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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, February 03, 2006

return to the valley of the shadow of death

Last night's reading (finally got back to a full reading session after a couple of interrupted days): Future: Tense; The Ghost in the Machine; Communitarianism and Individualism; and Microbiology the Easy Way. Future: Tense, a book that Kimmie gave me for my birthday, is now my lead book--the first one I dip into as I have my tea in the afternoon. I try to fight off my shoulds and read what I actually want to read. Right now, it's this latest by the Canadian-born military commentator Gwynne Dyer.

I have liked Gwynne Dyer ever since I first saw him, either presenting one of his documentary series on war, or when he used to offer expert analysis on military affairs for the CBC. His characteristic style is irreverent, humorous, and blunt, all delivered in a kind of soft-spoken nasal patter. I don't believe he's ever been sighted out of his scuffed leather bomber-jacket. He's a kind of perceptive, rumpled, military intellectual.

I attended a talk by Dyer at the nearby Capilano College in the 1990s. Sitting on the bleachers in the gym, we in the audience listened to him talk about the world situation then, that is, in the post-Cold War world then taking shape after the collapse of communism in Russia and Europe. Dyer was optimistic. He saw a world emerging from the valley of the shadow of death of the Cold War into a time of genuine internationalism and the reign of international law and the primacy of multilateral institutions like the UN. He saw China's gerontocracy and communist regime as in their waning days, with the world undergoing a genuine flowering of democracy, quite possibly with little or no violence, as had happened in Europe. That was good news for everybody, since "by and large, democracies don't wage war on each other." He thought that this new spirit of multilateralism and internationalism would be necessary for facing the next great threat to the world: environmental destruction, and that the UN would become the platform for a potential world government of sorts.

Well, that was before 9/11 and the Iraq war. Future: Tense deals with the current world situation, in particular the Iraq war, and its implications for the future. Gone is the optimism of the 1990s. Dyer explains how the adventure in Iraq was planned long before 9/11, and has always been a centerpiece of the agenda of the so-called neoconservatives: those who saw, and still see, a future in which the United States enjoys a hegemony over the world based on a vast supremacy of military power. Why Iraq? According to Dyer, it's because Iraq was defiant of the U.S., relatively weak militarily, and with a hated regime its people would not fight for. In short: an easy victory. And it's not about "weapons of mass destruction", which were never there, or terrorism, with which Saddam appears not to have been involved, at least against the U.S. Nor was it about oil, or revenge, or giving concessions and contracts to friends of George Bush. No, according to Dyer, it's about sending a message to the world that the rules have changed. There's a new sheriff--actually the same old sheriff, in a way--in town, and he doesn't need the figleaf of the UN or any other multilateral body to give him permission to crack heads.

Hm. Even this sounds a bit far-fetched to me. But I admit that I have been mystified by the question, Why did the U.S. invade Iraq? I never believed the knee-jerk arguments about oil, still less about revenge for an alleged plot to kill Bush senior. I have regarded it as a mystery ever since it happened. As I said to my friends once when we were talking about it, "I believe we have not heard the real reason they're in there, and we might never." But invading a country, sending voters' kids home in body bags, to demonstrate your power? I don't know.

Dyer regards the Americans' defeat in Iraq as inevitable, as it was in Vietnam, but much depends on how quickly that defeat is achieved. If it's soon, then the project of a multilateral world may be rescued; if not, then not, and I gather (haven't finished the book yet) that the result will likely be a return to the world of alliances that spawned a century of world wars. More of the same.

Glum reading, but I'm enjoying it, and in fact I want to get to it.


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