

message 2: by Ted (new)

Ted Great review! I especially liked the phrase "rosy Voltairian view of America".

message 3: by Tara (new)

Tara Mc Great review, sounds worthy of your 0/5 stars.

esp. the bit "some of his most sappy and indulgent writing..."

Patrick McCoy Hey Tara, thanks, the anti-Clinton and pro-war stuff left me cold, much like Christopher Hitchens. But I have to admit some of the other collected writings were compelling and interesting, thus, the two star rating. Again, obviously a lot of it really irked me...

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